Team teaching requires give-and-take. Sahba Rohani and Rebecca Williams—who completed each other’s sentences as they answered questions on speakerphone from their kindergarten classroom—clearly have this knack. Theirs is an arranged marriage that works, built on a shared passion for families and community at the aptly named Community Roots Charter School.
“When we first met,” Rohani said, “we talked about how important it is that we have a classroom community that creates—”
“—responsible children,” Williams said, “who make good choices and are kind to one another. It’s a challenge and a blessing that they come from such diverse backgrounds… We want them to connect, to work things out—”
“—to work out problems,” Rohani added, “to talk about problems through modeling and role-play.”
“We’re both a bit dramatic,” Williams said, “to say the least.”
Another way drama is used is during the apple study, when Williams, a theater major, and Rohani, an enthusiastic international traveler, become food critics named Betty and Netty. Children taste apple treats brought in by families and are asked to describe them as vividly as they can. Quotes are then used in the apple cookbook given out at the culmination of the apple study.
The year is shaped around the study of the family. One goal is to build empathy for and acceptance of difference. In this diverse student body, kids may come from Jamaica, Israel, England or Mozambique, as well as Brooklyn. At the beginning of the year, according to Williams, “We have all these fragmented pieces coming into the classroom. We want to find out who they are. Children learn to be researchers and think of questions to ask families. They learn about other families and share a little about who they are as families.”
Students identify and share family rituals.
“One child’s grandparents came and did a little Shabbat ceremony,” Rohani said. “Another vacations on a lake in Canada and they paint rocks on the beach there.” A child from Jamaica shared “bun and cheese,” a favorite snack, and another brought in waffles, fruit and whipped cream.
Drawing up a curriculum from 25 new students each year means plenty of variety.
“I love that each year is different,” Williams said. “I don’t get bored. I always have something to learn and always will.”
Community Roots Charter School was founded three years ago. “Community” is not only embedded in the name of the school but in its practice. Staff gathers two weeks before school begins, and they continue to meet for professional development every Monday afternoon for two hours throughout the school year. Williams and Rohani have become friends outside of school as well.
“She knows my family, I know hers,” Rohani said, adding, “I’ve gotten her into pedicures.”
To stay fresh and motivated for the classroom, Williams likes to bike to the beach with her husband or go hiking. Rohani loves massages, sitting in cafés or visiting parks on her travels to catch up with members of her “really big Persian family.”
Rohani came to Community Roots because it “brought together all that I believe about how a school can help a community.” She had never taught children below 4th grade, but her degree in international educational development, with a focus on family and community, made it an irresistible fit. Williams brought her theater performance background, as well as many years of preschool teaching experience.
At Community Roots, “We learned together,” Rohani said. “At the beginning, I thought, I have no idea how to do this.”
But they clicked creatively and share a core value: “The children’s needs come first in every way,” Williams said.
Paget Walker, a parent, likes the combination of warmth, high standards and attentiveness in this kindergarten classroom, citing the time she was told “quietly and frankly [that] my daughter wore shoes too big for her that gave her blisters.”
Parent Livonia Brown Harrison knew these two “were truly sent from heaven” when she attended the school picnic the year before her daughter, Danah, entered kindergarten.
“Students who were just completing 2007-2008 were sitting in the park crying at the thought of not having them as their teachers in September.”
Sahba Rohani and Rebecca Williams,
Kindergarten Community Roots Charter School
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