By Theresa Harrington
Schools throughout the Mt. Diablo district have struggled to accommodate about 30 children in first- through third-grade classes this year because of budget cuts.
In previous years, they enjoyed student-to-teacher ratios of 20-1.
I visited El Monte Elementary in Concord this week to see how they’re dealing with the challenges of educating more children with fewer resources.
Principal Chrisina Boman pointed out that the school is too poor to receive large parent donations like some campuses in Walnut Creek, but not low-income enough to receive Title 1 federal grants.
She and teachers at the 455-student school have come up with some creative ways to break students into smaller groups, so they can get more individualized attention.
Boman and the school’s resource specialist pull some students out for 30 minutes a day so English language learners can receive intense instruction. Also, the school is one of two in the district where every teacher has been trained in the “Board Math” program, which helps engage students and keep them focused, even in larger groups.
Special education assistants also help relieve pressure on teachers by providing another adult in classrooms, often monitoring students who are not in special ed, Boman said.
The school has also purchased some new computer lab programs that allow students to work at their own pace in a fun way, she added.
And the school has been especially lucky to have five student teachers from CSU East Bay on campus, assisting in classrooms, Boman said.
This summer, the school willl use federal stimulus funds to offer intervention classes to some students. The money will also fund a reading coach and prep time for teachers next year to plan how they can differentiate their teaching according to students’ needs using a “Universal Access model,” Boman said.
But Boman and teachers at the school said increased class sizes are making it more difficult to reach out to every child every day.
The higher threshold is also forcing the school to create four combination grade-level classes next year: k-1, 1-2, 3-4, and 4-5. When class size was 20 in first- through third-grades, the school had one 4-5 combo class, Boman said.
Although many teachers believe it is more difficult to teach two grade levels in one room, Boman said she is fortunate that some of her most experienced teachers have volunteered to take on the challenge.
“I think it will make our staff stronger and make people work more collaboratively,” Boman said. “So, I’m excited about it.”
I’m working on a story to be published next month about how budget cuts and larger class sizes are affecting schools throughout the East Bay.
How is your school coping?