Fourth graders give expert advice to new students


Sellman principal David Stouffer welcomes the third-grade classes last May when they came to Sellman to get acquainted with their new school, where they’ll enter the fourth-grade next week.

By Regina Villiers. Originally published August 23,1995 in The Suburban Life, 

added February 13, 2019.

    Dianna Bartles teaches fourth-grade at Sellman School in Madeira.

Last spring, she started to think about the short time left until she’s have to give up her students to the fifth-grade.

     Then she started to wonder about her class for next year, who were then in the third-grade at Dumont School.  They’d be so overwhelmed, she thought, at changing schools and coming into a whole new routine.  They’d need help, all the help they could get.

     And then an idea hit her.  Who could help them better than her own fourth-grade class?  Former third-graders who had survived the year and were now pros at being in the fourth-grade?

     The results are enough to make Ann Landers and Dear Abby throw away their ballpoints and update their resumes.  These kids know how to give advice, and they held nothing back, giving it to these inexperienced little kids with both barrels of their pencils.

     Fourth-grade is the first year Madeira students change classes and have the need for lockers.  It’s a big adjustment and a high point in life, sort of like coping with your first roommate when you go away to college.  Most of the letter writers addressed this.

     Many of them said it’s important not to get a messy locker partner, but Michael Ladrigan took it a step further.  “Keep your locker very clean, or you’ll have to clean it,” he said.

     Casey Gardner came up with the best locker advice.  “You don’t want to have a locker by the restrooms,” she wrote.  “When the door opens, you get hit.”

      Kids at Sellman are expected to behave, and they do.  Right away kids learn what they can and cannot do.  Nearly all the letter writers covered this.  They know the rules.  Don’t wear your hat in the building.  Don’t chew gum.  Don’t bring Pogs to school.

     Vincent Pickens, who is obviously trying to emulate the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, lapsed into rhyme about the rules.  “Please walk. Don’t run. Just don’t fight, ‘cause it’s no fun.  These rules you must follow.  Don’t get muddy just so you can wallow.”

     Cards are connected to behavior at Sellman and carry a lot of weight.  Blue cards are bad.  That’s evident.  “Never get blue cards,” Ryan Reynolds wrote.

     “Don’t do anything dumb, like running in the halls,” Max Schulman wrote, “or you’ll get a blue card, and that is bad.”

     But gold cards at Sellman are good.  A gold card is given for doing something important, and a gold care bearer gets to go to the office for congratulations and a treat from Mr. Stouffer.

     “Try to get gold cards,” Sarah Gillen said.  “They are cool.”

     It’s even cooler to be student of the week at Sellman.  “If you’re really good, you might be student of the week,”  Melanie Suckarich wrote.  “So you want to be good.”

     Detentions occupied the minds of some of the writers.  Checks lead to detentions, but there was confusion as to how many checks result in a detention.  Some said two checks, but Danielle said, “three checks and you’ll get a D.T.”

     Fourth-grade students seem to devote a lot of thought on how to ingratiate themselves with teachers.  A lot of advice was given on what not to do with this teacher or that teacher.  But Philip Gettinger adopted a soothing, non-threatening tone.  “The teachers are nice, and the homework is easy,” he said.

     Sounds like a chorus from “Porgy and Bess.”

     Mr. Rape got the most mentions and seemed to be the most feared as to discipline.  Many spoke about his numerous D.T.s.  “Be sure to always be nice around Mr. Rape,” Narayan Choudury cautioned.  But Ashley Vaughn had a different view.  “Try to get Mr. Rape or Mrs. Bartles,” she said.  She was in the minority.

     Carol Neumann had the strangest advice of all about teachers.  “In Mrs. Schneller’s class, have a red pen at all times,” she said.

     Lots of advice was given about supplies and what to bring to school.  “Get a lot of pencils,” Scott Newport wrote, “because you’ll lose them all.”

     Much of the supply advice centered around Trappers, and Scott also had advice about that most important piece of fourth-grade equipment.  “Give all your papers to your mom,” he wrote, “or our Trapper will overflow.”

     They also had advice about what it means to be a fourth-grader.  “Kids are very cool in the fourth-grade,” Jessica Knueven told them.

     On the subject of friends, Tori Blanton said, “Be nice to friends and teachers, so you’ll have more friends.”

     They left out nothing, even including the proficiency test.  “Be prepared for it,” Adam Shane advised, while Hyun Kim added that they should do their best on all test, but especially the proficiency test.

      Sarah Gillen dismissed the whole thing by saying, “Don’t worry about the proficiency test.”

     And Casey Gardner tried to make them all feel good by saying, “You’ll love this school.”

     That would be a great thought to end on, but Melanie Suckarieh injected an ominous note.  “Don’t go to the creek,” she wrote.  No one else thought to include this. 

     And probably none of the third-grade students would have even thought about doing this either.  But now they will.