Brain Forest Transformational Experience for First Year Teacher

“Brain forest is all about the kids. It’s for the kids. It’s about adapting to them and how they learn. That’s why I love it. Kids learn to be leaders at Brain Forest.”

Montgomery Education Foundation’s Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy is a 5-week academic-enrichment program for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School System. The aim of the program is to bring education to students during the summer months to ensure that they are prepared to enter to the next school year confident and ready to learn. The program is now coming up on its fourth summer of serving Montgomery students. Many of our teacher, staff, and student alumni have powerful stories to tell of their experiences in the program. This is one of those stories:

2015 was a big year for 5th grade teacher, Jenny Gilbert.  It was the year she found a passion for the students of Montgomery Public Schools, graduated from Huntingdon College, and secured her first teaching job in Montgomery. Much like all of our other Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy Classroom Assistants (or, CA’s),  Jenny wants to pursue a career in education. After falling in love with her students during her final semester teaching internship at Garrett Elementary, Jenny knew she was in the right place. So when Mr. Jeff Wood, the teacher she shadowed that semester, suggested that she apply to be a CA in our Brain Forest program the following summer, she knew she had to do it. “I just wanted more hands-on experiences in the classroom. I wanted to be prepared to lead my own classroom when it came time.”

As a current 5th grade Science and Social Studies teacher at Garrett Elementary, Jenny says she gained so many useful experiences during her time as a CA– even though the program’s focus is on reading and math. She recounts an experience with using electricity conductors with her summer students that inspired her to be creative in the classroom. “I may have learned more than the kids by doing that experiment, honestly. It was so enlightening.”

When asked about the Montgomery Public Schools teacher she was paired with during her 5 weeks at Brain Forest, a huge smile came across Jenny’s face. “Kellie taught me so much about what it means to be a teacher. I learned to be creative in the classroom. She was so passionate about the students and using their thoughts and words in her lessons. That’s something I take with me even now.” This approach to “meeting kids where they are to teach them” has been the most valuable lesson Jenny has learned. “I had to learn to be patient. Every student is different and they’re all going through things—especially as a preteen. I had to learn how to bring them into the learning without forcing it.”

Though the first year of teaching is notoriously difficult, Jenny says that her time with the Montgomery Education Foundation helped prepare her to take on the task. “The freedom of teaching in this program is really important, I think. There is no set curriculum. Teachers use ‘I Can…’ statements to bring the lessons to the kids and practice their own art of teaching.” Because of the way Brain Forest approaches teaching, Jenny feels that it allows teachers to “focus on specific children’s struggles” in a way that best benefits the students.  Jenny says that she attempts to use these lessons every day in her own classroom in Montgomery Public Schools.

Educators like Jenny with a passion for Montgomery children allow the Montgomery Education Foundation to continue providing summer programming year after year. The investments made during June and July at the Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy reach far beyond those 5 weeks in the program. They affect students, educators, and aspiring educators alike to push the boundaries of conventional learning and focus on the kids. That’s why Jenny believes in the program so whole-heartedly.

“Brain forest is all about the kids. It’s for the kids. It’s about adapting to them and how they learn. That’s why I love it. Kids learn to be leaders at Brain Forest.”

Are you a college student or recent grad interested in becoming a Classroom Assistant for the 2016 summer? Check out our website for more information and email your resume and references to dillon@montgomeryed.org

Montgomery Ed