Things are different at Eagleton Elementary School, starting with what students may see when they show up on campus each morning.
“In the mornings, you never know what is going to greet you on campus - possums, rabbits, deer,” principal Jerry Bailey said. “We had a bear out here one morning two years ago.”
The beautiful setting at Eagleton puts faculty, staff and students in a good frame of mind for learning. The approach the teachers and administrators use to encourage that learning and teach is called Highly Effective Teaching.
Big name to live up to, and they are sold on it at Eagleton Elementary.
The Highly Effective Teaching approach is based on concepts and components that make connections across all disciplines. Each nine week period is a different concept, with different concentrations for each grade level. At the end of each nine weeks, the teachers hold a “Celebration of Learning” for parents and relatives of the students to see what the youngsters have accomplished. The children do a short program of poems, songs, and they get to show off the work they’ve done and collected in folders.
HET is basically about “making connections,” Bailey said. “There’s a purpose for everything they are learning and doing.”
First grade teacher Elise Edmundson said currently students in the first grade are studying citizenship and learning about family. “The concept is about tying in life skills. Right now we’re working on caring. Next week, it’s common sense.”
Teacher Jean Friant said that with the HET techniques, students connect everything to one concept, which keeps getting reinforced at all turns during that learning time. This unit, the children in first grade are learning about community.
“Everything we do will be brought back to the community theme. It makes learning more effective,” she said.
Friant said that with the HET techniques, teachers work to help the student make connections to lessons and experiences they’ve already learned or had. The teachers also provide students with experiences through field trips or guests or special programs.
Creativity is always a part of each concept, and the school has a part of the curriculum that focuses on writing at Writers Workshops.
Work on each concept is kept in a folder, and the first graders are very proud of their folders.
Olivia Smith, 6, showed off her folder and explained her favorite aspect of class. “I like Fridays,” she said, “because we get to tell what our story is.”
Another favorite day for the first graders is when Soxx, the Reading Dog, comes to visit. The six-year-old black and white Pekinese sits with students while teaching assistant Kim Rop reads to them or helps them with their reading. Soxx helps the children to focus, said the teachers, as the children read to and pet the animal, they become more focused on what they’re doing.
“Even when other things are going on, they’re still here listening,” said Rop. “When they read to Soxx, it makes them pay attention while they’re reading to her.”
Teacher Nicole McCord said having Soxx in class is also a way to keep students motivated. “If they’re not sitting down ready to read, they don’t get to read to Soxx,” she said
Soxx’s presence is also worked into each HET component, whether he’s encouraging community like this nine week period, or helping to illustrate the need for responsibility.
Friant said Eagleton Elementary is a comfortable place for students and parents. “I’ve had parents make comments that when they walk in, the atmosphere is welcoming, and the staff is friendly,” she said. “It’s a community feeling.”