More than the SAGE test: Specialist brings hands-on learning to Herriman Elementary
Terrie Kenner, enrichment specialist at Herriman Elementary, gardens with students on a May afternoon. (Katie McEwen/Herriman Elementary)
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From the blue flowerpots that line the building’s entrance to the student-written news stories plastered on the wall next to the office, Terrie Kenner’s influence on Herriman Elementary School is detectable.
The enrichment specialist who started as a teacher at Herriman Elementary when the building opened in 1999, has taken it upon herself to see that the school is properly decorated with flowers and student work. Noticing that the display cases remained empty throughout the year, she and Katie McEwen, her assistant, started filling them in with themed exhibits each month. Kenner also oversees the student committee responsible for maintaining the outside gardens.
Yet, even with all these extrinsic evidences of her effect on the school community, it’s perhaps the non-visual ones that speak the most about her character.
“If she wasn’t here, the school wouldn’t be the same,” said sixth-grader Caden Jones.
Caden is one of 70 students on Herriman’s Hawk Leadership team, which Kenner oversees. Leadership members serve on various extra-curricular committees. Caden is a member of the gardening committee that manages the park strip and triangular garden space in front of the school and planter boxes behind the school.
“She taught me how to work,” Caden said about Kenner. “Gardening teaches you that you need to work hard to get things to grow.”
And that’s what Kenner said she hopes all her students will learn from her exploratory teaching methods.
“Life is hard, and you have to learn that,” Kenner said. “You have to work for things, and with the kids that I work with, they know that, and they are fine with that, and so are their parents.”
Kenner who calls herself a self-described “strict but not mean” teacher said she retired three years ago when she tired of report cards, paperwork and tests. But she wouldn’t let those “nuisances” keep her away from Herriman Elementary.
She returned as a reading aide that fall. The reading aid gig lasted for two weeks before Kenner approached Principal Kim Gibson with the idea of creating an aide position that would allow her to create and run programs for gifted students. Gibson received approval from the district, and Kenner began implementing enrichment programs that would complement classroom learning.
“This is my school, and now that I’m not teaching anymore, I have the ability to do those extra things,” she said. “I think students need more than the SAGE test to learn.”
Kenner’s style of assessment is experiential, meaning it’s more hands-on and on-the-go. She models this type of learning in her own life. When a colleague suggested Herriman start a debate team, Kenner accepted the challenge even though she had never participated in debate.
Last year’s debate team was required to answer the following: “Do the benefits of the NSA metadata collection outweigh the harm?” Kenner said she didn’t know what the question meant when she first read it, so she studied it out while she taught the students and led them to the state championship.
“I had to learn about it enough to then be able to direct the kids,” she said.
Kenner has led the debate team to the championship two out of its three years. Chelsah Thomas, a Herriman sixth-grader, scored first place in her division this year. She said she doesn’t think she would have achieved this award had Kenner not required practice every day as the competition drew near.
“I rewrote my speech like five times, and I just reread it a lot and practiced,” she said. “Ms. Kenner encouraged me a lot and was in it to win it.”
When Kenner is not working with the debate team or gardening committee, you may find her teaching geology or science as a guest presenter classrooms, coaching a team of fifth- and sixth-grade journalists, heading up schoolwide service projects or working with the school’s peer leadership team.
When asked how many hours she spends at the school each week, Kenner gave a sly smile and said, “Well, I get paid for 17 hours,” but her colleague Candie Checketts said she usually doubles that. Kenner shrugged Checketts’ comment off.
“It’s my ideal job,” she said. “I get to find my passion and find kids who want to be involved in those things.”