It is not every day that ED staff is granted the opportunity to enter into a classroom and observe elementary students engaging in lesson plans and sharing thought-provoking discussions with their classmates. For several ED staff, the opportunity presented itself through the ED in the Field ~ School Visit program.
ED in the Field ~ School Visit
The ED in the Field ~ School Visits have become a staple engagement effort adopted by staff throughout the Department of Education who wish to learn more about the impact of their work through practice and theory. The program is intended to increase interactions among department personnel, school educators, and administrators to better inform decisions made on policy as it relates to real-world impact.
Imagine Andrews Public Charter School, located on Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, was among three school sites ED staff visited on a recent morning. St. Mary’s private school and Ashburton Elementary public school were the others. Led by Principal Howard Douglas Rice II, ED staff participated in classroom observations of kindergarten through eighth grade students, a roundtable discussion with parents from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and a discussion with Imagine School administrators.
When ED staff looked along the hallway walls and noticed their measures of excellence, it was evident that Imagine Andrews exemplifies an environment that promotes student achievement and fosters educational excellence. During the classroom observation of a kindergarten class for five- and six-year olds, Ms. Cole’s students gathered together on the large alphabet carpet to sing alongside letters of the alphabet as they danced the Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes dance.
In another observation, this time of a science class for 7th– and 8th-grade students, Mr. Green helped students understand gravity and matter. ED staff watched intently as students tested their predictions of the impact volume and weight would have on the time for a ball of paper, tennis ball, and rock to fall to the ground.
Not surprisingly, each group of about four or five students in the class of 23 used the learning activity to also build leadership skills. Members of each group assumed the roles of equipment manager, group leader, recorder, and spokesperson. The classroom observations allowed ED staff to gauge how well the students were learning, and the roundtable discussions gave ED staff profound insight into the groundwork that is required to positively impact the school system.
The PTA roundtable discussion provided clear indication of the strong parental engagement at Imagine Andrews over the past six years. With a memberships base of 115, the parents work year-round to fundraise, put on special events with the surrounding community, leaders and partners, host social spirit nights, and perform outreach and recruitment efforts to engage families and offer a more innovative learning environment for their children. The school is fortunate to have parents who support it with the necessary resources and quality learning tools needed for the students to thrive.
The school administration recognizes that building a bridge between military families and civilians poses both challenges and benefits. The population is 65% military and 35% civilian, and, since Imagine Andrews is not a zone school, children throughout Prince Georges County have an equal opportunity in the lottery for admission to the school. Although military families rotate in and out of the school every few years, the teacher attrition rate at Imagine Andrews is low.
The overall visit granted ED staff more awareness of the real-world impact of their day to day work.
Shavonney White is a management and program analyst in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.