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closing the gap

Para-pro Ruie Marioenizo assists Bruin Point sixth graders during a classroom activity. Separating students into small groups helps Bruin Point instructors to focus on individual student learning. The system is making a difference in outcomes.

Sun Advocate reporter

For the third year in a row, students at Bruin Point Elementary have been recognized by the Utah State Office of Education for their performance as both a high performing Title I school and for closing the achievement gap within Bruin's student population. These awards are given to Utah's Title I Schools able to demonstrate high levels of student achievement when taking the state's criterion reference test or CRT.

"We could not be more proud of both our students and teachers," said Bruin Point Principal Leslie Jewkes. "This achievement is truly a group effort which requires participation and hard work from everyone at Bruin Point."

This year, the state honored 10 Title I schools total for their efforts in closing the achievement gap between white and ethnic minority students and also honored 58 for their general high academic performance during the 2009-10 school year. Bruin Point students were honored in both regards.

"There are some socioeconomic and ethnic differences at Bruin Point but the students here are the same as they are anywhere else. The difference is that we expect more at our school," explained Jewkes, who took over Bruin Point last year. "I truly love being here and like I said kids are the same anywhere. We make it clear to the students that we have very high expectations and they have responded with high test scores."

To earn the Utah Title I Closing the Achievement Gap Award, a school must achieve adequate yearly progress in both language arts and math tests given to all students at the end of the school year; must reduce by at least 50 percent the achievement gap between disaggregated student groups and the whole school in both subjects and must be nominated by the district superintendent.

"Our math scores were very impressive this year and I am excited about that," said Jewkes. "For a time it seemed that reading skills were focused on at the expense of math abilities, we have changed that."

During the most recent testing cycle, Bruin Point students were able to gain 15 percentage points in math, moving from 73 to 88 percent efficiency in just one school year.

Jewkes credits the students improvement to school programs which include the use of Instructional Coach Sandra Bertola.

Bertola is tasked with multiple duties, including instruction modeling for teachers, organizing student learning intervention programs and mentoring new teachers.

"I am there to help teachers and students however I can," said Bertola

Both Jewkes and Bertola were adamant about the fact that these awards are a whole school achievement, meaning that a strong base is developed for children from the time they are in kindergarten before they begin actually taking the tests in the third grade.

In addition to focusing on the entire school, Bruin Point has instituted a parent "Math Morning" program with brought in two thirds of all the school's parents at 8:15 a.m. during its first run.

"We had nearly 100 percent attendance at our parent teacher conferences this year," said Bertola. "That represents a huge change from a few year ago."

Along with strong parent participation, school officials credit a dedication to the individual students for continuing high test scores. Between four and five times every year, the principal, teacher, instructional coach and para-pros (parent aids) meet to discuss every child's progress on an individual basis. Because of this high level of monitoring, any student learning issue is addressed almost immediately, allowing teachers to develop multiple rounds of instruction and a coordinated effort for intervention techniques.

"We say every student, every time," said Jewkes. "We put this goal of strong proficiency and achievement on the children at Bruin Point and they continue to succeed."

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