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Tiny Teachers, Big Fun

Third grade students at Halley Elementary teach South County ninth graders about China, Egypt and Mali.

In some cases, the teachers were half the size of their students, but that didn't prevent third graders from Halley Elementary School from doing their part to bring Ancient China, Mali and Egypt to life for their students, ninth graders from South County Secondary.

In Kendra Shaw' class, students had their ninth grade "buddies" seated on the floor while reading from a book they'd prepared to help teach about Egypt.

"Each class wrote and illustrated a big book that reviews geography, economics and government, contributions of each culture and some interesting facts," Shaw said, watching her students read a page about hieroglyphics. "This is review for the [Standards of Learning tests[ for all of the kids, and they're running the whole show."

It was the second time the students from the two schools came together for a day of unorthodox learning. In December, students from Halley took a short field trip to South County, where they were met by students clad in togas and wreaths of "laurel" to learn about Greek and Roman culture and history. Now, it was time for the Halley students to teach their South County friends.

"We've been writing letters back and forth all year," Shaw said. To prepare for the second exchange, she and her students discussed what they remembered and like about the trip to South County and based their lesson, and the three enrichment activities that followed each lesson, on that day.

IN THE EGYPT classroom, South County students were rotated through three stations, at which they made hieroglyphic necklaces with their names on them, built pyramids out of paper and played a game on a Smart Board.

"There's a lot of people here," said Jose Guevara as the first group of students filed out to another classroom.

"I liked that we get to help everybody learn," said Chelsea Bartholomew.

Down the hall in Jennifer Buchko's class, third grade teachers were leading their South County students through China, accompanied by pictures taken by Halley teacher Lisa Kelly on her recent trip.

"The ninth graders have been so attentive and appreciative of what the third graders are doing," Buchko said. "We were a little nervous this morning because it's right after spring break and we weren't sure how the third graders would react to being teachers, but they just took over."

To keep the students busy and make the most of the two-hour exchange, the full-time teachers helped their students design the enrichment activities, all of which were done in four or five-minute intervals.

"The kids were so excited about seeing their buddies again," Buchko said, watching her students teach their South County students how to make calligraphy scrolls, zodiac wheels and playing Pictionary.

Downstairs, the library had been divided in half so Halley students could teach about Ancient Mali, a country in the middle of Africa's salt and gold trade routes, said teacher Cathy Mullins.

Her strategy for making sure the bigger students listened to their smaller teachers was to have one "strong personality" in each group.

"I figured that one student would be able to regroup everyone and keep them focused," she said.

A GROUP OF students playing a trivia game with a baseball diamond-decorated board listened to third grader Shannon Tomin as she explained the difference between "single," "double" and "triple" base questions.

"I like being a teacher, I like giving people answers and asking them questions," said Shannon, a curly-haired girl who held her question lists close to her so no one could peek at the answers.

"I had to tell them to be quiet a few times," she said of her students.

Mullins said she was "very pleased" with how the third graders interacted with the ninth graders.

"The ninth graders were so respectful," she said.

After their three classes were completed, the students and their buddies ran out to the bus parking lot to secure a sunny seat for lunch, where they chatted about their classes, friends and learned more about each other.

"I liked listening to them read us their books and show us the drawings," said ninth grade student Laura Tamburelli. "I learned a lot more from them than I thought I would."

Third grader Madison Thompson said she liked being able to spend the day "with two of my favorite friends and my buddy. I thought maybe I'd be embarrassed to read in front of them but I wasn't," she said.

Brett Mandeville said he was impressed by his third grade teachers. "They know so much," he said. "It was fun to play the games they made for us."