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What I Learned in the First Grade

The Magic of Learning – the Power of First Grade

Karen and Jay share insights on their own first grade experiences and the positive role their first grade teachers have played in their lives.

Do you remember those precious moments when you were in the first grade?  Do you remember your teacher?  Some of the learnings – and also the experience?  What stands out in your memory?  I suspect much of it blends together.  But if you’re like me, there are fond memories of a teacher who really cared for each and every student.  And, who for those hours every day when we were in her classroom – she was the fountain of knowledge, that wonderful soul who imparted wisdom, taught us to add and subtract, memorize the alphabet, and reading, coloring and more. The first grade can be such a formative and foundational experience.


First grade is a magical time in a child's life, marked by the wonder of new discoveries and the beginning of formal education. Young children, often stepping into the world for the first time, need a compassionate and patient guide to help them navigate this new terrain. A teacher who genuinely cares about the well-being and growth of each student creates a sense of security and belonging in the classroom. This emotional support is crucial for a child's confidence and willingness to explore the world of knowledge. In many cases, first grade teachers become not just educators but also mentors who leave a lasting impact on their students' lives.  I know that in my case, Mrs. Stearns, my first grade teacher, played a pivotal role and has had an immensely positive impact on my life. 

Real-life examples abound of individuals who attribute their success and passion for learning to the experiences they had in first grade. Many accomplished individuals have fond memories of their first-grade teachers who ignited the spark of curiosity and instilled the belief that learning is an exciting and lifelong journey. Celebrities, entrepreneurs, and influential figures often reflect on the positive influence of their early educators. These real-life stories serve as testaments to the profound impact that first grade and caring teachers can have on shaping the trajectory of a person's life.

The acclaimed author of the "Harry Potter" series, J.K. Rowling, often reflects on the significance of her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Morgan. Rowling has shared that Mrs. Morgan was not only instrumental in teaching her how to read and write but also served as a source of encouragement for her creative pursuits. Mrs. Morgan recognized Rowling's early storytelling abilities and fostered her imagination, creating an environment where the magic of storytelling could flourish. The positive influence of her first-grade teacher is evident in Rowling's literary success, and she acknowledges the crucial role Mrs. Morgan played in shaping her passion for writing and storytelling.

Furthermore, the world-renowned scientist and inventor, Thomas Edison, attributed his passion for exploration and discovery to his first-grade teacher, Miss Pusateri. Miss Pusateri recognized Edison's inquisitive nature and encouraged his curiosity, laying the groundwork for his future groundbreaking inventions. Edison's first-grade experience is often cited as a pivotal moment that ignited his lifelong dedication to innovation and scientific exploration.

The magic of first grade lies in the deep relationship between a caring teacher and eager young minds. The importance of a nurturing environment, coupled with the opportunity to grasp fundamental skills, creates a foundation for lifelong learning. Real-life examples attest to the transformative power of first-grade experiences, highlighting the role of caring teachers in shaping the lives of individuals who go on to make significant contributions to society. The magic of first grade endures as a beacon of inspiration for both educators and students alike.  So, I encourage you to take a few minutes - reflect back on your first grade experience and in your mind, say a special ‘thank you’ to your first grade teacher!


"My First Grade Teacher"

First-grade teachers play a foundational role in shaping young minds.  So, we decided to have some fun and asked several members of the Sunshine Initiative what they remembered about their first-grade teachers.


BJ Perry, a product of the Manchester public schools, remembers his first-grade teacher, Mrs. D, at Northwest Elementary. Mrs. D taught BJ and his fellow students math and thinking in a creative manner to do great things. Today, BJ is involved in numerous charitable programs – leading efforts that give back in a positive and meaningful way.

Today, BJ, along with his wife Carrie and their son, Elliot, champion the Elliot Perry Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to ‘give back’ – supporting child enrichment and support programs – especially CHaD – the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth.   BJ gives huge credit to Mrs. D – who put him on this path and gave him the confidence to go forward and live his dreams.


Jon Morton’s first-grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Seeley. Silly as it sounds, I thought she had such a great time doing what she did that it wasn't even a job for her. I remember, about 47 years ago, we were having a class discussion about jobs, and I asked her what she did for a living. I remember her smile, and though I haven't seen her in at least 43 years since I left for middle school, I could pick her out of a lineup of similar-looking women. What else do I remember? Nothing honestly. I guess it supports the old saying that people won't remember what you said, but they'll remember the way you made them feel.


Brian Hettrick writes that unlike his other two Sunshine colleagues, he doesn't remember his first-grade teacher’s name at West Middlesex Elementary School - a small town in western PA.  He even reached out to some other classmates who couldn’t remember either. He did find his class picture; however, unlike most - they did not put her name on the placard that had his class and year. Seeing her picture with those white cat, eye glasses did start to bring back some memories. For one, she had a pet skunk that she brought into class one day - probably for show and tell! And as Jon said above, other than that, nothing really stands out, but Brian doesn't recall anything negative, so he thinks it was a pretty positive experience. He does acknowledge that his interest in systems thinking must have been encouraged as he’s always been interested in how complex systems work.


If you remember your first-grade teacher and know how he or she can be reached, sending a note, or giving a call would most likely be very much appreciated – a small gesture of thanks for all your first grade teacher did for you!

The Crucial Role First Grade Plays in Shaping a Child's Identity and Future Learning

A Sunshine colleague shared that first grade for him was really setting the stage for the ensuing eleven years - until he graduated from high school.  As most of the other students in his first grade class actually graduated with him. So not only did the first grade play a vital role in his education, it also set the context for friendships – most still active after over 50 years! First grade marks a significant milestone in a child's educational journey, serving as the gateway to a world of knowledge and personal development. During this crucial stage, children transition from the foundational skills acquired in kindergarten to a more structured learning environment. Beyond the academic aspects, first grade plays a pivotal role in shaping a child's sense of self and establishing the groundwork for future educational achievements.

In first grade, children begin to master fundamental academic skills such as reading, writing, and basic mathematics. These skills serve as the building blocks for more complex learning in subsequent grades. The early exposure to these fundamental concepts not only cultivates a love for learning but also boosts a child's confidence in their ability to tackle new challenges. This foundational knowledge becomes the scaffold upon which a child constructs their understanding of the world.

Equally important is the social and emotional development that takes place in first grade. Children learn to navigate interpersonal relationships, share ideas, and collaborate with peers. The classroom environment becomes a microcosm of society, providing valuable lessons in empathy, teamwork, and communication. These social skills are integral to a child's identity formation, laying the groundwork for healthy relationships and effective collaboration in the future.

First grade is a time when children begin to discover their individual interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Teachers play a crucial role in fostering a positive learning environment that encourages self-expression and exploration. Through various activities and projects, children develop a sense of agency and autonomy, contributing to the formation of a unique identity. This self-discovery is instrumental in helping children build the confidence to pursue their passions and interests.

In addition to academic and social development, first grade provides fundamental cognitive skills development. Critical thinking and problem-solving exercises are introduced, fostering higher-order cognitive skills. Memory and concentration skills are enhanced, contributing to a child's ability to absorb and retain information.

Furthermore, first grade instills a love for learning through engaging and enjoyable educational experiences. The structured routine of first grade helps children develop organizational skills, including time management and task completion. This early exposure to routine and structure lays the groundwork for future academic success and sets the stage for a child's lifelong journey of exploration, self-discovery, and continuous learning. Parents and educators play a crucial role in recognizing the multifaceted nature of first-grade development, offering support and encouragement to nurture a child's holistic growth during this formative stage.

We encourage anyone who has children or grandchildren to engage with the school and teachers to help ensure their child is positively experiencing all of the above elements which are so critical to their future success in life.

The Crucial Role First Grade Plays in Shaping a Child's Identity and Future Learning

Positive Profile of the Week - Honorable Bob Baines

This week we are delighted to highlight one of the true leaders in education in the Granite State – an exceptional educator who has dedicated most of his life to public service - the Honorable Robert “Bob” Baines.


To many, Bob Baines is known as the former Mayor of Manchester, but how exactly did he become the Mayor of Manchester? Well, it goes back to his fundamental beliefs in teaching, mentoring, and ensuring that people have a bright future.


Bob started giving back to his community as an educator in Hudson, New Hampshire.  He then went to serve two terms as a School Board member representing the south side of Manchester. In 1980, the chance to lead a school became an opportunity for the young Bob Baines, and in that year, he assumed the role of principal of Manchester High School West.


Under his leadership, the west side school, which had students not only from the Queen City but also from surrounding communities, saw growth in its arts program, sports program, and business programs, achieving success across the board. Many students, including notable individuals like Jeremy Hitchcock, a good friend of mine, who went on to create a successful high-tech company. Seth Meyers, the popular late-night TV show host, is another alum of West. Bob’s commitment to his students, his staff, and the programs he put in place have yielded positive results, not just for the school but also served to highlight his talents as a leader. In 1990, he was recognized as New Hampshire’s ‘Principal of the Year.’ In 1996, he received the ‘Educator of the Year’ award from the Manchester City Chamber of Commerce. In 2004 and 2005, he was named one of New Hampshire’s 10 Most Powerful People by Business New Hampshire Magazine.


But Bob Baines wasn’t done yet. He would go on to serve three terms as Mayor of Manchester. Mayor Baines was known as the ‘Education Mayor.’ He took ideas and successes that he implemented at West High School and worked collaboratively and spiritedly to bring those and other programs to schools across the city. He also worked across the aisle in a bipartisan manner to bring in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball team and help build the ballpark we now know as Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.


Now, one would think that decades as a teacher, school administrator, and public servant would be enough, but not in the case of Bob Baines. Following his tenure as the leader of Manchester, Bob would go on to play key roles in educational programs in both New England and in Washington DC.  This truly is an incredible and remarkable résumé of public service and changing lives, but it doesn’t end there.


Earlier this month, 50 years after serving as a member of the school board in the Queen City, Bob Baines was sworn into the same seat that he held as a much younger Bob Baines. In that same ceremony, he swore in Manchester's new mayor, Jay Ruais, to show unity and a sense of coming together.


Knowing that the city needs guidance, mentorship, and a steady hand, Bob Baines has stepped up once again to provide his skill set to ensure that the best possible educational experience is available for the students of Manchester.  Bob, we thank you for your service and for your passionate leadership in the field of education and beyond.

Quotes of the Week:  What I Learned in First Grade 

"In first grade, I discovered the joy of curiosity. It was the beginning of a lifelong journey of asking questions and seeking answers." - Albert Einstein


"First grade taught me that every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. It's where resilience and determination are first put to the test." - Elon Musk


"The lessons I learned in first grade about kindness and sharing have stayed with me throughout my life. It's where I learned the importance of empathy and compassion." - Oprah Winfrey


"The world opened up for me in first grade. It was the place where my imagination soared, and I discovered the power of creativity and expression." - Maya Angelou


"First grade is the foundation of a lifetime of learning. It's where we learn not just the basics of reading and math, but also the social skills that shape our interactions with the world." - Michelle Obama


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