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Ryan McCarty, principal at Amelia Earhart Elementary, is boarding his students on a flight to success. The goal this year for the district is to increase our graduation rates. While this does impact the high schools, this also greatly impacts the elementary schools as well. Amelia Earhart is working to improve these graduation rates by implementing strategies with young students that will resonate with them as they move up to the secondary schools. Through heavy emphasis on reading skills, creating a positive and motivating school culture and monitoring at-risk and ELL students, Amelia Earhart is striving to catalyze student success and drive them towards high school graduation.
Emphasis on Reading
Many have heard of the “Amelia Earhart Literacy Society of Scholars”. This is a program that Amelia Earhart started that encourages students to read, as well as gain a life-long love of reading. Each month, different books are chosen for students to read and students can even have their name drawn to discuss the book with Mr. McCarty later on in the month. At the monthly meeting, the books are introduced and each student who attends has the opportunity to go home with their own copy of that book. This is a great program that creates excitement about reading and helps to give students a genuine love for reading.
Amelia Earhart has also strived to identify those students who are having struggles with reading, as Mr. McCarty strongly believes that “students with low reading scores and low reading rates are going to be the most at-risk for not graduating”. Throughout the past couple of years, many schools in the district, including Amelia Earhart, have been conducting data analysis where they take the time to look at the student Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) scores. After getting the scores, they evaluate the students, look at the students as a whole and then try to make plans to adjust to their needs. While Amelia is still utilizing this method, they decided to take it a step further by creating a literacy flowchart. McCarty said, “we created a literacy flowchart that is based on the big five components of reading. We looked at how we could identify, through the DIBELS testing, the specific skills and create a plan based on reading skill hierarchy. For example, if a kid is struggling in comprehension, but they also have concerns in fluency and phonics, then we need to target their phonics before we can make a difference in their comprehension.” Mr. McCarty stated that this method has already been very successful and is a great way to assist struggling students and give them the reading skills necessary to allow them to graduate high school.
Another way McCarty is helping his school prepare for high school graduation is through creating a positive and motivating school culture. One of the ways this culture is being established is through the aviator acronym. The aviator acronym stands for “As a good learner, I Value collaboration, I persevere, Ask questions, Think out loud, Offer solutions and Reflect”. The hope is that, through this acronym, students will realize that being a good learner is all about collaboration, perseverance, reflection, finding solutions and much more. “As a school, we came up with this acronym, and I really feel like it has become a part of the culture of the school where I’ll hear first graders come up to me and say ‘I persevered today!’. They use these words and I think it has created some meaning and, really, those are the 21st century skills that kids are going to need to be able to graduate and be successful.”
In order to further establish this motivating culture, Amelia Earhart has also began to use “Aviator Praise” awards. These awards are awarded to students when a teacher notices them using “aviator behavior”. The students are recognized on the morning announcements, a handwritten note is sent home to their parents and the student is entered in a drawing to win a free book. This positive behavioral intervention helps to enforce this positive school culture and further emphasizes to students the positive outcomes of being a good learner.
ELL and At-Risk Students
An estimated 25 percent of students at Amelia Earhart Elementary are English Language Learners (ELL). ELL students are those who come from families where English is not spoken within the home and who may struggle with academics due to difficulties understanding and speaking English. One of the ways that they strive to help these students succeed is through ensuring that their teachers are trained and taught strategies that will help them to better understand classroom lessons. These strategies are beneficial to both ELL students and other students because they involve collaboration and working on tasks together.
Along with ELL students, at-risk students are also a main focus at Amelia Earhart. An “at-risk team”, which consists of teachers, facilitators, the school psychologist, a social worker and some school aids meets once every two weeks to develop intervention plans. The team looks at three main categories: attendance, behavior and academics and then discusses the students who are at-risk or who may be at-risk. From there, they work together to develop strategies that may best help the individual student and then report back on those strategies at the following meeting. Through these strategies, both the ELL and at-risk students are rapidly improving and will hopefully develop the skills necessary to walk the stage at their high school graduation.
Through heavy emphasis on reading skills, creating a positive and motivating school culture and monitoring at-risk and ELL students, Amelia Earhart is striving to catalyze student success and drive them towards high school graduation. McCarty sums up that his main goal with the students at Amelia Earhart “is to have kids who own their education, kids that believe that they can meet their goals, that they can go through the learning pit and that they can do this….it’s all about if you can build that intrinsic desire within a kid and teach them to know that they can accomplish great things and they are an active person in that.”