C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School — known to some as “the hidden gem on Lancaster Circle” — is a community school where staff and parents work together to ensure students get the most out of their education. “We make the building a really positive environment and a place full of support for all students,” Principal Brian King, Ed.D., said. “We pride ourselves on building relationships between the adults who work here and building great relationships with our students and with their parents and guardians. We try to create a culture with everybody being on the same team to provide our students whatever supports they need to fulfill their potential.” That teamwork is getting high scores.
Barnhart was recently honored as a National ESEA Distinguished School. The designation honors Title I schools for outstanding achievements in one of three categories: exceptional student performance, closing the achievement gap, and excellence in serving special populations of students. Only two schools per state are chosen for the annual nationwide recognition. Barnhart is the third Charles County public school to receive the honor. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy and Dr. Samuel A. Mudd elementary schools have earned the honor in 2018 and 2020, respectively.
Barnhart was recognized for its efforts in providing excellent supports to special populations of students, particularly English Learners (EL). At Barnhart, equity is centered around the notion that every learner will receive the necessary resources they need individually to thrive in school no matter their background.
School staff study data to determine how students are achieving and where improvements can be made. From there, staff narrows the scope to study specific student groups. “English Learners were one specific group that we looked at a few years ago. We noticed some concerning trends and gaps when we looked at their performance compared to other student groups,” King said.
Once the need was identified, Barnhart staff got to work securing the resources they needed for students and finding professional development opportunities for staff. Staff also reached out to families — through fliers, emails and messages— translated to a parent’s preferred language using the TalkingPoints and ClassDojo apps — to ensure students were getting the support at home they would need to achieve in school. “Parents and guardians of EL students are continually telling our office they feel welcomed and supported at the school,” Michele King, ESOL specialist, said.
“Barnhart has strong family engagement and support from families and community partners,” Kristin Shields, Title I program director for CCPS, said. “The staff at Barnhart works hard to ensure that all students have access to the support they need to be successful and leverage Title I funds to support these efforts.”
King said the staff at Barnhart are a solid team. “Everybody is working toward one goal,” King said.
When an EL student first arrives at a school, they are given a WIDA assessment which scores a student’s overall English language proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework provides a foundation for curriculum, instruction, and assessment for multilingual learners in kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the WIDA website.
“It is a collective effort with the classroom teachers really knowing their students and making those modifications so they can be successful in the classroom,” Laura Verga, ESOL teacher, said. Modifications can be used for any student who needs extra support in the classroom and can come in the form of graphic organizers, word banks, sentence frames, chunking the text, and other tools. Verga visits classrooms during language arts to help students with grade-level content.
The school staff has built a solid partnership with the CCPS English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department, allowing English learners to flourish at Barnhart, Michele King said. “The Barnhart teachers consistently embrace initiatives with fidelity like Imagine Learning that supports EL language development while maintaining rigorous literacy instruction,” she said.
Students are not the only ones who are learning. Barnhart staff jumped at professional development opportunities to better serve their students. “Barnhart teachers are always willing to learn strategies to benefit their students,” King said. “They are open-minded and willing to learn new things. Teachers here have a staff culture where they support each other.”
Verga and Ayesha Williams, Barnhart’s reading resource teacher, attended professional development sessions hosted by the CCPS office of world languages/ESOL and then put together sessions for others at Barnhart. Professional development for classroom teachers focused on reading strategies, vocabulary development, math content knowledge, instructional programs, diversity training, and culturally responsive teaching. Williams focused on building up teacher toolboxes with tips and tricks that support learning. Through a grant, the school was able to offer English classes for EL families at the Lifelong Learner Center and Spanish classes for teachers.
“This school staff is very collaborative and very open to trying new things,” Williams said. “This award shows how everybody — in their own roles — supports the students in the school, no matter if they’re EL or not.” Luanne Cochran, the instructional resource teacher at Barnhart who works closely with Williams, agreed.
For staff at Barnhart — teachers, administrators, and support staff — “We want what’s best for the students,” Cochran said. “We’re a very student-driven school.”
Schools are nominated for the honor by their respective state education agency. Barnhart is one of 37 schools in the United States to receive the honor this year. Across the country, 532 schools have earned the ESEA designation since 1996.
The award, administered by the National Association of ESEA, or Elementary and Secondary Education Act, State Program Administrators (NAESPA), was established to recognize Title I schools for outstanding achievements. Title I is a federal program that provides additional funding to schools with students who are economically disadvantaged in order to promote equal access. There are eight Title I elementary schools in Charles County. Barnhart has an enrollment of 606 students this school year.
Barnhart’s nomination was submitted through the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) on behalf of the school and the CCPS Title I office. “C. Paul Barnhart Elementary school has been a high achieving Title I school for many years,” Shields said. “Barnhart has been consistent and strategic in how they serve student groups to increase academic achievement.”
The 2022 National ESEA Conference is scheduled for February 2022.