Tina Reynolds celebrates being named a Blue Ribbon School with her 4th-grade students at Woodfill Elementary School (Fort Thomas Independent). Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 6, 2011

Tina Reynolds celebrates being named a Blue Ribbon School with her 4th-grade students at Woodfill Elementary School (Fort Thomas Independent). Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 6, 2011

By Susan Riddell

Most Kentuckians know Mark Krebs as a member of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team from 2008 to 2010.

Students at Woodfill Elementary School (Fort Thomas Independent) know him as an author and as someone who motivated them to learn and take action with a service learning project.

The school, recently honored as a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School, completes many service projects throughout the year. That, along with its commitment to literacy, helps the school be successful, principal Keith Faust said.

“Woodfill has grown as a school community because of these service learning projects, and teachers have become more aware of each other and the work being done in other classrooms,” teacher Michelle LaMantia said.

One of the projects was inspired by 3rd-graders completing an in-depth study of Krebs’ book, Beyond a Dream. The book focused on Krebs’ time playing basketball at UK and his mother’s fight with breast cancer, which she lost in June of 2010.

After reading the book, the students arranged for nurses to visit to the school to answer questions other students had about cancer. They also held a bake sale to raise money for the Terri Krebs Dream Foundation. Mark Krebs spoke at Woodfill Elementary, and students presented him with a check from the bake sale money.

“We have made lasting connections with organizations we have worked with,” LaMantia said. “This initiative is part of who we are now. It is important because we are giving back to people in our community and around the world in some cases.

“Giving is such a selfless act and when one experiences this, it gives such satisfaction on the inside. We feel service learning projects not only connect to the classroom curriculum, but also to the real world,” she added.

LaMantia said all schools in the Fort Thomas Independent school district participate in service learning. It’s a goal to tie service learning to curriculum, she said.

Last year, kindergartners and 5th graders worked together on a hunger project called Empty Bowls, Empty Bellies.

Students in both grades created unique bowls in art class and organized a community soup night. A high school consumer education class made soup to serve. Kindergartners counted tickets and filled orders while 5th graders worked on a budget for the project and collected money the night of the event.

“This project worked economics into both grades,” LaMantia said. “The money raised went to a local food bank that prepares packs of food for students to have on the weekend.”

The projects also foster schoolwide and districtwide collaboration among teachers, she said.

“Teachers are taking charge of these projects and reaching out to each other, whether it is a teacher in a different grade level or a special area teacher like art, music, librarian, physical education or a teacher at another school to help support one another and create wonderful learning opportunities for our students,” LaMantia said.

Focus on literacy

Tina Reynolds has been at Woodfill Elementary for 22 out of her 23 years as a teacher. She said literacy is such a focus at the school, everyone is expected to develop it.

“We have a uniform district reading curriculum that fosters a relentless focus on the individual needs of each student in all content areas,” Reynolds said. “Our students are reading and developing skills all day long.

“With the help of a Title I teacher, instructional assistants, special education teachers, volunteers and classroom teachers, we are able to provide differentiated instruction. There isn’t one textbook series, specific approach or method used for teaching literacy. Instead, classroom teachers pull whatever resources are needed to get the job done.”

Faust previously taught at Woodfill from 2002-05 before becoming assistant principal at Highlands Middle School. This is his first year as principal at Woodfill Elementary.

“A big accomplishment I think our district made over the past few years was getting everyone on the same page in regards to an aligned curriculum and common programs,” he said. “It got everyone speaking a common language, thus moving together in the right direction.

“Another thing specific to our school has been the incorporation of Junior Great Books, but more importantly the strategy of shared inquiry discussion,” Faust added. “This shared inquiry is not just a literacy technique, but when used effectively, a questioning technique that can be used in all disciplines.”

Reynolds agreed that Junior Great Books have worked well for Woodfill Elementary students along with the Trophies series, which she called a “more traditional approach to literature, classical literature and computer-based programs.

“Multiple teaching practices and strategies are implemented on a daily basis to address students with varying academic abilities, learning styles, personalities, experiences and levels of motivation,” Reynolds added.

Fort Thomas Independent strives to have programs that align with critical and creative teaching and learning, Faust said.

“Another push from our district and specifically our school has been the idea of getting students up and talking,” Faust said. “We want them to be able to describe, explain, defend their answers, tell why or how something is the way it is, and we ask that they use textual evidence to support their answers.

“By having students demonstrate their learning by talking about it we know that they have full understanding,” he added. “We have created a public speaking curriculum at Woodfill and rubric for our teachers to use when students are performing these speeches or talking in front of the class. The more we ask our students to demonstrate their learning in an authentic way, the more we are on the right track for college- and/or career-readiness.”

Keith Faust, keith.faust@fortthomas.kyschools.us, (859) 815-2400