The McKay K-8 School is in East Boston. Fully 90% of its 700 students are classified as Hispanic, and 65% are English Language Learners. The school works with the community to make sure each class has paraprofessionals, City Year Corps members, and/or student teachers (many from UMass Boston’s Teach Next Year program) to provide support to classroom teachers.

Fourth graders were eagerly studying various small critters – millipedes, African dwarf frogs, and fiddler crabs – working in small groups and taking notes while their teachers asked questions to deepen their observations. Fifth graders were rehearsing plays based on books they’d read and discussed; for example, Niki Thomas was directing her students in their presentation of a talk show introducing the characters of Esperanza Rising.

Paraprofessional Whitney Tibolt was teaching a second grade class about the different ways to express halves. Middle school science teacher Mary Shetterly had students classifying organisms by their role in the ecosystem, using cards taped to the black board. Students in Anthony Roman‘s gym class were practicing throwing a ball with a lacrosse stick, while fourth graders were singing with Bryan Bigelow in music class.

During common planning time, teachers at the McKay meet in grade level teams to select texts and tasks they feel best meet the needs of their students. When I asked Principal Jordan Weymer about finding time for thematic teaching at the McKay, he said:

We don’t worry too much about high-stakes assessments. Our instruction and tasks are all aligned to the standards and if you plan and implement with the standards in mind, then the testing takes care of itself.

Now that’s refreshing, given that I visited in the middle of PARCC testing!

Veteran first grade teacher Carmen Torres said that her colleagues and students are what make the McKay special. Jennifer-Jo Lee, who teaches one of the fourth grade classes, agrees:

I have grown so much as a teacher through my sixteen years here. We thrive on collaboration and pride ourselves on the high expectations we have for students and each other. Hearing my students say things like, ‘I love school!’ reminds me how honored I am to tell people not only where I teach, but where I learn every day.

Have a great summer, and please invite me to visit YOUR school next year!



Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.