Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gifted Effort University City School Honored for Its `Accelerated' Teaching

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gifted Effort University City School Honored for Its `Accelerated' Teaching

Article excerpt

Six years ago, Pershing Elementary in University City was a school nobody wanted to talk about.

Poor achievement. Severe discipline problems. Pupils repeating not one grade, but two.

But Pershing has turned around, and Principal Evelyn Hinton-Cook says it's because of a 6-year-old educational reform project known as "accelerated schools." The approach says all students are gifted and should be treated that way in the classroom.

Thursday, Hinton-Cook will go to Washington to accept a national award that recognizes excellence. Pershing is one of 10 schools in Missouri and 276 in the nation announced in June as Blue Ribbon schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Six years ago, Pershing became the first school in Missouri to experiment with the accelerated schools approach. The school, at 6761 Bartmer Avenue, has 430 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grades.

Pioneered by Henry Levin of Stanford University, the project started with predominantly poor schools but has expanded to include schools in more affluent districts. Still, all applicants have to show student need.

Among the principles:

Raise expectations for all students, instead of separating children into fast, slow and medium learners.

Set goals to improve children's academic skills.

Pinpoint a student's strengths and work from there.

Involve students more actively in the learning process. The approach also promotes cooperation and peer tutoring among students.

For instance, first-graders in Debra Cavitt's class at Pershing are learning to put letters together to form words. Cavitt forms her class into groups and gives each student in the group a card with a letter or combination of letters. First-grader Phillip Lloyd seems intrigued and puzzled at the same time. After several false starts, he and his classmates rearrange themselves to spell out "teeth."

Critics say that treating all students as gifted holds back the advanced learners. Advocates disagree, saying that doesn't happen when accelerated learning is applied to all.

"Students still get individualized help," said Hinton-Cook. "We recognize that all kids don't operate on the same level."

The St. Louis area has 22 schools known as accelerated schools, an increase of six over last year. Statewide, 71 schools have adopted the approach, and nationwide, about 700.

Before a school can join the project, teachers have to commit to it. The school takes stock of where it is academically, and then decides what it wants to accomplish. Teachers are given much greater responsibility and a major part in decision making.

Data on whether the project has improved student performance in Missouri have yet to be collected, said Joan Solomon, statewide director. The first in-depth study of student achievement will be conducted this school year.

Solomon said individual school results show that accelerated schools work. …

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