Aired Thursday May 27th, 2010 at 7:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
Skull and crossbones don her neck and pirates adorn her black and olive green striped shirt. LaNay King is crew leader of "the pirate ship," her fifth grade classroom at Timpanogas Intermediate School in Heber City. Why pirates? "I wanted my students to feel like they belong to something. It's edgy and current. It's not ducks and clowns. And I like it!" says King. "These fifth graders are in for an exciting year and their parents are along for the voyage," says Timpanogas PTA President Kathryn Gardner.
King is one of six recipient of the 2010 Utah PTA Golden Apples Award for Excellence in Education. This year's awards ceremony, along with footage of King and her crew at work in the classroom, airs on KUED-channel 7 Thursday, May 27 at 7:00 p.m.
"Finding Knowledge is the Treasure" is her crew's motto. Four years ago King changed career paths to become a teacher. She knew where she was needed and in her own words, "I am meant to teach elementary." Before becoming a teacher she owned and managed a dance studio for 16 years. "In the front of my classroom a great philosopher is quoted, 'It is our choices that define what we truly are, far more than our abilities.' As a teacher I know that success for my students will come as a result of their choices, not my actions," says King. The philosopher quoted is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, the fictional wizard in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.
In response to the different learning styles of her students, King created the "homework ticket," a weekly homework assignment in which the student chooses their own homework. The goal is to improve existing skills, encourage talent and overcome weaknesses while also engaging the parents, who are required to assist and sign-off completion. "This project has helped me understand how many parents want to participate, but just need a specific avenue," says King. "When an educator is too specific with requirements, they discourage a parent from getting involved with helping a child foster creativity and self-expression."
If a student falls behind in homework assignments they find relief in the "Study Hall" of King's classroom, where they make up their assignments over the lunch break. "As a reward for accomplishing the year's educational goals, set by student, parent and teacher, Mrs. King takes her class to the local ice rink, museums, and to the movie theater," says Gardner. "Parents marvel at this reward system."
To King, open communication with parents is of utmost importance. A weekly class newsletter is sent out, the class webpage is up-to-date, and a personal email or phone call is not surprising. Parents are able to access the student site where they find a list of assignments marked complete or incomplete. "Whenever there is a concern or question and an email is sent from the parent to Mrs. King, it's typically within an hour that a response is given," says Gardner.
One parent tells of how her child, who had been bullied the previous year, was reluctant to go back to school. The parent emailed King the evening before the first day of school, informing her of her child's anxiety. The next morning, before school, the parent found a comforting and reassuring response. "She added that she knew of a few children similar in personality," says Gardner. "and that she would make an effort to help foster those friendships."
King knows the power an environment holds on shaping a comfortable and open space. She tailors her classroom to be a positive and welcoming space for learning. "As one steps into her classroom, the sound of constructive chatter reaches your ears and you quickly realize the students are discussing aspects of the assignment or helping each other with materials," says Timpanogas Intermediate Principle Sheldon Case. "She isn't one to teach from one vantage point, but moves about the class, checking on individual students, giving praise or specific instructions."
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