• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

In our schools, WCHS seniors providing ‘extra set of hands’ at Simmons

Forty-seven seniors at Woodford County High School are spending time each week helping students at Simmons Elementary School. It’s a collaborative learning experience that gives these high school students a pathway into the real world.

The high school seniors can choose to work with any age group, but elementary students in all grades (preschool through fifth grade) – and their teachers – are benefiting from having older students in their classrooms, according to the Simmons educators.

“The atmosphere (in my classroom) kind of perks up because (my students are) wanting to learn from someone that they look up to, and it’s vibrant. It’s such a good experience for them,” said kindergarten teacher Kelsey Brewer.

After they learn instructional strategies used by Brewer and other teachers, the WCHS seniors are able to provide one-on-one and small group instruction to help students practice their letters or read.

“It motivates these kids (in my classroom) like you can’t imagine,” said kindergarten/first-grade teacher Rose Thrush. Because her students are already so eager to learn, she said they can’t wait to read with one of the high school students.

WCHS senior Boo Hysell said she appreciates being able to “get out of my seat and help others learn; and teach them what I know and help them grow their knowledge for when they’re older.”

Never shy to try something new or innovative to meet the needs of students, Simmons Elementary Principal Tiffany Cook described the WCHS seniors who come into her school as “an extra set of hands for that individual help.” She wants every Simmons Elementary student who needs someone to have that somebody who comes to school to see them, to help them.

“When they see these (high school) kids out in public, they beam with pride to know that’s my person, that’s my mentor. So it really does go beyond the schools,” WCHS guidance counselor Kristen Wilson said.

Our students, according to Simmons Elementary guidance counselor Sandy Dugan, “get so excited about them being in the classroom and seeing them there.”

WCHS Spanish teacher Kelly Crager oversees the high school’s collaborative clinical experience class. Students in the class spend one block (of eight) on their black/gold day rotating schedule at Simmons Elementary each week.

WCHS students in the class must be seniors and get parental permission so they can drive to and from Simmons. They must also be passing all of their classes and be current on credit hours, Wilson said.

The collaborative learning class has grown from a handful of WCHS seniors last fall to a larger number during last year’s second semester before involving more students this school year.

In the future, seniors in this high school pathway program will be required to take prerequisite classes before they can take this capstone class, Wilson said.

She said the elective class earns them high school credit and community service hours. The collaborative experience class has also helped students make a decision beyond high school.

“Some of our high schoolers last year declared elementary education (as their major) in college this year because of this program,” said Wilson. She knows other students who have taken the class and come to the realization that they do not want to pursue a career in education.

Being in elementary schools and daycares, while taking some childcare classes at WCHS, put Wilson on a path to become a first- and second-grade teacher at Simmons Elementary and then a counselor, she said.

“It’s been my heart’s desire to do something like this to get these (high school) kids back into the schools to have an opportunity to do something that I know is beneficial because I’ve been there,” said Wilson.

Her two daughters are now benefiting from the high school students coming to their school, Simmons. “They just really look up to (the high school seniors), and it helps them stay focused,” said Wilson.

“They’re great role models too,” added Cook. “Kristen and Kelly have done a great of picking which kids are going to be good role models for our children…

“The kids’ faces,” she continued, “light up when the high school kids walk in their” classrooms.

Cook said the collaborative learning partnership would not have become a reality and grown to involve so many students this school year without the support of Crager, Wilson and WCHS Principal Rob Akers.

“We’re hoping in the future to get more schools involved,” said Wilson.

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