McGriggs finds his calling as kindergarten teacher

Published 8:00 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

In the field of education, Frank McGriggs Jr. is a special person.

He is a kindergarten teacher. And while he has experience teaching in the lower elementary grades, Tuesday will be his first day teaching in kindergarten.

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“It’s my belief that in kindergarten you lay the foundation for learning; they learn all those beginning sounds and those early educational needs to have,” he said as he sat in his Power Ranger-decorated classroom at Sherman Avenue Elementary. “You set a foundation for lifelong learning; you develop a love for learning. This is their first real school experience.”

The Utica native and father of four sons said he decided to teach kindergarten while working as a teaching assistant when he attended Delta State University.

“In college, I majored in secondary education concentrating in math,” he said. “I was a finance sergeant in the Army, and I decided to teach math.

“I started subbing part time when I was in college, and that’s when I saw the need in the lower elementary. It was, ‘These poor babies don’t have any positive male role models to look up to,’ and there were so many men in high school; they were coaches and they taught science and social studies. I changed my major to elementary education, and I am certified in K-6.”

When McGriggs worked as a teaching assistant at Clinton Park Elementary School and later in Vicksburg, he had a better appreciation of the need for positive male role models in the lower grades.

“A lot of them (students) don’t have father figures, especially in the culture that has been created around us; not a lot of males, and they long for that,” he said.

He started his career teaching second grade, but added, “I’ve worked in kindergarten a lot more than second grade.”

He said the difference between the two grades is second-grade students are “a little more independent. In kindergarten, a lot of kids come in and they are going to need more assistance with things than the second-graders, just with motor skills. And the skills you teach are different as well.

“I make learning fun,” McGriggs said. “At this level (kindergarten), it’s very important that they can see learning is fun, and they can see where it’s relevant and beneficial to them. If they don’t think it’s relevant to their everyday lives or if they’re not going to use it anywhere else, then you tend to lose them.”

He said he always tries to get the students to see that learning is relevant.

“The skills that we’re learning — it’s just important that you know these things; you’re going to use them,” he said. “We try to tie in cultural awareness, we want them to notice and realize the backgrounds they come from so they can know how important it is to know these skills, or to recognize colors or know the taste of a green grape from a red grape.

“A lot of these things, they will grow up knowing, even the counting skills. It’s a small thing and we try to build in those skills.”

Which brings in the Power Rangers.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Power Rangers, not because of the fighting, or because they use the weapons, but because they use their minds when they are fighting the monsters. They use their knowledge power. I have a poster that says ‘knowledge is power’ with the Power Rangers in my library. They’ve always used their minds to solve problems, so I believe knowledge is power.”

McGriggs said the difference between an assistant and being a teacher is being a teacher allows him to have the autonomy to make all the decisions concerning academics in the classroom.

And having been a teaching assistant, “I appreciate my assistant; I know the importance of having an assistant in the room and I know she has a lot (of experience) because she was a daycare director. She is very strong.”

McGriggs said he is presently working to get a master’s degree in special education from Delta State, which will allow him to teach special education in kindergarten, “Because with a lot of those children, the academics get neglected.

“I can see myself in kindergarten for the next 8-10 years,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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