Fridays are Special at Villa Maria – October 2019
There was electricity in the room during our morning meeting one Friday, three weeks ago. Usually the children are quiet and still waking up when we begin our days together. Feeling the excitement, I asked them was something different or special about Friday, assuming it was that the weekend was almost here. Hands went up all over the room and when I called on one of our youngest students in the front of the room, he said, “It’s Pizza Day!” Many students voiced their support for his answer, but the hands were still up. I called on an older student and he shared, “Electives start today!” And that response received resounding support from the entire student body.
Because I am new to Villa Maria, my own interest and excitement were piqued … children’s enthusiasm does do that to me. When the clock reached 1:35 that day, I found myself working my way around the building to see what they were doing. Because I became so involved in making pizza with the baking group, I never reached the other activities that day, but going forward, the same excitement and enthusiasm was present at morning meetings every Friday that followed.
Today, the third Friday since the beginning of electives, I committed myself to stopping in to see every elective group in action and what fun it was! I started with visits to two coding classes where a younger and an older student group worked on programming on the computer. The students’ focus and determination to take on a variety of coding challenges was so impressive and many loved explaining what they were trying to accomplish. Next stop, sensory play where one child was enjoying the feel of colorful water beads as she moved them about in a bowl and another worked with kinetic sand. Others worked on putty and play dough projects. Some seemed mesmerized with what they were doing and others were happily chatting as they experimented with the different touches they were experiencing.
The delicious scents emanating from the cafeteria drew me there next where the culinary arts group was making apple crisp (after making chocolate chip muffins the previous week). At the arts and crafts tables in the same space children were working on fall art projects that required a sequence of multiple steps to produce fall leaves and apples that they could hang in their windows at home. They were translucent so sunlight will make them glow. A drama group in the Performing Arts Center worked on re-enacting the development of an apple from seed, to tree, to fruit discussing the seasons when all of the happened and then began to act out different roles in life, teacher, fireman, policeman bringing them to life. A small group of students was busy learning sign language and demonstrated how they would communicate happiness and anger for me. A large group was outside playing a ball game invented by our own Mr. Genovese. They were enthusiastically involved in kicking the ball, running to bases and cheering their teammates on. The board game group in the library were enthusiastically involved in a game of Sorry, one of my favorite games (I told them I’d return to join a game next Friday). And just as I thought my journey to all the electives was over, a student from the journalism group caught me and asked if I was willing to be interviewed, which of course I was. His questions were tough ones …. what was I trying to accomplish during my year at Villa and why? He used a magic marker as a microphone during the interview. He approved of my goals … that was a huge relief!
Some would wonder if this Friday afternoon of electives was interrupting instructional time. But it is clear to me that this is an important learning time, engaging students in active, hands-on activities that help them learn in a different way while interacting with their peers, a key part of the learning that was happening. Our teachers were masters at structuring this period of time and engaging each child in the activities planned.
Now I completely understand why children are excited on Fridays! Mornings continue to be very academic with hour blocks of reading, writing and mathematics instruction, but after lunch, the approach to learning changes on this special end of the week day. Not only do our students love this time, so do the faculty members working with them. I feel so fortunate to be Head of a school that values this kind of learning and makes it a regular part of the school day. I don’t know where you will be next Friday afternoon, but I’ll be playing Sorry in the library. I can hardly wait!!
Marjorie E. Castro
Interim Head of School