Natchez Elementary School: Wadsworth, NV
This week’s School Spotlight takes us to Natchez Elementary School in Wadsworth, Nevada. This small school, located directly in the heart of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation, is being named as a “Bright Spots” High Opportunity School.
For all intents and purposes, Natchez Elementary is in the middle of the desert, miles away from what most would call civilization. The nearest city is Reno, and it is 30 miles away. At 92 percent, the school is mostly made up of Native Americans, a demographic who often exist right at the threshold of poverty. In addition to this challenge, communicating through speech is quite limited in Paiute culture. This means that some children have virtually no language experience when they start school, posing a serious issue.
Many things for the people living in this community involve drawn-out processes, and their children’s education has been no exception. At least that is how the school’s Principal Rick Taylor explains it. According to a Bright Spots release, “Taylor describes his school’s path to success as ‘a really long process.’ When he became principal in 2003, Natchez teachers felt such empathy for their students that ‘there was always a reason they couldn’t perform.’ Then as now, students faced genuine problems — extreme poverty, crime, and drug and alcohol addiction in their families. Still, says Taylor, ‘Teachers were magnifying the impact of the problems by being so sympathetic.’”
The sympathetic mentality started changing, and along with it, student performance. The teachers, and all school staff members, now firmly believe that every one of their students is capable of learning. The “No-Exceptions” policy is a testament of this. Sympathy has been supplanted by high expectations for each student. They allow no excuses for these children to fail. Therefore, all of their students are fed three meals and even cleaned up, if necessary. They make certain that their children are ready to learn.
Per the release, “Taylor gives substantial credit for the rise in student performance to the reading curriculum, Success for All, which emphasizes prevention and early intervention around learning problems. Its leveled readers offer the same story, pitched to varying skill levels. Natchez teachers can also use the Houghton Mifflin Journeys curriculum, a district-wide adoption. A ‘sacred’ 90-minute reading block takes place each day, during which nothing else is scheduled and no interruptions are permitted.”
The staff at Natchez Elementary check each student’s progress through frequent testing and monitoring, allowing them to adequately assess the needs of each child. This information helps the staff pinpoint “specific skill deficits” as they work in teams to “identify the most effective supports.” The release also states that “A $68,000 Save the Children grant supplements Title 1 funding for intensive 45-minute interventions every day for the 16 children who currently qualify. The other 129 children do enrichment activities, such as Accelerated Reader. ‘We use every adult in the building,’ says Taylor. ‘Not just teachers, aides, and speech therapists, but also music teachers, lunch ladies, and custodians.’ A reading coach provides in-service training three times a year, and three Natchez teachers are trained in the Lindamood-Bell Visualizing & Verbalizing program, a ‘fantastic but time-consuming’ approach to language comprehension.”
The school does get more private money than many Title 1 schools due to the dominating presence of Native Americans, so Natchez Elementary makes certain its abundance is shared with the community. Parents are invited to attend various activities that take place at the school, “often including Native American culture and always dinner … In addition, people in the community are provided books and clothing, access to computers, phones and fax machines, help with job applications and even space for funerals.” As the principal puts it, “Natchez IS the community.”
Many schools, especially in rural areas, are becoming the hub of their community, if they aren’t already. Educational establishments are reaching out to help solve many issues through opening their doors and resources to the community. Fortunately, it seems this practice is becoming more commonplace. The next time you visit a school, look at the bulletin board and I can almost guarantee you will see quite a few flyers and pin-ups offering classes, services or programs designed to enhance, not just children, but families and communities. What are some programs that you think belong on that bulletin board? We want to know.