“Love Train” by the O’Jays is blasting out of the speakers on the playground. Donning ultra-cool sunglasses, the first graders perform a choreographed dance during Lower School assembly. When the chorus repeats, “People all over the world, join hands, start a love train,” the entire student body (and teachers) jump up to join in, dancing and laughing together. It’s spring 2022, and Lower School Educator Krystina Jimenez’s goal of spreading joy and infusing fun expands before her eyes.
Mrs. Jimenez recalls sharing the idea of teaching the entire first grade a dance to “Love Train” to her first-grade colleagues. “I went to my team with the idea, and they were all on board,” she shares. “One teacher loves poetry, and she introduced the lyrics and discussed why the songwriters chose those words. The other teacher taught visualization and had students draw pictures of what the words meant to them. With my background in dance, I taught the movement part and choreographed the dance.”
Having joined the LJCDS team in 2021, Mrs. Jimenez appreciates having the latitude to shape her classroom experience. “What’s really amazing about working at Country Day are all the resources for professional development and the flexibility in the curriculum,” she says. “We have the option to travel for conferences and learn from consultants on campus. Teachers can teach what we’re passionate about. We still follow the curriculum, of course, but if you have an idea, you can put that in place.”
Mrs. Jimenez knew she wanted to be a teacher since third grade when she had a “strict” teacher. For her, it was essential to create a fun and enjoyable classroom environment while inspiring students to be the best version of themselves. “I want my kids to be inspired and to know that little humans can do big things,” shares Mrs. Jimenez, using a quote from the children’s book, Little Humans by Brandon Stanton, author of the popular Humans of New York book and blog. “I hope to teach them to be brave, to be upstanders, to agree and disagree, to collaborate, to be caring and empathetic. It doesn't matter how old they are. They’re capable of so many things as our future leaders. I’m encouraging them to ask questions. I just want my students to know that they can do big things to make the world a better place.”
Establishing a classroom community grounded on trust and respect is fundamental to Mrs. Jimenez. Guided by the Torrey traits (trustworthiness, caring, citizenship, etc.), students discuss how to be respectful citizens. They learn how to work through problems and challenges.
“In first grade, we’re problem-solvers,” shares Mrs. Jimenez. “It can be decoding a word while reading or looking for a pattern in math. It’s also what we do when we have a problem in class. It’s OK to disagree with someone, but let’s talk about it. Let’s respect each other’s opinions and work through them. These are the things they will deal with as adults, in their personal relationships and the work environment.”
At the beginning of the school year, her students brainstorm ideas of what would make their classroom community run smoothly. Once they agree on the ideas as a class, they name their agreements and refer to them during “peace talks,” the term used when they problem-solve with each other. Examples of the agreements are:
We will be kind to others
We will be more patient
We will be safe
We will sit and respect each other's space
We will be brave and an upstander
“I love doing projects where my students are creating and building together,” explains Mrs. Jimenez. “There are so many roadblocks, disagreements, collaboration and idea-changing that happen as the project continues, but the students persevere through it and are proud of what they’ve accomplished. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but then at the very end, we've all learned a lot through the process.”
And then, it’s time to turn on the music for a spontaneous jovial dance break.