The First Grade Transformation

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Camille Ehrenberg likens the development of her 1st graders to a child’s first year of life: a short period of incredible growth and change.

“It’s extraordinarily visible. You can’t miss it,” Ehrenberg said. “When they leave, they are totally transformed.”

Ehrenberg’s fascination with child development led her to teaching. She spent eight years as an attorney, litigating libel issues and then matrimonial law. After she had her own kids, she took a course in child development. She left the legal world to become an associate teacher at The Dalton School, where some of her children were already enrolled. She has been teaching there for nine years.

And those attorney skills have come in handy when teaching 1st graders, she said.
“The way I teach is by asking questions,” Ehrenberg said. “I definitely borrowed that from my background in law.”

Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Photo by Andrew Schwartz

In asking questions, Ehrenberg said, her students construct their own knowledge—a hallmark of her teaching style, according to parents.

“She has an incredibly innovative curriculum,” said Emily Kronenberg, whose son was a student of Ehrenberg’s last year. “She really puts so much energy and enthusiasm into it.”

The class trip to the Harlem Meer in Central Park, for example, was one project that students particularly enjoyed. At the lake, children learned about local wildlife and spoke with park officials. When they returned to the school, they wrote their ideas and thoughts on the Meer for class.

“They were engaged in the subject matter,” Kronenberg said. “There was no doubt in my mind they were learning a tremendous amount.”

A trip to the local post office inspired Ehrenberg to make her students open their own post office in the classroom. Students learned how to make stamps and mailboxes and delivered letters to Dalton’s lower-level grades. The project taught proper letter writing and mathematics—kids learned how to count change and place stamps—and gave students an introduction to management.

“There’s lot of hands-on activity,” Ehrenberg said.

Though her curriculum focuses on the community, Ehrenberg’s class also got to explore the United Kingdom through a blog called Kidview World. Dalton students joined with a London school called Hornsby House to suggest children’s books popular in their respective countries and write reviews on the blog. The project allowed Dalton students to read books they might not have otherwise encountered.

“To me, that’s another opportunity to learn about other people, to have an opportunity to respect other people’s opinions,” Ehrenberg said.

Currently, the blog is only associated with the one London school, but Ehrenberg hopes to establish a connection with an Indian school.

Pam Seymon, whose daughter was a student of Ehrenberg’s two years ago, added that the teacher is a favorite among students and parents alike.

“Camille was a teacher who relates to both. You do not always find that,” Seymon said. “The kids love her, the parents love her—what more can you ask for?”

Camille Ehrenberg
First Grade, Dalton School

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