In June 2008, fourteen of the seventeen invited fourth and fifth grade students of Allendale Elementary School (AES) participated in a two-week enrichment program aimed at establishing a pipeline of high performing students who might one day teach in the schools of Allendale County. Gwen Johnson, Director of the Allendale Elementary School Professional Development School (AES PDS), worked with three AES faculty members and one RPSEC staff member to design a rich experience for the students. The program was funded by USC Aiken’s Center of Excellence for the Advancement of Rural, Under-Performing Schools (CEARUPS), an initiative of the SC Commission on Higher Education. Dorothy Kennedy, the Allendale Elementary’s Science Coach, and Ella Brabham, the AES Guidance Counselor, taught the motivated and well-disciplined group of fifth graders. Annette Creech, a fourth grade AES teacher, was the instructor of the excited and hard-working group of fourth grade students. Marsha Williams, an AES aide, provided invaluable support for all three classes. Through hands-on investigations using the Enviroscape simulated landscape, Tara Jenkins, Director of the RPSEC STEP, gave both groups of students a realistic look at the impact of humans on our water supply and the environment. As a result of their science investigations, students wrote illustrated books about the life of a drop of water as it cycles through our environment. This integrated language and science experience helped the children achieve the verbal and written communication goals planned by the program staff while understanding the impact of their actions.
The interdisciplinary FATE curriculum targeted fourth and fifth grade science, mathematics, communications and career development achievement standards. During the two weeks, each student selected, researched and role-played two different careers that s/he might one day pursue. Students sharpened their verbal communication skills by interviewing people in related career fields, and recording, summarizing and presenting their data. They made videos of their presentations that included many of the “powerful vocabulary words” they had encountered during the two weeks. In mathematics students continued to work on verbal communications in conjunction with their involvement with elementary algebra standards. They developed algebraic thinking by describing, analyzing and extending growing and repeating patterns and number sequences. They designed investigations to answer questions they generated, collected the data, analyzed it and told stories based on the data. Their attempts to communicate mathematically engaged them in verbal, graphical, symbolic and written modes of representing information. Teaching “Math Out of the Box” helped teachers develop their abilities to integrate curricula and to use the phases of the learning cycle more effectively. The FATE teachers modeled the Five E’s of good teaching: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate. Collaboration among the teachers in planning content-rich, activity-based lessons paid off with high levels of student learning.
FATE students concluded the packed, two-week experience with a field trip to Fort Discovery where they encountered many science exhibits and career connections. The program sought to involve students in a fun exploration of some of the paths that are open to those who take seriously their educational opportunities. The staff expressed a desire to continue working with the FATE students through out the school year in an after school accelerated learning program. The students and teachers demonstrated that learning at high levels can be great fun!