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!”

Second grader answering the principle's question. As you can see, the students were pretty intrigued by her. Photo by Megan Gross

Students Zaidyn Ross, from left, Ethan Hisle, Liam Stuban and Bryce Miller are all smiles as they answer questions during class at Huntertown Elementary. Huntertown is one of five public schools in Kentucky recognized as a 2018 National Blue Ribbon School.
Photo by Megan Gross, March 14, 2019

The students building relationships with one another and ending their day positively. Photo by Megan Gross

In Crystal Harvey’s kindergarten class, students begin the day with morning greetings between students. Tre Owens, the student greeter, right, eagerly awaits his a fist bump, handshake, high-five or hug from his classmates Lilly Perry, left, and Gentrey Moore.
Photo by Megan Gross, March 14, 2019

Ms. teaching her class Chinese. The students couldn't keep their eyes off of her. She is a very fun teacher who loves her language! Photo by Megan Gross

Yang Wu, who is finishing her second year at Huntertown Elementary, captures the attention of her students by connecting Chinese words to music and movement. The Chinese education program is active in every elementary, middle and high school in Woodford County.  
Photo by Megan Gross, March 14, 2019

A third grader demonstrating something that his peers had to raise their hand and say what it was in Chinese! Photo by Megan Gross

Yanhong Shang, a first-year teacher at Huntertown, asks 3rd-grader Levi Watson to demonstrate a word she spoke in Chinese. Huntertown’s two Chinese teachers work collaboratively with specialist area teachers to weave the Chinese language into lessons.
Photo by Megan Gross, March 14, 2019


Third graders enjoying watching their Chinese teacher act out different actions while they had to say what she was doing in Chinese. Photo by Megan Gross

At Huntertown, teachers cultivate positive relationships in every learning setting. Third-grader Lila Slade, center, and her classmates focus on learning while taking a memory moment during Chinese lessons in physical education class. The students watch their Chinese teacher act out different actions while they say what she is doing in Chinese.
Photo by Megan Gross, March 14, 2019