At Centennial Lane, `a history of excellence'

Ellicott City elementary school is honored by the federal Department of Eduucation


October 06, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Centennial Lane Elementary always has been a "Blue Ribbon" school, according to its principal, Robert Bruce, who has worked at the school for five years.

He says so because for years the school has consistently maintained high test scores, along with a dedicated staff, parents, teachers and business community focused on "whole-child" learning.

Whole-child learning does not focus only on academics. It takes into account other aspects of education, including extracurricular activities that help children become productive citizens, Bruce said.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun, the last name of Christina Alvarez, a first-grade teacher at Centennial Lane Elementary School, was misspelled. The Sun regrets the error.

"We have a history of excellence here," the principal said while sitting in his office filled with colorful pictures, buttons and stuffed animals.

The Ellicott City school was recently named a national No Child Left Behind/Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The award is part of a state and national program honoring schools that achieve high performance and/or significant improvement in reading and mathematics as measured by the Maryland School Assessment.

The MSA is a statewide test administered to students to meet requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Centennial Lane, which has 591 pupils, is one of the state's highest-performing schools, according to the MSAs. Recently released 2004 MSA reading results show that 94.9 percent of third graders; 99.1 percent of fourth-graders; and 97.4 percent of fifth-graders scored at the proficient level or higher.

The school's MSA mathematics test scores were equally impressive. Scoring at the proficient level or higher were 90.5 percent of third-graders; 95.5 percent of fourth-graders and 95.7 percent of fifth-graders.

"We were pretty confident about [winning] the national award," said Bruce, adding that the school was named a finalist for the award years ago.

So, what does it take to become a Blue Ribbon school?

Bruce said visibility is a factor.

"It's so important that children know you care," he said, smiling, while donning a Dr. Seuss tie. "You have to be out there when the buses are arriving and departing."

Professional sharing is also key, he added.

"During any inservice, we share our personal lives, as well as ways to help the children at school," Bruce said.

The PTA has done a fantastic job of working with Centennial Lane, including supporting enrichment activities, he said.

"We have the chess club, dance club, French club and other after-school activities to benefit the whole child," Bruce said.

As for his leadership, Bruce said he has worked with the staff to create an "environment for thinking," including using research by Arthur L. Costa, author of The School is a Home for the Mind.

In the book, Costa outlines skills necessary to promote critical thinking, including perservance, risk-taking and curiosity.

"We want the children to be great lifelong learners," he said.

Centennial Lane is not without its challenges, said Bruce.

"The challenge is to get to the average kids, he said, adding that the school's one-to-one reading program is one way to achieve that goal.

Teachers say teamwork has been a hallmark of the school's success.

"It's a real collaborative effort," said Christina Alvarez, first-grade team leader. "We have team meetings two times a week ... and we're also communicating across teams."

Added Patti Neidig, the kindergarten team leader, "We have very supportive communities with families who strongly value education."

Sharon Singh's family is one example.

"I have a sense that parents view themselves as partners with the school," said Singh, whose son, Nihal, 10, and daughter, Harleen, 7, are fifth- and third-graders, respectively at the school.

Singh said no matter what the task -- from helping their children with homework to volunteering with the PTA -- Centennial Lane's parents are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.

"The PTA is very active," she added.

Singh said the school also values diversity.

"I have a child who wears a turban, and my daughter wears long braids. They have been encouraged to share their culture," she said.

Nihal said he is happy at Centennial Lane.

"I like that the students always try their best and are enthusiastic and that teachers give us the best learning environment possible," he said.

Harleen said, "The teachers make learning fun at school."

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