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What’s New at Bells Mill Elementary?

Jerri Oglesby, who is beginning her fifth year as principal, said that the Bells Mill is recognized as one of the top 100 schools in the area because of the high number of students scoring in the advanced category on the Maryland State Assessments. She is also proud of the increased success rates among “underrepresented students” such as those learning English as a second language and those whose family incomes qualify them for free and reduced meals.

“Our priority this year is to … increase the number of students performing at the advanced level, and our main focus area is mathematics,” she said. “We’re working on staff development on having teachers become more aware of what rigor looks like in the classroom and training on differentiating math instruction.”

Fourth- and fifth-grade students at Bells Mill can enroll in Math A and Math B, the equivalent of seventh- and eighth-grade level mathematics. Twenty-two students at the school, which has Kindergarten through fifth grade, are taking seventh-grade level math.

In order to continue increasing the achievement level of underrepresented students, Oglesby said that teachers are making sure that all children are exposed to on grade-level instruction. The school also provides after-school programs in math and reading skills.

Bells Mill will undergo a modernization in December 2007 for completion by fall 2009. During that time, Bells Mill students will be relocated to portable classrooms at Grosvenor Elementary in Bethesda.

“This is an exciting year for us because we’re involved in the planning stages of our new building and preparing for vacating this building and moving into Grosvenor,” said Oglesby.

LAURIE HALVERSON of Potomac is PTA president of Bells Mill. She has been on the PTA board for four years and served as president-elect last year. She is a stay-at-home mom with a second-grader and a fifth-grader at Bells Mill.

Halverson is most proud of Bells Mill parents’ activism in response to the discovery of mold inside two of the schools’ portable classrooms in the spring. Parents successfully convinced the School Board, embroiled in a controversy over Seven Locks Elementary, to move up Bells Mills’ modernization.

About one-third of students being taught in the affected trailers developed flu-like symptoms, and administrators eventually closed both portables.

“We all came together last year to advocate for the safety of our portables, and we were able to have our portables replaced, and we also got our modernization moved up so that our overcrowding will be relieved sooner,” she said.

The Bells Mill PTA helps make possible numerous activities and events throughout the school year. During Earth Day, students, teachers and parents clean up the school site and plant flowers and plants. The PTA hosts monthly teacher’s breakfasts with baked and home-made food. The parent group also sponsors a program called Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) to teach interested students Spanish and Language each morning before school starts. Five times a year, the PTA helps arrange Club Bells Mill at Cabin John Middle School so that the children can enjoy sports, activities and a DJ while their parents have an evening out.

Bells Mill also participates in the Read Across America program, and the PTA helps bring in local celebrities to read to the children during the day.

“We have University of Maryland football players come, and [the athletes] really look forward to it,” said Halverson. “They all try to sign up to come over to our school.”

Another highlight is International Night, which will be held in the spring this year.

“We had over 37 countries represented last year,” she said. “They all bring food, and the children perform a show based on their country. It’s always very fun.”

Halverson said that parents are hoping for a less stressful (and less moldy) year at Bells Mill.

“On Back to School Night I gave out note cards and asked for feedback from parents, and … they said they’d like a less stressful this year,” she said. “Last year was very stressful because of mold within our portables, so our goal is to have fun and enjoy the activities.”

Bells Mill Calendar

* Ledo's Restaurant Night: Sept. 19, Nov. 21, Dec. 19, Jan. 16, Feb. 20, March 20, April 24, & May 15, 5-9 p.m.

* Spirit Night at McDonald's: Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

* Walk for the Homeless: Oct. 27, 2 p.m.

* Read Across America: March 8 & 9

* Earth Day Clean-Up: April 20

* International Night: May 4

* Bells Mill Bash: June 1, 5:30 p.m.

* Club Bells Mill: Nov. 18, Jan. 6, Feb. 3, & March 10, 6:30-8:30 p.m.