By Steve Sears
Annika Levitt, a first-grade teacher at Kiel School in Kinnelon, educated her class in 2011-12 about Leap Year in a very interesting way, and it’s encouraged learning in many ways even nine years later.
Every four school years that coincide with Leap Year, as her then-first graders increase in age and size, Levitt, who has been teaching in Kinnelon since 2008, holds a special pizza and “Leapfrog” cupcake luncheon get together for happiness and reminiscing.
“So how does one teach this silly concept of Leap Year?” she asks herself when explaining. ‘I used it as a teachable moment to integrate the calendar, math, science (frogs are fun) and even some history (Fun fact: Julius Caesar invented Leap Year to save the calendar with seasons). Along the lines of teaching about Daylight Savings time, these concepts are difficult to grasp, so I proposed an idea to this class.” Levitt told the young students that, when they were in 5th grade, they’d have a pizza lunch to celebrate the Leap year, and again in 9th grade. “At the time (I) was pretty much a newlywed, so the fact that my two children just attended the 9th grade reunion is mind blowing, in addition to the fact that my daughter is now in the same grade these students were in my (2011-12) class. In fact, at the end of that year, I surprised them with the announcement that I was pregnant.”
The planning for the initial and subsequent pizza parties was not difficult. She had help. “The principal at the elementary school helped me organize, and the students were mostly in all one location. I also had the help of my former wonderful class moms who still were willing to pitch in a hand (some even came to the 9th grade party). It was great seeing these 5th graders rule the school and how much they had grown. The fact that these 9th graders humored me by eating frog cupcakes and frog gummies over frog balloons speaks volumes,” says Levitt regarding this year’s celebration. “We also had slideshows and played old videos thanks to the help of a former parent that helped me pull it together in the 11th hour.”
Levitt feels it’s very important that the promised pizza party every four years occurs, for she’s not one to break her word. There’s a lesson therein. “Promises are important at any age, but my saying ‘once a teacher always a teacher’ never was so true as to these reunions. It made me smile to bump into some of the students through the years, and they would still ask, ‘Are we going to have the Leap Year party?’ Recently, I was at Target and one of the students reminded me, ‘Don’t forget it’s 9th grade.’ The lesson behind this is that each and every year teachers and students form a bond that is like no other. Although we are the ones that teach, I have learned so much from each and every one of my students.”
She then adds, “It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: Teachers who put relationships first don’t just have students for one year; they have students who view them as “their” teacher for life.”
Levitt’s class this year also won an IdeaPaint Makeover Contest. “Ah! This year was a particularly special one as we entered a country wide contest by the company, IdeaPaint, for a classroom makeover. We wrote a song that one of the 9th graders still memorized by heart, and the town came together, casting votes, and we won! We transformed the classroom into a fun environment where students could write all over the walls and desk and parts of the floor.”
“One would say ‘the writing was on the wall’ (that) this would be an amazing year!”
Fast forwarding to 2024 and the next party is mind blowing for Levitt. “In four years, these freshmen (in high school) will be freshmen in college (if I did my math correctly)! We joked about having to FaceTime for the reunion. Or possibly getting together over a break. The promise was 5th and 9th grade and it made me smile we completed that, but between technology and social media, you never know!”