The first thing a visitor to Two Rock Elementary School in rural Petaluma, Calif., is likely to notice is the feeling of community. Teachers, students, support staff, volunteers, the principal, and parents are all very much part of Two Rock, and this sense of community is at the heart of the school’s success. The U.S. Department of Education has named Two Rock Elementary School a 2010 Blue Ribbon School.
Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski affirmed that at Two Rock, teaching is a team effort. “We all know not to let a student fall through the cracks . . . The key is, we all have a role,” she said recently at the 179-student school’s celebration of its Blue Ribbon award.
Karin Beddow, the school’s English language development teacher, agreed. “We’re a small school. You feel that you know the children and families really well.”
In addition to knowing each other well, teachers say that communication is the fuel that drives the engine of student learning. According to Ms. Godoski, about 30 percent of the students are ranchworkers’ children, who may not speak English, and in many instances, their parents speak only Spanish, as well.
Two Rock has met the language challenge directly, through ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee). “All of our [students’] parents are members,” Ms. Beddow explained. “We have monthly meetings that are held in Spanish. It’s an extension of the community.” At the meetings, teachers and school officials talk to parents about the importance of school. In turn, parents understand what their children need to succeed and reinforce the importance of school—including studying and homework—to their children.
And, Godoski said, the community communication strategy really works. “By fifth grade, they really blossom, which is difficult for ESL students to do; academic language is not an easy thing to learn. The students get a lot of self-confidence before going off to junior high school,” she said.
Two Rock Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson is a champion of the school’s community emphasis. “I know it sounds a little corny,” Simpson said, “but it takes a village to raise a child…At every grade level, each student is everyone’s responsibility.”
Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.