The rest of the school day she’s just Sophia Shoemaker, Greysbranch fifth-grader, but when she opens a picture book in the Greysbranch Head Start classroom and says, “You’ve got to put on your listening ears,” suddenly she’s Miss Sophia and the preschoolers look at her the same way they look at their teachers.
Elissa McCormick gets the same kind of deference while guiding a 4-year-old through a game of alphabet bingo. They exchange high-fives, the preschooler obviously delighted to be sharing a table with a fourth-grader.
Another dozen elementary and middle-school students are scattered around the Head Start class and the sing-song of alphabet recitation fills the air, blended with multiple stories being read out loud.
It’s a typical Tuesday session for the Greysbranch Community Problem Solving team, a band of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who chose as their project to work with preschoolers to boost their reading skills.
They’ve done a good enough job that they won the state’s top award for Community Problem Solving, which is an internationally recognized academic competition area. The team traveled to Louisville recently to make their final — and winning — presentation and accept their award during the state Governor’s Cup awards ceremony.
The group chose their project when they heard about Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday’s statement late last year that only one out of every four children in the state is ready for kindergarten, said fourth-grader Baylee Robinson.
That was disturbing, she said. “We suggested we should help because we want the preschoolers to have good educations like we have.”
So they outlined their project, got the necessary permission from school and Head Start officials and got started.
They made some of their own teaching aids, like drawing alphabet letters on construction paper with markers and then laminating them for durability. They pre-tested the children they’d be working with to determine their educational standing.
They found out some of them didn’t recognize letter shapes or sounds, so many of their class games and exercises revolve around those concepts.
For competition purposes, the team had to document what they were doing in a scrapbook with pictures their faculty advisers took. At the competition in Louisville, they underwent an oral grilling from judges, who scored them not just on good intentions but results. “We had to tell the judges what we did and how the kids were learning,” Baylee said.
Baylee believes the children have made a lot of progress toward reading readiness; her informal assessment is that many are a grade ahead of where they were when the project started.
Faculty advisor Lisa Farley, who has taught kindergarten, said the group’s methods are sound and just right for preparing preschoolers for the next step. “These kids are on target for recognition of letter shapes and sounds,” she said.
Big kids working with little ones is a proven practice, she said. “They look up to the fourth- and fifth-graders. They see them in the halls and want to do well for them.”
It’s the first year Greysbranch has had a Community Problem Solving team. Teachers and students say they are looking forward to keeping the team going next year; they may choose a different competition project but are also interested in continuing the sessions with Head Start.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.