Videographers look at school program

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; National videographers were at Robert Lewis Middle School Monday filming a school design that has changed the way the students learn.

The school joined the Mississippi’s Choice School Design method of teaching at the start of the current school year, and may now serve as a model for other interested schools across the nation. The design, a part of America’s Choice, focuses on teaching literacy and math through conceptual thinking, procedure and rituals.

&uot;The biggest change in math has been learning the procedure and the steps to get there, not spending 20 minutes solving a worksheet of problems,&uot; Principal Cynthia Smith said. &uot;Kids are exploring it themselves; kids are learning how to think.&uot;

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Part of the school design includes having the students work in groups to solve problems on their own. Classroom time is also structured and organized so the students know what to expect.

The school has a math coach and a literacy coach who attended training at the state level in order to learn the new method of teaching. These teachers returned to RLMS and have gradually taught the other teachers in their area the process.

&uot;It has really been a breath of fresh air,&uot; literacy model teacher Zandra McDonald said. &uot;The kids have freedom in what they are reading and they are reading more.&uot;

Another part of the design includes a &uot;25 Book Campaign&uot; that requires each child to read 25 books throughout the course of the year. The school also chooses a book of the month that everyone in the school reads.

&uot;I’ve seen more kids read this year than I’ve ever seen read,&uot; Smith said.

Smith said she’d heard stories from teachers of students hiding the book they wanted to read somewhere in the classroom so another student wouldn’t get to it first.

&uot;This has truly impacted us,&uot; she said. &uot;We have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction. Mississippi’s Choice has put us on that path.&uot;

Seventh grade English teacher Linda Logan said she was a big fan of the design.

&uot;It was really a change, but it was a change for the better,&uot; she said. &uot;They are reading more, writing more and I’ve seen their vocabulary increase.&uot;

Logan said the design taught the children routines that they were now familiar with, which in turn saved time. The students also have to keep up with their materials and have become more responsible, Logan said.

Seventh-grader Renard Johnson said he really like the new way of learning.

&uot;We can relate to it,&uot; he said. &uot;We do projects and we get more into it and learn more.&uot;

Since the students spend so much time reading they have become better writers, Logan said.

&uot;Now they are starting to observe how their classmates write,&uot; she said.

David Aaronson, a videographer from Washington D.C., said he’d seen terrific results at RLMS. Aaronson has also spent time filming in several other schools in the state.

&uot;We want to inform others of why they should use America’s Choice,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve never followed it from beginning to end and we will do that here.&uot;

America’s Choice is in place at more than 500 schools in the country. In Mississippi about 50 schools, at the elementary and middle school level, are participating. Mississippi’s Choice was endorsed by the state and federal funding was used to get the program up and running.

Smith said she chose to participate because the design included practices she was already trying to implement.

Smith, the two area coaches and a leadership team oversee the design at the school.

Implementation of the design takes three years. In each stage of the design more things are added, Smith said. Stage three includes the addition of science.