National Board Certified Teacher LeAnna Wolkis creates a multifaceted learning environment for her kindergartners at Fireside Elementary School.
What comes to mind when you think of a kindergarten classroom? Some might quickly flash back to the days of finger painting, story time in a circle, or moments of tattletaling peers. But, clear any preconceived thoughts or memories you might have. Instead, try to wrap your brain around a classroom where students are held accountable for their actions, praised for admirable behavior, and are engaged in learning almost every millisecond they’re at school—this is the reality of Mrs. Wolkis’ kindergarten class at Fireside Elementary School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.
‘Wolkis Wonderland’ is as magical as one can dream. The walls are filled with colors, words, numbers, and much more. But don’t dare think artwork is thrown up on the walls without careful strategy. The 25-year teaching veteran says she “lives, eats, breathes, and sleeps kindergarten,” so learning outcomes supersede all else.
Spend about five minutes with National Board Certified Teacher LeAnna Wolkis and her 23 ‘super smarties’ and you’ll see every task is purposeful—even the way students work together to prepare for and clean up after activities. While ‘number ones’ at the table might be responsible for retrieving the worksheet from a certain area of the room, ‘twos, threes, and fours’ have tasks of there own, all of which demonstrate the importance of teamwork and accountability.
“What’s going to work?” Wolkis prompts. “Teamwork!” exclaim the ‘super smarties.’
Wondering how her tactics impact student achievement and parent engagement? A prime example is Bernice Sandoval, whose son was in Wolkis’ class a few years ago, yet she continues to volunteer in Wolkis Wonderland because she loves lending a hand in a room that truly invigorates students.
“I love that Mrs. Wolkis makes learning a fun and engaging experience for her students the minute they walk through her door,” Sandoval explains. “She has wonderful strategies to reinforce the concepts of the curriculum that she teaches through songs and interactive games. She understands each child has different skill levels and always encourages her students to try their best. I admire her commitment and enthusiasm toward each and every student every day to make learning a fun and enjoyable experience.”
As Sandoval explains, Wolkis evokes students’ willingness to ‘try their best.’ Rather than having a bin for ‘complete work,’ it’s the ‘I tried my best basket.’
“Mrs. Wolkis has provided my son a great foundation in many aspects. He loves to read and write, and has great self-esteem, confidence, and a belief that learning is fun. I believe that he continues to succeed through his experiences in her class,” Sandoval claims.
It’s clear that Wolkis, who enjoys attending fashion shows and Broadway plays outside the classroom, inspires the masses. Her influence extends beyond her ‘super smarties’ and their families, and reaches her colleagues, both near and far, as she leads professional development on a national level.
“Mrs. Wolkis is an outstanding educator who is always going above and beyond to help her students be successful in school. She has created a warm, loving, student-centered environment, and has made such a huge impact on the lives of her students and their families,” says Fireside Elementary School Principal Wendy Allen. “Mrs. Wolkis nurtures the academic, social, and emotional well-being of every student in her classroom on a daily basis. Her classroom is always buzzing with positive energy, and every child knows that he or she is cared for, loved, and valued. She is committed to professional growth, and to collaborating with colleagues to share ideas and discuss best practices in teaching.”
While some might find themselves exhausted from the punctuation songs, energy-driven brain breaks, two-minute dance parties, learning lab activities, carefully crafted transitions, and Wolkis’ countless other tricks, the educator says she finds herself invigorated by her students’ creativity and desire to learn.
“One of my first jobs was babysitting,” Wolkis explains. “I loved the littlest kids. I used to fill a big bag with crafts and learning activities to do with the kids and I would teach them while I babysat them. They used to call me Mary Poppins … My little kiddos keep me dedicated. They make me feel alive and they keep me young.”
So whether students are putting a ‘bubble in their mouth,’ ‘kissing their brain’, or receiving ‘happy chappy’ for a job well done, it’s safe to say students thrive from their experience in Wolkis Wonderland.
Want to learn from Wolkis herself? Join us for a one-day workshop, Anchors Aweigh Through Uncharted Territory, on Feb. 2, 2018.