Early Childhood

At lab school, Butler and IPS students both learn lessons

LabSchoolPhoto
Butler junior Briana Ulba works with students at the Lab School as part of a college class that meets at IPS School 60.

Aspiring teacher Bridget Spitale was watching a lesson about adjectives when she realized taking college classes in an elementary school worked.

She was assisting in teacher Mary Ellen Estridge’s classroom while she was talking with her kindergarten and first grade students about adjectives. Estridge moved to telling a story and the way the lesson unfolded was a breakthrough for Spitale’s understanding of effective teaching.

“It was an eye-opening moment,” said Spitale, a Butler junior from Hammond.

The lab school, also known as Indianapolis Public School 60, is a collaboration between the university and the school district and follows a unique curriculum inspired by an Italian educational strategy known as Reggio Emilia. Children are placed among a variety of physical materials that are used to help them experience and understand the concepts they learn.

That morning Estridge told the story of a drive she went on with a friend along a bumpy road in a red car.

“She took a long red wire and constructed a red car from it,” Spitale said. “Then she took another wire and used it to make the long, bumpy road. She continued the story using the wire to describe the adjectives she was using, and it made them come to life.”

Participating in that lesson helped clarify in Spitale’s mind how the Reggio instruction method is a different and, she feels, more vibrant way for young children to learn.

“When I was that age, I was given a worksheet and told to circle all the adjectives,” she said. “It’s the difference between non-engaged learning and the Reggio inspired practice. The students were very into the story. It was very visible.”

What began as a small experiment in 2011 with a handful of Butler-run, Reggio model classrooms for kindergarten and first grade in a corner of School 60 is quickly expanding. IPS accelerated a plan to phase out the traditional neighborhood school that initially shared the building, growing the Lab School to grades K to 3 this year, along with preschool classrooms run by Butler and by St. Mary’s Child Center.

There are now about 200 students that are part of the lab school program at School 60, and the goal is to expand at least to K-5 ,and possibly to K-8, by adding a grade per year. The agreement to run the school gives Butler considerable leeway compared to other IPS schools. The university helped select the principal, Ron Smith, and populated School 60 with eight Butler grads among its nine classroom teachers.

In return for providing a high-quality school option, the university gets a real-life laboratory for its teacher training program. Butler undergraduates can both visit the school as part of their coursework and, in some cases, work as teaching assistants and hold classes at the school.

Cathy Hargrove, a Butler faculty member in the college of education who spends most of her time at the lab school, said it has enhanced the teacher training program.

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IPS School 60 began its conversion into the Butler Lab School in 2011.

“They are immediately able to go out and see everything applied and working in the lives of children in the classrooms,” Hargrove said.

Reggio Emilia-inspired schools are still rare in the U.S. The concept comes from an Italian city of the same name that rethought its educational approach while rebuilding its school in the wake of World War II. Because the school was in ruins, much education took place outdoors and ordinary household items were frequently used as teaching tools. In 1991 it was named one of the 10 best schools in the world by Newsweek magazine.

The method is sometimes compared to another Italian instructional approach for young children — Montessori schools. In fact, Reggio borrowed some concepts from Montessori, including an emphasis on hands-on learning and allowing students to make choices about what and how they learn. But Reggio is considered less rigid and more collaborative than Montessori’s very individualized philosophy.

Among the admirers of the approach is Ena Shelley, Butler’s education dean and an early childhood education expert. Shelley has traveled to the town of Reggio Emilia repeatedly and helped spark interest in the instructional style locally at St. Mary’s and some school districts, including Warren and Lawrence townships.

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Butler education professor Cathy Hargrove, left, spends most of her time teaching undergraduates at the Lab School.

In elementary teacher training, Reggio-inspired approaches are heavily incorporated at Butler. So when Hargrove is explaining a concept to her Butler students during class at the lab school, it isn’t awkward to ask the teacher in the next room if she can borrow a couple students to demonstrate a mini-lesson.

The children are already learning the same concepts in the same style at the lab school that Hargrove is teaching to the college students.

“Collaboration with the classroom teachers is essential,” she said. “It’s not just an isolated lesson. We’re teaching into the curriculum being used at the school.”

Because the lab school is still new, Butler has only begun to use it as a selling point for its teacher training program, but it’s already made an impact for some students.

Anissa Hakim, a senior from Elkhart, looked at a lot of options — including transferring — after deciding a career as a pharmacist wasn’t for her. Teaching was one of her ideas for a new career, and she was won over when she learned about the lab school while checking out Butler’s education school.

“It kept me here,” she said. “I knew we had a lab school and it would be a unique experience. It was a factor in keeping me at Butler.”

 

Early childhood literacy

How to make a good reader? Combine in-school tutoring with hundreds of books for toddlers and babies

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Fourth graders at College View Elementary in Denver.

A new literacy program for children from babies to third grade will focus on tutoring students and encouraging reading at an early age as it works with 100 families in the Munger Elementary-Middle School area.

The 3-year pilot program will combine the resources of 80 volunteers, the Munger school staff, and Brilliant Detroit, a social service organization. Brilliant Detroit will house a national program called Raising a Reader, which will ensure that the families receive as many as 100 books each over the next three years to read to babies and toddlers.

“We believe the city of Detroit is turning around,” said former state Supreme Court justice Maura Corrigan, who is spearheading the program. “But we understand that Detroit cannot turn around effectively if the schools don’t turn around, and that can’t happen unless the children learn to read.”

The program is part of a state-wide push to help more children learn to read before a new state law takes effect in 2020 that will force schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level. This year, fewer than 10 percent of Detroit students met that grade-level threshold.

Announced today, the program launches in January and has more than $20,000 in funding.

Munger Principal Donnell Burroughs said students who received the lowest reading test scores will likely be the ones who receive tutoring.

“Here at Munger we want our students to continue to grow,” Burroughs said. “We will identify certain families and students from preschool to third grade and they’ll work with individual tutors who come into the school every day.”

Students will work with a tutor in groups of three for 40 minutes a day.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley described another benefit of the program: helping students with disabilities.

“Perhaps an unintended consequence of the work that’s happening here is we can identify developmental delays and disabilities earlier for intervention.”

Calley, whose daughter has autism, is an advocate for people with disabilities. Studies have shown that early intervention improves outcomes.  

“We still have so far to go there,” he added. “This is a reading initiative, but it’s gonna have benefits beyond reading.”

Special education has been a pressing concern for education advocates in the state. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren issued a list of recommendations for ways to improve Detroit schools in early December. Among them was a priority to fully fund special education.

Plans to continue or expand the program are unclear, and depend on the pilot’s success. The effort is supported by 15 local and state partners, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Raising a Reader.

Pre-k push

Memphis gets back into education game with vote to fund pre-K classrooms

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A pre-K student plays with blocks at the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Center.

The Memphis City Council committed on Tuesday to find a way to invest at least $8 million in pre-kindergarten classrooms before 2019, marking their first big investment in Memphis schools in four years.

The measure, which was approved 11-0, did not provide a funding stream for the multimillion-dollar need, but essentially holds Memphis to find a way to come up with $8 million for 1,000 pre-K seats that the city stands to lose with the expiration of a major federal grant in 2019.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove recused her initial yes vote without comment.

Councilman Kemp Conrad, who introduced the resolution, told his fellow council members that this measure is a way for the city to once again fund programs that help children. Tuesday’s vote marks the first new money for  Memphis classrooms since 2013 when city and county school systems merged.

“We can make a statement, a formalized action to the mayor who is very supportive of this issue, as a policy-making body,” Conrad said. “We’re making a statement to other funding bodies, Shelby County Schools, the Shelby County Commission and private entities that the city can come to the table with money.”

At an executive session two weeks ago, Mayor Jim Strickland said he supported the initiative and that the seats could mean the difference in children developing the reading skills they need by third grade to be successful in school.

Councilman Bill Morrison, a former Memphis teacher, brought forth an amendment before the vote that would have expanded the measure to also guarantee funding for schools beyond pre-K, such as after-school programs and career and technical training. However, he withdrew his amendment after Councilman Berlin Boyd suggested he bring the issue as a separate resolution in the future.

Currently, about 7,420 of the city’s 4-year-olds attend free school programs, and a coalition of nonprofit groups led by Seeding Success has been pushing to maintain — and even grow — the number of free, needs-based pre-K seats in Memphis. The group estimates that about 1,000 additional seats are needed to offer free pre-K to all who need it.

Mark Sturgis, the executive director of Seeding Success, told Chalkbeat after the meeting that the council vote will spur further collaboration between private and public funders to bolster pre-K in Memphis. Seeding Success will help to lead a closed-door meeting tomorrow between City Council members, Shelby County Commissioners and philanthropic and private donors.

“Now, it’s about leveraging the momentum from tonight with coordinated conversations,” Sturgis said. “We have to build the infrastructure to do this right. It’s all about creating quality pre-K.”

Charles Lampkin, a Memphis parent whose three sons were students in pre-K classrooms, said during public comment that the free early education made a big impact on this family’s life.

“My (now) first-grader is reading on grade-level and above and my kindergartener is at grade level,” he said, adding that his third son was currently enrolled in pre-K classes at Porter-Leath. “I don’t know what my children would have been like if they did not have that benefit, where they would be in terms of performance. There’s a lot of disparity here with our children. Fortunately for me, my children have benefited.”