Monday, January 22, 2018

A Day in the Life of a 5th Grader at Great Falls

I have been wanting to do this forever… shadow a student to really understand a student's perspective of their day at school. I finally decided not to wait a minute longer and cleared my schedule to spend the entire school day with a 5th grade student. The Great Falls 5th grade teachers gave me some names of students that wouldn’t mind having me as a shadow and I randomly picked a great candidate. With her mom’s permission, Ella agreed to have me follow her through a typical day in her 5th grade life.
Our day started out in music class with Ms. Doak. I always knew that our 5th graders studied and completed a Civil War unit in music class learning historically relevant songs that told the great story of the times. Truth be told, I never sat in on an entire lesson when Ms. Doak taught history through music. It was amazing! The lesson conjured up numerous emotions as she taught about why we observe Martin Luther King Jr. and the connections to the Civil War. The students were completely engaged and thoughtful with their responses to Ms. Doak’s frequent questioning. She did an amazing job of serving as a facilitator of learning and making students (including me!) feel as though no answer was wrong. Students were honored for their thoughts and given plenty of time to reflect, think, and participate. She encouraged us to sing along and said, “Just listening is not quite enough!” Ms. Doak explained to the class that “When you learn the music, it matters more.” Watching the faces of the students sitting around me and hearing their sweet singing voices, I couldn’t agree more!
Next up was math class. Mrs. Mullin has a great way of balancing fun, encouraging engagement, checking for understanding, and pushing students to take risks. The quote on her board, “Good mathematics is not about how many answers you’s how you behave when you don’t know,” was apparent throughout her lesson. The students were eager to learn, happy to be there, and so supportive of each other. As a student, I felt ok if I made a mistake. At one point, Mrs. Mullin incorporated a math game that could be competitive but the students sitting around me were more concerned with their own answers, and more concerned with their own learning than how those around them were doing. The amazing student, Ella, who I was shadowing just kept her cool and did her best. She was willing to raise her hand, help her group, and encourage those around her. When it was time to do a partner activity, she was approached by many students who wanted to work alongside her, however, lucky me… I was her partner!
The first lunch at 11:00 a.m. is EARLY! I felt like I just had breakfast and now we were headed to lunch. Who scheduled this lunch block so early?!?!? Ohhh… that would be me! But.. it happened to be breakfast for lunch! The french toast sticks tasted a little like fried dough! Yippee!
Ella saved me a seat at the lunch table, which felt awesome! I was fortunate enough to sit with a fabulous group of 5th grade girls who were so kind and welcoming! They shared that they love being student ambassadors and working with younger students. They shared that the best things about 5th grade is having fitness breaks, read alouds by their teachers, and fun activities such as reading buddies and, of course, their funny teachers! They did have one wish… and that was access to Mrs. Mullin’s chocolate drawer!
Recess was a great experience… although I forgot my boots and snow pants so I had to stay on the pavement. Again… who made that rule?!!? Despite not being able to join Ella on the field to play in the snow, I was able to play four square with a great group of kiddos. I was blown away by the amount of younger students seeking out older students as playmates. I was equally blown away by how the older students were so accepting of the younger students and eager to play with them. When recess was over, we headed back in to the classroom to get ready to visit Mrs. Paolino for reading. There is absolutely no loss of time in 5th grade! The students know the routines, know what is expected of them, and clearly thrive off of their established schedule.
Mrs. Paolino has a poster that describes GRIT: G= Give it your all, R= Redo if necessary, I= Ignore giving up, T= Take time to breathe. It is clear that the atmosphere created in her room is to take risks and maximize learning. The students were selecting new novels of their choice as they were preparing to start a mystery unit and I could feel the excitement. One student said, “I have been waiting for this day!” And, yes, I may have been talking a little to Ella when I was not suppose to. I was excited about the mystery books too and couldn’t help myself!
After completing a partner activity and getting to work out in the hallway, which I always thought would be uncomfortable and distracting, but was actually really fun, we headed back to Mrs. Mullin’s room for Science. Mrs. Mullin had an awesome hands-on Mystery Science activity planned as part of her unit on physical and chemical changes. As table groups, we were able to investigate, make a hypothesis, and experiment with various solutions and their reactions on dirty pennies. It was so much fun and our group had really thoughtful conversations! I was blown away with how serious 5th graders take their learning when they are engaged and feel safe. We completed the activity, were able to reflect and share with the larger group, and the class period flew by! Next thing I knew, Mrs. Mullin was having us clean up and prepare to head to reading buddies in Mrs. Lyon’s kindergarten classroom.
Reading buddies is a school-wide initiative in which an older classroom matches up with a younger classroom to meet together on a weekly basis to read to each other. It has really taken off and the impact seen throughout the building and beyond is extraordinary! Students establish relationships and make connections with other students who they may see at lunch, recess, in the hallways, at assemblies, and even in the grocery store. I was excited to witness this interaction from a different perspective today. Ella is kind, caring, and the most wonderful big buddy. As soon as we sat down, she said, “Jenna, this is Mrs. Fortier. Mrs. Fortier, this is my reading buddy, Jenna!” It was adorable!

Ella had pre-selected a few books she knew Jenna would love. She gave Jenna some time to read to her and gave her tons of positive feedback. “Great job, Jenna! You are reading so well, Jenna!” It just melted my heart! The relationship Ella and Jenna have is just one example of the many positive aspects of our K-5 configuration.

When we returned to the 5th grade classroom, it was Friday Fun Time. This point in the day allowed students to get caught up on the week’s assignments, organize for the upcoming week, check in with Mrs. Mullin or play a game with a friend. It was during this block of time that Ella taught me the card game Trash and showed me a magic trick. I couldn’t wait to teach my own children the game and, unfortunately, I messed up the magic trick when I tried to replicate it. I will have to catch up with Ella again soon so she can teach me once more.

It was such a great day and experience. Quite honestly, it was one of the best days I ever had at school! If I had to summarize some of my learnings (or reminders) it would be:

  • Our students live a jam packed day of academic and social experiences. There never seems to be enough time!
  • Students want to be engaged, be active, and be part of their own learning.
  • They need time to be social, interact with peers, and have fun!
  • The cross grade level relationships are so powerful!
  • Students are more relaxed, participate at ease, and are willing to take risks when the environment feels safe and cooperative.
  • We have AMAZING teachers and staff members who truly put kids at the center of everything they do!
  • Our students exemplify the Code of Conduct!

Special thank you to Mrs. Mullin, Mrs. Paolino, Mrs. Lyons, and Ms. Doak for allowing me to crash your classrooms, Mrs. Sawyer for taking action photos throughout the day, and especially to my amazing 5th grade guide and student, Ella Senatore! It was a day I will never forget and I cannot wait to shadow a student in another grade level. Hmmmm… maybe kindergarten next!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

January Letter from the Principal

January 2, 2018

Dear Great Falls Families,
Happy New Year! Winter weather is officially upon us. The daily temperature for Gorham will be checked at When the "feels like" temperature is below 10 degrees, students will be kept inside for indoor recess.

School secretaries, Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Murray, will check the temperature for the AM recess and make an announcement as soon as possible. If the AM duty staff feel as though it is too cold while on the playground, they can make a judgment call to contact the office and bring the students indoors.
Temperatures will be monitored throughout the day and notification about canceling lunch recess will come from the office.
Monitoring temperatures is for the safety of the students and the supervising adults. While many students run around and are dressed appropriately, others are not and extended time at freezing temperature can be a hardship for​ those students.

However, even in the cold winter months, outdoor recess is an important part of the students' day. Students need movement breaks and perform best when they have an opportunity for vigorous play, so we will try to get them out whenever possible.
Please make sure your child comes to school with the appropriate winter gear even if the anticipated temperature is projected as mild. Warm jackets, hats, gloves, boots, and snow pants are highly encouraged every day. The office will not be able to supply snow pants if your child forgets them at home. We have limited supply of extra hats and mittens to use when needed. If winter gear is a hardship for your family, please contact me so I can provide resources to assist you in acquiring the appropriate winter gear for your child.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions and feedback. I am available through email at and by phone at 222-1050.  Please follow my Twitter page & blog, which can be found at and .

Thanks you,
Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal