There was a lot of excitement at Hammond Hill Elementary School on May 22 as a film crew from South Carolina ETV visited the school to shoot video for a episode of In Our Schools.
The school is one of five nominated earlier this year by the state Department of Education for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which recognizes schools where students achieve at high levels and/or where the achievement gap is narrowing.
After the schools completed an application, the state department narrowed the list down to three, including Hammond Hill.
“It was very exciting,” said Principal Janet Vaughan. “It validated to the faculty that what we have been doing is working.”
It’s well-deserved, said Peggy Trivelas, an elementary academic officer for Aiken County Public Schools.
“Their focus on instruction has really shown up in student achievement,” she said. “It’s very exciting that great things are happening.”
Some of the requirements for becoming a finalist are that the school must have met adequate yearly progress for at least the past two years and be certified by the state department of education as doing so, and has not received the recognition in the past five years.
To be awarded the honor later this year, the school must meet one final requirement: make adequate yearly progress for the 2011-12 school year. AYP is based on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards results from testing that took place in early May.
Making it to the finalist level is a great accomplishment, said Vaughan.
“We have made dramatic gains with our achievement,” she said. “We’ve gone from at-risk to making AYP and having an excellent absolute and performance rating.”
Some of the initiatives the school has put in place over the past several years have contributed to that success, she said.
Pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade visit the school’s computer writing lab where the youngest pupils are instructed on keyboarding. As they move on to the next grade, they learn more about the six traits of a writing model to help them learn writing skills.
Teachers also attend the computer writing lab with their pupils so that they can tie in what’s being taught in the lab to what they are doing in the classroom, said Vaughan.
Writing is also heavily emphasized in the classroom. Pupils spend 30 to 45 minutes each day learning writing skills.
Another asset has been Hammond Hill’s Compass Lab. Pupils have Measurement of Academic Performance testing three times during the school year and that information goes into the Compass system.
Each pupil is then given a lesson plan with activities focused on the areas they need to work on.
“It’s like their own tutor because it’s individualized instruction according to their level,” she said.
Pupils visit the Compass Lab twice a week, once for reading and once for math. The lab is also available before and after school and pupils can also access their individualized plans at home with the use of a password.
The school’s other programs include an English for Speakers of Other Languages program, which helps pupils who are learning English as a second language become proficient in the language; a mathematics lab for third through fifth grades; and a reading interventionist who works with pupils who are reading below their grade level.
Its focus on cross-curriculum instruction has also helped with test scores, said Vaughan.
“(Teachers) are not teaching math and then saying ‘let’s close the book and now let’s go on to science’,” she said. “They’re recognizing that all of these subjects need to correspond with each other and they need to make instruction meaningful to make it relevant to the student.”
In Our Schools will highlight the school and its accomplishments during an episode expected to air after the start of the next school year, in late summer or early fall.
The school's success is also dependent on parental involvement, said Vaughan.
“We have more parent volunteers coming into the building to help. At any given time, you can find parent volunteers at our school helping,” she said.
Parental involvement can take any form, including eating lunch with their child or participating in special activities at the school, she said.
“When the child sees their parent at school, they know that the parent cares and the student tries harder. Studies have shown that parents’ presence at schools will help to increase academic scores,” she said.
When people see the episode of In Our Schools, Vaughan hopes they realize the school’s dedication to helping every child learn.
“There’s something special about Hammond Hill. I believe that Hammond Hill has a very, very nurturing environment. Students know they are cared about here,” she said. “ We don’t leave any child behind.”