First-grade student Jayce Riley speaks during the Sedalia Elementary School's (Graves County) Blue Ribbon School celebration Jan. 6, 2011. Photo by Amy Wallot

First-grade student Jayce Riley speaks during the Sedalia Elementary School’s (Graves County) Blue Ribbon School celebration Jan. 6, 2011. Photo by Amy Wallot

By Susan Riddell

Some are singers. Some are sprinters. Some are science experts. All of them are students at Sedalia Elementary School (Graves County), which was named a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School award winner.

Sedalia Elementary was one of five Kentucky public schools to earn that distinction for 2010. The other schools and Sedalia Elementary all share several commonalities that teachers and administrators agreed are keys to the schools’ success.

These schools cited community, parental support and teacher collaboration as critical. Teachers accepted nothing short of students’ best efforts, and they reciprocated in kind. Extracurricular and arts activities were varied and vast.

“We just want to keep doing what we are doing, and that’s meeting the needs of every child. If we can do that, they will learn and trust us to take them anywhere,” said Sedalia Elementary Principal Robert Braden, who is in his fifth year at the school. “We are a close community. Our faculty and staff all work together to see that every child is successful.

“We have six National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs),” Braden added. “All of our teachers work together and are a team. They each have an open-door policy and are willing to share any knowledge they have. “

Two of those NBCTs are Leslie Williams and Keri Dowdy. Williams has taught at Sedalia Elementary for 10 years. Dowdy has been there 14 years and also was the Presidential Award Winner for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for Kentucky in 2008.

“All teachers, from preschool through 6th grade, and all staff (cafeteria, bus drivers and aides) are on the same page,” Dowdy said. “We are all here to do what is best for kids, and we make an effort for it to be an enjoyable experience.“

“We are very team-oriented,” Williams added. “We do not just work with our grade level; we have constant communication with all grade levels. Everyone feels free to share any ideas that they come across. If kindergarten teachers see an idea the 5th grade can use, they share it immediately. Another strategy we use from kindergarten through 6th grade is our open-response process. We use a four-square method with a variety of graphic organizers. This begins in kindergarten and then we add to it each year. This ensures the students are adequately prepared to write an open response question.”

Dowdy also emphasized the importance of hands-on learning at Sedalia Elementary. As a science teacher, Dowdy said the hands-on approach is not just in her department, but rather schoolwide.

“We believe if the kids have the opportunity to do the activity, they are more likely to retain the information than if they just read about it,” she said. “The discovery aspect of science lends itself to this type of activity. Kids are rarely seen reading out of a book or just sitting in science class. They are participating in investigations, moving, singing, dancing and working with their peers to make science fun.”

Last year, the 4th grade competed in the Disney Planet Challenge, a project-based learning environmental competition that teaches kids about science and conservation while empowering them to make a positive impact on their communities and planet.

“We had an environmental team that worked to grow ingredients for a pizza garden,” Dowdy said. “The purpose of this was to reduce trash in the cafeteria. The Sedalia Elementary Environmental Team won first place in the state of Kentucky. This year, we are continuing the project to reduce waste in the cafeteria by doing a schoolwide composting project.”

The project was submitted to the Disney Planet Challenge in February.

Both Dowdy and Williams credited the school’s arts program and itinerate teachers with giving students unique learning experiences.

“We are fortunate enough to have a full-time music teacher, an art teacher four days a week and a physical education teacher two-and-a-half days,” Williams said. “This allows the students many opportunities to participate in arts education. All itinerate teachers are willing to create lessons that accommodate the core content that is being taught in each class.

Itinerate teachers also know the importance of reading and math and incorporate reading and math into their lessons daily.

“We have an excellent music teacher who gets all kids excited about music and performing,” Braden added, referring to music teacher Stephanie Wheeler. “She acts silly, and the kids love it. They buy in to what she is wanting them to do. All grades are included in our music program, P-6. She works with our Sedalia Singers, who are students in grades 5-6. They visit various nursing homes in the community to perform.”

Outside of the school day, Sedalia Elementary offers a large number of extracurricular activities. Williams is in charge of the running club and the Sedalia Sprinters.

“The extracurricular activities help build the relationships between students and staff,” Williams said. “It gives the staff the opportunity to spend time with the students in a more relaxed, fun atmosphere.

“For the Sedalia Sprinters, we spend 12 weeks running together and then compete as a group in a local 5K (3.1-mile race),” Williams added. “We did not run the race as a group, however; we all cheered for one another and supported each person as they completed the race. There were 85 total students, staff and parents who ran in the race as a Sedalia Sprinter. There was such an interest in the program, we are currently looking at ways to get funding for a track around our school.”

Braden said the extracurricular activities have led to improvement in the classroom.

“The more we can get students involved in afterschool activities, the more they will find a connection here and a desire to learn,” he said.

Robert Braden,, (270) 674-4850