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A family team in the classroom

I remember when builders had the idea of constructing what they called "mother-daughter" houses, and I thought it was a great arrangement for family members who wanted to live near one another.

This week, I learned about a different kind of mother-daughter arrangement that builds a house of learning, starting in kindergarten, where foundations are laid for the future.

Margie Yurtinus, who teaches at J.D. Floyd Elementary School in Spring Hill, has relied on her mother, Helen Yurtinus, as her volunteer classroom helper during the 14 years she has been teaching kindergarten in Hernando County.

Mrs. Yurtinus is 77 years old and has a lot of love to contribute to her daughter's class of 24 children.

"The children respond to her well," Miss Yurtinus says. "They find it easy to talk to her."

When visiting the class, the first thing I noticed was how well-behaved and cooperative the children were. "They have learned how to work together," Miss Yurtinus said. She is enthusiastic about how much the children learn at such a young age. "The children love books, and instead of bringing a toy to school for show and tell, they bring in a book."

Miss Yurtinus says the whole-language approach to learning is used in kindergarten in the same way it is used throughout elementary school classes. "Instead of teaching isolated skills, lessons are integrated into the entire curriculum, and children are learning about sequence, environment, math and social studies through shared reading," Miss Yurtinus said. "About one-third of these children have already learned to read before entering first grade."

The children were busy this week working on cutouts and drawings of Abraham Lincoln. "We've been learning about Lincoln all week," said Miss Yurtinus. Miss Yurtinus' mother was lending a hand here and there, as I talked with her daughter. It was easy to tell she loves children, as they called for her help in solving the little crises that arise in kindergarten.

They seemed to appreciate individual attention.

Miss Yurtinus feels the need for special attention is especially important for children when there is a divorce in the family. She thinks her mother has been particularly helpful in this area. "Their whole world is falling apart, and it takes time for them to adjust," Miss Yurtinus said.

I asked her if she thought a full day in school was tiring for such young children. "Yes, the day is too long. They are here from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.," she said.

Was a full day necessary because so many parents are working? "Well, that's only a part of the problem," Miss Yurtinus answered. "The main reason is not enough school buses to give them turn-around time. That's really the bottom line."

Mrs. Yurtinus works in her daughter's classroom each year when she comes to live in the family's winter home in Masaryktown. In the summer, Mrs. Yurtinus and her husband, John, live in Ohio. "This year we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary," she said.

"My mother helps out at home, too," Miss Yurtinus said. "She does a lot of the snipping and cutting out we need before class begins."

Perhaps the reason this mother and daughter work so well together lies in Mrs. Yurtinus' statement that their family always has done things together. She is proud of their having traveled as campers to every state in the country, including Alaska and Hawaii.

"The only state where we weren't camping was Hawaii," Mrs. Yurtinus said.

Miss Yurtinus says she brings many artifacts and souvenirs from her travels to the classroom, in a kind of geographical show and tell for the children. This year, her family plans a trip to the Grand Tetons. Mrs. Yurtinus says they will travel to Nevada to include her son, John, and his six children in the trip.