White Rock Elementary School is nestled deep within the Lake Highlands neighborhood that surrounds it. Situated on a quiet residential street, you may never have noticed this little school.
Perhaps you should take a closer look.
White Rock Elementary opened in 1961, and will celebrate its 40th birthday next fall. The Seahawks will have much to celebrate.
“This is a wonderful school, with a very close-knit community,” says Martha Moroch, principal at White Rock. The school has received many awards, including the RISD Superintendent’s Medallion and the TEA Acknowledgement for Comparable Improvement on TAAS for the last three school years.
White Rock is also proud to feature the “Model Kindergarten Room,” after a program developed by White Rock’s own kindergarten teacher Melissa Draper, which was implemented at two other Richardson schools and used as a format for training new teachers.
“Observing the model kindergarten classes was the biggest portion of staff development for the kindergarten teachers in the district last year,” Draper says. “The program was designed to show teachers how our ‘8 Components of Balanced Literacy’ could be integrated into the existing curriculum.”
Draper’s work was so successful that new teachers continue to visit the two White Rock Elementary kindergarten classrooms for training in this area. White Rock also boasts a comprehensive program to build and enhance life skills, directed by fulltime counselor Shawn Ledford.
“I visit each classroom every week,” says Ledford. Her lesson usually involves reading a story containing an simple moral, such as “respecting others.” Then, interactive discussions follow the story, with Ledford encouraging students to share related experiences. She is also available to help students with personal problems — at home, with a teacher, or among peers.
“At the beginning of the year, I introduce myself and let them know that I am here to listen, and that my job is to keep secrets,” explains Ledford. “I let them know about secrets I can’t keep, which of course involve any kind of dangerous situation, and they seem to understand very quickly that I am someone they can trust.
Students make an appointment to visit Ledford by leaving her a note in her mailbox, which is rarely empty. “I sort out fights between friends, or am just here to listen,” she says, “but I never give them the answers. I help them to explore options and consequences.”
The school’s newest academic enrichment program is generating enthusiasm and excitement from teachers, parents and students alike. The “.COM” (that’s ‘dot-com’) program stands for “Challenging Our Minds” and is a school-wide effort to focus on reading and math skills. Each afternoon, students break into small groups tailored to fit their individual needs in reading or math. For example, the fifth and sixth grade math enrichment is delivered through a mock stock market class.
“The students spend the first part of the semester learning about the stock market, how to read the stock report in the newspaper, and how to research a prospective company online,” explains Jane Brown, a fifth grade teacher. “After the research is done, the students pick stocks in which they invest $100,000.”
Prizes are awarded to the students whose stocks perform best. As part of .COM, fifth and sixth graders also get to choose a favorite club, which meets for roughly six weeks every Thursday. The clubs include ‘Newsletter Production’, ‘Fitness Club’ and ‘Percussion Ensemble’ — to name just a few.
“It’s a chance for our fifth and sixth graders to choose activities they think they would like to learn more about,” says Principal Moroch. “When we decided to do this, I was amazed at how quickly it all came together.”
Every staff member at the school participates in .COM, with even the office secretaries pitching in to sponsor the ‘Girl’s Club’, which explores issues such as skin care habits, wardrobe, good posture and good manners. The school nurse hosts the ‘Babysitting Club’ while principal Moroch covers the clinic.
Another popular choice has been the ‘Make Their Day Club’, in which student artwork is delivered to an area nursing home. The students stay and play Bingo with the residents.
And, everyone at White Rock Elementary is anxiously awaiting the new Kindergarten wing, which is scheduled to open just in time for the big anniversary in Fall 2001. A new library and computer lab will follow soon. As wonderful as the staff, classes and programs are at White Rock Elementary, it’s really only half the story.
“Parents make or break a school,” says Principal Moroch, “and we have some of the most committed and talented parents in the entire district.”
One parent, Julie Jody, a Lake Highlands High School graduate, chose the area around White Rock Elementary after much research. “This is a very strong school in terms of parent involvement,” she explains. “We really wanted our children to have the experience of playing with neighborhood friends, and then having those same children in class with them throughout elementary school.”
Mother of a three-year-old, Jody has spent hours establishing a preschool database, identifying future White Rock students and setting up playgroups. Last year she served as the liaison between the school and the early Childhood PTA, and currently serves on the PTA board at White Rock.
Another of the many Seahawk parents who go above and beyond for the school, Lizzy Cronin has made it her mission to spread the good news about White Rock Elementary. She put together a color brochure for White Rock that is included in welcome baskets to new homeowners. “This is truly a community school,” she says, “supported by the entire neighborhood, which gives the whole area a very small town feel.”
In certain ways, the more White Rock Elementary changes, the more it stays the same. The school employs a teacher who is teaching third grade in the same room she had for third grade as a child.
Cronin says: “I believe people come back to this neighborhood for the overall feeling of community.”