POCOMOKE — Pocomoke Elementary School (PES) received a visit last Friday from State Superintendent Dr. Lillian Lowery, who presented plaque designating PES as a Superlative High Performing Reward School, one of only eight such Title-1 schools state-wide.
During the visit, Lowery also spoke with PES leadership about the strategies used to promote education, which will be highlighted in an upcoming Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) video that will showcase best practices for achievement from several schools in Maryland.
According to PES Principal Michael Browne, receiving the superlative designation was “a great honor.” He pointed out that, as a Title-1 school, PES has a large percentage of students at or around the poverty level.
“Seventy percent of our students come from homes of economic disadvantage,” he revealed.
While a school’s job is to provide a safe and creative environment for students, Browne acknowledged that a child isn’t in school every hour of every day and coming from a financially struggling household can make prioritizing learning more difficult.
“There are a lot of things outside of school that we have no control over,” he told Lowery.
However, the goal at PES is to provide a fertile environment to students during school hours while supporting that with strong after school programs and community outreach. Teachers use a variety of tools to prepare students for pending exams while also making sure that the child grasps the concepts behind the information as opposed to just memorizing facts.
Browne spoke at length about self-made “student assessments” that can be used to track a student’s progress and learning skills prior to taking a test that would actually affect their grade.
“The teachers love it … it’s been an extremely powerful tool that we’ve used here at the school,” said Browne.
Curriculum Resource Teacher Stephanie Taylor was also enthusiastic about the assessments as milestone markers.
“That way if [teachers] see a child that is struggling they can fix that problem,” she said.
Another tool that PES employs is informal parental discussion.
“We try to do everything that we can to try to communicate with parents,” said Browne.
Teachers and administration at PES have a “revolving door,” he continued, and try to promote “open discussion” with parents either individually or in a group setting. These meetings sometimes take place outside of the school in an effort to be more accessible. According to Taylor, Pocomoke’s nearby public library has proven popular for parental meetings.
“We’ve had as many as 70 [parents] at the library,” she told Lowery.
While a great overall resource for keeping parents informed about the course of their child’s instruction, Taylor said that the meetings also give educators a chance to help parents develop useful skills for assisting students with homework.
“Sometimes they don’t know what to do to help their children,” admitted Taylor.
According to Taylor, in years past teachers would often leave accurate but uninformative comments. Browne agreed, saying that instead of writing “nice job” he asks teachers to explain to students why and how they did a nice job.
Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson, who attended the meeting with County Commissioners Merrill Lockfaw and Virgil Shockley, complimented Browne and his administration for being innovators in education.
“They’ve pioneered some practices, I believe, as a team,” said Wilson, who added that “these things don’t happen overnight” and the school’s success is the result of years of experimentation and hard work.