by Alisha Janes
Lisa Lynch’s first-grade classroom in University Park Elementary is timeless in the sense that many Americans would recognize it as similar to their own first grade classroom. The walls are covered in student projects, photos, and educational posters and the shelves are full of familiar books and activities. The desks each have tidy name tags carefully taped down across the top.
The lesson I observed in Lynch’s first grade classroom was a perfect example of a fairly traditional classroom lesson. She read a book aloud while the students sat near her feet on a carpet in the front of the classroom. As she read, the students helped by reading along with the predictable pattern of the story. The first graders also answered questions that related how reading this book could help them with a forthcoming writing assignment. After about 20 minutes, the students returned to their desks and completed a follow-up activity on their own. On paper, this lesson may seem commonplace, but in person, Lynch’s clearly has extraordinary teaching talent.
Prior to the start of the lesson, Lynch took a few moments to let students tell her about their weekends. She asked pointed questions that illustrated just how well she knew each student personally, checking in on a sick grandparent, and following up with students who had attended a play over the weekend. The students in the room were actively engaged in the lesson, but like typical first graders, needed to be reminded of the rules occasionally. Lynch’s way of dealing with this was so effective that you might not have noticed her corrections at all.
She also made noticeable efforts to continue to expand the students’ independence, telling one student, “You are responsible; you can do it.” The students were all actively engaged in the lesson and the objective of the lesson and how it related to skills the students were developing over time was obvious. These small yet important touches are likely what caused Lynch to be nominated and recognized as a distinguished teacher in 2013 by Denver Teachers’ Awards.
The timeless feel of Lynch’s classroom parallels the school’s teaching style; University Park Elementary’s instructional model can be summarized as well-executed traditional education. While the school has embraced new technologies and opportunities, the basic tenets of education at University Park remain relatively unchanged.
Though routines around the school may seem relatively straight forward, the academic results they achieve are not. University Park was ranked 116th out of 1009 elementary schools in 2013 by Colorado School Grades.
The school’s unique qualities include:
- An incredibly diverse student population,
- A partnership with the University of Denver, and
- A wellness program that earned the school recognition as the healthiest school in Denver.
30-35% of the students at University Park have open-enrolled into the school, making University Park an available option to parents who are looking for an elementary school.
All in all, University Park Elementary and teacher Lisa Lynch are proving that more-traditional styles of education can be not only dynamic and innovative but also highly effective.
Alisha Janes is a fellow at Colorado Succeeds and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Colorado at Denver. Alisha’s previous experience include: coaching new teachers, teaching intervention lessons, and three years of teaching a Bilingual 5th grade class in Houston, TX.