Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

MAKING THE GRADE; Coaching Helps Kids Achieve at Oak Grove the Darien School Met Federal Standards in Only Its First Year of Operation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

MAKING THE GRADE; Coaching Helps Kids Achieve at Oak Grove the Darien School Met Federal Standards in Only Its First Year of Operation

Article excerpt

Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

DARIEN -- Brenda Clark made sure the students at Oak Grove Intermediate School knew what the score was when it came to math.

On Monday, her classroom whiteboard bore a homemade graph depicting the results of a student survey ranking the popularity of team sports including hockey and football.

Clark worked with a group of five youngsters as they tackled equations escalating in difficulty based on the survey results, which they also had to make into a graph.

"I try to make it fun for them. When kids are having fun, they don't think of it as learning or work," Clark said.

Clark is one of the school's academic coaches -- a position that encompasses a teaching strategy that is showing positive results in student achievement at Oak Grove. Administrators credit the effort with helping the school meet federal student achievement standards during its first year of operation.

Oak Grove opened on Aug. 6, 2004, to serve McIntosh County's fourth- and fifth-grade students. It is the smallest school in the system.

The school's mission statement takes the form of an essential question that is handwritten in bright blue ink on a message board displayed prominently in the school's front office:

"What do you want your students to know, understand and be able to do today?"

Clark, a teacher for 11 years, is the school's math coach. She works with students individually or in small groups in 30- to 40-minute sessions.

"I mostly help them fine-tune their skills," she said. "A student might be having problems with one concept but not others."

Down the hallway, Amy Nash, who is the school's literacy coach, meets individually with students to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses in reading and language arts.

The results of the assessment tests given by Nash and Clark will be forwarded to the students' classroom teachers.

"We do a lot of benchmark and assessment testing of the students. We then work with [classroom] teachers in developing the curriculum and aligning it with the Georgia Performance Standards," said Nash, a teacher for six years.

As the school's academic coaches, they help their fellow teachers develop programs that engage students while they are learning.

One of the most popular and successful of those programs, Principal Cassandra Noble said, is the weekly Multiplication Mania math competition.

To win, students must accurately and quickly respond to a series of multiplication problems read over the school's intercom. Recent winners were rewarded with ice cream.

Noble said the purpose is three-fold: It develops students' math fluency, enhances their listening and comprehension skills, and motivates them to learn.

"If a student's reading, vocabulary and grammar skills are weak, then it is going to affect their ability to master math and other subjects. …

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