La Verne Magazine
"Education in La Verne"
Encouraging Growth Through Individuality, Confidence, Pride
by Araceli Esparza
photography by Scott Harvey
Monica Serna (center) has been reaching out to the needs of kindergartners
such as (l to r) Laura Pluth, Lauren D'Angelo and Christian Thelen for the
past two years. In each class lesson, she strives to assure that her students
at Roynon Elementary School are given the best curriculum and resources,
mixed with tutorial attention, to develop as individuals.
Kindergarten is now more than learning the ABCs, coloring within the
lines and taking naps throughout the day. Testing standards for the state
of California's educational system have changed that, and with the transition,
Bonita Unified School District teachers like Monica Serna are encouraged
to challenge their students' abilities.
Serna has been teaching the afternoon kindergarten students at Roynon
Elementary School for two-and-a-half years. Teaching was not her original
career goal. "I didn't always know I wanted to be a teacher,"
she admits. "I always used to think, 'Oh, teachers. What a noble thing
"I don't know what clicked. It's like I decided, then I just went
for it, and here I am," says the La Verne native. "It chose me,"
says Serna. "They called me up and said, 'We have this long-term position
with kindergarten if you're willing to take it.'"
The opportunity to return to the classroom as instructor came April
1997 when Serna was hired by BUSD to replace the afternoon teacher.
Now the everyday office of this 27-year-old consists of desks and chairs
half the size of her petite self. But kindergarten and the Bonita district
seem to be her calling.
"I was worried that I wouldn't fill up the time, that I wouldn't
have enough things to do," she says of her first year. "There's
so much that they need to learn, and they do learn a lot in kindergarten."
"That's when they learn their letters, their numbers. They're learning
how to write even now. They learn how to spell their color words ... even
physical education," she stresses. "They learn how to catch a
ball, how to jump rope, how to hop. They learn so many skills, even how
to hold a pencil. It can be so basic."
Serna says kindergarten is one of the most crucial stages in a child's
development. With a changing society, these 4-5 year old children must also
concentrate on their social skills.
The children learn to work with others and to share. Life's common courtesies
of patience and manners are emphasized both in and out of Serna's K-West
But Serna admits it is often difficult to work with so many children
at once. This year, her classroom is pretty evenly divided: 18 boys, 14
girls. While the state has limited Roynon's first through third grades to
20 students per classroom, kindergarten has not yet been funded to reduce
its class numbers.
Therefore, through the planning of fellow kindergarten teachers Heidi
Butkus, Sherry Kinne and Karen Huigens, Serna has created an agenda to help
organize the operation and activity of each class session. She is primarily
responsible for teaching the afternoon session from 11:35 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.,
but also assists the morning class.
With the consistent help of parent volunteers, Serna and other kindergarten
instructors teach students productively and effectively. During one part
of the class session, all 32 students are divided into four separate color
groups -- blue, red, green and yellow -- and rotate stations every 15 minutes.
Group stations include math, reading, art and activities tables, which are
set up in different areas of the classroom.
About twice a month, the kindergartners create art projects for the
classroom or prepare ingredients for simple cooking projects. Favorites
include classroom-made pancakes and doughnuts.
Each project ties in with the lesson plan. Special field trips are also
arranged as part of their lesson. For example, a visit to the dentist helps
students learn about proper hygiene and about polishing their smiles. Kindergartners
are able to develop individually yet collectively as a classroom.
"We want them to have a positive outlook on school and their education,"
says Serna. "[If] they're not going to like kindergarten, then they're
not going to be excited for the first grade. We don't want to start them
off on the wrong foot."
Serna understands that kindergarten is the stage in which children are
susceptible to being labeled and possibly traumatized for the remainder
of their lives. Therefore, she has established the universal K-West classroom
motto, "Try Your Best!" to encourage the children to work to the
best of their ability.
"I let them know that I'm never going to be mad at them if they
can't do something ... like writing their letters," says Serna. "Instead,
I ask them, 'Was that your best? Did you try your best?'
"You even hear them [saying], 'Try your best! Try your best!'"
Among the most vital team-building exercises Serna implements in her
session are class meetings. Usually once a week, students circle around
the center of the classroom to discuss class issues.
Serna and her students begin these meetings with compliments to one
another, then proceed to review the issues at-hand. They may discuss anything
from classroom rules to conflicts between students or individual tensions.
As a class, students suggest and comment on a resolution to the matter,
and after an agreement for a solution has been reached, the classroom takes
a vote based on these suggestions.
She says the meetings always conclude with a calmer and more peaceful
aura. She is appreciative of her students' efforts to work together and
of the memories each student has brought.
"Every day, I get so excited with something that they do, and there
is always something little that's memorable," she comments. "You
see kids growing so much. Last week, they couldn't write their name at all,
and then all of a sudden, they're so proud because they can write their
With humor, Serna recounts two of her greatest memories this fall. During
a coloring project, one of the children approached Serna with a problem.
"She came up to me and said that there were no more crayons for
her to use, so I gave her a set of smaller-sized crayons," remembers
Serna. "Later, the same little girl gave me back the crayons and said
she likes the 'lowercase' crayons more than the crayons everyone else was
using," she smiles.
In another instance, Serna had assigned some homework to the students
to be turned in by week's end. "One of the little boys came up to me
and said, 'Well, teacher, teacher. My dog ate my homework.' And I thought,
'Oh, he's already learning these little phrases.' So I told him, 'Could
you please try to turn something in so that I know that you did your homework?'"
Friday of that week arrived, and Serna says the student gave her a worksheet
that was carefully taped together. The Scotch tape was not enough to conceal
the wrinkles, paw prints and holes the worksheet had endured from the student's
dog. Serna laughs at the memory, saying she could not help but realize that
the cliché excuse is, in fact, very much possible.
"These kids really put a smile on my face ... when you like the
children, it makes teaching more fun," she adds. "These are like
my children for nine months. I love to watch them grow, and that is rewarding.
Every day is different; you never know what can happen. You're always learning."
Tips From a Rookie
1. Always try your best.
2. Be flexible and put a smile on your face.
3. Have fun, and the children will have fun learning. Learning should
be exciting and fun!
4. Be prepared, and always have a Plan B, and in the back of your head
have a Plan C.
5. Treat your students with respect.
6. Treat your students as if they were what they ought to be, and you
will help them to become what they are capable of being.
7. Work hard and play hard.
8. Keep parents informed and included in their child's learning.
9. Class meetings, where the children are given an arena to problem
solve, are essential for a class that works together as a team.
10. Have a life (outside of school)!
-- Monica Serna
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