West works to ‘plant seeds’ of achievement

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; &uot;How many more means take away&uot; echoes off the walls in Pam Hilton’s West Primary School math class countless times a day.

The first-graders repeat in unison the slogan aimed at helping them conquer word problems they’ll soon face on the Mississippi Curriculum Test used to measure their progress.

Repetition is key to Hilton who also has her students count money, talk about evens and odds and count in the ones and tens column every day. Every skill is taught with hands-on materials.

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Hilton’s math classes are a direct result of West’s attempts to better prepare students for testing and to give them a solid math foundation that will carry them through high school, Principal Cindy Idom said.

Idom decided to departmentalize math on the first-grade level last year, sending every first grader to Hilton’s class for 55 minutes each day.

Half the students from one first-grade class join half the students from another class to form Hilton’s math classes.

She teaches six classes a day, similar to the way a high school teacher would teach only one subject.

When half the class goes to math, the other half of the class stays with the primary teacher to work in a smaller group on reading and language skills.

Since first-graders do not take the MCT, Idom is waiting anxiously for this year’s McLaurin Elementary second-graders, the first group under the new West math system, to take the test so she can measure their success.

Primary school students do not take state or federal tests and are ranked on No Child Left Behind standards based on the scores of the school they feed into. Scores from last year ranked McLaurin Elementary as a Level 2, under-performing school that did meet the required Adequate Yearly Progress.

Idom examines McLaurin’s scores each year to find strengths and weaknesses in the way her teachers are teaching.

Though Idom said her biggest concern was the math scores, she said reading is also a fundamental skill that requires work.

The school is using a new reading series that helps teachers recognize the strengths and weakness of each child and spend extra tutoring time with those who need it. West is also a Barksdale Reading Institute school and receives grant funding to purchase books and materials.

&uot;The teachers are buying into more hands-on, cooperative learning,&uot; Idom said. &uot;They focus on decoding, fluency, print awareness and comprehension.&uot;

Staff development through the Alcorn State University Writing and Thinking Institute, Barksdale and a paid consultant is helping teachers integrate test objectives into everything they do, Idom said.

The 330 students at West are in classrooms of about 20 students each most of the time and spend time each week in physical education and music.

Parent and community support is an area Idom said is strong at West. The school parent center offers bi-monthly parent workshops to help parents work with their children at home.

Idom said discipline and attendance aren’t major problems at West. Most discipline problems are handled in the classroom or in another teacher’s room. When there is a problem, parents are contacted.

Idom said the education students get at West is key to their performance in later grades and that the district-wide drop in scores as the grade levels go up is a major concern for her.

&uot;We are setting the basics; we plant the seeds,&uot; Idom said. &uot;I think they learn the hands-on here and in higher grades they go into paper and pencil activities and more independent work. They no longer become self-motivated.&uot;