Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Students from Greta Clouse’s classroom at Herbert Mills Elementary School in Reynoldsburg "hide" from Vince during an activity simulating a journey of runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. It is one of the unique educational opportunities at the school that was named an Ohio "A School of Promise" this fall.
Students at Herbert Mills Elementary School don’t just learn about the Underground Railroad. They live it.
They don’t just read poetry. They write and perform it.
These and other unique approaches to learning, accompanied with rising test scores, earned the school the Ohio "School of Promise" award this fall.
Staff members were recognized by the Reynoldsburg school board Nov. 20 for the honor bestowed on 194 schools statewide, including 10 in Franklin County.
"Schools of Promise" must have at least 40 percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, and have at least 75 percent of its students pass reading and math proficiency tests. They must also meet adequate yearly progress standards for this group.
There are 1,607 schools in Ohio with at least 40 percent of students considered economically disadvantaged.
"It’s a very strict criteria," commented Superintendent Richard Ross.
Herbert Mills has 48 percent of its students receiving assistance. In 2006-07 testing, its third-graders had a 77.1 percent passing rate for reading and 88.1 percent for math.
Eighty-five percent of fourth-graders passed the reading and math tests, and 91 percent passed the writing test, pointed out Principal Craig Seckel.
For its adequate yearly progress goals, 98.9 percent of its economically disadvantaged students passed the reading test and 100 percent passed the math exam. The state standard is 95 percent passage.
Teachers illustrated some of the unique learning experiences offered to the students at Herbert Mills.
Last year, second-grade teacher Teresa Cotner taught a unit on poetry that culminated in Snoopy’s Dog House Cafe poetry night, a theme selected by the students.
The project, which is being repeated this year, is one that is designed to engage the students in authentic, multi-disciplinary learning, Cotner explained.
"It’s a daily challenge to spark a love of learning," she said.
Students wrote letters to local businesses soliciting donations for the evening event.
In a room decorated with student art projects, and with a Miles Davis jazz CD playing, students and parents wrote and read poetry while sipping hot chocolate from mugs glazed by the school’s art teacher. They also sang a "welcome song" composed by music teacher Nicole Nightingale.
In keeping with the theme, the participants tried instruments at Schroeder’s Sound Station, checked out books from Linus’s Library, composed verse at Lucy’s Language Lab, and read their own "Spring is When…" poems at Charlie Brown’s Kite-Eating Poet-tree.
Cotner said she observed students’ reading and writing skills, as well as their confidence and self-esteem, improve due to the project.
Students also took part in an activity to simulate the journey of runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. They "hid" in one of four darkened rooms, learning history and music while a slave catcher (Principal Seckel with Vince, a beagle owned by teacher Teresa Hartley) came searching for the freedom seekers.
Strengthening the character of students has also been a focus at Herbert Mills, reported third-grade teacher Greta Clouse, chair of the character education committee.
At monthly Tiger town meetings, educators emphasize pride, respect, responsibility, determination, caring and honesty, with teachers acting out skits that show the wrong and right ways to exhibit these traits.
At the assemblies, students wear t-shirts emblazoned with the school’s mission statement. T-shirts, donated and printed by local merchants, are presented to new students to make them feel welcome, Clouse said.
To show their caring, students have adopted 400 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will be writing letters and sending snack packages to them.
Students of the month are recognized at PTO meetings, which encourages more parents to attend, Clouse said.