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Schools Work To Gain Accreditation

Part Four: Bucknell provides programs before, during and after school.

<bt>This article is the final part in a series of four articles focusing on the programs that several schools are undertaking to improve their SOL scores.

Joanne Jackson, principal at Bucknell Elementary School, doesn’t miss an opportunity. As a result, Bucknell Elementary School students have chances to learn all day — before school, after school and of course, during school.

Before school, a group of students participates in Math Olympiad, a nation-wide competition in which a Bucknell student scored in the top percentile. In addition, students can come in early and get help with any of the core subjects, such as language arts and social studies. ROTC students from West Potomac come by and help students with fourth-grade history.

“The kids love that,” Jackson said. “They create a series of games and reinforce concepts.”

Parents also have a chance to learn in the mornings. Jackson said that they noticed that some of the parents had time in the morning, so they have implemented two programs. The first is an early literacy class taught by Margarita Baptista, parent liaison. Two 12-week sessions teach parents with younger children the importance of early development.

“One of the goals is to teach them that you don’t have to wait until the children go to school to help them learn,” Baptista said. “We talk about good nutrition and how important it is to read every day.”

Baptista stresses that parents don’t need to wait for their children to talk because the brain is developing all the time. The course, which is taught in Spanish, has been running at Bucknell for two years now; it was developed by ESOL teachers for Fairfax County.

Baptista is also coordinating a program called PASS (Parents Assisting Students with Studying). As a parent herself, she knows how difficult it is to help teach children when one knows the language and understands how much more difficult it is not knowing the language. Baptista shows parents how to teach math to their children using various activities. She also helps parents learn about the community.

“I remove the barrier between the teachers and the parents who don’t speak English,” Baptista said. “We try to translate as much as possible, so that there’s no excuse that they didn’t know about something.”

DURING SCHOOL, there is plenty of time for math and logic. Jackson said that they stress the importance of math, using Power Partners with third and fifth graders. This program pairs third graders with fifth graders who show them math skills. Jackson said that it not only helps the younger students, but it reinforces the skills of the older students and gives them confidence.

Bucknell has also incorporated the concept of interactive notebooks, a concept developed by Dan Mulligan, an educator from the Chesapeake, Va. area. Jackson said that they are using that concept in science and social studies, two of the most difficult areas, especially for students with limited backgrounds in those subjects. It utilizes the premise that not only information should be recorded, but also a story and a drawing about it as well.

It was the science and history benchmarks that Bucknell missed by one point each in this year’s accreditation ratings. As such, they were the fourth Mount Vernon school to be given a status of “accreditation with warning.”

“I look at it as a challenge,” Jackson said. "It is a hurdle we have to get over. The staff knows that we were so close and they want to know what we need to do to get over this final hurdle.”

Jackson said that they are looking at other schools — what’s important, how they are made up, what they are doing. She credits Cluster IV with helping, saying, “Dr. Tucker is extremely supportive of us. If we have a need, they will fill that need.”

Pat Whitsett is the PTA president and thinks that Bucknell is on the right track.

“I’m very confident in Ms. Jackson — I think she’s doing a great job. I think they will be able to pull up the scores. They’re working very hard on that,” she said. “I think the homework club is a great help.”

Whitsett also likes the Math Olympiad program and the pull-out classes for GT students. She’s hoping that they will continue to emphasize math and reading, and do more science.

IN ADDITION to the interactive notebooks, Jackson said that they spend a lot of time on scientific investigation, reasoning and logic, because that was one of the areas that the students had trouble with on the SOLs. This past week, fifth graders in Lynette Evans class followed the direction of Tara Bartlett, the ESOL teacher who team teaches with Evans. They worked on “The Great Tomato Race,” trying to determine how the temperature of ketchup affected the flow. Students first talked about independent and dependent variables. They developed a hypothesis and created a table before running the experiment with three packs of ketchup that had different temperatures.

“It doesn’t matter if your hypothesis is correct. You always learn something,” Bartlett said.

After school, Bucknell sponsors a Homework Club where students can get help with math and science. Tutors come from West Potomac, Mount Vernon High School and Carl Sandburg Middle School. The Young Architects Club meets for 16 weeks with members of the Virginia Architects Association. This is one of the many programs applied for by Augi Hoskins, GT teacher at Bucknell. Jackson said that she also spearheads the Math Olympiad, “I” team and the field trips.

“To her GT means ‘good thinking,’” Jackson said. “If she sees a need, she jumps in there.”

The “I” team is a group of students who see something and want to know more about it. Last year, the students visited the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project to see how it affected the eco-system. They have since formed a partnership with the bridge project, returning again this year to visit. Students have also visited the National Building Museum and the American Indian Museum.