Third-grade math teacher Rose Carter smiled as she raised her hands over her head as she taught children about a trapezoid. It was described as resembling the famous Pizza Hut roof.
“It kind of helps them when they can relate things to the real world,” Carter said about one of her geometry lessons.
She’s one of many teachers at Union Elementary School using fun and exciting ways to educate children and a statewide organization is taking notice. Union Elementary was recently honored with Lighthouse School Award from the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NCASCD). The award is presented to three schools for using creative ways to advance students academically, through a positive and supportive environment. Principal Dr. Linda Carr and other school leaders are excited about the accomplishment.
“I think it’s really great for us to be recognized,” Carter said. “We’re a great school. Our teachers do a great job and our students are wonderful. They’re making improvements on their own academically and within themselves. We’re involving the parents as well. So overall, we’re striving to do better.”
Parent involvement plays a large role in education at the school in Clinton. One initiative was the school’s Million Father March, where dads take their children to school on the first day. This year, mothers were also invited. Another yearly tradition is science night with Duke Energy, which went beyond participation of elementary families. Other grade levels were invited to participate as well. The annual community day is held in the fall, but the school is looking to host the event in the spring because of Hurricane Matthew.
Learning kits for kindergarten preparation are distributed before the summer break for the pre-K program, which now includes four classes. Before Carr arrived, there were only two.
“That just helps build our school and makes it a stronger school because you got children that are prepared for kindergarten,” Carr said.
Union Elementary continues its partnership with Union High School. Carr believes it’s a great opportunity for both schools. Students enrolled in early childhood classes explore career opportunities through elementary educators.
“They understand that when they’re coming over here, they’re not only getting a grade for that class,” Carr said. “They’re exploring a potential career opportunity and they’re impacting children’s lives. They take it very seriously.”
Reading is also encouraged heavily through several reading initiatives. One is the “I Read to You, You Read to Me,” program. Literature is provided in both English and Spanish to make reading comfortable for all parents. In 2017, the school plans to expand it from one day to a whole week. Parents will be invited to share a book, passage or information about their career.
During book fairs, Media Coordinator Amy Pope seeks opportunities for children to purchase low-cost books for just $1 or $2.
“She’s got a table set aside to where if they got their minds set on a book, they don’t have to settle on an eraser,” Carr said. “They can go the Scholastic Book Fair and buy a book. To me, that’s over and above.”
Carr and Pope say it’s important for the students to have ownership of books. Pope said it’s nice to see children leave the library with a book.
“In an area like this, not all children have enough money to come to the book fair,” Pope said. “Even if they come in here with a dollar they can leave with a book, instead of a 50 cent pencil.”
Another reading initiative is the Imagine Learning, a program which helps struggling readers. To push reading efforts, students are awarded for meeting goals, with trips such as the upcoming adventure to Marbles Kids Museum. About 170 second and third graders are traveling to Raleigh for the trip.
Thanks to the work of both Pope and the teachers, more than 23,000 books have been checked out since the beginning of September.
“It’s nonstop all day long,” Pope said about students visiting the library and collectively reading more than 20 million words.
She also believes it’s important for parents to get involved. Although, it’s a teacher’s job to educate students, Pope believes parents play and essential role too.
“Parents are very supportive,” she said. “I have parents who come and volunteer with the book fair. We even have some parents come in and read with the students in small groups.”
Pope and other teachers are preparing for the annual Read Across America Day, a nationwide reading celebration which takes place on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. This year, parents and volunteers have been asked to read.
“We’re pulling in more people and community involvement that way,” Pope said.
Union Elementary also partners with the University of North Carolina — Wilmington for student teachers and staff development opportunities and with Boy Scout Troop 70 for its “Adopt a School” program, where members assist with raising flags every morning.
The Taylors Bridge Fire Department sponsors an art contest and provides trophies to the top participants. Firefighters also teach students safety techniques such as “stop , drop and roll.” At one point, only kindergartners were taught, but the lessons expanded to other grades following a fire tragedy in Garland, which took the lives of six people.
For Carr it’s also important for the students to get involved with community service.
“We really try to teach children that being part of a global citizen and responsible adult starts when you’re a child and learning the pleasure that goes with giving back,” Carr said.
Carr noted that it was heartwarming to see the community support during the recent hurricane. The school held a food drive and also collected cleaning supplies for victims.
“They’re very responsive to the world in general,” Carr said in regards to the student’s involvement with group such as churches, St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital, Relay for Life, and the American Heart Association.
Students also take ownership in their school by becoming members of a council, which allows the group to be a spokesperson for their class.
“They’re charged with listening to their constituents and bringing it back to the principal,” she said. “Likewise I will give them items to take back to their class and share as a school.”
Carr said the network of children have produced great ideas about making the school year.
“I didn’t have one a few years ago, because I thought it was just elementary,” she said while expressing her previous doubts. “I thought they would be too shy. What are they going to come up with that adults can’t think about?”
But in the end, she said it was a good avenue to give the students a voice.
Dr. Wendy Cabral, assistant superintendent for Sampson County Schools, was instrumental in the recognition process for the Lighthouse Award, by submitting the accomplishments of Union Elementary. The report also included the school proficiency data increased from 71 percent to 78 percent in the 2015-2016 school year.
Members of Union’s grade level leadership team are scheduled to accept the award at the NCASD annual conference on Feb. 2 at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. NCASD is affiliated with the global Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), which includes 125,000 members in more than 138 countries. It was created in 1943, ASCD develops and delivers innovative programs, products and services to assist educators.
“We are extremely humbled because all of our schools every day are trying build children and make children as bright as we can during our short time together,” Cabral said. “We really appreciate her having that confidence in thinking our school deserves that honor and we’re just going to graciously accept it. We’re very thankful and appreciate the opportunity to work with these kids.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.