Small school focuses on the little things

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Principal Steve Jenkins participates with the kindergarten students during calendar time in Angie Taulbee's class at Trapp Elementary School (Clark County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 21, 2013
Principal Steve Jenkins participates with the kindergarten students during calendar time in Angie Taulbee’s class at Trapp Elementary School (Clark County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 21, 2013

By Susan Riddell
susan.riddell@education.ky.gov

Trapp Elementary School may share a principal, but that doesn’t mean the school suffers in terms of success.

The small rural school of 140 students has been thriving under Principal Steve Jenkins’ leadership. Jenkins, in his 10th year as principal at both Trapp and nearby Pilot View elementary schools, is quick to credit his small staff and a focus on citizenship and small group study with Trapp’s 2012 National Blue Ribbon School honor.

“Life goes on when I’m not here (at Trapp),” Jenkins said. “The teachers are used to me being gone during parts of the day, and the students understand the staff members are in charge. The teachers take care of any discipline issues when I’m gone, and they handle things the way they know I would. That’s why this works.”

Jenkins used to rotate days in both schools, but he said splitting each school day up with half his time at each one works better now.

“It’s a good fit for me,” he said.

Small groups lead to big results

While Trapp Elementary already offers a low teacher-to-student ratio, the school has worked hard to decrease that number even more by using the small group learning model. The model, which involves students being broken into small groups based on their learning needs for 30 minutes three times a week, has had a positive impact on both reading and mathematics scores for the school, Jenkins said.

“We’re really proud of this,” he said.

Typically, the school has two retired teachers who work in the small group format with the classroom teachers and a special education instructor.

Kindergarten teacher Angie Taulbee said students in grades K-3, and grades 3-5 use the small group instruction time for review. “Groups are not based on grade levels – the skill being targeted is the focus,” Taulbee said.

Taulbee said a recent lesson was more effective specifically because of its smaller group approach. While working with four kindergarten students, she was able to focus on 50 sight words in the Fry Sight Words model.

Taulbee guides instruction with the “to, with, independently” method, she said. After reading a story to the children, they would then read it with her. Lastly, they would read it independently by whispering into a phonics phone.

The small group also allows her to better emphasize and monitor reading strategies, such as having students shape their mouths to sound out words or look at pictures in the stories for clues. For sight word recognition, students practiced the first 50 sight words on the Fry Words App on classroom iPads and then played sight word bingo.

Taulbee said her students benefit in this approach with immediate feedback and accountability, and teachers are able to offer high quality, research-based best practice teaching. Real world relevancy and students working together as a team in the small group format are other student benefits.

“We’re using data to improve instruction and student learning to increase achievement along with addressing individual needs,” Taulbee said. “By structuring opportunities for students to learn together, teachers keep clear and explicit instructional objectives in mind.”

Special education teacher Robyn Smalley agreed with Taulbee, adding that small groups are driven by data analysis and tend to foster a family component among teachers and students.

“All the kids belong to everyone,” Smalley said. “There isn’t a separation of ‘This is your kid.’ and ‘These are my kids.’ We have a lot of small groups based on students’ skills levels, and we rotate those groups as students gain skills (for both mathematics and reading).”

Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarks determine how students are grouped for reading while mathematics groups are divided up based on Student Numeracy Assessment Progressions assessments.

Jenkins said the small groups tend to be divided between grades K-3 and 3-5 because 3rd grade is “such a make or break year” since students begin K-PREP testing. Teachers use all the primary interventions they can in the K-3 groups to better prepare students for testing, while the grades 3-5 groups focus more on mastery of content.

Civic-minded students

Jenkins said Trapp Elementary has an SEC approach which stands for Safety first, Education matters and Citizenship counts.

“We focus on those every day,” he said. “We want our students to be ready for the real world and to be productive citizens. That’s so important to us.”

Fourth-grade teacher Betty Anes said citizenship is integrated into practically everything at Trapp Elementary whether that’s curriculum, small groups or extracurricular activities.

“The children learn that life is full of procedures and simple steps to be learned that make us successful,” Anes said. “Procedures are a part of life and are important in society to help everyone function in an organized manner. Rules are explained as guidelines to follow that maintain order and keep us safe. Learning cannot take place in a disruptive environment.”

Trapp Elementary students participate in weekly guidance classes and Anes’ students journal daily, often about topics like friendship, honesty, responsibility and goal setting.

“Most subjects allow opportunities to integrate citizenship,” Anes said. “Theme has been a new Common Core State Standard for 4th grade. We have read numerous stories that have given the children an opportunity to share what they think the author’s lesson or message was regarding citizenship or life lessons.”

The school has embraced the theme of citizenship in a variety of ways. Anes said a at a mathematics event earlier in the school year, students collected pledges for correctly answering mathematics problems. The event raised more than $1,700 for a hospital organization.

While studying current events, students sent handmade paper snowflakes to Sandy Hook Elementary School students prior to their return to classes following the shooting at the Connecticut school in December.

Compliment boxes for classmates to share with each other and 5th graders sharing positive thoughts during the morning announcements are common practice at Trapp Elementary as are food and coat drives.

“I love the civic events at Trapp,” Jenkins said. “They complement our academics and other initiatives. Our Fridays are enrichment day where we have classes from cooking to sign language to needlepoint. Basically, we love trying new ideas. Everything is working together for the same goal.”

MORE INFO …

Steve Jenkins, steve.jenkins@clark.kyschools.us, (859) 744-0027 (Trapp); or (859) 842-5231 (Pilot View)

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