MT. JULIET - When people think of West Wilson County, many are under the assumption it's a fairly well-to-do area with affluent citizens ensconced in hundreds of mini-mansions in spectacular neighborhoods. However, this is a misnomer to an extent.
According to Wilson County schools records, W.A. Wright Elementary School – in the heart of a county a few years ago dubbed the second most affluent in Tennessee – has a student population poverty rate of 46 percent, second only to Watertown Elementary in the east that has a 62-percent poverty rate.
"W.A. Wright is now classified as a Title 1 school, along with three other schools in the county," said Wilson County Schools Federal Program Supervisor Julie Harrison.
Despite this disadvantage, W.A. Wright has some of the highest test scores in the county, a tribute to the school's administration and faculty, as well as hard-working students.
Carroll-Oakland and Southside elementary schools join W.A. Wright and Watertown as Title 1 schools also, a position that is measured by how many students receive free and reduced school lunches and is distinguished to have student populations that are "economically disadvantaged," according to Harrison.
Title 1 for schools was established by the federal government in the 1960s and this categorization allows for federal aid and grants. Because W.A. Wright and these other schools have a poverty rate of more than 40 percent, they qualify for federal funding and are part of ROYALS (Raising Our Yearly Academic Levels Successfully).
How does ROYALS work?
Between the four schools, the federal government spreads nearly $1 million between them to establish more teachers and extra help school wide.
"The purpose of ROYALS is to give additional support to schools with higher poverty rates," said Harrison.
She said students whom are economically disadvantaged are at greater risk academically.
"They might not have some of the opportunities as the more affluent students," she said.
At W.A. Wright, a former "all-purpose" room has been dedicated to three different classes where ROYALS teachers spend all day with different small groups of targeted students to give them almost one-on-one attention to help beef up their knowledge and help with test scores.
"They are also called RTI (Response To Intervention) classes," said Danielle Bennett, the instructional facilitator for this program at W.A. Wright. "We make sure kids are where they are supposed to be academically."
Harrison said the students who get the extra attention are targeted through testing data and don't miss important class time when they go see the ROYALS teachers.
This week, school-wide teacher Kelly Pody had about five students in her classroom, and she was teaching "blends" to the students. She said when she's not teaching small-sized classes, she goes into the classroom with another teacher and they share teaching responsibility. The federal monies help teachers receive this extra help, narrow the student ratio gap and really help them fine tune and accentuate teaching.
Pody teaches kindergarten, first- and third-grade. She's with another teacher in the mornings and in the afternoon gets to work with targeted students on mostly reading skills.
"Students, mostly kindergartners, come into the school experience and may not know their ABCs, or sounds," she said. "We work on these things and site-word memory. We find the students who need help and help move them to where they need to be."
She said her presence there frees up teachers to work on enrichment exercises for the other students.
"This school does a fantastic job with test scores," she said. "But, many of the teachers are spread so thin and we help with that."
On Monday, after one group of students were finished for the day and ready to go back to the regular classroom, Pody first handed them a little puzzle piece with a "blend" written on it, such as "fr" and "sn". As they exited the classroom, each child handed the piece to Pody and voiced the blend and gave her a word with the blend – with much praise from Pody.
Harrison said this program has a proven success rate and is making a difference. And while some may question why W.A. Wright, with its high test scores, really needs the program, she said they follow federal guidelines for qualification and the program will further enhance all the hard work the school has done to keep at the top of the list on test scores.
"The program helps close the gap between the subgroups in the school," she said.
The program also helps fund before and after school tutoring as well as parent workshops and instructional coaches for the teachers there.
"We are closing the gaps and making sure economically disadvantaged students have the same opportunities as traditional students," said Harrison.
Mt. Juliet News Managing Editor Laurie Everett may be reached at 754-6397 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.