|Woods school students pursue a world of culture|
|Written by By Todd Mishler -Staff Writer|
|Thursday, 02 February 2012 09:49|
Photography By Terry Mayer
LINN TOWNSHIP - Getting children's attention and keeping them engaged are arguably the most difficult tasks teachers face in an elementary school classroom.
However, instructors at Woods School District No. 4 often encourage their students - in 4-year-old kindergarten through eighth grade - to daydream about faraway places, people and things.
That's because the school, located just off Wisconsin Highway 50 on Snake Road, incorporates multicultural studies into the curriculum several weeks every school year.
From Jan. 23 through Jan. 27, youngsters' thoughts drifted nearly 7,000 miles and 14 hours away for a celebration of the Chinese New Year.
The curriculum included reading, hands-on crafts and other projects, educational videos, music and art experiences, guest speakers, games and sports. The week of activities concluded with a Chinese lunch.
Parent teacher organization president Monica Goebel is one of those who have supported such efforts from the beginning.
"We've traditionally done the cultural lunches before, but this year we wanted to beef it up and add to the education experiences," Goebel said. "We've sent all of the information home to parents with the idea of encouraging them to enrich what activities the kids are doing at school."
The take-home packets included facts about the Chinese New Year celebration, book lists, website links and other resources for students to explore and share with their parents.
Families also were encouraged to expand their horizons by visiting the Chinese Community Center in Milwaukee on Jan. 21 and a lunar parade in Chicago on Jan. 29.
Rona Coltman is a parent volunteer who also has substituted in various classrooms. She said her children - Emma in fifth grade, Esther in second grade and Ella in kindergarten - thoroughly enjoyed their experiences.
"As a family, we shared a Chinese dinner one evening, which included lo mien noodles and egg rolls, and the kids got to help pick things out," Coltman said. "Their favorite is sweet and sour chicken.
"But overall, the kids were really excited and enjoyed an incredible experience," Coltman added. "They benefited in so many ways and were able to do so many fun things. A good example is that every morning Mr. (Ed) Brzinski would give the Mandarin word of the day, and you'd be walking down the hall and hear kids saying them, and they'd be saying hello and goodbye. It was pretty cute."
Another component is that the activities use a cross-curriculum approach, which includes music and art and not just regular classroom instruction.
Nicole Smerchek teaches fourth grade at the school. She also has the advantage of adding firsthand experience to her instruction: She studied in China during college, which included language and calligraphy.
"The kids loved bringing in books and sharing them in class," Smerchek said. "What's so special is that this kind of project opens their eyes to so many things, and they bring that back into the learning environment."
But it isn't strictly the children who get an education. Parents and teachers benefit as much or more.
"Quite a few parents participate in school activities, and that's one thing I appreciate about Woods School is that collaboration between teachers and parents," Coltman said. "They welcome ideas, and parents are willing to share their ideas and interests.
"And as a parent, these cultural activities add to your global identity and awareness. It's great to see the children embrace these things, but it also encouraged me to learn more about what they're doing."
Smerchek said the activities have had a positive effect on the school and the community.
"It's just a reminder for us to open our eyes and hearts to different people and cultures and how important it is to be accepting of others. We can bring those ideas out in our teaching, and that's pretty cool."
The school's previous cultural adventures have included studying Germany around Oktoberfest and Mexico for Cinco de Mayo. Its next scheduled "trips" will be to Ireland in March and to Greece in May.