School Bulletin: West Allis teachers find inspiration in community

School Bulletin: West Allis teachers find inspiration in community

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A group of five West Allis teachers have found inspiration for their lesson plans right in their own communities.

"It's been a push in our district to provide real experiences so the students can become fully engaged and develop life skills," Katy Zens, a 4-year-old kindergarten teacher at Irving Elementary School, says.

Zens spearheaded a collaboration with the other 4K teachers to bring the 'Community Helper' unit to life. At the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Zens explains they started doing Zoom interviews with people in different professions to help the kids understand who makes up a community.

One of the highlights was meeting Carrie Cieslak, the owner of Carrie's Crispies in West Allis. She's taught the kids how to make Rice Krispie treats and now sells a Skittles-flavored treat inspired by the Irving students.

"I think it's super exciting for our students to think of something and see it created and on a store shelf," Zens says. "I think they feel really empowered."

This partnership with Carrie's also inspired the team of teachers to create a cookbook with recipes from the students and their families.

"To make it even more personal, each kiddo who did bring in a recipe got to illustrate on the recipe what the food actually looked like," Grace Kusch, a fellow 4K teacher, says. "You would see their faces light up and say, 'That's my favorite food!'"

The teachers and Carrie's Crispies are also using the cookbook to raise money for Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in West Allis.

"We talked [with the students] about how these donations come from us," Rachelle Black, another 4K teacher, says. "We're contributing to the community, we're making a donation, and now we're giving back."

The teachers say these 'Community Helper' lessons have incorporated communication, math, good sportsmanship and more. It's also been very inclusive for students of all abilities.

"This unit particularly, my students have really blossomed," Samantha Cheaney, a special education teacher, says. "All of the general education students make them feel included, and everyone's just a big, huge family."

Carrie's Crispies still has copies of the Irving Elementary School Cookbook, and for a small donation, you can get your own.

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