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Timpanogos Elementary School is one of the seven Title 1 schools in Provo City School District. However, Timpanogos is unique because they have 80 percent of their students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and 46 percent of students who are learning English as a second language. Despite these huge challenges, principal Carrie Rawlins states: “our school is pretty dang amazing.” Timpanogos Elementary continues to soar above these challenges through their emphasis of providing supports to their English Language Learners (ELL), utilizing differentiated learning and initiating a positive school culture.
ELL Support Programs
One of the reasons why Timpanogos is such a unique school is because of their high volume of students who do not speak English as their first language. Not only do these students not speak English as their first language, but many are brand new to the United States. Rawlins says, “we have 20 to 25 students that are brand new to the country since October of this year. It depends on their previous experience, but a lot of times they come in knowing no English.” Luckily, Timpanogos has implemented a Spanish Dual-Immersion program into their school in order to help these students and also assist other students who are interested in learning Spanish. Rawlins states, “anybody that comes in new to the country, I usually try to plug them right into our dual-immersion program, just so that they don’t lose their native language and they don’t lose some [classroom] content while they are learning a new language”. This helps take off some of the pressure of learning a new language and also allows for these students to have an opportunity to get to know their English-speaking peers as well. However, the social vocabulary of English tends to come faster to students than the academic vocabulary of English does. Timpanogos has strived to bridge this gap through implementing programs like ELL Wonders, where students have a chance to work in small groups on aspects such as academic vocabulary. Carrie says, “usually, with another language, you learn some of the basic communication skills– how to talk to somebody to get your needs met. However, you don’t know the quadrants to graph an equation and all of those types of things. You don’t know that type of language quickly in another language. So, those are the things that students are learning in programs like ELL Wonders.”
Not only does Timpanogos implement small groups for ELL students, but they implement small groups for all students in order to ensure that they are receiving the assistance necessary for their success. Prior to putting the students into different groups, the teachers analyze student data and target exactly where the students are struggling. Rawlins further discusses this, saying “each week [the teachers] go over [the data] and say ‘okay, how are they doing?’ For each test [the student takes], they break it down, not just by the test scores, but by the concept.Then, every 3 to 4 weeks, they move the kids into interventions based on what it is that they need.” To reiterate, the teachers utilize data sheets to record student progress and determine student academic weaknesses in order to determine what group the student needs to be placed in. These groups are called interventions or differentiated learning. Most of the interventions are focused around language arts and math, since those are the main struggles for most students. “For a half an hour in language arts and a half an hour in math, we have what we call interventions, or ‘differentiated learning’ so that some kids are getting extension if they’ve ‘got it’; they go a little bit deeper or do a little bit more. Then those that are not getting the concept, they get intervention.” Through using this differentiated learning method, students are able to get exactly what they need and receive more one on one interaction with teachers.
Though Timpanogos has challenges that other schools may not have to face, they have still managed to create a positive, enriching school culture. As mentioned previously, 80 percent of the school’s population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, which means that those students come from low-income families. To help combat student hunger, Timpanogos gives out 80 bags of food each week, putting them in student backpacks. They strive to create an environment where these students feel that their basic needs are met. Rawlins says, “we have kept some clothes here, and on occasion, kids will change into them and we will wash their clothes in the washer and dryer and then switch them back out. We just do whatever we need to do to help kids meet those basic needs.” Timpanogos strives to make their school a positive place where students can have positive examples, feel safe and have their basic needs met. Rawlins and the rest of the teachers really strive to make their school an enriching place for these kids. “I have to make those six hours that they are here the best six hours of their life and teach them. Every moment, even with me is a teaching opportunity”, says Rawlins.
Social Media Communication
Timpanogos has found unique ways to keep busy parents more connected with their school community through engaging social media channels. Organized by the school’s Social Media Specialist, Kate Pace, teachers are keeping parents up-to-date through pictures and short stories of fun lessons happening in their classroom. Parents are also informed about important school events, activities and opportunities through their social media channels. Timpanogos has found that, for single parent homes or homes where the parents are working several jobs, connecting through social media is a way for them to be involved. Parents are able to know topics their students are learning and discuss them at home. Parents are able to see their child enjoy school and thrive in the classroom, regardless of work schedules. Parents are able to connect with their student and be involved in their education. By fostering a strong social media presence, Timpanogos is strengthening connections between parents and students, which is also strengthening the education Timpanogos students are receiving.
All in all, Timpanogos works hard to create a positive environment where students are supported through their ELL programs and intervention groups. Attributing all of this to her teachers and staff, Rawlins says that “the teachers here at Timpanogos don’t necessarily have to know how to enrich what the kids already get at home, there’s no safety net for our kids. If they don’t get it here, then they are not going to get it at home and so the teachers have to know how to teach. They have to be good teachers in order to get these kids to know what they need to know in order to graduate. We have the most incredible teachers and staff that I have worked with. They are just phenomenal people. Teachers just put in the time that is needed to help these kids in whatever way they need to.”