Pinson urges parents to take active role in children's education

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At Westwood School, teachers and staff were focused on educating "the whole child," so "if there were needs that interfered with a student's learning, they were handled, (because) students cannot focus if they have other worries that interfere," said Marian Pinson, who taught at the elementary school for 33 years before retiring at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. "A quick email for help from fellow teachers, our counselor or community volunteers (got) the job done and our students back to learning." 

During her 33 years of elementary teaching at Westwood School, Marian Pinson never wavered from setting high expectations for her students, but she now worries that some parents are increasingly lax and uninterested in the education of their children.

"I don't think parents push as hard as" prior generations, and "I worry about our city and country, because these children are the future leaders, and if they don't have that foundation (of education), we're headed for trouble," said Pinson, who retired at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. "For some of them, school stops at school, (and) they don't take it home.''

Parents can supplement the education of their children by reading with them daily, as well as asking them to write, she said.

"Have them write a sentence that becomes a paragraph that becomes a story."

More learning in the home, rather than just at school, would benefit both parents and students, she said.

"Parents sometimes don't realize kids are capable of doing more than they think they can."

Pinson's students produced a play at the conclusion of each school year, and "it was student led," she said. "They did the directing, costumes, props, and even snacks" for the audience of parents.

"It was totally their own, and that's what I loved about it," she said. "They can do more than you think they can."

When Kinsley Stephens, now an eighth-grader at Dalton Middle School, was in Pinson's class, the then-third-grader was not confident in her theatrical abilities, but Pinson built her up, and now she's a veteran not only of school shows, but the Artistic Civic Theatre (ACT) and Dalton Little Theatre (DLT), Pinson said, noting, "She's a natural."

Earlier this year, Stephens was part of a trio who earned superior marks from judges at the Georgia Jr. Thespian Conference and were invited to close the festival with their song-and-dance number. Their success in Columbus also provided them an opportunity to perform for this summer's International Thespian Festival, where they again received a superior designation from the judges.

Westwood's fifth-graders perform an annual school play, and Pinson always relished "counting all my kids up on that stage," she said. "They could do it, because they were already comfortable and confident."

Pinson's former students are doing everything from managing restaurants to attending medical school, and one indicator of Pinson's impact was how many of her former students would visit her classroom when they were in high school or college or finished with school.

"You know you're doing OK when kids come back," she said. "I know I did OK."

She "will be missed tremendously" by faculty, students and families, said Stephanie Montijo, a Westwood teacher. "She is never looking to be the shining star, but she does want her kids to shine."

Pinson set "high expectations, and the students worked hard to meet those expectations," said Scott Ehlers, Westwood's principal. She "was always thinking of new ways to reach her students and make Westwood the best it could be."

Pinson tried to follow those same precepts with her children, Shante, Toni and Franky, as well as her six grandchildren.

When students have enhanced their learning at home, they're more engaged at school, because if "they have something to share, they have something to give, and they feel they are a part of their class,'' Pinson said. "They're proud when they can share, and then they take (their school experiences) home," creating a circle of enrichment.

And the earlier children can enter a scholastic environment, the better, as far as Pinson is concerned.

"The differences are amazing" to observe in everything from academics to behavior in children who have received early school instruction, such as prekindergarten, juxtaposed with those who did not, she said.

At Westwood, teachers and staff were focused on educating "the whole child," so "if there were needs that interfered with a student's learning, they were handled, (because) students cannot focus if they have other worries that interfere," she said. "A quick email for help from fellow teachers, our counselor or community volunteers (got) the job done and our students back to learning."

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