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East Arbor Educator Teaches Perseverance through Pits and Peaks

As an 11-year educator at East Arbor Charter Academy, Ms. Gieske, first-grade teacher, has evolved over the years. Not only is she now teaching first grade virtually, but she has also adapted her classroom to help meet the needs of her students.  

Ms. Giekse facilitates a Pits and Peaks exercise at the end of the day with her students, where each student shares a pit and a peak from the day (a high point and a low point).
Some of the pits she’s heard include:
  • “I fell off my bike and hurt my knee.”
  • “My dad is working a lot and I miss him.” 
  • “I couldn't get into our Google Meet during math.”
  • “I was upset because I was removed from our Google Meet.”
  • “My uncle in Costa Rico died.”
And some of the peaks have been:
  • “My dad is home today.” 
  • “I played outside with my sister during the break.”
  • “I got all my spelling words right.”
  • “I rode my bike without training wheels last night.”
  • ‚Äč“Today was the best day ever. I loved the math game we played.”
“Ms. Gieske does an amazing job of building relationships with her scholars,” said Tanesha Newby, principal at East Arbor. “This is evident in her Pits and Peaks exercise. This gives Ms. Giekse the opportunity to gain more insight into each scholar personally, which helps to make their bond stronger. It also sheds light on what each scholar may struggle with academically. Parents and students alike enjoy the authentic relationships that Ms. Gieske fosters in her class.”

Sharing feelings and things that haven’t gone well is no easy task, especially for first graders. But Ms. Gieske believes it is important to be honest and transparent with her students. “By sharing my Pits and Peaks, it creates a safe environment for students to share their experiences,” she said.
It's not just a place for students to share their experiences – it’s much more than that.

“Pits and Peaks has given my students the chance to express their thoughts and work through anything that is bothering them,” said Ms. Gieske. “They have friends to celebrate with when things go well and lean on when things don't. This is especially important during this year of feeling isolated due to COVID-19 and virtual learning.” 

She believes it builds trust, culture, and community by allowing her class to share and support each other through the joys and struggles in their lives. They even support each other with cheers and connection signs.
Before starting Pits and Peaks, Ms. Gieske’s students would share affirmations as their end of day activity.

“I switched from affirmations to Pits and Peaks because the affirmations didn't seem authentic, said Ms. Giekse. “I found the students were using the affirmations I had modeled, but they didn't always reflect the behaviors the student had shown during the day. I wanted to create a space where my students felt safe and cared for. A place where they could express how they were feeling and create a caring supportive classroom community.”

She also starts the day with good news, but it doesn’t look the same as it used to in her classroom. Before COVID-19, her students would share things like going to the water park or to a friend’s house, but now they’re appreciating different things.

“It has been amazing seeing the students appreciating the smaller joys in life,” said Ms. Gieske. “They get excited about seeing friends, going to the park, and playing with their siblings.”

Keep up the great work, Ms. Gieske!