What Does a Day in the Life of an Empower Student Look Like?

A typical “Day in the Life of a First Grade Student at Empower Charter School” might look like this:

Marisol arrives 15 minutes before school starts on Monday. She bounces out of the car and through the front doors of Empower Charter School, where she makes her way out to the playground and joins the other first graders. She walks past students in other grade levels who gather at their designated areas, and notices the familiar sounds of Spanish and English sprinkled in their casual conversation.

Coming out to the playground Marisol sees her friends playing a game of Sharks and Minnows, facilitated by her friend’s mom.

“You got this, keep running!” Mrs. Mendez, the second grade teacher, cheers from the sidelines. Mrs. Mendez is outside every Monday morning to supervise kids who get there a little early, but who aren’t enrolled in the YMCA’s before school program. Tomorrow is Tuesday, which means it will be Marisol’s teacher, Mr. Esparza’s turn to supervise kids in the morning.

Marisol puts her backpack down and hurries to join the “minnows,” dashing from one side of the playground to the other, avoiding the “sharks” in their pursuit. Soon the whistle blows. Smiling and energized, Marisol picks up her backpack and watches for Mr. Esparza to walk her class inside.

Mr. Esparza uses a calm and quiet voice to focus the class. He reminds them in Spanish to take out their non-fiction books and last night’s research notes, quickly store their other belongings, and join him in their spots at the carpet. Marisol takes three books about whales out of her backpack, along with a stack of sticky notes where she made drawings to record her thinking as she read and studied pictures. She’s careful to model what she’s doing for Mark, her Language Arts partner who is just beginning to learn Spanish. He follows her example, and together, they make their way to the carpet.

Marisol is glad that Spanish Language Arts is first on the agenda because she loves the project she’s working on. She’s writing and illustrating her very own information book about whales. She started by selecting a non-fiction topic to write about. Mr. Esparza helped find books and information about her topic at her just-right reading level so that she could research to write her own book. Now Mr. Esparza is teaching Marisol and her friends how to read non-fiction books, take notes, and notice the structure of other authors’ work. These reading skills support their writing. After a lesson about how to organize research notes into categories that form chapters, Marisol and Mark take their clipboards and sticky notes and find a quiet corner in the classroom to try it themselves. Just before recess Mr. Esparza brings the class together and a few students share their work. Mr. Esparza tells them that on their return from recess, they will continue to read and research, adding information to the categories they made.

Marisol is ready to play! On the playground there are 2 facilitated games to choose from, each being run by a parent volunteer. Marisol decides to play wall ball, and almost before she knows it, she’s worn out and ready for reading time. Her class heads back inside, and she quickly settles into her spot in the classroom where books about whales and sticky notes await. In Spanish she reads and studies pictures and sentences, adding information to her categories as she goes, noticing that many of the published authors she reads use chapters, just like she plans to!

After Spanish Language Arts comes math in Spanish. Marisol’s class is working on building fluency with number pairs to ten, and they are exploring the question, “How many ways can we represent the number ten?”. Students work in small groups to count objects, draw models, write number sentences and finally play a game to help them understand ten and different ways to make it. Mr. Esparza has a group of students in a circle, practicing representing ten on whiteboards. Similar to before, the classroom continues to feel like a team as children work together, discuss, and make meaning through strategically designed experiences.

Marisol’s class heads to lunch first.  Mr. Esparza has taught them that making colorful plates with fruits and vegetables is really healthy, and Marisol likes trying to make her plate look like a rainbow. After eating, there is a little time for recess and she decides to play jump rope. The jump ropes are new, she had walked by the office the other day when the Director was thanking a man wearing a gym t-shirt for donating them.

After lunch, there’s just a little bit of math time left. This is when Marisol’s class practices writing about math in their math journals. They debrief the lesson they did before lunch, naming the big learning for the day, and then Mr. Esparza helps them to write about it in Spanish. Marisol likes her math journal; it’s a collection of important math words, ideas, and pictures that help her remember all she’s learned.

Next it’s time for Language Arts in English. Marisol finds her place at the carpet next to Mark, and Mr. Esparza teaches the class about the different sounds that “a” makes in English. There are 2, and they’re both different from how “a” sounds in Spanish! Mark models correct pronunciation of the sounds for Marisol as they practice. Next Marisol and Mark work together to read words with “a” and sort them by long or short sound. Then, Mr. Esparza guides the class to read them in a shared reading of a poem.

After that it’s back out to recess, and Marisol is glad! As a first grader it’s hard to sit through a long afternoon without getting tired. This time she plays a quick game of “Red Light, Green Light!” with her friends before coming inside to English Language Development. Since it’s the beginning of the school year and the first graders are just getting to know everyone, the class is working on greetings. Mr. Esparza has charted different greetings that people use in English. The class talks about when, how, and with whom to use the greetings. They make 2 concentric circles to practice: the outer circle rotates around the inner circle, and pairs of students practice greeting each other depending on a slightly different scenario that Mr. Esparza gives each time. It’s fun! They get to move, talk, and pretend!

Science (taught in Spanish) comes next, and Marisol is excited. This is certainly going to help her with the book she’s writing because Mr. Esparza thoughtfully made the class study of life science coincide with their non-fiction writing about living things. Mark is able to understand the lesson because most of the words are similar to their nonfiction study in Spanish Language Arts. Today the class is talking about survival needs, and tomorrow will connect survival needs with habitat. Marisol can’t wait to see how whales fit in!

The day is almost over. By now Marisol has exercised, practiced 2 languages, improved socialization skills, developed conceptual understanding across disciplines, made applications of those concepts, and had the opportunity to reflect on her learning across subjects. Before the class meeting at the end of the day, Mr. Esparza brings the class outside for Physical Education. Capitalizing on a love they’ve demonstrated, he is teaching students the rules and positions of a formal soccer game, and engaging them in structured play. After today’s game is over, Marisol is well-exercised and tired. The class comes in for a final class meeting, where Mr. Esparza is teaching students to become self-reflective. Marisol thinks about what she accomplished today and of what she feels most proud. She shares with others. As a class, they list today’s successes and Marisol and her friends set personal and classroom community goals for tomorrow.

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