Times Keep A-Changin'

Times Keep A-Changin'

So do the elementary schools, if they want to stay on top of their game.

Louise Archer and Marshall Road elementary schools, both led by veteran principals, are striving to serve increasingly diverse student bodies, keep their classrooms abreast of technology and keep their buildings in top form.

Louise Archer has upped its already broad range of before- and after-school activities. This year, the school offers four language classes outside regular school hours β€” German and Italian have been added to classes already available in Spanish and French, said Dwayne Young, who is beginning his eighth year as the school's principal. Basketball and rollerblading programs, as well as the grab-bag Overtime Athletics, are also new this year. Last year, a robotics club was started. These are in addition to standards such as the chess club, running club, Odyssey of the Mind, Hands-On Science and a homework club.

The Louise Archer PTA drives and sponsors the programs, said Young. "They're constantly revising what we do with our kids."

Technology is being added on several fronts. The school obtained three new mobile computer labs. Fifteen six-foot-wide screens β€” on which images from a laptop can be projected β€” were placed around the building. "We're trying to improve the visual experience in the classroom," said Young. "We're also trying to improve the audio experience." He noted that the school installed sound distribution systems, which broadcast a teacher's voice from several speakers around the classroom, in four rooms and plans to have them installed in 26 more in the coming months.

AT THE BEGINNING of last year, eight trailers sat behind the school. By the end of the year, a 10-classroom modular building had replaced six of those trailers. The new building houses fifth- and sixth-grade classes. "Now we have space, which we never had before," said Young.

"That's why we have the opportunity to offer all these after-school activities," said Assistant Principal Michelle Makrigiorgos.

The new space provides a new faculty conference room, a music room and an art lab/strategies lab. The music teacher formerly taught many of his classes on the stage, and the school had never had an art room. The strategies lab features various educational software.

Makrigiorgos noted that the lab's software was entirely funded by a partnership which the PTA forged with Barnes & Noble.

The school's roof was replaced over the summer, said Young, and its carpeting is being replaced with tile. A few rooms were tiled last year, and several more will be tiled this year. He also said new asphalt will be laid in the playground area, the basketball court will be repainted, and he would like to see the fields leveled and irrigated. Louise Archer's fields are also used for practice by Vienna Youth Inc. and James Madison High School.

Enrollment at the school stands at 683 students. This is up slightly from last year, although faculty had expected a slight drop in enrollment. As a GT center, Louise Archer was drawing students who would otherwise have attended Flint Hill Elementary, but Flint Hill became a GT center this year.

The school has three new teachers, as well as one new counselor, a new librarian/media specialist and two new office personnel. "Turnover here is always pretty low," said Young.

He said the school's performance on last year's Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests was "great" but added, "There's more to education than SOL scores, and although we do really well, we really want happy, challenged, motivated kids, and I think that comes out in our scores." Activities like the four-day sixth-grade camping trip from which he had just returned help achieve that goal, Young said. "We don't have kids who don't try."

AT MARSHALL ROAD Elementary, seven classrooms have been equipped with sound distribution systems, and the school also got two interactive whiteboards this year, in addition to the one it already had. The whiteboards allow students to manipulate images projected on the screen from a laptop.

"Teachers are really clamoring for them," said Principal Jude Isaacson, who is beginning her seventh year at the school. She said the school will be ordering more of the devices. The whiteboards can also be used in conjunction with Discovery Education's unitedstreaming videos, to which the school recently subscribed. Videos on any number of subjects can be downloaded and shown in whole or in part. "A lot of our teachers are really taking off in technology," said Isaacson, "and that has been very promising for us."

Also on the technology front, the school got an automated phone system, which can be programmed to send messages to all parents or the parents of any subset of students, such as all second-graders or all English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students. The system also sends messages in different languages, depending on each student's home language.

Thirty-four languages, aside from English, are spoken at the school, which prides itself on being a member of the international community. About 20 percent of the students receive ESOL services, said Isaacson. She noted that many of those students are children of diplomats, the employees of foreign embassies and state departments, and doctors coming from overseas to complete their education. In recent years, a Finnish newspaper visited Marshall Road, researching a story on students in the "diplomatic corps," she said.

Also, a Japanese news program recently recorded a segment at the school, reporting on how it deals with learning disabilities. About 15 to 20 percent of the student body receives special education for serious learning, emotional and non-categorical disabilities.

"A lot of people move into our boundary because of our reputation for working with all children," said Isaacson.

She also noted that three students from the school were selected to participate in forums in D.C. and Alaska by the People to People Student Ambassadors, an international program designed to foster citizenship. Six students had been nominated by the school.

Marshall Road has also been a professional development school for many years, in partnership with George Washington University. Eight graduate students work as interns at the school as part of their master's program, teaching subjects such as art and music therapy and working in the ESOL program. Isaacson said the school also has a student from Germany teaching P.E.

This benefits the school by providing more teachers, she said. "They're part of the teaching team. So instead of having three math groups, you can end up with six or seven across the grade level, and that brings down the student-teacher ratio."

IN ADDITION to a full-time GT teacher, the school also has a "related arts" program that works with all students to provide enrichment activities reinforcing the curriculum. For example, the sixth grade will be creating an elaborate historical "wax museum" this year, in which students will pose in costume as the wax figures in various historical display settings.

About 550 students are enrolled at Marshall Road, which is around the same number as last year, said Isaacson. About 15 of the 80 or so faculty members are new this year.

Isaacson said she was pleased with the school's SOL scores for last year and with the fact that it met the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements. This can be challenging for Marshall Road, she said, because scores for special education and ESOL students are included in the school's overall score.

Looking toward the future, the PTA is working on gaining a grant for an after-school program to help children with their test-taking skills, which would start after winter break, and the P.E. teachers are applying for a grant to install a rock-climbing wall.