Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Heads of the Class

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Heads of the Class

Article excerpt

In this boisterous Sarasota kindergarten, two teachers work as a pair to inspire the children -- and each other

SARASOTA -- They sense the wiggling coming, the uncontrollable urge that causes 30 kindergartners to fidget in their seats.

So they call in reinforcements -- Lou Bega and his "Mambo No. 5."

Before things must get serious with morning reading, teacher Danielle Sobolewski leads her students in a dance. Kiddie aerobics.

"A little bit of Savannah makes me your man!" Sobolewski says, freestyling her students' names into the song lyrics.

Nearby, a second teacher, Ileana Manzano, coaches the children to throw their arms up in the air.

Sobolewski, 27, and Manzano, 58, are a formidable pair, an alter ego known as Mrs. Mansobo.

They write their lesson plans together, switch who acts as lead teacher and feed off each other's energy.

Across Southwest Florida, there are only a handful of classrooms like this one at Southside Elementary, where two teachers work side- by-side in a single classroom. For the school, where there are no empty classrooms, the combination takes advantage of a bigger space to hold more students. With two teachers, a class can legally hold up to 36 children instead of 18, according to the Florida class- size amendment.

But for the two educators, co-teaching is about more than that. It's a valuable partnership, almost like a marriage.

"We're here to inspire these kids," Sobolewski said. "And hopefully, we're here to inspire each other."

'Mega-classroom'

Besides the kindergarten room and another second-grade class with 35 students at Southside, there are only two elementary schools using the co-teaching method in the district.

Driven by space needs, the co-teachers occupy a kindergarten class at Emma E. Booker Elementary and a K-first grade split class at Taylor Ranch Elementary, said district spokesman Scott Ferguson.

In Manatee County schools, Steve Valley said no kindergarten classes are co-taught, but the district spokesman was unsure about the other grades.

Not everybody is on board with idea.

Last school year, a parent complained about the noise in what he called a "mega-classroom" at Phillippi Shores Elementary.

"I'm concerned with overcrowding; 27 8-year-olds in one classroom is a lot of noise," Michael Dooley said at the time, in September 2012.

But the Southside duo say it works.

Typically, teachers on a team meet to share ideas and collaborate for professional development.

"When you're locked up in your classroom, you get the 40-minute period once a week," Manzano said. "That's not enough."

Principal Steve Dragon said the key to success is that Manzano and Sobolewski volunteered for the co-teaching assignment.

"I would never want to say, 'You two go in there and do this,'" Dragon said. "You have to talk to the teachers. When they want it as much as I want it, the kids win. …

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