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Talbot Hill Elementary school

Courtesy of Talbot Hill

Renton, Washington
K-5 484 students
Three times a week, students at Talbot Hill report to their jobs -- as postal workers, bankers, store managers, composters, judges, lawyers, farmers, and reporters, among many other occupations. "Kids put their academic lessons to use immediately while working in our mini community," says Sally Boni, coordinator of the program called MicroSociety Inc. "For instance, they learn multiplication in the morning, and a few hours later, they're balancing a checkbook or calculating the size of plots needed to grow plants." Third- to fifth-graders apply for jobs at the beginning of the school year, creating r?sum?s and working on interview skills while younger children participate in classroom-run businesses. Of course, this real-world approach takes time away from structured lessons, but a four-year study showed the program improved standardized test scores in math by 12 percent and in reading by 14 percent.

Copy its success Talbot Hill's MicroSociety Inc. is part of a network of 200-plus schools in 40 states; learn how to bring the program to your kid's school at microsociety.org. Because of the extra staff, training, and supplies required, Boni estimates that it costs $75,000 to $100,000 to implement the program and about $25,000 to $30,000 per year to maintain it at a school with 500 students. "The Talbot Hill Educational Trust (a nonprofit organization) and our PTO raise most of the money to keep it going," she says. But schools can test the program on a smaller scale. "We tried it in one classroom for a year and then broadened it for the next year before we took it school-wide," Boni says. In the meantime, you and like-minded parents can meet with teachers to discuss ways to simulate real-world businesses in the classroom. For example, groups of third-graders could sell a craft they made, such as friendship bracelets or duct-tape bookmarks, at the art fair or parent open house. Creating a business plan -- that includes a supply budget, price points, and sale analysis -- would be part of the learning experience.


Columbia, South Carolina
K-5 580 students
This school is tuned in to technology. Fifth-graders write, film, and produce a live daily news show that's broadcast in every classroom. "The show has a weather person, interviews with guests, and reports from the cafeteria on the day's lunch choices," says media specialist Lizzie Padget. "After a couple of weeks of training, the kids handle the cameras and sound equipment on their own." Every classroom has a SMART Board and uses the SMART Response interactive system, with wireless remotes for all the students. "The students use them to answer questions on the SMART Board, and it gives me an instant tally of how students responded," says teacher Marian Scullion. "This technology has helped teachers evaluate whether we're moving too quickly or too slowly in our lessons." Students also use simulation software, make PowerPoint presentations, and contribute to blogs a couple of times a week to chronicle what they've learned in class.

Copy its success Forest Lake created a nonprofit educational foundation to help fund its technology purchases. "Through donations from area businesses for a silent auction and ticket sales from the school performance, we were able to raise about $8,000," says principal Kappy Steck. "Parents were instrumental in reaching out to local businesses for us." Forest Lake also received technology grants from several foundations. Go to eschoolnews.com for a list of available grants. In addition, your child's school can apply to be a Microsoft Pathfinder Innovative School (pil-network.com); teacher training, equipment, and software are provided.


West Palm Beach, Florida
K-5 865 students
Planting seeds, having reading class in the Tiki Hut near the butterfly garden, and monitoring energy use are just part of a typical day at Pine Jog, which recently won a Green Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education. "It wasn't enough for us to have an environmentally friendly school building," says principal Fred Barch. "We weave environmental education throughout the entire curriculum." For instance, all students help care for the school's pesticide-free 4,000-plant hydroponic garden, and they get plenty of math, science, and marketing experience in the process. "The kids sold $4,000 worth of produce last year to parents and staff at school," says Barch. "They researched what local grocery stores were charging to help them set the prices, and at the end of the season they calculated which crops were the most profitable." Pine Jog also has an outdoor science lab for experiments and GPS mapping. What's more, the design of the school itself is a teaching tool. There are numerous touch-screen devices in hallways that display real-time info about the school's energy consumption so students can monitor the building's energy use and savings. Says Barch: "The children love checking on how much water we've used in a month and how much we've saved."

Copy its success All Pine Jog's teachers received training from Project Wild (projectwild.org), a free program of the Council for Environmental Education. The group offers workshops for teachers in every state as well as curriculum and activity guides.

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