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A creative approach to education

Estella Stewart first grade teacher helps students grow social skills

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A creative approach to education

A lifetime of attentive teachers have molded first year Jamey Peersmann into the educator she is today, approaching education with a gentle patience to ensure that her first grade students succeed in the present and the future.

“I think teachers are role models every day to their students and I was very fortunate to have had amazing educators all the way through college,” Estella Stewart Elementary teacher Jamey Peersmann said. “They showed me the importance of attending to children before teaching content. My teachers always made sure I was in the right mindset to learn before they began their lesson and I wanted to carry that throughout life and provide that in my own teaching practice in my own classroom.”

After completing her bachelors in teaching at Sam Houston State University, Peersmann is now pursuing her masters in literacy, while teaching first grade at the Huntsville ISD elementary school.

“I’m convinced that first grade is the best grade ever, it’s the grade where learning and discovery is fostered,” Peersmann said. “I think a misconception people have about first grade is that when a child leaves kindergarten and enters first grade, that they're independent, and they’re not. First graders are still babies, they believe in Santa, they ask to hold your hand in the hallway and in first grade you have to teach them how to be good people. You have to teach them how to play together, how to deal with their emotions and how to love each other.”

While she enjoys teaching the curriculum, her favorite part of teaching is helping build her students up as humans that are in-tune with their abilities to communicate their needs and feelings, and to be able to identify what causes them.

“I love to watch them grow from having just left kindergarten to entering the second grade as this child who knows how to play with their friends and knows how to say, ‘I feel mad or I feel sad and this is why,’ because I taught them the skills,” Peersmann said.

Research such as the “marshmallow test” by Walter Mischel has shown that these social-emotional skills are crucial for children to become successful both socially and academically. They have also been shown to help avoid the likeliness of kids getting into trouble or experiencing emotional problems down the road. Although they’re necessary skills, it’s rare that they are prioritized at the forefront of a classroom.

“That’s the part of teaching that goes far beyond teaching the content,” Peersmann said.

Peersmann’s classroom is filled with station work while listening to KIDZ BOP, with pauses for dance breaks throughout the day. Academic jeopardy is a favorite game for everyone, as well as Fun Friday which is reserved for discovery based learning incorporated into the core curriculum.

“Not being able to see them every day has definitely been a difficult challenge … It’s like one day everything was normal and we were in our stations and listening to music and the next day, without a proper goodbye, they were no longer my kids anymore. When you love them like your own, that’s tough,” Peersmann said.

Typically, students would be enjoying field day and outside learning during these last two months of school, and missing out on those activities for her first year of teaching has been challenging for Peersmann.

However, the transition to virtual lessons has been an easy switch for the new teacher, using Google Classroom to cover content and Facebook to post read-alouds and important events.

“I also raised money from the community, because we have an awesome community here in Huntsville, and I was able to order books through Scholastic. I sent each student a pack of books so I knew that they were practicing their reading skills,” Peersmann said.

While a couple of her first graders understand why they are no longer in school with their friends, many of her students do not understand the virus behind their sudden lifestyle change.

“I hear a lot of parents saying they’re treating it like summer, which is good that they’re not worrying about things, they’re six,” Peersmann said.

With the help of parents, her students are able to continue building their social skills through a chat feature where they can continue to practice interacting with their peers. A Zoom session will also be held at the end of the year as a time for the kids to say goodbye to one another.

“I feel content knowing that they will move on next year to second grade … I feel content that they will be well on their way to succeeding next school year,” Peersmann said.

As for Peersmann, she will be taking a new position next school year as a leveled literacy interventionist, teaching small groups of children identified as reading below their grade level working on targeted areas like comprehension and spelling.

Having spent only one year in the classroom, Peersmann is crossing her fingers that she will be able to reenter the classroom with her new position next school year.