A chorus of welcome greeted Karen Fisher when she walked into Nancy Wilkinson's first-grade classroom at Highline Community Elementary School.
Dozens of first-graders offered the same heartfelt message in unison: "Hi, Mrs. Fisher!" Fisher returned the greeting in kind, waving to the group and making her way around the room to interact with students individually.
Fisher, who was elected to the Cherry Creek Board of Education in 2013, has had several months to get to know the students in this class at Highline, a school that falls outside of Fisher's current director district. Fisher started volunteering at the school at the beginning of the year, working in two separate classrooms every week.
Fisher takes part in a wide range of activities, reading with individual students, answering questions about vocabulary words and tackling other duties that come with running a first-grade classroom. Fisher is no stranger to Cherry Creek classrooms – the mother of six children enrolled in the district, Fisher spent years volunteering inside and outside schools.
But the time at Highline has offered a new perspective for Fisher, whose children attended schools in a different part of the district. Many of the students at Highline are English language learners, and they face unique challenges in tackling first-grade texts.
"I know enough Spanish to realize some of the assumptions the kids make when I have them sound out words," Fisher said, referring to some of the basic orthographical differences between Spanish and English. "The teachers need even more support, and I love being able to provide that consistently. They know what they're getting when I come in and they know what I can do. The kids are comfortable with me."
During her visit on March 24, Fisher made rounds as the students read poetry and sounded out words. She spent time with the first-graders at their work tables, helping them sound out longer words and listening with focus as proud readers showed off their skills. After individual reading time, Fisher sat with the class as Wilkinson guided them through a Shel Silverstein poem as a group.
"They are now telling me when they lost a tooth. They're telling me when they got to take a book home and read it ... They're telling me when they've had a birthday or when they're going to have a birthday."
-- CCSD Board Member Karen Fisher, on forging connections with students at Highline Community Elementary School
That kind of investment in the classroom has already yielded some special results. Fisher knows these students by name, and they're eager to share milestones with her during classroom visits.
"They are now telling me when they lost a tooth. They're telling me when they got to take a book home and read it," Fisher said. "They're telling me when they've had a birthday or when they're going to have a birthday."
Fisher has also made connections with teachers at the building, exchanging book recommendations and gaining perspective about the state of the district near its northern borders.
Those kinds of experiences have a direct bearing on Fisher's role as a board member. As a representative of a district that encompasses 108 square miles, getting a sense of every part of Cherry Creek is an important part of the job, Fisher said.
"I don't get to see these families in the grocery store," Fisher said. "This helps me to get to know this community."
The process goes both ways. The students, staff and teachers at Highline have gotten to know Fisher through her classroom visits, but also through her sheer enthusiasm for the volunteer work. It's a passion that Fisher has worked hard to spread to her immediate family and beyond.
"I love it so much that I even brought my own kids to volunteer here when they had days off of school," Fisher said, adding that her children currently attending Cherry Creek High School have even enlisted the help of their classmates to contribute to the cause. "They loved it and brought two friends. I think we're going to bring five high schoolers on the day 11th-graders take the ACT."
Read more about Karen Fisher's role as a CCSD Board Member here.