For the last 17 years, Jamie Kirchhoff has poured her heart into the students at The Franciscan School. As a first grade teacher, Kirchhoff loves when her students’ faces light up as they start reading, or when a concept clicks for them. “I absolutely love first grade,” says Kirchhoff. “They really enjoy reading, have sweet, pure hearts, and they start to become independent.” Kirchhoff says those “aha” moments are what continue to motivate her year after year.
Kirchhoff grew up going to church here at St. Francis of Assisi. After she graduated from high school, she attended University of North Carolina Wilmington where she felt compelled to switch degrees and major in elementary education. But she didn’t just want to teach at any elementary school. She specifically wanted to teach at a Catholic school. “At first, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but while I was in college, I felt that God was calling me to be a teacher, and more definitively, a Catholic teacher.”
After her first few years at TFS, Kirchhoff noticed a need in the school community for more specialization in learning challenges, so she obtained a Master’s Degree in Learning Disabilities from N.C. State University. But Kirchhoff hasn’t stopped learning and trying to help her school community. She is currently pursuing a WRS Level I Certification. This certification helps students with reading, as well as those with dyslexia.
In the classroom, Kirchhoff's teaching style is very hands-on. She believes that students at this age learn best when they get to experience what they have heard in a lesson through activity and movement. She typically provides a short lesson for the students, and then allows them to engage in that teaching with a hands-on center, reading groups, discussions, and more. “After each lesson, I like for the students to be able to get up, move around, change seats, work on the floor, sit at a different table, etc.,” says Kirchhoff. “It allows them some independence and gets them to learn in a fun way.”
While some technology is used, Kirchhoff believes that at this age, the activities she does to engage social skills, creativity, problem-solving, and fine motor skills can’t be replaced. She also loves to teach literature and read books with the children using a variety of voices that helps keep them engaged. Many students really start to read in first grade and develop a love of reading, which she believes helps them become lifelong learners.
This year, things have come full circle. Kirchhoff’s daughter is now in first grade at TFS. “Choosing to send our daughter to TFS was a no-brainer for us,” says Kirchhoff.” “I get to see the “inside” of the school, and I know it is a special place for kids to feel safe and thrive. The teachers love the kids so much.” While Kirchhoff doesn’t teach her daughter, she gets to see her experience all the joys that come out of learning new things in first grade.
Because of Kirchhoff’s length of time at TFS, and her infectious love for the school community, she’s often been known to take new teachers under her wing and help them feel welcome. Many middle school students and TFS alumni still talk about the impact she made on them in first grade. Kirchhoff loves that the school continues to get better, and that the teachers are constantly learning best practices and engaging in ways that challenge themselves. For Kirchhoff, TFS has been a special place where “the love of community has never changed, and we are always there for each other.”