Because we are focused on children as individuals, we have moved away from the traditional grade configuration and assessment process. Grades one and two and grades four and five are combined into multi-graded classrooms, which have been named Primary 2 and Elementary 2. This allows students to spend two years with their teacher, who will know them and their learning style better, thus improving instruction and minimizing transition time. Kindergarten (Primary 1) will remain as a single grade to allow students to acclimate to their first elementary school experience. However, students at Carlton are entering kindergarten in the trimester after they turn 5. This means students will be joining the classes throughout the year, which thus creates a more diverse group that mirrors our multi-graded classes. Third grade (Elementary 1) has also remained a single grade in order to solidify their early learning skills and prepare them for the high expectations in E2. This is also the first year they participate in state testing.
Our schedule was designed to give each class an uninterrupted literacy and math block. We also implemented a content block where students can engage in the content areas such as science and social studies in an inquiry- and project-based environment. The science integration specialist works as part of the grade-level teams to design and carry out lessons related to science topics outlined in the Massachusetts science frameworks.
The Carlton staff spent a year planning a school model they felt would meet the needs of their students, would help them take more ownership of their learning, and would engage them in real and meaningful ways. All of this was done with the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement. We are now four months into the process. It isn’t an easy one or a neat one, but it is definitely a worthwhile one. We have encountered some roadblocks along the way and have found ways around them. We have pulled together as a community of educators and parents. The culture of our school is slowly shifting. We expect great things from our students and are excited to be teaching in ways that we feel will close the achievement gap so our students can be successful in school.
Shawna Erps is reading specialist at Carlton School. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.