MARQUETTE - K.I. Sawyer Elementary School Principal Sandra Petrovich couldn't be prouder of her school's Michigan Department of Education designation as a school that's "Beating the Odds" for the second year in a row.
"I'm very proud of our school, to have this designation again," Petrovich said. "I think it speaks about the hard work of all of the staff members here, as well as the students, who are taking their education seriously."
Last year, the MDE conducted a study that identified 60 schools that performed above predicted academic levels, based on risk factors that included the percentages of economically disadvantaged students, of students with disabilities, of English language learners and of minority students. Those projected academic levels were based on data collected during the 2010-2011 school year.
Noah Lery, 7, works with his teacher Lisa Belpedio on his phonics at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School. The school has worked to increase the academic acheivement of its students and has gained notice from the state for its progress. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The department used a similar model in determining this year's "Beating the Odds" schools, using data collected during the 2011-2012 school year.
"Beating the Odds" schools were to be announced this week by the MDE.
Petrovich credits the success of her school to a community-wide effort that includes teachers, paraprofessionals, lunch workers and everyone else working inside the school building, as well as the students and their parents.
"It truly takes a whole village to educate a child and because of the care that the staff has towards students' needs beyond their education, kids can feel safe coming to school," Petrovich said. "They know they're cared for and they get a good education because of the amount of work that each individual does within their position."
Second-grade teacher Lisa Belpedio's students know what to expect when they enter her classroom. They know it's OK to ask questions, and they know if they need a little extra help, with academic troubles or other problems they may be having, she's an adult they can turn to.
"It feels wonderful," Belpedio said of earning the designation for a second year in a row. "We provide a safe learning environment in school where they feel our support. They're not scared or worried, they know it's OK to not know stuff and that's why they're here, to learn. If they already knew everything, they wouldn't be here."
The staff works to identify students who may be struggling in certain areas, such as math or reading, and intervenes before the problem begins to spin out of control. Combining small group work with individualized instruction, the school has been able to keep its students on track, academically and behaviorally, Petrovich said.
One of the biggest challenges the school faces every day is a higher-than-average rate of poverty among its students. Sometimes, the kids don't do well in school because of things that are totally out of their control. To help combat these types of issues, the district tries to offer resources for its students that don't necessarily involve academics.
For example, K.I. Sawyer Elementary School now offers free breakfast to its students every day to ensure their minds aren't wandering during class because of an empty stomach.
Petrovich said it's programs like that one, and the bonds between the students and the staff, that help build a sense of community she feels is unique to K.I. Sawyer Elementary.
"I believe the community that we've developed here starts with building relationships with kids and those are one-on-one relationships so when students come in the building," Petrovich said. "They'll come to an adult and talk about their weekend The adults recognize the individual needs of the students beyond their academic needs.
"It feels special here," she added. "It feels special here because of the climate that we have built for learning. I've not seen any school like it."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.