NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!
A parent recently reached out asking for missed assignments from a student absence. What was sent home was just a few handouts; a stark contrast to when Jonathan Elementary fifth grade teacher Elizabeth Hanson first started her career in Eastern Carver County Schools at East Union Elementary some 30 years ago.
“So much of what we do now can’t be sent home. The group work, the collaboration between students, all of the hands-on activities we’re doing each day. So much learning happens in the classroom and it’s not all in instruction materials,” Hanson said.
A few doors down in Rebecca McKeever’s fifth-grade classroom, with some students stumped on a decimals math lesson, she asked the students what they could do if they were stuck.
The first answer was “ask others at our table.” The second answer was a different method of problem solving. McKeever patiently waited for a third student to answer “ask the teacher.”
“I can’t imagine teaching any other age. These kids are so independent. They work together to find the solution. And when they need a teacher, that dialogue, that conversation, is so thought out,” said fellow fifth grade teacher Jack Hurst.
Lisa Berends’ fifth-grade class had a hands-on STEM engineering project in the makers’ space adjacent to the media center that required groups of two or three students to design and build a marble run track. The pairings were random. Berends made sure no tablemates were on a team together.
Collaboration was at the forefront, deciding on what materials to use. While most groups built parts of their track on the corkboard, piecing them together, one pair did much of the engineering on the floor, waiting until it was complete to attach to the wall.
Berends said the STEM project is part of an overall lesson on pulleys and levers and other mechanical engineering, preparing fifth graders for the MCA Science test later this school year.
Between the four fifth grader teachers at Jonathan Elementary, all have been in the district for more than 20 years. Their total service time in ECCS tops the century mark.
McKeever has classroom photos of her first 15 years at Jonathan Elementary after starting at Chaska Middle School West. Hurst, who moved from East Union Elementary after its 2022 closure, has a folder in his room with every class photo dating back to 1997.
Hurst started in a second and third grade classroom, but has spent much of his career with upper primary students in fourth and fifth grades.
“Twice I’ve had second generations in a family in my class. I had a bunch more that were in kindergarten and would have had me,” Hurst said.
Berends did her student-teaching at Jonathan. She’s been on staff between second, fourth and fifth grades for 23 years.
After many years at Chaska Elementary, Hanson joined the Jonathan staff in 2017. Hurst is the newcomer of the bunch.
“It’s been a great fit,” Hurst said, though he admitted it was a lot of work transitioning from one building to another. “I love the school and I love the group of teachers we have in fifth grade.”
Hanson followed in the teaching footsteps of her sister.
“I always enjoyed learning. Teachers always made it so fun. I got to go with my sister to her classroom a few times and I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Hanson said.
Asked what has changed throughout the years, Hanson said students and families are being pulled in so many different ways outside of school.
“We used to give them homework most nights and we don’t do that as much, which is fine if they are engaged and active in learning when they’re here in the classroom,” she said. “We have so many more resources, more opportunities now, it certainly looks much different.”
All the teachers agree, fifth grade is an important time in school. While students are preparing for middle school next year, they also are the leaders among their peers. Their actions go a long way in shaping the student experience at Jonathan.
Favorite snack: Goldfish and pretzels were among the most popular items for students. The days of asking to get water from the drinking fountain are long gone. All students carry their water bottle wherever they go.
Most unique classroom: Mr. Hurst. One table has a bench made out of two old snowboards. Additionally, he has small lights that wrap around the room near the ceiling. On this day, they were set to the color red. Each color represents what specialist the students visit that day.
Ways of learning: During a math lesson, Mrs. McKeever’s class utilized three different learning tools – a smart board, dry erase marker boards and workbooks. Enrichment activities on a similar lesson in Mr. Hurst’s class were available on a Chromebook.
Specialist: Following Mrs. Hanson’s class to the gymnasium, Mr. John Saindon was making sure students were ready to head outside on a beautiful day. He started out the class with some stretching exercises. Let’s just say the form on some of the push-ups and sit-ups could use a little refresher since last school year!
Excitement: Multiple students shared joy in receiving the instrument of their choice for the Jonathan Elementary fifth-grade band. Let’s hear it for the baritones! Ms. Leah Toppen, band director for elementary bands at Jonathan, Victoria and La Academia, was testing students to see which instrument would best suit them.