The last week before the 2006-2007 school year began was a busy one for many Ashburn elementary schools. During the days, teachers came into the schools to set up their classrooms and attend meetings. Parents and students filled the hallways for open houses, meeting their teachers and bringing in school supplies. At night, several schools held their back-to-school nights where teachers and parents could meet and talk about the upcoming year.
This year will bring different things to different schools. Some are experiencing tremendous growth as the area surrounding their school becomes more populated. Others are seeing their enrollment level off after years of maximum capacity.
No matter what changes they are experiencing, however, each school is determined to make this year better than that last and, with the new countywide math initiative, are dedicated to providing the best possible education for the county's youth.
With 685 children expected in its hallways this year and a few new teachers on hand, Ashburn Elementary School Principal Barbara Holley is looking forward to a fabulous year.
"We have excellent, great teachers," she said. "They are so dedicated and hardworking. It is going to be great."
Ashburn Elementary School will be the home of two new programs this year, a breakfast program and a kindergarten-fifth grade English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
While the ESL program has been in place at the elementary-school level in previous years, this is the first time it will be at Ashburn Elementary, something that excites Holley. Students from Hillside Elementary and Sanders Corner Elementary will attend the ESL classes at Ashburn Elementary.
The breakfast program, Holley said, was originally suggested by a parent, but was something Holley had wanted at her school.
"Sometimes it is just to early for kids to eat before they come to school," she said. "Now they have the option to eat here instead."
Ashburn Elementary is also working on an intergenerational volunteer program where senior citizens from area senior centers will be able to volunteer in the school.
"We want to help the children by providing individual guidance, but it will also allow them to connect with the seniors and have the seniors be able to make some meaningful contribution to these children's lives," Holley said.
In addition to the new programs, students at Ashburn Elementary will be reciting a school oath each day after the Pledge of Allegiance. Each day students will say, "Today I will do my best; I will do more than I have to do; I will treat others with kindness and respect; today will be a great day."
The idea for the oath came after Holley heard a speaker talk about an oath he did at his school. Together with the school's leadership team, Holley came up with Ashburn Elementary's own affirmation.
"We want to inspire our children," she said. "We want them to start taking responsibility for their own learning and to start doing more than what is expected to be successful."
While Belmont Station Elementary School Principal Patricia McGinley said academics are always on the top of the priority list for her school, she said she believes there are other things that are just as important.
"One of my goals from last year that I want to continue is the idea of citizenship," she said.
This year McGinley said she hopes that the students will be able to learn about all of the things that make a person a good citizen.
"Things like caring, confidence, kindness, courage," she said. "All of those good 'kah' words."
McGinley said it is important for her that Belmont Station students not only feel good about themselves, but feel good about making others feel good about themselves.
"We want them to notice the good things about other people and not be afraid to say it," she said. "Take that time and be the one to say it. I'd like to have that feeling here."
McGinley said she believes that the groundwork and trust that was developed with parents through Belmont Station's first two years will serve the school well in the coming school year.
"I am hoping that good investment will reap the benefits this year," she said. "That the time we took to create that trust will help us have a really great year."
Part of the upcoming school year at Belmont Station will be several new specialty programs. The school will have an additional kindergarten-second grade class in its autism program, increasing the size of the program from when the school opened two years ago.
"We hope to be able to get third to fifth [grades] established next year," she said. "We want to have our autistic students start in our preschool and end in our fifth grade so they don't have to make all those changes that can be very difficult for a child."
Belmont Station is also adding gifted-and-talented classes to the FUTURA program for fourth- and fifth-graders.
"Because of the special programs on either side we feel we are a small school within a larger school," McGinley said. "Each room is filled but it feels like a real neighborhood school. I think anyone who comes here will notice that."
While Cedar Lane Elementary School has hired some new staff to meet the needs of the 720 students expected this school year, Principal Jean Hall said it is her long-term teachers that really make the school what it is.
"We have a core staff that is really great," she said. "They are totally dedicated to the children."
The biggest addition to the Cedar Lane staff is Assistant Principal Matthew Burns, who used to be a third-grade teacher at Little River Elementary.
"We are really excited to have him," Hall said.
This year Cedar Lane will be focusing on creating a positive school atmosphere.
"We can always be better than we were before," she said. "We want to create a real sense of community."
Hall said they are focusing on creating the positive atmosphere not only for the students, but for the teachers as well. A large part of that, she said, is making sure there is ultimate respect for teachers as well as students.
"If you make this a positive place for teachers to work, then the kids are comfortable with them and with the school," she said.
To create their community, Cedar Lane will be holding school-wide events throughout the year as well as activities that the students will do in their own classrooms.
"We have children that just blossom under those conditions," Hall said.
With its new theme, "Full Speed Ahead to Learning," Cedar Lane is also making sure it keeps up with the newest technology and makes it available to the students.
Last year the Parent-Teacher Association raised $10,000 in order to purchase four Smart Boards, which will can be used in place of blackboards or overhead machines.
"These will probably replace blackboards completely in the future," Hall said.
The boards, which work like a large wall computer, allow teachers to write lessons and save them for future reference, print them out for students or pull up Internet pages for the students to look at.
"The biggest thing is they let the students get involved and actively participate in their lessons," Hall said.
Besides an increase in enrollment of about 100 students, the biggest change at Little River Elementary School is in the front office. Principal Joyce Hardcastle is beginning her first year at the helm of the school and she is excited to get started.
"It is finally getting off of the paper and into real life," she said. "It is really exciting."
To meet the needs of the school's more than 980 students, 16 new staff members were hired this year, including 12 new teachers. There will be three new first-grade teachers, as well as a new teacher in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Little River will also be home to a new art teacher, a new physical-education teacher and two new resource teachers.
"I really believe that with new people comes a new energy," Hardcastle said.
The school's year will be focused around the theme, "Soaring Into Learning," playing off of the school's eagle mascot. Hardcastle said she hopes that each student at Little River will become a life-long learner, building off of the foundation they learn in elementary school.
"We hope they learn as much as they can so that they have the best year ever," she said. "We do well academically, but it is more than that. We want our students to grow socially and emotionally."
Hardcastle said she and the teachers at Little River are dedicated to getting to know the students, but being in the classrooms and talking with them whenever they can.
"Even though this is a big school, there is no reason not to know every child's name," she said. "Each child is important to us. You have to remember that even though it is a large number, what is important is what is happening in the classroom."
While there are no new programs scheduled to start at Little River, Hardcastle said that could change as the year goes on.
"A lot of the things [that were in place] have really worked," she said. "As we go through the year, we will definitely look at new things we can do."
For Mill Run Elementary School, the upcoming school year is the first time the school's enrollment has not been the largest in the county. At 970 students, the school's classrooms are full, but not maxed out, and the school is only adding a handful of teachers to the staff.
"It is a very comfortable thing," Principal Paul Vickers said. "We have such a warm and wonderful staff and to have a couple new people come in to meld with the five or six old people on each team is very nice."
This year, Mill Run is trying out a new program, GRowL, a play off of the school's mountain lion mascot. GRowL stands for Greater Review for Learning, Vickers said, and is meant to increase students' recall of basic math facts.
For five minutes each day, students will work on certain math facts, such as multiplication tables, through a variety of games and activities. Each Friday, the students will take a GRowL assessment that tests how easily they recall the information they have learned.
"We are not looking for lightning speed, we're looking for 20 questions answered correctly," Vickers said. "Children need to be proficient with their math facts."
Vickers said that since only five minutes will be taken up with reinforcement of basic math principals, 55 minutes of the class will be available for teaching new material. All classes in one grade will be working at the same level, based on state standards and the county's pacing guide.
"This is just putting teeth behind it," Vickers said. "It makes it so it gives a unique practice and so all children can have the opportunity to review. We don't want to miss anybody."
In addition to the new program, Mill Run will have a parent liaison for the first time. The liaison, Laura Warner, will be responsible for contacting all new Mill Run families and helping involve them in school activities.
"Parent input is huge," Vickers said. "We have the best group of parents."
Vickers said it is the parents of Mill Run students that help make the school so successful.
"I am very proud of the fact that we have a wonderful atmosphere," he said. "We try to choose people who are going to bring out the best in each other and therefore the children."
For a school that has at times had an enrollment as high as 900 students and has had to take overflow from other local schools, Sanders Corner Elementary School Principal Kathleen Hwang is excited about the school's projected enrollment of 650 students.
This year, Sanders Corner will have a few new faces in its hallways, including a fourth-grade teacher, a fifth-grade teacher, a kindergarten teacher as well as a new cafeteria manager and a special-education teacher.
"Our goal this year is to raise the bar," Hwang said, "so we are attuning lessons to what each child brings to us."
Hwang said teachers have been focusing on lesson plans that have a practical application, so a child can apply what they learn to their every day life.
As a part of focusing lessons to real life, Sanders Corner is concentrating on building its library so there are more resources available to children who read at all levels, Hwang said.
"So for example, if the students are reading about erosion, they would be supplied with books at three different levels and the teacher would design activities based on what their level is," Hwang said.
The approach will also be applied to subjects such as math, Hwang said, so if a teacher is teaching something that some students already know, a more detailed activity can be created for those students, which focuses on how they would apply that math skill to real life.
Students will also be using their writing skills in every subject, not just language arts, Hwang said.
"Research shows you if you have students write across the curriculum they will do better," she said. "These kids are very exposed to information. We want them to take it a little bit further."
Sanders Corner is also focusing this year on 100 percent student participation, Hwang said.
"If you go into a classroom and one person is doing a lot of the talking, the rest are tuned out," she said. "It is amazing to watch that change when they are involved in what they're learning."
For every new idea and program that is introduced at Sanders Corner, Hwang said she has one test.
"I ask the staff to put their own child in the situation and see if it would be something they would be comfortable with," she said.