My entire elementary school experience was spent inside the doors of an Open Classroom. The Open Classroom was a program at Conejo Elementary in Thousand Oaks, California that involved a new method of teaching youngsters such as myself with hands-on activities, outdoor events, and most importantly of all, fun. Starting at the tender age of 5, I began my first day of kindergarten, though begrudgingly at first, where I met one of my best friends who I am still in contact with today. The year was 1995. Nick Meehan came up to me when I first walked in and said, “Want to hear a joke? Oatmeal!” And that was that; for the next 6 years, we were almost inseparable.
My next memories were of the third grade to the sixth, those were some of the greatest years of my life- the years I was in Ms. Lori’s class. We called all our teachers by their first names in the Open Classroom, including the parents who volunteered to teach subjects. Over those three years, I gained many friends, which, in turn, evolved into a second family. Each year we would all return to the same classroom full of pictures we had painted and projects we had completed, among a host of other such things. We were greeted with smiling faces of our friends who had new clothes or backpacks from the summer vacation’s spoils, and always a teacher with a smiling face, happy to see her children back at home, ready to learn.
A typical year in The Open Classroom would involve subjects like Math, taught by Ms. Lori in my case (she taught pre-algebra which really paid off in the 7th-grade year), English, Reading, Spanish taught by my friend Derek’s mom, and one specialty class. The special class was different every year and usually involved some sort of end-of-the-year activity. These included Mapping the World by Heart (at the end of which we each drew our own map of the world from memory), Polyhedraville (where we designed our own cities and built models of them) and Mini Society (a small society between classrooms involving student-owned businesses and fake currency). This all was on top of the end of the year projects that each student completed in their respective grade. 4th graders did a mission project, a model of one of the Spanish missions on the coast of California. 5th graders did a state project where they performed a practiced presentation on a state that they chose. And 6th graders got to choose a subject that interested them and either write a report, make a model or present the subject in some way or another. I remember my projects got better every year and each year I learned valuable lessons from those projects, and the rest of the school year.
Ms. Lori was my favorite teacher out of the 4 or 5 I had in Open Classroom. She was interactive, funny, and intelligent, had great morals, and was always a good example to her students. My favorite thing about Ms. Lori was that she always taught us to be accountable for our actions. Anytime someone had offended somebody else or there was a quarrel, she made sure we all sat down and worked it out. Between appreciation circle and our peer mediation group, we learned from an early age to take responsibility for our actions and ourselves, and to take into account the well being of our peers.
I could fill a book with information on how Ms. Lori and Open Classroom impacted my life. I don’t know what effect it had on all my other peers but I do know one thing for sure: Lori Peters knows how to teach and how to create a real relationship with her students. Her involvement in the Open Classroom has impacted my life forever.
– Grant Matheson (originally published October 2012)
Today Grant lives in SLC, Utah, and describes himself as a “Musician, vocalist, songwriter, producer, audio engineer, guitarist, and more coming soon.”