Bester seeks model school status

April 23, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM


For a short time Monday, third-grader Jasmine Shearin became a 46-year-old children's author and winner of a prestigious literary prize.

Knowledgeable about tone and style in Kevin Henkes' books, she fielded questions by referring to his work as her own.

Nine-year-old Jasmine and Bester Elementary School students in all grades gave presentations and fielded questions during a program at the school attended by more than 1,000 parents, community members and elected officials.

Bester has been affiliated with the national Coalition of Essential Schools and its Chesapeake branch, but is working to earn the status of a model school, said Mary Helen Spiri, executive director of the Chesapeake Coalition of Essential Schools. Monday was the first of a three-day process toward reaching that goal.

Salem Avenue Elementary in Hagerstown was named a coalition school last week, she said.

"The students are very proud of their work," Bester Principal Kathy Stiles said. "It's good for them to show off."


According to Spiri, the coalition stresses creating environments in which students take the lead in their own education. Schools should encourage community involvement and self-reflection and critical analysis among teachers and their colleagues.

The Chesapeake Coalition, based in Baltimore, is one of 19 regional offices of the Coalition of Essential Schools. According to its Web site at, about 30 schools in three states receive services from the coalition.

Bester students and staff will be asked this week to show how they have put the principles of the coalition in place. Those include more engaged learning, depth over coverage, goals that apply to all students and personal instruction.

Lindsay Gorman, a third-grade teacher at Bester, said the principles adopted from the coalition have helped her make her lessons more engaging for students.

"It's more student-led," she said. "And the teacher is the coach. (Students) are leading the discussions."

Staff will be interviewed, and teachers and community members will participate in focus groups as part of the affirmation process. If selected as a coalition school, Bester will be eligible for more professional development opportunities and other perks, Spiri said.

Jessica Dagenhart, 6, was already reading when she started kindergarten last year, but her teacher, Terri Mullican, said that is not always the case. To help students with reading and writing, she and other teachers have used reading strategies.

On Monday, Jessica demonstrated how she took a "picture walk," looking at all the pictures in a book before reading it. A kindergartner in another class, Autumn Rose, was showing parents how she summarizes a book after reading it to help her understand what she has read.

Teri Williamson, assistant principal at Paramount Elementary School, said she was an administrator at Bester when it first received a grant to work with the coalition.

"The work of the last three years is to put these principles into place and become a coalition school," she said.

Williamson said it should be clear Wednesday if Bester receives that distinction.

"It is to affect student achievement," Williamson said. "Our scores have gone up the last two years we've been affiliated. So there has been a change in the way we teach children, as well as in student achievement."

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