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Franklin Teachers Getting Ready for the Students

Teachers Return to Schools to Set Up Classrooms

Dawn Valdata walked in to her 2nd Grade classroom in Franklin Park School earlier this week and asked herself the same question she’s asked the past 11 years.

“Where do I start?”

Valdata, like her colleagues throughout the school district and in private schools located in the township, spent the week putting her classroom together in anticipation of next week’s start to the school year.

Some teachers came in during the summer to get a head start, others couldn’t or decided to wait.

For these teachers, getting their classrooms ready for the school year is more than just hanging posters on the walls. It’s also about arranging desks, creating special teaching areas in the room, and in some cases – such as with language teachers – making it easy for students to become totally absorbed in a certain culture to help the learning process.

It can be overwhelming at first.

“You come into a room with bare walls, the chairs are piled up against the walls, the desks are pushed up against the walls, my stuff is in boxes, or piled up and covered with sheets,” Valdata said.

“You really don’t know where to start,” she said. “So you just open up the cabinets, open up boxes and start putting stuff in.”

“Being teachers, we’re perfectionists, and we want everything to be arranged exactly the way we want it,” she said.

Some teachers bring help.

“We bring our kids, and our kids’ friends,” said Jacquelyn Orsillo, a Franklin Park 1st Grade teacher.

Another Franklin Park 1st Grade teacher, Amy Kriska, goes further.

“We recruit all kinds of family members,” she said.

Gloria Niebergall, a Kindergarten teacher at Franklin Park, said she prefers to start the process before the week before school starts.

“There’s a lot to do,” she said. “You want to get your mind in gear.”

Niebergall said that besides putting up bulletin boards and arranging furniture, she makes sure that any mechanical items in her classroom work.

Although the subjects taught are vastly different, teachers at Franklin High School have the same considerations as their lower school colleagues when setting up their rooms.

Carol Bender teaches three courses, psychology, child development and early childhood learning in her classroom. She said she likes to let the students “have a say in how the classroom is set up.”

For example, she said “they get to pick where they want to sit. They’re not babies anymore.”

Bender said that she came in during the summer to “check the classroom out.”

“If you teach more than one course, you have to take some time in the summer,” she said. “You do what you have to do so things run smoothly and the students get more out of it.”

Chris Riquelme, a 10th Grade history teacher, said she likes to personalize her room for her students.

Students who reach certain milestones during projects or other points during the year get their pictures taken and put up on a bulletin board.

“This is my way of helping them do better,” she said. “It’s more like a visual representation of how well they are doing.”

“They like it and I enjoy it,” she said.

For Maureen Cassidy, setting up her classroom is more like setting up a workshop.

Cassidy teaches textile and apparel design. Her classroom will be populated with sewing machines, bolts of cloth and mannequins.

She still hadn’t retreived her mannequins from storage earlier this week, and there were still many items in her closet.

“Normally I come in in the summer,” she said. “This summer I didn’t.”

It was pretty much the same routine this week at one of the township’s private schools, Rutgers Preparatory School on Easton Avenue.

On Wednesday, teachers were busy setting up their classrooms or learning the new educational software they’ll be using, all while new students were being entertained at a social on the school’s grounds.

Pablito Lake, a high school math and computer science teacher, said he starts setting up about three weeks before the start of school.

“You get your materials, set up your syllabi,” he said.

He also has to make sure all the software he plans to use is up-to-date, he said.

One obstacle he had to overcome this year, he said, was an imminent upgrade to the Apple operating system for iPhones. His class designs apps – small applications – for the iPhones, so he has to stay abreast of any changes in the underlying code for the app development.

Valerie Minakawa, a Japanese and Spanish teacher in the high school, said she’s in the course development stage of her setup.

“I just finished my bulletin board today, she said. “Now it’s on to the nitty gritty of what we’re going to do every day.”

“I need to tweak my curriculum a little bit, to make sure I don’t miss anything,” she said.

Latin teacher Nancy Engblom and Arabic and Spanish teacher Britt Dixon agreed that they like to set up their classrooms so their students can become immersed in the culture of the language they are studying.

They do that by doing things raging from hanging from the walls flags of the countries in which the language they teach is spoken, to putting up posters from the relevant regions, to using special clocks.

Engblom’s clock uses Roman numerals, while Dixon’s uses Arabic symbols.

“We’re creating a culture and setting up a place for the kids to have a particular perspective,” Engblom said.

Dixon also has a practical reason for how she decorates her classroom.

Students’ attention spans can sometimes waiver, she said, “and if they’re going to zone out and look around the room, I want them to have something to look at” that’s relevant to the lesson.

 

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