Miss-Lou teachers prepare appealing spaces for students

Published 12:12 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Kindergarten teacher Kelly Baroni affixes hippo cutouts to the wall for her class’ Noah’s Ark theme at Cathedral Elementary School.

NATCHEZ — Kelly Baroni spent the last week of summer break armed with scissors and tape, preparing her kindergarten classroom and hallway for new students.

While moms and dads might be looking forward to peace and quiet at home, teachers are preparing their classrooms and curriculums for the coming onslaught of youngsters with the start of school this week.

Baroni said Cathedral’s décor theme, Journey through the Bible, offered up a myriad of great choices, and she knew Noah’s Ark was the one for her students.

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“When Noah’s Ark became available I jumped on it,” Baroni said. “It’s easy because kids relate to animals. I’m having a lot of fun with it so far. The first couple days of school we will teach Noah’s Ark and tie it into the lesson, like how to count by twos.”

Baroni said making the school a visually-appealing place is important for everyone who darkens its doors — not just children.

“We decorate because this is their first impression, and not just for children, but for visitors too,” Baroni said. “We want them to be excited about the new year. It also helps them figure out where their class is.”

The story of Noah is told with images and captions in the hallway.

The 13-year educator said the focus on décor also has a deeper meaning.

“You want it to be welcoming, cheery and bright because it reflects the atmosphere here too,” she said.

On another hall, third-grade teacher Devin Gammill put finishing touches on a door covered in fish.

Gammill chose the Bible story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only a few fish and bread loaves. She said it’s important to keep children’s attention since so many other factors are competing for it.

“We had a couple things to choose from, and I thought fish would be colorful,” Gammill said. “Kids are so bombarded with TV, video games and computers, in a visual sense they need to be stimulated. That’s what they’re used to.”

Across the parking lot at Cathedral High School, alumna and first-year teacher Kate Ellard organized class assignments on her smart board. Since Ellard teaches seventh-and-eighth-grade English grammar, she said she will keep the décor low key, but won’t negate it altogether. She chose a grown up, Hollywood theme.

“I might add a VIP entrance, red carpet and wall of fame, but nothing hardcore,” Ellard said. “At this age teachers aren’t huge into decorating because students think it’s uncool, but underneath it all, I think they like it.”

Sinnott Bland, left, and Parker Baroni, run past the decorations inside Cathedral Elementary Friday afternoon.

Ellard said she has known some teachers that don’t bother to jazz up their classrooms at all.

“I think some teachers don’t decorate too much because they think it’s a distraction,” Ellard said. “But I think anything is better than bare walls.”

At Ridgecrest School, fifth-grade teacher Amber Nugent spent the week applying vinyl records and a giant piano to the walls of her classroom for a music theme, and her ideas really do rock.

“My family plays music, and I love music,” Nugent said. “We play bluegrass music, and kids might not know about that, so I went with rock-n-roll.”

Nugent also set up guitars that students can strum as a reward. She has been thinking hard about how to tie the theme and curriculum together.

“We’ll also have a wall of fame with stars, climbing the charts with Accelerated Reader, ‘in tune or out of tune’ for behavior and ‘get jazzy with a good book.’”

At Trinity Episcopal Day School teachers are under water with the theme, under the sea.

Adults spent the week paving the walls with paper sea life, and hanging inflatable marine creatures from the ceilings.

Besides preparing a visual experience for the children, the school has also undergone several changes over the summer. Teachers are excited about the new interim headmaster, Father Brandt, and the newly-air conditioned gym, but Trinity teachers said they are most thrilled about new Promethean boards, or smart boards — an education technology that works as an Internet-connected, interactive white board.

At Vidalia Lower Elementary, teachers were also busy preparing their classrooms for the start of school.

First-grade teacher Amanda Wilson has been an educator for nine years, and she’s thinking ahead about childrens’ futures.

“I am planning a once-a-week Spanish lesson,” Wilson said. “That will be the language we need in the future. We use United Streaming Education, which is like YouTube for teachers on any subject.”

Wilson said she embraces a fusion of technology and education in the classroom because, like Gammill said, children are savvy with digital devices.

“It’s effective because kids are connected to the media,” Wilson said. “We’ll take one day a week, maybe 10-15 minutes to learn Spanish words.”

Torri Webber, an educator with 27 years of experience, also teaches first grade.

“(Wilson) is the youngest, but we learn from her because she’s fresh,” Webber said.

“There are a lot of changes this year, and if you can’t adapt or be flexible, or take on new challenges, you’ll be miserable.”

Trinity resumes classes Aug. 8 and Cathedral students go back to school Aug. 5. Vidalia Lower Elementary and Ridgecrest start back Aug. 15.