Classroom still place of magic

Roberts

In the classroom: Ken takes an occasional look inside our schools.

Girls enter the classroom with a male escort, according to Greek rules. They have ancient names like Calypsa, Apassionata and Dionyesia. And for the next hour they are immersed in mythology.

Welcome to Erica Roberts' sixth-grade social studies class at C.E. Williams Middle School just off U.S. Highway 17 South. The understated brick building tucked behind a stand of pines disguises the many activities going on inside.

On this Wednesday morning, there are 16 kids in the class, 11- and 12-year-olds, five boys, five black, one Latino. For three weeks they've been studying Greek culture. The Olympic Games. Theater. Sculpture. Pottery. Friezes.

They know their stuff. They accept the premise, and the classroom decorations reflect the ways things were when the Greeks ruled the world.

Last week they were visited by the goddess Persephone, who just happened to look a little like Roberts.

Childhood imagination

Erica Roberts is 26 years old, a native of North Augusta and a graduate of the College of Charleston. In her fourth year of teaching, she loves her job.

It shows as she moves around the room, instructing the students about the day's project, acting out a Greek myth in the form of a play, a TV commercial or a mini-drama.

For the next 30 minutes, the classroom is a flurry of colored construction paper and childhood imagination as teams at tables create something from nothing.

We hear and read a great deal about our public schools these days. Most of the news is not good. Some don't measure up. Money is always an issue. People with good ideas disagree on where our educational system is headed, and how to get there.

What we don't get to see is what goes on behind closed doors once kids jump off the buses and into the school.

It is, for the most part, still a place of magic where learning occurs at a pace that would leave most adults spinning and asking for a mental time-out.

So little time

The sixth grade is no place for sissies.

Under the pressure of a ticking clock, these children organized, choreographed, performed and explained their particular story line.

All while Roberts roamed the room, judging them on their ability to work together.

Just before the bell, there was a one-act play on Persephone and the Underworld, a statue of Zeus created for sale, the Greek alphabet illustrated and explained, a commercial for the Olympics and a story about Pandora's Box.

What would amaze most outsiders is how much planning it takes to present a class like this and do it four times a day. It takes enormous amounts of dedication and enthusiasm mixed with just the right doses of love and patience.

Roberts, last year's runner-up for Teacher of the Year in Charleston County, demonstrates these traits, making full use of each minute in the classroom.

This particular class, made up of gifted and talented students, reminds you how much there is to learn and how little time there is to learn it.

Roberts said she was finishing up the series on Greece this week before moving on to the next thing on the list.

"Next week this room will be Rome," she said with a smile.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598. To read previous columns, go to Charleston.net/burger.