Waxhaw native takes over as new elementary assistant principal
It’s not every day you’re lucky enough to learn history through a water balloon fight, or practice your reading comprehension through the lyrics of Katy Perry…unless, of course, you were a fifth grader at McAlpine Elementary School this past year.
That unique teaching style is a big part of what earned McAlpine Elementary’s Justin Ashley Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s East Zone Teacher of the Year Award. Now Ashley is packing his bags and coming home to Union County, where the Waxhaw native will be assistant principal this fall at Waxhaw Elementary School.
“It is just a matter of coming back home and being involved in a community that has a positive influence and that changed my life for the better,” Ashley said.
Growing up in the area, Ashley attended Western Union Elementary and Parkwood High School. He received the Teaching Fellows Scholarship and attended college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“It was my ninth grade teacher at Parkwood that inspired me to become a teacher in order to help kids become good leaders and lifelong givers,” Ashley said, when asked what inspired him to get into teaching. While working at McAlpine, Ashley said his goal was to show his students how to apply what they learned in the classroom to their everyday lives. His mission was to teach his students to “Know our past, own our present, and elevate our future.”
He conveyed this lesson through creative assignments – teaching reading comprehension through Katy Perry and John Mayer lyrics; history through a visit to a wax museum. Students learned about the Revolutionary War through water balloon battles.
“I try to put the learning into the hands of the kids and let them have fun,” Ashley said of his approach. The fifth grade class participated in an assortment of activities, from debating the existence of creatures such as Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster to creating a YouTube video called “Rights, Rights Baby,” an educational version of Vanilla Ice’s one-hit wonder “Ice, Ice Baby.”
When asked how he comes up with lesson plans that capture the attention of young students while getting them excited about learning, Ashley looks back at his grade school years.
“Honestly, the secret thing to think about is what I was passionate about as a kid and listen to what the kids have to say.”
“I think he’s like a rock star of a teacher,” said Ernest Saxton, principal of McAlpine. “Just walking through the lunch room you’ve got students two to three grades behind him giving him high fives. He’s like the American Idol of McAlpine.”
But it’s not all fun, games and high fives. Ashley’s goals for the 2010-11 school year were to improve parent teacher communication and student assessment. So, for the parents of his students he created a Facebook business page where he could easily share information on his class and how parents could assist their children throughout the learning process.
As for student assessment, Ashley notes that while grades and testing are important, there can be an overemphasis, especially on testing. “You can assess a kid without testing them to death,” Ashley said. “Socratic seminars, through a project or presentation, there are so many fun ways to assess a kid.”
This approach to teaching is proving to be effective. Ashley taught fifth grade history and literacy, and every fifth grader had his class. Out of the entire grade, 95 percent of them received a 3 or 4 on their English End of Grade test, of which 4 is the highest possible score.
It is not only facts and figures that matter in the classroom. Ashley said he believes good behavior and proper conduct are a part of education as well, so he urges his students to remember they are the Class of 2018 – the future leaders of society.
He encourages his students to be like The Giving Tree, a character in a picture book by Shel Silverstein, who gives away all of the things she has to help a friend.
“Education isn’t about learning about all these things,” Ashley said. “It’s about being equipped to give these things to those around you.”
Ashley plans to get involved with the history department at Waxhaw Elementary, work on teacher development and help support the principal, he said. He is very excited about being at Waxhaw Elementary this year and cannot wait to see what lies ahead.
“Rights, Rights Baby”
To see the video of Justin Ashley and the McAlpine Elementary fifth graders performing “Rights, Rights Baby,” an educational parody of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby,” visit Ashley’s YouTube page at www.youtube.com/user/justinfashley.