CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | St. Stan's fifth grade solemnly swears to make learning fun

ADAMS — Prior to starting a lesson Thursday afternoon, St. Stanislaus Kostka teacher Stacie Vigiard made her 12 fifth-graders stand up and raise their right hands to take an oath to respecting the scientific process, the lab materials and instructions "provided by the fabulous, outstanding, marvelous Ms. V."

The students couldn't help but giggle while making their promise to their teacher and to science.

"We all joke around in this class," said fifth-grader Mary Haight. "Even Ms. V."

But the laughter soon transitioned into exclamations of "what?" and "whoa" and "eww," after the science lab project began, with the dissection of owl pellets.

As the students soon learned, owls and other birds of prey eat their food — mice, moles, shrews, even other small birds — whole. About 20 hours after a meal, they then regurgitate masses of undigested materials, including feathers, fur and bone, in the form of a pellet-shaped mass a few inches in length. The birds lack the digestive acids enzymes to soften these materials, basically leaving the non-flesh remains intact and encased in the pellet.

Initially appalled yet curious, the students snapped on some protective gloves and got to work with tweezers and toothpicks, working as young paleontologists on the hunt for coveted trophies — a jawbone with teeth intact, or better yet, a full skull.

"I think this is the best activity we've done all year," Gabe Fusini declared.

Most students agreed, but listed some other favorites, including measuring the effects of gravity with different sized rubber balls, building model derby cars and test driving them on various surfaces to better study friction, and even getting to illustrate their own hybrid species within the most appropriate habitat.

"We get to experience a lot of new things," student Noah McGrath said.

Parent Anthony Daly nominated Ms. V and her students as a "Classroom of the Week."

"She is a teacher who is always striving for ways to combine learning with enjoyment, who is passionate about her students' success," he said. "When they enter her classroom, they know they will be engaged, they will be challenged, and that their environment will be safe and individualized to their learning needs."

Up until this year, Vigiard taught second and fourth grades for some 20 years. This is her first year with fifth-graders, but she had nearly all of them in her class when they were in second grade.

"To get them in my class a second time, it's nice. They're a great group to work with," the teacher said.

Daly's son, Colin, is in the class, and his wife, Shelley Daly, is a substitute teacher at the school.

"All of the kids in her class get a very individualized education," the mother said. "She uses her understanding of the differences each student has to help each kid be who they're meant to be."

The classroom is full of personality, each student contributing to lively discussions and the sharing of ideas.

"We're always doing something," said student Jacinta Felix.

Anthony Daly said his son regularly comes home excited to talk about the work the class is doing.

"It is great to see that kind of enthusiasm in a classroom and it stems from a smart, caring teacher," the father said.

Principal Linda Reardon said that the energy generated between the teacher and her students during Vigiard's cross-curricular lessons is infectious.

"She's energizing, she's current, and you never know what's going to happen," said Reardon.

The principal added, "She establishes positive relationships with her students and totally wins them over with her sense of humor. At the same time, she has high expectations for both academics and behavior. They absolutely know what is expected of them."

Vigiard says her students certainly rise to those standards of doing quality work while having fun.

"I'm learning, too," she said. "In teaching them, I'm learning from them. If they have a question, then we stop what we're doing to discuss it. If it's important enough for them to ask, it's important enough for me to stop and help them find some answers."

In this classroom, collaboration and constructive conversations are key.

Said Colin Daly, "Some teachers are all business. Ms. V is not all business, but not all about having fun. She's just the right amount of both, and that's the kind of teacher I would like."


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