Reading fairy tales about a blonde-haired kid who finds all the accouterments of home in a bears’ den would likely be an easy task for the fifth-graders in teacher Katherine Valleau’s classes. Then again, when the protagonist of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is put on trial for charges of breaking-and-entering, property damage and the like, the lesson gets a little trickier.
During different semesters in the school year, Valleau will work with every elementary classroom in District 91 as part of a program to advance the curriculum on a broad level. Currently, she’s using a courtroom setting to teach fifth-graders how to think differentially. The lessons are part of the district’s Push-in Enrichment program. Rather than pull students out of their normal classes to learn in an accelerated environment – which educators in Forest Park do – Valleau brings slices of that advanced setting to the general curriculum.
“It’s an advanced way of thinking,” Valleau said of the fairy tale trial. “I’m trying to get them to think a year out from where they are.”
During one Field-Stevenson’s classroom’s trial of Goldilocks, student jurors came back with a verdict of not guilty on two counts, and guilty on two others. To get there, they listened to their peers ask questions of different witnesses. This particular lesson began during the third week of September, said Valleau, and involved little guidance in formulating questions and answers for the mock trial. She explained the processes of a trial and how it runs, but the challenge of asking the right questions to bolster an argument was entirely on the kids.
“The nice part of this unit is it’s all their skills and their knowledge,” Valleau said.
Under the new attendance boundaries implemented in the district this year, it is Valleau’s first year working as the Push-In Enrichment teacher. She is also heading up the Latin program available to kids in grades three, four and five. Previously, Valleau taught at Betsy Ross Elementary and was one of several teachers who went to MIT in Cambridge, Mass., to learn how to use the XO computers introduced under the One Laptop Per Child program.
Robert Giovannoni, principal of Field-Stevenson, oversees both the Latin and Push-In programs. The idea behind both, he said, is to expose kids to lessons that don’t necessarily fit in the curriculum.
“I wish I had 10 percent of her energy,” Giovannoni said of Valleau.
In the coming months, fifth-grade students in Forest Park will begin a lesson on public speaking, and fourth-graders are expected to participate in a poetry slam.