PiE Staff in Elementary Schools Bring Learning Alive

The Slice – 2014: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Elementary parents hear it at every Back to School Night: The PTA pays for stuff, while PiE pays for staff. But these words often don’t mean much until parents connect with the wonderful staff members that come to our schools thanks to PiE.

PiE dollars pay for all or part of the salaries for teachers who lead some of the most popular programs in PAUSD elementary schools, such as SPECTRA Art, hands-on science, and instrumental music. PiE support ensures that all elementary students in PAUSD have access to a variety of enrichment programs taught by highly qualified and passionate instructors. We recently spent time with two PiE-sponsored educators, Bill Gutoff and BJ Floersheim, to learn more about why they have such a magical rapport with children.

Bill Gutoff, a.k.a. “Bill the Science Guy”: Bringing Science Alive

Science at AddisonWhat happens during Bill’s science lessons?
The Addison first graders walked to the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, eager for their lesson with ‘Bill the Science Guy,’ a beloved staff member whose warm ease and passion for science has earned him a rock star reputation in the school. After cheerfully engaging the children with bat trivia, he carefully pulled a bat from a cage and held it up for his audience, who responded with squeals of delight. The children were soon standing on their heads to mimic sleeping bats and shivering when Bill explained the unique feeding habits of vampire bats. It was a thrilling field trip and the kind of inspired interaction that Bill enjoys when he teaches a lesson in Addison’s hands-on science program, which is made possible by donations to PiE.

How did Bill become a science teacher?
Bill enjoyed science and the outdoors from a young age but it wasn’t until he volunteered in his own daughter’s classroom that he realized his talent for teaching. Although his primary job was as a photojournalist (his major at Cal Poly), Bill pursued his interest in teaching by becoming a classroom aide, and in 2001 he joined the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo as a science educator. Over the years he has worked in several Palo Alto schools, including Ohlone, Walter Hays, and Palo Verde, but he now works solely with Addison. Visits from Bill (and the occasional field trip to the Junior Museum and Zoo) are a monthly highlight for children in every grade.

Why does everyone at Addison love Bill?
“Bill is a celebrity at Addison!” confirms Sheila Schweitzer, a first grade teacher at Addison. “He connects with every type of student. It’s a gift to have someone who can do that with all ages.”

What does Bill recommend for fledging scientists to read and do this summer?

  • Read: The Great Kapok Tree (a longtime favorite of Bill’s)
  • Explore: iBird West, an iphone app

BJ FLOERSHEIM, Traveling Musician

Hoover Music ClassHow does Ms. Floersheim manage a big class of kids with loud instruments?
Watching BJ Floersheim lead a music class filled with 22 squirrely fourth graders is a revelation. Poised with recorders in hands, they wait for her calm, assured guidance before they begin their twice-weekly lessons, fully engaged and clearly committed to their practice. After playing the recorder (with a Smart Board handily displaying the sheet music for the group), the students move on to singing for the remainder of the period. BJ keeps the class smoothly flowing and the children respond to her positive energy, clamoring to help tidy up before she prepares to move on to her next school of the day.

How does the PAUSD traveling music program work?
Palo Alto elementary students enjoy music classes taught by 12 talented instructors who travel between PAUSD elementary schools and whose salaries are supported in part by donations to PiE. Students receive weekly general music instruction in first and third grade, which increases to twice a week in fourth and fifth grade when they choose an instrument. Thanks in part to PiE, PAUSD is able to provide this enriched level of musical education, which has lifelong value for children and can enhance brain development.

Why is Ms. Floersheim passionate about music and what is her background?
“Music education helps students learn, achieve, and succeed,” BJ says. “Many studies have shown the benefits of the arts, include advancing reading and math skills, improving test scores, fostering creativity, and experiencing the aesthetic joys of making music. “

BJ, a Palo Alto School District music teacher for over 30 years, began playing the piano in second grade, and by sixth grade she was proficient enough to become the organist for her family’s church. She received her BA in music education from South Dakota State University, and has performed in community and church choirs for many years.

How has she kept teaching music for 30 years in Palo Alto?
BJ’s passion for music has sustained her energy to teach for so many years in Palo Alto. “Music is both my occupation and avocation,” she explains. “I have absolutely enjoyed every year that I have taught. I love teaching music, and sharing my knowledge with students in PAUSD. I am so thankful to PiE and the community for this wonderful experience. “

What can kids do in the summer to keep learning music?
BJ recommends the “Learn and Play Recorder” app, saying, “It’s a great supplement to the fourth grade general music curriculum by teaching beginners how to play the recorder and read music. The app includes 38 songs with a full performance track to play along with!”

BJ would also love kids to experience local performing arts. “I encourage Palo Alto families to attend all the wonderful concerts in the schools,” she says. “Even if your child is not at the middle or high school level, it is a marvelous experience for the entire family.”