Not Your Grandma's Classroom

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Our Marin county grandchildren are in the public school system. As I watch their learning capacity expand, I marvel at the data they rapidly accumulate. Beyond new electronic contributions, today's elementary students are at least three grades ahead of my New York City primary school. At P.S. 117, we often learned by rote or with sterile textbooks that did not reflect reality.

Recently, Alana, my oldest grandchild graduated from 5th grade. I reflected on the deep knowledge and maturity she and her classmates had gained. In history studies, my generation majored in memorization and regurgitation. These young students studied, prepared, and then re-lived history. A Sutter's Fort visit happened in authentic clothing, speech, and foods of the 19th century. The War of Independence had each student assuming an identity of a revolutionary participant. I was proud that my grand-daughter acted out Abigail Adams. Behind each short appearance, were hours of reading, preparation, and costumes.

From the school garden gleanings, students sold produce to the community. Just before graduation the entire 5th grade spent several days at sleep-away camp with the teachers. Here new experiences challenged old fears and created new trusts. Parental participation was a regular occurrence.

My 8th grade graduation had the usual: valedictorian, Elgar March, and speech from the principal. At the 5th grade graduation, the grand motif was "flying up to Middle School." Wall décor included paper cut-outs of planes with a photo of each student embedded in the cabin windows. Paper clouds contained some 5th grade thoughts.

Alana and her classmates each spoke a few moving words about trust, friendship and learning. How far they have already traveled! I cried. My tears also reflected the reality that only at a school with deep parent participation could such enriched learning occurred.


With a Perspective, this is Joan Reinhardt Reiss.