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Midvale Journal

Midvale Elementary Introduces New Program to Boost Academic Learning

Sep 29, 2016 05:24PM ● By Julie Slama

At Midvale Elementary, administration and faculty are introducing a new program to help increase students’ academic test scores. (Julie Slama/My City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Two years ago, state academic test scores dipped at Midvale Elementary to amongst the lowest in the state.  After researching how other Title I schools have successfully rebounded and now soar with academics, Principal Chip Watts and his team are implementing an Academic Parent Teacher Team program to help Midvale do the same.

“We saw how low-performing schools turned themselves around by getting parents involved to support the kids and get engaged in the learning process and our teachers are on board to help this succeed,” Principal Chip Watts said.

Midvale Elementary Community School Facilitator Heidi Sanger points out students only spend 12 percent of a year at school and estimates seven percent are focused on academics.

“With 55 percent of the time they’re at home or away from school, this is a chance for parents to be involved and reinforce what their kids are learning at school,” she said, adding that students are asleep the remaining percentage.

The Arizona-based program brings parents to meet with teachers during three 75-minute parent-teacher conferences per year, meeting to set goals and discuss the student’s progress.  As a group, parents will meet with the teacher to learn how to use worksheets, flashcards and academic games to help their children succeed.

“They’ll set measurable goals to see how students’ progress from one visit until the next.  It could be that they may receive a set of words for the parents to work with the students at home,” Watts said.

During the visits, students can come to play games or get homework help under the supervision of volunteers.

“With our population, we realize that often parents work multiple jobs and don’t have child care, so we’re trying to reach them in ways that work for them,” Sanger said.

That also includes teachers traveling to their homes, recreation centers, libraries or wherever it is convenient to parents to meet, Sanger said.

“Home visits are already going on at some Utah schools and our teachers underwent training this summer. Our teachers want to develop these relationships with parents,” she said.

Watts said it’s important the connection is made.

“Teachers understand it’s a critical relationship and they want to strengthen the relationships between school and home,” he said.

Working with the University of Utah Education Policy Center, some of Midvale Elementary teachers, parents, administration and staff were interviewed, observed in the classroom, curriculum was evaluated and helped provide a baseline assessment of the school.

From this, Watts said that three main areas of focus were derived, including positive student behavior, purposeful planning and engagement of students in instruction and organization and communication with the school, with the home and with the community.

With a recent introduction of the “champs” positive intervention behavioral plan, referrals are currently less two per day, Watts said.  He estimates the number may have been 10 or 12 previously.

“We’re celebrating the positive and recognizing students who are doing a great job,” Watts said.

Sanger said teachers are collaborating together on lesson plans and having a peer observe one another while teaching to provide feedback.

“Instead of getting through the material to give the test, they’re looking at the students’ achievement data and making sure they’re learning and understanding the material.  It’s a big paradigm shift,” she said.

The Academic Parent Teacher Team program tailored to Midvale Elementary is an additional part of the improvement plan.  

Throughout the process, the team — administrators, support staff, teachers, parents, Canyons School District personnel and the University of Utah consultants — will evaluate it several times during the school year.  The school also will host parent focus groups and family learning center opportunities.

“Our goal down the road in four or five years is to help Midvale students to be at or above the state average on tests,” Watts said.  “We’ll be able to do this with implicit instruction, parent engagement, organization, teachers engaging students in teaching and a strong focus on academics.”