Back to school time in the county

Peebles Elementary Art teacher Vicki Humerickhouse-Vollet works on one of the new wall murals that will be decorating the school for the 2018-19 school year. (Photo by Patricia Beech)

OVSD’s elementary principals focus on safety, technology, building improvements – 

By Patricia Beech – 

Another school year starts this coming week, and the Ohio Valley District’s elementary school principals say that students will be returning to safer buildings and will have access to improved technology in the classroom.
North Adams Elementary School will kick off the new school year with a T-Shirt drive honoring the late Melissa Williams, a well-known NAES Kindergarten teacher who tragically passed away this summer, and was honored with a backpack and school supplies program for students in need.
NAES principal Deirdre Mills said the fundraiser will help the school continue Williams’s work.
“It’s going to be a very different start for our school year because of the loss of Melissa,” Mills said. “But we’re committed to keeping her mission going.”
According to Mills, more than 700 backpacks have been distributed to students in the Ohio Valley district, and to students in the Manchester, Ripley, Sardinia, Hamersville, Hillsboro, Eastern, and Russellville schools.
NAES will also continue using the Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program in the coming school year. The program’s motto – “Be respectful, be responsible, be safe” – has become an oft repeated phrase throughout the school day, according to Mills.
“PBIS comes with rules and it’s up to teachers to implement the program with fidelity because if you’re not truly living it and embracing the values it incorporates, it’s not going to make a difference in your school,” she says.  “I feel like at NAES we live it every day. We repeat it frequently, and it’s part of our morning announcements. In addition, every one on our staff from teachers to administrators, cafeteria workers, secretaries, and janitors, all communicate it to the kids on a consistent daily basis.”
New green and gold window graphics on the school’s two main entrances reinforce the PBIS message by featuring the words “Respectful, Responsible, and Safe” across the doors in bold letters. Mills says the graphics also serve an additional purpose.
“They solve a safety concern – we can see out, but no one can see in,” she says.  “So much has happened that the whole mindset of safety in schools has changed concerning what you can do and what you should do. With these graphics covering the doors no one can see children inside the school through either the front entrance or the cafeteria entrance.”
Students attending West Union Elementary will have new entrance and exit routes at the beginning and end of the school day, according to Assistant Principal Emily Collett.
She said the changes will alleviate traffic congestion on Lloyd Road as students and buses arrive and leave the school.
“They’ve developed a new routing system around the school for parents dropping off and picking up their kids,” she said.  “We’re kind of landlocked, so we’re tying to create a better situation.”
Buses will drop students off at the school’s main entrance each morning. Parents dropping off students are required to use the third entrance next to the school’s playground.
“If parents need to come into the building they can park out there and enter the side door,” Collett said.  “We’ll have visitor passes and staff on hand to help them and direct them where to go.”
For afternoon pickup, buses will park in the side parking lot next to the playground. Parents will use the newly-constructed first entrance which leads behind the school. The gates will open at 2:15 p.m., allowing parents to park behind the school and in the fire lane abutting the building. After the buses are dismissed, the school staff will start walking out the remaining students and parents will exit the parking area onto Lloyd Road. Additionally, a canopy has been constructed adjacent to the fire lane where students can wait out of the weather to be picked up and dropped off.
Collett said the first week there will be traffic cones and staff on hand to help direct traffic.
WUES will also be offering a new Preschool program in partnership with the Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center (CTC).
Students in the new CTC Early Childhood Education program will spend time each day in the elementary school working with preschoolers as part of their program training.
“We’re very excited about this new program,” said ACOVSD School Board member Charlie Bess. “It is definitely the kind of program that can put kids to work because the program not only serves the students, it also serves our county because childcare is a big need in our area, we don’t have enough qualified people.”
Bess said the program will allow students to provide daycare in their homes and will help them develop the entrepreneurial skills they need to open a daycare center, or further their education to become Early Childhood educators.
WUES Principal Ben King, said safety is also a major concern for school personnel, and that students will spend the first two weeks of school practicing safety drills.
“Our buildings are much safer now than they were 10 years ago when you’d find doors propped open and people could just walk in, it’s not that way now, with everything that’s happened people are much more wary,” he said. “The main thing is to be diligent – make sure the doors are shut and access to the building is limited – that’s the biggest deterrent.”

North Adams Elementary Principal Deirdre Mills displays the t-shirts that will be honoring the late NAES teacher Melissa Williams. (Photo by Patricia Beech)

King also said that WUES students have to go through ALICE training.
“It’s the protocol for what to do if there is an active shooter in the building,” he says. “It’s also discussed at length in our classroom because safety is an ongoing process.”
Safety concerns are also front and center at Peebles Elementary.
PES Principal Amanda Lamb says her staff is very conscientious and the students are very aware of potential dangers.
“We do safety drills and we also use the intercom system several times a week to do safety reminders,” she says. “We have a very good plan, plus we’re the only school in the county that has a natural evacuation route on either side of the building that students can use to walk to the high school without being seen.”
PES will also planning a new After School program.
“This is a much-needed program,” said Lamb. “It will not only be good for our students, it will also be benefit our whole community.”
Additionally, Lamb and her staff have made considerable improvements to the school with both school-themed window graphics and painted wall murals.
“We’re working to make the building more appealing to students by adding murals to our walls to make it feel more like an elementary school,” she says. “We’re very frugal, I don’t waste money throughout the school year, so if we have any left we try to put it toward something beneficial.”
Lamb said the plan is to have a mural painted on every section of the school’s main hallway. The murals will correspond with this year’s school’s theme “Around the World”.
“I’m very excited about it,” she says, “Each grade level will have fun content-related images up and down the hallway that go along with our school theme ‘Around the World’.  I can’t wait to see the kids’ faces when they see the murals.”
Lamb said she believes the murals will create an environment that makes the students want to be in the school.
“It’s fun for them,” she says. “A big part of helping students achieve involves motivating them and convincing them that they want to be here.”
All three OVSD elementary schools will be using Chromebook technology in classrooms this year.
“Today, it’s typically what kids use anyway, they’re more familiar with technology,” says Lamb.  “The state requires us to test students on electronic devices, so obviously if you can instruct them using the same technology that’s used to assess performance, it makes sense to do that.”
However, none of the schools have enough Chromebooks for all their students.
“We continue to add new technology every year, but we’re definitely not to the point where we have a set of Chromebooks for each classroom,” says Mills.  “If every kid had one they could be more creative with their projects, and their technical skills would be enhanced. We could also do individual interventions which addresses students at different levels of learning, that way we’re pushing kids higher while still targeting kids who need more support. That’s really huge part of using the ChromeBooks.”
Collett says Chromebooks have a tremendous impact in the classroom because they give teachers more methods for presenting information.
“Our textbooks have a lot of online components – especially reading programs which are technology based,” she said. “Students will carry their Chromebooks from class to class utilizing them across the curriculum, but they’ll be really helpful in areas like science and social studies where students do a lot of research. It’s going to be very beneficial.”
Chromebooks also provide hands-on opportunities for students, but Lamb says despite their advantages, they cannot replace the teacher’s role in the classroom.
“It’s important for students to have them because we live a technologically-driven era, but I don’t think that technology creates the teaching that needs to happen – that has to come from the teacher,” she says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the ChromeBooks that motivate students. I believe it’s the environment and the teacher’s instructional practices and lesson planning – we don’t have to have Chromebooks to make learning beneficial or motivational.”
Mills says having Chromebooks also requires that teachers have discussions about safety and technology.
“We’re trying to break a lot of old habits and establish new proper ones when it comes to technology,” she says.  “We need to make students aware of what they should and shouldn’t do online when it comes to issues like cyberbullying and sharing personal information.”
Bess says bringing technology like Chromebooks into classrooms is a necessary step in preparing students for their future careers.
“Technical skills are where the jobs of the future,” she said. “We’re really trying to concentrate our efforts on that.”