Every day, about 450 students from preschool to grade five make their way to Evergreen Park, a specialty school in Brooklyn Center focused on world cultures.
"Rather than taking world cultures and teaching that to our students, we are learning more about what our students are bringing to us," said Vanessa Wood, Evergreen Park's curriculum integrator. "So we're really digging deep into the backgrounds of our students, their family life, the things that they do, the things that are important to them. And we're using that to sort of springboard our teaching."
Wood says one benefit of the world cultures focus is it helps students and teachers to know each other better. And the more students know about each other, the less likely they are to bully one another.
"That's really important to us here at Evergreen, is to make sure that we can really dig deep and find out as much as we can about what each student is bringing to the classroom," Wood said.
However, that's not the only thing that makes Evergreen unique. Step inside a classroom, and on the surface, you’ll see students listening attentively while teachers teach their lessons.
But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice teachers using a series of nonverbal cues to get students' attention. It's a strategy called ENVOY, short for educational nonverbal yard sticks. Evergreen Park is one of two schools in the
entire world that serves as a demonstration site for the ENVOY method.
"So when a teacher goes to get a student's attention, if their body is moving and they're walking, then that's conveying a message to the students that 'hey, you don't need to pay attention and you can keep moving,' so when they go to get attention, they're gonna freeze their body, because that's what they want they students to mirror in them," said Erika Nathe, Evergreen's ENVOY coach.
It's a strategy used the moment students walk into the school.
"So there's a lot of structures and routines that are put in place that help create a calm, safe environment for when students arrive," Nathe said.
For instance, teachers stand in the hallway during morning arrival to guide the process.
"He's got a welcoming stance, a smile to greet students as they arrive," said Nathe, pointing to one of the teachers. "But then he also has a clipboard in front of him, and on the other side of the clipboard is a visual for students."
The visual on the clipboard is a reminder of how students should act in the hallway, and the result is a calm atmosphere where students quietly put things in their lockers.
That continues to the cafeteria where many students gather for breakfast in the morning, as well as into the gymnasium, where students gather on the floor in single-file lines for quiet reading time before classes start.
"And as the students are sitting on the floor, they face that direction [toward the wall] because otherwise they'd be distracted by every student that walked in the door," Nathe said.
When it comes time to dismiss the students from reading time to go back to class, teachers use more nonverbal cues in the form of different colored signs to get students to line up and exit.
This ENVOY method has been in place for about five years, and so far, they're pleased with the results.
"It has gone really well," Nathe said. "In fact, we are what's called the demonstration site here at the district."
The strategy helps create a calm learning environment aimed at helping to prepare Evergreen Park students for middle school and beyond.
"So our goal is that our students are prepared for the next level in all aspects of life," Wood said.
Jan. 18, 2018