Series to give inside look at area classrooms

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Kindergarten students chatter quietly in the hallway outside their classrooms at Jefferson Elementary School as their teachers try to get them lined up for recess on the playground. Teachers remind a few toward the back of the line to keep their hands at their sides.

Colored pieces of macaroni glued to construction paper line the walls -- a collage of artwork done by kindergarteners. Another poster shows what the children like, and still another collage displays anything red.

Down the hallway, third-graders talk with their teacher about respect -- what it is and how to get it. This is the one of 16 lessons on social skills that the students will be taught this year.

Second- and sixth-grade classes are taking a Metropolitan Assessment Test so that teachers and staff can get a better understanding about their reading, language, math, science and social studies skills.

This is a routine Monday morning at an elementary school. With 411 students and 70 staff members, there is always something going on, said principal Mark Cook.

The key to making schools work is a balanced approach. Lessons haven't changed over the years -- students are still being taught reading, math, science and dozens of other skills -- but how those lessons are taught has.

Teachers today use tools like computer games for math lessons, not counting beads, and Dick and Jane reading primers have been replaced with a "Read to be Ready" program that teaches reading and writing with new, creative techniques.

You know about recess, trips to the library and art or music classes, but what else happens during the other hours at school?

The Southeast Missourian will be going back to school in a series that begins next week. Just like any student, we'll begin in kindergarten and work our way to high school through the course of the series. Our visits will take us from Cape Girardeau and Scott City to Marble Hill, Mo., and Oak Ridge, Mo.

More than just tests

While the lessons are the same in every classroom because public schools use curriculum guidelines under the Show Me Standards, the approach can vary. "We have to be consistent and follow the same curriculum," Cook said, but one classroom might begin its day with a math lesson and another in science or English.

The climate must be safe and orderly for students to learn, Cook said. At Jefferson, students have recess before lunch because it makes the transition back to the classroom easier.

School is more than just standardized tests and lesson plans. "We're building the type of community that makes everybody responsible. We look out for the kids no matter what grade they are in," he said.

Teachers and staff can select any student to be rewarded in a "Tigers are great" campaign, and any student caught misbehaving will know what the punishment is because the rules are consistent and posted around the building.

Schools today are still committed to learning and teaching responsible behavior, Cook said.

Being taught earlier

With all-day kindergarten in Missouri schools for the sixth year now, students are beginning to learn some lessons at an earlier age. Reading isn't limited to just first grade.

"You can see some algebraic concepts as early as third grade," said Roger Tatum, superintendent of Scott City Schools. "We're asking a lot more of students -- not just in the district but in society. Everybody is expecting more of them."

Teachers at Scott City held an open house before classes started in August so that parents could get acquainted and parents would know what was expected of the students during the course of the year, said Tatum.

Being honest about expectations, lessons and testing means that no one is left confused. Tatum said the district has worked to keep parents informed about their children's education.

The open house has been about the best thing schools can do to get parents into classrooms, he said. The district also sends out newsletters and letters about current events.

A prekindergarten program held in the summer lets first-time students have a chance to get accustomed to school surroundings. About 60 of the 70 kindergarten students at the school participated, Tatum said.

"It lets them get used to the environment, the cafeteria and carrying their own trays and standing in lines," he said.

Most first-graders today know their alphabet and can recognize some small words when they enter school. All-day kindergarten programs mean most children are beginning to read at earlier ages.

"It's exciting how they do this and the techniques they use to reach all the children instead of just a few," said Rhonda Dunham, principal at Franklin Elementary School.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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