Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 25, 2013

Recipe for success

Wallace School of Integrated Arts outperforms all other elementary schools in the county

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — First-graders at Wallace School of Integrated Arts Thursday threw their hands to the left and then threw them to the right as they sang a canción that taught them to count to 15 in Spanish.

“Put your manos in el aire,” the teacher said.

One little boy asked her what that meant. Put your hands in the air, she responded.

She turned on the music, and her children sang and danced. Every now and then a child squealed in delight.

Another first-grade class worked with kindergartners to create a Halloween dictionary. They wrote out Halloween-themed vocabulary words and drew a picture to depict each one.

Principal Charley Hinkle popped in and out of classrooms to see what his students were learning about that day.

He paused in the hallways to show off all of the artwork his students had created in class. There were ice-cream and rainbow-shaped clouds of cotton balls a kindergarten class made.

There were collages of soil, pipe cleaners, noodles and strings.

Hinkle explained that the pieces of art are more than just artwork. Each one was a different lesson for the students.

The class that made the collages was learning about the properties of sand, clay, silt and organic matter. The collages showed what they found in the soil sample they collected. The noodles represented nutrients, and the pipe cleaners were bugs.

In case visitors mistake the projects for random pieces of art, there’s a card next to each one telling them otherwise. Teachers print out the cards to show people what standards went along with it.

“We really don’t want the feeling that all we do is dance and sing all day,” he said.

If anyone tries to argue that, though, all Hinkle has to do is show them his school’s test scores.

Every one of his third-graders passed the IREAD-3 test last year. Only Eastern Elementary School matched that.

And Wallace outperformed every elementary school in Howard County on the ISTEP test.

Just shy of 88 percent of its students passed both the math and English portions of the test last Spring. Western Intermediate School came in second, falling five percentage points behind Wallace.

Kokomo School Corp. Superintendent Jeff Hauswald said it’s been years since a school in his district has outperformed the county schools.

Hinkle’s feat was even more impressive when you consider the student population he’s working with, Hauswald said.

Wallace has a 30 percent minority population. Ten percent of its students have special needs, and 61 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

So what makes the school so successful?

Hinkle said it’s a combination of factors.

The district has pumped thousands of dollars into professional development for his teachers. All 13 classroom instructors went for training at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts over the summer.

So his teachers are qualified and eager to teach integrated arts, he said.

Hauswald said Wallace also has some of the most involved parents in the district, which helps a child leaps and bounds.

But mostly, Hinkle’s students do well because they like coming to school every day. He said he had students who didn’t want to leave for summer break last year.

Students at the school are in class an hour longer than students at most other schools. The day was extended to leave time for piano, violin and dance lessons on top of the core instruction.

The long days don’t seem to bother his students, though. Hinkle said he thinks they would even go for longer.

That’s because they’re engaged.

“The instructional delivery through the arts allows us to engage more students at a higher level,” Hinkle said. “Something usually happens during the day that connects with students whether that’s through the visual arts, dramatic arts. You wind up with good learning.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.