"Schools today must compete for the attention of a Nintendo generation raised in an audio-visual world."
You know the Ashley River Elementary School is different the minute you walk into it. The energy is palpable. Student work hangs from walls, tables, and ceilings. Students smile. Children in classrooms gather in cooperative teams and work intently at computers. Students and teachers plan projects, exchange ideas, and rehearse skits. A visiting artist demonstrates the mountain dulcimer. A parent helps two children research their project. A senior citizen holds a class spellbound with tales of her childhood, and a local attorney explains tort liability to fifth graders. It is no wonder that parents bring newborns to the school within days of their arrival to sign them up for this magnet school's waiting list.
Two considerations are key to the restructuring of this award-winning school under a forward-looking deregulation plan adopted by the state. First, it has made learning the goal -- and time a variable -- for its nongraded K-3 program in order to provide as much as "an extra year of time for developmentally at-risk children to catch up without penalty of failure." Second, Ashley River students have the opportunity to discover and explore their talents during classes in art, music, creative movement, drama, creative writing, and Spanish. If attracted to them, students can also sign up for electives in Suzuki violin, choral music, American Sign Language, ballet, and jazz dancing. "Nothing we're doing here is new," says Rose Maree Myers, principal of the school. "We haven't invented a new wheel."
Perhaps they haven't invented a new wheel, but the school appears to have succeeded in putting the joy back in learning. On any given day students can be found doing everything from playing xylophones to drawing sketches of their teachers. Observers in South Carolina believe Ashley River has taken greater advantage of new freedom from state regulation than any other school in the state.
"Schools today must compete for the attention of a Nintendo generation raised in an audiovisual world," according to Myers. Ashley River reaches this generation with an active learning environment emphasizing an interdisciplinary arts curriculum. The aim: break the mold of failure by providing interrelated experiences in arts and academic subjects to let children discover their strengths and talents. The ungraded early years permit students to progress at their own rates without the stigma of failure.
Ashley River officials point out that performance on nationally normed tests such as the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills puts their students above national, state, and local averages in all areas. They also note that the school offers a comprehensive array of special programs such as speech, remedial reading, and special education -- although "pullout" programs are unknown. In 1992, Ashley River was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a "National Blue Ribbon Exemplary School."
One of the distinctive features of the plan the school submitted to the state was provision for common planning time for teachers. Each week, three 40-minute periods of common planning time are provided for all grade levels. Teachers use this time for planning and writing lesson units, brainstorming about instruction, and discussing classroom or student problems. Every nine weeks, teachers at each grade level meet with the principal to talk over student progress, instructional problems, parental concerns, and anything else teachers want to discuss.
For additional information:
Rose Maree Myers
Ashley River Elementary School
1871 Wallace Road
Charleston, SC 29407