Off and Running
Students and their families were so eager to attend Crozet Elementary’s Open House, held two days before the first day of school, that they began arriving at 4:30 p.m. for the 5 p.m. start time. Toting big bags of school supplies, the students met their teachers, scoped out their new classrooms, and reunited with classmates. Principal Gwedette Crummie greeted everyone with hugs and high-fives and looked forward to the year ahead. “It’s all about curiosity; we want them to find their thing,” she said. “Our goal is to give our students voice and agency, so they can figure out who they are and how to give back to their community.”
Over at Murray Elementary’s Open House, the scene was similar as parents and kids greeted one another and teachers and staff. Principal Mark Green was already looking forward to September’s “Flick on the Field,” an outdoor movie night for all of the school’s families held on a big screen on the inner track field behind the school. “It’s a great back-to-school get together,” he said. Other initiatives this year include a new resource room for special ed students, and planning and hiring for a new world language program that will begin next year.
Room to Grow
As the summer construction dust settles, Henley Middle School teachers are using the newfound open space to add flexibility and innovation to how they provide instruction. Over the last two years, math teachers Brandi Stauffer and Jennie Hamner piloted a system of exchanging students between their two classrooms to be able to group them according to their math level abilities. This year they’ll meet with all of their students in a brand new Learning Lab for even greater efficiency.
A wide-open space formerly comprised of two classrooms and small workroom, the Learning Lab’s walls are brightly painted and the furniture is comfortable and easy to move around. “We’ll jointly teach math to about half of the sixth-grade classes here,” said Stauffer, “with a minimum of three groups each day at stations where they have time to work independently and then together with us.”
The teachers can float between groups, and can gather students for an impromptu lesson at one of the large, wall-mounted white boards or using a mobile interactive screen that can project images from a teacher’s computer. “Now we have the space to do things that we were physically restricted from trying before,” said Hamner. With the enhanced flexibility, the teachers have been able to increase targeted instruction, even developing a new seventh grade opportunity for a group of students to work on pre-algebra as they are ready for it.
Another bonus of the combined math sections is that the students achieve a comfort level with both teachers, and can gravitate toward one or the other based on their learning style. The lab setting provides opportunities for students to talk with teachers about how they’re doing overall, and to develop mentoring relationships. “It’s really nice to be able to meet the kids where they are, and be able to challenge them,” said Hamner. “It’s the journey to algebra, but how long that journey will take will be up to the student.”
The summer renovations included another open floorplan Learning Lab near the front of the school, a large, higher-intensity science lab/classroom, and upgraded library and office spaces. The second major part of Henley’s building refurbishment will be a complete remodel of the front entrance this fall, bumping out the facade with a glass-walled office and adding security upgrades. During construction, a temporary school entrance will be set up in the sixth grade wing.
Principal Beth Costa has, as always, lots of passion about the year ahead. “In our planning over the summer, we’ve organized the entire year around a central question, which is, ‘How do we use what we know about kids to design learning for them?’” she said.
Putting that question into action will involve using already-established student-teacher relationships to leverage learning, so that teachers can apply what they know about a student’s style and interests to make that learning personal and relevant. “The priority for this year will be Language Arts, where teachers will design a pre-test based on professional standards for each unit, and figure out what kids bring to this unit before we even start,” said Costa. “Grouping the students into cohorts based on the pre-test as well as the teacher’s knowledge about the student will increase the relevance and engagement for them.”