School Tours: Lincoln Elementary

The second in our series of School Tours, Carousel tours Lincoln Elementary.

The visit to Lincoln Elementary School was a different experience than our last one to Midvale. Perhaps since this primarily is a 3rd to 5th grade school, they are not used to parents fresh off the preschool boat touring the school. There was no greeter or welcome to our arrival, no colored handouts with details about the school (like at Midvale), no one ready to hold our “we’re going to have to say goodbye to our baby” hands. They’re 3rd graders, they’re big kids. In fact, Tim and I were the only parents there for the visit. We found our way to the principal’s office and waited for permission to visit Lincoln’s one kindergarten class.

The Open Classroom is a K to 5th multi-grade program. There are three classrooms— K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 paired grades—each comprised of 16 students (eight from each grade level). All three classes come together for multi-age learning and collaborating: They take field trips together, work on projects together, play together, and mentor each other. Most notably, the Open Classroom’s structure allows for flexible academic study. If a kindergarten student is advanced in reading, she can read with the 2nd graders. If a 3rd grader needs help with math, he can work with the 1st graders. And students themselves help drive the class. In fact, the 4th and 5th graders assist in developing some of the K/1 study units. They really accommodate each child’s curriculum needs. Ultimately, the goals of the program are to foster self-esteem, risk taking, and decision making, through a tight knit “family” of students and teachers that work together for six years.

What is also unique about the Open Classroom is that you have to affirmatively opt into it. There are no school boundaries for Open Classroom; no one gets into this program without requesting it. The result is strong parent involvement from parents who affirmatively seek out the program.

Tim and I walked down to the large K/1 classroom. The teacher, Ms. Konkol, was very welcoming and energetic. Tim and I observed the class in action for about 45 minutes—free play as the children arrived (all the girls were in the back of the room playing dolls and pretending to be animals, the boys were in the front of the room drumming and dancing to the rhythm); morning meeting time on the front carpet (singing a welcome song, marking the calendar, back massages, and discussing the day’s schedule); and reading time (breaking into study groups to write vocabulary words and read books).

It was a bit busy, maybe even chaotic. Students were full of energy and moving about the room even when they were not supposed to. Tim and I did take a little pause that the K/1 classroom was focusing on learning basic school behavior: Raise your hand, talk one at a time, sit still. It was clearly a free-flowing classroom. Ms. Konkol explained that they were working on communication and social skills.

We wondered how it would feel outside this classroom—on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the hallways—as the only eight kindergartners and eight 1st graders in the school. Ms. Konkol told us that the whole school went out of its way to protect the K/1 class and make them feel welcomed. Sort of endearing to think of all those big 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders being nice to the kindergartners.

We quickly visited the 2/3 class, where a student gave us a tour of the room. She was impressive and sharp, showing us around the room with keen attention to details. At the end, she showed us her writing journal, and she was spelling some rather long words. Neither Tim nor I can remember what the words were, but I do remember thinking “I can’t even spell that word”.

Overall, we thought it was a good program. Without a doubt the collaboration concept of the Open Classroom can lead to a wonderful experience. But beyond the program, for us there are two big detractions from the Open Classroom. First, Lincoln is not near our house. It is a 20-minute car rides both ways that involves the beltline, and it is not near our jobs downtown either. (Compare this to walking to Midvale or Van Hise, the two Madison public schools we live near.) The Open Classroom would have to be much better than our neighborhood schools to overcome this barrier.

The second issue for us is the lack of kindergartners (and 1st and 2nd graders) at the school. At Lincoln, the music and special activities are geared towards 8, 9, and 10 year olds, not 5 year olds. I can imagine Cass wanting to be in every school play and assembly, but I don’t know how that would work at Lincoln. No matter how much they try to include the younger kids, they obviously will gear their programs towards the 3rd through 5th graders. This concern was reinforced by the lack of a full school tour—no one in the administration greeted us, and we weren’t offered a tour of the playground, lunchroom, or music, art, and PE classes. I wonder what the PTO would be like, and if any school projects and resources would be geared toward the K/1 class or the Open Classroom program overall. Do Open Classroom kids and parents feel part of Lincoln school?

Do your children attend Lincoln Elementary? We’d love to hear what you think about the school and the Open Classroom!

And if you’re also out there looking at local schools, feel free to comment about your tours!

Next up: Van Hise Elementary School.

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