Wake County Schools

Raleigh school works for a 'renaissance' of learning

Posted September 12, 2011

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— Four Wake County elementary schools with low test scores and a high percentage of children on free and reduced lunch hope to turn things around this school year, with the help of federal grant money.

Barwell Road Elementary in Raleigh started the school year with more than 100 new teachers, a new principal and new administrative staff.

Fifth-grader Shanika Wood didn't find the change intimidating.

"When we come in in the morning, it's a bright, cheery, happy environment from us," Shanika said.

Barwell was among the four lowest-performing elementary schools in Wake County last year, along with Brentwood Magnet, Creech Road and Wilburn. This year, they're called "Renaissance Schools," because district staff developed a plan to turn them around, using money from the federal Race to the Top grant.

All teachers and administrators had to re-apply for jobs at the school; otherwise, they were reassigned or found jobs elsewhere. New teachers got a one-time signing bonus and can get bonuses for boosting student achievement.

Only seven teachers returned to Barwell, and Sandy Barefoot came from York Elementary School to be the new principal.

At a school with 75 percent of children on free or reduced lunch, Barefoot said, the goal is to get children to believe in themselves, no matter their challenges at home or in life. That also means getting parents involved in their children's education, she said.

"We're talking to children about being the person they want to be on a daily basis," Barefoot said.

Signs and banners in the hallways spell out expectations for the Barwell Bears. Raleigh school aims for 'renaissance' Raleigh school aims for 'renaissance'

"We want them to be the person they want to be, first and foremost. Then excel. Then act responsibly. Respect everyone, and be safe," Barefoot said.

Rose Curran, whose son is in second grade at Barwell, said she's already seen more parental involvement this year. "That's really good to see more parents take an active part in their child's education," she said.

Barwell has also become technology central: a smart board in every classroom, an iPod touch for every student, an individualized website tracking each student's grades, test scores, work samples and goals.

"It actually shows what you need to work on, and it shows what you're doing great on," Shanika said.

Students can practice music in a new studio with iPad instruments or give the daily news on the set of "Bear TV."

Qiana Harvey said the infusion of technology makes the classrooms more interactive and hands-on, and that motives students like her son, who's in fourth grade.

"The overall environment has made him want to do more, and his self-esteem level is increasing," said Harvey, who is president of the Barwell Parent-Teacher Association.

Additionally, more instructional and enrichment time has been built into the school day.

Armed with more time, technology and a handpicked staff, Barwell teachers and students hope to see improved learning and test scores this year.

"I have no doubt we're going to do that by empowering children, by helping them be responsible for their learning," Barefoot said.

"You can do a lot of things when you put your mind to it," Shanika said.


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  • Tawny Sep 15, 2011

    Yes ! These children need to become "technology savvy" to compete in a "global society". So, yes !! They need access to Ipod touches, computers, etc. Many of our current young adults seeking employment are so "under-educated" seeking that "dream job", but lacking "critical thinking skills", reading coomprehension, analytical, and math skills!

    Young adults graduating from computer science programs, health science programs, to name a few "specifically focused" majors do not lack job interviews at job fairs. The question is, "Who shall I choose to interview with"? Computer science graduates can demand $70 - $80,000 right out of undergraduate school !!

    So these young elementary children are now learning that an Ipod is not only for "downloading the latest songs"! They are our future, and I have no problem investing in them !!

  • jbtilley Sep 15, 2011

    Just remember how this grant was spent the next time there's a billion dollar bond to build new schools on the ballot.

  • fishon Sep 13, 2011

    And WHY does an elementary school student NEED an iPod? Paid for with Federal Funds?

  • umop apisdn Sep 12, 2011

    "umop: what's your point???"

    My point is this method makes users of technology not producers. If we're to stay competitive in the new global economy we need producers. People like this because it seems to be a solution to the problem, it's just a stop-gap until the next band-aid.

  • scuse2 Sep 12, 2011

    for the people who are griping about money being spent....we can pay now, or we can pay later

  • Krimson Sep 12, 2011

    umop: what's your point???

  • jenforthewin Sep 12, 2011

    umop apisdn, an iPod is not the same thing as a calculator. You know how I know this? My child goes to Barwell. This article, and the comments from parents here about Renaissance schools and about Ms. Barefoot are right on track. My son has learned more about accountability and self worth (and math and spelling and reading and science) this first nine weeks than he did the WHOLE last year, even with me supplementing.

  • umop apisdn Sep 12, 2011

    I once spent the day at a local school helping students "brush up" for their EOG tests. When it came time to do math one child asked if they could use calculators. I told them they needed to learn how to do it in their heads or on paper first because it was basic stuff and what they'll learn later will build on it. They got up and took the calculators our of the bin where they were kept and used them anyway.

    Lots of people can drive a car or use a computer but the only ones that know how they work are the ones that take them apart and put them back together. More importantly learning to do these, sometimes tedious, calculations helps build a logical ways of thinking. If you can't function without your caluclator or iPod, you're at the mercy of those that can when they're not available.

  • Evolve Sep 12, 2011

    Way to be negative people! Hope you're proud of yourself. Here's an inspiring story and you have to bring your negativity here. Actually spending more money will solve the problem. You want free market economics only when it works for you. Providing financial incentives to the teachers in problematic school districts has been proven to work. BTW, we spend 3% of our federal budget on schools and 19% on military. And you wonder why can't get any wise leaders in this country. Think about it.

  • akgibson20 Sep 12, 2011

    Ms. Barefoot is among the greatest for students. My grandson is at York elementary and his kindergarten teacher, I believe, has gone to this school as well. We live in a technological society now and in order for these students to learn it is important that they be exposed to the advances early or they will be set up for failure when they enter the "real" world. I know Ms. Barefoot and Ms. Carringer will motivate these students to be the best. The communication that you will receive concerning your child/children will exceed anyone's expectations. I cannot say enough good about them. The students, and parents, can look forward to their student excelling not just academically, but personally as well. Way to go!!!!!!