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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

Pupils off to camp for `brain training'

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Gateway Middle School students are heading off to camp this week, but forget about s'mores, canoe trips, and cozy cabins.

This is a paper-and-pencil classroom camp to help train the brain.

About 100 of the 200 sixth-grade students at the Maumee school have been invited to attend the first eight-week camp session designed to raise proficiency test scores.

The camp is a pilot program for proficiency intervention for the sixth grade, Principal Christopher Conroy said.

In the past, the teacher did most of the proficiency-test preparation in the classrooms. Now, Gateway is shifting some of the preparation work to the home front, asking parents to become involved in a partnership with the school. “We're trying to sell parents the idea that they have a role” in the proficiency-test process, he said.

To help prepare parents, they were invited to attend meetings last week at the school, where staff shared strategies and materials with the parents, Mr. Conroy said.

Previously, the school only asked parents to make sure their children had a good night's sleep and a good breakfast before taking the proficiency test.

School officials are not asking parents to “teach the test.” Instead, “we are asking them to help teach the skills at home” needed to pass the test, he said.

For instance, parents received activity sheets that can be used at home to strengthen their children's math skills.

“The next time they have pizza, they can count the number of pieces and how many each person eats. If there are 12 pieces and dad eats four, they can discuss what kind of fraction that is,” Mr. Conroy said.

Gateway's staff has embraced the proficiency camp pilot program.

“We've had super response from the staff,” he said.

Students who sign up for the camp attend sessions from 7:30 to 8:10 a.m. with school starting at 8:20 a.m. Each subject area has its own day, and all five subjects are scheduled during each camp. Camps also will be offered in January and February. Winter camps might be held both before and after school.

The first camp began Monday.

Teachers will receive money from the school board to teach during the camps, Mr. Conroy said. Teachers also will file lesson plans and keep attendance records.

Parents will be held responsible for making sure students attend regularly and show up for camp on time.

“It goes back to the partnership,” Mr. Conroy said.

Gateway students aren't having any particular problems passing the proficiency tests, but “we want to bring scores up across the board,” Mr. Conroy said. The camps are open to any sixth-grade students, but more than 100 letters were sent out inviting students who need some extra help.

In other years, Gateway offered only a math camp for a month before the March test.

Reaction during the parents' meeting last week was positive. “The parents were enthusiastic,” the principal said.

Other schools in the Toledo area regularly offer proficiency intervention sessions, particularly during the summer or in the winter just before the March test period.

In the Springfield school district, a sixth-grade proficiency academy was implemented last year, similar to the eighth-grade proficiency academy that had been offered for several years. The sessions were offered in January and February after school and on Saturdays, said D.J. Kern-Blystone, principal at Springfield Middle School.

The intervention helps students who are “really challenged by the test,” she said. “It does make a difference.”

Proficiency review sessions are offered in the summer in the Anthony Wayne school district, but the schools take a different approach to the tests, officials said.

Anthony Wayne students prepare for the tests each day during the school year. It's a day-by-day process, said Rick Heintschel, director of curriculum and instructional personnel. “We address it daily for nine months.”

This approach, he said, helps avoid the emotional turmoil often associated with the proficiency tests. And it also avoids the last minute cramming, he said. Just before the March tests, the school promotes “good thoughts” and motivational thinking, he said.

Teachers have spent a tremendous amount of time revising courses of study that the proficiency tests address, he said.



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