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A small part of a bigger picture

Cecil Sly Elementary will be implementing a storyline curriculum during the last hour of the day, providing students with enrichment activities

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Natalie Orozco stands in front of Mrs. Fletcher’s fifth grade classroom. In the background are decorations for King Arthur’s Castle and the associated coat of arms. Each classroom has a similar theme outside of their door to accompany the storyline theme of medieval times.

Visitors who walk down the halls of Cecil Sly Elementary this school year will find medieval decorations on the walls, displays, and coats of arms gracing the doors.
   These works of art are part of a bigger theme that was adopted by the staff to teach a storyline curriculum the last hour of each school day. Principal Jim Bates said that he is optimistic and excited about offering enrichment activities that also focus on the arts.
   Bates calls this last hour of the day their “power hour.” He said they have a large portion of their staff doing the storyline, while some are offering different themes for this time of the day, and they are looking at the possibility of offering electives.
   “Storyline seems to be what most of the staff has gravitated towards to structure the afternoon for enrichment.”
   He said during this time, students will have activities that include social studies, math, reading, science, and writing.
   “Storyline is saturated with writing.”
   Bates said that in his kindergarten through fifth grade classes, most of the teachers are using the castle storyline, with the exception of the fourth grade. This group is doing the storyline of The People of the Longhouse — which he said will tie into the unit on the Oregon Trail later in the year.
   The storyline teaching method is an approach to curriculum integration. Using elements of an actual storyline such as setting, characters, and events, the unfolding of the story each day in the classroom provides new opportunities to integrate art projects into core subjects. Students are actively involved in their learning as tasks arise within the “story.”
   An example of such a task was demonstrated in Katie Johnson’s fourth grade class. Her students were studying about King Arthur, as were several other classrooms last week. She told them that “King Arthur” had written a letter requesting the students to “design and build a castle that will provide adequate space and rooms.” On Friday, students were creating walls using construction paper and sponge paint. Outside the door was a coat of arms and more decorations for their storyline.
   In McKenzie Kudlac’s fifth grade classroom, students were learning about medieval legends, and had begun to create a notebook for their studies on the legends surrounding King Arthur.
   Amidst the excitement and flurry of activities the last hour of the day, the challenge of meeting elevated state standards and pushing up state scores is still a reality. Bates is hopeful that this form of teaching will actually boost test scores.
   “This is probably the single most exciting year, and yet one of the most challenging years that I have ever been faced with — and more importantly, we have ever been faced with,” said Bates. “We have a huge task before us for the things that we need to do for our kids for performance standards to meet state expectations, and rise to the new national standards.
   “We are hard at work at that just like all the schools, and that is not going to change.”
   Bates added that since schools have lost funding, staffing, and faced declining student population — the challenge of offering a balanced education beyond core subjects has become an ever-increasing challenge.
   “All the schools, staff, and administrative teams have worked hard since 2008 to respond to the cuts to recreate and redesign and focus on the core foundations first, and then are constantly looking for ways to bring a well-rounded education.”
   Offering specialized curriculum that gives students access to the arts has become difficult for grade schools. Cuts in the music program and more mandates passed down from the state have made it difficult to focus on anything except the core subjects of math, reading, writing, and social studies.
   As exciting as the new storyline curriculum is, Bates emphasized that it doesn’t come without a cost.
   “Our teachers have elected to go with a shorter preparation period to create that longer block of time at the end of the day,” he said.
   “I appreciate Dennis (Kostelecky) and Duane (Yecha) for supporting experimenting with this schedule, and it is no secret that a big part of our hope is that we would like to see student scores go up as a result of this.”