C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School has been recognized as one of the top schools in the country for its use of Imagine Learning, a provider of digital curriculum. The school earned the distinction of 2021-2022 Schools of Excellence, Imagine Reading. It is the only Maryland school to be honored in that category.

The Imagine Learning platform challenges elementary-school students through lessons that look and act more like video games. Tara James, a fourth-grade teacher at Barnhart, said her students use the program for about 20 minutes a day during guided reading. “It’s very interactive and very engaging for them,” James said.

During a recent class, students were glued to their laptop screens. A closer look showed they were all engaged in different lessons. “It gives you a lot of cool games,” said Max Baker, who was answering questions lobbed at him from a robot game show host on his computer screen. Kingston Crew followed an animated monkey as it ran through a jungle, only advancing when he correctly answered a question. “We learn about the words and when you get to this part, you have to answer questions,” Crew said, pointing at the screen, “If you get the question incorrect, you get less time.”

While Crew’s and Baker’s lessons took shape as a game, Makyira Sharpe was reading a piece that looked more like a traditional news article with photographs. Her favorite part of Imagine Learning has been learning about different punctuation. “I learned about exclamation marks and when I should use them,” she said.

Imagine Learning was first introduced at Barnhart about six years ago when the program was used exclusively by English language learner (ELL) students. Since then, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) has made it available to all elementary-school students.

The lessons are tailored to the skills of each student, James said. “They are based on their instructional level,” she said. “I have some kids who are at a sixth-grade level, I have some who are on a kindergarten level. They are all working on the same skills, but it is targeted to their level.”

The students’ answers are sent directly to James who can determine what skills she needs to work on with the student. The program also has a writing component and an audio feature that prompts students to read a story aloud. From that feedback, James and the students can better work on fluency and other reading and writing skills.

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