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Holladay Journal

Read yourself silly: Scores improve, teachers attacked with silly string by students

Jun 28, 2018 09:38AM ● By City Journals Staff

Emma Borrmann and Teri Cooper document their defeat.

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected] 

Students at Crestview Elementary who improved their reading skills during the school year were acknowledged in a year-end assembly on May 24. Highlights of the assembly included rewards for perfect attendance, Battle of the Books district winners, good behavior at lunch and a drawing for Cougar Bucks prizes. But the high point of the afternoon was when the assembly moved outside so students and teachers could spray each other with silly string. 

Kimberly Panter, literacy coach at Crestview, said this assembly is an entire school year in the making. Last year, improvement in the reading portion of the national Core Curriculum was their emphasis. It was such a success they did it again this year. 

“We started with a Read a Rainbow video (accessible here on YouTube) at the beginning of the school year to introduce the program,” Panter said. Bulletin board displays in the halls show a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end. Each color is a component of literacy and focuses on a reading skill such as predicting, accuracy or summarizing.

“We do state-mandated DIBELS testing three times during the school year; the beginning, middle and end,” said Panter. “This is something we focus on all year. It’s not just testing day and then we’re done.”  

“We work on small group reading each day, we observe classrooms each day, teachers do weekly monitoring to see who is falling behind, and we pull out students to work one-on-one. We have bulletin board displays up in the halls. Improving reading skills is a year-long pursuit.”  

Another fun activity Crestview staff did was to hide gold coins throughout the school. Each one had a definition of a reading skill written on it. Students searched for the coins and wrote down the reading skill that was on each one. A completed form was turned into the office for a chance to earn a chocolate gold coin. (Video on that is here

Panter, teacher Wendy Lovell and principal Teri Cooper spearheaded the program. Instead of acknowledging only students who achieved a certain score, the benchmark was greatest improvement. That leveled the playing field for all students, including those with special needs. 

Leah Chisholm is a second-grader at Crestview. She has a fraternal twin sister, Elli, and an older brother Isaac who is in fifth grade. Both Leah and Elli were in the top four in their class’s “most improved” recognition. This was especially exciting for their parents, Sharae and Steve Chisholm. 

Sharae gets emotional when she talks about her kids’ achievements, especially Leah, who has Down syndrome. With the accommodations made by the school, Leah is enjoying her time in a mainstream class. Her teacher, Emma Borrmann, monitors all her students’ progress each week, including Leah’s.

“We have a supportive class, and a positive school culture. I put Leah in a reading group where her skills would be challenged and it worked. Every child is encouraged to try. Leah is just one of the kids,” Borrmann said. She has worked with a range of special needs in her classes — including kids with cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD. She has seen with the right goals, they can all succeed. 

“This is a testament to mainstreaming,” Sharae Chisholm said. “Leah was exposed to the same core curriculum as the other kids and her sister Elli (who does not have Down syndrome). We set high expectations.” Sharae Chisholm believes not only is Leah’s placement beneficial to her, it’s beneficial to all the students. “Her peers see someone with special needs, and interact with her, and it normalizes the diagnosis. It’s just one part of who she is, and they get to know her as a whole person.” 

Seeing people with special needs achieve academically breaks stereotypes. “People aren’t held back from education opportunities just because of a diagnosis,” Steve Chisholm said. He and his wife went to the assembly, and they paused for a quick family photo with their three kids. 

Setting up an environment where all students could improve was the goal. Panter said this year the four students in each class who had improved their test scores the most were recognized. This included kids with special needs, those learning English as a second language and slower readers. “We’re making it fun, celebrating that all of us can make growth in a year. Every student’s an individual and we take them where they start and go from there,” Panter said. 

The end of the year is a rowdy time for students. Cooper is equal parts professional administrator, fun educator and energetic dramatist as she leads the year-end assembly. “Controlled chaos” is her watchword as she describes what will happen next. 

“Who was here last year when the teachers had to eat snails?” Cooper asked the student body. The room erupted in giggles and groans, and hundreds of hands shot straight up. Students watched the teachers eat escargot from La Caille restaurant to celebrate improved DIBELS scores last year. The staff knew they had to match or top that this year.  

The entire student body moved out of the auditorium and onto the field. Cones were arranged in a large circle; teachers were inside the cones with nowhere to run. Students were outside the cones. Those not spraying silly string sat in a slightly larger circle on the grass. Teachers and students were armed with cans of silly string and ready to spray teachers and administrators at the signal. 

Cooper yelled from inside the circle. “One, two, three, GO!” and the laughs and silly string flew.