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Lincoln Elementary teacher connects students

Progress Lincoln sing along Kastet
Staff members at Lincoln Elementary School, from left, Rachel Kastet, Cory Rowell and Ashley Micheal donned some festive Christmas attire Dec. 21, 2016, during a holiday-sing-along. John M. Steiner / The Sun
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It has been four years at the helm of a fourth grade classroom for Rachel Kastet.

Now it is time for a new project inside the walls of Lincoln Elementary School.

“What we are doing is taking those 240 students and the 45 staff and dividing them up into little families inside our school,” said Sherry Schmidt, principal of Lincoln Elementary School. “(Kastet) has created them into six different houses. Fifth graders will be with kindergarten and first graders and second graders.”

Kastet, a 2010 University of Jamestown graduate, had the idea for the “schoolhouse” during her master’s degree practicum hours. The practicum required a program to be developed related to school culture. The Jimmie alum is pursuing her master’s degree from the Teacher Leadership Academy through North Dakota State University.

“I did a lot of research on things that I could bring to the school to promote school culture between staff and students and students and among other students,” Kastet said. “One of the things I found was the schoolhouse and how it can help relationships form between students in different grade levels as well as teachers with students that they might not see on a regular basis.”

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Kastet and some other staff members at Lincoln have worked intently on the project for the last few months. The project debuted on March 11 with a “house ceremony.” Each student was handed a “scratch-off” ticket depicting what house he or she would be a part of for the rest of the school year. The six houses (Hawk, Viper, Dragon, Panther, Scorpion and Badger) were divided into groups of 40 kids and approximately eight staff members each.

“I can’t explain to you how excited the kids were when we did our house sorting ceremony,” Kastet said. “It was pretty cool. There are obviously other schools around the country that are doing it but right now in Jamestown -- the only elementary school I believe that’s doing it is Lincoln.”

Logistically, Kastet acknowledged there are elements of the program that still need to be worked out such as how often and where the houses will commune. At the present time, ideas of monthly house lunches - where the entire house will eat with one another once a month - have been proposed.

Kastet and other staff members have also considered house competitions and time playing outside as a group. While it is a learning curve, Schmidt and Kastet believe the program is a way for students to belong at school past the fifth-grade year.

“We do that for the family feel but also when they go to the middle school those kids will know an eighth grader or a seventh grader when they come in as a sixth grader because they would have had these houses,” Schmidt said.

“Then when they get to the high school down the road they will know a senior, a junior, a sophomore -- it just helps all along with that sense of belonging with Jamestown Public Schools for other kids.”

While Kastet’s practicum for TLA will come to an end, she is planning on continuing the schoolhouse program into the future. Kastet said she hopes new classes of Lions can become interconnected and strengthened through the program.

“School culture and building relationships are such huge things right now,” Kastet said. “I really want to make sure that every kid in our building feels like they have at least a couple people they can talk to whether it’s an adult or other kids. That doesn’t always happen with the kids in your classroom.”

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According to Kastet, it is not just the relationship building that the schoolhouse could be responsible for.

“I think working as a team is going to promote better school and classroom behavior,” Kastet said. “They are working as a team to try and promote some of those things so I think that the relationship piece and the behaviors and expectations will all come along with it as well.”

She is shaping the student body with methods new to the classroom and the Jamestown school district. Schmidt said Kastet is one of the many standout teachers in the halls of Lincoln Elementary.

“She’s definitely willing to put in the extra effort,” Schmidt said of Kastet. “Jamestown Public Schools truly, truly cares about their kids. I think the whole Lincoln staff does a great job of doing that and going above and beyond. Doing whatever it takes to give the kids the best that we can.”

Gerber is a sports writer for the Jamestown Sun.
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