Fifth-grade students at Walland Elementary go to work when they go to school.
“We asked our fifth-grade students to have jobs at school,” said principal Phyllis Garner. “They apply for them and work them during the year. Some may help the kindergarten students get on the right bus, some are responsible for recycling and many other jobs.”
It’s not that the school is short-staffed. The purpose behind the “work at school” is simple: “We want our fifth graders to assume responsibility,” said Garner.
The jobs can be anything from being the morning announcer or weather guy over the school intercom to delivering the in-school mail at the Walland School “post office.”
Sandra Pitt, a fifth grade teacher at Walland Elementary, said there are different jobs the 60 fifth graders can apply for at the beginning of the year. Some jobs, just like in the real world, need more than one set of hands to accomplish the work. Students have to apply for a job and list their top three choices.
Pitt said the application process is detailed and challenges the students. “They put down their top three job choices, why they would be qualified and what life skills each job requires, including caring, initiative and courage,” she said.
Then the students have to get two references in the form of signatures from an adult in the school building. “It is good practice at filling out a job application,” said Pitt. “This is the third year we have had them fill out applications. We try to explain to them that when they are older, they will have to fill out job applications if they want to work.”
The jobs the students do are important to the school as well, Pitt said. One job is being a Room Ranger. Room Rangers make sure the rooms are clean, and they put the trash cans by the door so custodians can get to them easier. Some students work as office runners, taking notes to teachers. They can also apply to be a copy assistant and or reading mentor.
Reading mentors are a group of about 10 to 12 fifth graders who get extra training in how to teach reading to younger students and how to work with other students in second and third grades.
“The reading mentors aren’t always our strongest readers, so it builds their confidence, too. We have found that to be helpful,” Pitt said. “When you put them with a younger student, they get this confidence, and they take charge because they’re the older one.”
Pitt said the fifth graders know they are role models. “We talk a lot about having little eyes on them, and we know the big kids are role models. The little kids enjoy the attention from the bigger kids, and the bigger kids enjoy being role models.”
Beverly Dalia has been a school counselor for 17 years at Walland Elementary, and she coordinates the reading mentor program and trains the fifth grade students.
“They give up recess one day a week,” she said. “They read with a third grader for 30 minutes, and they know the questions to ask them.”
Physical education mentors help the PE teacher work with the kindergarten students. Leesa Taylor picks new mentors each month. “She gets everyone involved. The kids love it,” Pitt said. “A lot of them want to be PE mentors.”
Pitt said giving the students jobs helps some of them develop their personalities. “You find lots of times those who are shy become more outgoing because of what they have to do in their ‘job.’ They find they are successful with their jobs, and they want to try other things,” she said.
Pitt said the fifth grade students like the responsibility, and teachers like the program because it prepares the students for the rigors they’ll face in middle school. “The kids have enjoyed it. Responsibility and organization are two life skills we talk about,” said Pitt. “We try to get them ready for middle school.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Walland was a middle school. As a matter of fact it has served student in different capacities for many generations.
“We’re a unique school,” said Garner. “Walland is an old school. There’s been a school here in one shape or form since the early 1800s,” Garner said.
The school has evolved through the years but maintains that community base and feel.
“I have parents who went to school here when I was in middle school. I have grandparents who went to school here when it was a high school and great-grandparents who went here when it was K-12,” she said.
Garner said she also has a student whose great-great-grandmother attended Walland School. “People of this community are well established. One of the teachers, her family and my family have lived on adjacent property for five generations,” the principal said.
In recent years, more new students have come to Walland as their parents have moved into the area for jobs at Denso and Oak Ridge. “We’re beginning to get a diverse population,” said Garner.
Garner said the community regularly helps the school. Residents volunteer at the school and churches or individuals will donate school supplies or other necessities.
“We try to have a family atmosphere and take care of each other. The community supports these kids. Churches come in to help the less fortunate, including sponsoring approximately 40 kids for Christmas,” she said.
Garner said the school consistently works to push students academically. The new state standards mean the school is “retooling and readjusting” to help students meet and exceed the more rigorous standards, said Garner. “We have a real good Adequate Yearly Progress. We’re OK, but we’re looking to improve,” Garner said.