Redesigned program enriches learning for all students

Two girls sit on carpet in classroom. One girl points at paper on ground.

Meadowbrook’s Principal Natalie Sawatzky noticed education was becoming more rigid. She remembered hearing teachers talk about the flexibility and creativity they used to have in their classrooms, which brought them so much joy — yet she saw less of that as education focused more on the standards.

At the same time, Meadowbrook Elementary enrichment specialists Kathleen Roller and Michelle Hetland were attending Confratute, a conference and institute at the University of Connecticut that provides educators with research-based practical strategies for engagement and enrichment learning. Roller and Hetlund left feeling inspired, resulting in a catalyst for the schoolwide enrichment program at Meadowbrook.

Enrichment for ALL students

The schoolwide enrichment program combines creativity, experiential learning, and the standards to create engaging learning experiences for both teachers and students.

In the past, only students who excelled on standardized tests would qualify for accelerated learning opportunities. However, with the schoolwide enrichment model those opportunities have been expanded giving all students access. Through inquiry-based and personalized learning, the school wide enrichment model brings a range of meaningful learning experiences to all scholars and guides them to reach their highest potential.

“I love that we are moving forward,” Hetland said. “The old model was outdated. It’s so much fun working with all kids.”

The enrichment specialists credit the redesigned enrichment program to Hopkins leaders like Sawatzky and District administration. Without the support of leadership, it would not have been possible to create an equitable enrichment program. In addition, the staff community has embraced the reimagined model.

“We have a really open-minded staff and school community who are not afraid to try new things and are supportive of it,” Hetlund said.

A boy holds up a microphone in classroom to speak.

Developing skills and traits

Schoolwide enrichment is more than excelling at reading or math. Roller and Hetland have developed curriculum that strengthens skills like engineering, problem solving, and spatial reasoning.

“I feel like it’s benefiting students to provide them with critical thinking skills that maybe they wouldn’t get to develop in a typical classroom experience,” Hetland said.

According to research, traits that are traditionally considered gifted traits can be taught. Hopkins is instilling in student scholars a gifted mindset — building and developing critical thinking and curiosity in all students. Schoolwide enrichment concentrates heavily on conceptualizing and exploratory learning. The specialists encourage and redirect students in ways that allow them to develop gifted traits.

For example, imagine two kindergartners building a marble run. When they try to add a large disk to an area of the structure with no support under it, Meadowbrook’s enrichment specialists redirect their approach with questions like “what do you think will happen if you place that there?” or “why would it tip over?”

“It’s hands-on and they don’t even know they are learning because they are just playing,” Hetland said.

So much of critical thinking is engaging in problem-solving scenarios — and creative thinking is another major focus area in the schoolwide enrichment model. Some people don’t think they are creative, but according to Hetlund, creativity is something all scholars can grow and cultivate.

“Ultimately, creativity is what gets you to your goal of whatever it is you’re trying to achieve,” Hetland said.

Building multi-age classrooms

Meadowbrook is also exploring multi-age classrooms that combine first and second graders into one classroom with the same teacher. Multi-age classrooms can complement and enhance the enrichment model.

In a standard classroom, a teacher teaches one lesson and moves on. Meadowbrook multi-age classroom teacher Elyse Juba uses a personalized learning strategy in her combined grades 1 and 2 classroom. This classroom is integrated so seamlessly that many students do not know who is in their traditional first or second grade class. Students move through small group rotations so that standards are met and students learn at a pace that matches their learning development, rather than grade level determining their pace.

The structure has created a great sense of community among the students, giving space for student voice to be amplified. It creates an environment for students to build real-life skills like confidence, self advocacy, collaboration, and empathy.

At a time when more and more educators across the country are feeling burnt out, the Meadowbrook teachers in the multi-age classrooms and enrichment program are letting their passion and excitement shine through.

“Now we have a chance to see and nurture all of the students,” Roller said. “It feels much better and is aligned to Vision 2031.”