$100K to close achievement gap in Eagle-Vail | VailDaily.com

$100K to close achievement gap in Eagle-Vail

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” Meadow Mountain Elementary wants to close all the achievement gaps.

But the school won’t focus just on the gap between English-speaking students and their Spanish-speaking classmates. There also are gaps between girls and boys, between gifted and other students, and between kids from different economic backgrounds, said principal Kathy Cummings.

Meadow Mountain just received a $100,000 grant from the state to help with its “Closing the Achievement Gap” program. The school was chosen because it did well on state tests while facing changing demographics, Cummings said.

The number of the students with limited English at Meadow Mountain fluctuates between 40 percent and 60 percent . It also have a wide mix of students from all socio-economic backgrounds and skill levels, Cummings said.

“We’re a good representation of what’s here in the valley,” Cummings said.

Grant money will be used to buy things like new books for the school, but it will also be used to start a new way of teaching. Like Minturn Middle School and Red Canyon High School, Meadow Mountain will soon start incorporating “expeditionary learning” in its curriculum.

Expeditionary learning mixes instruction in traditional subjects like math and reading with intense, in-depth, hands-on projects called “expeditions.”

At Minturn Middle School for instance, eighth graders spent an entire term researching the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, a project that involved hut trips, interviews with veterans and writing children’s books that were placed in Vail’s Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame.

How will this close the achievement gap? Some students do have a chance to get out of the house every weekend, ski, hike and travel, but many don’t, and they’re missing out on a lot of first-hand knowledge and experiences, teachers say.

An outward bound program, which routinely takes students out of the classroom, would provide those experiences.

Meanwhile, for gifted and talented students who need a challenge, expeditionary learning would give them a chance to go above and beyond what they would get in a normal classroom setting. The projects are very personal, and students can make them as challenging and extensive as they want to.

Meadow Mountain will start incorporating some expeditionary learning techniques in the classrooms probably by March and hopes to be a full-on expeditionary learning school next school year. Much of the grant money will be used to train teachers in how to use this different style of teaching.

As part of the pilot program, Meadow Mountain will be pushing for more parental involvement. The goal is to make school feel like an extension at home for the kids, and if parents make themselves visible in the halls, students are more likely to be excited by school, Cummings said.

Much of the trick is giving parents as many opportunities as possible to be involved. Cummings says she’s planning on “literacy nights” where she and teachers would have seminars with parents, showing them how they can help their children read better at home and how they can ask them questions about books.

Near the end of the school year, she wants to hold seminars for parents of preschoolers to help them adjust to life in kindergarten, and a seminar for kindergarten parents to show them how life in first grade will be different.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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