Fourth-grader J’Tyler Jones has a lot of information at his fingertips.
He can list at length the programs he loves at Delano Optional School in Memphis, the elementary school winner of the 2015 SCORE Prize. And he can rattle off facts he picked up during his school’s lunch hour, like state capitals.
“I learned that Montana has a capital named Helena,” said J’Tyler. “Our teachers have high expectations of us – learning and having good behavior.”
Delano’s lunch periods include a PowerPoint presentation running for students, featuring grade-level and school-wide memorization questions with facts and skills kids need to master for effective processing of classroom information. The presentations are put together by the school’s technology coordinator Sharren Williams. Ms. Williams works with classroom teachers to determine the content.
“That’s one thing that I love about Delano – the way that we collaborate with each other. There’s not a separation between the support teachers and the classroom teachers,” said Ms. Williams. “We have a very close-knit family here. We support each other 100 percent.”
This sort of cross-curricular academic collaboration is the standard at Delano. Core academic material is integrated throughout the school day, including enrichment classes like art, music and technology. Delano’s music teacher helps fourth- and fifth-grade students with fractions by talking with students about half-quarter and quarter notes, challenging kids to add and subtract them. Students participating in advanced strings and chorus have academic concepts further reinforced, improving reading skills like rhyming words, poetry, and vocabulary. Elementary and intermediate students working on basic and geometric shapes see these concepts reinforced during their art blocks. Delano’s art teacher has also helped students create graphic organizers for science class.
To accomplish all this, teachers work together constantly. Every adult in the building is accountable for student achievement, according to Principal Patrice Shipp, and faculty members work as a team regardless of the subjects they teach. Enrichment teachers receive the same professional development as other teachers, learning skills like building lesson plans around standards, and all faculty participate in the same professional learning communities (PLCs). All teachers observe one another in class at least twice each year.
Delano’s strong data-driven culture includes full staff participation so the school can use the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) results to help students learn and grow. The entire faculty has helped with the school’s TCAP Saturday camps to help kids prepare for tests, as well as TCAP camps for parents explaining how to read data and help students accordingly.
Every teacher’s day includes time to build relationships and help address kids’ social, academic, and behavior needs. All teachers routinely tutor kids in reading and math, engaging actively in each child’s academic status and goals for improvement. Every Delano instructor sponsors an individual after-school student club, which is why Delano is able to offer programming for kids interested in everything from etiquette and poetry to drama and world music.
“Our parents, our teachers, students, administrators – all of us have a strong commitment to making sure students excel academically,” said Ms. Shipp. “We are just very proud of our students’ academic success.”
Delano is a technology-focused optional school for kids in Shelby County Schools, so one enrichment subject that is continually assimilated with classroom work is technology. In addition to regular use of educational electronics in everyday instruction, kids attend weekly computer classes to gain technical skills while reinforcing core subject concepts. This time has also been useful for TNReady assessment preparation.
By the time kids leave Delano, they are highly proficient and confident with technology. Ms. Williams remembers one child who arrived at the school in kindergarten with no computer exposure, but who could type 70 words per minute by the end of fifth grade.
“Our students love technology. They catch on very quickly. They’re being raised in a technology world, and we have to take advantage of that,” said Ms. Williams. “It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and do your classwork. But when they come out of the classroom, they can see that this is actually something they might want to do one day with their career.”
Ms. Williams teaches the students’ weekly computer classes and helps teachers unify curriculum goals with instructional technology and student skill-building opportunities. Like every Delano instructors, she has many roles beyond that. She helps with Delano’s annual end-of-year technology fair showcasing everything kids have produced, including work for career-related themes like banking and weather prediction. She puts together the lunchtime PowerPoint presentations, and tutors kids in reading and math.
For Ms. Williams, integration of technology across the curriculum is closely tied to Delano’s mission of helping students take responsibility for their own learning. Recently, in a tutoring session, Ms. Williams introduced a student to a program called Quizlet, which lets kids practice vocabulary by playing games and creating their own lessons. Building exercises independently helped this student make significant connections to the material.
“The technology we use is just one way that we keep students engaged and interested in learning,” said Ms. Williams. “When kids are playing games, you can focus on what you want them to learn – multiplication, fractions, reading skills – and all the things they’re doing, they’re practicing skills. It keeps them engaged. It makes learning interactive.”
Fifth-grade student Chance Fowler agrees that computers help drive academic work home. He’d rather complete online lessons with a program called CoolMath, for example, than with traditional exercises.
“I like CoolMath more because I’m a computer geek,” said Chance.
Chance is proud of many aspects of school life at Delano. He loves the school’s CLUE academic enrichment program, as well as the diversity of student programming. Kids at Delano may be in elementary school, but faculty extracurricular offerings allow access to activities ranging from the basketball club – Chance’s favorite – to daily student broadcasts on “DTV.”
“Our teachers care about us,” said Chance. “They make us do our work, because they know it’s going to pay off.”
Learn more about the student achievement work at Delano Optional School in this video: