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Murray Elementary School 5th Graders Demonstrate Their Character

November 13, 2011

By: Michael Utsumi (Parent)

Before we offer a fond farewell to October and to Halloween, we wanted to highlight a simple, yet powerful act of kindness provided by some students at Murray Elementary School. Within the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD), Murray Elementary School provides one of the most diverse and imaginative suite of programs for elementary students. This site is home to the innovative Pathways Program which promotes multi-age learning environments and requires a minimum two-hour volunteer commitment per month from families that choose to enroll in this program. Further, families are welcomed into this program from both those that live within the district and those that live outside of school boundaries. Murray is also the host of the Special Day Classes Program (SDC). This program supports students that are experiencing learning difficulties – from mild to profound. SDC classes are parsed into three different grades levels (K-1, 2-3, & 3-5) and are supported by three specifically dedicated teachers and numerous other aides. The program draws students from throughout the entire district.

In order to understand this story, sought out 5th Grade Teacher, Denise Fisher. Denise is a graduate of California State University – East Bay (formerly CSU-Hayward) with a B.A. in Liberal Studies. While she initially embarked on a different career, she was inspired by the chance invitation to attend an Open House at an elementary school. She was so moved by the enthusiasm of the students, staff and parents that she made a decision to make a vocation change into education. Shortly thereafter, she completed her multi-subject credential from CSU – East Bay and began her career as a classroom teacher at Murray. That was 16 years ago. Today, she is a 5th grade teacher with a class of 29 students. Murray parent Kelly Baalman recently informed us of a wonderful story of students giving back to students from this Halloween, please share what happened.

Denise Fisher: “First, understand that my 5th grade class partners with the SDC program – the second and third graders – and we enjoy a year-long working relationship with this class. Each of my students “buddy up” with these students on a one-to-one basis. The activities that they share vary from reading together, completing art projects, using focus to utilize scissors to simply forming friendships.

“Traditionally, a large portion of our students have the opportunity to visit a local pumpkin patch in the month of October – this year it was the G&M Farms location in Livermore. The students get to enjoy the cornfield maze and pumpkin patch and it’s a great event.” So, Halloween was approaching and the SDC class collectively agreed to spend their field day option in the comfort of their school site. What did you do?

Fisher: “I simply posed to my class ‘What would you like to do for your buddies so that they can equally enjoy the Halloween experience?’ Instantaneously and enthusiastically, the class exploded with ideas. I immediately employed my SmartBoard and we began to explore our options. The concepts ranged from creating a carnival, to building a haunted house, creating a hayride, among others. I had to rein them in a little bit, but we quickly figured out what might be tangible in the two weeks that had available to us.” What did the group ultimately agree to?

Fisher: “It was awesome. With the cooperation of the students and the parents, we were able to assemble a great experience. We asked for parental donations and also received a nice discount from Sprouts Market on the pumpkins. We put together a pumpkin patch, a face painting booth, a snack bar, a chalk maze, apple fishing exhibit and a photo booth, among other activities. This all occurred on the morning of Thursday, October 27th. It took two weeks of planning, but our buddies and my students had a great time.” The Character Trait for October was “I am responsible”. When you look back on it now, what do you think that your 5th graders gained from this experience?

“Very simply, this project demonstrated that even a very small effort can make a huge difference. In the aftermath, my students were asking ‘what else can we do?’ As a group, we experienced that our efforts can translate into any positive endeavor. As a teacher, it reinforced the idea that I can provide opportunities within curriculum and yet expand these activities to help the students understand the value of benefitting your entire community.”

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