We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Assistant Head of School Jemma Kennedy Becomes a Fourth Grader for a Day (& Climbs a Tree!)
From time to time, our administrators shadow a Westridge student in order to better understand the lived experience of students in different grades and different divisions. This year, Assistant Head of School Jemma Kennedy is planning a series of visits, which she began by shadowing the entire fourth grade class for a day.
On one bright sunny day in early October, I spent the entire day with our Westridge fourth graders. Greeted by a chorus of welcomes, and 18 firm and confident fourth-grade handshakes, I was immediately invited by two of these young scholars to pull up a chair and join them at their table in Mrs. Pettersson’s language arts class. As I watched the girls move through the opening minutes of the class, completing their individually assigned responsibilities and helping one another, it struck me that these girls owned this space; this was their place, a place where each of them understood her value and the importance of her contribution to the whole. As a result, a deep joy permeated the room.
This joy in learning surfaced and resurfaced, like a sea otter at play, throughout the day. In discussing A Cricket in Times Square as a group, Mrs. Pettersson pointed out five habits of good readers. Tapping into our empathy for characters was the habit focus that day, and each student around the room shared her thoughts about what individual characters might be feeling. Even when students expressed feelings of sadness or worry for a character, there was a sense that such expression was safe in this space, and that safety buoyed the tone of the classroom and kept students learning from one another. As these bundles of energy and possibility finished their book discussion and skipped off to Chorus (and believe me, fourth graders skip everywhere!), one student pulled me aside to let me know that, if I really wanted to understand what it’s like to be a fourth grader at Westridge, I must climb trees and play on the jungle gym at recess.
She was, I must say, right on. There is a sense of play and possibility that permeates the experiences in the fourth grade. Fourth graders instructed me on the best way to scale the climbing tree, the most effective strategy to avoid getting tagged in the slow-motion game of tag on jungle gym, and then in math class after recess, on strategies to figure out a combination of operations on the numbers 1, 2, 5, and 8 that would equal 24. Exploring with a compass in social studies, these students reveled in the discovery of how to determine magnetic north. Experimenting in physical education with different offensive and defensive strategies in a modified game of ultimate ball without keeping score, students learned as they laughed and used their own missteps to lead them to new ideas.
At the end of my day, I thanked these special scholars, our youngest on campus, for spending time teaching me about what it is like to be a fourth grader at Westridge. As I left, one of my new little friends pulled me aside with a whisper: “You did pretty well climbing that tree, Ms. Kennedy. But don’t worry; you’re just getting started. You’ll climb all the way before you know it.”
And so will they.
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