Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

TJHS students gain help with basics

June 20, 2001

To the teachers, it's a practicum in education.

But to the kids it's just plain old summer school.

But summer school with a twist.

Each student pays $50 to participate and if they have perfect attendance, at the end of the session their money is refunded.

This week, Beth Noland and Maria Neff, special education teachers at Tonganoxie Junior High School, are winding up this three-week course.

Most of their 15 seventh- and eighth-graders are voluntarily attending, Noland said. And a few are attending because they failed a class during the spring semester.

"Some of them realized, 'hey I could use some extra help,' so they're genuinely here trying to learn something," Noland said.

In this course, the students aren't the only ones who get credit.

Noland and Neff, who are both working on their master's degrees at the University of Kansas, are also getting a grade. Part of their degree work requires that they complete two practicums, projects in which they teach under supervision.

For this practicum, the women plan and teach the course and their instructor visits their classroom to make observations. Once a week they meet at KU for a three-hour session with professors.

Noland, who has taught special education at TJHS for three years, said the three-week course focuses on the basics reading, writing and math.

"We go back into the basic skills and shore them up," Noland said. "We teach strategies, such as how to use a textbook and how to take a reading comprehension test."

Noland said she realizes that oftentimes, students who have difficulty in school are slow readers.

"We try to make everything more efficient for them," Noland said, "Knowing that for most of these kids reading is probably not their best area."

Because of that, they also emphasize simple tactics that can enhance reading comprehension, such as paying attention to vocabulary and highlighting important passages.

"We teach anything we can think of to help them use the textbooks that would not require the kids to apply word for word reading," Noland said.

Steve Woolf, junior high principal, said it's important to target students who need additional help with the basics, both for the school and for the individual student.

"The state has changed the rules of the game this year for the standards of excellence," Woolf said. "If you have too many kids in the lower 25 percentiles, you won't meet the standards."

The standards of excellence are based on achievement test scores.

Woolf said a big difference can be made with the low scorers.

"It's kind of hard to bump a kid from 95 to 97 percentile," Woolf said. "That's just a two point gain. But if you bump a kid from 25 to 55, that's a large gain."

However, the school's concerned about more than just numbers, Woolf said.

"It seems kind of impersonal until you stop and think that each score has a child behind it and the better they do on the test, the better their opportunity to be successful when they get out of school."

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