LA PLATA, Md. (January 16, 2019)—Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School has received a national award in recognition of exceptional student achievement. The school now holds the title of National ESEA Distinguished School, and is the first school in Charles County to receive the designation. Schools are nominated for the honor by their respective state education agency and only two schools per state receive the designation annually.
The award recognizes schools in one of three categories: exceptional student performance for two consecutive years; closing the achievement gap between student groups; and excellence in serving special populations of students. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy was honored in the area of exceptional student performance for two consecutive years.
The award, administered by the National Association of ESEA, or Elementary and Secondary Education Act, State Program Administrators (NAESPA) recognizes Title I schools for outstanding achievements. Title I is a federal program that provides additional funding to schools with students who are economically disadvantaged in order to promote equal access. There are seven Title I elementary schools in Charles County, and Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy has qualified for the federal program for more than 30 years.
According to Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Principal William Miller, student achievement increased because of several factors. Staff maintain their focus on high expectations and continue to develop student engagement strategies for use in areas such as guided reading and math. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy teachers participate in targeted professional development, such as how to use formative assessment, to help monitor student performance. Formative assessment is the process of using student data from tests and activities to review student progress.
Formative assessment helps teachers analyze a student's understanding of content or a subject, and determine areas where lessons can be focused to allow students to better grasp the curriculum. Examples include class discussions, small group lessons and learning games to homework problems and warm-up activities. The data helps school staff develop instructional strategies to increase achievement.
"Data analysis has contributed to the academic success of students at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School. Collaborative instructional plans for meeting the needs of students have been developed during weekly, monthly and quarterly data meetings. We have taken a team approach to meet the needs of students," Miller said.
Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy also prioritizes family involvement. Each year, parents complete an activity with school staff in which they work together to develop a shared vision for academic achievement. The Parent-Teacher-Organization (PTO), as well as the school's parent liaison, works collaboratively with school staff to refine programs available for parents so they can support their children at home. Some of the programs hosted by the school include a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) night, family game/behavior night and a family reading/art night.
Miller said staff work with parents during school events to provide trainings. "Staff during our Math and Stem Night teach parents how to help their children at home with math. During our Family Game/Behavior Night, we discuss with parents the importance of taking time to connect and play games with their child, and learn behavior strategies they can use at home," Miller said.
Another parental involvement goal for Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy was increasing a positive male role model presence in the school for students. The school developed its Watch DOGS, or Dads of Great Students, program to invite father figures into the school on a weekly basis to work with students. Miller said Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy is unique in nature because it fits the definition of a true community school.
"Our school is truly a community-based school. Our families support our initiatives and value the time their children spend with us. We meet the needs of the whole child by building relationships, providing engaging and rigorous learning experiences as well as meeting social needs of our students. Our teachers care about our children and provide a nurturing environment of love and mutual respect," Miller said.
Within the past 20 years, Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy has grown from a school that was once labeled by the state as a school in improvement for achievement gaps among students to one of the top performing elementary schools in Charles County. Kristin Shields is the Title I Director for Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) and a former principal and vice principal at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy. During her tenure, she helped to implement consistent instructional strategies for students, developed a strong relationship with the Nanjemoy community and fostered parental involvement.
In her experience as an administrator, and now as a director over Title I schools in Charles County, Shields agrees that what makes Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy a unique school is teamwork.
"The school is located in a rural setting and is the hub of the community. The education of children in Nanjemoy is a team effort. The community takes great pride in the school and the school takes great pride in the community. The relationship between school and community is what makes the school so special," Shields said.
Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy staff is hosting a ceremony at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24 to celebrate the award and the successes of students, staff and the school community. During the ceremony, Miller will present an award banner that will hang in the school. Additionally, Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy and CCPS will be honored alongside other schools chosen for recognition by the NAESPA at the ESEA Conference Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
The National ESEA Distinguished Schools Program recognizes qualifying federally-funded schools for outstanding student achievements. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides additional resources for vulnerable students and federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of public education.