Innovation from the Ground Up
Earlier this year, the Mississippi Department of Education deemed Grenada Schools a "District of Innovation," one of only five districts in the state to enjoy such distinction. Innovation status grants us exemption from certain state education requirements and allows us broader freedom to explore more forward-thinking curriculum.
Every school in the Grenada School District has seized this opportunity. "Innovation" is the new watchword around here, and it is our sincere belief that through innovative learning, we can improve this school and, in turn, our whole community.
Our mission of innovation begins at a very young age, younger than most suspect. GSD's Pre-K Learning Block programs, which started in 2015, grew by leaps and bounds last year, and starting this semester, it will expand to include three-year-old students.
When we first approached Grenada Elementary kindergarten teachers with the idea of a Pre-K program, they were enthusiastic but also warned us about bringing small children into such a big environment. The prospect of sending a four-year-old child to school, where they attend classes in the same building as kids up to twice their age, can be intimidating, both for parents and students. Therefore it was critical that the program be well-planned and developmentally appropriate.
We're proud to say that, after the first year, the students exceeded our high expectations. Not only have the kids' test scores shot up, their self-confidence and social skills have soared as well. To design the learning environment of our Pre-K classrooms, we turned to the experts at Hatch, an education company that has been designing innovative classrooms for over 30 years. Everything they designed for the Pre-K classes are developmentally appropriate for four-year-olds, from the furniture to the centers to the hands-on activities. We even installed a new playground, made especially for and used only by the Pre-K classes.
For our first Pre-K class last year, we had the students come earlier than the older kids to get them acclimated to the school, and we were amazed how quickly they adjusted. They learned the building, how to navigate the cafeteria, how to walk quietly in the hall, and how to stay in line. By the end of the school year, you couldn't tell our Pre-K class from the kindergarten class!
To staff the classes, we hired certified teachers who specialize in early learning, along with assistants, providing a one-to-ten teacher-student ratio. We've met all the state guidelines for these early-learning classes as well.
The classroom environment is fun and energetic. There's a lot of movement, music, games, and hands-on activities. One class had a pet bunny that the children learned to care for and clean up after. There is small-group instruction with decodable readers to prepare the children for phonics. The four-year-olds have shown remarkable growth in letter-recognition, counting, and story comprehension. Social interaction is a big component, and they've learned to work with others and take direction from adults other than their parents.
We visited a class one day and found students on the floor clapping out syllables in words, a first-grade skill! To see that level of learning going on in a four-year-old class gives us the idea that by the time these kids get to kindergarten, they'll be challenging the teachers and really pushing the limits of what kindergarteners are expected to achieve.
We're extremely encouraged by the positive feedback we're hearing from the parents of these children, who are amazed by how much their children have learned. They feel so much better about sending their young ones to kindergarten because the kids are so confident. Now they know the school environment, they know what to expect from their teachers and classmates, and they're well-established in their alphabet and numbers, along with advanced concepts in language and math.
The success of our first-year Pre-K program has compelled us to expand the Learning Blocks mission. This summer, we offered extended care. Students attended from 7 to 5 Monday through Friday, continuing their learning and engaging in activities such as building a castle playhouse and horseback riding.
We took another big leap this year by introducing our first three-year-old program. We'll begin nudging these kids toward the same skills the four-year-olds have mastered, making it our mission to have them recognizing letters, counting to ten, and writing their names by the end of the year. We can't find another district in the state offering this level of early learning.
That's how Grenada is leading the pack, not only for the children of our county, but for the whole state. You better believe we'll be watching these students as they progress through the elementary, middle, and high schools — pushing us toward even greater heights of achievement and innovation in the coming years.