3 county schools receive Focus grants
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
Oct 20, 2013 | 1656 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Three Bradley County Schools have begun implementing programs made possible though renewed state Focus grants.

Charleston, Taylor and Waterville Community elementary schools were initially awarded grants last year to help close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students on state mandated tests.

Based on the progress made with funding last year, each school received the same funding this year. Each school’s state tests showed economically disadvantaged students scoring closer to non-economically disadvantaged students than the previous year.

Taylor Elementary received $100,000.

“It felt a bit like being rewarded for good work,” Taylor principal Elizabeth Kaylor said. “We did have some outstanding gains with our economically disadvantaged students.”

Waterville Community Elementary received $177,000.

“It is going to allow us to go a little deeper into what we started last year,” Waterville Community Elementary School principal Charlene Cofer said.

Charleston received $191,000.

“It gives us opportunities to catch these kids up with technology they don’t have at home, provide them opportunities,” Charleston principal Jodie Grannen said. “We were just excited and thrilled about it.”

Technology is a way each of the schools plan on using the funding.

At Taylor, the “iPads on the Go” initive will continue. This program allows students with parental consent to take an iPad home. Each device has specific programs to help students improve academically.

Last year Focus grant funds bought an iPad for classroom use for every fourth- and fifth-grade student.

Kaylor said increased class sizes have created the need to purchase more devices to maintain a one-to-one ratio. Grant funding will also provide iPads for some in the lower elementary grades.

“It is allowing us to do things that we probably couldn’t afford to do otherwise,” Kaylor said. “It is very exciting to feel like when you have a dream or a vision that you now have the means to accomplish it. Also, I think it is a pat on the back for our teachers.”

Charleston and Waterville Community elementary schools will be implementing “iPads on the Go” programs this year.

Two mobile computer labs will also be purchased through grant funding by Charleston Elementary. WCES is purchasing enough iPads for each fourth- grade student to have one in the classroom. Training on iPad use will be offered for WCES teachers and parents.

“We have to get these children ready to test online,” Cofer said. “This year our third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students will be taking the writing assessment online. We’re not anywhere where we need to be with keyboarding skills. So, our thought is we need every child to have more time on a computer, whether it’s an iPad or a laptop or a desktop.”

Specialized Professional development will be provided to teachers through the grant.

Professional development focused on teaching and engaging students in reading will be offered to Taylor teachers. A reading specialist will also be brought in to provide further support.

Professional development in ways to teach economically disadvantaged students will also be offered at each of the schools through a presentation by researcher and author Eric Jensen.

Jensen has specialized in studying how poverty affects student learning. Charleston teachers will also be completing a book study of Jensen’s book “Tools for Engagement.”

“All of the teachers will have a personal copy,” Grannen said. “We also include all of our cafeteria, our specialty teachers, and our bus drivers. We try and help keep everyone informed on what’s good to help kids who live in poverty. We try and make it a whole school culture and climate here.”

Schools are also looking at providing support to parents of current and future students.

“One of the programs that I am most excited about — that the grant is putting a major chunk of money toward doing — is called ‘Ready,’” Kaylor said.

This program focuses on providing resources and tools to parents of children not yet in school to help them ensure their children are ready for kindergarten. The program has resources starting at birth.

The program will be available to parents who have children at Taylor and younger children who will be attending Taylor in the future.

“The Ready program targets those parents with specific learning opportunities for them,” Kaylor said.

The program is based on research that takes the standards used in kindergarten and determines the skills the younger children will need to have before kindergarten.

“Purposeful play” with specialized toys provided through the program is one way to do this.

Waterville Community Elementary school also will be participating in the program.

Lori Stafford, instructional support specialist, said parents receive a kit of educational toys and supplies as part of the program.

While progress has been made, there is still more work to be done to help students.

“We still have a gap in our math and that is something we are focusing on again this year,” Grannen said.

Grant funding will provide interventionists for reading and math to give any struggling students added support and instruction time.

Grannen said the school has purchased a Study Island computer software subscription to give students additional opportunities to work on reading and math skills.

The NeuroNet program is another component the grant will provide for Charleston.

“It is a learning enrichment program that improves academic learning,” Grannen said.

Kristy Carroll, an instructional coach at Charleston, said the DVDs in the series lead students in spelling and reading exercises in time with a musical beat.

Expanding parent involvement and informational sessions available to parents will also be paid for by the grant.

Experiencing new places connected to learning will be made possible though Charleston’s Focus grant.

“We are so rich in history right around us with the Chattanooga area, Chickamauga battlefield and Red Clay and all these places,” Carroll said. “So many of our kids don’t have opportunities to go there and visit these places. We wanted to be able to provide some background knowledge to students on things they might be studying in the classroom to get to go visit and actually have a hands-on experience.”

Resources purchased through the grant will be available to all students at the schools, not just those who are economically disadvantaged.

Cofer said the grant funding will also provide tutoring and allow the school to hold Camp Cherokee again next summer.

Lisa Gwaltney, instructional support specialist, said Camp Cherokee provides enrichment opportunities in math and art for the students for a week in the summer.

Each school will use state mandated testing and assessments within the programs to track positive impact on students.