East Aiken Elementary School of the Arts teacher Melissa Tindall works with Brayden Anderson, left, and Jamie Fogle, right.
Lisa Fallaw, the East Aiken Elementary School of the Arts principal, practically leaped in the air when she learned of a major award from the State Department of Education this week.
The school is a one of three finalists statewide as a Reward School of Progress – directed at schools designated as Title I and based on the number of children receiving free and reduced lunch fees.
East Aiken will receive a $5,000 grant for being a finalist and will attend a state banquet in February. If the school is named the S.C. Title I Distinguished School at that time, Fallaw and other educators will attend a national conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, next fall.
A year ago, more than 76 percent of the students met the Title I criteria, based on family income. Three elementary schools statewide are finalists for performance. East Aiken is among three schools recognized for growth on standardized tests last spring. Warrenville Elementary School received the same recognition a year ago.
East Aiken improved from below average to average on performance and was 0.4 points away from achieving a “good’ rating on growth. An “average” grade means East Aiken met state standards in both criteria.
The number of low-income children “is not a challenge,” said Fallaw. “We set high standards, and they will rise to those expectations. We’re setting and giving the kids goals and the strategies to achieve those goals.”
East Aiken utilizes data-driven instruction and a focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. Students can take the school’s own curriculum-based tests, said Fallaw – using the results as a benchmark to determine each child’s strengths and weaknesses. The students also benefit by getting more familiar with standardized testing before taking the formal state tests Fallaw said.
East Aiken offers instruction in visual arts, physical education, choral music, drama and dance. Arts integration means the children can learn math, English/language arts and other content in collaboration with the arts programs. The ongoing academic progress is partly “attributed to arts integration,” Fallaw said. “It’s embedded in all the other classes and makes learning fun.”
Classroom teacher Lori Jordan sees the value that arts integration provides.
“It motivates students to learn,” Jordan said. “Through music and visual arts, it helps them retain what we’re teaching.”