Spotlight: Emily Rendine (RI '22)February 27, 2023
Emily Rendine (RI ’22) created a learning garden to build students’ commitment to protecting the planet: “When they have a sense of connection to a species or plant, they have a reason to care about the forces that impact that plant’s future.” Her Milken Award kicked off our 2022 season on October 5, 2022 at Agnes B. Hennessey Elementary School in East Providence.
Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Emily Rendine (RI ’22): They are still full of wonder and excited to learn. It feels so good when students have the “aha” moments when they master a new skill. I love that they still believe in the magic of the world and I am glad to teach them during their formative years. I also really enjoy teaching after school programs, such as dance, to help students explore things that interest them outside the classroom.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Emily: I was the little girl who lined up her stuffed animals to play school, convinced my friends to play school at recess, and created worksheets on my mom’s copy machine to give to “my students.” I have always wanted to be a teacher and never wavered from that path.
I went to St. Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont, where I was able to learn about and research teaching strategies and complete several hours of observation in different schools. After graduating, I decided to pursue my master’s in literacy at Providence College to learn more about teaching children to read. I highly enjoyed my time in that program. and again had so much hands-on experience in different schools. Most recently, I received my dyslexia certification from University of Rhode Island. I make it a goal for myself that all students leave my class reading and loving to read.
MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching.
Emily: I taught fourth grade at the school I went to growing up. I was thrilled to be back at Myron J. Francis Elementary. I had a small group that year, and that class holds a special place in my heart. It was so fun to have a classroom of my own and get to know the students and parents. My first year was still one of my favorite years.
MFF: What’s the secret to helping third graders learn to express themselves in writing?
Emily: Third grade is an important year for writers, as students learn to express themselves and begin to add more details and organization. We use skills through the SRSD (Self-Regulated Strategy Development) program, which involves self-talk and structures to help students with their writing.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Emily: Some of my favorite teachers were my own elementary school teachers. I always remember the fun activities we did, which is why I try to include fun activities in my students’ days.
MFF: Speaking of fun activities, let’s talk about the school garden you started. How does it fit into your curriculum and enrich students’ learning experience?
Emily: We have a science unit called structures of life in which we study plants. Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts, social emotional learning, visual arts and nutrition. Our current science kits briefly explore water and plants.
With the garden, students are able to fully immerse themselves in these topics. By deepening children’s sense of connection with nature, school gardening and farming can inspire environmental stewardship. When children learn about water and energy cycles, the food chain, and the needs of individual species, and they have a sense of connection to a species or plant, they have a reason to care about the forces that impact that plant’s future. From the water shortage to the overuse of pesticides, children who engage in gardening have firsthand opportunities to learn about the importance of conservation and careful allocation of resources.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Emily: I was so surprised! I was wrapped up in teaching the dance group Fancy Feet to perform at the beginning of the assembly, so it all felt like a blur. I had no idea what was coming and I remember feeling like it couldn’t be real.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Emily: My students were so excited. I was notified in early October, so I was just getting to know my class. Now that we have formed closer relationships we often reflect on that day.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Emily: I define success as the accomplishment of a goal. Goals can be big or small, and I think setting goals is so important. Success can be measured in so many different ways, and there are always ways to succeed further. When students have mastered the content, and feel confident in themselves, I believe they have experienced success.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Emily: I hope my students remember how fun learning can be, and the magic of third grade. I hope they remember the community we created in our classroom together and all the memories we made.
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