Chatfield's fourth through sixth grade Gopher Time homeroom students make tie blankets to donate to a charitable organization.
Chatfield's fourth through sixth grade Gopher Time homeroom students make tie blankets to donate to a charitable organization. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Students at Chatfield are learning beneficial lessons in a multi-grade, once-a-week homeroom. The lessons are supporting school values and students are learning to be more respectful, responsible and safe.

“Gopher Time is time for communication, collaboration, challenge and connections,” stated Chatfield Elementary School (CES) instructor Kate Johnson.

She explained the elementary’s new homeroom time, held once a week, is designed to better acquaint students with one another and to build community within the school…and sometimes, even outside the school.

Teacher Jolene Dornack concurred, “Gopher Time is a once-a-week meeting with students from all different grade levels and classes. Kindergarten through third grade students are intermixed with kindergarten through third grade teachers, as are fourth through sixth grade. It’s for everyone — all students, teachers, paras, interventionists — and during Gopher Time, we facilitate lessons and activities on topics that go along with our school values of being respectful, responsible and safe.”

Instructor Ann Shanahan stated, “We hold Gopher Time every Monday for 30 minutes. Every student is assigned a special Gopher Time teacher — for example, a first grader has the same Gopher Time teacher until they enter fourth grade, and then they are assigned a new Gopher Time teacher they keep through sixth grade.”

Johnson related, “All time spent on Gopher Time activities are values-focused.”

Topics that Gopher Time addresses include diversity awareness, thankfulness, effective communication, bullying prevention, inclusions, relationships, accountability, excellence, encouragement, perseverance and citizenship.

Shanahan pointed out, “Kindergarten through sixth grade has a monthly focus. September was a time to get to know our Gopher Time group, student-to-student, and time to get to know their new teacher. We worked on showing respect and responsibility by playing ‘get to know you’ games. October, we keyed into Bullying Prevention Month, lots of discussion, skits and scenarios. Students shared experiences with cyber-bullying and learned how to be an upstander, not a bystander.”

Shanahan continued, “In November, we launched our service experience. Students worked in teams to create fleece tie blankets for an organization called ‘Hugs for Hunter.’ We also used this as a platform for students to come up with future service project ideas.”

Dornack related that the lower elementary students decorated cookies to send to service members who cannot be home for the holidays.

Johnson commented, “They did a service project this month, and hopefully, they’ll do them going forward. Fourth through sixth grade has two teachers designing curriculum, but we are always open to ideas and suggestions from staff and students.”

The effects of being in Gopher Time are beginning to make themselves apparent. Johnson observed, “Kids appreciate time to connect with people they didn’t know before. It’s fun for them to connect with kids from other grades and work together through challenges and activities.”

Johnson added that the students have played beach blanket volleyball, created a human knot, participated in physical challenges, created time capsules and played Pictionary.

“Our hope is that the kids will find school to be a fun place to be, with new connections they didn’t realize or have before,” Johnson said. “There’s a team of kids and a teacher who’s ‘for’ them, ‘on their side,’ year to year, and socioemotional connections are so important to a child’s overall health and well-being.”

Johnson said the teachers have already heard members of the community remark on the changes.

“One comment I heard at Halloween was that a person heard more ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ while the students were on their doorstep,” she added. “Also, kids are showing kindness to one another, respect for each other, the school and the community. It’s fun to hear discussions develop, kids rise to the challenge, be kind to one another and true leaders rise up.”

A CES third grader was quoted by the teachers as saying, “I think Gopher Time is a good thing and it has changed the school by teaching people to be kind.”