Kids ‘grow and blossom’ in Central Montcalm’s multi-age class

By Lori Hansen • Last Updated 10:39 am on Thursday, February 20, 2014

STANTON — The Central Montcalm Public School Board of Education heard a presentation Wednesday concerning the first semester of a new multi-age classroom at Central Montcalm Elementary School.

The board also agreed to begin a search for a full-time principal for that building.

The multi-age classroom, consisting of 23 kindergarten and first grade students, were selected at the beginning of the year due to risk factors to participate in the pilot program. Housed next to traditional classrooms of their peers,  the program is already making a positive difference, said five of the teachers and staff involved in the blended class.

“In the beginning, we talked about how much we took on,” said Krista King, the regular education teacher for the group. “But it has been beautiful. We have seen the kids grow and blossom.”

Students selected for the section were chosen because of a different learning style, lagging skills, behavioral issues, low learning skills, lacking motor skills, a family situation or other criteria, said Wilberta Wittkopp, at-risk staff member.

“These are kids who were already behind starting kindergarten,” added King.

Rather than the students being pulled from a regular classroom, a team of specialists — social worker, speech therapist, Title I — go into the class room the throughout the week to work with students.

“Kindergarteners don’t come to school knowing how to do school,” King said. “We have been very intentional about teaching them every little thing, how to stand in line, how to be attentive, how to sit still. We’ve become a community, a family, and we take care of one another.”

Mid-year scores show the majority of the kindergarten students are on task and pulling up. The first grade students are also showing academic improvement, but not as large of gains as their younger peers.

“We started the focus first on behavior, and then we focused on academics, when students have learned the skills they need to know to learn,” Wittkopp said.

The kindergarten student will be offered the opportunity to remain with their classmates next fall as first grade students, and new kindergarten students will join them. The first grade students will be promoted to second grade at the Central Montcalm Upper Elementary.

“Hopefully, they will have cemented the skills they deem necessary to be a learner,” King said.

The board also approved, in a 7-0 vote, to accept a timeline to hire a new elementary principal. The post is currently split between Marty Combs, employed by the Montcalm intermediate School District, and Amy Meinhardt, who wears many hats for the Central Montcalm district administrative team.

“This has worked,” Superintendent Kristie Teall said. “But by talking with staff, and getting their input, we feel having a full-time principal in place is a good idea.”

Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.

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