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Knox School builds learning communities

Third grade teacher Gwen Cleveland loves learning something new, especially when she can use it to improve her teaching skills.

“I’m looking for creative and innovative ways to do things in my classroom,” Cleveland said. “Although people can teach the same grades, you can always learn something new from another teacher.”

She and more than 20 other Selma City Schools teachers, reading coaches, retired teachers and central office employees will spend two weeks of professional development and experiential training at Knox Elementary’s Innovative Academy summer program.

First, students from Clark Elementary, Payne Elementary and Knox Elementary attend classes from 8 a.m. until noon. Each grade-level classroom for children from kindergarten through fourth grade operates with 10-15 children and at least three teachers and observers.

Once all students leave, teachers and professionals spend 12:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. working in small groups, discussing when teachers and observers saw students actively paying attention and excited about activities, such as reading excerpts aloud or learning to count.

After identifying the methods that engaged students, educators learn a new skill, such as modeling behaviors by reading an excerpt first and then having students read the same passage aloud, and add that technique to the lessons for the next day.

Hours from the program involvement count toward the required 50 hours of continuing education for teachers and the 100 hours for retired teachers to renew certification.

“We’re getting more lessons that make us more effective in the classroom,” said James Pope, Knox Elementary principal. “Once August gets here, we are going to be prepared.”

Gone are the days of telling children what to do. Teachers show, then eveyone tells, from drawing an image about a story read or writing a complete, adding art projects to any lesson for math or reading and growing short attention spans.

“By 10 days, everything should come together and they should have the whole process nailed,” Pope said.

Teachers will plan a way to make the overall school system’s grade-level reading program runs parallel from school to school. That way, if a child has to change schools during the year, he or she will be right on target.

“This is a reading program that starts the first day of school,” said Tara Burks, third grade teacher at Knox Elementary. “If your child leaves Knox and, for example, goes to Meadowview, they should be able to come in on that reading program on the same day and the same page. As long as they are in Selma City Schools, we are all working together.”

Although the focus of the program may be to improve teaching methods, children are still enjoying classroom lessons.

“It has been fun,” said Harry Tubbs Jr., 8. “I’m learning lots of verbs and actions words.”