Students in class at Weller Road Elementary School are analyzing word problems, making comparisons and collaborating. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
SILVER SPRING, Md. – No one's squirming in Mr. Mackall's third grade class at Weller Road Elementary school in Silver Spring.
They're focused on the whiteboard he holds in his hand.
"What kinds of things come in groups of five?" he asks. "Ummm our fingers?" ventures one boy.
"Ah! We have five fingers," Mr. Mackall confirms.
They're working through a math problem and he's modeling how students can tackle the problems on their own.
The summertime classroom interaction is part of a public-private partnership called the BELL program – Building Educated Leaders for Life – aimed at closing the achievement gap.
The students in these classrooms haven't met Montgomery County's 60 percent academic scoring benchmark, explains Xavier Kimber, a principal in training at Weller Elementary School.
"We want all of our kids at 60 percent or above in proficiency," said Kimber, referencing the tests students take during the school year.
The BELL program is a five-week, public-private partnership with classes underway in eight Montgomery County schools this summer. The county's newly appointed superintendent, Jack Smith, toured the classrooms on Wednesday.
This week he met with Montgomery County Council members and told them that he's confident the school system can improve its performance and said closing the achievement gap is at the top of his to-do list.
Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro is an enthusiastic backer of the program, which she said offers quality programming and saves taxpayer money. The program costs $1.4 million but Navarro said that the cost is split four ways, between the county school system, county government, the Rales Foundation and the BELL foundation.
"These students are going to enter ready to tackle third and fourth grade," Navarro said.
She said the program is a win-win for taxpayers if students can enter the next grade having caught up to their peers. "You are saving money so you don't have to remediate," said Navarro.
When asked how the program is different from summer school sessions of the past, Navarro said it employs certified teachers and assistants and includes enrichment activities like field trips. Navarro said the track record of BELL is one that's impressed her and she's optimistic that it can nudge along students to greater academic achievement.
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