By Susan Riddell
North Middletown Elementary School (Bourbon County) Principal Greg Ramey credits a new arts program and changes in science and social studies alignment with helping transform the school into a highly successful Blue Ribbon School.
And then there is the larger, overriding contributing factor.
“It’s our culture,” said Ramey, who has been principal at North Middletown Elementary for nine years. “I believe we are about as close to being self-actualized as a school team as one can get. We are truly in it for the right reasons.”
North Middletown was one of 10 state public schools that recently received the inaugural Distinguished Winners Circle Award at the Kentucky Safe Schools, Successful Students Conference. “To me this means culture,” Ramey said. “I love the Winners Circle Award because it recognizes great school culture, the key to any successful school.
“This is not just a great school,” Ramey said. “(This is) a great school getting better.”
ArtBurst fosters self-expression, collaboration
In 2010-11 school year, North Middletown Elementary started a performing arts program called ArtBurst. The program was developed from the vision of several teachers at the school, according to arts and humanities teacher Lydia Childress.
“The objective of ArtBurst is to infuse core academic areas into creative and performing arts instruction and infuse creative and performing arts instruction into core academic areas,” said Childress, who is in her fourth year teaching arts – and seventh overall – at North Middletown Elementary.
ArtBurst offerings allow children to create, perform and express themselves individually in a wide variety of artistic ways, Childress said. Active participation and excitement for the arts are key components.
Teachers collaborate with instructional teams on how to best integrate the arts into mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies content.
Weekly performances or art demonstrations, called ArtBursts, keep students engaged in performing arts.
“Mary Lovell, our retired librarian, helps coordinate people from the community to showcase their art forms,” Childress said. “We have had musicians, storytellers, visual artists, photographers and others share with our school.
“Students also are an important part of these presentations,” Childress added. “They perform songs, dances or monologues from their art classes. It is a great way for students to learn and appreciate others as well as gain experience in getting in front of an audience to perform.”
Fourth and 5th graders at the school also are allowed to choose an art major based on preference and strength. Majors can be dance, creative writing, drama, instrumental music (such as band or bell choir), vocal music, visual art or public speaking.
These students get an extra hour of content in their major each week in addition to their regular arts and humanities class, Childress said.
Fourth and 5th graders also put on a dinner theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” during the 2010-11 school year.
“Our dinner theater was an exceptional event,” Childress said. “Our 4th- and 5th-grade students did an outstanding job learning lines, songs and choreography. Our dinner theater performance was extra special since it was a community effort.”
North Middletown Elementary students performed “Alice in Wonderland” for neighboring school students and for the public. Students from the Bourbon County High School culinary class cooked and served the meal. Middle school students provided musical entertainment, too.
“Our students gained a well-rounded experience,” Childress said. “Not only did they perform, they also helped paint scenery and made props.”
Science, social studies alignment
Ramey and his staff noticed a growing trend a few years ago involving students who enrolled at the school after the start of 3rd grade.
“We know that 100 percent of students who attended North Middletown Elementary for all-day kindergarten scored proficient or higher in reading/mathematics and nearly 100 percent for science, social studies and on-demand writing on the Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT),” Ramey said. “However, our data showed students who enrolled after 3rd grade were not faring as well in these tested areas.”
Ramey said the school faced the dilemma of helping these newly enrolled students catch up on the curriculum map in content areas beyond mathematics and reading. The solution was to realign the staff structure and scheduling to add a specific vertical focus on social studies and science.
“This has helped our staff members because they are getting a chance to teach all students,” Ramey said. “They have found this to be fun because they get to know all the students, will build relationships over a period of years and also team-teach on several occasions with colleagues they never had the opportunity to work directly with in the past. It also was a good time to shift the staff because of the new content for 2011, and we had to modify all of our lessons and units anyway.”
Roxanne Mitchell has been teaching at North Middletown Elementary for 20 years. The 5th-grade social studies teacher said she credits teachers in earlier grades for “providing the foundation my students need in basic geography skills; Native American culture; cultural institutions that characterize Americans including social groupings, customs and celebrations; black history; and familiarity with locating each of the United States on a map.”
Mitchell said she builds on student knowledge of basic map skills to teach lessons on geography, explorers and westward expansion.
“It has been customary for 3rd-grade students to tour stops along the Underground Railroad in northern Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “This whets students’ appetites for a brief look in 5th grade at the events leading up to the Civil War. Basic economic principles are taught throughout primary and in practical living studies in 4th grade, which allows me to focus on actual entrepreneurs in Kentucky and generate enthusiasm in my students for potential career choices.”
Daily classroom instruction is supplemented with a weekly extra hour of instruction for students who need it.
“By the time students reach the tested grade level, they will have several years of consistent and direct content instruction,” Ramey said. “Since most of this is provided in center-oriented lessons, we are already teaching at Tier II Response to Intervention levels for each student. This also helps 6th grade regarding science content testing in the middle school.”
Greg Ramey, firstname.lastname@example.org, (859) 362-4523