published Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Orchard Knob boot camp sets pace for TCAP

Orchard Knob Middle School seventh-graders, Dereke Townsend, Leontay Burns and Taylor Jefferson, from  left,  participate in an Academic Bootcamp at The Chattanoogan hotel. The bootcamp was held to help prepare students for the TCAP and state assessments schools will take in April.
Orchard Knob Middle School seventh-graders, Dereke Townsend, Leontay Burns and Taylor Jefferson, from left, participate in an Academic Bootcamp at The Chattanoogan hotel. The bootcamp was held to help prepare students for the TCAP and state assessments schools will take in April.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Orchard Knob students playing a game of "Jeopardy!" hosted by a teacher in camouflage pants may become a more common occurrence for the middle school.

"We are doing school differently," Principal Crystal Sorrells said.

Orchard Knob's TCAP Boot Camp is one of the innovative strategies the school is trying.

Boot Camp ran Wednesday through Friday, and during these days students answered questions about forms of government, photosynthesis and Isaac Newton's first law of inertia in a place other than their traditional classrooms.

At Boot Camp students rotated among three ballrooms in The Chattanoogan.

Teachers were dressed for the occasion in camo, and students spent an entire school day with their grade reviewing for the upcoming TCAP tests, the state standardized tests that measure academic achievement. Projectors and iPads filled the rooms, along with bingo boards and maps of the world, as students answered questions similar to those that will be on their exams in April.

Sorrells, in her second year at Orchard Knob, was formerly a math teacher in Charlotte, N.C., where she developed the idea of running a boot camp for her students.

"As a teacher I learned to develop a culture and climate for learning," she said. "The kids deserve dynamic learning, especially in urban schools."

Seventh-grader Tymia Carnes said the boot camp is a good way to prepare for the TCAP. She feels less nervous about the test this year because she feels more prepared.

"Everything that we are doing here is like what we do in class, but it's more fun to be somewhere special like this," she said. "If we learn outside of the classroom, me and my peers get a better understanding."

Ethan Evans, in his second year teaching at Orchard Knob, enjoys being out of the classroom with his students and helping them learn in a different environment.

"Kids are more focused, and I get to be a game show host," he said.

Sorrells said the classroom work and efforts like boot camp ensure students are prepared for the exams and for high school and beyond.

"We are creating quality citizens and not just TCAP test-passers," she said.

Many in the community helped Boot Camp happen, said Shawanna Kendrick, who is the family partnership specialist at Orchard Knob.

It took one phone call to The Chattanoogan for the hotel to donate three ballrooms for the school to use, Kendrick said.

McDonald's helped by offering a significant discount on lunches. Other local support was offered by Brach Candy and the Chattanooga Bakery, along with speakers Russ Huesman, UTC football coach; Lurone Jennings, retired educator, coach and community stakeholder; and Eric "The Voice" Foster, a radio personality at WJTT-FM. Title I funds were appropriated for transportation to and from The Chattanoogan.

Several UTC students with GEAR UP, a national project designed to help low-income students succeed in school, volunteered to help facilitate activities.

Danysha McShay, a freshman at UTC, said she helps because "I know how stressful testing can be. I get the pressure [these kids] are under."

Students will be evaluating Boot Camp next week. TCAP test scores will be a factor in determining if this becomes an annual event for Orchard Knob.

Tymia enjoyed being in The Chattanoogan for the first time.

"It's really pretty in here, and I am trying to keep it clean because I really want to come back next year," she said. "I am honored to be here."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@gmail.com.

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