Lessons in Learning - Ellefson

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By Rachel Mergen

Jean Ellefson’s mother was a teacher since the age of 18. Ellefson grew up in her foot steps, having watched her mother when she would bring her and her siblings to school on the weekends to help decorate the classroom and do small work activities.

Today, Ellefson finds herself as part of the current generation of educators, covering the role of Seneca Area School District’s librarian and Title I teacher since August of 1980.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of toys as kids,” Ellefson said about how she ended up with her love of reading. Her childhood was spent being read to by her parents and family and learning to read for herself. “I don’t remember a time not loving reading.”

From an early age, she understood the wonders of literature and how it enabled her “to travel wherever you want to within books for free.” She enjoys the peacefulness of simply being able to escape into the world of a novel. 

To reach her position, she attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for elementary education. She continued on to achieve a master’s degree in reading.

“I’m a home gal,” Ellefson stated. She grew up north of Seneca, so the school district’s original opening for a Title I instructor was the perfect choice for her. 

For the first year, Title I held her complete focus. Within the lessons, which still hold part of her days, she helps students find delight in reading, while expanding their minds and vocabulary. She tries to avoid simply giving worksheets for the students to complete, but instead attempts to have them focus on the actual books. The students complete timed reading and weekly assessments. In addition, Ellefson tries to speak with other teachers to see how well the students are doing in their other studies.

In her second year, Ellefson picked up control of the library and started teaching library classes, which enable students to experience the wonders of literature. 

“I hope the spark comes, and they see how great reading can be,” Ellefson said.

To become a librarian, she had to travel to La Crosse twice a week after school to take librarian certification classes. 

Each year, she enjoys having her students participate in Battle of the Books. The organization assigns each school level 20 books to read in order to participate in the program. Students sign up for the project and then are required to read all of the books for their age group. Then, Ellefson works to put the participating students into two separate teams. They compete to answer questions about the books, and whatever team achieves the most points wins. The school also has occasional friendly competitions against North Crawford. In February, a small number of students will participate in  a state competition, where they will compete with other schools online. 

Ellefson loves “to see the joy in the children.” The students get excited when they are able to come to the library. She is fond of being able to connect kids with a series they will immerse themselves within. 

She likes how, “no matter how old you get, you learn something every day.”

Over the years, she has enjoyed the tightness of the school district, the support of the community and the passion of her fellow teachers.

One of the most challenging parts of teaching currently, according to Ellefson, is the lack of respect and listening skills often seen in some students. She believes this may be connected to less books being read within the family. She noted how students gain longer attention spans if they are read to by their parents. 

In addition, she noted how technology has begun to affect students’ abilities to learn, along with general communication between people. She recognizes the many benefits that come with the evolving technological field, but she hopes actual books will be preserved and that students will be able to enjoy the benefits of reading for years to come, away from the light of a screen. She also hopes students will still be able to experience a childhood similar to hers, when pleasure was found in simply laying in the grass and watching the clouds, along with using imagination to create activities to do. 

Ellefson would like to help many children in the future connect with their new favorite books. When her time to retire arrives, she plans to travel, possibly south for a few months during the chilly winters. Her three sons live close now, but if they decide to move, she looks forward to visiting them at their new homes also. 

She believes it will feel odd being away from her daily work schedule one day, but she knows she will never grow bored.

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