Teacher Amy Pavona plays Connect Four with 4th-grade student D'Onta Lane during an indoor recess at Dixie Elementary Magnet School (Fayette County) Jan. 6, 2011. Looking on, Brennan Aulds, left, Kendrick Curry, center, and Drew Hensley realize D'Onta is going to win the game. Photo by Amy Wallot

Teacher Amy Pavona plays Connect Four with 4th-grade student D’Onta Lane during an indoor recess at Dixie Elementary Magnet School (Fayette County) Jan. 6, 2011. Looking on, Brennan Aulds, left, Kendrick Curry, center, and Drew Hensley realize D’Onta is going to win the game. Photo by Amy Wallot

By Susan Riddell

Dixie Elementary Magnet School (Fayette County) prides itself on treating students like family but also being very businesslike in its teaching approach.

“We provide a prescriptive education for students and give every child every opportunity every day to be successful,” said first-year Principal Tara Isaacs. “We work toward providing the best customer service we can in order to provide our most precious resources with the best education possible.

“We love ways to celebrate students,” Isaacs added. ‘From our Very Important Parent’ (VIP) table in the cafeteria to our ‘Hard Work Café’ bistro area, we look for ways to make even our lunch exciting. We try to provide services to our ‘customers’ by seeing things from their perspectives.”

That approach and a heavy arts-infused curriculum are just two of the reasons Dixie Elementary Magnet earned its Blue Ribbon School honor in 2010.

“I love the teamwork,” Stephanie Haggard, a 1st-grade teacher, said of her school. Haggard, who has spent her entire 11-year teaching career at Dixie Elementary Magnet, works with grade-level teachers in an open-classroom setting where four classes use completely open space together with no dividers. While most schools do not predominantly have open classrooms, Haggard said this approach helps Dixie Elementary Magnet teachers be more nurturing to all students.

“I love the open complex,” Haggard said, “because we really work as a team to help one another and to meet the needs of every student no matter where they are or what they need. We see all the children in the complex as ours, and it makes for a caring and sharing environment.”

Dixie Elementary Magnet staff members, like those at fellow Blue Ribbon School honoree Cline Elementary School (Campbell County), also believe in a fun atmosphere to keep students upbeat for learning. Students and staff frequently hear music in the halls, and students may even get a chance to spin for a prize on a wheel created to reinforce student goals.

Each student is given an individual goal, and once met, students have the chance earn spins for prizes such as popsicles, Hard Work Café passes and gift cards.

Students can even be rewarded for simply knowing what their goals are.

“A student can be stopped by an adult at any time and asked about their goal,” Haggard said.

If answered correctly, students are awarded a popsicle stick to take to their classroom, which they can accumulate and redeem for more prizes

“This really motivated the students to remember their goals and work hard to reach them,” Haggard said. “Once this process is done and the goal is met, a student will receive a new goal.”

Arts programs

“Dixie (Elementary Magnet) prides itself on an arts-rich environment where students can explore some of the school content in community projects,” Isaacs said. “We also have a six-week Arts Enrichment Program (AEP) where we invite outside artists to work with our students from literacy to murals.”

Rachel Losch has been teaching visual arts for 17 years, the last three at Dixie Elementary Magnet. She said the mission of the AEP is to provide arts classes after school hours. Community and school volunteers are critical to the program’s success.

“Our vision is to create a community-based after school arts program that will continue to thrive,” Losch said. “Many of the community arts organizations also participate in our Arts Day. This is a day set aside in which Dixie (Elementary Magnet) is filled with artists demonstrating their craft. Each class rotates throughout the school to participate in the different arts classes. The needs of all types of learners are met through the differentiated instruction that occurs through this program.”

“I have witnessed student progress in the arts through AEP,” Losch added.  “(AEP) offerings have included baton twirling, sculpture, drama, digital photography, hip-hop dance, world cultures, West African dance, recycled art, book making, knitting and steel drums.”

One of the biggest arts endeavors Dixie Elementary Magnet has taken on is the Monet Pavilion, a trio of small structures and gardens designed to create a learning center in which teachers can educate students and the community on how to respect the earth’s resources, according to Losch.

Students will use the pavilion to study energy conservation, green infrastructures, rain gardens, sustainability, water quality, recycling and litter. Building of the pavilion started last year with student designs. The school collaborated with University of Kentucky professors and students on specifics of the structure, and the intent is to incorporate trademarks of impressionist painter Claude Monet’s style such as bridges, water features and flower beds.

“Anyone who interacts with the structure will be able to read about how to live in harmony with Mother Nature’s laws, touch the reclaimed materials in the Monet Pavilion and learn from the informational EcoPeace mural,” Losch said. “Our students are excited to be a part of this collaborative project.”

Not all of the school’s extracurricular activities focus on the arts. While there is a glee club, the school also offers K-Kids, Girls on the Run, a homework club, Beta Club, the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP), fitness club and more.

K-Kids is unique because it’s sponsored by a local Kiwanis club and composed of leading business and professional people of the community.

Girls on the Run Lexington is a non-profit prevention program for girls in grades 3-8 that combines training for a 5K run with healthy living education. Programs instill self-esteem through health education, life skills development, mentoring relationships and physical training.

“At Dixie (Elementary Magnet) it’s expected that you are going to excel, whether you’re staff or students, period,” Isaacs said. “We never let our students forget that they are a part of a tradition of excellence, and each and every one has a part to fulfill.”

Tara Isaacs, tara.isaacs@fayette.kyschools.us, (859) 381-3116