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February 11, 2010

Project SOAR: ULM's partnership with Cypress Point University Elementary School taken to new heights

The University of Louisiana at Monroe's College of Education and Human Development and Cypress Point University Elementary touted on Thursday, Feb. 11, a successful professional development school program implemented at the school.

Project SOAR - a program that positively affects the lives of ULM teacher-candidates, local elementary students, their parents, and educators - stemmed from a 2008 conference of the National Association for Professional Development Schools in New Orleans.

SOAR (Shared decision-making, Ongoing and equal partnerships, Assessment-based interventions and Reciprocity of resources) is the brainchild of Dr. Lynn Clark, Assistant Professor and Professional Development School Coordinator for ULM, and Ann Cook, Principal for Cypress Point University Elementary. Clark and Cook came away from the NAPDS conference committed to producing a winning situation for both schools.

ULM President James E. Cofer spoke about the importance of community outreach as integral to the university's mission, and exemplified by the ULM-Cypress Point partnership.

"We strongly believe in the power of working together to effect change," he said. "Our College of Education and Human Development instills that philosophy in the minds of our teacher-candidates, your future teachers. While gaining invaluable real-world experience, these future teachers are contributing to an initiative that addresses the literacy needs of our children."

ULM College of Education and Human Development Dean Sandra Lemoine commended Clark's partnership with Cook, saying it has forged an excellent working environment at the university school.

"Dr. Clark has been with us for only a few years, and in this short time she has a driving force for so many great things that have been happening at our college," said Lemoine. "In addition, she sought grant funding to help pay for expenses she foresaw that would make this program highly successful for students and our teacher-candidates."

Today that funding is helping Project SOAR to be a fully operating three-level program that entails the collaboration of ULM faculty, teacher-candidates, Cypress Point administrators and teachers addressing the identified achievement needs of Cypress Point students.

Level one and level two of this program consist of ULM faculty like Dr. Beth Ricks and Shalanda Stanley who hold their college classes in Early Literacy and Intermediate Literacy in Cypress Point once a week for their teacher-candidates. Teacher-candidates then take their prepared lessons and activities to Cypress Point students in their classrooms.

Level three of the project, implemented by Dr. Ava Pugh involves teacher-candidates in social and community aspects of education by contributing to parent-teacher nights out and other after-school functions.

"Both parties involved learn from each other, the Cypress Point students are provided more individual attention as the ULM candidates gain experience in the field of supervising elementary students," said Pugh.

The program benefits students who receive high-quality instruction and have opportunities for more individual assistance from additional instructors in the classroom. Teachers at Cypress Point benefit from the ability improve student test scores and teacher-candidates are developing skills they need to become successful full-time teachers.

"Every class and student has unique learning challenges that are being addressed in a targeted manner," said Cook. "What is also telling is that our teachers have pointed out to me that their students are excited to be in school the days teacher-candidates are working in their classrooms."

A team of educators from ULM and Cypress Point are invited to share the program model and its successes at the 2010 Professional Development Schools National Conference in Orlando.

"The outlook is promising for our community as we seek to implement this model into more schools. It is hoped that more communities across the nation will be able to implement this model into their educational systems," said Lemoine.


In an effort to meet the needs of the university faculty and teacher candidates, the site principal provided an empty classroom and desks for the university classes, but the room was lacking presentation technology that was available in other site classrooms (e.g., Smartboard, Elmo document camera).

Although the project was originally unfunded, university faculty applied for and received state funding for a service learning grant that provides the necessary presentation technology for the site classroom as well as 6+1 Trait Writing classroom kits for both teacher candidates and site teachers.

The program is operating all three levels, involving approximately 120 teacher-candidates working with approximately 60 elementary students for 30 to 45 minutes once a week. As new semesters begin, new teacher-candidates enter at level one of the program and more experienced teacher-candidates move into levels two and three.

"The ongoing rotation allows teacher-candidates to see how their efforts are impacting students over the course of several semesters. This brings validity and invaluable insight to the teacher-candidates and the program," said Clark.

ULM teacher-candidates prepare weekly lessons based on a review of student test scores, including iLEAP and DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) scores, and Cypress Point teachers' assessment of student achievement needs.

While the project is still in its initial stages, preliminary data from standardized testing suggest that the DIBELS literacy interventions are resulting in significant increases in student achievement for both those students below benchmark and those students who were already reading on grade level.

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