If like me, you attended Amsterdam’s Guy Park Avenue Elementary School in the early 1960’s, the names of these teachers would be familiar to you. Mrs. Palazzole, Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Templeton, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Cannon and Miss Hoos. My favorite was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Elizabeth Kent. She taught second grade at Guy Park and she made learning so interesting that I can remember actually being disappointed when the bell rang at the end of a school day. She and I had a great teacher-student connection, which I think was because we both loved to read.
She would take me down into the basement of that school where there were a few old shelves filled with library books and she’d help me pick out a good one to read. She’d always encourage me to pick one that had a few more pages and slightly harder-to-understand words than I was used to reading. My favorites became books about American History and biographies of Major League baseball players. I’d bring a book home almost every afternoon, read it cover to cover that night and bring it back to Mrs. Kent the next morning. She’d then ask me questions about it or ask me to draw a picture depicting something I especially enjoyed in the book.
She also introduced me and the rest of my classmates to the Student Reading Achievement program or SRA for short. It was ail housed in this huge shiny file box. There were about ten color-coded levels of comprehension and the objective was to read yourself up to the highest level possible. You’d read a story and then try to answer questions about what you read. Keep in mind that as second graders, our entire class had just learned to read the year before, using very basic materials that employed simple words and simple sentence structures. Remember “See Jack. See Jack run. See Jack and Sally, etc. etc.?”
Nine months later, Mrs. Kent not only had me reading complete books, she had helped several of us make it all the way to the top comprehension level of that SRA box. On top of that, Mrs. Kent was also responsible for teaching us math, science and social studies, plus music too! To this day I remain in awe of her ability as an educator.
My best friend back then was Joe Spencer, who would grow up to become a national news correspondent for ABC News. We both loved reading about Civil War battles and Mrs. Kent would encourage us to illustrate what the books were about by drawing pictures depicting what we had read. The finished products would be between 50 and 100 crayon drawings of the armies of the north and south in epic battles. We would tape the pictures together into a huge role and Mrs. Kent would let us present them like a movie to the entire class, narrating the action as we went along. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this long ago opportunity to make live presentations helped Joe and me develop the written and verbal communication skills each of us would use to make a living as adults.
I happened to be on the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education when Betty Kent passed away about a decade ago. I asked the Board to offer a moment of silence as a tribute to a teacher who made a huge positive impact on my life. I’ll end this post with words I wish I had spoken to her before she passed. Thank you Mrs. Kent.
Mrs. Kent shares her April 9 birthday with this legendary Amsterdam High School coach.