Lexington's Arlington Elementary uses daily elective courses to help students apply what they learn

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 4, 2014 

At Lexington's Arlington Elementary School, some second- and third-graders in an elective class called "Lights, Camera, Action" learned reading and writing last week as they penned a play about a kidnapped princess.

When finished, they will send their script down the hall to a math-focused elective called "Calculating and Creating Behind the Scenes." There, other second- and third-graders are learning about measurements and shapes so they can hand-sew costumes and make props for the princess play.

Arlington implemented a program this school year called student choice scheduling in which all students — even those in kindergarten — choose elective courses, which they attend every day. Although at least one other Fayette County elementary school offers elective classes once a week, Arlington is alone in that students attend electives every day in addition to being taught the traditional curriculum, principal Kim Lippert said.

The electives are one of the ways Arlington teaches Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which set out what students should know in grades K-12, based on the National Common Core standards. One idea behind Kentucky's standards is to help build understanding of concepts, rather than having students merely follow directions.

"Arlington Elementary has been working for the past two years to come up with a different approach to education," said Lippert. The concepts students learn will stick with them longer if they can apply them, she said.

In September, district data showed that 96 percent of the students at Arlington were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Lippert said she looked for a different approach because some students who enter kindergarten at Arlington need innovative academic help.

Last year, Arlington's leadership team visited a school in Jefferson County that offered student choice scheduling; when the team brought the idea back to Arlington, "students and staff were on fire for it," Arlington media specialist/librarian Barbara Carter told school board members during a recent board meeting.

The school tried a six-day pilot program last year. During the summer, students were asked to study written course descriptions for 2013-14. Kindergartners and first-graders were given a course description that read, for example, "Love to eat? Want to help in the kitchen? This is the class for you! You will learn how to read and write recipes, measure ingredients, and much more."

At the meeting where Arlington staff and students explained the program, school board member Doug Barnett said he visited Arlington to see how it worked.

"It was amazing to me how engaged, how energetic the kids were, how they just simply wanted to be there and learn," Barnett said.

Arlington student Ava Sanders, who spoke at the board meeting, said student choice scheduling "touches on subjects that we will learn a lot more about in middle school and high school."

Rebecca Asher, who teaches the "Lights, Camera, and Action" class in which students write the plays they produce, said the class helped students "practice reading with expression."

Asher said she was adhering not only to Kentucky's core reading and writing standards, she was helping students watch their ideas develop. During the nine-week period, the class will write and present as many as 12 plays, she said.

In the "Calculating and Creating Behind the Scenes" course, teacher Angela Wilson said her students learn about measurement when they make costumes, about area and perimeter when they create backdrops for the plays, and about shapes when they make props.

Before her students could sew the costumes, they first had to learn how to use a needle and thread. Then, for practice, they had to measure, cut out and hand-sew a shirt under the careful watch of teachers. Wilson, a teacher's aide and a student teacher were all working last week with children in her classroom.

The class exposes the children to things they might not have experienced, Wilson said. "A lot of kids have come to me and said, 'Since I took your class I really want to be a seamstress.' Before they took this class, they had no idea about sewing, they had never picked up a needle and thread."

In Arlington's library, Carter teaches second- and third-graders a "Trash to Treasure" elective. The focus is on making kids aware of the effect they have on their environment.

The class touches on science and social studies standards, Carter said, asking students to think about, "What does it mean to be a good citizen and what impact do I have on the world that I live in?"

In the class, students created miniature landfills out of food they could eat, like licorice sticks. They learned about ground water. They played a game that helped them figure out what materials would decompose first.

That method of learning, said Carter, "stays with them longer."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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