November 21, 2014

Elyria
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Cabin Fever Reliever day lets kids’ imaginations loose to develop ideas for value-added learning

Franklin Elementary fourth-graders Aaliyah Stephens, 9, and Chloe Culp, 10, imagine new medal categories they would like to see in the Olympics at the Boys and Girls Club on Saturday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Franklin Elementary fourth-graders Aaliyah Stephens, 9, and Chloe Culp, 10, imagine new medal categories they would like to see in the Olympics at the Boys and Girls Club on Saturday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — A new Olympic sport, at least in the minds of two young girls, has been developed.

Saturday afternoon, at a table at the Boys & Girls Club of Lorain County on Middle Avenue, Aaliyah Stephens and Chloe Culp put their young brains together and out popped the idea for the “water walk.” They described it as walking on ice in high heels while balancing a book on your head and carrying an egg in a ladle.

The winner gets a medal designed by Aaliyah and Chloe.

“I’ve never worn high heels, but funny shoes like that should make the game more challenging,” Chloe said.

It’s not the kind of activity the Franklin Elementary School students would do on a typical school day.

But this was not a typical school day. In keeping with the Franklin tradition of thinking outside the box, teachers and staff partnered with the non-profit organization to hold the Franklin Cabin Fever Reliever.

Franklin Elementary first-grader Alex Gibbons, 7, makes Olympic rings at the Boys and Girls Club on Saturday.

Franklin Elementary first-grader Alex Gibbons, 7, makes Olympic rings at the Boys and Girls Club on Saturday.

For three hours, 120 kids alternated between activities geared toward literacy and math skills, all set to the theme of the Winter Olympics — a perfect idea, considering the actual Winter Olympics kicks off next month in Sochi, Russia.

“The kids are all cooped up because of the weather, so why not get them out and get them learning?” said Franklin Principal Lisa Licht.

Beyond making up silly games — an activity designed to get the students to think critically about what is needed to develop a new sport, game or activity — students also made replicas of the Olympic rings with construction paper and Olympic torches with tissue paper.

Vocabulary lessons were built into those activities.

But the day was not just about fun. While not the silver bullet that would miraculously transform the grades of the struggling schools, Franklin’s Cabin Fever Reliever is just a reminder that learning cannot stop just because the school day ends.

No one talked about the struggles of Franklin on Saturday. The only hint of it came from Licht, the school’s biggest cheerleader, who believes her students are more than the bad rap they have garnered from some as being the weak link in the district’s educational armor.

“My goal for this year is to look for improvement and for the students to be successful beyond Franklin,” she said. “Higher test scores would also be nice.”

Franklin is often one of the lowest-ranked schools in Elyria on state-standardized tests. In August, Franklin earned failing or low grades in several areas.

The one bright spot on the report card was the school’s ability to ensure students learn more than a year’s worth of curriculum in a year. Referred to as value-added, the measurement looks at math and reading scores to determine if students are making significant gains from year to year.

Franklin earned the highest possible grade — an A.

“We are willing to try everything,” Licht said.

Setbacks are not addressed with a defeatist attitude at Franklin.

When the state rejected the Elyria proposal for funding from the Straight A Fund to transform Franklin School from a traditional school to one with preschool classes, longer school days, longer calendar year and different teaching methods, teachers did not retreat. Instead, they came up with ideas they could institute without state funding.

“We offer, three days a week for third- through fifth-graders, the opportunity for them to come to school early and work on a computer-based prep program for the (Ohio Achievement Assessment),” Licht said. “We firmly believe in offering opportunities beyond the traditional school day.”

Parent volunteer Virginia Tipton, the mother of a first- and a second-grader at the school, said the culture of the school is evident in more than the test scores.

“They’re committed no matter what,” she said. “We know we have struggles on this side of town, but they do stuff like this because it’s great for the kids. It gets them motivated and learning in the process.”

Saturday, the transformation plan that never happened was not on anyone’s mind. Instead, students laughed as they designed and made their own trading cards or eagerly whipped out rulers to draw maps to scale for their Olympic torch carriers to follow.

“This is all Common Core standards-based,” Licht said. “Students are learning real-world applications of what they are learning in school. We just decided to base it around the Winter Olympics.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.