Spotlight Series: JK & Kindergarten Active Learners
This blog is part of a new series for the 2022-23 school year to ILLUMINATE how God is at work at San Jose Christian School. Each post will Spotlight a specific grade level and/or program. This second post in the series is a spotlight on the Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes and features interviews from: Mrs. Mariza Campista (Junior Kindergarten / Kindergarten Combo Teacher) and Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk (Kindergarten Teacher).
“You kind of have to be codependent.” Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk said about teaching Kindergarten. “Not in a negative way, but you love being with [the students] and, you know, they love being with you.”
Mrs. Van Ewyk has been on staff at San Jose Christian since 2013 and has worked in many of our Early Childhood programs. At San Jose Christian, she has taught Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Second Grade in addition to being the Preschool Director to open the Infant Care Center. For the past three years, Mrs. Van Ewyk has been the Kindergarten Teacher.
“We love our job,” added JK / Kindergarten Combo Teacher Mrs. Campista. “We’re here because we like to see the kids.” This is Mrs. Campista’s first year teaching Kindergarten, having previously taught Junior Kindergarten and Preschool. She continues to teach Preschool at San Jose Christian in the summer.
Both Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk have a Montessori teaching background and have worked closely together at San Jose Christian for the past seven years. These two teachers are beloved by our community and show us everyday how much they love their vocation and this school. “Yes, we have to have a paycheck, but I would still do this until I’m cold in the grave,” Mrs. Van Ewyk said, laughing. She added that she could not imagine doing anything else or even retiring: “They would have to kick us out.”
Seeing students grow into themselves and grow in their faith is what gives these teachers the deep passion they have for teaching in JK and Kindergarten. “It’s the light bulb at the end of the year,” Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk reflected. “They become independent and they become their own person, autonomous from their parents, which is very fascinating to see.”
“It’s the light bulb at the end of the year. They become independent and they become their own person.”
Mrs. Campista added that she loves the spontaneity and the honesty of her students. Mrs. Van Ewyk agreed, noting: “You see the best in humanity and the worst in humanity with Kinder. They do not hold back.” Both teachers value this genuineness because they recognize that it comes from students feeling secure in who they are as they are developing their own, unique personalities.
Both teachers described teaching JK and Kindergarten as an important opportunity to develop students’ confidence, responsibility, and awareness of those around them. Mrs. Van Ewyk pointed out, “Developmentally, they're just coming out of that egocentrism, and we're kind of helping guide them through that transition time.” She went on to explain that the way they do this is by setting up the class with several opportunities to share and to listen, to accept guiding feedback and to teach one another.
Sharing is one class activity where this is exemplified. At the end of a day, students will individually stand at the front of the class and talk about an object they brought from home. They are free to share what they want about the object, and then they answer questions from their peers about it. In this activity, students must be aware of their audience by practicing appropriate volume and engaging their listeners. Students who are not sharing get to practice taking turns, purposefully listening, asking questions, and showing interest in those around them.
Another JK and Kindergarten class activity students engage in is Jobs. For every skill taught in the curriculum, Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk provide students with a manipulative task to practice that skill. These manipulative tasks are placed on the shelves in the JK / Kindergarten classrooms to be practiced each day during the unit. Jobs are self-guided and help students grow as autonomous learners. Mrs. Campista explained: “They're responsible to go get their rug, they're responsible to go get their job, they're responsible to put it away after they're done, they have to check with the teacher to go check their job, and they have to put it away.”
In addition to teaching responsibility, this active learning process helps students be self-directed learners and critical thinkers. They are able to explore a variety of learning styles, and teachers and students alike can see which learning style works best for them. As a result of this process, Mrs. Van Ewyk explains that students realize at the end of the year: “I'm capable of doing much more than I did before.”
“When a student is able to be honest and feel safe in that honesty and know that they're going to be valued… that’s God’s light in them.”
Mrs. Campista described how she incorporates activities for a variety of learning styles in her classes with Bible stories. “We do one Bible story for the whole week and we do it in different ways, not just reading it.” She explained that she starts by reading the Bible story to them and then provides opportunities for students to retell, represent, and recreate the story with a variety of activities such as a hands-on art project or a song. In this way, value is placed on student response, which not only helps them develop academically, but also develop in their faith.
Whether they are aware of it at this time or not, these JK and Kindergarten students are taught that their response matters, which prepares them to be active in their personal faith and in their faith community. When learning happens in an active process that requires active participation, Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk are preparing students to engage and transform culture for Jesus Christ.
Later this month, Mrs. Van Ewyk’s Kindergarten class will be going on a field trip to Bernal Ranch to connect their class topic of “Gathering In” during the Fall season to the real world. “So we're talking about earth, we're talking about: ‘This is our planet. How do we care for our planet? What does it look like, you know, to be good stewards?’” The field trip will give students a real-world example of how people harvested in the past and what we do now. She wants them to make the correlation that caring for the earth is “why we are here, and it is what God wants us to do.”
“We’re just planting the seeds, right?” Mrs. Campista remarked. “We're planting the seeds for the future” At their young age, the most important thing these JK and Kindergarten students can learn is that they are loved and that they are a child of God. Both teachers pointed out that Kindergarten is a time when children start to discover who they are as individuals, making it a special opportunity to teach these students who they are in Christ and to prepare them for the role they have to play in the larger community of believers.
“That’s what we’re here to do,” Mrs. Campista concluded, “to open their vision.”
Rae Sterk is the Director of Community Development at San Jose Christian.
Mariza Campista is the Junior Kindergarten & Kindergarten Combo Teacher at San Jose Christian.
Suzie Van Ewyk is the Kindergarten Teacher at San Jose Christian.