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What’s New at Travilah Elementary

Last year, an academic initiative at Travilah Elementary involved teachers keeping more extensive data on their students. This year, students are getting involved as well by learning to keep data notebooks in order to track their academic growth in topics like math facts, spelling and writing.

“We feel if children are included in their own learning, they become more vested,” said Susan Shenk, principal of Travilah Elementary. “Staff development has been doing model lessons to help get it kicked off. Even kindergarteners will be keeping their own data notebooks.”

The reading initiative, which involves a 120-minute reading block each day, is a long-time program at Travilah that will continue this year. An additional staff person is available for each grade level in order to break students up into smaller classes for their language arts block. Parents also volunteer to work with students individually to improve their reading skills.

“Travilah is very fortunate in that we have an extremely supportive parent community,” said Shenk. “We couldn’t do the reading support programs if we didn’t have such a wonderful volunteer force.”

All county schools are required to offer all-day kindergarten this year, but Travilah accomplished this years ago and was in fact the first school in the cluster to transition to the full-day schedule. Shenk said that children make the adjustment to a longer school day fairly easily, and that the more in-depth curriculum has paid off in higher test scores in reading and math.

After school ends in June 2007, construction will begin on a six-room addition to the school. The kindergarten area will receive two extra classrooms, and there will be new rooms for art and music classes, as well as additional office space and new restrooms. Travilah currently has seven portable classrooms, which will not be needed after the addition. The construction is in only one area of the building and so the students will not have to relocate to a holding school.

CHUCK THORNTON of North Potomac is beginning his first year as PTA president of Travilah Elementary. He has two children at the school. He said that last year’s PTA board left the parent group well positioned financially, and that his team is also inheriting good programs that they will continue and build upon.

“Personally I think the most impressive one is the Opera-in-Residence — they bring in an opera instructor, and within one week she’s able to teach all of the students in school and even most of the staff to perform an opera,” he said. “She starts on Monday and by Friday they put on a performance, and they learn about opera and what it is. Each grade performs a separate opera and it’s really amazing.”

Travilah also hosts a Poet-in-Residence and a Percussionist-in-Residence every year.

Travilah’s student body is nearly 40 percent Asian-American, and the school celebrates the Chinese New Year in February. Thornton said that a goal this year is to bring more Asian families into the PTA for a more ethnically and culturally diverse board. He said that more family fun nights may be held at Chinese restaurants or other ethnic locales.

Over the last year, the PTA paid to install a new, lighted sign in front of the school. They also increased volunteerism through the National PTA’s “Three for Me” program, which encouraged parents — particularly fathers — to commit to doing three hours of volunteer work per year at the school.

Thornton said that the PTA’s main focus this year is a physical fitness program.

“Obesity among youth in this country is on the rise, so we want to get the students and even the faculty involved in physical fitness activities,” he said.

The parent group may sponsor Jump Rope for Heart, purchase playground and physical education equipment, and provide healthy snacks for staff meetings.

TRAVILAH ELEMENTARY parent Gail Oring wanted to contribute to the PTA but had limited time because of her graphic design business. After consulting with the parent group, she decided to give students at her son’s school a sampling of the creative photo manipulations that are possible on the computer.

"When my son was young, he and I created graphics together on the computer," said Oring. "Wyatt's friends came to our house to play and wanted to create the same kind of graphics on the computer rather than play video games. At that point I realized that there was a need for an accessible computer graphics program for kids."

Out of this endeavor to introduce Travilah students to computer graphics, Oring's offshoot company Creative Computers was formed. The Potomac-based business initially served only Travilah but has expanded to schools around the county, including Dufief Elementary and Bethesda Elementary. Graphic designers teach students photo manipulation techniques one hour a week after school, and students create their own trading cards, gift cards and artwork. Along the way, the elementary school students learn computer skills such as creating folders, saving files, scanning images, retrieving files off of CDs, searching the web, and retrieving photos from Internet searches.

“I learned from the kids what kinds of things they like to do and what kinds of projects they consider fun,” said Oring, who lives in North Potomac. “I tried to combine a lot of what they like to see with learning, even though they don’t feel like they’re learning. The class is really successful and is always selling out at Travilah, so I decided to offer it to other schools as well.”

The PTA mails sign-up forms to parents, and the cost is $100 for a seven-week session. Classes begin the week of Oct. 16. For more information, call 301-803-0282 or e-mail bethsok@gmail.com.

<b>Travilah Elementary Calendar </b>

* Halloween Happenings – Oct. 31

* Bingo Night – Nov. 3, 7 p.m.; Feb. 2, 7 p.m.

* Book Fair – Nov. 6-10

* Opera-in-Residence – Nov. 27

* Health and Sensitivity Fair – Jan. 18

* Lunar New Year Celebration – Feb. 6

* International Night – March 2

* TV Turn-off Week – April 23-29

* TV Turn-off Program Night – April 26

* Travilahfest – May 18

* Fifth-Grade Promotion Ceremony – June 13