Budding young minds and bodies are blossoming in a fertile creative environment at McNabb Elementary
If you follow the multicolored handprints painted along the hallways of McNabb Elementary, they’ll lead you past offices and classrooms where you’ll hear sounds typical to any school: teachers explaining assignments, students asking questions, laughter, chatter, the squeaking of sneakers on slick floors. But after 2 PM, you’ll begin to hear something else entirely. You’ll hear the in-sync steps and stomps of budding ballerinas, the repeated thwack of bows releasing arrows and thudding into bulls-eyes, and the picking and plucking of violins, violas and cellos, among other things. Something big is happening at McNabb Elementary, and it’s anything but typical.
Monday through Thursday afternoons, McNabb offers students grades three through five a chance to depart from their typical school-day subjects for less traditional, but every bit as instructive classes as part of the school’s new enrichment program. Ballet, archery, orchestra, and Literature to Life are just a few of the 15 enrichment classes students may choose to take.
Before a student can pick up a ukelele or bow and arrow, however, they must first live up to their academic potential. Students struggling in core subjects like math or reading receive extra help where they need it until they prove they’re ready for an extra subject, and it’s working like a charm. Students who were on the verge of needing academic intervention have turned things around and improved by leaps and bounds so that they, too, could be part of the enrichment program. Since the beginning of the school year, the number of participating students has more than doubled.
“What we’re seeing now is that our students that were receiving academic intervention probably didn’t need it,” said Principal Greg Ross. “They just needed the motivation to push them to work harder. Another positive thing is that kids who were in their own little worlds are starting to come out of their shells and grow. I’ve seen little girls that don’t say a word in class dancing their tails off in ballet.”
One Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Cope’s ballet class took a break from practicing to pose for photos. Once the photos were taken, the girls swarmed around the camera’s LCD screen to make sure they could see themselves in the pictures. Satisfied, they returned to jumping and twirling and practicing their lifts in the school gym, occasionally sneaking in a pose for the camera between their choreographed moves.
It was a similar situation in the music room, where Doug Van Fleet of the Paducah Jazz Ensemble and Paducah Symphony vocalist Natalie Krupansky taught orchestra that same Thursday afternoon. Each section took its turn warming up, and every time the music stopped the room began to thrum with the sound of softly-stomping shoes. Since the students’ hands were occupied with instruments, they used their feet to clap for their classmates instead. And when Van Fleet asked for volunteers, half the hands in the room immediately shot into the air—one hand from each and every student, that is. The other half of the hands held tightly to their beloved instruments.
“You would be amazed at what they can do,” Krupansky gushed. “They have no idea that they’re already reading a different clef. It doesn’t intimidate them!”
The program has inspired academic improvement and confidence in McNabb’s students, and it’s also changing students’ views of what it means to be cool, a change that may in the end prove even more important than rising grades and test scores.
“An inner-city kid singing opera or playing in an amazing orchestra isn’t something many of our students are accustomed to, but here, it’s cool.” Ross said. “Yes, we want to motivate them to do better in the classroom, but we also want them to experience cultural things they may never have experienced otherwise.”
Ross explained that many of their students, 90 percent of whom are identified as “at-risk,” simply don’t get these cultural experiences unless they’re offered during school hours.
When the school rearranged its schedule to free up time for more physical education, it inadvertently freed up a block of time from 1:50 to 2:40. Faculty, staff and a handful of community members like Van Fleet took this hour and built the enrichment curriculum around their passions and talents. They’ve watched with pride as students have discovered passions and talents of their own.
Above the painted hands of many colors throughout the school’s hallways hang posters and banners boasting, “WE ARE THE BEST!” It’s a mantra the folks at McNabb have always believed true of their students. As Ross put it, “Their talent and ability was already there, they just needed a push.”
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