School rides Ravens bandwagon

Strategy: Inventive teachers take advantage of the current football frenzy to reinforce academic skills.

January 28, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Reading lessons at Thomas Johnson Elementary School in South Baltimore had a purple glow last week.

The first-graders created a football cheer and performed it, filling the halls with "Let's go, Ravens, let's go. We're going to the Super Bowl, let's go. We're going to beat the Giants, let's go. We're going to win the championship, let's go."

The second-graders created purple-and-black invitations for a Super Bowl party, with elaborate drawings of ravens and black strips of construction paper - feathers - hanging off the ends.

The fourth-graders read newspaper articles about the Super Bowl, answered questions, and wrote predictions about who will win and why.

These lessons were more than just the frenzy of a town indulging its love for a football team. They were master teacher Geri Giossi's way of reinforcing lessons in reading comprehension, calculating skills and phonemic awareness.

Giossi admits that she didn't care two cents about the Ravens until recently. But she is charged with creating lessons each month that combine reading, writing and math, and capture the imagination of pupils. The lessons, teachers hope, will prepare their pupils for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Giossi consulted the sports fanatic in the building: fourth-grade teacher Mark Bongiovanni. "It is a wonder his body isn't purple," she said.

Bongiovanni wrote a brief primer about football, the National Football League and its championship to help pupils understand such basics as wild cards and how playoff teams are eliminated.

Then teachers gathered newspaper articles and wrote questions for the children. For example, older children were asked: "What did the Raven defense keep the Broncos from doing?"

It's the kind of lesson that many children who live in South Baltimore - practically in the shadow of the stadium - would enjoy. And teachers say they can use this football fever to energize pupils about learning.

Kindergarten teacher Marilyn Krinsky taught her pupils about exclamation points the week after the AFC victory: "We won!" Another day, she used the Ravens' team name to teach children the "r" sound.

"They are all excited," Krinsky said. Some in her class can tell her how many games the Ravens have won this season. Some homes in the neighborhood are decorated with purple lights and pictures of Ravens in the windows.

Giossi has put together a number of other MSPAP-like exercises that are used on school spirit days. Children have written poems about kites, designed and built kites, and flown them at a nearby park on "Go Fly a Kite Day."

The exercises call upon math skills, too. This week, children will compile a menu and tally the cost of food for a Super Bowl party they're planning. And they will look at statistics to predict which team will win.

But the cheers might be what children remember.

Jessica Robinson, 7, began her classroom's chant. "What time is it?" she shouted. "Game time!" a chorus yelled back. "Any dogs in the house?" she asked. "WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF."

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