Hawthorne Lab School

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 5/25/2018

Categories: Education F1RST Magazine F1RST Summer 2018 Faculty and Staff Students

At this Waukesha Lab School, Everyone is Learning

Elementary Lessons

It is the first warm, sunny afternoon after winter’s cold and gray days, and the playground at Hawthorne Elementary School on Waukesha’s northwest side is abuzz.

The students are scattered in small groups that dot the asphalt playground and flitter about the field—shooting baskets, playing kickball, climbing on playground equipment, running and chasing and giggling and squealing and just generally burning off months of cabin fever.

And in each group of children, often near the center, is a young adult, in a neon orange safety vest. These are the Hawthorne students’ buddies, students themselves in Carroll University’s education program, and they are in demand, pulled into kickball games, roped into tag, climbed on and held on to and fussed over by the children.

During this recess, the Carroll students are getting a big dose of hands-on learning. They're mediating disputes, soothing hurt feelings and occasional bruises and getting to know their buddies better. They have been coming for just over a month, but their twice-weekly noon arrival is eagerly anticipated by the children.

The Carroll students are enrolled in Education 248—Early Childhood Education: Home, School and Community Relationships, and they are here as part of a new partnership between Carroll and the School District of Waukesha. Hawthorne is now a lab school, and a special arrangement embeds Carroll students and faculty—associate professor Dr. Kerry Kretchmar’s class actually meets at the school. 

In this innovative collaboration, Hawthorne’s staff and Carroll’s education department combine resources to create a research-focused learning environment that places the children of the school first. Hawthorne administration, teachers and staff have restructured the school so that they can better collaborate with Carroll’s faculty and education majors, who will take on a much larger presence in the building. 

The advantage for Hawthorne should be easy to comprehend—more adults in the building, working side-by-side and focused on creating the best outcomes for the school’s students. That will translate into more educators and educators-in-training working in each classroom, allowing increased personal attention for students. It will also build upon the expertise, knowledge and passion of Hawthorne’s administration, staff and teachers, freeing them up to become collaborators as they employ the latest and best practices.

Ideally, the lab school arrangement benefits all parties. Carroll students get early and comprehensive time spent in the elementary school environment and opportunities to apply the theory they are learning. Hawthorne teachers get additional classroom help and the chance to better reflect on what is working and what doesn’t in the classroom. Finally, Hawthorne students get intentional, focused attention designed to attain the best possible learning outcomes.

“It gives us a very practical place to situate these big theoretical ideas they are learning.”

Dr. Kerry Kretchmar
Associate Professor of Education

In one of Kretchmar’s classes, the students hear from a Hawthorne staff member as she details the above-and-beyond efforts she undertook to connect with a young boy and his family. That included visiting his home to gain a better understanding of his life and then meeting him at the school early to help him acclimate, trust her and feel more comfortable at the school. 

Perhaps it’s revelatory for the students to hear this, but it makes sense. No teaching can really occur until then, until the student is ready to learn. The ensuing discussion is just one of the ways Carroll’s students are better able to comprehend what being a teacher in the 21st century means. 

“Seeing how passionate she is and hearing how she formed the relationship was eye-opening,” said Carley Mueller ’20, one of Kretchmar’s students. “Experiencing that is awesome."

For Kretchmar, that exposure is critical. “This lab arrangement allows for us to move some of our courses onsite and be much more collaborative,” she noted. “We’re working to develop a culture of curiosity, research and learning.”

The students in her spring class will be back at Hawthorne in fall. They’ll really be able to develop relationships beyond the usual ones in their cohort. “It gives us a very practical place to situate these big theoretical ideas they are learning.”  

Hawthorne principal Duy Nguyen believes the partnership, in its first year, is already working. “Our teachers carry a lot of professional knowledge. The people from Carroll bring a lot of research knowledge. Where we come together is where innovation happens.”

And that’s happening continuously, according to Hawthorne’s Dean of Teaching and Learning, Carly Solberg. “The Carroll students are in a constant cycle of reflection with our faculty,” she noted, a process that generates ongoing discussion and incremental improvements.

At Hawthorne, the Carroll students are intentionally paired up with buddies, Hawthorne students that the staff have identified to be in special need of an ally.

“My buddies are in fourth grade,” said Mueller. One of them loves to play kickball, so Mueller spends half of recess on the ball diamond, and then “hangs out” and plays in the playground with her other buddy.

“We do get to see them in class as well,” she said. “We’re learning about their non-cognitive skills and learning about their social lives. We’re just creating relationships with them—a real important skill if we’re going to become teachers.”

Solberg said the time the would-be teachers get to spend with the Hawthorne students will pay off for the school district down the line. “That intentionality of supporting and challenging new teachers starts early with this program, so that by the time they reach the student teaching stage, these will be the best-prepared candidates around.”

So, they play kickball and they shoot baskets and sometimes just walk and hold hands. And then they hear how a home visit might reveal that the central authority figure in a child’s life is actually a grandparent and how that grandparent can become an important ally in reaching the child. Or they’ll discuss amongst themselves, in a debriefing session held after each recess, how best to deal with a child’s potty mouth. 

These are lessons that won’t be found in textbooks. And the stories, large and small, critical and trivial, that they hear from the staff at Hawthorne carry authenticity and credibility and thus resonate more deeply than dry theory ever could.

“The other day, we had a woman who works in the birth-to-three program speak to us and we heard about her work,” said Mueller. “I was so inspired by her, such a passionate educator.” The lab partnership does a great job of getting education students into the school setting right away to help them learn how to develop those relationships, she added, calling the Hawthorne faculty a great resource.

It’s just the first year, and it’s hoped that the partnership will result in a give and take between Carroll and Hawthorne personnel that asks and answers critical questions about learning and teaching, about how a school can best prepare students to take their place in the world. Principal Nguyen noted that the process will be ongoing and not without some discomfort. 

“Some discomfort is okay, though,” he said. “Having Carroll students ask why, why are you doing it that way, that should be uncomfortable, right? That questioning is where growth comes. As a lab school, we’re expected to ask those questions.”

Nguyen said parents initially had questions about how the partnership would affect their children. Since then, they’ve grown excited about it because the teachers are focused on and talking about their children and how they are learning. 

“The big question is do we help or hinder our students,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all helping, and we can feel good about that.

“The vision we have is that teaching is a profession that should be valued and respected,” he said. “It should be joyful. It should be a career, not a job.”

And, from their unique perspective in the state’s only lab school, Carroll education students are hearing—and seeing—that for themselves.

Carroll and Hawthone Lab School Student playing together

Lab School students and a Carroll student playing basketball

Carroll class held at Hawthorne Lab School

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Panoramic View of campus