The Daily Pulse:

Thoughts on Emerald Academy's Application, Pt. 1: Let's Giggle

The application for Emerald Academy, the first of Emerald Youth Foundation's several planned charter schools, is 290 pages long. I've been reading it all morning, and I'm not even on page 70. If I save all my thoughts on it for one blog post, it will be a really really long blog post. So I'm breaking them up, as I read through it, and as I get questions answered from others. 

I'll have another post up in a little bit with some specifics about the intended school, but first, I wanted to share these two pages from the application, copied verbatim. Why? Because it's Wednesday morning, and the weekend is still two days away, and chances are, you need a hearty laugh right now.

In order to best describe the culture or ethos we desire to create at Emerald Academy, following is a brief vignette describing what a morning will look like for a typical scholar at Emerald Academy. It captures the culture of high expectations we will create, how a structured and disciplined learning environment leads to scholar success and increased time on learning, how important the development of a growth mindset and strong personal character is, and how a highly relational environment ensures that each scholar feels cared for and loved. We believe that all four of these components are essential to creating the culture we desire and will work intentionally to build such a culture.

Jonathan arrived at school that day excited to learn but anxious about the day ahead of him. He had struggled with his homework last night, and he did not want to disappoint his teachers. As Jonathan walked into the building, he saw his principal standing there - waving and greeting the scholars. As always, his principal was smiling from ear to ear. Jonathan walked over to his principal and said, "Good morning, Mr. Smith." Mr. Smith took one look at him and could tell that he was in need of a hug. He got down on Jonathan's level, said good morning, and gave Jonathan a great big hug. "How are you today, Jonathan?" "I'm okay," Jonathan responded, "I had trouble with my homework last night." Mr. Smith, aware of the struggles of first graders, smiled at him and said, "It's okay Jonathan; we all struggle at times. It's how we persevere through those hard times that make all the difference. Just let your teachers know. They'll be sure to provide you some extra support so you can master that content!" This made Jonathan feel so much better! He said goodbye and walked into the cafeteria to eat breakfast with his classmates.

After breakfast, Jonathan and his classmates got ready to transition to their classroom. Their teachers were waiting for them at the front of the cafeteria. They both had smiles on their faces, as usual. Jonathan felt lucky to have two teachers who seemed to care so much about him. He remembered how excited he was to meet them and how they seemed even more excited to meet him! The scholars stood up quietly, got in line, and their teachers led them silently down the hall to the classroom. The teachers, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Baxter, stood at the doorway and greeted each scholar individually. "Welcome! Good to see you today, Jonathan!" After being greeted, Jonathan silently went to his cubby and put away his coat and his backpack. He quickly and silently took his seat and got "on your mark," a procedure for getting ready for a lesson that his teachers had taught the class at the beginning of the year. He quietly placed his pencil, his homework assignments, and all other materials on the metal rack underneath his desk. He then got out his book and began silently reading. Reading at Emerald Academy was really important, so his teachers gave him plenty of time to practice and learn how to be a great reader throughout the day. Ms. Johnson said, "Okay friends, we are going to silently read our DEAR books for 10 minutes; then we will transition to the carpet where we'll have our Morning Meeting and read a story where a child has to exhibit great courage--one of our key values."

After silently reading, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Baxter called the scholars to the carpet. Each scholar got up quietly and transitioned to the rug, sat in criss-cross applesauce position, folded his hands in his lap, and looked up at the teacher. They were in the learning position! As Jonathan did this, he realized he didn't even have to think about these routines anymore. He knew exactly what to do because his teachers had spent so much time teaching the routines at the beginning of the year and then reinforcing them. His teachers usually picked a scholar to praise - today, he was hoping it would be him! Today was his lucky day. "Jonathan is sitting up in learning position, his hands are folded, and his eyes are on the speaker. You just earned a merit for posture. Let's give him a rapid clap on three!" Jonathan beamed as his classmates clapped for him. He was feeling better minute- by-minute.

Ms. Baxter informed the class that they were going to read a book called There's a Monster Under My Bed. After reading the story, they were going to talk about courage. "Who remembers what our definition of courage is?" A few hands shot up immediately, but Ms. Baxter waited patiently - "I'm going to let you think about it for a few seconds. Raise your hand once you remember." Slowly the hands began to go up and eventually a scholar was called on to share the definition. The story was really interesting and Jonathan learned a lot about courage. He felt courageous and ready to face the day.
After the lesson on courage, Jonathan's teachers informed them that they would begin their ELA lesson. "Please return to your seats and take out your pencils and notebooks. We are going to begin our Do Now. You will have three minutes to complete the activity." Jonathan returned to his desk and got himself ready to start his lesson. The teacher handed out the Do Now and Jonathan began working on the assignment. After three minutes, the teacher asked scholars to stop and pass their Do Nows forward. They quickly and efficiently passed them to the front of the room. One scholar stood up and silently collected each pile from the front desks. He then walked to the teachers' desk and set the Do Nows down.

"Next, we will describe the Aim, go over the agenda and homework, and then instruction will begin. Our aim for today is that scholars will be able to ask and answer key questions about key details in a text. Today we will begin by having a group lesson on key details in a text. After our group lesson, we'll practice finding key details together. Then we will break into small groups; some of you will work with Ms. Baxter, some of you will work with me, and some of you will work in pairs on a learning activity. You will rotate between these three stations. After that, we will do independent work where you can practice on your own and see if you learned how to find key details in your story."

"Your homework for tonight will be directly linked to our aim today. You will select a story of your choosing that is appropriate for you. Your homework will be to read the story and identify key details through the use of a 'story mountain' graphic organizer - Remember, we used this last week in our lesson. This graphic organizer will allow you to write down key details in the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Using the key details, you will then generate one rigorous, detail-focused question, such as 'Why was the elephant so sad at the beginning of the story?' We will discuss your detail-focused question tomorrow! Do any of my friends have questions?"

Jonathan listened to his teachers give a lesson on key details and then they worked together on finding key details. He felt like he understood the idea, but he was excited to work in a smaller group so he could ask more specific questions. After the group lesson and guided practice, the teachers divided the scholars into the groups; he was going to work with Ms. Baxter first. He loved being able to work in small groups. He felt a lot more comfortable asking questions in front of fewer scholars. And he loved the personalized attention he got from his teacher during small group activities!

Jonathan and his classmates rotated between the stations, all having a chance to work with each teacher and work in pairs. He felt like he had a pretty good handle on key details by the end, but he was excited to practice on his own. Ms. Baxter said, "Friends, thank you for working so hard today! Now, let's move to independent practice." The independent practice was challenging, but Jonathan worked really hard and stretched his brain. He knew he might not have identified every key detail, but he was getting the hang of it! This was exciting! "Okay, friends, now we will complete an exit ticket so that Ms. Johnson and I can assess your learning for today. After the exit tickets, we are going to transition to our math lesson!"

Ms. Baxter and Ms. Johnson handed out the exit tickets and the scholars began to work. Jonathan looked around and saw that all of his classmates were working. He felt proud of his class - they all worked so hard and tried to live up to the high expectations their teachers set for them. He felt pretty lucky to be at this school.

Seriously, that's in the application. (Pages 65 and 66 of the PDF, if you want to find it yourself.) We can't wait to keep reading in the hopes of more fictional depictions. 

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