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It's lunchtime at Chief Umtuch Middle School, and a group of students seated at the tables in the corner of the lunchroom are abuzz with excitement. But it isn't the cheesy pizza or nachos that has the students clamoring to be first in line; rather, it's the chance to turn in their answers for custodian Lisa Swain's monthly quiz.
Each school year, Chief Umtuch students can sign up to take part in voluntary quizzes administered by Swain during lunchtime. Topics on the quizzes include history, current events, and fun facts about holidays. The October quiz, for example, asked students about the histories of Columbus Day and Halloween.
"Quizzing the kids in the lunchroom shows that opportunities for learning are everywhere," Swain said. "I've always loved learning the unexpected or little-known tidbits from history. I try to come up with questions that not only challenge the students to do a little digging and research on their own, but also that encourage them to look at topics and events in a whole new light."
For example, you probably didn't know that samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween or that the first Jack O' Lanterns were carved from vegetables like turnips, potatoes and beets.
Thanks to Swain's quizzes, the students at Chief Umtuch will be armed with a bevy of such trivia knowledge.
For Swain, organizing and administering the quizzes isn't just about providing students with additional learning opportunities. "These quizzes have really enabled me to further connect with the students at Chief Umtuch. I love what I do, and establishing relationships with these kids makes my job even better."
Swain has been quizzing the students at the middle school for several years. In exchange for turning in their completed answer sheets, she gives the students small treats as a reward.
"Lisa and the students really love these quizzes," said principal Matt Kesler. "It's just another example of one of the many things that make Chief Umtuch a great place to learn."
Prairie High School Principal Travis Drake knows the toll that student absences take on grades and graduation rates among his students. His firsthand knowledge is supported by plenty of research showing a direct relationship between attendance and academic achievement. After all, a missed school day is a missed opportunity for a student to learn, and if a student falls behind, it's a challenge to catch up.
That's why Prairie, as well as other schools in the Battle Ground Public Schools district, have made it a part of their School Improvement Plans to improve student attendance. School improvement plans identify the goals and strategies--including attendance, discipline, and community engagement--of each school in the district. School staff collaborate on the plan for their school each year and then present it to the School Board of Directors for approval.
At Prairie High School, providing student support is a huge factor in improving attendance rates. "When students are having issues with attendance, they often need someone to help identify problems and provide the support that will help get them back on track before they feel like they can't be successful," Drake said.
When students miss a certain amount of class time, it signals a conference with a counselor or administrator to get to the heart of the student's attendance issues and help provide support. "There can be so many factors that cause absences: relationships with other students, personal illness, sick parents or siblings, having to care for siblings when parents are at work, anxiety. It's up to us to help," Drake said.
The focus on attendance is also important in the early grades, where students can learn academic habits that will lead to success. Students who attend school regularly in the primary grades have a greater likelihood of reading at benchmark by third grade and beyond, while students who fall behind by third grade might have a difficult time catching up, affecting their chances of graduating high school on time.
"It is critical that students at an early age acquire the necessary skills that will carry them into college and careers," said Pleasant Valley Primary School Principal Mike Michaud. "This includes developing a good attendance habit that will contribute to a solid foundation of skills in reading, writing, and mathematics."
Nationally, one in 10 kindergartners and first graders are chronically absent, defined as missing two or more school days per month, or roughly 10 percent of school days in an academic year.
"Study after study shows that students who don't show up regularly at school don't succeed," said Michaud. "When a school community offers a warm and welcoming environment, students usually attend school and increase their chances of academic and career success."
"The most vital piece in getting students with attendance issues back on track is providing them with a connection to the school," said Angela Allen, the district's director of instructional leadership for secondary education. "It all comes back to the culture of the classroom and the school. Students can't help but wonder, 'Does the teacher care about me and respect me as a student in their class? Is what I am doing in class important and relevant to me?' It's really important to continually look at the needs of the students in the classroom to keep them engaged."
Regular, meaningful communication with parents and community is also essential to improving student attendance. "It is a priority for us to send a clear message that going to school every day, on time, is important, and to provide support to families that need it," Michaud said.
Parents can help at home by establishing routines for completing homework and getting adequate sleep. Parents are also encouraged to keep the lines of communication open with their children to find out if they need parental support. Parents should contact their child's school to get help with an issue and also to inform the school about the student's reason for an absence.
"If parents, teachers, and staff work together to support students, then we can solve absenteeism before it leads to academic problems," Allen said.
Battle Ground Public Schools will host four Bond Information Nights to provide details and answer questions about Proposition 1, the district's school construction and renovation bond that will be on the November 8 ballot.
All members of the community are invited to the public events, which will be held:
> October 11 at Amboy Middle School, 6:00 p.m.
> October 13 at Prairie High School, 6:00 p.m.
> October 18 at Battle Ground High School, 6 p.m.
> October 20 at Glenwood Heights Primary School, 6:00 p.m.
At the events, school district administrators will present information about the bond and then answer questions. More information about the bond initiative and the Bond Information Nights is available at www.battlegroundps.org/bond.
In July, after nearly two years of work by a group of volunteers on the district's Facilities Improvement Team to create a Long-Range Facilities Plan, Battle Ground Public Schools' Board of Directors voted 4-0 to put the school construction bond on the November 8 general election ballot.
The proposition authorizes the district to issue general obligation bonds of up to $80 million to build four replacement schools and two new schools and replace buildings on other campuses and make other technology, safety, and classroom improvements.
Specific projects on the bond include:
> The replacement of Glenwood Heights Primary and Laurin Middle schools
> The replacement of Pleasant Valley Primary and Middle schools
> The replacement of Prairie High School 500-900 buildings
> The renovation of Amboy Middle's gym and 300 building
> Construction of a new K-4, 5-8 campus in the southeast corner of the district to address overcrowding and enrollment growth
> The addition of covered play areas at Maple Grove K-8, Yacolt Primary and Amboy Middle School; covered bleachers at Prairie's track and field; and upgraded seating and replacement turf at District Stadium
> Safety, technology, educational, infrastructure, and athletic improvements throughout the district
The estimated total cost of the projects is $136.5 million. The bond would fund up to $80 million. State construction funding assistance would help fund up to $56.5 million for eligible projects. The projected local tax rate for the bond is 45 cents per $1,000 of current assessed value. At this projected rate, the additional tax would be $11.25 per month for a home with an assessed value of $300,000. This rate is subject to change based on assessed values.
The board based the bond resolution on Phase I of the district's Long-Range Facilities Plan, which was developed over the previous 18 months by the community volunteers on the Facilities Improvement Team. The team sought community input during the process through community engagement surveys, and used the input it received from the more than 1,900 survey participants to create the plan.
The team created the long-range plan to meet one of the district's strategic goals of providing safe and secure facilities that are equipped to prepare its growing population of students for college and careers. The plan includes three phases over 18 years. Each phase will require local funding through a school construction bond and state funding assistance.
The Facilities Improved Team developed the plan to create a stable tax structure for residents, maximize state funding assistance for construction, and address top facility concerns among residents as identified in the Thoughtexchange survey, including facility condition, overcrowding, enrollment growth and student safety.
Battle Ground Public Schools will host an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 12 to celebrate the opening of its new Family and Community Resource Center (FCRC). The event will be held 2-5 p.m. at the center, which is located next door to Summit View High School and the district's administrative offices at 11104 NE 149th St., Brush Prairie. The FCRC is intended to help meet the needs of families faced with housing instability and similar economic challenges.
In recent years, district staff has spent a considerable amount of time fielding requests for a variety of resources to help those in need. Those requests typically include items such as school supplies, backpacks, winter clothes and personal items that enable students to stay focused on their studies.
Several years ago, the district produced a Family Resource Guide with contact information for agencies and organizations that provide assistance for families and students in need. The opening of the Family and Community Resource Center is a natural extension of the district's partnerships with these resources.
"It can be overwhelming trying to navigate all the different potential avenues for seeking help," said district Superintendent Mark Hottowe. "While our teachers, principals and staff have truly gone above and beyond in helping parents and students, the opening of the Family and Community Resource Center represents a consolidation that will provide a reliable place where families can come to be connected with a diverse array of resources to get the assistance they need most."
While a main goal of the FCRC is to assist families experiencing housing instability, it can also help connect families with many other types of resources and is intended to respond to the changing needs of the community.
"It's very important that the Family and Community Resource Center hears from parents, students, the community, and district teachers and staff about the needs of at-risk students and families," said Jill Smith, Battle Ground Public Schools' Executive Director of Federal Programs and Instructional Support Services. "The goal of the FCRC is to provide help where it's needed the most, so above all, that means we're here to listen."
According to A Way Home Washington,a nonprofit organization that advocates for the end of homelessness, more than 35,000 public school students in the state are in homeless situations. In Clark County alone, there were approximately 2,300 such students during the last school year in which data was available.
"We are excited that we'll be able to connect families with resources to help their children be successful students," said Lydia Sanders, Battle Ground Public Schools' Family and Community Resource Services Coordinator. "We've partnered with other local community service organizations for years, and the Family and Community Resource Center will be a hub from which the district can provide real help to those in our district who are most at risk and in need of assistance."
The FCRC is a continuation of the district's joint efforts with the Battle Ground Education Foundation, an all-volunteer, nonprofit community organization whose purpose is to leverage community resources to help maintain quality education for all students in Battle Ground schools.
The Family and Community Resource Center can be reached at (360) 885-5434 and
is open from 8:00 to 4:30 Monday through Wednesday, 8:30 to 6:30 on Thursdays, and 8:30 to 2:30 on Fridays.
Prairie High School drama is set to present "Shrek the Musical" beginning Oct. 28 at the high school. Produced by special arrangement with Musical Theatre International, "Shrek the Musical" is a fairy tale adventure that brings all the beloved characters you know from the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film to life on stage and proves there's more to the story than meets the ears.
Come and witness the tale of an unlikely hero who finds himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking Donkey and a feisty princess who resists her rescue. Throw in a short-tempered bad guy, a cookie with an attitude, and over a dozen other fairy tale misfits, and you've got the kind of mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there's one on hand... and his name is Shrek.
Featuring music by Jeanine Tesori and the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, the show runs Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 3-5. Performances will be at Prairie High School, 11311 NE 119th St., Vancouver. Tickets cost $6 for students, $12 for adults, and $8 for senior citizens and are available online at https://www.greateventseats.com/battleground.
The performance dates and times are as follows:
Friday, Oct. 28, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29, 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29, 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5, 7:00 p.m.