Dropping in and out of every classroom within Forest Park’s elementary schools, Katherine Valleau says she’s kind of like the fun aunt in education.
Textbooks are put away as students get a break from the traditional form of curriculum and no tests are ever on the agenda. But this is certainly not recess.
Among her many duties, Valleau is running an enrichment program called “Push In” that focuses on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills – or as she likes to call it, “life skills” – in every student from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Twice a week for 30 minutes, Valleau takes over the classroom and teaches activities that incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, the “back-bone of the program.” Bloom’s Taxonomy categorizes how people process information, starting with knowledge as the most basic level all the way up to evaluation, the highest level of thought.
As an example, it’s the difference of knowing the letter “a,” learning the sound it makes and then being able to read it and understand it within a word.
In applying that to the students, “we look at what activities we can bring in to the kids to get their thinking from a very flat level to a synthesis and evaluation so that they are truly processing through an entire scope of an idea,” she said.
While the program itself is about 10 years old, starting this fall, it will undergo a number of changes. For one, Valleau will spend one quarter of the year at each school instead of running across town changing schools during the week.
Through survey questions, she will also be conducting learning profiles for each individual student to figure out the best way that he or she learns.
“Everybody learns a different way,” she said. “Some kids learn through interacting with each other while others need a rhythm and a beat. There is no standard, general classroom any more.”
Once she has a sense of each student’s learning style, she will share the information with the teacher, who can then make adaptations in the classroom.
Valleau also plans to change the curriculum of the program by implementing a school-wide theme with sub-themes for each grade level. For example, in the elementary schools students will study geometry, starting with shape identification in kindergarten and working up to proportions in second grade.
Sara Boucek, a third grade teacher at Field-Stevenson, said she is excited for Valleau to come into her classroom this year. Though it’s too soon to talk about the changes recently made, Boucek said the program has impacted her students in the past.
“Analogies are difficult for third graders to understand,” she said of a topic that Valleau covered in her class last year. “But they would learn something like, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs,’ and then the kids would see it in everyday life and say it all the time. They would take things they did in our curriculum and then connect it to everyday life.”
Superintendent Lou Cavallo noted that this program in particular is unique in the district because every child participates.
“I think it’s great that we continue to progress to meeting the needs of all kids,” he said. “It reaches every child; every kid gets the opportunity to use higher order thinking skills.”
That means Valleau, a 34-year-old from Detroit, gets to know every one of the approximately 620 students at the schools. Valleau, who holds a master’s in teaching and a master’s in school leadership and administration, originally graduated from undergrad with a bachelor’s in fashion design and retail merchandise.
It didn’t take her long to realize teaching is where she belonged.
“Teaching is just in my blood,” she said.