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Local celebrities spend a day teaching—and learning—at Parlin Elementary as part of American Education Week's 'Educator for a Day' program.

Beth Barrett got a powerful assist from two prominent visitors yesterday in teaching her 29 fourth-graders at the Parlin School in Everett, Massachusetts: Boston Mamas blogger Christine Koh and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

The guest teaching was part of an American Education Week event in which celebrities and union leaders visited classrooms to celebrate the work of America’s public educators.

Barrett’s math agenda for the day was to teach her students what “perimeter” and “area” mean, how to calculate them, and how to use them.

She began with a song on tape: “Perimeter means the outside! …Area means the inside!”

Soon, she handed her whiteboard marker to Van Roekel, who taught high school math for 23 years but had never tested his skills in an elementary class before.

He did fine, though, getting the children to create rectangles on the board and then figure out the distance around and the area within, while taking care to bring everybody into the discussion — “This side of the room: You haven’t talked to me yet!”

The song was clearly a hit. At one point, a boy answered a Van Roekel question by singing him some lines.

Then it was Koh’s turn. She read a complicated, funny story about relatives coming over for Thanksgiving and the hosts having to arrange and rearrange a set of small, square tables to make room for different numbers of people as they arrived a few at a time. PowerPoint slides showed how shapes made with the same number of tables could have different numbers of chairs around them.

Koh said she had wanted to take part in the event to show her support for public schools. She said her parents sent three younger sisters to an elite private school and wanted her to go there for high school, but she resisted.

“I wouldn’t want to generalize our experience to all private schools, but my sisters had social problems at their school because they were on scholarship and they didn’t have some of the things other kids had. I was also really interested in music and the public high school had a great music program, which the private school didn’t have—you had to pay for lessons there.”

Koh’s daughter’s public school in neighboring Medford, Massachusetts, has an excellent music program, she added.

Parlin is a full-inclusion, K-8 school, and Barrett’s 29 students include five with disabilities, but special education teacher Fran Tenaglia is in the room full time, helping the five and also other students.

Principal Michelle Massa said classes in Everett are big because the population is growing. She said many of the students are from families that move frequently because of financial difficulties. Everett is working to align its teaching with neighboring communities so that students who move from one community to another won’t find themselves out of sync with their new classmates, she said.

While Koh, Van Roekel, and Barrett were introducing the fourth-graders to the mysteries of area and perimeter, television and radio host Billy Costa and Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner were in the seventh-grade social studies class of Everett Teachers Association Treasurer Stacy Schiavo.

Schiavo divided her students into small groups to talk about rules for living. The rule Costa suggested was “positivity rather than negativity,” but he said later that he was more impressed with one that a student in his group came up with: “Don’t be sad it ended; be happy it happened.”

Toner said his hope for all the classroom visits was that the visitors would “witness the great work of our members and relay that to the public.”

Meanwhile, downstairs in the gym, physical education teacher Jason Abruzzese’s eighth-graders were getting a rousing pep talk from former Boston Celtics guard Dana Barros.

“No matter what you want to do, it’s going to take a lot of work,” he told them. “I’m only five foot 10, but I played in the NBA for 15 years, against great basketball players like Michael Jackson. I practiced seven or eight hours a day to get there.

“Follow your own dream, not mine. You have the opportunity to do anything you want. Maybe your skill is music, or maybe it’s math. If you don’t take advantage of your skill, you’ll be missing out.”


American Education Week presents all Americans with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education.
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Educator for a Day Program Participants Share Their Experiences