NSCS teacher honored for classroom innovationThe rainy weather on Monday kept Anne Wiszowaty’s second-grade class indoors—an anomaly, she said. The class typically gets outside at least once a day.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
The rainy weather on Monday kept Anne Wiszowaty’s second-grade class indoors—an anomaly, she said. The class typically gets outside at least once a day.
The trips outside aren’t just for playtime. They are part of the learning experience for all kids at North Shore Community School in Duluth Township, where teachers are required to take their kids exploring on the forty acres surrounding their school.
“I feel fortunate to work here,” Wiszowaty said.
Earlier this month, Wiszowaty was one of 11 teachers nationwide to receive the Presidential Innovation Award from the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a nod to her ability to integrate environmental education into her overall curriculum.
“I was a little shocked and proud,” Wiszowaty said of moment she received the message that she’d been chosen for the award.
Wiszowaty grew up near Chicago and went to college there, but fell in love with northeastern Minnesota during a vacation with her parents to the Boundary Waters. During college, she worked in Ely at the International Wolf Center for a summer and came back another year to work as a guide in the Boundary Waters. After she received her teacher’s license, she returned for good.
She began by substitute teaching at NSCS in 2001, and she’s been there ever since. She said she’s seen a stronger focus on environmental education since she began teaching, though it’s always been a priority at a school that has its own nature trail and greenhouse.
Wiszowaty said the co-director and environmental educator at the school strongly encouraged her to apply for the award—an extensive process that included writing essays, gathering letters of recommendation and sending sample lesson plans.
The reward was sweet, though. In addition to the recognition, she received $2,000 to be used in her classroom and $2,000 for the school.
“That’s a nice pocket of change in education these days,” Wiszowaty said.
In her decade at NSCS, Wiszowaty has solidified a curriculum for her students. It incorporates Minnesota teaching standards with hands-on experience. She has chosen three overarching themes which are her foci throughout the year. Core subjects like reading and math are taught through those lenses. Currently, the class is on its rainforest unit.
“There’s not an inch of this classroom that doesn’t get used,” she said. “Right now, we’re turning the classroom into a rainforest.”
Pictures of colorful, tropical birds are pasted on the windows and a stack of books on a table further encourage students’ exploration of the topic. Though her classroom is bright and welcoming, she said she still prefers taking her students outside.
“I don’t want the kids to think learning only happens in the classroom,” she said.
For a math unit, she may take her students outdoors to measure different plants. During the winter, the students learn about teamwork by playing the part of dogs in a dogsled race.
“Those four walls don’t hold her in,” said Alisha Franckowiak, the physical education teacher at NSCS. She said Wiszowaty is a role model for integrating environmental knowledge into any curriculum. She said many teachers turn to Wiszowaty for guidance or advice.
“She has so many talents and is a leader in our school in our environmental education. It permeates into everything she does,” Franckowiak said.
Julie Brown, a Knife River parent, volunteered in Wiszowaty’s classroom every Monday when her daughter Lily was in her class.
“She has a beautiful mix of being gentle and yet she has excellent classroom management skills. She has a warm and loving presence,” Brown said.
Her daughter, who is now in third grade, submitted an essay on Wiszowaty’s behalf as part of the grant application. Lily dictated four examples of activities she did in Wiszowaty’s class to her mother, who typed them up. One of them was about a game the students played called Thicket.
“To play the game, we went outside into the woods and Mrs. Wiszowaty chose one person to count to 15 and after the person counted to 15, then the person who is the predator opens his or her eyes and looks around in the woods. And without moving, the person tries to find the people who are hiding. If the people are very still, then they probably won’t get found. This is how we learned about predators and their prey,” Lily explained.
Wiszowaty says taking the kids outdoors keeps her and the kids engaged and also has an unexpected benefit—the students’ conduct improves.
“Whenever I bring them outside, the behavior issues go away. Kids need to go outside,” she said emphatically.
Wiszowaty said part of the reason she’s so creative in the classroom is to keep herself engaged and excited about learning. It’s clear from the enthusiasm she exhibits when talking about her work and students that teaching is something she loves—a sentiment her coworkers share, she said.
“The coolest thing about working here is how happy the teachers are. That’s been really encouraging,” she said.