School begins composite classroom program

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Eight teachers at Parkview Elementary School are taking on a new concept in education, in which select students aged five, six and seven, those who would attend kindergarten through second grade, remain in the same classroom with the same teacher for the first three years of their education.

John Larson — El Defensor Chieftain: Eight Parkview Elementary School teachers went through a week of advanced training sessions for the new SPARK2 program which is being implemented last week for 160 students. Front row, from left, Audrey Pino. Karen Earwood, Autumn Haworth and Jody Lee-Chaddle, back row from left, Lupita Vallejos, consultant Brian Stone, consultant Sandra Stone, Jill Bratton and Stephanie O’Toole. Not pictured is Beth Reeves.

It’s called SPARK-2 (Socorro Primary Academic Readiness Kinder to 2nd).

Each class has no more than 20 students and each age group is represented in each classroom.

According to Sandra Stone, author of the book “Creating a Multi-Age Classroom,” “older children in a composite class get more leadership opportunities and frequently build self-esteem as a sort or role model to the younger class mates. Younger children aspire to do work like the older children in the class.”

Stone was in Socorro last week training the teachers on SPARK-2 fundamentals and instructional materials at Parkview. The techniques of classroom teaching and of individual teaching can be still applied.

Stone said that since coming to office, Gov. Susana Martinez has voiced concerns about the critical learning years of Kindergarten through second grade and the social promotion of students and

“In SPARK-2 retention and promotion is not the focus. Learning is,” she said.

Karen Earwood, one of Parkview’s SPARK-2 teachers, said, “This is the way I learned to teach. A one room schoolhouse concept.”

She said the program is now being used at all Las Cruces elementary schools and is being considered by school districts in Ruidoso, Silver City and Albuquerque.

“There is a need for a program like this. Elementary scores haven’t gone up. PED is holding us accountable,” Earwood said. “Las Cruces is seeing great success. Parents there have become the strongest advocates.”

Students in the program stay with the same teacher for as long as three years during which time they learn necessary life-long skills.

“There is no retention of students, only re-teaching,” teacher Lupita Vallejos said. “Once they finish the program they right into third grade.”

Using thematic units, teachers customize instructions to fit the needs of each child.

New Thematic Units will be introduced each year as each student progresses through the Common Core State Standards and develops socially and emotionally.

“They progress at their own pace. They think they are playing, but they are learning. This has proven to be very successful,” Earwood said. “Assessments are done daily. Every child in the program has different goals.”

Enrollment in SPARK-2 is limited to 160 students for the eight classrooms.

“It’s the parent’s choice,” she said.