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One Little School on the Prairie Has Big Achievements

March 24, 2014
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One Little School on the Prairie Has Big Achievements
The first day of school at Wasmer-Elementary-School. Wasmer Elementary School
A Nebraska elementary school scores high marks despite its poverty rate.

Money can’t buy you brains. And it can’t purchase you good grades, either. But just because you’re lacking financial resources doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve academic success.

The rural community of Grand Island, Nebraska is populated with many families that live below the poverty line; they make their living packing meat, processing potatoes into French fries, and working at fast-food restaurants. At the town’s Wasmer Elementary School, there are twice as many Latino students as white, and 86 percent of the kids live in poverty. Based upon this, statistics would normally suggest that the school’s standardized test scores wouldn’t  be so hot.

But astonishingly, Wasmer Elementary K-5 students score as high as children enrolled at the most affluent schools in the state, with 91 percent of kids achieving math proficiency and 87 percent reading proficiently — thanks to the concerted effort of their teachers, principal, and staff.

Principal Betty Desaire told Joe Dejka of the Omaha World Herald that there isn’t any magic formula to the school’s achievements, which come from a combination of high expectations, focusing on each child’s needs, and emphasizing the importance of testing and learning math facts. Additionally, the school holds students accountable for completing homework, and itinvolves everyone in the school — including the lunchroom staff and the janitors — in making sure the kids succeed. Wasmer is so in tune with her students’ needs that at the school carnival last year, the most popular prize the PTA offered was a new bed, because some kids don’t have a proper place to sleep.

“Betty Desaire and the school staff, they just get it, so much,” Wasmer PTA member Tracy Overstreet Gartner told Dejka, “And they are focusing on each kid individually. It’s incredible. They make it a team effort. … I get emotional about this because it’s so great.” For its achievements, in 2013 Wasmer Elementary School was named a Title I Distinguished School along with 45 other high-poverty schools across the United States.

Principal Desaire is due to retire at the end of the year, but everyone believes that the system she put in place will continue to help Wasmer’s students beat expectations for years to come.

MORE: Music Can Change A Troubled Kid’s Life. Here’s the Proof.

 

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