July 18th, 2019

meadowlark redesign projectThese Meadowlark Elementary School students put the finishing touches on their handmade guitar during a recent music class. Since the redesign effort has been implemented, it has been going very successfully throughout USD 480, according to staff. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


USD 480 was excited when it was announced two of the district’s schools would be part of a redesign effort throughout the state and since the redesign effort’s implementation, everything has been going well throughout the district. 

Meadowlark Elementary School was one of the two USD 480 schools chosen for the project, and much progress has been made in that building with all the redesign efforts. 

“We were in front of the board about a year ago and told them about our plans and what all we would do, and I would admit a lot of us are probably as stressed and nervous as we were then,” Meadowlark teacher Jennifer Hyde said at the most recent USD 480 school board meeting Monday evening. “But it’s good stress – we’re changing and growing and seeing a lot of good things happen in the building. We’re very grateful for the opportunity to redesign our school. It was a great opportunity and a lot of work, but the growth we’ve seen from the students and the culture we’ve created at our school is the best thing ever and that’s what we hear from a lot of people who come in and talk to us. We want to reiterate how the reason we wanted to do the redesign was because we wanted our students to reach their dreams and that may seem menial, but once you get to know the staff and the students and everyone, you’ll understand that and why we want so much for everyone to reach their dreams, whatever they are.”

Hyde then went into some more detail about some of the things done through the redesign, including Mighty Mondays (during which there is more time fro personal learning time and dramatic play) as well as new partnerships with some of the other USD 480 schools. 

“We’ve really changed the culture in our school. We’ve seen a huge difference with that and I think a big reason for that is because of the interactions within the building,” Hyde said. “Our students aren’t isolated anymore into just fourth grade or just fifth grade, what have you, we’re all interacting all the time. A big example of that is the Thanksgiving dinner we had in November – all of our students attended that and we had a lot of community members who came in and helped with everything, so that interaction is great. We also have our school families, and that’s actually helped us see how the students are happier and more ready to be at school. With the new programs we’ve implemented, personalized learning time was one of our biggest goals to achieve and with that collaboration, our teachers use that data from those programs to design personalized lessons for small groups along with the individual students. We’ve also seen a lot of success with our special needs students – we have a high population of those students in our building who require that one-on-one attention, and they have more inclusion this year than they have ever had before, and that’s because of our teachers’ willingness, so they’re not just isolated, and that’s something I’m particularly proud of that’s close to my heart.”

Another thing the staff is proud of from the redesign project is Student Choice and Voice. 

“It’s so important when we have visitors come into our building, one thing they love is how they have a choice,” Meadowlark Elementary School Assistant Principal Melinda Cline said. “It starts out very first thing in the morning with what do they want to do – they can come and get breakfast for a few minutes and then they can go to the gym and have their choice of stations for about 20 minutes or so while the teachers are collaborating for what they want to do that day. Some of the things they get to choose from are gym activities – we’ve actually recently been able to include the outdoor playground in that since the weather’s started warming up, so they have that option to go outside before school. We also have a station where students can just come in and color, or they can go to the library. So they have those choices and they’re not just sitting in the gym getting in trouble. We also have some student ambassadors and they represent us so well. And the Mighty Mondays have been great and they have a ton of options about where they can go.”

Another part of the project staff has been proud of is how throughout the process, staff and faculty have been given more collaboration opportunities. 

“Throughout this process, the faculty and staff have really been given the opportunity that’s never been there for collaboration with other schools in Kansas and the schools in Liberal, which is just amazing,” Meadowlark Elementary School Instructional Coach Lyn Day said. “And that’s such a valuable resource for us no matter where we’re located since there are a lot of other schools going through this process, so that’s a powerful thing to come upon. Our teachers also realize our plan is a living thing almost  – it’s going to change and evolve, and that’s how it should be as we keep going through everything and discover more of what our students and faculty need, so we will be talking about what are some things that can be improved. Even though everything looks really good and we’re excited about everything that’s happened so far, we’re going to still keep working on it. We’re also going to be getting a new interventionist next year, so another conversation we’ll be having is how do we use the human resources we already have and maximize that? We know some of these tweaks we’ll be making will come up and be talked about more, but there are quite a few we’ll be taking about before too long.”

Meadowlark Elementary School Principal Shawna Evans added more about the collaboration that has gone on throughout the redesign process, particularly with other schools in the state. Evans added how much the students love the Mighty Mondays that happen and said having such programs has bettered the students’ moods and even increased attendance.

“One of our responsibilities as a Mercury 7 school is we had to agree to host other schools from around the state so they can come see what we’re doing and learn from us,” Evans said. “We ask our visitors at the end of there visit ‘What is your overall takeaway?’ and that can include some things we maybe need to do differently. They usually visit for only a few hours and we’ve heard a lot of positive things. Some of our visitors have included local teachers and we’ve also had teachers come to us from Olathe, Lyons – we’ve had more than 160 visitors so far. We’d love to see more people come visit us and see us and our students in action and see the changes that have been made throughout the building because there are a lot of awesome things that have been going on. The great thing we’re hearing and that we can relate to is when they see us, they tell us ‘We have not thought outside the box far enough, we’ve been limiting ourselves,’ so seeing what we’ve done in USD 480 has opened their eyes to other things they can do, and that’s great. And to a degree, that’s actually where a lot of our teachers were last year when all this was getting started – they weren’t dreaming hard enough and were really restraining themselves. So I feel we’ve really dreamed big, and that’s something the other schools have seen, and that means we’re moving in a positive direction, which is great.”

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