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After 44 years as a teacher, the last 29 at North Haven High School, Kristine Blauvelt will retire with the Class of 2019. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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High school students aren’t the only graduates of Kristine Blauvelt’s classroom at North Haven High School (NHHS)—cats, skunks, and squirrels have also been through the classroom. Kris, who has spent her career working with students who benefit from non-traditional teaching approaches, says that’s good for the kids.
“I’ve always loved animals and kids,” Kristine says.
Kris has been a teacher for 44 years, the last 29 in North Haven schools. Throughout her career, Kris has worked with challenging groups, from those struggling with drugs and alcohol to special education and non-special education students. She’ll retire at the end of the year.
Kris is one of the Scientific Research Based Intervention (SRBI) teachers at NHHS.
“Basically, I work with kids who don’t like school for different reasons. Some of them struggle in school, some just aren’t academically oriented,” Kris says.
As someone who grew up with ADD, Kris knows about the challenges that face students and how difficult school can be.
“I understand how hard it is to do things that you’re really not interested in,” Kris says. “I wanted to be a teacher to work with kids because I know how hard it is.”
Her students come to her during their study hall periods to work on academic and life skills, but they’re also often visited by the animals Kris sometimes rescues.
“They just find me,” she says. “I don’t look for them…People either bring them to me or I find them.”
After Hurricane Irene, for instance, Kris and her husband took in a baby squirrel named Rocky, who became a frequent visitor to the school until he was released back into the wild.
Kris doesn’t just bring the animals into her classroom because she likes them, however. They serve a real purpose in engaging her students.
“I try to make the room interesting, because when kids first come into your classroom, they don’t know you and they’re nervous, so for them to be able to look around…and go ‘Oh, what’s this or what’s that?’ it’s kind of a way to break the ice with them and making them feel more comfortable,” Kris says.
Kris’s classroom walls are decorated with snakeskins and animal skulls coupled with photos of her rescued animals.
“It’s so good for the kids to see that sort of thing,” she says.
Making her classroom an interesting place is almost as important as making it a safe place for students. One thing Kris learned when she was studying to be an educator sticks with her—and it’s something that applies to animals, too.
“We get caught up in the curriculum and what we have to do and we forget that these are people,” Kris says. “If an animal or a child does not feel safe, they’re not going to learn,” she says.
So her classroom is a safe place for her students. During lunch time, as many as 20 kids will elect to eat lunch in her room to avoid the stress of the cafeteria. When her students are safe, Kris’s real work begins.
This can range from developing academic drive and self-esteem to stress management and affective education strategies, through which students evaluate their learning styles and aspirations.
Affective education asks students “how are you smart?” Kris says. “Being academically smart is not the only way to be smart.”
In place of standing up in front of her students to lecture as in a traditional classroom setting, she instead does a lot of one on one work with the kids.
“I think of them as people before I think of them as students,” she says. “I try to work on building their self-esteem, making them feel good about themselves, making them feel not bad that they don’t want to go to college because college isn’t for everyone.”
NHHS offers many programs that augment the SRBI program by showing kids involved with the program alternatives to college or prodding them in other directions.
While they’re at NHHS, it’s Kris’s job to help them succeed academically. She has plenty of essay outlines and strategies to help her kids out. But most of the time, helping the kids develop their self-esteem helps them learn to push themselves.
“My goal is to just have them pass,” Kris says. “But what I’ve found is once they’re passing, they’re not satisfied with just Ds. They want to do better because they feel good about themselves.”
That’s when they are willing to take risks, learn new things and ask for more help.
“I love seeing kids grow and being the best they can be at whatever they’re doing,” Kris says.
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