2018-03-15 / Front Page

Program gets educators back in classroom


Christine Lopes Metcalfe meets Lexi Moretti in the school yard of Lawn School last week. Metcalfe, who works for the state Department of Education, shadowed the sixth-grader for an entire school day last month. Christine Lopes Metcalfe meets Lexi Moretti in the school yard of Lawn School last week. Metcalfe, who works for the state Department of Education, shadowed the sixth-grader for an entire school day last month. For one day in late February, there was a new face in Charlene Tuttle’s sixth-grade homeroom, although Christine Lopes Metcalfe was no ordinary student.

For starters, she has a college degree.

Metcalfe, of Union Street, was participating in the Shadow a Student Challenge, a nationwide initiative that allows educational leaders and policymakers to experience school through the eyes of a student. Metcalfe, who is chief of staff at the Rhode Island Department of Education, joined 25 colleagues and 38 teachers across the state by bouncing from class to class with their student sidekicks.

Metcalfe registered for the challenge because she wanted to “remind myself what it’s like to be in school all day.” Before she was hired in Providence, she was executive director of Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, an advocacy organization that lobbies for commonsense education reform.

Like her classmates, Metcalfe chose to walk to Lawn School from her home in the village. When she arrived on campus, she was introduced to sixth-grader Lexi Moretti. For the next five hours, the pair attended all of Lexi’s regular classes, including science, chorus, social studies and math, where they worked on adding and subtracting negative numbers.

“I was very excited that I remembered how to do it,” Metcalfe said.

In English class, the students blogged about the books they were reading. Although Metcalfe was not assigned a novel, she followed along with a fantasy book that Lexi chose. Metcalfe was struck by the drastic changes to a routine language assignment.

“In my day, it was a book report,” she said. “Now, they are taking that older approach and doing it on a blog. I thought that was really interesting and great. Lexi was passionate about reading.”

Apart from technological advances, Metcalfe said the biggest change from her school-going days was the lack of bells to mark class periods. Instead, the teachers kept track of time themselves, and transitions between classes happened naturally.

After English came science, and Metcalfe was keen to see the STEAM curriculum – science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics – up close. For a lesson on magnetic fields, her and Lexi built electromagnets using batteries. The two sixth-graders then had a library period, where they completed a motorized Valentine’s Day box in the makerspace, a room dedicated to hands-on student collaboration.

Along with enjoying this assignment,

Metcalfe began to understand how the construction project could apply to real-life work.

“I thought it was a really great way to make science exciting,” she said. “They’d been working on it for a while. They were motorized so hearts would move. Some other students had lights that they had figured out how to connect different motions and sounds. It was a way of applying technology with this idea of making a valentine.”

One thing that separated Metcalfe from her fellow students was that she was able to photograph and tweet her experience throughout the day, particularly during her STEAM and makerspace courses.

Last year, when the principals participated in the shadow challenge, they were reminded by students to put their phones away. Metcalfe, however, didn’t get the third degree from her younger classmates.

“I was surprised that didn’t come up at all during the entire day,” she said.

Other than being allowed on Twitter, Metcalfe said she was treated no differently than a regular student. The teachers didn’t amend their curriculum to impress her, which made for a normal school-day experience.

“I didn’t feel like anything had changed because I was there,” she said. “Our experience was about shadowing the students and understanding it from their perspective. It was really guided by Lexi. I tried not to be a distraction to anybody.”

After lunch, the pair had chorus practice. Because she was in band during high school, there was a bit of nostalgia for Metcalfe in the music class.

“It was really nice to hear the students singing, and to hear the teacher walk them through the notes and why you make sounds in different kinds of ways,” she said.

Metcalfe and her colleagues who participated in the program have scheduled a meeting to share their experiences with one another. The end result of the program is for members of the Department of Education to use their collective experiences to shape future strategies.

“We’re making policies that are supposed to center around the students, so we’re using this as an opportunity to go back in and walk in their shoes,” she said.

When the final bell rang, Lawn principal Nate Edmunds met with Metcalfe to discuss her day. He also related his own experience from last year, which is when he spent the day shadowing a seventh-grader.

“It takes a lot out of you when you do everything and follow a student’s day,” he said. “There’s a lot to it. Kids do a lot of activity in the school.”

The Shadow a Student Challenge is organized by School Retool, a California-based professional development fellowship for teachers and school faculty. In 2018, more than 1,200 educators in 45 states participated in the challenge during February and March. The challenge was introduced in Jamestown during the 2016-17 school year. Edmunds did not participate in the challenge this time, but Melrose School principal Carrie Petersen joined Metcalfe as a student for a day.

“It’s a lot fun,” Edmunds said. “It’s very telling and informative to see what we’re doing, what are the kids being asked to do, and how does it feel to be a kid. Having the kids in mind helps to drive more thought and reflection about what we need to do to make things the best we can as teachers.”

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