With only 94 students in grades K1-1, tucked into a corner of the Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, the West Zone Early Learning Center is perhaps the smallest school in Boston! I was enthusiastically welcomed by new principal Jean Larrabee, a teacher at the Sumner for many years and an old friend from the days when Boston”€™s Center for Leadership Development supported school-based, teacher-led Inquiry Groups.

It was a beautiful spring day and K1 students were outside with their science teacher, Molly Rovenko. One group told me they were “€œlooking for bugs”€ in the grass, while another was hoping to tempt them with a sugary syrup.

Inside Susan Sweeney”€™s K1 class, children were placing animals they had made of clay into a long cardboard “€œswamp”€ habitat and working at a variety of activity centers. Watching young children at play “€“ building block towers, putting jigsaw puzzles together, painting flowers at an easel, going on a “€œtrip”€ with their family in 2-chair make-believe cars, etc. “€“ always makes me smile. In our rush to make sure students become efficient test takers, we often forget the value of these opportunities for developing language and social skills.

Stephanie Kudriashova had brought her dog to school on the day I visited, and a group of youngsters gathered around to pet him during recess. Meanwhile, first graders were listening to their teacher read a book by Patricia Polacco, and later writing stories of their own. In one class I noticed a girl with thick glasses using a Braille typewriter!

There were 2-3 adults in each classroom to provide individual and small group instruction as needed. This academic support, as well as an extended day, is made possible at “€œELC West”€ with two sets of paraprofessionals: a morning group that comes in from 7AM-1PM and an afternoon group that is at the school from 11AM-5PM. I wish BPS could find a way to provide this kind of “€œsurround care”€ for all of our students!


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.