In order to write about the many reasons that I love Thomas Jefferson Elementary School (TJ) I took a moment to stop and think about what makes a great school and what are the things that provide a student with an excellent education. There are indeed many pieces that need to work cohesively in order to provide a student with a stellar education and at the elementary level to provide them with the foundation for a lifetime of learning. One needs to take into consideration what it is that encourages a child to learn and excel, to exceed even his or her own expectations. How does a child learn that education is and should be a continuing journey, one that will open his or her mind and doors in the future? Again, many pieces need to come together to help an elementary student recognize and embrace the importance of education. These goals are supported by many of the same things. Some of these are basic human needs; a warm and clean place to learn, nutrition, care for the mind and body. A child needs to have trust for those providing the education and care. A child needs to accept that those providing the education are doing so out of a belief that every child has an inherent right to an education and more so that these children deserve that education. They need the tools of education; books, technology and patience. They need the adults and those in the position of leadership around them to know who they are as people and what their names. At TJ all of the staff knows all of the students’ names. The teachers don’t just know their students. They know the students in the other grade, both those they have taught and not yet had a chance to teach. This, in turn, means that the students also know the other students outside of their class whether it is because they have overlapping lunch or recess time or maybe from one of the many outstanding after-school opportunities. TJ is somewhat unique in the open school concept (minimal walls) but I have seen firsthand how it enables the students and teachers to know the whole school. How TJ’s students are proficient at focusing and dealing with distractions. I love that my kids can see each other during the day as they enjoy that and I think it provides a sense of comfort for them. Mrs. Hirner (TJ’s Principal) is outside every morning and every afternoon. She greets every child she sees with a smile of encouragement and joy. She greets the parent or guardian (sibling…) that is dropping off the child. She knows what is going on with the students, which child may need a bit more encouragement today and which child just wants a high five or some acknowledgment. This is more than feeling welcomed and more than feeling wanted and believed in. It provides the students with a daily reminder that she has their back and she will hold them to their best but will be there when they hit a stumbling block. Speaking of staff that know all of the kid’s names, how can a child learn if they don’t feel well? Not easily, that is for sure. The school nurse at T.J. Ms. Potenza is utterly loved by the students. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have told me to just ask Ms. Potenza about something. When she has had to call me I am always so comforted knowing that even though they aren’t feeling well and I can’t get there right away they are in good hands. As a parent, that is completely reassuring. Sometimes they go to see her when they just need a little break or are maybe having a tough day. She has an unerring ability to tell when they just need a five-minute break and when she needs to call.
In the same manner that sometimes kids need help with an illness or physical issues, they can also need some assistance with behavioral or social challenges. I have personally solicited the advice of the two amazing and engaged counselors at TJ. Mr. DeRaymond and Miss Mason know these kids so well and are always there to help them. They are kind, patient, and knowledgeable and know how to help the students stay on track. I can’t say enough about the support they provide every child and their families. The Specialist teachers are all incredible as well. The other day when we had a snow day I told my daughter who looked happy at first (because who doesn’t love a snow day) but then her face just fell. She then looked at me and said; “But I have ART today!” She has always enjoyed crafts but she told me once that she just loves how Mrs. Bloss teaches art. Then she looked even sadder and told me that she would miss her teacher Ms. Fenstermacher (that is only a small indication of how great she is as a teacher).
There is also the staff that keeps the building clean and in order, the staff that feeds them and oversees recess where they can get exercise and fresh air. If they are hungry when they arrive in the morning they can get breakfast in the classroom so that they can pay attention to learning rather than a grumbling stomach. There are also so many additional staff in each classroom (a big benefit of a Title 1 School in my opinion). The Teacher aides and reading specialists know all the students as well as they are often in multiple classrooms. With the open concept, if they are walking by and see that a student might need a bit of attention or a teacher needs an extra hand, they can provide it. Then there are the after-school programs that so many of these teachers dedicate their own time too. Girls on the run, Leaders of Tomorrow, Community Clean Up, Art Group, Math help, Volleyball and so many more. This is all provided beyond the classroom and beyond the school day.
TJ is a community school that educates all of the students with equity. Every student that walks through the door regardless of their background or what they bring with them are treated equitably. They are taught together, they are respected, encouraged and given a path to continue their education. The foundation to that all is the belief and devotion the staff has to the students and the ideals of education. Every day at TJ I see all of the students being given support, kindness and a path to succeed. They are given leadership opportunities and every day they are told; “You can do this, we believe in you.” My son’s report card has this exact comment “…Continue your awesome journey in fourth grade. I believe in you.” (From his absolutely outstanding teacher Mrs. Stein-Miller). I think I will always remember the look on his face as he read that comment to me because he knows it is true, she does believe in him.
I love my children and I love my community. Thomas Jefferson and the entire BASD staff embrace my kids and the children of my community. They provide them with not just an education but with care, kindness and a path to lifelong learning. How could I not love T.J.?
submitted by Emily S. – proud Thomas Jefferson Elementary parent