Quality Teachers, Quality Learning
The teachers and staff at St. Nicholas Catholic School work hard to create a caring, Christian environment that is conducive to learning for all individuals, regardless of learning styles. Through continuous research, professional development, varied means of assessment, and other instructional methodology, the staff provides opportunities for students to have ownership in their learning and is well equipped to maximize learning for all students.
The staff of St. Nicholas knows that quality education starts with quality teachers that are held to high standards. In accordance with state and diocesan standards, all head teachers at the school must hold a valid teaching certificate, clear a state/federal background check, complete the Safe Environment Workshop, and attend opportunities for professional development. This is made possible in part through the excellent working relationship St. Nicholas Catholic School has with the Minidoka County School District, which extends an open invitation to the staff to attend their professional training workshops. The school also supports professional development efforts, with the aid of Title II funds, such as the state district conferences and workshops.
Teachers and administration are expected to work together for the good of all students, including students in other classes. Teachers are also expected to communicate clearly and often with parents about student growth and expectations. This is accomplished through weekly letters, progress and report cards, and conversations via phone and email. One effective, pro-active method of communication is the formal screening process used to assess incoming Kindergarteners for readiness skills. Prospective kindergarten students are assessed on basic academic and social skills to determine if kindergarten is the correct placement for the child.
Equally as important as quality teachers is a quality curriculum. Using a research based curriculum helps to ensure the success of students. St. Nicholas School uses curriculum that has been approved within the local school district or by the Catholic Dioceses. When possible, curriculum is updated and supplemented with current sources. The curriculum is also enriched through a variety of faith-filled activities to strengthen Catholic identity among students. Daily devotionals are used in classrooms, which are sometimes led by students. Aspects of the Catholic faith are woven throughout the curriculum whenever possible, such as using spelling words in sentences about Jesus.
Another teaching methodology used at St. Nicholas Catholic School is varying the size of instructional groups. Students often receive direct instruction as a whole class, which then leads to guided practice and independent practice. Other times, students break into small groups for cooperative learning. Students identified as needing additional instruction receive one on one tutoring from a volunteer reading specialist, a Title I teacher, an aide, or from peer tutors provided by the local junior high and high school.
In areas such as reading comprehension, teachers often use scaffolding as an effective instructional methodology. Comprehension strategies are explicitly modeled, after which students are encouraged to use the strategies independently. Graphic organizers, including Venn diagrams, Know-Want to Know-Learn charts, and webs are used in each grade level.
Manipulatives are also a source of effective methodology. These are used as learning tools, which are incorporated into math, science, and reading instruction. Manipulatives include student clocks, tangrams, linking cubes, letter cards, whisper phones, and even stuffed animals in reading.
Accommodating Different Learning Styles
The staff at St. Nicholas are careful to accommodate different learning styles of students to encourage ownership of their learning. Fifth Grade students complete three research projects, one being on a saint. These assignments include written and oral reports and a poster as a visual aid. For clarity of expectations, a rubric is used as a scoring tool for the teacher and the student. Additionally, homework can be tailored to individual student needs when appropriate.
Technology is used in several ways in the classroom to maximize achievement for all students. Students in First through Fifth Grades participate in computer classes. The Waterford Reading Program is used daily in Kindergarten to compliment curriculum. Fifth Grade students create a slide show for their graduation ceremony. Technological tools available to teachers includes wireless internet access, laptops, Elmo document cameras, projectors, and a MOBI system with student clickers that provide instant feedback on student learning. Students are also encouraged to use the computer during workshop times. In addition, the Read Naturally program is used to help struggling readers and to challenge those who excel at reading. All students are able to use the Accelerated Reading computer program, which assesses reading comprehension upon completion of a book.
To determine the effectiveness of the instructional methodologies, teachers use assessments, formally and informally, to design and monitor instruction in order to enhance student learning. By varying the types of assessments, teachers can better evaluate and meet the needs of all students.
Some assessments at St. Nicholas are more structured and are used to help place students according to their needs. These include the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI), standardized (MAP Measuring Academic Progress) testing, and Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. The standardized MAP test is used for reading placement in the upper grades. Grades three to five are leveled in Reading and Language, and the MAP assessment is one of the factors that is used to determine placement.