Yesterday, I joined the staff at Franke Park Elementary School as part of Fort Wayne Community Schools' annual Principal for a Day program. The students were eager to say hello to a new face in the building as our day began, and were excited to meet me.
Principal Brian Howard gave me the responsibility to do the morning announcements over the loud speaker. This included the Pledge of Allegiance, which I nervously recited. I haven’t done that regularly since my own elementary school days, but thankfully, my memory served me well.
Principal Howard was hardly ever in his office. He was always on the move (being a principal seems like a great exercise plan!), visiting many classrooms. We joined the kids during their morning classroom community circles where they take turns sharing things with each other in an effort to feel more connected to their classmates and teacher. After we visited several classrooms, we joined the second grade teaching team during a planning meeting, where they discussed implementing the current curriculum and the progress of their students. It was eye opening to listen to the teachers brainstorm ways to follow the standards of the district while maintaining a personal teaching style.
I made the day personal for me and the students by presenting to the entire fourth grade about what I do as a construction engineer. I showed them examples of DC’s work, and answered their questions about the field. They engaged and asked a lot of great questions! I gave each student an elevation exercise, along with a pack of colored pencils for them to keep. I asked each of them to complete the elevation by drawing a building of their own in the blank space. Some of them shared what they created, and there was a wide range of ideas for the space – a Unicorn Shop, a bank, a dress shop, a donut shop, a Halloween shop, apartments, and a walkway connecting the buildings, among others. It was fun to see the creativity and excitement they brought to the exercise. Maybe DC should consider hiring a fourth grader to bring in new ideas!
At the end of the morning, the students and staff participated in the Great American Shakeout, a national earthquake drill. Principal Howard and I monitored the drill, making sure that each classroom was under their desks practicing for a potential earthquake. Everyone followed protocol, and it was different for me to be on the authoritative side of a drill.
For lunch, we left Franke Park and went to the Family and Community Engagement Center, where Anthis culinary students treated us to a lunch they prepared and served to all principals and their guests. Having lunch made for me by potential culinary chefs showed me how FWCS is preparing high school students for their future careers.
Principal Howard was a teacher before he was a principal. Watching him in his role made me think of the impact he has on these students for their six years in elementary school. As a teacher, he was with his students for one year. But as a principal, he sees them grow from kindergarten to fifth grade, and has a lasting impact on their childhood. He is able to form relationships with students that lasts beyond one grade level. It was easy to see the admiration the students have for him.
Overall, the experience taught me a lot about the flow of school day, and how much activity the principal sees in a day. The job is not at all an office job. Being part of a team that designs elementary schools and educational administrative spaces, this experience has given me insight into how an elementary space should flow. Seeing how students enter the building and where they go at certain times of the day showed me how various spaces should be placed with respect to the entrances, exits, and community spaces.
Every day, I work with adults. This experience was refreshing to be surrounded by kids. They find joy in almost anything. They get excited about the little things, like the colored pencils DC gifted them. It was a nice reminder to appreciate the little things, and to take a break from life’s daily stressors. I was able to let go of my to-do list and focus on the kids’ happiness just to meet me and spend our morning creating something unique together. Thank you, Fort Wayne Community Schools, for this unique and eye opening opportunity. And thank you, Franke Park and Principal Howard, for letting me be an honorary Explorer!
Associate, Construction Engineer