By Megan Gross and Donna Melton
Huntertown Elementary in Woodford County is one of five public schools in Kentucky recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. The Title 1 school serves a population where almost 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, a number that has almost doubled in the past eight years.
The U.S. Department of Education awards the Blue Ribbon honor based on student achievement and other research-based indicators of quality. The other schools recognized this year include Oak Hill Elementary (Pulaski County), Paintsville Elementary (Paintsville Independent), Spottsville Elementary (Henderson County) and Wyan-Pine Grove Elementary (Laurel County).
Beginning in kindergarten at Huntertown, every student learns the basics of the Chinese language and culture through a partnership with the University of Kentucky Confucius Institute. The school’s student population is culturally and linguistically diverse, with a high special education population.
The Chinese education program is active in every elementary, middle and high school in Woodford County. After finding that the Chinese teachers were struggling districtwide with behavioral issues, district leadership decided to move the instruction into the special area classes of art, music, gym and library study.
Huntertown Principal Elaine Kaiser said the move creates a team teaching environment, with the Chinese teachers drawing assistance from the special area teachers.
“It allows the Chinese instructor to be more creative without the setbacks of communication barriers and behavior issues,” she said.
The school success at Huntertown is due to an extensive level of instruction in each classroom by teachers who challenge students to meet their expectations and grow relationships in multifaceted ways.
“Our teachers attend their students’ ballgames and baptisms. They invest in the children both inside and outside of the building. Through relationship building they set their expectations and the kids rise to them. There is no other option,” Kaiser said.
Positive relationships with every student are essential. Student-to-student conversations are emphasized in both formal and informal school settings.
Kindergarten teacher Crystal Harvey begins each morning with a student greeter standing in the doorway. His or her peers can choose to be greeted with either a hug, handshake, high-five or fist bump.
“It’s an immediate impact on classroom culture,” Kaiser said. “Students begin their day with a positive, intentionally-selected interaction with a fellow student. What an amazing way to begin instruction!”