Combined efforts nourish students at Maybell Elementary School
Students in this one-classroom school learn from adults — and from each other
March 26, 2016
Craig — It's Monday morning, and students at Maybell Elementary School are gathered around a table to take turns reading a book called "The April Fool's Day Mystery." Head teacher Carol Kilmer leads them, reminding them when they've moved a little too quickly past a period and encouraging them when they've read well.
In Maybell, students frequently work at the front table with Kilmer, and others work on lessons throughout the classroom, often with help from Darvy Christiansen, a teacher's aide and parent volunteers who come to the classroom.
The Moffat County Board of Education suspended operations for the school during the 2014-15 school year because there was not a large enough student population for the school to remain budget-neutral. The school board lifted the suspension for the 2015-16 school year, placing the school back into operation. The subject of the school has emerged among community and administrative groups in discussions about next year's budget.
At Maybell Elementary School, eight students, ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade, learn in a single classroom, moving from their desks to the front of the room, where they read or work on other sorts of lessons with Kilmer. At their desks, they work on assignments and — sharing five iPads — use programs such as Xtra Math to hone their skills. Kilmer noted that, throughout the various activities, a constant focus on learning remained acute.
"We concentrate on all things educational," she said.
The school may be the last, of its kind in the state. Staff members at the Colorado Department of Education say they don't know of any other one-classroom school still operating in Colorado.
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Although students are working on different projects during the day, connections do tend to develop — and sometimes, they're unseen at first.
"We were doing geometry with fourth grade, talking about line segments," Kilmer recalled, describing the work she did at the table up front. "And then, later, my first grader said, out of the blue when I was working with him, 'Look, Mrs. Kilmer; here's a line segment.' So it spills over."
Kilmer called that an example of the "incidental learning" that often occurs in the classroom.
Students also work with each other. Jason Musser, a parent who volunteers at the school, gestured to his son Tanner, a fifth-grader, who was reading to a kindergarten student. Musser explained the way reading to a younger student helps Tanner keep focus and improve his own reading — and also to enjoy the process of reading out loud to an accepting younger listener.
"It's just kind of a neat learning experience," Musser said.
"It's nice to read to someone, and it helps to teach someone how to read," Tanner said.
Principal Amber Clark lauded the work of Kilmer, who came to the school this fall with 25 years of teaching experience. Almost all of that teaching took place in Wyoming, with some of the instruction occurring in rural school settings. Clark described Kilmer's work as mirroring "the best practices from district elementary schools" at Maybell.
"We value that all kids have a similar educational experience," Clark said.
Clark said Kilmer has worked especially hard to incorporate best practice models for reading, math and writing into the lessons at Maybell.
On Monday, some students at Maybell spoke with eagerness about their writing.
"We can sometimes write whatever we want and have details," said fourth-grader Deanna Floeter. "And people listen to you when you write."
When Deanna said that, Kilmer motioned to a stool near the front of the classroom.
"They share (their writing) on this stool right here," Kilmer said.
Students had completed a writing assignment about George Washington on Monday, producing small essays that grew more intricate with each grade level.
The school has one kindergartner, two first-graders, one third-grader, three fourth-graders and one fifth-grader.
"That's the difficult part about this," Kilmer said. "I have five curriculums to activate."
Those curricular demands, Kilmer said, frequently lead to evening and weekend work. It's also where the work of the parent volunteers and teacher's aide, Darvy Christiansen, comes into play. Christiansen began her work on Monday, with experience in a number of educational settings, including work at childcare centers and experience as a teacher's aide at a Montessori school. She drives a bus for the Moffat County School District, picking up children in Browns Park.
Christiansen described the way she observes students to get a sense of their learning styles.
"I watch them and listen," she said. Then, she explained, she might guide them with a bit of spelling or math help, depending on what they need.
Kilmer noted that visiting experts come to the classroom to help teach art and science, as well.
Musser, whose children, Tanner and Orion, are students in the class, comes about twice per week to help out. Musser also said he helps out with physical education, lunch breaks and other tasks. He said other parents also come in, including Carrie Broom and April McIntyre. Parents also pack students' lunches — there's no other school lunch served — and help out in a number of other ways.
Musser said he often works with the school's youngest student, who's in kindergarten.
"We do spelling, and I help him to sound out his letters," said Musser, who noted the way students learn from each other.
"Every kid," he said, "is picking up something from the kid next to him."