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Staff Focus: Julia Allan, Kindergarten Teacher, Northfield Elementary School

January 30th, 2018

Northfield Elementary School Kindergarten Teacher Julia Allan has returned to her own Kindergarten classroom to fulfill her dream of teaching in Howard County.

Julia Allan attended Northfield Elementary School while growing up in Howard County. After earning a bachelor’s in communications and a master’s in teaching from Notre Dame of Maryland University, she has come full circle. Allan now teaches Kindergarten in the same classroom at Northfield. “I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, because I get to provide a child’s first experience in school. It is an opportunity to instill a love of learning at a very young age.”

Allan completed her internships in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but wanted to return to Howard County to give back to her community. She was hired as a paraeducator in special education at Northfield in 2013. When that school year ended in 2013, the principal offered Allan a position. “I wanted to come back to Howard County. That was very important to me.”

Landing in her former school was a unique opportunity. “Some of the teachers that taught me are still in the building. It’s home, and I am so happy to be there. It is really special to teach in the building where you spent your childhood,” says Allan.

Allan teaches in an all-inclusive classroom with co-teacher Jenna Baughan. Special education students and general education students are together in one classroom. “I work with everybody and Ms. Baughan works with everybody. We are both dual-certified so it’s easy to integrate.”

“Ms. Allan and I have built an incredible relationship over the past year and a half co-teaching together. We constantly collaborate together, creating innovative ways to instruct our students of various abilities and strengths. She and I are interchangeable in class and have created a classroom environment together to meet the needs of all our students,” says Baughan.

“Having inclusion is so important, especially starting at a young age. The general education kids learn about differences, how to help people, how to show compassion and how to really include everyone. That’s what I love the most,” Allan says.

Allan sets a high bar in her classroom and has high expectations for her students. She approaches her students with presumed competence. “I’m coming in assuming that my Kindergarteners can. Before they come to an adult, they have to go to a peer. If that peer can help them or tell them what they are supposed to do, that is so much better than becoming dependent on an adult.”

“Julia exemplifies presumed competence for each and every child in her class. She has taught me just how much a 5-year-old can do independently. No matter where a child starts from in her class, each one will make remarkable growth by the end of the year. Ms. Allan wants students to experience that rewarding feeling of working through a challenge and coming out successful,” says Northfield Assistant Principal Colleen Golden.

Kindergarten has changed since Allan was in her classroom as a student. “When I was in kindergarten, I was just learning letters. Now we have a lot of rigorous curriculum and they’re reading and writing and they’re learning math. They’re not just learning numbers, they’re adding and subtracting. A lot is expected of them but it’s great to watch them rise to it.”

Every science unit in kindergarten ends with an engineering project. The science curriculum recently changed with the introduction of Next Generation Science Standards, and presented Allan and her Kindergarten colleagues a challenge in bringing the engineering design process to their classrooms. They decided to have students learn the process by working in teams to build marble mazes. The marble raceways are just one example of the engineering projects done in Howard County schools.

Working with school administration to secure a school partnership with a local business owner and former NES alumni, Allan was able to procure tablets for her students to use in their engineering projects. The students used the tablets to record video of their work and the work of their fellow students. “They ask a question, they imagine the answer, they make a plan, they build it together, then they revise it make it better and test it. And it’s all on video, because they recorded it,” explains Allan.

The engineering project also teaches effective teamwork. “With these projects, the students have to work together or else it’s not going to work. It’s okay if it’s not successful, but when they reflect back on why it wasn’t successful, was it because you couldn’t do it or was it because of personality differences? That’s a whole other learning experience at 5,” says Allan.

As a result of the success of the engineering project, Allan was given the opportunity to speak at the Ready At Five Symposium with Science Resource Teacher Jennifer Brown-Whale. The symposium is a chance for educators from across Maryland to give and get ideas and inspiration for early education.

Allan has been a member of the instructional intervention team at Northfield for three years. The team responds to requests from teachers at all grade levels in the school who feel a student would benefit from additional supports. The team works to solve challenges and create solutions for students and teachers. “I enjoy following former students that I’ve had in Kindergarten, and developing ways to continue reaching students when they may be struggling in a certain area. I have a passion for finding the way a student needs to be reached, and creating interventions.”

Although she would have been happy to teach in any elementary school in Howard County, Allan is especially pleased to be back home at Northfield. “I begin every year by showing the kids a picture of me at 5 years old, with my kindergarten teacher, in the very same spot they are sitting,” explains Allan. “I don’t think many people get the opportunity to teach in their former classroom. My former teacher is still a kindergarten teacher in the county. I’m so honored to be back in the school system. It was really great to come back here to Northfield.”