First-Graders at Brunson Soar with Students at Wake Forest
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
MAY 7, 2020 – In first grade, students at Brunson and other elementary schools learn about birds.
This year, the Brunson students had fun help from 17 students at Wake Forest University who came to the school to work with the first-graders.
The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience, said first-grade teacher Lauren Hicks.
“I have absolutely loved the opportunity to collaborate with Wake Forest,” Hicks said.
“It takes our study of birds to the next level. One day that the students visited was the same day Wake Forest Basketball was playing Duke. My students were so excited to make a good luck sign for the basketball player who visited our class.”
“When we were still in school, my students would often ask about when our ‘Wake friends’ would visit again, I think they looked up to them. It was an awesome experience to see them all interact with each other!”
It was a great experience for the Wake Forest students as well, said Brandon Childress, one of the student athletes who participated.
“It was amazing seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces,” Childress said.
On one visit, Childress said, he was feeling tired when he arrived. By the time he was done working with the first-graders he felt great.
Having a student say, “You are my favorite basketball player” certainly contributed to that feeling.
Childress came away from the experience feeling as if the students helped him see the importance of appreciating the little things in life and of approaching everything with a smile on your face.
The Wake Forest students who came to Brunson were taking a class called Integrating Arts and Movement into the Elementary Curriculum. It was being co-taught by Alan Brown, an Associate Professor of English Education, and Christina Soriano, the Associate Provost of the Arts and an Associate Professor of Dance at Wake Forest.
This was the second year that Soriano and Brown have had students in one of their classes collaborate with Brunson. During the 2018-19 school year, Wake Forest men – many athletes - taking a dance class called Movement for Men came and worked with fourth-graders.
Knowing that first-graders study birds, Brown said, they thought it would be good to work with them his year.
“We liked the idea of focusing on birds,” Brown said.
“It is such a fertile topic from which to develop some arts lessons,” Soriano said.
When the Wake Forest students came to Brunson, they would divide into four groups and each group would work with one of the four first-grade classes at Brunson.
Hicks said that, as part of the curriculum, students choose a bird from a list that includes wood ducks, blue jays and pelicans and work to become an “expert” on that bird. They would draw pictures and write about them.
When the Wake Forest visited the first time, they had created dances that integrated movements that a bird would make. The students then learned the dances as well.
On the second visit, Hicks said, Wake Forest students had written an “I Am…” poem about a bird and put movement to it. Her students also wrote “I Am…” poems.
Her students and the Wake Forest students would break in smaller groups and work together.
“As a teacher, it was cool to see the different ways groups interacted,” Hicks said.
One of the points that Brown makes with students is that teaching others is an especially effective way to learn yourself. And these experiences clearly helped them grow, he said.
And working with the first-graders clearly inspired the Wake Forest students. Several of them are on the basketball team. The night of one visit to Brunson, they played Duke, and. the night of the other visit, they played Carolina. They won both games.
Soriano likes to think that the Brunson first-graders helped make that possible by sending so much positive energy Wake Forest’s way.
Soriano was impressed by the ways in which the Wake Forest students worked with the Brunson students, and she thinks many student athletes would make excellent teachers.
“I would like to see more student athletes be education majors,” she said.
Although a number of the Wake Forest students may have no plans to become a teacher at the moment, Brown hopes that the experience may serve as in inspiration for them to do that in the future.
A bonus for Brown was learning about the Bar-headed goose. Sometimes called “the astronauts of the bird world,” they are known for the extreme altitudes they reach when migrating across the Himalayas.
The original plan this year was for the Wake Forest students in this class – which, unlike the earlier one, included both women and men – to visit Brunson five times.
The coronavirus changed all of that, first with Wake Forest suspending in-person classes and then with students at Brunson and other Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools starting to learn at home.
So the Wake Forest students were able to visit only twice. They kept in touch with Brunson students, though, by creating posts on FlipGrid, a social learning site created for educators on which participants can communicate through short videos.
“They adapted so quickly,” Brown said. “They wanted to have some continuity.”
“They wanted the first-graders to be able to see them.”
Hicks said her students were disappointed that they couldn’t visit with the Wake Forest students again in person but were really happy that the Wake Forest students wanted to stay in touch them.
Hicks said she really appreciated that.
“I think it’s awesome they are still working to keep in touch with our students,” she said.
And the Brunson first-graders were able to communicate with the Wake Forest students.
“Our students can visit that page and reply to them,” Hicks said.
Brown said that they discovered that the FlipGrid connections were valuable and, and he envisions continuing to use it in years to come.
“FlipGrid worked out really well,” Brown said.
Soriano appreciated that the collaboration enabled two groups that might never have connected otherwise have such rich experiences working together, and she thanked the first-grade teachers at Brunson and Principal Jeff Faullin for making that possible.
"We got so much from the experience,” Soriano said.
The first-grade teachers at Brunson Lauren Hicks, Renet Parris, Brooke Painter, and Holly Say.
The Wake Forest students participating in the collaboration were:
You will find the story about the earlier collaboration at 2018-19.