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3rd Grade Adventures: A Conversation with Sarah Long & Libbey Merrell

The Hornet Hive Podcast

Release Date: 02/29/2024

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More Episodes
Teaching is a noble and challenging profession, and those who choose to educate young minds carry the responsibility of sculpting the future generation. In a recent episode of the Hornet Hive podcast, Dr. Christopher Lewis, who also serves on the Williamson Community Schools Board of Education, engaged in an insightful conversation with third-grade teachers Sarah Long and Libby Merrell from Explorer Elementary. The discussion provided a window into the unique world of 3rd-grade education, offering valuable insights into the experiences, challenges, and joys of molding young learners during a time marked by both growth and adversity.
 
Embracing New Beginnings
Sarah Long and Libby Merrell, both veteran educators in the Williamson district, share the paths that led them to teach 3rd grade. Sarah, a former resident of Williamston, found herself drawn back to her roots while Libby, influenced by a successful student-teaching experience, was inspired to join the district. Their stories reflect a commitment to fostering academic and personal growth in the community they serve. The dedication of these teachers emphasizes the profound influence that educators can have on their students' lives.
 
Navigating the Joys and Challenges of 3rd Grade
The teachers highlight the unique nature of the 3rd-grade year, emphasizing the pivotal role it plays in the students' educational journey. As children transition from lower to upper elementary, they experience a metamorphosis, growing into role models and active participants in their learning environment. The teachers describe how this pivotal year fosters immense growth and development, bolstering students' ability to embrace new challenges, nurture resilience, and foster a sense of community within the classroom.
 
Adapting to Unforeseen Challenges
The conversation delves into the unprecedented challenges faced by teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Long and Merrell candidly recount their experiences, having joined the district just before the pandemic's onset. Detailing the abrupt shift to virtual teaching and subsequent return to in-person instruction, they emphasize the critical role of collaboration and adaptability in navigating these turbulent times. The teachers underscore how their professional growth in technology integration and sustaining social-emotional learning have reshaped the teaching landscape, enriching the educational experience for students.
 
Sustaining Through Community and Support
The educators highlight the pillars that sustain them through the years at Williamson Community Schools. Both Sarah and Libby emphasize the unwavering support and camaraderie among school staff, creating a nurturing environment that bolsters their resilience and fosters growth. Their experiences underscore the transformative power of a strong and supportive community in the educational ecosystem, from colleagues to students and families.
 
Epitomizing the Teaching Experience
Sarah and Libby share heartwarming anecdotes that encapsulate their experiences as educators at Williamson Community Schools. From students returning to express their gratitude to witnessing the enthusiastic engagement of children during school assemblies, their stories embody the profound impact and fulfillment that comes with shaping young minds. Their accounts serve as a testament to the immense joy and reward embedded within the fabric of the teaching profession.
 
Conclusion
The conversation with Sarah Long and Libby Merrell offers a captivating glimpse into the multifaceted world of 3rd-grade education at Williamson Community Schools. It stands as a testament to the resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication of educators in empowering the next generation. Their experiences serve as a poignant reminder of the transformational influence teachers have in shaping young learners, nurturing their growth, and instilling a love for learning that transcends classrooms. As we reflect on their journey, we're reminded of the remarkable impact that dedicated educators have on their students, their community, and the future at large.
 
TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:19]:
Welcome back to the Hornet Hive. I'm your host, doctor Christopher Lewis, one of the members of the Williamson Community Schools Board of Education. Really excited to have you back again this week. Every week, I love being able to sit down with you to talk to you about the amazing things that are happening within our schools because there are so many things that are happening. And whether you have kids in the district or not, there are things that you need to know about and just stay on top of because of the fact that It's happening in our community and it's impacting many families, but it's also impacting all of the kids going through our schools. So I love being able to sit down and talk with you every week to be able to bring you up to speed, to allow you to enter our schools even if you don't have kids in the district or if you have kids in the district, but they might not be at the same education level that Of the guests that we're having on the show or about the topics that we're talking about. Because like I said, lots of things happening at all levels of education, and it's important to keep you in the know in that re regard. Every week, I also love being able to have opportunities to bring people on because there's so many people behind the scenes, people that you have met, people that you have not met, that you've never gotten to know or that you might know very well.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:33]:
And it's important again To open the door and allow for you to get to know the staff that are working with our students on a daily basis. And today, we've got 2 great guests with us. I'm really excited to have 2 of our 3rd grade teachers from Explorer Elementary with us today. Sarah Long and Libby Merrill are with us, And really excited to have both of them here to talk about their experiences as 3rd grade teachers and to allow for you to get to know them a little bit better. Sarah, Libby, thanks so much for being here today.

Sarah Long: [00:02:01]:
Thanks for having us. Yeah.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:02:03]:
It is my pleasure having both of you here today. I'm really excited to be able For people to get to know you better, and one of the first things that I love doing is turning the clock back. Both of you have been in the district for a little bit of time, and I want you to go back and tell us what initially brought you to Williamson.

Libbey Merrell  [00:02:20]:
So going back 6 years From this year, I was going into my student teaching and I went to Alma College and they kind of gave us the option to search around for a district that we, you know, would like to student teach in. I grew up down the road in Mason and so thinking of things that were close to home, but, you know, something new Brought me to find Williamston, so I reached out and I was super fortunate to land a student teaching position with Christina Foley, who was also teaching 3rd grade at the Time. So 3rd grade quickly captured my heart. I had such a great student teaching experience with her. And so when a couple of retirees Left the district the following year. I applied and I was super fortunate to land a job also in 3rd grade. So that's what brought me here, And I've loved it ever since.

Sarah Long: [00:03:07]:
And my story a little different, so I actually grew up in Williamston and so I went to Central did my student teaching closer to central and as, you know, I was just looking for job postings. Of course, I kept my eye on Williamston. I love growing up here. Would love To the possibility to have a job here and there was all sorts of openings back in 2019 when I was applying and same year as Libby, I Got one of those retirees who left from 3rd grade and got that position and have loved being here ever since.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:03:40]:
So both of you are in 3rd grade. As, Libby said, you came to love 3rd grade. But talk to me about 3rd grade. What is it about 3rd grade that you both Love.

Libbey Merrell  [00:03:50]:
I would say, 3rd grade is when they come from discovery to the new building. It's a brand new routine for them, a new school for them, and I really think that it's a huge transition that the students go through in 3rd grade from those little kids to now they're in the upper elementary school. We kind of, You know, try to frame them as role models for the younger students when they get to 3rd grade and so I just think it's a huge transition year and you really see them kind of Blossom and develop into the students who they are. So that's what I love the most.

Sarah Long: [00:04:24]:
Yeah. I feel like very similar For me too, I feel like there is just huge growth. I bet, you know, from my student teaching, preschool teaching saw some other grade levels and just Where they started beginning of 3rd grade to the end, I just feel like it's such a huge year of growth for the students. And so just watching them and And but we still love like, they're still they're still kids at heart. Right? And so they get to bring that energy with them every day that Makes the job very rewarding.

Libbey Merrell  [00:04:50]:
Yeah. They still love to learn Yes. At this stage, which is so fun.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:04:53]:
So both of you started right before COVID, And you survived the big transition going from being in person to going online, And then having that pretty much full year of online and then transitioning back. So really your 1st 3 years were very chaotic. Talk to me about that and now what teaching is like in 3rd grade after the COVID nineteen pandemic.

Sarah Long: [00:05:24]:
Well, I can definitely say that had it not been for, like, our 3rd grade team, I don't know how We would have all made it through those, like, pandemic years. Mhmm. I know actually, like, when that all started, like, towards the end of our very first Here, me and Libby decided to pursue a master's in learning design and technology, which also that we stayed on as the virtual teachers. So again, We really are thankful for that program because that also prepared us. But then as far as, like, returning back to normal. I know for me, it was so thankful to be back in person back to, like, what was, like, normal. And I felt like that was really when our Team, we still knew our team well, but that really felt like we got to know and want each other and kind of figuring out now that we're post pandemic, we gonna kinda maybe revamp things or integrate some of those learning we did during the pandemic to also continue our teaching moving forward? So that was, like, a nice piece coming back together and taken, hey. What did you do virtually? What did you do? Let's see how we can integrate that with our curriculum, what we're already doing.

Sarah Long: [00:06:28]:
And, overall, I feel like our team were We've got a system. We work together well, and I think that it's been really good. We have our normal curriculum and then that gave us that technology piece that we get to integrate still.

Libbey Merrell  [00:06:41]:
Yeah. It was an insane 1st couple years because 1st year was when the pandemic started. Our 2nd year, as Sarah said, Was all virtual until that 3rd year of teaching really felt like year 1 for us again because we that was the 1st full year in person that we finally got a full year in teaching and the students were just coming back from all different experiences that experiences that they had during the pandemic. So that year was kind of rocky and it took, You know, like Sarah said, our whole team coming together and really taking all of our experiences from virtual teaching to those in person cohorts and just Kind of having to work together to see like, okay, how can we meet our students where they're at? Obviously some are behind, they have different learning experiences than others. Some are bounds ahead because they had, you know, so much support at home or this or that and so It definitely took a year or 2 to get into the groove again, but I'd say, you know, now that this is our 3rd year back in person, yeah, Things are kind of in the groove now, which is really nice.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:07:41]:
And how do you find that teaching and learning now is different than it was prior to the pandemic.

Sarah Long: [00:07:48]:
Well, this is always a tricky question as we only knew what school was like Pre pandemic for a very short period of time. I would just say the big thing that stands out to me is just the emphasis on technology. I feel wasn't Necessarily. Not that it wasn't there, but you can just tell, like, after virtual learning and the pandemic. I just feel like can tell that people are being a lot more intentional with, like, how they're using technology and the ways that they're using it within school, which That's, like, one thing that I would definitely say has changed from, like, when I started to now. Yeah. And I

Libbey Merrell  [00:08:24]:
would say the technology piece is big and then Social emotional learning has, I think, taken a big shift because I think that with those few years that some students weren't in a classroom, it took a while to get kids Back to remembering, oh, yeah. I'm not the only one in this room. There's not just me and 1 adult like there may have been at home. There are 25, 26 other students I need to share this space with, I need to share speaking time with, I need to be empathetic towards, like, So just that piece of, like, shifting from whatever your experience was at COVID, whether it was a smaller in person cohort in school or Just at home with a small group of learners to oh, yeah. This is back with a full classroom of students. How do we, like, navigate that and Create a community in the classroom that can flow. So that's been a a shift. But, again, I think now that we're in the groove of it, I think students are doing a great job.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:09:21]:
Now both of you have been in the district for 6 years. As you think back to your experiences, And you've talked a little bit about this already, but there are different things that sustain you on a daily basis, on an an on a yearly basis, things that make you want to Continue in the work that you do from year to year. What would you say has sustained you over the years in the district, and what makes Williams in a great place to work.

Sarah Long: [00:09:46]:
Again, I definitely think the community is a great benefit of Williamson, like, not just, like, Of course, Williamson Community itself, but, like, within our building, I feel that I mean, not just in my 3rd grade team, but I feel like there are Colleagues and, like, staff all throughout the building that if I needed anything, they'd be there like that or, you know, those days where You're feeling a little defeated or it was just, like, one of those tough days. I know that there's about anybody in this building that I could reach out to and say, hey. I'm having a tough time or hey. I need help or Have you been through this? Like, what how did you do to handle this? So, I mean, definitely just the community and, like, the staff here, just knowing that I have a support system Definitely makes a huge difference in just the sustainability.

Libbey Merrell  [00:10:33]:
Yeah, I would say the same thing. I totally love this staff and like Sarah said, We all really have each other's backs. You know, there are gonna be days where you're more tired or you feel defeated like she said, where you just You need, you know, someone to be there for you. So I feel like just the staff here is amazing. Community is amazing. The students and the families That we work with year after year have just been phenomenal.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:10:58]:
Now every teacher that I talk to, you're storytellers. You have many stories, Both positive and negative of things that happen in the classroom, things that happen in the school, things that you take home with you and you just leave at home, things that You talk amongst other colleagues and friends and things that you just hold internally that, again, sustains you in many different ways. Can both of you share with me a story that for you epitomizes the experience that you've had as a Williamston staff member?

Libbey Merrell  [00:11:29]:
I would Say something that just sustains me year after year and something that just will always continue to warm my heart is being able to See students as they grow, you know, I coach and I teach and so when I'm coaching middle school and I get those students that I've also had in class Come back and feel so excited to work with me on the team. It just it warms my heart. It makes me so happy to know that They remember me and now they want to be on the team or this or that. And the same thing, you know, seeing students just go out of their way to come back and family members go out of their way to come back and just Say hey, you know, thanks for everything after all these years. I can't think of one specific story or example but I know that has happened more than once and it really just, It means the world to hear that.

Sarah Long: [00:12:14]:
Yes, I would agree. And I feel like I hope this is answering the question you were asking, Chris, but like one thing that This sticks out. This is just like one memory from this year, but like I'm thinking when we had our assembly and they were calling students up and I mean, just watching the kids engagement and assembly, like some of my students, like former students, my current students, and just watching their energy and like The joy and I remember just watching some of the kids being absolute goofballs in the best way. And I remember, like, almost said to it was a Libby. I was like, I am, like, crying laughing and I just was and I said the words to her. I said this the is these are days where I'm like, ah, yes. This is why we do this job, like, look at the joy, look at the energy, like, look at how much fun we're having and it's just a normal Friday afternoon. So Again, that's just a more recent one, but those little days like that where you just watch the kids come together and you watch that community and just the joy and the love they have for each other in the school and That just makes my day.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:13:10]:
Well, Sarah, well, Libby, I just wanna say thank you. Thank you for what you do to be able To not only welcome those 3rd graders up to Explore, but work with them, help them to move forward Through Explore into middle school and beyond, and to give them those tools that they need to be able to be successful as they Continue on with their education, and I wish you both all the best.

Sarah Long: [00:13:34]
Thank you so much, Chris. Yes. Thank you,