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New art, math is the focus at MLS

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As summer break comes to an end next week, students may not be aware that staff has been back for several weeks already preparing for an energetic return to school. With 359 students anticipated, the school is at near full capacity, Principal Christine Hatton said in an interview last week. First and fifth grades are closed completely with two classes of 27 each, and other classes have just a few more spots. And students can look for a busy, art-filled year with new opportunities to take math seriously and create a show with YS Kids Playhouse.

New teachers

Mills Lawn has three new teachers this year. Wendy Shelton is the interest learning education (ILE) teacher who replaces Brian Mays. Julie Underhill is a new kindergarten teacher, who will teach a third class in the morning, alongside Becky Brunsman’s morning and afternoon classes. And Beth Huey is filling a new position in special education.

Mills Lawn is the first teaching post for Wendy Shelton, who after pursuing a career in communications and journalism, decided to get a masters in education from Antioch University McGregor. As the coordinator of extended enriched learning for grades K–6, including those who have tested as gifted, Shelton will focus on creating experiences that extend learning beyond the classroom. She might take small groups to math, science and art events outside the district and help the school to engage with local artists and scientists to create educational opportunities for students. This year the ILE program will test the entire second grade class to assess gifted students and help attain the long-term goal to generate curiosity and boost academic ability so that eventually, for example, advanced eighth graders can study algebra, a course that is typically taken in ninth grade.

To accommodate an incoming kindergarten class of about 55 children, 40 of whom reside in Yellow Springs, the school has added an extra class, to be taught by Julie Underhill. Underhill, who hails from Missouri with a masters in elementary education, has 10 years of experience serving adolescents with autism and has also taught pedagogical courses to adults. She taught first grade at Mills Lawn last year while teacher Heidi Hoover was on maternity leave, and she will split her time this year between teaching in the mornings and tutoring math and reading in the afternoons. Underhill will also be helping Brunsman to design a curriculum for an all-day kindergarten, should that program be approved in the next few years, Hatton said.

Beth Huey will fill a new position as a multi-intervention specialist working with a group of approximately eight students in third through sixth grades who have highly specialized learning disabilities. The program, which grew out of a need for more individualized attention for students with severe disabilities, is new for Mills Lawn and will be partially supported through federal stimulus funds, Hatton said.

More focus on math, reading, art

Mills Lawn has always focused on reading and math as core skills, and this year is no different. Last year was the third year in the last five that fifth graders did not attain the proficiency level in math on the Ohio Achievement Test. Teachers have worked together to establish a “math facts” table that lists the math skills students at each grade level should know, in order to specify the outcomes and ensure that students are learning the skills and not “just marching through the text book,” Hatton said.

Mills Lawn is in the last year of a three-year literacy initiative now being led by teachers Debra Mabra, Sarah Amin, Becky O’Brien, Amy Minehardt, Becky Brunsman and Hatton. The team this year is piloting a spelling program and an initiative modeled after the writer’s workshop, in which students write about whatever they’re reading. A new all-school literacy project this year will have students in every grade level use a particular text as the basis for interpretive artwork, music and theatrical performances. “Writing across the curriculum is a good way to get kids to understand what they’re doing,” Hatton said.

Art across the curriculum

This year Mills Lawn also plans to integrate art across the core curriculum, while making connections with local artists to achieve that goal, including consultation with MUSE Machine and Mad River Theater, Hatton said. For example, the school hopes to start a project on the art and science of ceramics with local potter Naysan McIlhargey. Students will explore where the clay comes from while looking at Ohio’s geology, use scientific methods to see the difference between pots made of different materials, discover the process of firing a traditional wood kiln and learn to make a piece of artwork at the same time.

The art focus should serve to integrate the entire curriculum and generate curiosity more effectively, Hatton said. Teachers this year also plan to talk about how to minimize teacher dependency among the students. Teachers at each grade level will meet, and vertical teams of teachers from different grade levels will also meet to analyze their behaviors and discuss what they are currently doing to create teacher dependency, such as forgetting to tell students why they learn the skills they do and give them the big picture.

YS Kids Playhouse is scheduled to put on a production at Mills Lawn this year, and to coordinate theater workshops for all the grades. YSKP directors Lisa Hunt and Mary Kay Clark will conduct rehearsals and develop tools for in-class workshops that teachers can continue to use in future years.

And for the first year in over 12 years, Mills Lawn students will not deliver the morning news to their peers. The media program is putting its camera on wheels and initiating a news magazine project for individual classes, who will learn to create video programs focused on a particular topic. The students will be able to take those media skills to the next level, and meanwhile the broadcast room will be utilized as a resource room for the fifth and sixth grades.

Box tops and playgrounds

The Mills Lawn PTO won a $5,000 grant from the Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation to refurbish the Elm Street playground. Parent and architect Brian Carlson donated his expertise as the project manager to check play equipment for safety, spread new mulch and do some repainting.

Hatton encourages parents and community members to support the Mills Lawn Student Council by saving the box top coupons on all General Mills products they purchase regularly. The school receives 10 cents for each coupon it collects for products such as Kleenex, Ziploc bags, Cheerios, popcorn and many others. As a single person, Hatton estimates that she alone generates $10 a year through the products she uses. Student Council uses the money at its own discretion for projects such as Toys for Tots and donations to the Yellow Springs food pantry.

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