Teaching outside the box at Madison Elementary School
Kelly Kobel, 49, the Resource Specialist at the Learning Center at Madison Elementary School, doesn’t see a single classroom of 30 students a day. Instead, her students are spread all over the campus in different rooms and grade levels, and with different levels of progress and skills. She sometimes sees up to 80 kids in a single seven-hour day. Her day doesn’t end at 3 p.m. when school gets out; Kobel spends hours after school and often times entire weekends making specialized plans for the children she works with.
“Every student has an individual program targeting what they need,” said Kobel. “It’s my choice to work on the weekends to stay on top of their learning and progress.”
“Sweetheart,” is a phrase Kobel, a mother of four with a Master’s Degree in Speical Education along with other specialized certificates and credentials, often uses. Her classroom, the Learning center, is a safety net for students and is a place where students who have an identified learning disability come to receive special instruction, Kobel said. It is also a quiet place for students to take an exam and a place for children to get special help if they are struggling in a particular subject. She is also in charge of the program for English Learners. Because of the Redondo Beach Unified School District’s emphasis on teaching the ‘whole child,’ Kobel has been in charge of taking a proactive approach to teaching struggling children at Madison for two years and previously at Washington Elementary. She helps by targeting areas of difficulties socially, emotionally or academically. Principal Joseph Ledoux even attributes part of the school’s gigantic 31 point API jump to Kobel’s hard work with many of the struggling students.
She has a colorful classroom near the back of the campus, but Kobel can often be found going from room-to-room checking up on her children, many times observing and teaching the teacher or the child’s aid how to work through a difficult situation.
Last Thursday during a classroom visit she noticed that one of her kids was distracted and wasn’t able to focus on his work.
“I think when you ask a question you need to avoid outside stimuli,” Kobel told the classroom assistant, who quickly helped the student clean up his desk so just the assigned paper was in front of him.
“What is everybody doing?” she asked the young boy, looking around the room.
He looked around the room with Kobel, pencil in his hand, and replied, “Work.”
“What are you going to do?” Kobel asked with a warm voice and a smile, watching his lips move distracted, singing a song. “Is it time to be singing? Is everybody else singing?”
He searched the room with his eyes and realized nobody else was humming a tune.
“Then we shouldn’t be doing that,” said Kobel.
The assistant and Kobel conversed a little more about his behavior and decided upon a couple of different ways to approach his classroom presence. Later, the teacher came to the back of the room to ask some additional questions and seek Kobel’s input.
“The special education students sit in the general education classes with students, and [most teachers] don’t have a specialized degree to deal with them,” said Kobel. “Often my job is to help to support them and give them the resources they need.”
Stickers are a big thing in Kobel’s room. When a student masters a skill, that child receives a sticker that can be collected and eventually put towards a prize. Kobel sees that as motivation for the students to improve, and stickers tend to be an important part of the day.
“I’ll ask them, ‘Are you working for your sticker today?’” said Kobel. “Sometimes that helps, it’s an extra incentive.”
She also tries to think outside of the box. Gum chewing is allowed in Kobel’s room, unlike the other areas on campus.
“The extra sensory can help,” she said. “For some kids if you give them a test they panic, or freeze, but orally they do fine. I want to know if they know it or not, not just if they can fill in the bubble.”
“She puts the kids first no matter what,” said first grade teacher Kristen Roman. “She treats every child equally and loves every one of them even if they tap her out emotionally; she treats them with dignity and respect.”
Often times at the end of the day when Roman sees Kobel leaving the building Roman said that she will stop her to ask her questions about a student and, “she will put everything aside and take her time to talk with me. She’s just naturally gifted, It’s just within her to be kind and compassionate,” said Roman.
She also heavily involves the parents in the process.
“It’s exciting to see their skills improve,” said Kobel. “I believe that too often parents get called when there is a problem or an issue. I’m big on sharing the ‘ah ha’ moment. I make a big deal about when a student learns something, I think it motivates them.”
Last year she had a student that stumped her. Instead of being frustrated and giving up, she was motivated even more to find the trigger that would help him learn to read. She spent her free time researching different programs and finally found a program that she thought would work. The school district okayed the purchase, and the program ended up being just what he needed to succeed.
“Seeing them be successful is inspiring,” said Kobel. “I’m even inspired if I can’t find what’s going to click, it just makes me dig even deeper.” ER