Preparing for Opening Day

Preparing for Opening Day

Two of the Vienna area's smallest elementary schools prepare for coming year.

<bt>At a school the size of Stenwood Elementary, a 32-student jump in enrollment has consequences. Now that the school finds itself with 430 students, administration has had walls removed to make room for an additional fifth-grade class and a half-time kindergarten class. Enrollment had not been projected to increase, but it did anyway.

"But we're glad we're growing," said Principal Laraine Edwards, who is entering her fourth year as the school's principal. "We don't want to be a shrinking school."

Stenwood, located near the Dunn Loring Metro station and part of the Marshall High School pyramid, is still a small school by Fairfax County standards, and administrators say the size lends itself to a tighter sense of community. "It's an amazing neighborhood school. And that's not to say it just to say it," said Edwards.

"You can know all the kids," said Assistant Principal Joanne Goodwin. "All of our kids know each other. The big kids know the little kids."

Edwards credited the school's sense of family for the fact that only one teacher, who had married and moved away, is being replaced this year.

As for the student body's recent growth spurt, Edwards said some of the specialists on staff will now be sharing space, but the school is prepared to take on the extra children.

"Every nook and cranny is being used," said Goodwin.

Three additional teaching positions were added and filled, bringing the total number of teachers to 18, and the school will continue to fill its three trailer classrooms.

ENROLLMENT NUMBERS include a special-education preschool program, which draws children from outside the school's boundaries. The program consists of two classes of about eight children each.

This year, Stenwood is kicking off a business partnership with Serco Inc., which has a nearby office on Gallows Road. The partnership will involve not only financial support but also volunteer time. "They plan to be very hands-on with our kids," said Edwards.

Five volunteer programs will come of the partnership. Lunch Pals will be a lunchtime mentoring program through which Serco employees will come to the school to have lunch with students. The Homework Club will give children somewhere to go after school to do homework and get help with assignments. Students will have story times with Serco employees through Read Aloud, and Pen Pals will put each class in touch with a volunteer via old-fashioned letter writing. A program of individual, needs-based tutoring will also be part of the partnership.

Edwards said Stenwood generally earns high scores in all areas of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) testing. The results of last year's new reading and math tests among fourth- and sixth-graders do not appear to be as high as faculty had hoped, said Edwards, but the state is still examining the results of those tests statewide, and no official data has yet been released. She noted that the third and fifth grade performed "very well," with more students achieving the coveted "pass advanced" mark.

Open House at Stenwood will be Thursday, Aug. 31 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., and Back-to-School Night will be Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. Edwards also said she encourages parents to mark Nov. 3 on their calendars for Heritage Night, which celebrates the school's diverse community and features multicultural foods, as well as performances by the children.

ENROLLMENT AT VIENNA ELEMENTARY, the oldest continually operating school in the county, is holding steady as the school prepares to open for its 134th year. Principal Jeanette Black said she expects about 370 students to attend, including three small classes of special-education preschoolers.

Black, who is beginning her second year as the school's principal, said the school will continue to place a special focus on literacy this year. Throughout Cluster 2, nonfiction writing has become a centerpiece of the curriculum, because an emphasis on analytical writing skills have been shown to raise scores in all testing areas, she said.

The school's reading teacher will be instructing both teachers and parents on techniques for teaching reading and writing. The school encourages parents not only to work with their own children on literacy skills but to come to the school and tutor students one-on-one or instruct students in group reading activities, such as the Great Books program.

The school's budget will also be oriented to buying books and stocking the library, and the PTA has offered assistance in that effort, including fund-raising, said Black. The PTA is "making reading and the library program a priority this year," she said.

The PTA also supplemented county funding for more wireless computers, so that the school will now have two and a half wireless computer labs, which can move on carts from one classroom to another. Last year, there was only one such lab. "The technology's really exciting," she said. "There are so many wonderful Web-based resources." She noted that the school intends to work computer technology into every area of the school's curriculum.

THE SCHOOL HAS ALSO added a full-time gifted and talented (GT) resource specialist, although Vienna Elementary is not a GT center, meaning it does not draw GT students from beyond its boundaries. Black said the instructor will fill two roles — teaching for the school's GT program and working with other teachers to develop their skills and teaching strategies.

There will only be two new members to the school's teaching staff.

Black said it was early to draw many conclusions from the unofficial data on last year's SOL testing, but she said the preliminary results looked "very positive" and added, "We're very pleased with the fourth- and sixth-grade performance on their new tests this year."

She also noted that the faculty is excited about the school's upcoming renovation, slated to begin in 2008. The preliminary plans include a brick-and-mortar addition to the building. For now, the school continues to use its one trailer classroom.

Open House at Vienna Elementary will be Aug. 31 from 2 to 3 p.m., and Back-to-School night will be Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. Black also noted that the school's signature Grandparents Day will be held some time in October, when children's grandparents, some of whom attended Vienna Elementary, will visit, tell stories, play games and have lunch with the students.