Kept In The Loop

Teacher Reunites With Her Students For A Second Year At Arnold Elementary School

August 25, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,

Most of Anne Arundel County's 74,000 students returned to classes Monday and were greeted by a new teacher in a different classroom.

Except for one second-grade class.

Sherryl Barton, who taught first grade last year at Broadneck Elementary School in Arnold, has graduated with her class and Monday began teaching the same class of children as second-graders, in a process called "looping."

"It takes away the whole 'getting-to-know-you' period,' " said Barton, who has taught first, second, and third grades for 16 years, a decade of that at Broadneck. "It's more like, welcome back. We're going to be able to go so far this year. I can't wait."

According to a 1997 study published by the Northeast and Islands Educational Lab at Brown University, looping benefits students by providing continuity that allows teachers to quickly delve into learning because of previous knowledge of students' strengths and weaknesses, helps build stronger student-teacher relationships and alleviates back-to-school anxiety for students. Though looping has shown many benefits, it's a relatively rare practice in Arundel schools, school officials said.

Across the region, some school systems such as Baltimore City have used the practice of looping but not on a widespread basis. At Hampstead Hill Academy, a conversion charter school in Canton, Principal Matthew Hornbeck said looping has been used for several years, and an accelerated second-grade class is looping this year.

But it's crucial to the success of looping to assign an engaged and willing teacher, Hornbeck said, otherwise students' success could be adversely affected by the prolonged exposure to a negative academic environment.

"We have done it when it makes sense, when there's a particularly strong bond with the teacher," said Hornbeck. "Looping is a huge advantage when you have a group of students and a teacher who are working really well together and are sort of in creative discovery mode with the curriculum. It can be fantastic - life-changing."

Broadneck's principal, Alison Lee, needed to fill a vacancy for a second-grade teacher over the summer and had read positive research on looping. She approached Barton, whose enthusiasm for teaching is evident.

"You almost get a whole month back," said Lee, who has been principal at Broadneck for four years. "The kids love it. It's such a unique experience. Parents I talked to were thrilled, they were absolutely tickled."

Monday was the first day of school for Arundel's students in grades one through six and nine, with the remainder of students beginning today and staggered through this week.

Barton greeted the 22 students, including four who are new to the school, from a chair as they surrounded her on the floor by saying, "It's so nice to see you again and to have some new friends."

Barton began the day with an assignment to identify how their classroom had changed from last year.

One student observed that there was now a pillow on the floor in the listening center, near the rear of the class. Another student pointed out that a white basket near the teacher's desk that was normally empty was full of freshly sharpened pencils. Xan-Xan Danckaert, 7, raised her hand and told Barton that she noticed the school's decor had changed a bit.

"The doors," said Xan-Xan. "They were blue, but they painted them red."

The students expressed themselves with hand gestures, many of them carry-over traditions from last year. Correct answers were celebrated with high-fives. If the students liked something, they gave a thumbs-up, and if they wanted to say, "Me, too," they gestured with their pinkies.

One student, Kim Horn, 7, assessed second grade as she began work on her first project of the school year: a piece of artwork that reflected an exciting summer pastime.

"My dad told me I got the same teacher as last year, and I thought it was really great because Miss Barton is really nice," said Kim.

By afternoon, Barton had planned to jump into the core subjects and already had students assigned to math, reading and poetry groups. And there was a social studies lesson planned, to learn about respect.

"We can just jump into some things," Barton told her students. "I already have such a good idea."

And to that, the kids gave a thumbs-up.

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