Hillside Elementary is more than just an arts-based school. It’s where sixth grade teacher Tom Trygstad teaches his students life skills to help soften their transition into middle school.
Although he’s taught third, fourth and fifth graders during the years, the Forest City native seems to be drawn to that “not elementary student but not quite middle school” age group. These 12-year-old sixth graders provide him a hearty challenge. And he’s up for it.
“You’ve got to be on your toes, or they will bite you,” Trygstad laughs.
This age group is savvy, independent and funny. At the same time, they still have an interest in learning, can still be dependent and are always full of questions.
Trygstad has a sense about him that is full of fun balanced with structure and routine, all of which this age group needs.
His favorite subject to teach is the artists unit in the spring. His students read Robert Frosts’ “The Road not Taken” and reflect on their legacy. They create their own legacy poems and think about how their choices impact them now and in the future.
Another favorite is their field trip to Junior Achievement’s BizTown. Local businesses sponsor space to set up shop for sixth graders to learn real world skills by interviewing for jobs, balancing a checkbook and making deals. It’s a great hands-on experience to learn about the economy.
Meanwhile, back in the classroom, they have a sense of freedom that makes them comfortable. They enter their classroom chatting, reaching for their laptops and reading the white board for instructions. They finally make their way to quiet as their independent study begins.
When not boosting the confidence of sixth graders, Trygstad is coaching cross-country at Valley High School.
“To keep up with them, I run on my own as well,” he says. “I’ve completed 11 marathons.”
He feels being involved in an activity outside of the classroom is also a great way to build confidence.