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Votes

Focus on Community

As the first month of the 2006-2007 school year comes to a close, principals at two of Ashburn's elementary schools are settling in. Their schedules are filled with meetings and activities, classroom visits and fire drills. Even though things continue to be busy, these principals are enjoying every minute.

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>Hutchison Farm Elementary School

<bt>It is four o'clock in the afternoon and Hutchison Farm Elementary School Principal Irene Ellis is in a meeting. Despite the late hour, when she steps out of her office there is a smile on her face.

"Things have been going really well," she said. "I am loving it."

This year Hutchison Farm is home to 901 students, almost 50 more than last year. A new first-grade classroom was established to meet the growing population of the school. Even with the enrollment changes, Ellis said the schools is determined not to let any student slip behind.

"The challenge is to make sure everybody is learning," she said. "Giving remedial work when children need it, challenging those students who are in the middle and enriching those students who need enriching."

One of the ways that Hutchison Farm is working to ensure the success of every student is through its Steps to Literacy program. Last year the program was introduced for kindergarten through second grade and this year it is being introduced in the third grade. Throughout the year, third-grade teachers will receive training in the program so they pass the best practices in reading on to their students.

"Each year we will introduce the program at a new grade level as the students move up," Ellis said.

In each Steps for Literacy classroom, students will participate in guided reading and writing as well as shared reading, which will be structured around poetry. Students will also spend time at learning centers in the classroom working on skills such as spelling, independent reading and vocabulary.

In addition to focusing on education, Hutchison Farm is dedicated to becoming an active part of the community. The school's motto is "Community Involvement in Children."

"We have to have a partnership," Ellis said. "We need to have open communication."

As part of that communication the school sends out monthly newsletters as well as a grade-level newsletter at the beginning of each nine-week period, laying out the plan for the coming weeks.

"Communication is the key," Ellis said.

Hutchison Farm also makes an effort to highlight the achievements of its students, both individually and as a group. The school gives out group awards such as the golden sneaker for the class with the best sportsmanship and a lunch tray award for the best lunch table.

"While it is important to highlight individuals, children also have to learn it sometimes takes a whole group to get something done," Ellis said.

Each month the school spotlights a character trait that students should be aware of. For the month of September the trait is responsibility. Signs reminding students of the monthly trait are hung around the school. A daily objective is also placed on the board each morning.

"We want the children to know what their objective is and try to meet it," Ellis said.

<sh>Seldens Landing Elementary School

<bt>For Seldens Landing Elementary School Principal Jackie Brownell the best thing about starting a new school year is the things her students say and do.

"We have televised morning announcements," she said, "and one time I was in a classroom and a student said, 'You're the television lady.'"

It is moments like that Brownell says make her job wonderful.

"I love just what kids say," she said. "And the excitement they have to learn."

With four grade levels at capacity and 975 students expected, Seldens Landing is one of the county's largest elementary schools, something Brownell is determined will not impact the school's atmosphere this year.

"Because we are a large school we want to keep that family atmosphere," she said. "We have to be better than better with communication, there has to be a three-way dialogue between teachers, parents and students."

To promote communication, the school has a teacher mentoring program to create a cross-dialogue between grade levels as well as a large parent volunteer program.

"There are always opportunities for parents to volunteer," Brownell said. "We are not going to turn anyone away."

As part of the family focus of Seldens Landing, the school is focusing on recognizing its diversity through an outreach coordinator and its teaching practices.

"Different cultures have different expectations of education, different types of philosophies and different types of education," Brownell said. "We want to embrace all of that with an understanding of our educational goals."

In addition to diversity awareness in the classroom, Seldens Landing will once again hold its International Family Night.

"We have a high level of diversity here," Brownell said. "We want to celebrate that."

This year, Seldens Landing has added a third-grade and a fifth-grade classroom to adapt to its growing population. Soon students will have a little more elbow room, as the county's Board of Supervisors recently approved funding to construct an addition to the school.

"We will have four new classrooms on the west side of the school," Brownell said.

One of Seldens Landing's initiatives is the Steps to Literacy program, which focuses on reading and writing skills from kindergarten to the second grade. Teachers have training in the program, Brownell said, so that they can lead teacher-directed reading sessions with their students to promote literacy. An information night will be held for parents with students in the program Oct. 16, Brownell said.

The school also has several specialty needs programs, including early childhood resource classes and a cross-categorical class for students with mild disabilities.

Above all, Brownell said she wants Seldens Landing to be a place where students are comfortable learning.

"We want them to come in and be happy," she said. "We want them to enjoy what they are doing."