Fifth in a series
Editor's note: Last year, Longley Elementary School was identified as one of 10 Maine schools with such persistently low test scores it qualified for $2 million in federal money for intervention to boost student achievement to grade level. This is the fifth story in a series about changes at Longley.
LEWISTON — Big Brother/Big Sister volunteer Tiffany Manson sat with Khadijo Tawane, 13, playing Connect Four at Longley Elementary School Wednesday afternoon.
“Oh, you blocked me!” Manson said. Khadijo giggled.
“Do you want to play Uno now?” Manson asked. The girl nodded. Manson showed her how to shuffle the deck of cards.
Downtown, other students learned cooking skills at The Root Cellar.
In a different room, Book Club members sat on the floor enjoying casual reading with Bates College student volunteers.
In still another classroom, students talked about bereavement and losses, both cultural and family, they've suffered.
Welcome to Longley's early release Wednesdays, when school is dismissed early, allowing teachers to get professional development to help them teach the wide array of student abilities in classes.
Principal Linda St. Andre said the extra help for teachers is crucial for Longley, a school in its first year of a school improvement plan to boost learning. But she's troubled by students losing time from school.
“I feel like we should be able to have these kids engaged in something productive during that hour and a half," St. Andre said. "So we put together a committee to look at that.” From that came a list of enrichment activities offered in six-week sessions throughout the year.
“We offer different programs, trying to tie into academics and the whole social and emotional piece,” St. Andre said.
The Wednesday afternoon activities began in October and are run by staff and volunteers. One woman gave art lessons. Sparetime Recreation brought in portable lanes and offered bowling to fourth-graders. L/A Arts led a drama club.
“Our school nurse is running brain games, board games and card games. A couple of ladies came in and did embroidery for five weeks,” St. Andre said.
She's pleased with the activities, but hopes to boost the number of choices and students participating. Out of the school population of 300, between 66 to 100 students have signed up each session.
Four of those students are Hassan Mohamud, 10, Camron Merchant, 11, Victasia Harris, 9, and Eblo Abdullahi, 9. They were playing with Legos Wednesday, under the direction of librarian Peg Corson.
Corson said the children playing Legos are "future engineers." Legos stimulates creativity, building and cooperation skills, she said.
“I'm building an ocean,” said Victasia Harris, showing off her submarine with people, seaweed and a house. “That's the telescope on the submarine.”
Eblo Abdullahi, 9, created a Lego playground. “This is the house on the playground. This is the sandbox,” she said. “This is the pool. That's a little flower. This is where the monkeys play.”
Hassan built an airport, complete with a Lego helicopter, space shuttle, gas truck, control tower and airport guards. He built it “with my buddy, Stephen. There's a lot of cool stuff you can build with Legos.”
In another part of the school, counselor Margaret Messinger ran the Friendship Club. The object of a game they played was for two students to display what they're wearing, then make changes to their clothing. Students have to remember what, and how, clothes were worn.
Whoever is the fastest, and tells the most accurate details is the winner. The club helps children learn social skills and get to know each other, Messinger said. When meeting someone in the club, “outside she might tell me, 'Do you want to be my friend?'” one girl said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday teachers were in a workshop led by literacy coach Joanne Berube. That day's lesson was how to teach a unit on community to a class of students who range from speaking no English to fluency.
When a student can't speak English, “you can't just put a textbook in front of a third-grader or a sixth-grader,” said second-grade teacher Debbie Rodrigue. “You show a picture and label it.” As the student progresses, teachers gradually increase the difficulty.
Teachers from the second, fourth, sixth grades, and English Language Learner class were at the same table sharing strategies. The professional development time is “huge,” Rodrigue said. “This is helping us.”
Longley looking for Wednesday volunteers, ideas
LEWISTON – Longley Elementary School is planning the fourth Wednesday afternoon session for students released early while teachers are in professional development.
Principal Linda St. Andre is looking for more ideas and volunteers.
“My goal is to have every kid doing something here or in the community,” she said. The last session begins in late April and continues throughout May.
New activities offered in the upcoming session include Susan Hayward teaching students about bird watching, and Maine Family Credit Union volunteers teaching students about money.
Also new will be the Lewiston Regional Technical Center offering fifth graders hands-on projects at LRTC “while exploring future options when they get to the high school,” St. Andre said. “They're putting together three or four choices, health care or woodworking or whatever.”
Anyone with an idea and wants to volunteer should contact St. Andre at the school, 795-4120, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activities could be given in a one, 90-minute session, or once a week for five or six weeks, St. Andre said.