Out of the Mouths of Babes

I don’t know what made me read an article in the Star Democrat * about 6th graders in a local private school, but I’m glad I did. It was enough to restore my faith in elementary education.

Every year, 6th graders at Saints Peter and Paul in Easton, MD create a three-dimensional rain forest. They research the flora and fauna, write a written report, and build the habitat. Only hand-made creations are allowed. Children from the lower grades tour the forest, which is realistic enough to frighten some of them.

Courtesy of the Star Democrat

Courtesy of the Star Democrat

The creators teach the younger children what they have learned. In a video segment that appeared in The Talbot Spy, the children were poised, self-confident and clearly enjoying their teaching responsibilities. They nonchalantly tossed off facts about beetles and rhinos as though they were professionals. As their teacher noted, every student in the school has been through the rain forest.

Courtesy of the Star Democrat

Courtesy of the Star Democrat

 

Their teacher, Lisa Owen, said she discovered the project when she started teaching at Saints Peter and Paul nineteen years ago. It was a suggestion in the textbook but has evolved into so much more. Each year she makes the criteria “stricter.” What Ms Owen likes about the rain forest project is that it teaches “real-life” skills. “Students have to adapt, and problem solve,” she said. They must reconcile what they envision with what they can accomplish.

From my perspective, the most important lesson they learn is how to work in groups.  When faculty put students into groups in college, they often protest. They are unprepared and don’t grasp the importance of teamwork for any career they are considering. These elementary school students are learning a vital skill early. According to one student, “I learned how to work in a group, and it’s very hard because there’s a bunch of people wanting to do the same thing, and if you’re against what they want to do, it’s kind of hard.” So, if you both want the scissors and glue at the same time, you have to compromise! Are you listening Mitch McConnell  and Chuck Schumer? Perhaps Ms. Owen has room in her class, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.

What a wonderful example of a teacher’s dedication and creativity and the kind of meaningful learning that these students will use in the future. Our education system has been far too focused on individual achievement, when our work is always interdependent. One can only hope these young people will encounter other teachers with the same commitment.

*Thank you to Star Democrat reporter Connie Connolly for writing the story and helping me obtain the pictures for this post.

Barbara ViniarComment