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It's Never Too Early ...

Oakton and Flint Hill elementary schools begin preparing students for the "real world."

At local elementary schools, it's never too early to begin preparing children for the adult world. Oakton and Flint Hill elementary schools are no exception.

One way that Oakton Elementary begins introducing students to the ways of the work environment is by familiarizing them with technology. The school bought new equipment this year, including digital cameras and laptop projectors, and is training teachers to incorporate the tools into their existing curriculum, said Principal Beverly Worek and Assistant Principal Keith Eck.

"It's doing something that's been done for years, but doing it in a different way that's more here-and-now," said Eck. For example, students might use digital cameras to tell a picture story.

Worek noted that students use computer programs, such as Kidspiration and Inspiration, to help them organize their writing and that they write their science reports on school laptops.

"We have programs for every part of the curriculum there is," said Eck, adding that this includes art and physical education. Parents will also get some computer experience this year, with the advent of the school's first online newsletter.

Worek and Eck are both new to their positions this year, although neither is new to the school. Worek was Oakton's assistant principal for the last year and a half, after serving in the same capacity at Orange Hunt and Keene Mill elementary schools in Springfield. Prior to her administrative career, she taught elementary school, primarily the first, second and fifth grades. Eck was a physical education teacher at Oakton for a number of years and worked as an administrator at Colvin Run Elementary last year.

"We take a team approach to administration," Worek said of herself and Eck.

She pointed to the school's relationship with the community as one reason they are glad to stay at Oakton, citing a strong parent volunteer base. "The children realize the home-school connection is a great support to them," she said.

Worek noted that the PTA sponsors programs such as a chess group, a girls‚ running club and a before-school foreign language program that teaches French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.

There are also about 10 new members to the Oakton teaching staff, which employs about 60. "Getting them acclimated to the school and the community has been great," said Eck.

Enrollment at the school has held steady around 610 students. As far as space at the school, "our problem is nooks and crannies," said Worek, explaining that the full classes are all comfortably housed, but finding a place for smaller groups can be tricky. With three English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers at the school and an extra art teacher one day per week, this can be problematic. The four trailer classrooms behind the school are reserved for such small group programs.

Worek said Oakton kept up its typically high Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores last year. In terms of strengths and weaknesses in the school's performance, she said, "I think we followed the state and the county." Science scores, for example, were not quite as high as scores in some other areas. "That's something we'll be working on," she said.

FLINT HILL ELEMENTARY has pioneered its own method for encouraging good citizenship among students in the last few years, said Principal Sal Rivera and Assistant Principal Della Kidd.

The Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program consists of a system for recognizing adherence to the school's Falcon Five rules. Each teacher is given 10 feather stickers per week to award to students for modeling the Falcon Five. Each Friday, teachers submit a Soar Slip regarding one of their students, and administrators randomly select a slip from each grade and have the students' names announced on the morning news. Each month, teachers select a boy and girl "Faithful Falcon of the Month" from their class to have an after-school party with the principal and receive a coupon for a free meal at Outback Steakhouse in Vienna. Entire classrooms can also be awarded Falcon Feathers.

"It's important that every student gets recognized positively," said Rivera, who is in his seventh year as Flint Hill's principal.

The administrators said the PBS program, coupled with a rigorous emphasis on following procedure in all activities, has had its desired effect on student behavior. "We have very few discipline problems," said Kidd, who is in her fourth year as the school's vice principal, noting that students of all grades eagerly await recognition for walking in line or not talking during fire drills, although they are not allowed to ask for feathers.

Rivera has made presentations to other schools that wish to implement similar programs.

Flint Hill made moves this year to hold onto all of the students in its boundaries, acquiring the part-time service of an ESOL teacher and introducing a GT center at the third-grade level. "I just got tired of losing all these kids because they qualified for something," said Kidd, referring to the GT center. "So we requested it."

Previously, students went to Louise Archer or Sunrise Valley elementary schools for GT classes, and ESOL students went to Vienna Elementary. The GT center will be phased in until, after four years, it serves grades three through six. The school will continue to enlist the aid of its existing full-time enrichment specialist, who has helped teachers work with advanced students. Flint Hill was one of the last eight schools in the county to acquire an ESOL teacher.

Enrollment at the school is now up slightly, from 692 students last year to 709 this year, but Rivera said there were still no crowding issues. Flint Hill continues to use its four trailer classrooms. Two teachers have been added to the staff, as well as the part-time ESOL teacher, and the reading teacher and two special education teachers were replaced.

On last year's SOL testing, said Rivera, "we did great." Ninety percent or more of the students passed in every subject area except for sixth-grade history, in which 86 percent passed. The pass rates for third-grade math and science were 99 percent. New last year were math and reading tests for fourth- and sixth-graders, and both those grades achieved a 91 percent pass rate in math. Ninety-three percent of fourth-graders passed the reading test, as did 98 percent of sixth-graders.

Rivera reminded that on Nov. 10, the day before Veterans‚ Day, Flint Hill will hold its annual Patriots' Day celebration, which will involve the entire school and various guests.