In the corner of Aubrey Sprague’s fifth-grade classroom, Bart sprawls out on top a perch of rocks, nested just to the side of green cactus plants. An unofficial member of the class, Bart is not a student; he’s a bearded dragon.
Need to study vertebrates and invertebrates? Take a look at Bart.
Studying the Animal Kingdom? Track Bart’s lineage.
Are you following along with an explorer’s voyage to Antarctica and need to send a class symbol for her to hoist as a flag along the way? Draw a picture of Bart.
For Sprague, whatever she can do to connect her students to the curriculum, it’s worth it. A former marine mammal trainer, Sprague ensures there is one key element of her teaching style: fun.
“Learning should be fun and teaching should be fun,” Sprague said. “I get really loud and excited and I cheer…I go for it. If there’s something they’re particularly interested in, we’ll go for that.”
And, that means having a class pet dragon. It means doing jumping exercises with students to calculate mean, median and mode. Or, it means calling in her husband, a police officer, to do demonstrations with her class.
“Her teaching style is hands on,” said Barbara Sessoms, Sprague’s principal at Linkhorn Park Elementary. “She makes connections to everyday life with what she is teaching, making it relevant for her students…It seems I learn something every time I am in her room.”
Even Sprague’s family is a part of her classroom in one way or another. Her mother helps her decorate her classroom each year. Her father customized the desks in her classroom by building in pen and pencil holders. Her brother also comes in to do presentations for the students.
“My whole family is here,” Sprague joked. “I use all of my resources. They all know they’re on call.”
The family atmosphere is fitting because, for Sprague, her students have joined that rank as well.
“For me, it’s all about relationships,” she said. “(My students) know I would do anything for them. They know that. I tell them day one…I worry about them when they are not here. I really try to be indispensable in their life when they are here. ”
And, that enthusiastic commitment to her class is more than returned by her students.
“The second a kid knows you care about them, they’re on your team,” she said. “Kids want to be here.”
Sprague said students engage during class. They play on her school football team. They show up to a special Cross Fit class she teaches at the school. They come to tutoring.
“I do whatever I can to make sure everyone is included,” she said.
It’s work that pays off.
“At the end of the year, I always ask my fifth-graders to write my speech for their Rising Stars Ceremony and last year a child said, ‘For the first time in my life I do not want school to end,’” Sessoms said. “To me there is no greater compliment than that. She pushes students, but she is there to support them when it is needed. She trains students to set goals and follows up to make sure the goals are met and helps them set plans to reach goals. This is a great life lesson.”
What is your favorite thing to read? The Crossfit Journal
What is your best study tip? Mnemonic devices. Make them up and make them silly.
What is your favorite snack food? Cashews and avocados
What’s the last movie you saw? Dolphin Tale 2