Pleasant View School thrives on community support
What do you do with a fourth grader who already knows the names of every human body part, and has authored a National Anthem of the Body?
If you're a teacher at Pleasant View Elementary, you put him in front of a Smartboard and let him teach.
At least, that's what Summer McClintock does with a precocious Tristen Kelly, who presents a weekly Health Lesson to his fellow students.
On the week when it's time to explore the complexities of the ear, Kelly uses McClintock's laptop to project a diagram of the ear, then happily explains how sound enters the ear canal and transmits sound waves as signals to the brain.
He draws the recognizable shape of an alarm clock next to the ear, with curved lines to show the sound waves made by the ring of the alarm.
When the lesson is over, Kelly takes questions from his eager students.
How come that part of your ear goes down your throat? one asks.
Kelly tells him that throat is technically called the uvula and moves on to the next question.
How many bones does it take for the ear to work? a girl asks. And what happens if one the bones breaks?
You have to get it replaced with a plastic ear bone, Kelly tells her, bringing the class to laughter. He might be serious, though.
For McClintock, putting a student's special interests to work for the larger class is just common sense. It's the kind of lesson-planning that might not work at a larger school with multiple classes for each grade.
But at Pleasant View Elementary, one of Morgan County's smallest schools, a student-run health lesson is just one of the exciting things a visitor might find on any given day.
It's the kind of educational approach that last week earned Pleasant View its second designation as a West Virginia School of Excellence. Pleasant View was one of eight state schools to earn the distinction, which stays with the school for five years. Pleasant View also received the award in 2003.
Criteria for the award include rigorous teaching, active leadership, a safe learning environment, teacher support and innovative programs, said the West Virginia Department of Education in a June 3 press release announcing the select schools.
Activity in every corner
Built in 1975, the current Pleasant View Elementary replaced a long-used two-room school that now serves as the Pleasant View Community Center.
The school, which stands just a few miles from the Berkeley County line, serves 140 children in Kindergarten through fifth grade. Thirty-three years after the facility was upgraded, Pleasant View Elementary is overflowing and bustling with activity because of the growth of the eastern part of the county.
Adam Keeling's Kindergarten class is at capacity, with 23 students. McClintock's classroom holds 28 children. The computer lab takes up half of the main hallway of the school, and all other available space is used for a school library, meeting spaces and materials.
There is even a short waiting list of students who can't fit into the classrooms at Pleasant View Elementary. Despite the tight quarters at the facility, the quality of education at Pleasant View rivals that of the county's newest and largest facilities.
The key, it seems, is a strong tie to the community it serves.
The basics and more
Parents, neighbors, former teachers and family members help the school and its students in the classroom, on the playground, in after-school programs and during special school events.
We invite in as many people as we can, said Margee Hill, Pleasant View's Reading Specialist and second in command. Nicole Fox is Pleasant View's principal.
Hill has been teaching in the school since 1998, and is one of seven full-time classroom teachers.
According to Hill, reading is woven into the whole day at Pleasant View. Teachers at the school try to incorporate 120 minutes of reading and writing into every school day. That happens in activities throughout the day, so the practice of reading isn't relegated to one slot in the day.
Hill said teachers present at least an hour of math, though most include more than that into daily lessons.
Science crops up in surprising places at Pleasant View School. In the fourth-grade classroom, there are two pet guinea pigs and a green anole lizard named Geico that teach students about the animal world.
Outside the third grade room, students make their hand-crafted volcanoes erupt with the right mixture of baking soda and vinegar.
All students are given the chance to maintain a butterfly garden that was built by a school volunteer between the school and the playground. They can also use the outdoor classroom built as an Eagle Scout project at the school.
Besides these basics, Pleasant View students can join a Moneysmarts group that meets each Friday morning to buy and trade stocks and learn financial basics. They can also choose to attend an after-school reading program or an afternoon science program run by the Girl Scouts.
A history together
Evidence of community involvement is everywhere at Pleasant View Elementary – from the Grandparents Day luncheon at Thanksgiving to a resource library that lends out reading kits to parents wanting to help their young students succeed.
Many parents and grandparents of current students went to the school themselves, weaving a long thread of history between the school and the surrounding community. Several staff members have deep ties to the school as well, and it shows.
The kids are always first here. That's not a new thing for us, said Hill.