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September 1, 2014, 7:51 pm

Clara Barton Elementary, ‘where kids can be kids’

Take a glance into room 100. Students in this kindergarten class sit on the blue carpet positioned in the center of the classroom.

Listen to the giggles and laughter of the five-year-old students as they count numbers. Their peers hold large red cards — each card has numbers one through ten — and they stand in front of the room.

Watch substitute teacher, Harriet Davis, telling the children sitting on the carpet to close their eyes. Students holding numbers three, six and eight face their backs toward the class.

“Boys and girls, you can open your eyes. Tell me what’s missing,” Davis said.

Quickly eyes open and students try to figure out which numbers are missing from the line up.

At Clara Barton Elementary, Principal Colleen Bowen said the school’s environment promotes an experience where kids can be kids. She described the school as a place where students can skip down the hallway and feel safe and secure.

With one pre-kindergarten and one autistic support class, ten kindergarten, ten first-grade and nine second-grade classes, the school’s population is 750 students. 

Five years ago, Barton served grades kindergarten through eighth. However, the school became overcrowded. The Philadelphia School District made the decision to keep the large community, but create a campus of schools. 

Barton — pre-kindergarten to second grade, Feltonville Intermediate — third to fifth grade — and Feltonville Arts and Sciences — sixth to eighth grade — encompass the Feltonville campus.

“All three schools work together. We all stay in communication with [each other]. Basically, we work well together. It’s nice for us because we can create an early childhood center in our school,” Bowen said.

In her third year as principal, Bowen accredits reading to Barton’s success in making Adequate Yearly Progress consecutively in 2010 and 2011. 

“I think a strong foundation in reading is really what drives us in making AYP. Then, students feeding into Feltonville Intermediate made AYP. I think a lot of that has to do with the high caliber of students we’re sending up to them.”

Every floor has a “Clara’s Corner” which is a small reading center with books and a bench for students to read quietly.

“We use Children Literacy Initiative in our school. That’s just a real organic approach to reading and writing. They’re reading independently. They’re learning to stretch their abilities,” Bowen said.

At Barton, parental involvement is highly expected. In the beginning of the school year, parents sign an agreement to make sure their child is sent to school daily and that they attend parent-teacher conferences. There are two parent meetings a month. Bowen hosts one of the meetings and the School Improvement Support Liaison, Nancy Torres, holds a chat and chew. This meeting engages and informs parents on developments and programs at school.  

“We have phenomenal families that work really hard with their [children]. We push them to read to them every night. We create high expectations that parents really step up because we can’t do it alone,” Bowen said.

With three children and four nieces and nephews who attend or have graduated from Barton, Evelyn Diaz said she likes the school environment. She explained the reason her family chose Barton.

“All my kids been here, the teachers are great. I can come see my child anytime and make sure they’re alright. They have a lot of staff that keep an eye on the kids,” Diaz said.

As she sat in the auditorium to watch the kindergarten winter concert, Diaz said she enjoys the concerts, graduations and meetings at the school.

“I’m aware of the dates for the after-school programs and what’s available for my child to better herself and her education,” Smith said. 

Parents and family, like Diaz, packed the school’s auditorium to watch the classes perform songs at the winter concert. Each class performs a poem and a song. Some play the xylophone and others drum on plastic tubs and coffee cans.

“Every year we do a winter concert. It’s just an opportunity for the students to perform for their families. For them to come and participate in something positive, everybody participates and it gives them a source of pride,” Bowen said.

Music teacher, Nancy Francis, leads the concerts. Francis describes her experiences with students.

“I think it’s a celebration of the arts for them. It builds self-esteem for them. We have art and music. Our principal is very supportive of the arts. I feel very fortunate. I love my job,” Francis said. 

“My music teacher is phenomenal. It’s amazing what she can get those kindergartens kids to do,” Bowen said.

According to Bowen, Barton teachers are described as super stars for their effort to teach and engage students.

“I have amazingly dedicated teachers. They are extremely hard working and they go above and beyond. They’re always trying to look for new ways to reach their students.”

In room 211, Solece Messinger’s second-grade class is encouraged to do acts of kindness toward one another. After reading the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” written by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, students fill a jar with a fuzzy ball for every positive action. Once the jar is full, students can have a popcorn party. However, if someone says or does something that is not encouraging to a peer, a fuzzy ball is removed. 

Back in room 100, students finish the counting numbers exercise and prepare for the winter concert.

Gabriella Nunes said she enjoys playing games and singing the Gingerbread song in school.

“I like music class because I like to dance,” Nunes said. 

Classmates, Ahoud Abdelrazzaq and Sanih Muhammad describe their favorite activities at school.

“I like ABCs, numbers and drawing,” Abdelrazzaq said.

“My favorite thing about school is shapes because I like how they look and numbers to learn to count,” Muhammad said.

“I think the nurturing environment is what is so special about this school. We are truly a family,” Bowen said.