First Grade

Kirsten Graves

For as long as I can remember, I have loved children and have wanted to be a teacher.  It’s what I feel that I was put on this earth to do.  Children have a wonderful way of looking at life and learning, and I love seeing things through their eyes.  I especially enjoy working with young kids, because so many things are new and they get excited about almost everything!


First grade is a huge year – kids learn to really read, write, and do all kinds of math.  It can be overwhelming, so it’s important to me that my students have FUN while learning. We do lots of singing, dancing, games, hands-on activities, experiments, and other fun things…all while building strong and smart brains!  As their teacher, it’s my job to help my students develop their potential by believing in them, nurturing and encouraging them, and providing them with a safe environment in which they can take risks and grow. I want my students to know that they are important to me and the family community that our classroom becomes.


2017-18 is my 11th year teaching at 21st CPS, and my 20th year overall.  Besides being a teacher, I’m a wife and mom.  Mr. Graves works for the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, and I have four daughters that have all attended our school.  Katie is a senior at Valparaiso University in Indiana, Emma is a freshman at the University of Tampa in Florida,  Julia is in 10th grade at Walden High School, and Claire is in 8th grade here at 21st Century.

Sally LeTendre


I am a mother of two students. Both of my children had the good fortune of attending 21st Century Preparatory School. I have been teaching for 15 years, 13 of those here at 21st CPS. I have had experience teaching kindergarten, first and second grades. This has given me excellent background and knowledge on the progression of learning. Of the three grade levels I enjoy first grade most of all! The students are beginning readers, full of excitement and enthusiasm for learning.


Reading is a passion I try to instill in all of my students.  I believe it holds the key to their success in school and beyond. It is very rewarding to see students clamoring to the classroom library to find books about what we are learning about in science, social studies and even math! I find it very rewarding to take a child from reading a four word sentence to a book with chapters by the end of the year!


My teaching style is experiential learning. Children need to learn by thinking and doing; first with my guidance, but ultimately on their own. Dr. Seuss (one of my favorite children’s authors) sums it up best: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”


Trish Zurkowski


Throughout my teaching career, while I have shifted some practices, I have held strongly to a few core beliefs of an effective education.  The most important trait a teacher possesses is balance.  In a classroom, a teacher juggles all day…. the needs of individuals, the grade level standards, the interests of each child, the black and white accuracy with the grey open-ended creative thinking, the wishes of each parent, the expectations of the educational leaders, and the stillness of deep concentration with the noise of active engagement.  Each day I ask myself, “How do I live up to the expectations that someone has entrusted me with?”  I am ultimately responsible for educating these six- and seven-year-olds.  As I reflect on how the day went, I ask myself, “Whose life is better because of today?  Who didn’t get enough of my time?  What can I try tomorrow to improve my students’ understanding of a concept?  Where was the joy?”  Each day I challenge myself to perform my circus act of balancing with more pieces, increasing demands of our ever-changing world and more people to answer to.  How do I get my kids to be the best they can be? 

My philosophy is if I want my kids to be readers, I must devote energy into getting books into their hands that they are compelled to read.  If I want my kids to be competent writers, I must provide opportunities for them to write.  If I want my kids to learn to be independent, I must give them practice working on their own.  None of these learning experiences happen quickly.  I have told first graders learning to read is just like learning to talk and walk.  Infants spend the first ten to fifteen months listening to people around them talking before they utter a word.  When that baby coos as hopeful parents insist they just said Da-da or Ma-ma, she or he is the proud recipient of a whole cheerleading squad.  And that baby is inspired to keep repeating that word in anticipation of hugs and claps and smiles.  As that same infant gains mobility, he or she practices every day for months without being too good at it.  And still there are the family members on the sidelines, clearing a path, ready to catch if the baby falls, and again celebrating the little victories- rolling over, crawling, toddling, to finally walking, and way too soon running.  How would education go if the adults surrounding our children were so crazy about them learning to read and write?  I will cheer for the students in my class, but I am aware that with families we can create an inspirational cheerleading squad.  I will give students hours each day to explore print and practice diligently, but if they have people cheering for them at home, they will get even better!

If I was a writer, I would have long ago written a book pontificating on the theme, ‘in order to raise children who will learn, they need a teacher who teaches them to love learning.’  As I balance the shifting expectations of education, I will not compromise on teaching your children to love learning.   I can proudly say that for nearly three decades I have built classroom environments focused on a love of learning, and I guess that makes me older than I wish.  But those years have given great experience.  I have taught each grade level from Preschool through Eighth Grade Social Studies.  I know what works most of the time.  I know nothing works all of the time.   I know no matter what I’m doing, it’s never good enough for everyone.  So I juggle.  (That, as those who know me are aware, is quite ironic for I am distracted by motion and I easily get dizzy.)  In 2017, I prepare my students not only to build their First Grade skills, but also to build their living skills.  I hope for each student to grow, not only as a competent reader and writer, but also in their ability to conquer the world.  So we practice… building curiosity, cooperating, collecting information, considering the validity of ideas, collaborating to get the best from each participant, creating solutions to problems, and communicating our unique ideas to others.  As a teacher, I hope to balance all of that with the acquisition of foundational skills necessary to productively live as a member of society, since it’s impossible to build a skyscraper (no matter how talented the architect) without a strong foundation.  If I had written that first book long ago, I would now write a new one, An Education to Sail the Seven C’s.  Students deserve all the pieces they need to explore the world, understand the world, and change the world.  We can all probably agree; it needs help.  I hope to adequately educate and empower responsible citizens who make positive contributions to our society.