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Candace Braun

Frances Craig

Name: Frances Craig
School: Community Park Elementary School
Years Taught: 38 years
Subject/Grade Taught: third grade
Education: Princeton High School; bachelor's degree in education, West
Virginia State University; master's in elementary education, reading
specialist, and principalship, The College of New Jersey
Most Memorable Book: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
Person You Admire: "My mother, because she had such determination to teach all of her children to achieve their goals, and to get past any obstacles that were out there, and we had many. To me she's one of the most admirable people that has ever been in my life."

Long-time teacher of what was recently named a benchmark school by the state, Frances Craig has a lot of which to be proud. Not only has she been a key element in the Princeton Regional Schools for the last 35 years, she was also recently featured in the Princeton University Community House's "Unsung Heroes," a booklet honoring various African Americans in the Princeton community who stand out for their extraordinary achievements.

Growing up in Princeton as the youngest of nine children, "you just kind of do your own thing," said Ms. Craig, adding that coming from a large family that was not wealthy, each person had their own responsibilities in the household that they knew they were in charge of getting done.

And without the luxury of a television, she found other ways to entertain herself as a child, which included reading, a pastime that became a lifelong love. As she got older, the Community Park third grade teacher found a way to combine her love of reading with a love of travelling. Following up on a promise she made to herself as a child to visit all the places she had read about in books throughout her youth, Ms. Craig has visited most of the states, as well as Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Her first travels included trips to Italy and France, places she had read and learned about in both her art history and music education courses in college. However she said she was particularly fond of Egypt and South Africa, and would like to return one day with her family.

The mother of two grown children, Ms. Craig is also a grandmother of two young children, ages 6 years and 11 months.

Strong ties to her family influenced many of her life choices, and it was the teacher's older sister who first inspired her to go into education. Having a large age gap between her siblings, Ms. Craig was entering kindergarten when her sister was graduating from college with a degree in education. Whenever she would come home from school, the younger sister would ask all about college and was fascinated by everything her sister had to tell her about her courses.

"I always wanted to know everything about college and teaching. I knew in first grade that I wanted to become a teacher," she said.

Along with taking her career as a teacher very seriously, Ms. Craig is also devoted to various activities outside of school, including being active in her graduate sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and her church, Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. She also heads a mentoring program for new teachers at Community Park, and heads up the Quest Program, a Princeton University-coordinated science program for the district. In whatever spare time she has left, Ms. Craig tutors students at her home after school.

Subhead: Seeing Each Student

After working in Trenton public schools for three years following graduation, Ms. Craig found herself teaching in Princeton Regional Schools, where she attended school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Recalling the positive experiences of her own education here, the teacher said she tries to make the most of her students' education.

"I always knew we had plenty of opportunities here," she said, recalling that while a good education still holds true in Princeton, she feels there are social changes among children that weren't present when she was growing up.

Ms. Craig said she remembers every child being included in every event that would take place in the community, whether it was a children's birthday party or just a gathering of students. Today, however, "a lot of kids are left out not just because of race, but because of socioeconomic status," she said. "Back then it didn't matter. Kids just invited you to everything that was going on, which I thought was great."

But while children appear to feel excluded outside the classroom, Ms. Craig makes sure that never takes place while she's teaching them.

"I try to see every student for what he or she brings to the classroom, or doesn't bring to the classroom," she said, adding that she never looks at a child's records before she gets to know them on an individual basis. "So far I think I've been pretty unbiased," she says of her many years teaching here.

Building a child's self esteem, and making a child feel cared about and comfortable in the classroom, are all things Ms. Craig sets out to achieve with every student each year she teaches.

"All children know if you really care about them or not," she said.

Subhead: Changing Face of Students

Despite the many who say children continue to change from generation to generation, Ms. Craig said she feels children still appear to be the same as they were almost four decades ago.

"Some people say kids have changed, but maybe we have changed," she said, adding that an area she notices a difference in is the amount of home training children receive in regard to manners and behavior. To combat this, Ms. Craig gives her students a lesson in manners close to the start of school, which seems to alleviate problems later on.

However one problem that seems to not get caught early on is students' attitudes toward ethnic minorities and the lack of respect they appear to give each other and their elders, said the teacher. Addressing the recent problems with gang violence at the middle school and high school level, Ms. Craig said she believes the problems have come from outside influences, such as how students can express themselves through their dress and choice of music.

At Community Park, both students and teachers were recently required to take a class in conflict resolution, which has been followed up in health classes. The class was designed to help the school continue with its goal to keep a peaceful attitude, make it a peaceful place to be, and to help students learn to respect one another.

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