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Our View...Student achievement is all about the kids

With all of the whiteboards, iPads and sophisticated computer technology in today's classrooms, it's hard to believe that a high five in the hallway or a few extra minutes of individual attention would yield even greater results. Admittedly, technology has advanced education to greater and greater heights, but there's nothing quite like the personal touch to put some students back on track when they're struggling.

Word this week that Churchill Elementary in Cloquet has been ranked second in the state in Native American student achievement is proof positive that the little school of 530 students is doing something right.

The school, along with Washington Elementary, Cloquet Middle School and Cloquet High School, attracted the attention of the state non-profit educational advocacy group known as MinnCAN. Its representatives were in town on Tuesday to find out what the local schools are doing right to boost the performance of their significant populations of Native American students to new heights.

Churchill Indian Education Coordinator Phil Beadle boiled it all down to the simple precepts of caring and communication. He and the school's Title One teachers are part of a recently instituted program of intervention block scheduling that takes students in need of extra help in math and reading out of the classroom at prescribed times of the day and provides individualized learning in groups of six. Since all of the targeted students go at a common time, the classroom teacher's lesson plans aren't interrupted, there's an opportunity for enrichment projects for those who stay behind and there is no longer the stigma surrounding being taken out of class for "special help."

The program is supported by the total "buy in" of all the school's staff and teachers, who lend support and input at every bend in the road, from student appraisals to team data retreats and parent-teacher conferences.

A number of the school's Native American students have benefited greatly from the learning intervention program. They not only receive one-on-one help when needed, but they gain cultural reinforcement along the way, designed to develop positive attitudes about themselves and school.

Beadle and his co-workers weave subtle cultural overtones into their learning plans as a means of positive reinforcement rather than out-and-out instruction. Beadle also interacts with students on a more informal basis in the lunch room, on the playground, at sports events and yes -- with frequent high fives in the hallways.

The approach has already begun to yield positive results for Native American students (and non-Native students as well) at Churchill and the other three local schools. That's a good thing for Cloquet, and a good thing for education.