by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
I’ve driven past Seward Elementary school a handful of times, but since I’m not a parent or teacher, I’d not been inside to see what a wonder of creativity and happiness it is. This past Tuesday, I got the opportunity. I was invited by teacher-in-training Tara Swanson to visit the second-grade classroom where she’s student teaching alongside Ms. Pfeiffenberger. Swanson invited me to observe the students and interview them about their writing.
Upon arrival, I was struck by the friendly front office staff and the artwork that’s spread throughout the school.
“Fourth of July Beach is the best place to go on sunny days,” according to Hannah Leatherman. Leatherman is a second-grade student at Seward Elementary in Ms. Susan Pfeiffenberger’s class. Leatherman, along with her class of 22 other students, has been learning how to write about landforms in and around Seward. Leatherman had chosen Fourth of July Beach as her landform, and used her writing to describe the experience of going to the beach on a hot day. “The water feels good on your feet,” she read, “and the sand is a hot oven.” She read her piece aloud to me in an adjoining classroom, beaming while she read, clearly remembering a fond experience that she’d had at one of Seward’s beloved local beaches. Fourth of July beach is located at the far end of Nash Road and is a favorite place for locals to enjoy picnics, walk their dogs and have beach bonfires.
Leatherman’s writing is part of an integrated social studies and language arts unit being taught to them by Tara Swanson. Swanson is a student herself, well on the way to becoming a teacher. She’s currently enrolled in a program through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is doing her classroom student teaching time here in Seward. Swanson grew up in Seward, and requested to be placed here. In observing the two women teaching alongside one another, they seemed relaxed and well acquainted. Ms. Pfeiffenberger said that she knew Swanson’s family, and Tara herself, and volunteered to share her classroom.
Seward Elementary has an enrollment of about 300 students, in grades pre-K through 5th grade. Just 23 of them are learning how to write about local landforms. I was surprised to hear of the things that they’d chosen, including Thumb Cove, Tonsina, Exit Glacier, Mt Alice, and Mt Marathon.
Rebecca Brackin, with long brown hair and an ebullient personality, wrote about the Two Lakes Trail. This is a popular in-town natural area, with gravel and dirt paths that weave amongst parklands located behind the AVTEC campus on Second Avenue. Brackin opened her piece with the question, “Do you like getting exercise?” She used her writing to elucidate the simple pleasures of being outside, breathing the fresh air and the potential to see wildlife. She then described how she found a special spot that is all her own, within the park. “My little nook is between two thick roots, surrounded by bushes and shrubs.” I was amazed at her attention to detail and her clear love for the land.
The students sit at tables of varying sizes, with 2-4 clustered at each one. They sit atop an assortment of seats, from milk cartons with comfy seat cushions on them, to small stools to regular chairs. Most of the tables were low to the ground, but one was clearly different. I approached the boys sitting at the table to ask them about how their seats had been assigned or chosen. “Everyone wants to sit here,” gushed Nash Bamford and Janiel Peraza. They explained that the students in the class get to choose their seats anew on a predetermined interval of time, “about every 2 weeks.” Bamford had chosen Exit Glacier as his land form writing prompt. His paper had strips different colored paper with his writing on it. Swanson later explained that these strips were part of the teaching the process of writing. One color signified the big idea for the assignment, while other colors signified details about the big idea. Bamford wrote of his appreciation for Exit Glacier being a place that people aren’t allowed to hunt. He also explained the origin of the glacier’s name, saying that early explorers used the glacier as their exit point from the Harding Icefield. His table companion, Janiel Peraza, who’s lived in Seward most of his life, wrote of his appreciation for the Two Lakes park. “You can see nature. I went there one thousand times and I love it.”
I was impressed with the appreciation these young Sewardites already have for the landscape of their home. Their writing demonstrated that they interact regularly and with love for the places that they visit and recreate. In this month of decreased sunlight, and recently, such high winds, their writing encouraged me to get outside and look closely at the beautiful places within our daily reach.
Thank you, Ms. Pfeiffenberg and Ms. Swanson for inviting me for a visit!Student N p.1