First, they walked in a single file line, journals under their arms, as they headed to Buffalo Creek. It was a windy day, and a little nippy, too. Each was charged to conduct a study – to explore the life of animals in a natural habitat. They separated into small groups, studied their surroundings with keen sensory perception, and wrote down observations in journals to later share with their fellow scientists.
In a nearby classroom, budding anthropologists were learning about the culture of Argentina. They created replicas of the country’s sky blue and white flag and taste-tested empanadas. That morning, they practiced their command of the Spanish language through their daily calendar activity.
After only a few months, they were becoming “fluent” in non-native language exposure that will later set the stage for deeper development.
Novice thespians, in another room, are participating in an activity called “readers theater,” a dramatic presentation of a work of literature in a script form. Participants read from a script with reading parts divided among the others in the room. Advocates for readers theater note lines are not memorized. The focus is on reading the text with expressive voices and gestures, making comprehending the text more meaningful and fun.
All three scenarios describe a typical Wednesday in the first grade at Carrollton Elementary School. With the launch this year of the Academies of CES, specialized enrichment time, in addition to the required rigor of the academic standards for first grade, exposes students to new adventures in learning.
There are three academies – STEM, Dual Language and Performing Arts. Every first grader is a part of one of them – choices made last spring when parents and students had the opportunity select preferences. CES Assistant Principal Kylie Carroll said there are four Dual Language, eight STEM and six Performing Arts classes, serving 370 students.
“Overall, we are pleased and excited to see our children getting to experience something innovative and different,” said Carroll. “Our teachers have worked hard, and collaborated as teams, to offer truly enriching opportunities in these focus areas.”
With literacy a school system specialized focus this year, Carroll said each academy model incorporates this initiative in addition to the individual academy focus. Hence, this focus produced the journal writing in STEM, the translation component in Dual Language and the implementation of readers theater in Performing Arts.
Nicole Hannon, a first grade STEM Academy teacher, said she can tell the difference the academy focus in her classroom has had on her students.
“My students really get excited about participating in the Wednesday activities,” she said. “You can tell the ‘thinking outside the box’ type of learning is engaging and fun for them.”
Carroll said in early December an academies showcase will be held to highlight how the three programs are impacting student learning. The showcase will be held during the day during instruction time, so parents and other visitors will be able to see first hand how the academies are adding value to each first grader’s education. Scheduled for Dec. 5, 6 and 7, details about the showcase will be released soon.
CES Principal Amanda Carden said plans are to expand the program to other grades through a tiered approach. The academies will be added to second grade next school year and third grade in 2019-2020.
“We are seeing very positive early results from the launch of this program,” said Carden. “Parents can rest assured that their children will not only meet or exceed academic standards, but come away with a specific enrichment focus that engages them on a higher level.”