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Julien Elementary to celebrate 50 years of its Pod program
Julien Pod 1
Julien Elementary School third graders in the Pod program work with their kinder buddies making leprechaun traps (Photo contributed).

The Pod program at Julien Elementary School is celebrating its 50th anniversary and all former Pod teachers, students, and their families are encouraged to attend the festivities Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the school, 1924 E. Canal Drive, Turlock.

For the uninitiated, the Pod learning system is modeled after an old fashioned, one-room schoolhouse, where all kids, regardless of grade, were educated together.

The program was started in 1973 by teachers who found research that multi-graded classes show a lot of promise, according to former principal Linda Murphy-Lopes.

The Julien Pod is set up in a large room divided into four classrooms for kindergartners, first-graders, second-graders and third-graders, with a mutual Pod Center in the middle. The no-walls set-up in between the classrooms develops a strong learning environment where the third-graders, the oldest students in the program, become “big buddies” to the kindergarteners.

Julien Pod 2
The Pod program at Julien Elementary School — where students of all grades are taught in the same classroom — is celebrating its 50th anniversary (Photo contributed).

“It’s a wonderful program,” said retired teacher Peggy Morris. “I retired 24 years ago, but I still go back twice a week to help with reading.”

Morris taught in a self-contained setting for three years and was a student teacher when the Pod program came to Julien for the 1973-74 school year. She said the eventual move to Julien made her a better teacher.

“It was a lot of extra work, yes, but we didn’t mind it because we loved it so much,” said Morris, whose father, Dr. George Roseman, taught education Chico State University. “I think I was born to be a teacher, actually. I love it, because I love seeing children learn. And they can’t ever get bored, because they’re constantly challenged.”

At the end of each school week, students participate in an assembly for first-, second-, and third-graders (kindergarteners have gone home by that time) where the family-like atmosphere is reinforced. Students meet in the Pod Center where they sing songs, play games and showcase their work to their pod-mates.

“You have an extended family and you get to stay with the same friends for four years,” said Rachel Comer, who has two boys in the program. “And that new-teacher awkwardness, not knowing anything about your new teacher, is gone.”

And those friendships don’t stop when the students leave elementary school.

“When these students get to high school, their former big buddy is now a senior,” said Comer. “They can find their little buddy and check on them. These relationships do carry over.”

Abigail Kline, whose mother, Jill, was the kindergarten teacher until retiring last year, thinks the Pod program served her well.

“I feel like it taught me skills that I still apply to my life as a 23-year-old,” said Kline, whose father — David Kline — is the principal at neighboring Turlock High. “It was a very supportive environment for me.”

Kline went into a traditional classroom after graduating from the program, and was hard-pressed to say which was a better fit for her.

“I think that’s a hard comparison,” said Kline, who will graduate this year from Chico State with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. “It served its purpose for kindergarten through third grade, and then it lent itself nicely to fourth grade and beyond.”

Kline pointed out that many of the program's detractors are under the impression that Pod students are coddled.

“I very much disagree,” said Kline. “The program teaches working with others and supporting one another. One thing the program does is it meets every student where they’re at. It doesn’t just serve the highest achieving students. It’s well-equipped to meet every student.”