Spotlight on ONEder teacher, Loren Svetvilas, of Livingston Public Schools
Loren Svetvilas, a pre-K special education teacher at Burnet Hill Elementary, in Livingston, New Jersey, had a dream; and it was “tiny”. In Loren’s telling, “it was 4.30 in the morning on a weekend, and I was thinking… wouldn’t it be fun to make shoe box houses for all our students and make a little village?” This idea was the genesis of Livingston Public Schools’ “Tiny Village” project, which recreated the township of Livingston, in miniature. Loren and his fellow Burnet Hill Elementary educators had been teaching a curriculum focused on specific themes like “clothing” and “water”, to prepare students with pre-readiness skills. These units were implemented in six week blocks, and would involve a variety of activities. Loren used the classic tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to introduce his class to the theme of “chairs”; activities included asking students to compare the sizes of various rockers and recliners, and “even discussing the animals… and cooking porridge”. The themes scheduled for early 2017 were “buildings”, and “boxes”. When Loren and his fellow educators agreed to merge those subjects, the “Tiny Village” was born.
It Takes a Village
Loren believes that “collaboration between educators can sometimes be difficult”, with the lack of “free time” available: a challenge for any district. Loren and his colleagues overcame this obstacle by meeting during their professional planning time. Technology, he notes, was key to the success of their collaboration: “[technology] was the unifying piece that brought us together… creating working docs so we could collaborate online, and then meeting either in person or virtually”. Loren and his colleagues then took their ideas to the classroom. Loren completed a chart mapping exercise with his students to “find out what they know… about buildings and boxes. I just wanted to get some feedback. Do buildings have floors? Ceilings? Windows?” While Burnet Elementary’s pre-K classes were initially tasked with constructing their own, individual towns, the scale of the project soon expanded; the six classrooms, along with local businesses and municipal departments collaborated on the creation of one, large-scale “tiny” village. According to Loren, “the police and fire departments were super excited; they were very competitive. The police department were determined to make theirs better than the fire department’s!” The local shoe store donated garbage bags filled with shoe boxes.
The “opening” of Livingston’s “tiny” counterpart was attended by local dignitaries, rallying behind the message that it takes a village to successfully raise a child. Loren was astonished by the level of involvement: “the town council came; the Board of Education sent a representative”. Even Livingston’s mayor was in attendance, inaugurating the village with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
ONEder and Looking to the Future
Loren hopes to repeat the project’s success, and make the tiny village an annual celebration of Livingston’s diverse and inclusive community. In addition to adding new landmarks, like the zoo from nearby West Orange, Loren would like to make use of tools like ONEder, to improve, and increase collaboration: “I can picture us building our lessons together in ONEder. It would be much more accessible and make it easy to jump in, grab it, tweak it, and throw up a new one that we think the team will like. Next year we’ll also be adding a ONEder building!”