Welcome to Joy Junction!

A graduate Of Our Alternative Certification Program Motivates For Success
By Jeanie Chung

Revette Thomas was accepted into the Northwestern/Golden Apple Foundation NU-TEACH program in 1998 as part of the first cohort of students. She is now a certified teacher at Wadsworh Elementary School, where she and her students look forward to traveling to "Joy Junction" every day.

Before you even step into Room 219, Revette Thomas' third-grade classroom at Wadsworth Elementary on [Chicago's] South Side, you can tell there's something different about it.

Photo by Jim Ziv.

A poster on the door reads, "Caution: Minds under construction." To underscore that idea, everyone in the class, including Thomas, is wearing a yellow hardhat. Thomas got the idea from her church pastor over the summer, and bought hardhats for each of her 24 students.

" The children were ecstatic about it," she said. "They are proud to have on their hats every day."

This particular class actually is so far a two-year "construction project." Thomas had 21 of the students last year as second-graders." I thought for it to really work, it would be important for me to keep the same group of children again, so we wouldn't be trying to reinvent the wheel."

Over the summer, Thomas set about arranging the students in cooperative learning groups of four, taking into consideration personalities, academic strengths, behavior and gender. Each group consists of two girls and two boys. " For the most part, families are together," Thomas said. "I want it to be consistent with home."

The students work on assignments together. For reading exercises, the group designates a "scribe," who writes down the answers the group works out. One of the lessons Thomas hopes her students will learn is the importance of working together. So far the lesson seems to be working.

" We learn together or we sink together," said Christopher Lyon, one of Thomas' students.

" This is not the norm, and that I know," Thomas said. "In most classrooms . . . there's a low tolerance for noise. It may get a little noisy in here, but it's a good noise. They're on task: they're doing what they're supposed to be doing; they're communicating with one another."

Thomas calls her classroom "Joy Junction." In keeping with the theme of cooperation and community, each of the six groups has a name: Trust Court, Forgive Street, Kindness Drive, Helpful Avenue, Fair Lane and Share Boulevard. Thomas is on Patience Avenue.

" That's what she wants us to be, even if it's not our table," said Gabrielle Rush, one of Taylor's students who sits on the Kindness Drive area. "If this is my street, I've got to be kind. But if I'm not on Forgive Street, I've still got to be forgiving."

Rush was in Thomas' class last year, as was Lyon, who said that it was easier starting the school year with a teacher who already knew him.

With so much invested in her students already, Thomas is considering "looping" again: keeping her students another year, possibly all the way through eighth grade. The effects of looping for one year have been positive.

At the end of last school year, Thomas gave each student a suggested timetable for the summer, with reading and other schoolwork suggestions.

" It helps me out a lot," said Carmen Taylor, whose daughter Carmisha is one of Thomas' students.

" She's familiar with the kids; she knows the flaws and can assist them more," Taylor said. "Carmisha loves her. She hates missing school."

Reprinted with permission from the November/December 2002 issue of Chicago Educator.
By Jeanie Chung