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Mills Lawn teacher Wendy Shelton, bottom right, and sixth graders show off the scarecrows they recently made, which will be on display at the school’s Scarecrow Festival, Friday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. on the school grounds. Shown with Shelton are, bottom row left, Rhona Marion, and top row, left to right, Ursula Kramer, Charlotte Snare, Madeline Neilsen and Jaron Fox.

Brains behind the scarecrows

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One day last week a group of Mills Lawn sixth graders could be found in a classroom hanging around with scarecrows. Specifically, they were creating scarecrows from found objects, an activity they found to be not only crafty and fun, but an act of service and leadership.

“We like this way better than regular recess,” said Rhona Marion, who had, in fact, given up her recess period to join the activity. “It’s warm, and Mrs. Shelton is cool, and it’s just fun.”

“I think it’s really cool that all the grades can do it,” Ursula Kramer said, identifying herself as artistic and not a big fan of recess.

The sixth graders delved into a large box for what was left of donated t-shirts, jeans and other clothes and fabric. Then they stuffed the bodies with plastic bags and straw, and sewed or safety-pinned their creations together. The children used braided yarn for hair, and markers and googly eyes for the faces.

“All the little kids’ scarecrows are really different and unique,” Charlotte Snare said.

And, according to Madeline Neilson,“You can make something from nothing.”

The scarecrow activity was part of the Interest Learning Education program, or ILE, which is in full swing at Mills Lawn Elementary this year, with new gifted intervention specialist Wendy Shelton offering enriched experiences for all Mills Lawn students, and some gifted or enriched programming for others.

Parents and community members are invited to see the children’s creations at the Scarecrow Festival, Friday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. on the Mills Lawn grounds. The scarecrows will stay up throughout the weekend.

“I was looking for a way to get to know all the kids, brainstorming ideas for fall, a way to be outdoors and beautify the grounds,” Shelton said. After attending a scarecrow festival last fall with her own family, the idea seemed a perfect way to get involved with students who can’t lose classtime to other activities. Instead, Shelton devised a way to utilize Mills Lawn’s staggered lunch times to allow students from all grades to jump into the scarecrow craft sessions during their recess period.

“Not everybody wants to go out there and play ball, so this is a way for them to be with people who like to do what they like to do.” And Shelton found that a committed group of crafty sixth-grade students decided to come in each day at recess to help others make their scarecrows.

Shelton’s duties at Mills Lawn involve serving students in grades five and six who are identified as gifted with a daily math class, and students either identified as gifted or nominated as having high reading ability in grades three and four with a language arts pull-out enrichment program. All Mills Lawn students will see Shelton in their own classes, as she brings enrichment units into the regular classrooms.

The 2009–2010 school year is Shelton’s first year of teaching after graduating from Antioch University McGregor’s gifted specialist program this past summer. Prior to attending the masters program, Shelton worked for eight years in drama and performing arts with students in summer and after school programs. And prior to that, she worked as a journalist, freelance writing from home while her own children were young.

“I just loved working with kids so much that I decided to make it a career,” she said.

This year, Shelton will focus on worldwide customs, traditions and folklore that align with the geography and social studies curriculum mandated by the state for each grade level. While the teachers focus on the learning benchmarks set by the state, Shelton brings in enrichment activities that enliven that learning.

“I go into grade levels and create a project that may be above and beyond what their teachers have time to do,” Shelton said, “to offer them an experience that is hands-on, that involves art and music, and that is curriculum-based as well. I float through all the grades.”

For the kindergarteners, this includes learning a number of Spanish words and exploring the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, or El Dia de los Muertos. First graders are working with Shelton on deductive reasoning and logic games.

Second graders recently completed a bird unit, working with Shelton to research bird characteristics, crafting realistically sized and colored clay eggs and making posters that display their research.

Third graders have been researching the customs of Asia, and fourth graders will look into Europe. Shelton said she’s experimenting with dividing all the grade levels into groups to explore different continents, tying into geography and language arts standards while learning about worldwide traditions.

This year, fifth and sixth graders will experience both an economics unit and a slavery unit which, if a grant Shelton and teachers have requested comes through, might culminate in a trip to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Three-tenths of her job is funded for gifted education by the state, Shelton said, which means that the Yellow Springs Board of Education chooses to offer the ILE program at its discretion by providing funding for the remainder of the program cost.

But because the state requires 225 minutes of contact hours per week between the gifted intervention specialist and identified students to count as gifted education, only the math program for grades five and six is considered by the state to be a gifted program. According to Shelton, math was identified as the greatest need for gifted programming.

Still, Shelton is running a pull-out program for third and fourth graders who have either been identified as gifted or nominated as having a high reading ability by their teachers or parents. While this pull-out does not qualify as a gifted education program by the state, it does give those students who participate a more challenging experience that explores language arts and social studies.

“I think the community should consider themselves fortunate that Mills Lawn values enrichment and the arts so much that it is willing to invest in enrichment programs,” Shelton said. “The program offered here is unique, it’s exceptional.”

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