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Boardrooms to Classrooms: Businesswoman Inspired By Students

Becki Sims It was nearly 10 years ago, when Becki Sims started volunteering in a kindergarten classroom. The experience would change her life, and many others.

Sims completed her undergraduate degree in business administration. While working as an insurance claims adjuster, she decided to devote more time to parenting.

“I started helping out in my son’s classroom,” she said. “Seeing the minds so ready to learn, I found it very natural to just step in and help.” Inspired, she left the business world to become a teacher.

After working as a paraprofessional in Calhan School District, she took over the kindergarten classroom. In 2009, she started teaching third and fourth grades at Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning in District 49.

Now a fourth-grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School, she was recently awarded a full-tuition teacher appreciation scholarship from University of Phoenix. Scholarships were awarded to 20 teachers with a strong desire to advance their career and impact their community.

“In business I was always a trainer,” she said. “I thought about what I need to do, to do that now.” With a Master of Arts in education, adult education and training, she hopes to lead the development of improved educational opportunities.

Gharrett Lawrence Sims says children must feel safe enough to take risks as active learners, while educators coach them through ideas and concepts. She’s known to ask students questions — a lot of questions.

“What does it mean to do research?” said Sims, during a fourth grade writing class April 14 at Ridgeview Elementary School in District 49. She was introducing a transition in the curriculum: identifying topics and formulating research questions.

“It means we’re going to find out about something,” said a student. Another explained domain names, or “what comes after the dot,” such as .com, .gov or .edu.

“Great job,” said Sims. “I’m hearing that some of you already have some great information for tomorrow’s class.”

“What is inquiry?”

The classroom was quiet, as the children reviewed handouts, holding onto pencils and water bottles. Hands flung in the air.

“It’s questioning,” said a student. “You want to use some questions, and ask your own questions.”

“What is energy? Remember, it’s OK to raise your hand and take some risks with your answers.”

While exploring an energy crisis scenario, the students gathered into four-person groups. Each focused on one of six energy sources: wind, solar, nuclear, biomass and fossil fuels.

“You’re all going to present information about your source of energy,” said Sims, explaining that an “energy crisis task force” needed their recommendations.

“Some of you have some background information—that’s great—others are forming some important questions,” she said, instructing everyone to draw a table headed with “K,” “W” and “L.”

“What is a KWL work sheet?” she said.

“It’s so we can see what each person knows, and what we want to learn, and then what everyone learned, together,” said a student, quietly but confidently.

“That’s exactly it.”

Each group had a scribe, a timekeeper and two researchers. The students were instructed to learn how to explain their energy source, including how to use it, and then list some great and not-so-great characteristics about it.

Sims says cooperative learning is important. In her classroom, students are often told to “turn to talk” and “pair and share.” She says it helps children bounce around ideas in alternative concepts.

“We’re always learning new stuff,” said fourth-grader Gharrett Lawrence, 10, researching solar energy using a tablet computer. “She walks us through everything. If we aren’t understanding something, she helps us individually.”

Nick Balderrama “She helps us all the time with clues to answers—I can also ask a friend to help lead me to an answer,” said fourth-grader Nick Balderrama, 9, researching fossil fuels.

“Our world is changing—our expectations are changing,” says Sims. “We expect our kids to be critical thinkers, and I want to bring something substantial to our classrooms.”

“The world of education is ever-changing,” she says. “We have seen how vital it is for teachers to be given proper tools in conjunction with standards.”

“It’s about the betterment of our community,” says Sims, reflecting on her goals after graduate school.

“I want to help teachers develop new strategies. I believe, with the right training and tools, I can be that master trainer, to help teachers see true purpose and vision for their classroom.”

“If we can find better ways to teach, then our students are better prepared to understand. They can take their knowledge deeper. Everyone benefits from that.”
Dustin Senger