The two teachers are Nicole Facchini and Mallory O’Brien.
Ms. Facchini asks for “quiet hands,” which I take to mean no jumping up and down and yelling. The subject is duck eggs, a topic we quickly learn seems to be top of mind for just about everybody we encounter.
The answers involve incubators, eggs, and Peking duck, but no dinosaurs; we come to find out that six duck eggs are incubating in this very room and ready to hatch at any moment.
How the ducklings aim to get out of the shell involves the word “slime” as well as “egg tooth.” A few more questions and answers reveal that the duckling will use an egg tooth to peck its way out and then lose that tooth later. Who knew! The class has used what Ms. Facchini calls a “smelly procedure” called “candling” to peer into the egg and see how everything is going.
Love ‘n Learn
A couple of thoughts cross my mind while visiting this kindergarten class at Midtown Community School: how lucky the parents are and how much has changed since many of us were in kindergarten. The adults are loving but disciplined. There’s lots of hugging and head-touching but also lots of gentle correction and getting it right.
Principal Mercun assures us that “everything is planned to the nth degree,” but to the untrained eye, there’s tons of movement and simultaneous activity.
The class practices something called “flexible seating,” which means kids can choose wobbly stools, sensory cushions, bouncy balls, yoga mats, or beanbags. Rules outlining the parameters are posted on the wall, but the idea is to pick a seat that facilitates “best learning.”
The school is proud that special-needs kids follow the same curriculum as the other kids. I can attest that the class looks seamless. You would never know which kids have special needs, and all of them work and play well together. The teachers set an example of friendliness and cooperation that’s palpable.
“This class is a role model for all inclusion classes in the city of Bayonne,” Mrs. Mercun says.
The kids learn “high-frequency” words, draw pictures, write sentences, and then correct them with a checklist that features either a happy or sad face. One student has written, “Ducks are yellow.”
A couple of hands-on activities include carpentry and running a restaurant—no kidding. At one table kids use hammers, nails, screwdrivers, and screws to practice fine motor coordination, gross motor coordination, and hand-eye coordination. In another area, a miniature Italian restaurant called Mamma’s Monkey has been set up. The restaurant workers create menus, take reservations, and wear ties, scarves, and a chef’s hat and apron. “For some reason there’s a hula skirt in there, too,” Ms. O’Brien says.
One thing these kids don’t do is nap. From 8:40 to 2:40, it’s nonstop work and play, and you can see the results.
Dedication to Education
Ms. Facchini and Ms. O’Brien could have taught at any grade level, but both chose to devote their energies to kindergarten kids. Ms. Facchini has taught pre-K and seventh grade, but kindergarten, she says, “is a happy place, and you can have real fun with them. I’m very creative with my teaching, and Mrs. Mercun doesn’t say no to anything. I love it. I laugh all day long. Laughter is the best medicine. I love coming to work.”
Ms. O’Brien echoes those thoughts. “In kindergarten you mold minds,” she says. “It’s their first impression of school, which can make or break them. They love learning; it’s fun.”
As Mrs. Mercun walks us back to the entrance, we pass kids and their teachers filing through the hallways. “The teachers buy into the culture of really caring for children and putting them first,” Mrs. Mercun says.
Unbelievably, as we’re on our way out, we’re alerted that a duck egg in Ms. Di Antonio’s class is about to hatch. News of the event travels fast around the school. As discussed, ducks are paramount for kindergartners at Midtown Community.
Every year features a new theme. This year the theme is magic. When asked about that magic, kids call out, “Dream it! Believe it! Achieve it!”
It will be truly magical to see how these kids achieve those dreams.—Kate Rounds