Blue Ribbon for local school

Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary School is covered in blue ribbons to celebrate the school receiving national recognition for its success.

The U.S. Department of Education named Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary a National Blue Ribbon School last week. The school was recognized for closing student achievement gaps over five years.

Cindy Chauvin is the new principal over at Pointe-Aux-Chenes. She and her staff have already started putting up blue ribbons and decorating the fence outside to proclaim their victory. Chauvin said the big news has already spread around town.

“It’s exciting for the entire community, it’s hitting Facebook, you know with social media now. It’s truly sending a wonderful message throughout this community that the teachers and students here take pride in what they do,” Chauvin said.

Chauvin credited community involvement as a big part of the small school’s success. The 157-student, Pre-K-through-fourth grade school relies on parent contributions both on campus and at home to improve student performance.

“They are truly a remarkable group of parents,” Chauvin said.

Sandy Chaisson has a third grader at Pointe-Aux-Chenes. She has been helping the school library deal with the hectic book fair. Chaisson, herself a former student here, said her deep roots push her to help the school however she can.

“I love it. I came here when I was in third grade, and I’ve been here since,” Chaisson said.

The U.S. Education Department awarded the school with Blue Ribbon recognition based primarily on its sharp improvement among standardized tests for third and fourth graders. Third graders take Integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, called the iLEAP test, while fourth graders take the LEAP test. The school’s improvement raised its status from a “C” school to a “B” school, according to Chauvin.

Key to the school’s improvement was a system the school designed itself. The system keeps teachers’ data on each child’s performance and utilizes that data to help educators understand what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are. Teachers keep each student’s scores from different practice tests in a folder so they have a file of what each child needs to work on.

Sandra Sevin, assistant principal at Lisa Park Elementary in Houma, served as principal at Pointe-Aux-Chenes and helped devise the student assessment system. Sevin said that the method used at her former school is intuitive.

“It makes sense that we’re getting this data that shows exactly what students are missing to use that as best we can.” Sevin said. “Which is, focus on exactly what they’re missing. And when they bring those students in small groups or an individual and go over that specific skill, sometimes they find out it’s not that skill but a skill prior to that that they need.”

Holly Hebert of Bourg has taught fourth grade at Pointe-Aux-Chenes for 15 years. She has been at the school before she even graduated college, starting as a student assistant while still at Nicholls. While Holly praises what her school’s system has done to help teachers help students, she says the children deserve the largest ovation.

“I give the credit to the students. They work so hard. And we have great communication with the parents. We’re a team,” Hebert said.

Hebert also cites the deep parent involvement as critical to student achievement. However, that presents its own problem when she teaches math.

“Our parents are really involved in our kids’ homework and school. So the ‘new math’ [as] they call it, they had a hard time transitioning, but it seems to be going well,” she said.

She mentioned her own struggles with transitioning to the “new math,” but she calls the experience “eye-opening.”

“Our kids are going to be able to go into algebra in high school with such a deeper understanding of math than what we did,” Hebert said.

Erica Yanner has been Hebert’s colleague since 2004, and has taught third graders since 2007. Yanner, a member of the leadership team at Pointe-Aux-Chenes, says the system her team came up with does not just focus on struggling students.

“Even kids that score As or Bs, if I know they can improve, or there was a misconception, then that goes into their folder,” Yanner said. “And we work on pulling them on a one-on-one basis and correcting any misconceptions. Seeing what exactly they’re missing in the process.”

While Chauvin says that teachers start preparing students for their big end-of-year tests on the first day of school, Yanner says that a good learning process throughout the year will yield good results for the students.

“It’s not just for the big test, because in the end you want them to be successful on what you’re teaching them. So if you’re working on that goal, you’ll be successful on the test,” Yanner said.

Sevin said that she received the letter congratulating PAC of its Blue Ribbon Nomination on Jan. 21, and had until March 20 to turn in the application for the award. Sevin said she worked hard with Jennifer Bergeron, grant liaison for the Terrebonne Parish School District, on completing the application. What once looked like an imposing 25-page submission turned into a struggle for space.

“At first I was thinking, ‘Oh, wow. 25 pages, that’s going to be tough.’ But what was really tough was condensing those pages, because there were so many good things to write about Pointe-Aux-Chenes.” Sevin said.

Though she fretted over the process of completing the form, Sevin never doubted her school’s credentials.

“I have to say, I’m an extreme optimist. But I knew that if we were nominated, our students and teachers were going to come through,” she said.

When Pointe-Aux-Chenes officials checked the Education Department’s website for its update with winner names, the staff saw a certain elementary school from the bayou on the list. They announced the news over the intercom to spread the joy through PAC’s halls.

Chaisson said, “I was excited. I was in the work room, doing some stuff for the book fair, and we all said ‘Yayyy!’”

The U.S. Education Department will honor the school on the weekend of Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C. Each winning school will receive a plaque and a flag marking its status as a Blue Ribbon school. Chauvin sees the honor as deserved payoff for her staff’s efforts.

“It’s so exciting for the teachers, because they are so dedicated, they put in so many long hours. They stay after school, there are some that’ll stay here until 6 o’clock in the evening,” she said.

While the honor is a concrete reward for the entire Pointe-Aux-Chenes community, Yanner says the real payoff happens each day.

“What feels good is at the end of the day when you see that ‘click’ for the kids, when you see them actually get it,” Yanner said. “The scores are great, but they’re just the validation from the ‘click.’”

The school does not plan on resting on its laurels, however. The next step is to improve to an “A” rating, according to Chauvin and Yenner. The commitment to improvement and to the community has even weakened Hebert’s homesickness at Pointe-Aux-Chenes, she admitted.

“I grew up in Bourg, so I always said I wanted to go back to Bourg. But this is my home,” she said. •