Last June, Elementary School 2 first grade teacher and Grade Chair Allie Perras was named Blackstone Valley Prep’s network-wide 2018-2019 Teacher of the Year.
We recently sat down with Ms. Perras to talk about her passion for teaching, academic initiatives like “Walk to Fundations,” the secret to creating an effective lesson plan for some of our youngest learners, and much more.
BVP: How did you choose teaching as a career?
AP: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. Ever since I can remember, I loved being around young children. I started babysitting when I was 12 and remember using my grandmother’s old teaching supplies as my sisters and I played school. I would create fake assignments and worksheets for my sisters to complete and loved to “grade” their work. For my senior project in high school, I spent a lot of time with young children while comparing various aspects of private and public preschools. I was also a camp counselor for many summers and loved helping kids of various ages with their crafts and activities. When I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to major in Elementary Education. I loved my college classes and being in a classroom setting, and I knew I had made the right decision.
BVP: Why Blackstone Valley Prep?
AP: When people ask me about BVP, I usually explain that it’s a growing organization driven by intentional diversity. I explain that we believe in activating children’s love for learning with high expectations and focus heavily on fostering relationships with families, scholars, and colleagues. But it is so much more than that. BVP truly is a family. It is a network of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the best welfare for all our children. When I first came to visit BVP, I was initially captivated by both the adult and scholar cultures. This was not what I was expecting after hearing many different opinions regarding charter schools. Yes, BVP has high expectations; however, these expectations are not simply put in place so the school day runs orderly, or to ensure we have the best test scores. These expectations show scholars that no matter what, we believe in them. At BVP we will help scholars achieve these expectations regardless of their zip code, skin color, gender identity, or language barriers. BVP sets the bar high for teachers and scholars, and I love being a part of that equation.
BVP: Explain what it means to be a Grade Chair for someone who may not be familiar with that term. What are your responsibilities?
AP: A Grade Chair’s role is a bit like being the point person for the team. We help to oversee lesson plans, hold teachers accountable, and are there to give advice or be a listening ear whenever our team needs us. In addition to helping facilitate common planning time, Grade Chairs do some of the background planning as well, such as making homework, creating various schedules, coordinating field trips, and attending bi-weekly meetings with the school’s administration to stay updated on various topics.
“Ms. Perras is beyond extraordinary. She consistently leads our first grade team to the best results in our building.”
– Sara Tucker, Elementary School 2 Head of School
BVP: ES2 Head of School Sara Tucker mentioned that you’ve piloted academic initiatives like “Walk to Fundations.” Can you tell us more about that and/or other initiatives you’re particularly proud of?
AP: Fundations is a phonics and spelling program we started implementing about five years ago. There are three different levels of instruction ranging from K-3rd grade. BVP has a great system that utilizes a co-teaching model to provide differentiation to those in need. Last year instead of teaching two separate groups in each classroom, we decided to use a “Walk To Fundations” approach where scholars walked to various 1st grade classrooms for group. This way we were able to target more scholars at their individual level.
BVP: What’s one accomplishment you’re proud of?
AP: Last year, after looking at the data of incoming 1st grade scholars, I wasn’t pleased with the significant number of scholars below the reading benchmark. I decided to take a leap and create my professional growth goal around increasing the percent of proficient readers–not only in my classroom–but in all three first grade homerooms. As a team, the first grade teachers spent a lot of time throughout the year reviewing data and creating targeted RTI groups. With much success and a team effort, we were able to meet our SLO goal and end the year with 80% of the class of 2034 reading at or above grade level!
BVP: What’s the secret to creating an effective and engaging lesson plan, especially for first graders?
AP: It really is no secret that 6 and 7 year olds are wiggly! The trick is to keep them moving in a way that connects and brings home the purpose of each lesson. Some days we do matherobics, incorporating various exercises into our counting or fact fluency. We also act out various shared textbooks and even play charades with our vocabulary words at snack time.
“Ms. Perras is a superhero teacher… She goes above and beyond to teach, play, encourage, advocate and prepare her scholars for the future.”
– Sara Tucker, Elementary School 2 Head of School
BVP: What is your favorite and/or the most rewarding part of your job?
AP: By far, my favorite part of the job is seeing the amount of growth scholars can make over the course of a school year. Sharing STEP, STAR, or CTA scores with scholars and seeing their excitement and proud expressions make it all worth it. One of my scholars from last year ran up to me in the hallway and exclaimed “Today in math stories I was stuck but I took a risk and told myself I could do it!” To me, that is everything. Not only do I get to teach math, but also self-worth.