It’s been awhile since I visited the Hennigan Elementary School, this time at the suggestion of New Teacher Developer Amy Kwan-Chan, who is mentoring a first-year teacher there. The Hennigan is a sprawling building in Jamaica Plain with almost 500 students. Its population is 60% Hispanic, and 50% of the students are enrolled in bilingual (SEI) or special education classes. All take swimming classes in the school’s Olympic-size pool, which is open to the community in the evenings.
New principal Maria Cordon (formerly at the Agassiz) was out and about in the building when I arrived. As I visited classes with camera in hand, most students in the upper grades were taking ANet language and math assessments. ANet is being piloted in selected BPS schools and adds 5 more tests per year, with feedback designed to guide re-teaching in areas of student need. With good reason, many teachers in these “data-driven” times feel like they spend more time testing than teaching!
Art teacher Marlon Forrester was conducting a circle discussion with his fifth graders. I was impressed by his calm, sure manner with students as well as his sincere interest in hearing and addressing their concerns. Kristie McElhaney’s students were writing what they could see and infer about the ancient African kingdom of Benin from its artwork. I especially enjoyed visiting primary classes where students were engaged in a variety of learning centers – student choice seems to have been a casualty of our testing mania in upper elementary grades, but is alive and well in the Hennigan’s K-2 classes.
It’s encouraging to see evidence of the school’s focus on students’ social and emotional needs. Photos and inspirational quotes of famous people line the hallway outside the newly renovated library, and murals decorate many of the giant cinderblock walls. This year Mr. Forrester and his students created a dramatic red, black and white representation of the Hennigan’s "5 Bs" slogan: "Be here, Be ready, Be safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible."
Please invite me to visit your school!
Amika Kemmler Ernst is a recently retired BPS New Teacher Developer with extensive experience as a classroom teacher, curriculum developer, and graphic artist. Her “We’re Learning Here” Project features images of everyday learning in our public schools, along with the words of the students pictured.