Extra effort being made to prepare fourth graders for WASL

It has been commonly heard that it is difficult to get some students to attend school. But in this case, the Sunnyside School District is having a hard time keeping students away.

While educating children is commonly referred to as a partnership between the school district and the community, the efforts going on with the district's fourth grade students is more of a unique partnership between students and teachers.

All three of the elementary schools in Sunnyside-Pioneer, Outlook and Washington-have had for several years or are just starting programs to assist fourth grade students in preparing for the WASL test. This year's test will begin April 18.

The efforts at Pioneer Elementary School to assist fourth grade students in preparing for the WASL was brought up by the six fourth grade teachers at the school, said Pioneer Principal Kris Diddens.

Pioneer has been offering the Space Voyagers WASL camp since Feb. 14. The final day of the WASL camp is today (Thursday).

What is amazing about the program is the number of fourth grade students participating in the program. Pioneer has about 156 fourth graders, said Diddens. The Space Voyagers camp started out with 120 fourth grade students and is now at 112 students. The average daily attendance for the camp has been around 105 students.

"We didn't anticipate this many students," said Diddens. "What has surprised me is how few kids have dropped out."

Space Voyagers is divided into different areas, with two teachers focusing on reading skills, two other teachers focusing on the different components of writing and two others teaching math. Fourth grade students are grouped together based on the reading classes they attend during the regular school day. Students spend a week in each Space Voyagers classroom before switching to another room.

Pioneer fourth grade teacher Rose Hall said the after-school WASL program is designed to assist all students. She said in the after-school setting, students have been more eager to ask questions. Hall, who teaches fourth graders about math in the after-school program, said one of the reasons why the teachers wanted to offer the program was to find a way to help the students.

"It is all for the kids," said Hall. "We needed to do something to give them that next step."

The Space Voyagers program doesn't grade students on what they have learned. It is more of an opportunity to give students a chance to learn about a subject while not having to worry about the grade they are going to get, said Hall. She judges the success of the program on the reactions of the students.

Pioneer fourth grade teacher Christine Wade said the after-school program not only helps students prepare for the WASL, it can also give them a leg up on getting ready for the fifth grade.

"We were hoping it would be in the best interest of the kids," said Wade.

Wade said she likes the WASL camp because it is open to all fourth graders, not just students struggling in the classroom.

Wade, who also teaches math to fourth graders in the camp, said she evaluates the success of the program daily by the input from the students.

"I think they feel good about it," said Wade.

Wade said she tries to focus on getting students in the program to think about what they are doing.

"For kids to be successful on the WASL, we have to get kids to think," she said.

Wade said she has been impressed with how students have been participating in the program.

"Part of it is because we have good support from home," said Wade. "By luck, we have done some things right to keep kids in it."

To help keep students interested in the program, Diddens said incentives are offered. Students with good attendance in the program receive a coupon for French fries from McDonald's. Students also receive what are called space bucks, which they can use at a store that has been set up for the fourth graders with the chance to purchase everything from pee chees to footballs.

"It was just a way to motivate them," said Diddens of the incentives.

Diddens said she has been very impressed not only with the participation by the students, but the efforts from her teachers in helping the fourth graders prepare for the WASL.

"A school day is a long day," said Diddens. "These teachers are very dedicated to the kids."

Diddens said one of the reasons she has supported the Space Voyagers program is that it provides students opportunities to learn even more than what has been taught during the regular school day.

"It is an extra learning opportunity for them," said Diddens. "Everything they are doing after school is a reinforcement of what they are doing in class."

Outlook Elementary School has had an after-school program in place for a couple of years to assist fourth graders not only with preparing for the WASL, but in the regular classroom as well, said Outlook Assistant Principal K.C. Mitchell.

Mitchell didn't have the exact numbers of fourth graders participating in the after-school WASL geared camp, but he said a majority of the roughly 132 fourth graders attending the school are participating.

Mitchell said the point of the after-school program is to give the students an extra chance to learn in a setting that may assist them more in the regular classroom.

"(It is) to give kids the opportunity to have an extended learning opportunity," said Mitchell. "I always think it is great to provide extended learning opportunities for students."

Students participating in the after-school program at Outlook are learning such WASL related subjects as math, but Mitchell said he hopes the students are learning additional skills to assist them in school.

"I think it has been successful for the kids who have participated," said Mitchell.

Washington Elementary School officials tie their efforts into assisting fourth graders with the WASL with the school's 21st Century program.

Roy Montelongo, who is the site supervisor for the 21st Century program at Washington, said the program serves all fourth grade students with an emphasis on preparing for the WASL. Fourth grade students are served over three sessions with the 21st Century program.

"We teach them reading, math and writing," said Montelongo. "We want to help kids that really need the help. We want to help them with what they need for the WASL."

Fourth grade students participating in the after-school program at Washington are kept with their regular school day teachers for the most part, said Montelongo.

Montelongo said this spring, the program at Washington will start putting an emphasis on math and reading for third grade students to help prepare them for what they will be facing the next school year.

Montelongo said he believes the after-school program has helped fourth grade students with their WASL scores and in the classroom.

"A lot of them have been doing academically better in the classroom," said Montelongo. "This is a program to help them out every day."

Fourth grade teacher Danny Rangel said there is a real emphasis on helping fourth grade students at Washington with their writing scores on the WASL. Rangel said he has seen a lot of progression with the students who have been part of his class with the after-school program.

Rangel said by working with mostly his own students he gets a good feel for where they are at in a particular area.

"Whatever we do here, it comes back to the regular classroom," said Rangel.

He said he likes the after-school program and the possibilities of what it can do for students.

"All of them have been exposed to extra help," said Rangel. Writing (scores are) going to go up here. We (teachers) have dedicated a lot of heart and soul to this."

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