When Rhonda Mullinax’s first graders return to homeroom after daily specials, such as physical education, music and art, the entire room grows still and silent as the 6- and 7-year-olds eagerly anticipate what is bound to happen next.
It has become a daily habit. Without saying much, Mullinax reaches for an upbeat book such as "Captain Underpants" or any of the increasingly popular chapter books about a mischievous first grader named Junie B. Jones. Then, her students sit focused intensely on their teacher’s voice as she reads aloud.
"I love to listen to my students laugh when I read these books in class," she said. "I especially love reading the books from the Junie B. Jones series."
Mullinax, who has been a teacher at Ficquett Elementary for 16 years and was chosen to represent the school this year as Teacher of the Year, said it is her intention that her students move on to second grade having acquired a profound love of reading. Along with reading popular books aloud, she makes sure to weave reading into all of the core subjects she teaches. According to Mullinax, first grade curriculum includes reading, language arts, math, social studies, science and health.
"I incorporate the social studies, science and health subjects through reading," she said.
Mullinax said the biggest challenge in teaching a room full of energetic first graders is in planning ways to keep their attention. Since attention spans can be short at this age, she tries to come up with innovative ways to impact her students.
Earlier this year, as part of the Georgia Performance Standards, Mullinax had her students study, read about and describe historical figures in a social studies project. The students enjoyed learning about and identifying contributions made by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington Carver.
"Each student in my class was assigned one of these American historical figures to research and created posters with interesting facts and a drawing of the person they studied," she said. "They really got so much out of the project."
Additionally, Mullinax’s students have the unique opportunity to meet members of the Junior Service Guild of Covington, a service club from Eastside High School sponsored by the Service Guild of Covington. The Junior Service Guild consists of only female high school students. Each month, the guild members pay visits to Mullinax’s classroom in order to spend 45 minutes reading one on one with the first graders. According to Mullinax, the activity provides the Junior Service Guild with a service project and allows the first grade students an opportunity to get to know a high school role model.
"It also helps to increase my students’ love of reading and literacy," she said.
This is Mullinax’s second year teaming up with the Eastside club; a relationship she said began from a project called "Read Across America."
"They came and read with first grade one year, then the whole school the next, and it just evolved that way," she said. "The Service Guild girls are so sweet to my students. They bring books and holiday treats and some of the girls have even come to our student of the month receptions in order to be there for the child they read with."
Mullinax received a B.S. in early childhood education from the University of Georgia and is currently working on her masters’ degree in education.
"She loves the children and is very dedicated," said Ficquett principal Miriam Wilkins. "The parents are happy and pleased with the progress kids make in her classes."