Lower School Learning Together: 1st, 2nd, 4th


“We were at a teachers’ conference recently and the presenter said, ‘Computers can’t teach kids to think in ways that computer [itself] can’t.’ Our program epitomizes this quote. Our program allows our children to practice leadership, social collaboration, coaching, encouraging, and more.”


On the Whitehurst Campus, you’re bound to hear the excited chatter among students at recess or walking to and from activities. What you wouldn’t expect to see is fourth graders and second graders (or first graders) talking animatedly with each other while discussing the Learning Partners activity that they are about to do.

  Last year, one of the fourth-grade teachers at the Whitehurst Campus, Ms. Kissinger, founded the Learning Partners program. The program partners students in the fourth grade with either second or first graders (depending on who your teacher is) for bonding activities that include an educational component.

  Ms. Kissinger and second grade teacher, Ms. Hager, partnered up and their classes and meet at least once a month so the learning partners can meet. Each of Ms. Kissinger’s fourth graders were randomly partnered with a second grader from Ms. Hager’s class.  

  To kick it off this year, Ms. Kissinger’s and Ms. Hager’s classes met and did some “getting to know you” activities. The children introduced themselves to their partner, and then they had to think of commonalities that they shared. However, Ms. Kissinger added a twist to the traditional ice-breaker. “It couldn’t be simple. It couldn’t be that they were wearing orange shirts or that they love pizza. It had to be something they had to dig deep into the other’s personality to figure out what they were.”

  The kids loved the activity, and they had a great time while developing crucial skills that they will need in the future such as creating a relationship with someone that you may not meet otherwise. Ms. Hager recounted the experience and said, “It was so cute; you could hear them shout out things like, ‘OH I LIKE THAT THING TOO!!’”

  The goal of the program, according to Ms. Kissinger, is “not so much about fourth graders helping second graders but also second graders’ influence on fourth graders, so it is a reciprocal kind of community. We learn from them, and they learn from us.”

  Ms. Kissinger and Ms. Hager aren’t the only classes that have the learning partners; all fourth graders are able to experience the responsibility and excitement of having a younger buddy.

  Ms. Canfield’s fourth grade class partnered with Ms. Bobbitt’s first grade class, and they work with the first graders on developing the first graders’ reading and vocabulary skills. Fourth grader Olivia Owens stated, “I like working with them because I know I’m teaching them how to learn. I just like that.”

  All the fourth graders that were interviewed said that they like having a learning buddy because they were either cute or because it is a fun experience.

  Ms. Canfield’s fourth grader’s even call their first-grade partners cute nicknames (that the younger partners came up with) like, for example, “T-Bear”.

  Another fourth grader, Paris James, said that he enjoyed spending time with his first-grade buddy, “because it’s kind of fun to watch [and help] them do it [learn vocabulary].”

  The activities vary for each session, but the point is not to just do a regular classroom activity with someone else, but to develop a relationship with someone from a different grade. Ms. Hager mentioned, “To have a connection with an older student for my second graders is a great feeling for them.” The program doesn’t just benefit the second graders. Ms. Kissinger explained that, “Our fourth graders feel like they’re really trying to assume some responsibility for [the second graders’] well-being.”

  Sometimes, they meet at the River Campus for a picnic lunch, or in either of their teachers’ classrooms. According to Ms. Kissinger, sometime this year they will meet in the treehouse. Together, they work together to plan the activities. When asked, together, Ms. Kissinger and Ms. Hager mentioned, “I think we usually collaborate, we do collaborate, we bring different strengths. We both sit down and plan ideas that we have for our groups.”

  Four days out of the week, Whitehurst has something called “flag” where all of the students from all of the grades meet at the flagpole for announcements or performances. The performances occur on Fridays and are put on by an individual class. The learning partners worked together to put on a performance for the entire Whitehurst Campus.

  This year every grade was assigned a continent, and when it was Ms. Kissinger’s class’ turn to do a performance, they decided to do a “20 Facts About Australia” presentation.

  Ms. Hager’s class helped out their fourth-grade buddies, and together they put on an amazing performance. Ms. Kissinger discussed their role and explained, “What they did was that as our children were talking about 20 facts about Australia, as a child might say their fact, a second grader held up a picture. So, if they talked about deserts and oceans and this, that, and the other, there would be a picture that would go along with it.”

  After last year’s second graders graduated and moved up to the third grade, they still talk to Ms. Hager about their experience. Ms. Hager recounted, “[My students] would say, they’re in third grade now, ‘my learning partner is in 5th grade! It’s so cool; they’re the big kids on campus, but they still come and say hello to me!’”

  Ms. Kissinger reflected on why the program is important for the students and brought up that, “We were at a teachers’ conference recently, and the presenter said, ‘Computers can’t teach kids to think in ways that computer [itself] can’t.’ Our program epitomizes this quote. Our program allows our children to practice leadership, social collaboration, coaching, and encouraging.

Dr. Halloran Q&A:

What does the academic council do? “The academic council is a group of upper school students who volunteer at lower school and essentially do anything a teacher needs them to do to help out.”

This year is said to be the council’s strongest one yet, any thoughts on that? “It is definitely, I think that the student Savannah Friedlin is helping me out with this voluntarily is just been very inclusive and very good at getting the information and the group we had last year had fun and talked about it.”

Victoria Nicholls (‘22)  Q&A

What is your favorite part of being on the council?

“My favorite thing is grading tests, I think. Just because I really like seeing how they’re developing, their different skills, and how they’re training them to start, early on, because they do things like a bit differently from when I was there. So it’s good seeing what they do andthe mistakes they make because then you could help them with the mistakes they make so that they do better on it.”

How do you think the council helps the lower school kids?

“They ask us questions because they know that we’re here to help them and we know what they’re doing and how to do it.”

Lindsey Blisko (‘22)

What have you learned from being on the academic council?

“Patience, definitely patience.”