June 1, 2007

Struggling Elementary Awarded for Mathematical Achievement

By Raymond R. Beltran

Students in Shelltown are proving that No Child Left Behind scores don’t determine their real potential. They’re getting paid for it too.

This Wednesday, technology manufacturing corporation, Intel, recognized the K-6 Balboa Elementary with a ‘Schools of Distinction Award’ for their math program that has raised student test scores over the last several years.

Parents Zoideth Gonzalez and Matilda Rivera congratulate Balboa Elementary for the Schools of Distinction Award.

Balboa (91 percent Latino, 75 percent English Language Learners) is the first school in the state to catch the company’s eye since Intel started their award program a few years ago. Even though students have yet to meet their Academic Performance Index goals for NCLB standards, their steady progress proved them qualified to win the rewards, $170,000 in cash, computer hardware and software..

“Kids in first grade here are already doing algebra,” says Jose Monroy, a development manager at Intel. “When I was in school, algebra was for college.”

He says that Intel, along with several other award sponsors like Dell, E Instruction and Agilix look for innovative ways teachers integrate technology into classrooms and curriculum.

Principal Sylvia Gonzalez says her campus works with a twenty-first century approach to mathematics, an area not barred by cultural or language barriers.

Up until two years ago, the school’s primary goal was to get students serious about numbers and not only that, but in a more suitable language, Spanish.

Today, that model has changed, but the focus on math and science hasn’t. The students learn on a “Launch, Explore and Summarize” model of mathematical operations. ‘Launch’ a question, ‘explore’ the possibilities and ‘summarize’ the outcome as a student community.

UsingTitle I funding and the School Based Coordinated Program, the school hired two MRT’s, Math Resource Teachers, who coach and train campus teachers on how to be more effective when instructing in math by analyzing student work, planning concepts and providing hands on examples in classrooms.

Parent Sofia Valderama moved to Shelltown a year ago from Spring Valley with her two children and she says the curriculum at Balboa suits her children’s needs more because they are sensitive to the language barriers.

“It’s a good school,” says Sofia Valderama, who has one kindergartner and one fourth grader at Balboa. “If they don’t know something, they get the help they need.”

Students have become savvy with software like Document Reader that enlarges electronic images for the classrooms to see. Principal Gonzalez says they use the technology in science terrariums so students can witness the progress of small animals, like tadpoles.

“We use computers and the internet,” Gonzalez says, “so the outside world can be brought into the classroom. It’s not just the teachers talking.”

She says the Intel rewards will expand their horizon in technology instruction.

Right now, only twelve classrooms are equipped with minor technological material, but now, they have the ability to fill all thirty-three classrooms with software for their 748 students.

“I think this would give another tool for teachers,” says Area 5 Superintendent Delfino Aleman. “When you’re in a district like this and dealing with certain issues and tightening your belt, this is good, the private sector supporting schools. We need more of that.”

Balboa Elementary, in the heart of Shelltown, a low income community teetering between National City and Southeast San Diego, has failed to meet their Academic Performance Index (API) scores, ranking 2 on a scale of 10 in comparison to schools statewide in 2006. They ranked 8 among one hundred other schools facing the same challenges, according to the California Department of Education.

The CDE also documents the elementary school as one hundred percent populated by students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. There are language barriers and Gonzalez says they suffer health issues. But mainly, for many new students who just arrived in town, she says fifth grade is where they begin their academic life.

“The pressures are heavy … but we’re making an impact. We started at 447 … and we’ve grown to 686 API, in seven years,” says Principal Gonzalez, who received recognition from Councilman Ben Hueso’s office for the school’s progress.

Balboa won the recognition among an approximate one hundred other schools that applied. Six were chosen, one of each between the elementary, middle and high school levels in each of the two categories, Mathematics Excellence, where Balboa won, and Science Excellence.

In math, Sewell Middle (Bremen, GA) and Bergen Academy (Hackensack, NJ) won alongside Balboa. In Science, Escalante Elementary (Salt Lake City, UT), Conyers Middle (Conyers, GA) and Greenhills High (Ann Arbor, MI) were awarded.

“It tells you it’s possible,” says Marianna Luevano, a third grade teacher on her fourth year at Balboa. “A test score doesn’t tell you everything about a child. I think we want to teach our kids more than just memorizing.”

Out of the award, $10,000 will be cash. Principal Gonzalez says she doesn’t know how the money will be spent, but that it has to go towards math and science. With $160,000 in computer equipment, Luevano says she wouldn’t mind seeing the money spent on a technology lab.

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