Early in the school year, Young 5 teachers Audrey Debri and Carrie Dault found themselves buying coconuts at the grocery store to enhance the reading of one of their picture books.
The pair created a lesson plan around “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” a book about letters of the alphabet climbing high atop a coconut tree, after their students became interested in coconuts and where they come from.
“For the coconut lesson, a large focus was science and using our five senses,” Debri said. “First, the kids played guess-what’s-in-the-bag by reaching in and feeling the coconut. Once they figured out what it was, we had them listen to the water in the coconut as they shook it, smelled it and used their sense of sight to tell us what they noticed about it.”
After cutting open the fruit and tasting them, the class watched a video on their life cycle and talked about where they come from (Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Fiji and Samoa).
The duo plans all their curriculum and activities together so their Young 5 students to get the same experiences. Being flexible and planning with each other is key, they say.
Superintendent Scott Smith said the pair “define Cedar Springs culture and community.”
Cedar Trails Principal Beth Whaley said Dault and Debri developed the school’s Young 5 program and implemented it last year. Both have spent their careers teaching early childhood in the district.
“They studied the Great Start Readiness Program and kindergarten curricula, and created a Young 5 scope and sequence that would stretch the students while providing them the supports that they would be missing, having never had pre-K and/or being at school on the age waiver,” Whaley explained.
“They are passionate about adhering to developmentally appropriate practice in their classroom, and know that kids learn best through experiences, play and being able to touch and manipulate their learning.”
Debri said developing goals of the program involved looking at preschool and kindergarten end-of-year goals and using their knowledge of child development.
“From there, our focus was to take our curriculum and make everything as hands-on as possible,” she explained.
A Fun Age
Dault said she chose to teach Young 5s because, well, kids that age are fun.
“I love my students’ zest for life, their eagerness to learn and succeed,” she said.
And there’s no doubt she means it, watching her maneuver around her classroom with passion, from learning station to learning station, child to child, to engage and teach them.
Mason Yonkers expressed his feelings for Dault, saying, “I love her, and painting,” — though he also volunteers his favorite part of the day is “being with my mommy.”
Right across the hall, Debri also moves about her classroom with a smile, matching the energy of her young students… singing and smiling, and using exaggerated expressions to teach them, on this day, from the days on the calendar to emotions.
“I love being with the kids,” she said. “They make me smile and keep me full of energy all day long. I also love the team of amazing teachers I work with and learn from every day.”
Student Allyson Krzyszton said she’s “learning and having fun, and helping my friends. (Debri) puts out stuff every morning when we come so we can play for a little bit, and then listen to a cleanup song and go to the carpet.”
A Cedar Springs graduate in her ninth year teaching in the district, Debri lives in the community, is secretary and grant chairperson of the Cedar Springs Education Foundation and is active with the Cedar Trails PTO.
“Our Young 5 program is built on strong connections between families and the school,” she said. “The families that attend our school district are helpful, caring, supportive and kind.”
Debri Spearheads Outdoor Classroom
Debri also said they focus on providing experiences outside the classroom walls, like trips to an apple orchard or learning in a new outdoor classroom that recently opened for use. She and her husband, Tom, funded and built the area.
“Now all of the students at Trails have access to a beautiful outdoor learning area,” Whaley said.
Also, Debri recently attended training for kids yoga and is implementing what she learned in the classroom.
During Mindfulness Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays, “the kids and staff will learn calm-down strategies and focusing strategies, learn new exercises, and discuss overall physical/mental wellness,” she said. “There is a direct correlation between a child’s health and how they learn.”
And by having a strong focus on mental health and socioemotional development, Debri said she and Dault build a culture of kindness and respect among students.
“I want what is best for the families and children in this community,” said Dault, in her 16th year at Cedar Springs and her second as a Young 5 teacher.
Sparks Came Early
Dault said she became interested in teaching during high school as the neighborhood babysitter.
“I enjoyed working with the young children I was watching, and then took several child development classes in college,” she said. “I was intrigued by how the preschool child learns and develops.”
When Debri moved to Cedar Springs in third grade, she said she was very nervous about school.
“My teacher, Ms. Patricia Felter, spent the whole year making sure I felt safe and happy,” Debri recalled. “She helped me develop friendships with peers that lasted all through high school and even into today. She is the teacher I always think about when I reflect on how I was inspired to teach.”
It’s the first years of school that are so important to a child’s life, she said.
“Instilling a love of learning in young minds is what I love about my job. Early childhood education is crucial to a child’s success in the future, and I love being a part of that.”
Dault said she has mentors as well: “so many of the amazing teachers I have worked with and are currently working with at Cedar Trails.”
Her favorite part of the job?
“Watching and helping my students succeed.”