At Sonnesyn Elementary, "once a bee, always a bee."
When you walk through school doors, principal Leia Ward says you are family.
"You definitely feel the community when you come in here," says Ward. "It’s about what happens when you come in the school building and the feeling you get."
But it wasn’t always that way. When Ward became principal about six years ago, the district had gone through school closings and redrawing district lines.
"We’d had some closings and people coming from different parts of the community," says Ward. "Our population continued to change, so we worked really hard on developing a positive school culture and climate."
Learning at Sonnesyn Elementary is about educating the whole child and teaching concepts across subject areas. In music class, students are learning the science of sound waves and frequency. Eventually students will make their own instrument and exhibit it at the science fair.
"I think children are more engaged the more they see how it’s not isolated what they are learning," says Rose Dawson, instructional support specialist. "It is taking place in other areas as well and they can combine these ideas and it becomes a bigger picture rather than an isolated lesson."
Staff have worked hard to develop a culture of literacy at Sonnesyn. Teachers encourage students to develop a life-long love of reading. In fifth grade, students are in the middle of a challenge not just to read books, but to read across genres.
"Some of us are stuck on reading one genre of books," says fifth-grader Ravian Stigger, who admits to liking to read only graphic novels. "Now we have to read all different kinds of books."
Ravian and other fifth graders met CCX Media in the school’s media center where staff have used grant money to transform one growing area into the "Maker’s Space."
"It’s hands-on learning," says fifth-grader Tamya Dillard.
Every two weeks, students visit the Maker's Space for a lesson. They can program and build an object on the 3D printer, use virtual reality glasses to learn about a new tradition or location, turn the morning announcements into a student newscast, or design and build circuitry.
"We have a lot of great curriculum about science, but it’s very prescriptive and it often tells them the experiment that everyone knows. We wanted to give them an opportunity to be creative," says Matt Schneider, a media specialist. "It’s not build this exact thing, but it’s 'here’s how you build. Build what you want.'"
Instructors hope by giving students the freedom to capitalize and explore their interests, they can stay engaged and ready to keep learning.
"Yes we are about reading, writing, math and science and all of those things, but it’s also about developing the whole child," says principal Leia Ward. "Once a bee, you are always a bee. We are a family here and we are committed to that."
And just in case you are wondering about the name Sonnesyn Elementary, the school is named after an editor of the Sun Post, H.O. Sonnesyn, who was an advocate for education.
Shannon Slatton, firstname.lastname@example.org
on Twitter: @sslatton