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Staff photo by Sabrina Bodon / Fairyland Elementary School's new floating aquaponics lab will become a space for students to interact with science in hands-on and practical ways.

As principal Jeremy Roerdink walks through the halls of Fairyland Elementary School, he stops to point out stories written by third-graders. The walls serve as a colorful showcase of the work students have completed in their classes.

The school's curriculum recently garnered it a College and Career Ready Performance Index score of 97.7 from the Georgia Department of Education — making it 12th of all the schools in the state and ninth of all the elementary schools, according to district media specialist Melissa Cairns.

"Considering there are 2,200 schools in Georgia and 1.6 million students, this is the highest ranking in the history of the school, which makes this score simply amazing and unprecedented," she wrote in an email announcing the new score Nov. 11.

The recognition of the school isn't just at the state level. FES was named a 2020 Best Public Elementary School in the Chattanooga Area by Niche, a website that provides reviews and surveys on neighborhoods and schools. Niche used factors like state comparison test scores, student-teacher ratios, student diversity, teacher quality, student grades and the quality of the school district to determine the rankings, which include several Greater Chattanooga-area counties.

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Staff photo by Sabrina Bodon / Fairyland Elementary School principal Jeremy Roerdink stands in the school's new library nook. The library staff engages students at an interactive LEGO board, in answering a daily question on a whiteboard, or allowing them to simply read in the nook.

Roerdink said part of the reason for these recent honors has to do with exposing students to a breadth of topics.

The school recently opened a floating aquaponics lab on campus, and this year is the first they will be able to use the facility. The greenhouse will become a space for students to interact with science, learning new ways to grow crops.

"It's basically a learning lab where kids innovate and fail," Roerdink said. "There are no directions, there are no rules. We're going to discover together. I would say we're going to kill some fish and kill some plants, but then we're gonna ask the question, 'Why did that happen?'"

The school began raising funds for the lab in August 2016. Part of the efforts included students writing persuasive essays to encourage local businesses to donate.

Roerdink became principal in 2010, and over the near-decade he's been leading, he's seen the school's population become more diversified. Diversity in the school is one of the most important ways for students to grow socially, he said.

About 30% of students are on free or reduced-price lunch, Roerdink said. Fairyland teaches roughly 300 students in grades pre-K through fifth. Niche gave the school a B-minus for its diversity.

"We have one of the biggest geographical regions from Walker County Schools," said Roerdink. "I could show you some of the wealthiest and I could show you some of the poorest. But they all come here and they all hang out together. It's good for them to see the real world."

Email Sabrina Bodon at sbodon@timesfreepress.com.sbodon@timesfreepress.com

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