Blackboard Awards: Lindsay Werner, Life Lessons from the South Side to the Upper East Side

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By Stephen Santulli Lindsay Werner's third-grade students read classics and Shakespeare. They can predict how much money their lemonade stand will take in on a particular day based on the temperature outside. These are some of the advantages of teaching in the rarefied setting of Philosophy Day School, a small private school of about 150 students for nursery through fifth grade on the Upper East Side. But they also speak to Werner's passion for her job-one she discovered in very different surroundings. After graduating from college, Werner, 30, spent a year living in a homeless shelter on the South Side of Chicago and teaching second grade to the students living there. She came to appreciate the close relationships she developed with students at the elementary level, when children are developing both intellect and character. "I found that I really like listening to children," Werner said. After a year, Werner traded in the gritty environs of the shelter for the Upper East Side, where Philosophy occupies a brownstone less than a block from Central Park. Her classes typically range from 12 to 18 students. As stark as the contrast may be on the surface, Werner says she carried over from Chicago an appreciation for the importance of "differentiation," the process of tailoring lessons to the individual and "meeting every student right where they are." Providing specialized attention to each student remains a hallmark of Werner's style after nine years of teaching. So, too, have her high standards. Once, her students expressed interest in reading mystery novels. But after scouring the bookshelves for new titles, Werner was unimpressed. So she assigned Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, a challenging but ultimately rewarding task for her elementary-age students. Werner says a dedication to the highest quality educational materials is especially important at a time when students face more potential distractions, from video games to Facebook. The lemonade stand project, which turned an ordinary math lesson into an engaging business startup, is one example of how she works to keep her students focused against those distractions. The support from Philosophy has helped reinforce those standards, Werner says. The school's educational mission, which says that "the character development of the child is essential in the learning process," aims to develop students as people beyond their educational achievement. Parents of Werner's students say she has had a unique impact on their children's education. Steve Millington says he noticed a positive difference in his daughter, which he attributes to Werner. "Mrs. Werner is a devoted teacher who has given my daughter Camille a much clearer understanding of how to learn," Millington said. "In the first semester of third grade, Mrs. Werner diagnosed my daughter's strengths and weaknesses perfectly. She then implemented a plan of attack that was incredibly successful." As students look forward to summer vacation, Werner, who lives on Long Island, ended her own school year early to welcome her first child. She expects to return to the classroom next fall.

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