Page One

Gentle and kind first days at school

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Saturday September 02, 2000

Kindergartners at Malcolm X Elementary aren’t puzzled when they’re put into classes called yellow, green or blue on the first day of school.  

But some parents may scratch their heads when they receive a colored piece of paper in the mail a few days before school starts telling them that their child will be in the green class for three days. 

“It’s the way we build kindergarten classes here,” said teacher Louise Rosencrantz, who ran with the idea called Gentle Beginnings five years ago when Malcolm X was re-configured as a Kindergarten through fifth-grade school. 

“It’s the best way to get to know all the kids,” she said. 

It works like this: before school starts, the kids are assigned a color group and for three days the three kindergarten teachers each see a different group. This enables the teachers to look at each child’s academic strengths, social strengths and friendship needs, Rosencrantz said. 

And afterward, they build three balanced classes for each teacher for the rest of the year.  

“It’s artistry,” Rosencrantz said of building the diverse classes. “It’s wonderful fun, but it’s very hard. You realize how individual each child is. To build a great class, you need diversity, and not just diverse in demographics only.” 

“We think it’s really important that classes are ethnically, temperamentally and academically diverse,” said teacher Cynthia Allman. 

Moreover, the teachers will begin home visits this month to talk to the families and discuss what the teacher and the parents say are the specific needs of the student. 

It gives parents a chance to talk to the teachers about their kids in their home setting. Later, teachers will be having school-based parent-teacher conferences, talking to parents about the how the child is performing in the school setting. 

“It’s extra work for teachers and parents, but we’re convinced it works,” said Allman. 

Allman, Rosencrantz and Dyantha McDougal also hosted a potluck at the school for the kindergartners and their families before school started to introduce themselves and the program to parents who haven’t experienced it, and to talk about health requirements and other things the students may need. 

Rosencrantz said that Gentle Beginnings lets the kids, the families and the teachers get to know each other, and said she sees it as a way to better meet goals. 

The parents also seem to like it.  

Felicity Bensch, an English teacher at Pinole Valley High School in Pinole whose child went through the program, said she wishes something like this could take off at the high school level.  

“Equity goes on,” she said. “It’s very impressive that they work together as a team so classes are balanced. I get the feeling that the teachers give immediate individual attention.” 

“It’s hard being a kindergartner,” said parent Laurie Senauke. “For the first month, they’re acclimating. This gives everyone a chance to form a real partnership with each other.”