Dear future first graders: Your teacher is gonna be the best

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PITTSFIELD — Friday was the last day of school in Pittsfield. And to all of you future first graders out there, those who just finished that grade have some advice for you: You have to listen and follow directions.

Some of the students in Mrs. Brittany Giambrone's first grade class at Allendale Elementary School also told me to tell you this: If you work hard, you will get rewards.

If you ask me, first graders or not, those are some sage lines of advice — no matter what grade you're in, how old you are or even what office you hold.

Back to the future

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. G's Grade 1 class here in Pittsfield. My assignment: Observe and report on the differences from when I had attended first grade (that'd be way, way back — like during the 1977-78 school year way back) and today.

You know, for all they say about younger generations, my working theory was that elementary school students today actually have a leg up on us compared to when we were in school. (By "us," I'm talking anyone, say, 30 and up.)

And upon what evidence do I hang my theory? Well, it's pretty simple: My 7-year-old daughter, Reese, was one of Mrs. G's "Fancy First-Graders" this past year. And Reese had homework.

Yes, homework in the first grade. Granted, my memory of being in first grade 42 years ago is a bit foggy, but I'm certain I had no homework back then.

The first graders of today do. They study every weekday evening for Friday's spelling test. About one night a week, they practice arithmetic — an exercise called Gumball Math, in which a student learns addition and subtraction by figuring 50 equations in a minute. They read stories out loud against a timer. They answer reading comprehension questions.

Write, read, explore

In school, today's first graders are journaling. Every day in class, one of the first things they do is open their journals and start writing their thoughts and experiences. As a writer and a journalist, this comforts me to no end: I want to live in a world full of writers.

But when I was in first grade? I doubt I would have been able to explain what a journal was, much less keep one. But yet, today's first graders are writing up a storm. Spelling might not be perfect and much of it might even be phonetic, but they're writing.

And if they're writing, it presupposes they're reading, too. Many of today's first graders are reading chapter books.

Over in Mrs. Shannon Sievers' reading class, where some of Mrs. G's group splits off to study, she calls her students "scholars." By the end of first grade, Mrs. Sievers has the class reading fluently and even dissecting the sequences of events within stories.

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Scholars, indeed.

Chalkboards vs. virtual reality

If you haven't been inside an elementary school classroom in, say, a couple of decades or more, think back and try to remember what your first grade classroom looked like.

See the United States flag? The ABCs?

What about chalkboards?

Today, you'll still find the flag and a copy of the ABCs, but you won't easily find a chalkboard at Allendale. What you'll find are dry-erase boards and laptop computers for the students.

Over in Mrs. Jessica Bazinet's technology class, where Mrs. G's group headed the afternoon I visited, the students strapped on virtual reality goggles, which brought them into a 360-degree view of the inside of a beehive.

In my first grade, back at Commercial Street School in Adams, we were surrounded by chalkboards.

What to expect

Today's first grade day is anything but forgettable, anything but a chalkboard. Everything about the learning experience is alive. Most of it involves a student's engagement and participation, and teachers are frequently checking in with students, rewarding good behavior and getting students to practice mindfulness.

So, when I visited her class, Mrs. G asked the students — on my behalf — to write out some advice for future first graders. That, I gave you at the top of this column.

But one student actually made a prediction that I think will ring true for all you future first graders out there: Your teacher is gonna be the best.

Have a great summer vacation, everyone.

Kevin Moran is executive editor of The Eagle.


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