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He was the tallest one standing in line as first-graders lined up to leave the art room. He was probably the only one who got into trouble for bringing a bottle of Gatorade instead of water.

When Rolling Hills Elementary School first-grader Bryce Larson learned that Principal Mike Marincic was going to shadow him for the Shadow a Student Challenge on Feb. 10, Bryce's face lit up, Marincic said.

"Bryce is a shy and quiet kid," said first-grade teacher Lisa Taylor. "I did notice some extra smiles from him. He was excited to be the one picked for this."

The purpose of the Shadow a Student Challenge is to encourage school leaders to walk in their student's shoes to "create a community of leaders driven to make change in their schools," and provide insight and increase empathy for students, according to the project website at shadowastudent.org.

Marincic said "it was neat to get the perspective" of a student, sitting on the floor again, watching the teacher interact. He was surprised at the pace of the day.

"Although I've only been out of the classroom for three years, I forget how fast a school day goes for both the teacher and their students," Marincic said.

Taylor said a nice aspect of the Shadow a Student Challenge was that it "gives administration a chance to see the classroom setting again."

"Sometimes it's easy to forget how much goes into a day and to see the struggles," Taylor added.

Marincic's day with Bryce was filled with writing about LEGOs, painting part of a butterfly in art class, listening to a "sixth-grade visitor" who stopped in and read a story to the class, and playing duck, duck, goose on the playground during recess.

"It was nice to watch each child and how they interacted during the different parts of the day," Marincic said.

He watched "natural leaders dipping their toes in the water," as well as students who "tend to stay on the fringe observing their peers" figuring out how to fit into the mix.

"Students are so eager to offer an answer and when they are called on, you can almost feel their excitement from across the room," observed Marincic. "This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I want to support and replicate throughout the building."

The week following the shadowing, Marincic will discuss his day with teachers, providing them with the insights he gained from the experience.

"I want to focus on every interaction we have with our students," said Marincic. "It is very easy for us to stay in our teacher bubble and focus so much on teaching content that we forget that everything we say and do is soaked up by our students."

In the future, Marincic hopes to work with teachers to find ways for them to participate in the same kind of challenge.

"I think it is worth having every staff member go through this experience," said Marincic. "The learning that comes from it is priceless."

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