A big hand for a school with a hands-on approach Patapsco Elementary wins applause for innovation

November 11, 1996|By Claudia Moessinger | Claudia Moessinger,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Fifth-graders at Patapsco Elementary School meticulously cut and paste colored construction paper to create a board game. This isn't art class -- it's social sciences, and the children are tracing the culture of the Pilgrims.

Downstairs, first-graders stand in a circle playing memory games, while second-graders grasp geometry concepts by drawing maps.

Hands-on teaching techniques such as these helped the Cherry Hill school win recognition as a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence recently in judging by the state Department of Education.

The school, the only one in Baltimore honored among 11 elementaries statewide, advances to the national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Judging was based on leadership, curriculum, student environment, parent and community support, performance and organization.

"The teachers here work hard to give us a good education," said Angela Jeffress, 10, as she pasted questions to her Pilgrim board game Friday.

These types of projects paper the school halls. "I want the students to be proud about what they're doing," said Principal Yvonne Woods-Howard, eyeing a map of a student's neighborhood.

The award comes in the wake of budget cuts that cost the school a physical education teacher and trimmed the art and music program.

When Woods-Howard came to Patapsco Elementary five years ago, the attendance rate was lowest in the district, 90.5 percent. She hired an attendance monitor to keep track of students' whereabouts through phone calls and visits after extended absences.

Poster contests and class cheers now emphasize the importance of daily attendance. Students with perfect attendance receive invitations to pizza and ice cream parties.

The strategies appear to have paid off. Two years ago the school's attendance rate was the highest in the district at 95.7 percent.

Furthermore, the new hands-on learning approach makes the students want to go to school, teachers say. Teachers stay after school to share activity ideas with each other and discuss professional techniques. The school system allots five days for staff development, but Woods-Howard has requested an additional day.

"Kids asked me, 'Have you gone to school today?' " said a laughing Ann Custis, 40, a fifth- and sixth-grade social sciences and language arts teacher who has worked at the school for 19 years.

Instead of reading from textbooks in the style of "Dick and Jane," students read classic novels such as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Fifth- and sixth-graders study Latin.

The creative thinking skills developed in hands-on exercises also help prepare students for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program standardized tests, teachers say. Scores have have improved considerably.

But Woods-Howard acknowledges Patapsco has room for improvement. In some areas the school was given a grade of "adequate" by the Blue Ribbon committee. "We want to move to strong and exemplary in all areas," she said.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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