I am writing this as we head into the holiday season. It is a joy to be at Nokomis Elementary at this time of year. The faces of our students seem a little brighter and they appear happy in class and on the playground. There is something rejuvenating about that type of young, vibrant energy. After twelve years as the Nokomis Principal and forty years in education, I need as much rejuvenation as I can get.
There is also a vibrancy among our staff. Besides their natural inclination to join the students in the excitement as we prepare for the holidays, teachers and aides are witnessing substantial academic growth in their classes. We have instituted a new reading intervention program that helps struggling readers become confident readers. This is the best gift Nokomis can give to our students at this, or any other time of year. The gratification of seeing students succeed is the reason all educators entered this profession.
The daily routines at Nokomis are designed to promote a culture of high academic growth and positive behavior expectations. A typical student’s day will begin with a focus on reading; however, this is not done in isolation. We use collaborative conversations among students so they can express what they comprehend from a text, and learn from one another. This could be followed by a task that asks students to find evidence in their reading that can be used to express their ideas in writing. Recess soon follows where students have the opportunity to obtain positive reinforcement by meeting behavior expectations.
The Wolf Den is a room at Nokomis run by our counselor that has games, prizes, and even a climbing wall. Students can earn visits there for demonstrating they have learned how to be Ready to learn, Respectful of others, and Responsible for their learning (The Nokomis 3Rs). When they return to class, students work on math that makes them think about the many ways to solve a problem. Students are asked to find more than one way to get an answer and be able to explain it to their peers. Once again, they can learn from each other. Throughout the day, students are encouraged to ask and answer “why” and “how” questions, and be prepared to share their reasoning with each other. It is quite an experience to listen to a first grader explain how bubbles protect penguins from sea lions or watch a fourth-grade student use area formulas to design a city park.
All of this occurs in a school where many of the students are economically disadvantaged, and over half of our children are learning English as a second language, which makes academic success even more of a challenge. With that as the backdrop, it is validating that our students enjoy being at school and are experiencing academic success. It is a tribute to the children and adults of Nokomis who come to school every day and create a culture that is a benefit to all. I am a lucky man to be Principal of Nokomis Elementary School. That is a gift I cherish all year.