Janine DeLeon’s fifth-graders are studying baseball this spring – and learning history, geography and even math in the process.
They’ve researched legendary ballplayers, mapped out the locations of major league stadiums, turned raw statistics into batting averages and transformed their Karshner Elementary School classroom into a baseball shrine – all in one month.
Posters hang from the ceiling and a Jackie Robinson memorial mosaic stands at the front of the room. Baseball trivia and artwork are plastered across each wall. DeLeon, last year’s Puyallup School District teacher of the year, has made baseball the focus of a comprehensive unit.
“It was a lot of work, but we did it,” said Patrick Bright, who scoured the Internet for extra dirt on spitball pitcher Gaylord Perry.
Tuesday afternoon, Patrick and his classmates got a special treat. Earl Averill Jr., former major leaguer and Auburn resident, paid them a visit. The 76-year-old chatted about books, baseball and his famous father, Earl Averill Sr., the Cleveland Indians center fielder, Hall of Famer and Washington native.
“Who researched Ted Williams? Yogi Berra? Roberto Clemente?” Averill asked DeLeon’s baseball scholars. “Did you know that Clemente had exactly 3,000 hits? Which of you did Ty Cobb?”
DeLeon favors a project-based teaching approach. She’s turned Room 26 into the “DeLeonville Academic Hall of Fame” and asked each of her students to compose an essay on why they deserved induction.
“We learned a lot,” said Tori Iles, waiting to ask Averill for his autograph. “And it was fun because Ms. DeLeon is such an awesome teacher.”
Many of Karshner’s 360 students face learning disadvantages. Some come from tumultuous homes. Others are learning English as they go. Only 22.5 percent of those who took the WASL as fourth-graders last year met or exceeded the state standard in math.
But Principal Jeanie Schneider believes DeLeon’s creative instruction may have helped turned this group around.
“The beauty of Janine’s teaching is that it integrates the arts, social studies, mathematics, writing, everything,” Schneider said. “You hear the kids explain all the data – it’s a cool thing. It’s so motivating. Here we are in June and these kids are pumped.”
DeLeonville’s new Hall of Fame inductees were delighted to have a celebrity stop by their classroom. They asked excellent questions and slurped up Averill’s light-hearted baseball yarns.
Today, they’ll take part in a final, triumphant baseball game.
More importantly, however, they’ve become baseball historians and avid mathematicians. DeLeon read her students “Jackie and Me,” a novel that chronicles Jackie Robinson’s attempt to break baseball’s color barrier. And they learned about Jackie Mitchell, a female player who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Along the way, DeLeon’s fifth-graders have simultaneously acquired academic skills and gained confidence.
“They’re starting to say to me ‘we can do this,’” DeLeon said. “That’s what I love about projects. You start with something simple and it expands with their curiosity.”