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FCAT Explosion helps prep kids of all ages for upcoming statewide test

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By Angye Morrison

It started out as an effort to help students in grades six through 12 prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It turned into an all-out effort to not only help students of all ages get ready for the test, but to help them do better in school and in life as well.

East Gadsden High School hosted an FCAT Explosion during the month of January, an idea brought forth during a Parent Teacher Association meeting at the school.

“I have a very innovative Parent Teacher Association,” said EGHS Principal Rosalyn Smith. “Once a month, they meet and invite the principal to come and give an update on the status of the school. In November and December I shared with them the desire to extend learning through after school tutorial programs.”

Smith said the school had tried to provide such programs in the past, but with students involved in other things, including after school jobs and extracurricular activities, the participation did not justify having the program.

“They came up with a brilliant idea. They said, ‘Why don’t you take the services to the community?’ I said, ‘Wow! Brilliant idea! Will you help me?’ They said they would be the support in the community and announce it in church, hand out fliers and be visible when we come to their communities,” she said.

The initial intent, Smith said, was to go into the community and provide a tutorial on the Sunshine State Standards with emphasis on grades six through 12.

“(We included the middle grades) because we were trying to include our feeder middle schools,” the principal said. “We said, whomever you bring, we will tutor them. We ended up tutoring elementary, middle and high school kids, and we used our high school curriculum to do it.”

Smith said what she found most impressive was the fact that parents were willing to bring the kids to a program that was in their neighborhoods, and the fact that the librarians there opened up their facilities to provide usable space for tutors and students, as well as access to computers.

She was also impressed that some families who came for the first session in Havana followed them throughout the county each week.

“We were just mesmerized that community people rallied around what we were doing,” she said.

Teachers from EGHS were on hand to tutor in math, english, reading, science and writing.

“I found dollars to reimburse teachers, and I found dollars to work with the school district to use the Mobile Parent Resource Unit,” Smith said. “I thought, since we have this mobile, why not ask the district to give out information as we bring the parents in? It all worked in our favor,” she said, adding that the district did provide the unit and staff who came each time and answered parent questions and provided information to them.

Funds were also located, along with private and business partner donations, to provide giveaways to parents – they received telephone cards, a shopping spree and a dinner for two.

Smith said each student who participated in the tutorials was asked to sign in, including their grade level and school information, so that those students’ progress, not only on the FCAT but in school as well, can be tracked.

The students each received a certificate of participation, and the work they each completed was sent home and to each school, so that teachers and parents could see what had been accomplished.

“We wanted them to see it and to say to them, ‘Look what your elementary students are doing with high school work,’” Smith said, adding that all of the participating students were taught using the high school curriculum used at East Gadsden.

“We did not teach them on their actual grade level,” she said. “I shared with my team, ‘Look what thse kids are doing in elementary school with our curriculum. That lets us know that our feeder schools are doing an excellent job of preparing our kids for us. What we must do is continue with that articulation.”

After the last session of the FCAT Explosion, which took place in Gretna, parents expressed that they’d like to see the program, or something similar, continue.

“So from that, what we are planning to do for the fourth nine weeks is to have an ongoing conversation with middle schools, telling them here is what kids need to know to be successful in high school, and we want to build a pacing guide that starts in middle school and extends all the way through 12th grade,” she said, adding that the program will continue for this month only at the East Gadsden campus, from 9 a.m. until noon each Saturday, and students of all ages who attend will receive tutoring in math, science, reading and writing.

“We will also track those students to see if this helps and if it makes an impact,” she said. “We didn’t know if (the FCAT Explosion) was going to work, but we took a chance. Having great parents with great ideas that we could embrace made it successful.”

But Smith said the tutorials, past and present, are not about the FCAT exclusively.

“It’s not about a one-time FCAT score, it’s a part of helping students be successful,” she said.

In addition to the Saturday sessions, EGHS students can attend after school sessions Monday through Thursday to help get them ready for the FCAT. Smith said students and faculty at the school have set a goal: each student tested earning a score of 4 or greater.

“The school has restructured a bit to help focus on goals and student needs, and I asked students how they’d like to be recognized once they’ve achieved their academic goals,” Smith said. “One young lady said the only thing she wanted when she gets her 4 or more is for the principal to tell her, ‘Job well done.’ Isn’t that marvelous? She doesn’t want any material reward.”

Smith said she intended to find that student as soon as possible and tell her, “Job already well done.”

“The kids just need that support, someone to believe in them and tell them that they can do good things and make good choices,” the principal said. “We want our students to have a better opportunity to learn. I take it very personal. For every child that I sit here and sign their high school diploma, I am sending them a message: You are ready for the world. You are ready to be an independent and productive citizen. And I take that personal. We are doing these kinds of things to build a better America and better Gadsden County.”