Gargano has the write stuff

Award: An elementary school teacher wins Excellence in Education honors for her writing program.

Columbia

August 21, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When MSPAP scores were announced three years ago, Marion Miller knew something had to change at her school.

Miller, principal at Running Brook Elementary in Columbia, has seen that change beginning to take place as pupils' test scores improve, and she gives a great deal of credit to educator Beth Gargano.

Gargano, a reading and math teacher, coordinates Running Brook's schoolwide writing program - one she created. "She has been instrumental in developing a seamless transition from grade to grade with regard to writing," Miller says.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's Howard County edition of The Sun about the winner of the Bonnie Schwartz Excellence in Education Award - Beth Gargano, a teacher at Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia - incorrectly stated the amount of the award. It was $500.
The award, created in the memory of Bonnie Schwartz, a county teacher who passed away two years ago, is administered by The Columbia Foundation and funded by the Schwartz family. The Sun regrets the error.

In April, Gargano received the Bonnie Schwartz Excellence in Education award from the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. The award was created in memory of Bonnie Schwartz, a county teacher who passed away two years ago. The Schwartz family annually awards a Howard County teacher $5,000.

"The county set up this award in education because they knew that was such a passion for her," Gargano said. "It was even more special to me to be associated with someone who was so well known and well liked in the county like Ms. Schwartz."

Gargano has been at Running Brook for four of her 10 years in the county schools.

Miller nominated her for the award because of the service she has provided to the school as an educator and for her efforts with the writing program.

"She is a key person in the changes in the school. I just wanted to recognize her for the special contributions she's made," Miller said.

Gargano works with small groups of children on writing, reading and math for most of the school day, taking students out of their regular classrooms to focus on specific areas of need. The remainder of her day is spent on the writing program.

"You can really get involved with the students. You really get to know them better" working in small groups, Gargano said.

"You can find out what's important to them and you can use that to help teach them what they need to know. You can really get to each and every one."

The position of writing coordinator for the school was instituted three years ago, in reaction to low MSPAP scores.

At the time, the expectations for pupils' growth as writers were broad. For example, by fifth grade, pupils were expected to do some persuasive writing.

"We broke it down into much more specific areas," said Gargano, so that each school year would build up to the final skill: Second-graders learn to write an opinion sentence and then in third grade must be able to give supporting examples in a written argument.

According to Miller, the idea for a consistent writing program for grades one through five came from Gargano.

"Since she was not a classroom teacher, that enabled her to meet with the teachers during their planning time" and talk about the needs of their pupils, Miller said.

Once the program was created, Gargano taught it to the school's teaching staff, which she continues to do.

Some of her time is spent doing demonstration lessons for teachers and working with individual staff members who request help in teaching writing.

Gargano said that making the writing curriculum more specific gives educators clearer goals. "The teachers will hit the target if you show them where it is," she said.

Miller said Gargano "handles herself with such grace and such nonjudgmental facility that the teachers really listen to her."

Gargano also assists teachers as they collect data on how well their pupils are learning. She scores assessments and helps classroom teachers analyze the results.

The school's test scores have improved, but Miller feels that the integrated approach to writing has also affected how the school is run.

"The writing program has been one very important thing" in turning the school around, Miller said.

"She has the ability to inspire people in a nonjudgmental way, to enable them to see what they need to do," Miller said of Gargano.

"If you're asking other people to improve and to change, you have to be exemplary yourself in that area and she certainly is."

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