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Happiness at Holcomb: Students, teachers excited for first day of class

Published on -8/20/2014, 4:46 PM

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By Angie Haflich

The Garden City Telegram

HOLCOMB -- Fifth-grader Cooper Henson was admittedly excited about the start of school at Holcomb Elementary School Tuesday.

"I'm most excited about learning and getting my grades up," Henson said.

That is what fifth-grade English teachers Jennifer Smith and Tammy Wallace like to hear.

And they, too, are excited to start the new year.

"We are going to be doing blocks this year -- 90-minute blocks where we teach language arts and 90-minute blocks where we teach math," Smith said.

That is because both Wiley Elementary School, grades K-2, and Holcomb Elementary School, grades 3-5, will be under Title I, school-wide.

Title I is a federal program that provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families to ensure that all children meet challenging academic standards.

"We've always been Title I, but we made application to be a school-wide Title I, which is a little bit different than what we've done in the past," USD 363 Superintendent Jean Rush said. "The state allows us to do Title I in two different programs -- one is targeted assistance where students are identified based on assessment data for additional services, and school-wide is every child can receive services if they need them."

The program provides a more structured curriculum, which creates cohesiveness throughout the grade levels.

"Everybody is basically doing the same thing at different levels," Smith said. "We're hoping with that cohesiveness and all of us doing it year after year, the students know what to expect."

Rush said in addition to the 90-minute blocks of core instruction, every child at every grade level will have a 90-minute block of differentiated instruction time, based on their individual needs.

"It's designed so whether it's difficult, or if that learning comes easy, everyone is accelerated to greater levels of achievement," Rush said.

Since becoming Title I school-wide, teams of teachers from each grade level were trained over the summer to help design a schedule that provides a systemic approach to basic instruction.

Wallace thinks that will help provide consistency.

"It's from kindergarten to fifth grade, we're getting our information from the same place -- one grade's not doing this while another grade's doing that," Wallace said.

Another change in the Holcomb district this year is more students will have access to Chromebooks -- essentially small laptops. They were used by only fifth-graders at Holcomb Elementary School and English Language Arts students at Holcomb Middle School last school year, during the district's pilot program.

"We have one-to-one Chromebooks from fourth- through eighth-grade this year," Rush said.

Another way technology is being used, at least by fifth-grade teachers, is in the realm of behavior.

On Tuesday, which was a half-day of orientation, Smith showed the students a program called ClassDojo, an online program used to reward good and penalize bad behavior.

"Dojo tracks your behavior, good or bad, positive or negative. And here's the great thing about it: Your parents can get on their cell phones in the middle of the day to see what you're doing, good or bad. Is that a good thing?" Smith asked the students, to which they replied with a collective, "No."

Students who exhibit good behavior collect points throughout the year, and whoever has the most points at the end of the school year will get a $50 gift certificate.

The program was used last year. Smith said it was an effective tool in managing her classroom, while conveying to her students the importance of respecting their teachers, participating in class and just being good overall citizens.

(c)2014 The Garden City Telegram

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