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Marianne Williams


"Ive always believed strongly in the worth and dignity of the individual student," says Marianne Williams. "My goal has always been to add value to a students life and, in so doing, help build a students sense of self worth and confidence. Since a birthday is a special occasion, especially for a child, its a wonderful opportunity to lavish praise and attention on that child."

Former student Nissa K. from Kenya has returned many times to teach and lead the class in the "Birthday Song" -- Kenyan style.

Prior to her retirement in May 2007 after 32 years in the classroom, Gilbert taught third grade at Val Vista Lakes Elementary School in Gilbert, Arizona. Traditionally, a birthday celebration in her classroom included singing and a special treat, but then she acquired a small gift box that was decorated with balloons and birthday greetings. She began to use that "Birthday Box" with each celebration and to enclose a small gift, like a little car or other toy. It added to the occasion, but even these small trinkets were costly and time consuming to find.

"When the state quarters were first being minted, my son had given me a large folder portraying a U.S. map and a space on each state to insert that states quarter," Williams recalled. "The original thought was to use the map and quarters as geography and history lessons. Rather than teach one lesson with the map and quarters, the idea just came to me to incorporate the map and quarters into the birthday celebration."

Taylor O. holds the "Birthday Box" in front of the quarters map in Williams' classroom. [Photos provided by Marianne Williams.]

In the decorated "Birthday Box," Williams placed two matching state quarters -- one to put on the map and one for the child to keep. A birthday banner was hung on the board, and the child sat on the classroom stool while he or she received the acknowledgment. Williams took a photo of each child with the Birthday Box, and asked several questions: Where were you born? Do you know what time of day you were born? How big you were at birth (weight and length)? Did you have hair? Does your family have special birthday traditions? Then the student opened the box and put one state quarter on the map, while Williams shared trivia and facts about that state and discussed the significance of the symbols on the coin.

"Students enjoy the recognition and the element of surprise, wondering which state quarter is in the Birthday Box," Williams reported. "Of course, each one loves to receive the gift, either to save or spend.

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Several helpful practices made Williams' birthday celebration go smoothly. She collected shiny new quarters from loose change and the bank and stored them in small envelopes with the state names on them. She kept a master list of the quarters and checked them off as they were used, and she wrote her students' birthdays on her master calendar so they would never be overlooked. When one celebration ended, she immediately refilled the box to prepare it for the next.

"This way of celebrating birthdays has proven perfect in meeting several objectives," added Williams. "It honors the student on his or her birthday and teaches a mini lesson on U.S. geography and history. At 25 cents per child, the method also is cost effective. (Quarters used on the map can be saved for the next year.) I like it because it is easily managed, time effective, and fun."


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World