A day in the shoes of a Portland school teacher

American Education Week has been held every year since 1921

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff with 4th-graders at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff with 4th-graders at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Editor’s Note: Since 1921, American Education Week is held the week before Thanksgiving to let the public know about the accomplishments and needs of public schools. KOIN 6 News was invited by the Oregon Education Association to be an Educator for a Day. They went to Vernon School, a K-8 school in Northeast Portland.

KOIN 6 News’ Amy Frazier kept an eye on KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff — whose own mother is a teacher — as she was the Educator for a Day. Amy filed this report.

From the moment we arrived at Vernon School in Northeast Portland we could feel the energy. We teamed up with teacher Gina Azzaro-Budak — “They call me Miss Gina” — and the 23 students in her 4th-grade class.

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff at Vernon School, part of being an Educator for a Day, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff at Vernon School, part of being an Educator for a Day, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)

Our first stop was an E.R.I.C assembly — that is, early recognition is critical. This 3rd- and 4th-grade assembly used ultimate frisbee to teach youth about body and cancer-symptom awareness. The lesson: there are no refs, no one telling you what to do in this sport. You have to be self-aware — both in the game and with your body.

Vernon School is an International Baccalaureate school, which, as Miss Gina said, “is a program of learning that is designed to encourage global thinking and global ideas. The school’s website states the IB program “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

So,for example, when Miss Gina teaches about the Oregon Trail, she also teaches about other migrations.

“I want to look at Syrian refugees. I want to look at the Great Migration,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Gina Azzaro-Budak -- known as "Miss Gina" -- is a 4th-grade teacher at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
Gina Azzaro-Budak — known as “Miss Gina” — is a 4th-grade teacher at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)

Miss Gina said being a teacher means a lot to her, “but first and foremost it’s a really important job in that I’m tasked with guiding young people, showing them what they’re good at, what their passion is. Kind of restoring hope, I guess, in our future.”

She raised her own children, she said, became involved in school and began volunteering in classrooms. She worked with the smart program for 9 years before she made a life-changing decision.

“Finally, I said, you know, my next step needs to be a classroom of my own,” Miss Gina told KOIN 6 News. “Went back to school, got a masters in teaching.”

Now in her 4th year, she said there was one thing she wasn’t prepared for: saying goodbye to each group of students.

“They’re wonderful and every year I get a new wonderful group. And it’s really hard to say goodbye to them. I was not prepared for that when I started teaching, like, having to say goodbye.”

But the reward is seeing “the spark of learning, or maybe when I see a child that was not engaged all of a sudden light up.”

Technology has replaced many old school memories. Instead of a mimeograph machine to make copies, Miss Gina uses a document camera to share a lesson.

The classroom is also a flexible learning environment, including a chair that allows a student to wiggle.

“If they’re willing to engage because now their body is taken care of, not just their brain, then that engages the mind as well,” Miss Gina said.

Vernon 4th-graders get 45 minutes for a combined recess-and-lunch period. For Jennifer Hoff, that meant “Four Square” with the kids.

Principal Ben Keefer describes recess as structured chaos. Games like Four Square help build social skills. He said it’s important for kids to “be able to make their own choices, and that’s how they learn and become grown-up people.”

He said parents may not realize there is an “intentionality to the unstructured play, that we provide the kids an opportunity to have so they can really explore and learn and grow about what it’s like to be kids.”

“I forget how to play,” Jennifer told the students. The rules are simple, one student told her: you can’t drop the “watermelon” — the ball — or you’re out.

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff plays Four Square at Vernon School, part of being an Educator for a Day, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff plays Four Square at Vernon School, part of being an Educator for a Day, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)

“You’ve got to cut me some slack here. It’s been a long time,” Jennifer Hoff said before Four Square began. But then it was down to business — and she got nailed with the “watermelon” right away.

Next, it was lunch duty for Jennifer, and the clean up began. Tray after tray came her way as students poured their liquids into the trash bin and returned their trays. With a little help, trash duty was a success.

Over the years, this seems to be one thing that hasn’t changed.

“Parents who come back in the building and say, wow, it still does smell the same,” Miss Gina said. She’s right. It really does smell the same.

Then it was time to get the students ready to go back to class. Only the megaphone was broken. Jennifer improvised, demanding — and getting — everyone’s attention with 5 seconds.

“Oooh, that was good,” Jennifer said.

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff with 4th-graders at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff with 4th-graders at Vernon School in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)

Back in the classroom it was time for a hands-on science lesson: building and testing rubber band racers. Working with a partner, students tested their racer in the hallway.

Jennifer said what she really liked with the rubber band racers “is they said failure is not a bad thing. Let’s learn from that and say what worked, what didn’t.”

At the end of their shift, Amy and Jennifer agreed being an educator was a tiring whirlwind.

“Just a few hours in a school gives me a new perspective and a new level of respect for my mom and all teachers,” Jennifer said. “And I still have to go into work.”

“We have to get you back to anchor,” Amy said, and they both took off running down the hall.

“No running in school!” Amy said.

“Oh, shoot!” Jennifer replied.

A math board at Vernon School, a K-8 school in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)
A math board at Vernon School, a K-8 school in Northeast Portland, November 14, 2017 (KOIN)