Van Bokkelen gets another chance New paint, attitudes help troubled elementary

August 27, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Van Bokkelen Elementary School is different this school year -- from the dolphin motif in the cafeteria to the 15 classroom teachers new to the school.

From fresh paint to training in classroom techniques, the changes are designed to help turn around a school with standardized test scores so low that the state warned the county in February to reform the school or risk a state takeover.

Positive attitudes and atmosphere were the first order of business yesterday.

Before the fidgeting students who had gathered in the cafeteria learned their class assignments, they learned that "whatever I wish, whatever I dream, whatever I try for, whatever I plan, it is mine, if only I believe."

Principal Rose Tasker had the students recite the poem "Believe in Yourself," and the verses are displayed around the building.

"We have a lot of interesting things," she told the students. "We have a new building, and I want you to respect yourself and respect your school."

Sabrina Booker, president of the Parent-Teacher Organization, community liaison specialist at the school and mother of a second-grader, said she is excited by the energetic staff this year and by some of the physical changes in the building, such as the additional seating areas and more spacious feel in the front office .

"With the new look in the building and the different setup, the atmosphere is totally different," she said. "It's a more welcoming atmosphere."

The physical changes are not just window dressing, Tasker said.

"The first thing you have to do is develop positive attitudes and perceptions about learning," Tasker said. "It makes the children feel good about themselves and about their school."

Success Avenue is part of that effort. That is what the hallway connecting the two wings of the school is called. One wall is dedicated to eight "Keys to a Better Me" and features photographs of Van Bokkelen students demonstrating things such as respect and patriotism. Spotlights on a wall outside the cafeteria are ready to shine on examples of good work by students.

But Tasker also is ready to deal with discipline problems with a new code that includes the option of a five-day, in-school suspension in a portable classroom, instead of the out-of-school suspension many consider a vacation.

"I really don't think this room is going to be used that much," she said, standing in the portable, complete with computer workstations, that will house the suspended students.

Dayne Reid is one of the 15 teachers Tasker hired to replace those who did not want to remain at Van Bokkelen.

The first-year special education teacher said that after being interviewed at three county schools, she decided to come to Van Bokkelen. "It seemed like it was going to be a challenge, but a positive experience," said Reid, who was a student teacher on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. "I think this school and the children have tons of potential, and I would like to be a part of it."

Parent Lesia Johnson liked what she saw yesterday when she brought her daughter, Jamica, 9, to her first day of fourth grade. "I do see a difference," said Johnson, a cosmetology student. "It's a little more structured today. I guess the principal is being a little more respected" by the students.

Wearing a blue jumper and a red shirt with matching red barrettes in her carefully twisted pigtails, Jamica said she was ready for more vacation until she heard her name called for Miss Chapman's class. Then she conceded she was a little excited about school. "I like learning," she said.

Johnson walked with Jamica to her new classroom but slipped out after a few minutes, saying, "I think it's going to go well."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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