Augusta Elementary School gets innovative

By Kayla Baugh Published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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From left, first-grade students Patrick​ Pruitt​, Harley​ Riddle​ and ​Z​a​yve​on ​Smith​ create three-dimensional designs after looking at two-dimensional images in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, room at Augusta Elementary School.

— Augusta Elementary School will focus on improvements in the coming months, including emphasizing career and culture.

Cathy Tanner, superintendent of the Augusta School District, said the school applied to become a School of Innovation with the Arkansas Department of Education in 2016 and will officially receive a School of Innovation banner in spring 2018.

Application was a lengthy process, she said, and involved businesses, local colleges, students, parents, the community and the Arkansas Department of Education.

“Our students are demographically isolated in several ways, and changes had to be made in how we taught and what we taught. This area known as the Delta does not provide the opportunities afforded to students in wealthier areas of the state,” she said.

“We have to teach our students to overcome these obstacles by knowing how to become leaders; how to take charge of their individual learning; how to use their student voice to start the ‘positives’ and stop the ‘negatives’ in their lives; how to problem-solve to accomplish the goals they have set; and how to be productive citizens of their town, county and country.”

Tanner said a few of the school’s goals include helping students become confident problem-solvers; closing the achievement gap; teaching students to appreciate diversity; and making the people of Augusta proud of their school system.

“Applying for School of Innovation [status] allows the teachers and staff to personalize learning more for each student. Test scores are not the big picture, but it is the overall success of each student that is the big picture. Success means different things to different people, and if our students become their aspirations, then they are a success,” she said.

Tanner said the people of Augusta are very supportive of the school, and students are taught to support their local community and give to future generations.

“If we need hot dogs grilled, we have it. If we need school supplies, we get them. If we need volunteers, we receive them. The small community of Augusta has also started a scholarship program for all students who graduate from Augusta if the criteria is met,” she said.

“My passion is success for students raised in the Delta. I want them to be proud of their heritage and not let temporary barriers dictate their success in life. They have to learn that determination and hard work pay off in the end,” she said.

Richard Greer, principal of Augusta Elementary School, said all Schools of Innovation are different.

“Being named a School of Innovation doesn’t give you more funding, but it does give you the flexibility to do some things through the Arkansas Department of Education that are necessary for students in the area,” he said.

Greer said staff and faculty members began assessing and speaking to students, teachers and members of the community about their needs before applying to become a School of Innovation.

“The students needed exposure and career knowledge — exposure to the things around and available to them, things that they can be and the skills they’ll need to be those things,” he said.

Greer said the school recently added new classes, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses and “makerspace” stations, where students can take apart and reassemble computers.

It’s an important skill, he said, and involves being able to think outside of the box and use your hands.

Computer science, coding and robotics, reading centers, Spanish and a variety of STEM activities are now available to students, he said.

“We started the year with everyone rotating through the stations as a class, a different activity each day. As we hoped, the students began to have a blast exploring the different activities. They are talking about the activities and asking staff to come see what they are doing,” he said.

Students who show mastery in core content will advance to activities, he said, and students who don’t will receive immediate small-group assistance on a weekly basis.

“Surprisingly, when we discussed this with our students, they were excited about additional assistance for content,” he said.

The school also implemented a weekly assembly to push cultural education, he said, and speakers talk about their careers to students at the assemblies.

Greer said the school’s first speaker was a city police officer from Augusta, which led to students requesting a state trooper to speak.

Future speakers include a state trooper, an international boat maker, a crop duster, a carpenter and a college student, he said.

“We feel as students learn about the culture of their community, they will take pride in themselves and in their community. This helps to build our students to become productive citizens in society,” he said.

Greer said he and others are trying to tie together the different aspects of career and culture to help students be successful not only academically, but careerwise.

“Not just in Augusta, but as a whole, culture separation between current generations and generations above them is real. It’s hard to understand the different generations sometimes, and kids often don’t understand their parents. We wanted to bridge that gap. We wanted to be able to build cultural awareness with our students,” he said.

Staff members will focus on working with students on etiquette, professionalism, worth ethic and more, he said.

Being named a School of Innovation gives schools the ability to step outside of the box of traditional education and meet the needs of the students, he said.

“Once you’re approved and have a plan they deem effective, you have a conference and meet with the state Department [of Education], where they decide. It’s basically a label or tag that means you’re doing things differently,” he said.

“Some students want to go the technical-career approach, some want to go to college, and both approaches are great. As an elementary school, we want to make sure they get there and have knowledge about what they want to do and what skill sets to grow on.”

Greer said he wants to ensure student success in Augusta and give the students what they need to reach their goals.

“You have to have academics, but you can’t leave the personal side out of it. Sometimes we miss out on the opportunity at school to connect skills with education. It motivates students to do better academically once they’ve found something that excites them — a career goal or path,” he said.

The school will continue to make assessments and alter its success plan when school officials see the need to, he said.

“This whole year, we’ll have built-in teacher meetings where they talk about the plan and continue improving it — constantly assessing, ‘Are we meeting the kids’ needs? How did this activity go? How can we improve upon this?’ We have the ability to change the plan in ways that benefit students. I want to be successful academically, but I also have to give the kids what they need as far as skills to be successful beyond academics.”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or kbaugh@arkansasonline.com.

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or kbaugh@arkansasonline.com.

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