A lot weighs on the shoulders of a fifth grader: multiplication and division; the status as schoolwide role models; an imminent move to middle school, where lockers lock and eighth graders roam.
But on the first day of school Thursday, fifth graders busied themselves with making new friends, meeting their teachers and getting settled into their classroom. Icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities introduced students to their classmates.
In Emma Fitzgerald’s fifth grade class at Van Corlaer Elementary School, students took turns in the front of the class listing three things about themselves – two were true and one was false, the rest of the class had to guess which was false.
“I’ve been to Myrtle Beach, I’ve been to California, and I love corn,” one student said.
No, she does not love corn.
“I hate corn,” the student said.
But the tidbits of information ran deep if you paid attention. One student shared that her older sister had died. One of the students said she has six dogs – and a cat and two prairie dogs. Another student said he had $9,000 sitting in a bank account after getting hit by a car. Yet another student said that he had been homeless.
“You was homeless?” a classmate asked.
“Once, before I moved into this house,” the original student said.
“It happens,” Fitzgerald said, later noting that she was proud of the details the students had shared.
Fifth grade, now the highest grade in the district’s 11 elementary schools, is a key transition year as teachers try to foster the independence and confidence students will need as they move to middle school and sixth grade.
In fifth grade, students start to stretch toward more challenging math and science concepts and are pushed to work collaboratively with classmates while also pursuing greater independence in their education, teachers said Thursday.
“Getting to know each other is a big part of working with someone,” said Howe Elementary School fifth grade teacher Jennifer Rodecker, who has been teaching in Schenectady schools for nearly 20 years.
“Is every activity gonna be fun?” she asked her students.
“No,” they said.
“You might say I didn’t really like science but now I love science,” she said.
Clues about the academic year ahead lined the walls in Rodecker’s room. Bins of books covered part of all the classroom’s four walls, ranging from short books loaded with pictures to long chapter books. In English Language Arts the students will soon learn to analyze historical fiction; in social studies they were set to study geography and research different countries; in science students were promised to learn about outer space and the planets.
Rodecker said the goal of fifth grade was to instill “that love of learning, working together and independence.”
The fifth grade students also hold a special position as the oldest students in the elementary schools. As they walk the halls, play at recess and eat lunch in the cafeteria, younger students are looking for signs of how the older kids behave.
Rodecker’s fledgling fifth graders said they accepted their lot as the school’s role models.
“We have to be role models to show…” Larissa Ashline, 10, said, trailing off as she looked for an example of the behaviors they should model this year for younger students.
“Kindness,” 10-year-old Jazyrae Merced offered up for her friend. (She said she likes to be called “Jazy.”)
“Yeah,” Larissa agreed. “So when they get older, and they are the role models, they’ll know what to do.”
Jameson Agosta, one of about 25 students in Rodecker’s class, said the fifth graders need to demonstrate for younger students how to follow the rules.
“We are older now and we should know all the rules of school,” Jameson Agosta said. “We’re older, so the little kids have to look at us so they know what to do when they are older.”
At Van Corlaer, fifth graders lead a growing student council, and the school plans to have the fifth graders serve as mentors or “buddies” to younger students. The new fifth graders also faced the reality that their time in elementary school is slipping away and soon they will be the youngest students in school.
“They’re definitely nervous and were already talking about it today,” Fitzgerald said of her Van Corlaer students.
But the students were also excited for the year ahead.
“You can learn anything you want and then you might become something you want to be, like a doctor,” Howe fifth grader Jazyrae said. “I want to be someone who helps animals that are homeless.”