Jenny Culbert with Ali
Teacher, Springside SchoolIt is no secret that teaching is an exhausting job. Nevertheless, Jenny Culbert, a kindergarten teacher at Springside School in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, has the energy and drive to make it all work. Having earned her undergraduate degree from Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania—with a major in Early Childhood Education and a minor in Photography—Jenny has been in the classroom for the last sixteen years. "I was working as a teaching assistant while pursuing graduate credit at Arcadia University before teaching pre-kindergarten for seven years at Abington Friends School. I then moved to Springside, and I have been one of three kindergarten teachers for the last four years." If your image of kindergarten is all graham crackers and nap time, forget it. Springside's full-day kindergarten is a busy place. "When the children come in at 8:30 a.m., they have morning duties. Some check the weather while others check the calendar, some pick a story, and some review the schedule for the day. By 9:00 a.m. we start the first activity. At 10:00 a.m. we have resources, such as music, library, science, or language (students currently study Chinese). It's pretty intense. Then we have playtime outside, lunch, a short rest period, and then we're back for more work." Jenny brings her photography skills to the classroom. "I still like to take pictures, and I've just gone over to digital—although it has taken a long time. I take a lot of pictures of the girls in the classroom. We do portraits of them, which they then write about and use in math class and for story writing." The variety of activities in Jenny's classroom keeps things fresh for her students, and she organizes activities to balance work and play. "If we have an hour of work time, I'll set up three stations. Usually, one station is for math, one is for language arts, and one is something they can do on their own—often something related to art. We call them 'work arounds' because the kids have to move around the room to get them done. I also invite parents to come in every Tuesday morning to play board games with their children and every Thursday to cook with the kids. This is a full-day kindergarten, which is nice because there are a lot of expectations and the kids really rise to them." Jenny not only enjoys the fact that her school is academically intense, but also that it is socially supportive. "Springside is all girls, although we do connect with the Chestnut Hill Academy boys. I think the split is excellent, because the girls feel empowered right from the get-go. I had been teaching co-ed before, and I didn't really understand until I got here—our message to the girls right from the start is, 'You can do anything you want, and we will support you in that interest.' Be it science or math or woodworking . . . that message is powerful. This is also important for girls when it comes to making friends. If you have a grade with thirty girls, you automatically have thirty possible friends."
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