By Noelle H. Lowery
Fifth grade is a time of change and transition, and this year is no exception for the fifth-grade students at Tommie Barfield Elementary. While TBE’s fifth graders learn to accept independence, responsibility and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in preparation for middle school, they also welcome two new teachers — Debby Lenehan and Lori Pinson.
It is a challenge, admits TBE Principal Dr. Jory Westberry. “Fifth grade is a turning point for our students as they begin the reach for more independence; along with independence comes more responsibility,” she explains. “This can be a challenging transition for some students who still like being dependent on others and won’t take responsibility for their actions even though they want the benefits of being older.”
Moreover, they must also acclimate to a new curriculum in preparation for a currently unknown standardized test in middle and high school. Dubbed the Common Core State Standards for K-12 education, the new standards focus on English, Language Arts and Math. They set specific and rigorous standards and expectations for each grade level, focusing on comprehension, analysis, explanation, writing, group work and class discussion.
Since being adopted by Florida’s State Board of Education in 2010, Florida schools have worked to implement the standards by the 2014-2015 school year. This year’s fifth graders are seeing many of these new standards for the first time, and to complicate matters, it does not seem that Governor Rick Scott’s office or the Florida Legislature can decide on a smooth educational pathway for any student in the state. In fact, just last month, Scott’s office released word questioning the state’s commitment to the new Common Core Standards, withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is working on a standardized test to replace FCAT 2.0.
“Preparing students for middle school is very demanding, regardless of the curriculum,” Westberry notes. “At this point, we don’t even know if Common Core will be officially adopted in Florida, so for now, we try to be prepared for any contingency… Flexibility is the key.”
“The fifth grade team has to take students from being dependent to showing personal initiative, taking charge of their learning and being more conscientious than ever before,” she adds.
Some of that flexibility and initiative comes in the form of TBE’s newest fifth grade assets, Lenehan and Pinson. At the end of last year, TBE fifth grade favorites Ed Laudise, Lynn Hoffman and Mia Mankiewicz moved on. When Lenehan and Pinson walked through the door, Westberry knew they would be able to help TBE’s fifth graders through their tough transition.
The two teachers have different backgrounds and teaching styles but are effective in reaching their students in their own unique ways in the classroom. For example, Lenehan’s adventurous, enthusiastic and creative personality led her to produce a teaching video of herself dressed as a pirate explaining the laws of the the sea and relating them to the laws we follow everyday.
On the other hand, Pinson is wise, calm and kind, and according to Westberry, this is most evident in her love of science and the hands-on activities she employs to engage her students and help them understand new concepts.
For Westberry, it was a no-brainer to hire the two women to help lead TBE’s fifth graders through the uncertain terrain of the 2013-2014 school year: “During interviews with our team, both teachers convinced us that they had the expertise to not only connect with our students and families, but to put forth the professional effort needed to increase achievement and challenge our students.”
Hometown: Coral Gables, FL
Education: Certified in ESE, Elementary Education, Pre-K, ESOL and High School English
Why teach?: “I am a natural teacher, I owned my own riding lesson business to put myself through school. I was a 4-H leader as well when my kids were young and I still own the same horse I bought in 1999… To me it doesn’t matter what age I teach. I see a child not a challenge. I am partial to the special ed and little ones.”
Biggest influence: Her late-husband Jim, who passed away in 2009.
“We knew each other for 30 years. We played guitar together and lived aboard boats together… He never did like the horses but our children did.”
Three words to describe you: “Perseverance, honest and dependable. I am fearless at the helm (of a sail boat). A good captain keeps their head on their shoulders even in bad weather, and lying is not a suit I admire in people…just say it like it is.”
Dinner for five: “I have always wanted to meet Nelson Mandela, Neil Young, Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth and Philip Pullman. What an interesting table conversation that would be!”
Do you agree with Anne Frank that people are basically good?: “I believe all people are inherently good, it’s the choices we make that define us.”
Hometown: Homestead, FL
Education: Graduate of Florida International University with a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education
Years teaching: 12 years
Why teach?: “I have a passion for teaching. My goal is to create life long learners. I want students and parents to remember me as the teacher who believed in them. I want to add to their confidence to make them strong independent leaders.”
Biggest influence: “My family has been the biggest influence in my life. I have been surrounded my positive role models in my life, therefore I want to be a positive role model for those in my life.”
Three words to describe your teaching style: Understanding, Flexible and Patient
Do you agree with Anne Frank that people are basically good?: “I do believe people are good. It’s just seeing the part that is good and making sure they see it and love it.”