Learning life skills early: Longfellow teacher helps her kindergarteners grow

May 13—ROCHESTER — In addition to learning how to read, share, and do their basic math, Ivy Manning is helping her young students learn about the importance of finding balance in life.

And just as her students will continue to build on the academic foundation they get in Manning's kindergarten classroom, they also will build on those broader life skills as well.

"In my career and in life, I just try to find balance," she said. "It's so much more than the learning that we're teaching — I just try to weave that all in."

She taught first-grade students for most of her career. A couple years ago during distance learning, she switched to kindergarten.

Her classroom shows the telltale signs of students just starting to venture into the wider world. There are color-coded numbers on the walls. There's a bell to ring when they complete a task. There are coloring sheets and small furniture and a dozen questions being asked at any given time by excited students.

Manning wears an apron around her waist with big enough pockets for her small clipboard. She used to just wear an apron from her days as a waitress, but then her mom made one for her out of colorful swaths of material.

"The fabric has backstories to it," she said.

Part of her job is to channel all the energy and even help the students make sense of it — like when she talks about the brain. She holds up her fist as an easy visual aid.

She talks about how feelings reside in the amygdala and how they're not able to think clearly when they have a "big emotion." She explains that they have to breath and stay calm.

"When we notice that, then we can think clearly and make better decisions," she said. "I think with emotional regulation, it really really helps. It helps them. It helps me."

Longfellow Elementary Principal Amy Adams said that among other attributes, Manning is good at seeing what students need and adapting her material for them. She knows what may work for one student won't necessarily work for the next.

Manning has spent the vast majority of her 20-year teaching career at Longfellow Elementary, Rochester's only school that runs on a 45-15 day calendar. That means, unlike a traditional schedule, students have 45 days of school, followed by 15 off. Longfellow students begin school earlier in the summer than most, creating a shorter break between the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Even that, Manning says, helps keep things in balance. It helps with student's retention of their learning. It helps teachers have breaks when they need them.

"I think Longfellow is a family," Manning said. "Because the calendar is so beneficial for the mental health of teachers, teachers and staff don't leave Longfellow."

Teacher of the Month winners receive a certificate, flowers and a $50 gift card to

Townies Grill'd Philly Subs and More

. Students of the winner receive

Dippin Stix from Reichel Foods

and a certificate for a free kid's meal from Townies.