“Ross has always had high achievement scores,” said Lisa Earby, principal at E.L. Ross. “Although, our growth in a year has always been low. When a student starts out high, it is hard to grow them in a year.”
Earby said she did not like the disconnect between the two scores. She began looking around for a program to aid in growth. An answer came in the form of a community classrooms. Earby attended a conference where the concept was presented.
“Unfortunately, it would cost $150,000 a year for the company to do Ross,” Earby said.
According to Earby, the school could not afford to pay for the company’s consultation and resources. Brainstorming produced a new model unique to E.L. Ross and its students.
“Their program was very scripted. Our program is more flexible, to work with the different students we have at Ross,” Earby said.
Traditional classes in elementary schools consist of students being introduced to a new teacher and classmates every year. Kindergarten- through second-grade instructors keep the same kids throughout the day. Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers often focus on two or three subjects and switch classes with a fellow grade instructor halfway through the day. Students attend classes like music, physical education, and art throughout the week.
Community classrooms operate a little differently.
There are three teams at E.L. Ross. Each team consists of three teachers and a third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade class. The teachers have specific subjects they teach: language arts/writing, math, and science/social studies.
Third-graders enrolled in the community classrooms this year will have the same teachers and classmates until they go to middle school.
“Elementary teachers have to be an expert in every subject. I felt like if they could focus on their area of strength, then they could better aid their students’ achievement scores,” Earby said. Hypothetically, having the same teacher in a subject for each year should eliminate weeks of review.
“Teachers will know their students’ weaknesses, strengths, and how to help them learn,” Earby said.
The three-year-long stable learning environment can benefit students by providing a dependable relationship between student and teacher.
“The relationship piece is honestly probably the biggest factor,” Earby said. “If you can get the relationship in place, then academics will follow.”
Several hurdles were jumped during the implementation of this program.
One such hurdle was student assessment reports. In lieu of report cards, elementary teachers assess their students on more than 50 standards. The number of assessments differs between subjects. Social Studies and science only have one assessment each. Reading and writing combined are more than 25.
“We worked really hard to go through and find which standards science and social studies could assess in their curriculum,” Earby said. “For example, a science and social studies teacher can assess, ‘Chooses the most effective medium to enhance presentations.’”
A master schedule had to consider the planning needs of both community classroom and traditional instructors.
“We wanted to make sure all of the teachers had their planning period together. This meant each of the three classes had to be somewhere like music, art, or PE,” Earby said.
Each grade level also has two traditional classes. Earby scheduled these teachers for the same planning period, as well.
According to Earby, students are enjoying the new program.
She said third-graders love switching classes.
“They love the change in scenery and the difference in teacher personalities,” Earby said. “They are enjoying being with the same group.”
Several unprecedented benefits have occurred since the program was instituted.
“When you have fifth-graders in the cafeteria at the same time, it tends to be rowdier. When you have third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders together, it is much more subdued,” Earby said.
Fifth-graders at E. L. Ross are very aware of their status in the school.
“We have also talked to the fifth-graders about being good role models, and I think they take that very seriously,” Earby said.
Lauren Thacker and Tate O’Bryan, third-graders at E.L. Ross, were asked their opinion of the program.
“[The program is] pretty good, because I love my teachers and when it comes time to leave I get sad,” Lauren said.
Tate agreed having the same teachers is preferable.
“It is not like regular classes where you only get to stop by and say ‘Hi’ after you have been in their classes.”
Both kids enjoy the teachers they have.
“Mr. Dasher is very funny, and Mrs. Martin is nice and she lets us do fun activities,” Tate said. “Ms. Paul gives us a lot of education and helps us understand math.”
Community classrooms focus on building connections between the three grade levels. The teams have recess together. Lauren said she would like to see more fellow third-graders.
“Sometimes, if we get out early enough, then we see other third-grade classes,” Lauren said. “... We can see them when we wait in the lines, if you ride the bus, which I don’t.”
The two bookworms and blooming athletes said they enjoy the experience on the whole.
“Fifth-graders are older, but they treat-third graders nice,” O’Bryan said.
Earby said the program will be evaluated every year, with a final evaluation in three years.