Elizabeth Baird: Blessed Sacrament Alumna Finds Faith in Full-Day Kindergarten

| January 20, 2010

Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Baird reads to her students during the full-day class at Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse.

By Caroline K. Reff

It’s snack time in Elizabeth Baird’s Kindergarten class at Blessed Sacrament School in Eastwood. The children sit quietly, trying to be patient, as Baird routinely passes out four graham crackers to each child. They fidget, and one starts to dive into his snack. A quick look from his teacher reminds him to mind his manners, and he gently places the cracker back on his napkin. When everyone has their food, Baird gives the signal and the students begin:

Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you, God, for everything.

It’s one of Baird’s favorite times of the day. Not only does she get her first two minutes of complete silence — if you don’t count the crunching — but she is grateful that teaching in a Catholic school allows her the freedom to pray with the children. “Faith is another way to tie in a lesson,” she said. “It’s a wonderful teaching tool.”

Baird began teaching at Blessed Sacrament 14 years ago. In fact, her first Kindergarten class just headed off to college this fall. Her years at the school started much earlier, however, as she herself was a student there, as were her brothers and sister.

“I can truly say my first grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament, Mrs. Barbara McElroy, was a major influence in my decision to become a teacher,” said Baird. “I’m not exactly sure why, but she had a profound effect on me.”

Now it is Baird’s turn to have a profound effect on her students. With snack over, she calls some children into a small group in the “reading center,” while others finish a project at their desks before going to the “red carpet” to work on alphabet puzzles. Like any good teacher, she does seem to have eyes in the back of her head and cautions one child who may have rushed through her assignment to “make sure that’s your very best work.” The student reconsiders and heads back to her desk. Several times during the reading lesson, she reminds her students to “look her in the eyes” when their attention wanders, and she entices them with the possibility of singing their favorite “Alphabet Song” when the instruction ends.

Baird knows each lesson takes time, and she is glad that Blessed Sacrament, like the other diocesan elementary schools, offers a full-day Kindergarten program.

“Children come to Kindergarten at all different levels,” she said. “Some are reading; some don’t know their letters. I can’t imagine meeting all the New York State standards in just a couple of hours each day — look how long it took me just to pass out graham crackers! A full day gives students the time to achieve on their own — and that’s satisfying to them, and to me.”

While Baird knows she could earn a higher salary in a public school, her heart remains at Blessed Sacrament. “It’s never been about the money,” she said. “It’s more about the families — many of whom live right around this neighborhood — and about sharing our faith in the classroom. My parents sometimes worked two or three jobs to put four kids through Blessed Sacrament because learning about God in the classroom was a priority for them. Now, being able to help my own students strengthen their faith truly helps me appreciate the sacrifices my own parents made.”

“Kindergarten is just my favorite age group, as they are just so excited about everything,” Baird added. “Every year, I discover a reason why I’ve stayed just one more year — something that makes me say, ‘I’m glad I was here for that little guy this year. He needed me just a bit more than the rest.’ I truly believe I’m meant to be here.”

Caroline K. Reff is a free-lance writer and public relations consultant in Syracuse, NY.

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