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Schools Settle In

As the first week of school got under way, principals at four of Ashburn's elementary schools spent their days working with teachers, dealing with the reality of having 20 school buses and helping students find their way through the school. Students experienced their first fire drill of the school year and attended their first pep rally.

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 the last and, with the new countywide math initiative, are dedicated to providing the best possible education for the county's youth.

<sh>Hillside Elementary

<bt>With an enrollment that has hovered around 800 students for the past few years, only a few new staff members joined the existing staff this year. The school hired two new resource teachers and one new fifth-grade teacher.

Due to their excellent scores on last year's exams, Principal Mary Green said, Hillside did not have to add any remedial or review initiatives to its curriculum, but the school is determined to maintain its success.

"We want to create a comforting, welcoming atmosphere," Green said. "We want to have a safe year of learning."

Between kindergarten and transfer students, Hillside will be home to 60 new students this year. To make the children feel more comfortable as they adjust to their new school, Hillside created a buddy system. New students are paired with another student in their classroom and, if they ride a bus, their school bus.

"The guidance counselors oversee the buddy program," Green said. "They check up on the students and make sure no child is without a buddy."

In addition to the buddy program, Hillside will be home to two new programs this year, a breakfast program and the YMCA after-school program. The breakfast program was added to Hillside because of the importance of proper nutrition in education, Green said.

"You can't learn if you can't have breakfast," she said.

As a part of the attention being paid to nutrition and health, Hillside has stopped allowing parents to bring treats such as cupcakes or cookies for their child's birthday. While Green said she understands wanting to make a student's birthday special, the concern over health, obesity and especially allergies made tracking the treats too difficult.

"We do not want to take a risk of someone eating something they shouldn't," she said. "We are still doing holiday parties, but those we can plan ahead for."

Green said one of the reasons for Hillside's success is the combination of efforts from students, teachers and parents.

"We have a huge volunteer program here," she said.

Hillside will be hosting a volunteer breakfast for parents Friday, Sept. 15, at 8:30 a.m. The breakfast will be an opportunity for parents to learn about various volunteer opportunities, Green said, as well as receive some basic training on various machines within the school and school regulations. Green added it is also a good opportunity for parents with new students to meet other parents in their neighborhood and in their child's class.

"If they want to come in and meet other parents and network, that's great," Green said. "If they want to sign up to volunteer, that's wonderful. We can always use people in the school."

<sh>Legacy Elementary

<bt>With an enrollment of 1,050 students, Legacy Elementary School is one of the largest elementary schools in the county and has seen tremendous growth since its first year. Before the school year ended last year, the school had already received permission to hire five new teachers. This year Legacy has eight first-grade classes, seven second-grade classes, six third-grade classes and nine kindergarten classes, eight half day and one full day.

This year everything Legacy does will be built around a theme, "Saddle Up for a Great Year at Legacy." Extracurricular activities, decorations and events will be focused around a western theme.

"We are going to learn so much and we are going to have so much fun this year," Principal Robert Duckworth said.

Because Legacy opened last year, the school only had benchmark exam scores from its third-graders, and while they were very happy with those scores, Duckworth said the school decided to implement a writing program schoolwide this year.

The program was created to establish consistency across the grade levels, Duckworth said.

"Learning is full of connections," he said. "When something is learned in isolation kids tend to promptly forget it."

Legacy established a rubric at each grade level for scoring students based on writing prompts they will receive throughout the year. The goal, Duckworth said, is to be able to see the growth in each student.

To create the program and writing prompts, teachers met to discuss terminology and vocabulary within content areas and what the children needed more of before they moved on to the next grade level.

"We were finding that students said they hadn't been taught something, when all it was, was they knew it by a different name," Duckworth said.

The writing program is the main focus of Legacy this year, Duckworth said, because the school wanted to make sure it was doing one thing very well instead of spreading themselves, and students, too thin.

"We want to look at how we can take the Standards of Learning and continue to raise the bar," he said. "Nobody rises to low expectations. Children will work to the level you have set for them."

In addition to focusing on writing, Legacy's staff will be concentrating on creating a positive social atmosphere for its students. At the school's first pep rally, Duckworth told his charges he wanted to create a school year where students respect and honor each other.

"We're in the business of building people up, not tearing people down," he said.

That idea will be emphasized every day, when the students recite the Labrador Promise, Duckworth said. Each day after the morning announcements, students will say, "Today I promise to do my best, respect myself, others and our world."

<sh>Newton-Lee Elementary

<bt>As Newton-Lee enters its second year, Principal Julie Boyd hopes to bring everything together and build on the success the school had last year.

"We started off so smoothly," Boyd said. "We want to continue the camaraderie that there is here. Our teachers here are really very close."

Boyd said one of the reasons for the great atmosphere at Newton-Lee is the relationship between the teachers. One of the school's physical-education teachers put together a wellness program for the staff, Boyd said, where they take exercise classes and bond.

"The teachers were so excited to get into the school this year," Boyd said. "I think that was one of the reasons."

After-school programs are also a very important part of life for Newton-Lee students, Boyd said. The school hopes to offer a variety of programs, such as a book club or basketball, so that every student can find their place.

With an enrollment growth of almost 100 students, Newton-Lee added a teacher to each of its grade levels, as well a new physical-education teacher, guidance counselor and music teacher. The school is also home to a full-day English as a Second Language (ESL) program this year, which required a new teacher and a new assistant. Students in the kindergarten, first and second grades take ESL in the mornings, while the older students take the class in the afternoon.

"I am really glad to have it here," Boyd said. "There is no time lost traveling for the kids. They can stay under one roof for the whole day."

For the first time all of Newton-Lee's classes are self-contained, Boyd said, meaning students will see different instructors within the same classroom setting.

"We know there will be a lot of growth this year," she said. "We want to target the areas that we saw we needed improvements."

To help manage the growth, the school will have a parent liaison for the first time, which will help the school reach out to new families and bring them into Newton-Lee's community. With an enrollment of 825, Boyd said the biggest challenge of the year will be maintaining the small school feeling that was established last year.

"We want to keep that closeness we have with the staff and the community," she said. "We are really ready to hit the ground running."

<sh>Pinebrook Elementary

<bt>One of the biggest parts of life at Pinebrook Elementary School outside of the classroom is its variety of after-school programs.

"We have over 150 kids in our after-school programs," Principal Dawn Haddock said. "And we are fortunate enough to be able to provide transportation for [the students.] That gives time for the parents to get home from work."

This year the school will be home to a pilot program for piano lessons, Haddock said. The school received 16 Yamaha pianos for its music classes and private lessons after school. In addition, Pinebrook is adding a program called Girls on the Run.

While the program will be centered on running, it will also be a leadership program that deals with issues such as self-esteem, how to avoid gossip and bullying.

"We want to look at the whole picture of the child," Haddock said. "The lessons are really built around things that are around you every day."

Students will be involved in discussions and activities that will get them thinking about who they are and how they are in the school, Haddock said. The program will cumulate in a run Dec. 9 at Tysons Corner in McLean.

The school is also home to a hands-on science program, cheerleading and is in its second year of the HEROES program, which brings local firefighters in to help students with their homework and provide positive role models for the children.

All of Pinebrook's after-school and in-school programs are successful, Haddock said, because of the relationship the school has with its parents and community. Last year Pinebrook parents volunteered 10,000 hours of their time, a number Haddock hopes to increase by 2,000 hours this year.

"Between my parents, my students and my staff I feel really fortunate," she said.

As a school in its second year, Pinebrook is working on its School Improvement Plan for the first time. Haddock said the school had 12 teachers who were trained to lead the rest of the staff in creating the plan. The school invited parents to be a part of the discussion as well.

"It was really very helpful," Haddock said. "We got a really good fell for parents' input. It opened more doors with us."

In addition to encouraging parental involvement, Haddock is determined to play a bigger role instructionally.

"I want to be in the classroom much more," she said. "It is not just observing, but if you are just sitting with a child and talking about what they are learning, it makes a difference."

With 200 additional students this year, Pinebrook is determined to maintain the successful academic environment it established last year.

"We're the ones who make a difference," she said. "But it takes teamwork. Everyone has to be a partner."