When Katherine McCleneghen walks into a classroom, students are instantly curious.
The newest teacher with Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES Enrichment Resource Center carries with her a large bag of items – balls, blocks, chimes, mirrors and even colored water.
These items serve to pique the interest of the children she serves – elementary and middle school students - who are gaining as much knowledge as they are having fun.
“As a teacher of enrichment and gifted classes, I feel it is my responsibility to present lessons that are outside of typical and expected experiences,” said Mrs. McCleneghen. “I focus on hands-on materials that kids can hold, manipulate and interact with; and I expect that they are engaged with other students, as well as adults with good communication, face-to-face conversation, and appropriate physical contact.”
Certainly, she achieved that goal on her very first day in Fort Ann Elementary School where she is enrichment teacher for grades K through 5. Teacher Susan Leonbruno’s Kindergarteners were spellbound by Mrs. McCleneghen’s pattern blocks. Seated on the rug, they played with the colorful shapes, showing her and their classmates what they could make with them. The childrens’ imaginations were kindled.
Pushing into classrooms in Fort Ann is only a fraction of what Mrs. McCleneghen does. She also teaches a Young Scholars program in Fort Ann, working with 4th, 5th and 6thgraders from Fort Ann, Abraham Wing, Bolton and Lake George. In addition, she is a Young Scholars teacher for 4th and 5th grade in Granville and Ballston Spa. In the latter district, she has the additional task of working with the middle school’s gifted students. With each group, her plans are two-fold: Meet the needs of the district and make the most impact on the students. Her focus with all students this year is renewable energy.
“I have a theme so that everything I teach can fit under one umbrella,” she said. “I try to help the students connect the theme to things that they are interested in: science, art, music, math, team-building, language, social skills, history. Everything can be connected.”
This is a dream job for Mrs. McCleneghen who said she always wanted to teach enrichment. Her interest in enrichment has sprung from her own experience as a child in school. While she enjoyed her time in the gifted program, she always imagined running her own program, and running it better.
When she went off to college, Keene State College in New Hampshire, she majored in elementary and special education. Certified in both, she started her career in Northville Central School where she taught Kindergarten and 4th grade. After eight years there, she took time off to raise her three children. After four years, she returned to teaching at Galway Central School where she was the Director of the Gifted and Talented Program.
When her position was eliminated due to budget restraints, Mrs. McCleneghen continued to pursue her passion for enrichment by opening the five-acre Orchard View Education Center in Charlton. There, she offered courses, workshops, tutoring and camps that served preschoolers, homeschoolers and children seeking enrichment afterschool.
“Because I have a special education degree, I can work with children of all ages and all abilities,” said Mrs. McCleneghen. “I am happy to differentiate lessons to best serve the abilities of all of my students.”
Enrichment and gifted education is not fully understood. Thus, districts often struggle to provide programs for students.
“Fine is not good enough,” she said. “Yes, these kids will be ok. But I think it is better to show these kids how to share their great ideas, to show them that they do have something to contribute. I think that sometimes these students feel lost or they zone out in a regular classroom. I want to help them share their ideas, make good connections and think outside of the regular classroom. “