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Fairmont Students Pursue Their Own Interests in Class Project

For the past six months at Fairmont Historic Anaheim, Mrs. Wilhite’s junior high international students and students in Mrs. Debreczeni’s 8th grade English class have been working on a unique assignment that allowed the students to explore their own personal interests. Not only did they learn more about their topics, but they also learned about themselves.

The project was called “20 Time” because students were able to spend 20 percent of their time each week (equivalent to a class period) researching, planning, documenting, and questioning subjects that are unique to their interests — things they might not get the time or opportunities to do in other classes or even at home.

Both teachers informed students of the assignment last December. Though some students were apprehensive at first, the project provided them with the freedom, encouragement, and guidance they needed. They took part in a pitch presentation much like the television show “Shark Tank” and had monthly deliverable checks to ensure they were all making adequate progress.

Mrs. Wilhite said that she was excited to share this project with her students to help them expand upon their critical-thinking skills and not always see things as black and white. Additionally, she hoped for them to be able to do something that was completely for themselves and not for their families or anyone else.

“This project is all about their own unique interests,” she said. “It really focuses on intrinsic motivation and doing something for themselves and the success in knowing that they can do something for themselves. And I wanted them to see that — that there is more to life than just fitting in the box.”

One of her students, 8th grader Ellen V., decided to explore the world of baking — a task she doesn’t get to do back home with her family. She was amazed with how much she was capable of, and even though she hit a few minor roadblocks while she was learning how to bake cakes, she finally created a delicious dessert that filled her heart with tremendous joy.

“I wanted to try to prove that I could do this,” Ellen said. “Then I made the cake, and I felt really happy and also proud of myself. I thought ‘I can’t believe that I can do this!’ But I learned from my mistakes and fixed them, and I had success.”

Students in Mrs. Debreczeni’s class also saw the benefits of this unique assignment, and she was able to see them persevere through the challenges they faced and create personal connections with their own passions. She was also able to help them discover how imaginative they actually are.

“[This project] helped us to think outside the box and really experience what the real world is like,” Ethan I. said. “I learned a lot about time management and being efficient, and I also figured out that I can be creative when I have unlimited boundaries and unlimited space.”

While students learned and grew in a variety of topics and interests, one area Mrs. Wilhite wanted to see them develop the most was their abilities to be resilient and keep their chins up when things didn’t always go as they hoped.

“I painted the picture for them that, no matter what the goal was, if they didn’t set out to get where it was, or if they failed in any way, to not accept it as a complete failure,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to accept the failures as successes because they paved new paths for them. They allowed them to see that it was OK to make mistakes and that you have to grow and work with the mistakes that you’ve made.”

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Shelby Wagner - 1st Grade Teacher Fairmont Historic AnaheimTop Teacher & Skating Champion
Shelby “My favorite part of being a teacher is the children I get to teach.”
  • Is one of the head teachers for the Fountain Valley Artistic Skating Club, teaching regional and national champions. She also teaches beginner classes every Saturday morning.
  • Every year, her students are amazed to find that their teacher has a life outside of the classroom.
“I love feeling like I’m part of a family [at Fairmont].”
Keira Kamath - 5th Grade Fairmont Anaheim HillsScience & Tennis Superstar
keira “I like how there are so many different specialty classes at Fairmont Anaheim Hills, like art, music, PE, science lab, computer lab, and Spanish.”
  • She would like to be a professional tennis player when she grows up, or maybe a doctor.
  • Loves dance and plays the piano
  • Her favorite class is science “because you get to figure out stuff, and I like to do experiments.”
Nicholas Aghaian - 7th Grade Fairmont Historic AnaheimKicking His Way to Med School
nicolas“The teachers and the amount of support they provide to not only me, but to the whole entire community here at Fairmont is probably what I like most about attending Fairmont Historic Anaheim.”
  • He would like to be a professional soccer player, or a doctor specializing in the field of sports medicine.
  • Enjoys basketball, piano, and soccer pitch.
  • His favorite subject is math “because I like to be challenged, and math is full of challenges.”
Gianluca De Gregoris – 2nd Grade Fairmont North TustinDancing Toward Greatness
dancing"What I like most about Fairmont is that I get to learn and meet new friends.”
  • He wants to be a professional dancer when he grows up.
  • Is trained in ballet and ballroom dancing.
  • Loves writing and creating new stories.
Nicole Heyman - Kindergarten Teacher Fairmont Anaheim HillsLaying a Foundation for Lifelong Learning
Nicole "The best part about teaching at Fairmont is being able to work with a diverse group of students who are all incredibly talented. It is amazing to be able to challenge students at such a young age and watch these children grow throughout the year.”
  • Loves camping, reading, and traveling
  • Her students love learning random things about her – like the fact that when she was in kindergarten she wanted to be Spiderman when she grew up.
  • Her proudest moments are the times when a student on campus is excited to see her, oftentimes telling her that she’s “the best teacher in the world.” “I live for those moments.”
“I choose to teach at Fairmont because of the sense of community, as well as the drive for our students to succeed.”
DJ Clovis - Music Teacher Fairmont North TustinRunning to the Rhythm
DJ Clovis “I get to work with amazing staff, faculty, parents, and most importantly, students!”
  • Teaches music to all grades — from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade
  • Coaches (or has coached) football, basketball, and Run Club
  • Plays bass trombone
  • NJHS Conflict Resolution Coach
  • He has run 15 marathons and 4 ultra marathons.
“The best part of teaching at Fairmont is the autonomy — being able to create a program that fits all of my students. At Fairmont North Tustin, I get to help with a lot of different activities.”