Widmyer designated School of Excellence by state
The West Virginia Depart-ment of Education announced last month that 13 of the state's schools had been designated as Schools of Excellence for 21st Century Learning.
Widmyer Elementary was among the elite group of schools, and the only Eastern Panhandle school to make the list.
Principal Joan Willard said it is "awesome" to be among those schools selected for the honor.
"The state challenged us to take a look at our school and try to address how we are doing," Willard said of the lengthy application process for the annual state award.
In addition to Willard, Assistant Principal Dan Reynolds, teacher Kandy Kulus, counselor Becky Davisson and lead writer Mary Hansen put together the 30-plus page application.
Evaluators at the state level weighed how schools performed in eight areas. Widmyer Elementary met or exceeded all of the state's criteria for student performance, school safety measures, teacher training, hands-on leadership and other key areas.
Besides bragging rights, Willard said the School of Excellence designation gives Widmyer's teachers and staff some well-deserved credit.
The school will get a banner announcing its status of excellence in August at a state-wide award banquet.
Widmyer Elementary has a staff of 50 teachers and aides, and a student body of 433 children. The school was built in 1975 for students in grades 3-6, but became a primary school in 2004 to absorb the students of North Berkeley Elementary. Willard has been principal of Widmyer for three years.
21st Century Learning
Willard said "21st Century Learning" is a concept that West Virginia's Department of Education is asking all educators to embrace.
The idea isn't just about preparing students to use computers and technology. Instead, teachers and administrators aim to provide the solid reading and math skills that will make students competitive in the workplace many years down the road. There is a new emphasis on a bigger world view, too.
"We integrate ways to have the children think in a way that's more global," said Willard.
That means inviting guests to school from different cultures, studying world civilizations, and giving students lots of opportunities to learn how to work together.
While performance on tests and assignments are important benchmarks for the school, Widmyer teachers are encouraged to use tests not as a goal, but as a starting point for better instruction.
When tests or observation shows that a student is falling behind in a subject, a team of teachers jumps in to give extra support. Willard said this "response to intervention" program catches students before they have a chance to fail.
Exemplary student work is displayed throughout the school to reward success, and students who excel in their studies often act as helpers to fellow students. Students with developmental or physical handicaps are integrated into everyday classroom activities, often with the help of an aide.
Encouraging good behavior
The school's Good Behavior System is a model of positive reinforcement for its young students. When a child is "caught being good," a staff member or teacher gives them a Good Time Ticket, which is redeemed for a marble.
Students collect the marbles in a jar in their classroom, and when the jar is full, the class is given $25 toward a reward of some kind. Pizza and game parties are favorite rewards, according to Willard.
The tickets can be awarded for any kind of positive behavior – from lending a hand to a teacher to being extra patient with a younger student.
Willard's application for the School of Excellence award also highlighted ways that Widmyer Elementary benefits from a strong connection with Morgan County's larger community.
She acknowledged business support for fundraisers, arts programming from the Morgan Arts Council, safety programs by local volunteer emergency responders and animal education by the Humane Society. Volunteerisms by PASS members, parents, grandparents and retired teachers are also important resources for K-2 students. Widmyer's Parent Teacher Organization is very active as well.
Willard noted that the school gives back by sharing its facilities with Doodlebugs after-school programs, community fitness classes and clubs needing meeting space and room for public events.
Moving with the times
New technology is well-integrated into everyday teaching at Widmyer Elementary. Students spend time each week in the computer lab so they become proficient at turning computers on and off and logging on to school networks.
Teachers use palm pilots to record and track student assessments, employ interactive Smartboards in math class, stay connected to other teachers and parents through email and teach students how to use appropriate internet programs to gather information.
According to Principal Willard, the School of Excellence award is proof that all the school staff's efforts – from greeting each student in the morning to meeting with parents to putting new teaching theory into practice – really add up.
"It's acknowledgement that what we're doing is good. That's good for our teachers to hear," she said.
And while the prize honors the administration and staff, the school's ultimate reward is the success of its students.