Volume 14 Issue 7
By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
"A good school cares about you. The people there make sure that you are safe." Aisling Acuna, fourth-grader, West Palms Conservatory
“Grab your mat, lie on your stomach and raise your head up slooowly,” Alison Stewart tells her first- and second-grade students. The youngsters arch like cobras and breathe deeply.
Yoga, says second-grader Jaydin Sharp, is the best part of the day. “It gets you really relaxed and calm,” she explains. “It wipes out all the stress.”
Yoga is one of many electives students can choose at West Palms Conservatory in Victorville. Peek into various classrooms during the afternoon and you’ll find students engaged in dance, visual arts, theater and music, including playing bluegrass.
The school, which opened three years ago, is not flush with money or in an affluent neighborhood. It is a Title I campus and facing cutbacks. But Victor Elementary Teachers Association (VETA) members have made the arts a priority. They share the philosophy that everyone is good at something. And this includes teachers — who teach electives based on their expertise.
“We see the importance of this,” says Stewart. “We want our students to be well-rounded.”
Tammi McGauvran, a fifth-grade math and science teacher, says a “shared vision” and passion for the arts make staff feel enthusiastic about being part of a winning team. “We are blessed in that way,” says McGauvran, who instructs a drawing elective.
Second-grade teacher Dwayne Arvinger believes students do better in core subjects because of the school’s emphasis on creative arts — not in spite of it. Last year the diverse student population scored 831 on the state’s Academic Performance Index.
“The arts tie so many other subject areas together,” says Arvinger, who teaches musical theater and organizes the performances. “Music helps students learn division while counting to the beats. Music also helps kinesthetic learners succeed.”
There is a waiting list to enroll in the school and a booster club offering strong parent support. But emphasis on enrichment is only one component of why the school is good, say VETA members. Professional development, in the form of grade-level collaboration, fosters success and allows teachers to discuss what’s working and what isn’t. Every Friday there is a student minimum day so this can take place. Teachers do student benchmark assessments and monitor student progress on a weekly basis, adjusting their interventions accordingly. (Struggling students have less time for electives, but are still allowed to take them.)
RtI (Response to Intervention) special education teachers work with full-inclusion students as well as mainstream students who need extra help — in order to prevent them from being diagnosed with learning disabilities in the future. Resource teacher Stephanie Hedberg, who works with special education and mainstream students, says children don’t fall through the cracks. “I feel we are meeting the needs of all students with differentiated instruction. I feel honored to come to work here every day. I love my school.”
Music teacher Teri Harps says strong leadership and a principal who treats teachers like professionals help make her school a good school. “Our principal is extremely passionate about our kids and about what we are doing.”
Students are quick to say their school “rocks.”
“It’s a good school because we have good teachers and the opportunity to learn things like music and art,” says fourth-grader Lawrence Brown.
“You get art and music and social studies and science and math and English,” chimes in classmate Holly Atwood. “You are able to learn, and you are able to express yourself. I like that.”
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