Teamwork is of the utmost importance at Willow Field Elementary, and it’s obvious in the efforts of the staff as well as the students.
“One of the hallmarks of this building and its staff and the school community is that everyone values collaboration,” said Principal Henry “Chick” Quattrini. “People are always working together as partners on behalf of the kids.”
The second-largest elementary school in the district with an enrollment of 475, WFE is also the district’s newest building, having opened in 1990. Quattrini is the school’s second principal and has been at WFE since 2000.
“I didn’t create that environment [of cooperation],” Quattrini said. “It’s been part of the culture of the school since the building opened.”
Reading teacher Pam Acee agreed. “What’s great about this building is that everyone really does work together to support the programs,” Acee said. “Everyone is really willing to work together to put together the best possible program for the kids.”
On a recent visit to WFE, The Review saw firsthand the caring environment in which kids learn at the school.
Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!
The big excitement on Friday March 2 was the celebration the school hosted in honor of the birthday of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The day also marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Cat in the Hat.”
In honor of the literary great and in conjunction with the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day, Willow Field students took part in a number of events to promote literacy and to celebrate the children’s author. Guest readers were welcomed in almost every classroom, ranging from former WFE Principal Roger Phillips to fourth-grade teacher Cynthia Durheimer’s 4-year-old daughter. At lunch, students enjoyed goldfish crackers in honor of “Red Fish Blue Fish” and green Jell-O to accompany “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.” The day culminated with a reading of “The Cat in the Hat” by Principal Quattrini at precisely 2:36 p.m. (the book has 236 words) broadcast to the entire school, followed by the distribution of 500 cupcakes to students and staff.
The day’s events were coordinated by reading teacher Acee and librarian and media specialist Karen Beale.
“It’s a schoolwide literacy event,” Acee said. “Every child is familiar with Dr. Seuss’ books. Even the older kids love them. This is a fun way to celebrate literacy and to do fun activities and get thinking about reading.”
Acee and Beale offered several ideas to the school’s teachers as to how to best celebrate the occasion. In addition to guest readers, the fourth-grade classrooms and some third-grade classrooms had their own pajama day. Kids wore pajamas and brought in a stuffed animal and sleeping bag and spent part of the day curled up with a good book. The relevance of Seuss’ works — from “The Lorax,” a statement on conservation, to “Yertle the Turtle,” a commentary on dictatorship — was shared with the students, and Saturn of Route 31 provided paper cutouts so that students could make hats like that worn by the famed cat. Students sent cards via the internet commemorating the author’s birthday, and the website they used pledged to send a book to a needy child for each card received.
Though pajamas, cupcakes and striped hats are hardly the norm for a typical day at Willow Field, the spirit that spurred those projects certainly is.
An example of the dedication of the staff came during the lunch periods on Friday when a fourth-grader came into the office crying because another student had gotten her into trouble. Rather than simply sending her on her way, Martha Hanna, one of the school’s teacher aides, invited the girl to sit with her until her tears went away, offering words of comfort.
Such a sight is common at Willow Field. In the fifth grade, Kevin Moquin’s students thrilled in wishing him a happy birthday, preparing a card signed by the whole class as a surprise, while sixth-graders worked together on research papers in the library.
Indeed, every advantage is available to WFE’s students. The building has numerous technological advances, including laptops available to all students and a full multimedia room.
“It’s not like the old days when [kids] would come to the computer lab for a project,” said technology teacher Mary Eames. “We do a lot of introduction to the programs and carry it through in the classroom. We’re doing more now with digital photography and movies.”
The school has the support of an active parent-teacher organization, which is putting together its next major event. The second annual Night of Treasures will take place from 6 to 8:30 on March 23. The event will feature donated prizes, refreshments and other family fun. Donations of all kinds, from goods to gift certificates to services, are still needed.
Another upcoming event is the spring concert, which will take place in May. Music teacher Carolyn Smith said that the theme of the concert will be jazz. As part of their preparation for the concert, students are learning about the history of jazz and some of the greats.
“I do a lot with the spring concert instead of doing a musical,” Smith said. “I always have soloists and there’s at least one dance number that the kids learn. We bring in people from outside as accompanists, parents or other teachers. It’s a lot of fun for the kids.”
Serving the needs of many
There’s definitely no shortage of fun at WFE, but it’s not had at the expense of learning. Teachers at the school are deft at incorporating techniques that engage their students and promote better understanding of the material. Again, Quattrini said, cooperation plays a big role.
“We serve the needs of our children very well,” Quattrini said. “The staff prides itself on meeting the needs of a very diverse population, and that’s been the case for a very long time.”
The school offers a variety of programs both in the classroom and outside of it to enrich the lives of its students, including intramural sports, peer mediation, student council and a myriad of other programs and clubs. In most cases, staff members volunteer to assist in advising these activities.
“We have a desire here to exhaust all possibilities as we try to meet the needs of all of our kids,” Quattrini said. “People work very hard with the students and their families to make it work here. It’s very rewarding to be around that kind
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.