• Instruction is usually project-based, moving away from lecture-based to be more hands-on and flexible.
• Math teachers supplement the county's math curriculum with the Singapore Math Method, which emphasizes the use of drawing out models to solve problems.
• Reading instruction uses guided reading in small groups to meet students at their own levels.
• Students spend time each week learning through community field trips and projects.
• Students create quarterly exhibits, which are displayed on "museum nights" when students act as docents for parents.
• Discipline is based on the "Love and Logic" model, focused on building positive relationships, good decision-making and emphasizing individualized discipline rather than a one-size-fits-all.
Source: Normal Park Museum Magnet School
As the summer sun beats down and window air conditioners buzz, about 10 seventh-graders are busy multiplying fractions deep inside the quiet hallways of Normal Park Museum Magnet School.
Though it's the middle of their summer break, about 80 students are spending three weeks taking classes as part of the Great Start at Normal Park program. The classes -- being held for the first time this summer -- are meant to help struggling students and give a boost to those who are learning English as a second language or who are new to Normal Park, including students living in the Hill City neighborhood and Fairmount Apartments, both new to the school.
In January, the Hamilton County school board approved a plan to phase in students from Hill City into Normal Park's zone by allowing in five kindergartners each year. The Chattanooga Housing Authority's Fairmount complex opened in May inside Normal Park's zone.
Normal Park's three-week session will help new students get acclimated to the school's culture and help them get caught up academically.
"We knew we were going to have a lot of new students at our school, especially low-income students," Principal Jill Levine said. "And we've also got kids who just need extra help."
The program, funded by a $34,000 grant from the Benwood Foundation, also will give teachers from across the county a glimpse into the teaching practices used at Normal Park. As the county's highest-performing school on state tests, Levine said she's often asked why other Hamilton County schools can't be more like Normal Park.
"This is one of the ways we share what we do," she said.
Lakeside Academy reading teacher Meliah Smith will give up four days of her summer vacation to observe Normal Park teachers. Her principal recommended observing at the North Chattanooga school, and she said she's heard great things from relatives who attended school there.
"It's always good to learn from other teachers' teaching strategies," she said. "I have just heard very great reviews on how they challenge their students and carry out instruction."
GIVING UP SUMMER BREAK
Normal Park history teacher Arielle Garcia, who is helping organize the summer program, said it wasn't difficult to convince parents to bring their students in over the usual vacation time.
"A lot of parents were really excited to have the reinforcement," she said.
Aside from giving a boost to students who are behind, organizers expect the program to combat the learning loss that often occurs over the summer months. Summer break causes all students to lose some skills, especially in math, according to researchers from the nonprofit research think tank RAND Corp. In their book "Making Summer Count," the researchers claim the learning loss disproportionately hurts low-income students, particularly in reading.
And so far, students at the Normal Park session don't seem too bothered by attending school over break.
"They're so excited when they come and leave, they're not even thinking about it being summer," said first-grade teacher Megan Methvin, who is also organizing the program.
Ten-year-old Anaya Griggs will start sixth grade at Normal Park in August after attending Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School in the past. She recently moved into the Fairmount Apartments and said she's excited about starting at her new school.
As for attending school in the summer, that's more of a toss up, she said.
"The bad part is I'm losing summer,'" she said during a writing lesson. "But I'm also learning things before school starts, and I can get a good head start. I think Normal Park is going to be a great start for me and my family."
The summer classes look similar to those during the regular term, though each group has about 10 students or fewer, compared to classrooms that can climb to more than 20 students during the school year. Most of the grant money went toward salaries for the nine teachers.
On Tuesday, older students worked on complex math concepts and studied the elements of writing stories, while the youngest students were cutting out shapes and sounding out words and letters. By the end of the three weeks, teachers will know where students stand and what work still needs to be done when school starts in the fall.
And aside from academics, those new to Normal Park are learning the school's norms and expectations; they're even practicing the before-school pick-up and after school drop-off process.
"This really acclimates them to the way we do things at Normal Park," Garcia said.
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...