By Mariama Tyler Jenkins
My “Day One” at Humphries Elementary School began when I met Kingston Malloy, a second-grade student, who unprompted opened the door for me and his fellow classmates as they were transitioning to another classroom. My first stop was to visit Mr. Houston’s Spanish class where students were introducing themselves, “Me llamo Kingston,” the first student announced. More students followed some more confidently than others.
Next door, Ms. Jones’ first-grade English Language Arts class was hard at work. The students clustered in small groups of four students with each child reading independently. At the front of the class, Ms. Jones was doing individual assessments of students’ mastery and skill set. The veteran teacher likes to get a sense of where her students are right from the beginning. “Let me model for you, because we have to have a clear understanding,” Ms. Jones told the class as she demonstrated what proper reading looks like and what it does not. “Is this reading?” she asked with a book open and resting on and completely covering her face. “No!” the students shouted in virtual unison. “Ok then class, model good reading for me and model for your friends. Are you ready to model for me?”
When she sensed the students’ attention waning and observed some boys and girls chatting and wiggling in their seats, Ms. Jones asked everyone to put down their books and stand up to get their wiggles out. For two minutes the students jumped and shook out their limbs and gave their minds a little break. The students settled back down to read and soon it was time for lunch. “Where are my book managers?” Ms. Jones motioned for the designated students to come forward to collect and put away the classroom books. She likes to give them jobs to build their sense of responsibility.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I still love it!”
Humphries Elementary Principal Melanie Mitchell spoke to me about her Lady Pearls, a group of mothers she has befriended and is mentoring. “My goal this year is to teach them that their voice matters,” Mitchell says of the parent women’s group she started. Ms. Mitchell wants the women to learn to communicate effectively, to get their point across in way that is firm but respectful. She has gotten to know her student’s moms, asking them about their individual interests, one mom wants to be a chef, and encouraging the mothers to journal and create vision boards for their lives. She inspires them to model good behavior for themselves and for their children. She lets them know that they do not have to let other people’s images of young black mothers, be true. Ms. Mitchell started a GED class for parents at the school so they can improve their job prospects and life circumstances. She tells them “I want you to have ownership of your life; we are going to do this together.” Ms. Mitchell shares with the women her own struggles in school and in raising her family. She has real talk with Lady Pearls. “I see something in them. I care.”
Ms. Mitchell reminds us that we can all use a mentor and a friend, and that we are never too old to be a good student who models good habits.