Beyond the Books: IC elementary teachers become students for a day

A sign in the hallway proudly displays Garner Elementary's mantra.

Walking through the halls of Buford Garner Elementary School, the sound of an unfamiliar jam bounces off the lockers.

The lyrics, pitting together two unrelated food items -- ice cream and guacamole -- echo more loudly with each step.

An open classroom door reveals a group of fourth grade students dancing jovially to the repetitive tune -- ice cream, ice cream, guacamole.

Among the nine and 10-year-old students, a few educators bob along with the music, matching the action of the children.

One unsuspecting teacher smiles gleefully, the camera capturing this glorious moment.

The classroom transforms into a temporary dance floor, the song providing an opportunity for the fourth grade class to take a brain break -- a brief pause in learning that infuses movement and activity.

The primary instructor encourages the students to expend some energy.

Among the kids, at least for one day, is Christine Shope.

"I'm a fourth grade teacher here at Garner," explains Shope, "but today, today I'm a fourth grade student."

Shope isn't alone, as the Gators unveil a shadow project, pairing instructors with students to give teachers an idea of what it's like to be a kid again.

“From the moment your student arrives, you go wherever they go and you stay with them till the bell rings at the end of the day," described Nick Proud, Garner's principal of the program. "I’m excited to hear what the reflections are, and how it might impact what we do in our classroom on a daily basis."

The project conjures up Billy Madison comparisons, with efforts geared toward understanding student expectations.

"What are we asking of our students?" asked Proud, adding the goal is to offer the best education possible. "You wouldn’t want an average education for your own children, so we don’t want that for the 625 kids under this roof."

As of Monday morning, three educators have taken part in the student shadow project, with another three scheduled for the final week of March.

Patrick Snyder, an instructional design strategist at Garner, shadowed a first grader, and said he learned a few things during the nearly eight hours as a student.

"It takes a lot of energy to be a student," said Snyder, who shadowed Natalie Scheckinger. "Understanding what life is like for her each and every moment of the day, we’re expecting them to do quite a bit of work all the time."

Instructors Snyder and Shope went through the gauntlet of classes, and Shope said the day served as a reminder.

"After having taught for so many years, it's a nice refresher on what it's like for the kids," said Shope. "You sometimes forget what it's like to sit in the classroom and do the work and learn when you've been in front of the classroom for so long."

Proud said the program isn't focused on instructional strategies, so much as infusing more energy and monitoring the pace of day.

"It's about bringing the fun back to school," said Proud. "We work with kids and that’s our job, and school should be fun."

Participants will have an opportunity to write about their experiences, and Proud said he's eager for the first set of reflections to come through.

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