Fun for everyone

It sounds like lots of fun to be a student in one of Brigadoon Elementary teacher Cristy Verellen’s classes.

For most of the past 16 years, Verellen’s students have come from among Federal Way’s gifted children, and she has developed creative ways of stimulating their interest and encouraging their parents’ participation in their life at school. By cycling between fifth and sixth grade at Brigadoon, she works with the same 24 children all day every school day for two years and is able to establish insightful relationships with them.

“She’s able to look at the children and see potentials and personal traits that as parents we may be too close to appreciate,” Dean Owen, whose daughter Embry Owen is one of Verellen’s fifth-grade students, said. “She has an opportunity to observe these children in very different circumstances and probably spends more time with them each week than we do as parents.”

Verellen’s students, as well as others in adjacent classrooms, recently participated in a mock trial in which two defendants were accused of setting an unauthorized campfire which ultimately burned up thousands of acres of wilderness. Embry Owen was appointed as the judge in the case. “Embry has a strong sense of fairness, and of right and wrong, and I was impressed that Cristy recognized that and played to a strength,” Dean Owen said.

“The prosecuting attorney had a weak case, the defense attorney had a strong case and suggested that one of the prosecutor’s witnesses may have actually been the fire starter, and the jury found the defendants innocent,” Embry Owen said. “It was a great way to learn how a courtroom works. Mrs. Verellen makes learning fun.”

“Opening doors of opportunity is a creative challenge that keeps me stimulated,” Verellen said.

One of the ways in which Verellen increases the number of opportunities available to her students is through considerable parental participation in the classroom and in periodic social opportunities. “Once throughout the year, each student is responsible for providing a speaker — a parent, or other family member or another adult friend — to come talk to the class about an interest of theirs,” Verellen said. “We have many field trips, by car or by metro, in which parents are actively involved.

“Beyond this, I try to find authentic opportunities in which parents can participate. It goes beyond correcting tests and doing photocopying,” Verellen said. “There was one parent for instance who couldn’t come in to school because she had a little one she was caring for at home, but she did a wonderful job of mounting watercolor prints that the students had completed.”

The activity involving parents that Verellen is most pleased with is the family nights that occur four times each school year. There was one this past Wednesday (Jan. 30) in which students and their families gathered at the school’s library to play board games and continue to get to know each other.

“It’s a good thing for the parents to meet each other,” Verellen said. “They’ll feel better about their children being in each other’s homes, and they can swap war stories about raising these delightful and challenging children.”

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