Dr. Kris Keske, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, sprays silver paint on a rock. Keske uses a silver and a gold rock to help students identify where to pick up or turn in handouts.

FORT BENNING, GA - Fort Benning schools are gearing up for the first day of classes Friday. Although teachers officially start back Monday, many of them, like Dr. Kris Keske, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, have worked during the summer to prepare their rooms.
"I want to create an attractive and stimulating environment, and that does take a lot of planning," said Keske, who has taught on post for more than 20 years. "I spend more waking time in this classroom than I do at home, so I want to make sure it's just right before the school year starts."

"Just right" meant bringing in some new decorations, including a drum, where students can learn about music and sound vibrations, Keske said, and African souvenirs from her three-week stay in Liberia.

Keske plans to show students wood carvings, painted tapestries, traditional clothing and pictures. She also hopes to start a pen pal program between her class and an African school.

"Learning is stronger when you make connections from different contexts ... so (I) arrange the classroom and put things in it that would stimulate children's interest in the world," she said.

"They might never get the opportunity to go to Africa, but they get to experience a little bit of Africa with me. I'm preparing these kids for life; that's why integration is so important. You become a better citizen when you're aware of people and places around you."

An integrated, interconnected approach to learning will better prepare children for a 21st-century world, said Keske, who tries to make everything in her classroom, from the elk antlers on the wall to the pet turtle, Franklin, a learning opportunity for students.

Also in preparation for the students' return, Keske is changing her bulletin board.

Bulletin boards used to be the traditional place for teachers' rules, but not anymore, she said.
"Now, we have more emphasis on student-made work," she said. "So, I'm redesigning my bulletin board so each child has a space to put up something he or she is proud of.

The big deal in education now is people assuming responsibility for their own learning. I'm thinking if I can have the kids pick out something they are proud of then that might encourage ownership."
Teachers across post schools are making similar changes, redoing displays, bringing in conversation pieces.

Cathy Tuggle, a teacher at Loyd Elementary, said she plans to implement ideas she has learned from her summer social studies and reading courses into her first-grade classroom.
In the 26 years she has been teaching the first grade, a lot has changed, said Tuggle, who tries to keep her teaching methods current and relevant.

Her other focus is straightening up her room and its "Tuggle's tigers" theme for the children who will arrive next week.

"You want to make sure they're comfortable and look around and see this is a fun place. You want to make sure they want to come back the next day," she said.

Tuggle's classroom will have new furniture for the start of the year. Part of the Department of Defense Education Activity's replacement cycle, all first-grade classrooms on post will be newly outfitted. There will also be new furniture for the two new kindergarten classes created at Dexter and Wilson Elementary.

The two classes, created in an effort to reduce student teacher ratios, reflect increased enrollment patterns, said Dr. Dell McMullen, Fort Benning Schools superintendent.

Enrollment is up across the board, McMullen said. Wilson Elementary and Faith Middle School are seeing the greatest influx, with nearly 100 more students at each compared with this time last year.

Each school is getting new teachers - 28 in all. Schools will also be operating under new hours, McMullen said.

"When we looked at our transportation dollars, it was clear we could save several hundred thousand dollars by reusing the buses we have," she said.

All six elementary schools will start and end 15 minutes later than they did last year, while Faith Middle School will start and end a half an hour sooner, McMullen said. This approach allows the buses to be reused in the mornings and afternoons - a savings of more than $400,000.

Even with some changes under way this year, the focus is still on continuous school improvement, McMullen said. School Improvement Leadership Teams, made up of teachers and administrators from each school, have met during the summer to discuss specific goals for each school.

"They look at data, evaluate programs, examine the research to ensure the best teaching practices. Essentially, they are leading the school improvement efforts," McMullen said.
A school's goals reflect what is most needed for their students, she said.

McBride Elementary, for example, is focusing on writing skills across the curriculum and problem solving. White Elementary is focusing on critical thinking and reading comprehension.
"We are so excited about the first day of school," McMullen said.

"There is nothing else throughout the whole year that has the same feeling as the first day. We want to make sure we have everything in order so that every child and parent will feel comfortable and confident that we're going to have the best school year yet."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16