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Teacher Feature: Meet the 6th Grade Team

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

One Friday morning, Grease’s "You Better Shape Up" is blasting in Mrs. Justine Rinehart’s room as the sixth grade team laughs, dances, and sips their morning coffee. The four core subject teachers have been in the building together for many years and their chemistry is evident.

They are enjoying their time together even more now that they know science teacher Mrs. Justine Rinehart will retire by Spring Break.

"We're going to be so sad when she leaves," said social studies teacher Mr. Jamie Hawkins. "We've all been teaching together for 20 years."

"I can't even talk about it," said Mrs. Rinehart. "I just love sixth grade because they're still kids and you see the kid in them, but you can still have meaningful conversations as well because they're old enough to do that."

As one teacher leaves, another has entered the mix: former Kingsley student Leah Kitchin has joined on as the new special education teacher.

"I had Amy [Fewless] and Justine as teachers back in the day. It took a little time getting used to calling them by their first names!" said Ms. Kitchin. "It's nice because I have known a lot of these people throughout my whole life. So it was pretty it was kind of easy coming in to work with them."

In Kingsley Area Schools, sixth grade is the second year of middle school, so kids are adjusted to how things work but not quite too-cool-for-school.

"Fifth grade went to a departmentalized schedule last year, so these sixth graders come in knowing how to open lockers. In the beginning, they always report back to their parents that the day went so quickly because they’re getting up and moving around seven hours of the day," said Mr. Hawkins.

On top of their classes, there are lots of traditions to look forward to this year.

"We have some big traditions in sixth grade. We have pumpkin carving for Halloween every year, and a lot of kids remember the carving contest. At the end of the year, the kids make time capsules that they open during their Graduation rehearsal. Some people stick in little toys or put money, and they make predictions, like who’s going to be the valedictorian!" said math teacher Alissa Bunek.

ELA teacher Amy Fewless says her favorite part of this grade level is watching the students make connections between different subject matters.

"There’s a lot of crossover, in a way, between what they learn in science and ELA, like knowing when a claim is an inference, or being able to make high-level inferences and explain it. The reasoning part is a big piece, too," she said.

Read on to learn more about the grade level and the teaching team!

Alissa Bunek, Math

"I'm the first one that does a lot of algebra with the kids in sixth grade. They come from fifth grade, getting a lot of the number basics, but we throw in coefficients and variables and start to learn to solve equations. So algebra is the fun, new big thing. We also do Pi Day, which is very fun."

Jamie Hawkins, Social Studies

"Social Studies, always catches kids off guard. They think it’s going to be history, and it’s really geography, human-environment interactions, economics, government, and a little bit of culture in there. Kids really enjoy social studies in sixth grade because it's the first time they get to talk about some of the big geopolitical topics that they hear their parents talking about. It's kind of interesting because kids do come in with these ideas of what's going on out in the world, and we put the pieces together and fill in the blanks."

Justine Rinehart, Science

"My class is all about practicing good science and good science practices, recognizing evidence, making claims based on evidence, thinking a little deeper to make inferences, and lab safety. We do a lot of hands-on activities. In March, we learned about ecosystems and raising worms and milkweed bugs."

Amy Fewless, ELA

"I think one thing, especially with our team, is that we make good connections with them as far as having the structure that they really need at this age, but also teaching with that sense of humor.

In ELA, I get them to just kind of be able to answer those high level questions and read more complex text and then talk about it. The great thing about language arts is we have such a good continuity with our curriculum."

Leah Kitchin, Special Education

"My biggest goal with my kids is to help close that gap between what they're doing and what's going on in the gen-ed class. So I try to gear all of my interventions and everything I'm doing with them to help them succeed more in the gen-ed class. It's really cool when I see some of them start to get the concept."


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