Ralston High School senior Rachael Evans spent most of her contemporary literature class on Monday reading some literature so contemporary it was written before her very eyes. It was about how Ava Naujoks likes the sun. And the moon. And the stars. And clouds.
Evans’s contemporary lit class, taught by Daniel Boster, visits the Wildewood kindergarten classrooms of Cindy Kiper and Dianna Calvert every other week on Mondays and Wednesdays to work with the kindergarteners on their writing skills.
So far, the high schoolers have helped the younger students to spell words, make sentences and find writing ideas, said class member Kashya Burrell.
This week, Burrell and her classmates were helping the Wildewood students with a writing assignment about what they did that weekend. While some stuck to what were, ostensibly, facts – playing basketball, watching the Lego movie or playing guitar – others branched out into more imaginative territory.
Harmony Dittman belonged to the second category.
Pointing to a drawing she’d made on the page before beginning to write, she declared, “It’s a coughing monster. It coughs out snow cones.”
As excited as Dittman was to show off her drawing, she was even more excited about the high school visitors to her classroom.
“They’re my friends, and I like them,” she explained.
Most of the students work in the same pairs or groups each session to work on building connections and relationships.
This was evident as Naujoks worked with Evans.
“You’re one of my favorite partners,” Naujoks said.
Evans was as enthused about the program as her younger partner.
“I was so excited when Mr. Boster told us we’d be doing this,” she said. “I used to want to be a teacher, so it’s cool to help them learn. I help them sound things out instead of just giving them the answers. I like interacting with little kids, but it takes a lot of patience because they get sidetracked all the time.”
Boster brought the idea for the kindergarten collaboration to his contemporary literature students – all seniors and all Avenue Scholars – earlier this semester.
“We’ve finished a lot of our curriculum already, and we can easily get the rest done,” Boster said. “Some of these students still need community service hours for their graduation requirement, and I presented them with this idea.”
Students are required to get 40 hours of community service over their four years at Ralston High in order to graduate, and Boster’s students will get around 20 hours over the course of this semester through their work with the kindergarten classes. The class meets every other day, volunteering on the Mondays and Wednesdays when they are scheduled for contemporary lit.
As is often the case with volunteering, Boster said his students get as much out of it as they are giving back.
“They’ve already said this has shown them how far they’ve come as students since they were first learning to write,” he said. “Even though many students feel like they ‘don’t learn anything in high school,’ this is giving them a chance to see what all they’ve learned and to share those things they’ve learned. It’s also nice for them to have some fun in school. There’s so much energy and excitement here.”
Burrell said she loved just being in the Wildewood classroom.
“It makes my day,” she said. “I love that they get excited about the smallest things.”
Boster said it was great to see the excitement the kindergarten students bring to writing.
“As a teacher of mostly older students in this district, it’s nice to see where everything starts and see the great work these teachers are doing,” he said. “Their enthusiasm for writing starts here. It’s amazing how quickly they take to it. They also get a lot of choice in what to write about, and I think high school teachers could learn from that.”
At the tables around Kiper and Calvert’s classrooms, students continued to exercise the “lot of choice” they were given to make an assignment about their weekend include sharks, rocket ships and blue clouds, all with the help of their high school friends.
So do the kindergarteners like to write? The question solicited unanimous silent nods.
Ah, but what’s their favorite part of writing?
Here, kindergartener Maddy Vukov spoke up.
“My favorite part is drawing the pictures,” she said.