Named after a famous local author, Waterloo’s Edna Staebler Elementary School serves 865 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. It is the largest elementary school in its board. Projections indicate that it will surpass 1000 students within two years. It is a largely middle-class school, although there are some families living on the financial edge and receiving support from the school for groceries. The school has a distinct multicultural flavour, with 35% of students speaking a language other than English at home. Many of the parents are associated with the vibrant high-tech industry that is synonymous with the region.
A major emphasis at Edna Staebler is on cultivating a culture of inclusiveness, caring and healthy character development. Much attention and planning is directed to making children “world changers.” Values and attitudes are addressed and developed during media literacy classes and assemblies. During daily announcements, “soulfood stories” are shared. These stories teach respect, empathy and communication. Since all students in Grades 1–8 are immersed in these stories, the cumulative effect positively influences student behaviour and peer interaction and diminishes disrespect and bullying. Data from School Climate surveys and observations of behaviour are considered important sources of information to help define priorities as the students focus on academic success.
The administration, staff and parents are proud of the school’s academic record. EQAO reports that Edna Staebler is scoring at or above the board and province in most areas. The school awaits the annual EQAO report and views it as good, objective data that can validate in-school assessments (running records, CASI, DRA and teacher observation) and point out specific areas of strength and need. Staff members review the EQAO report in small and large groups and go beyond the achievement scores by delving into the item analysis and student questionnaire sections. The timing of the EQAO report allows the school to match it with data from the annual student profiles they complete in October. These varied and reliable data form the basis for discussions that determine next steps to facilitate student learning and help to formulate an annual learning plan. The input of the kindergarten team is noteworthy. With the information they provide about student needs, Grade 1 teachers are able to program efficiently from day one in September. The staff engage in extensive collaborative marking to ensure continuity and uniformity throughout the grades.
Both EQAO results and in-school scores highlighted math problem solving as an area for growth and, among boys, a lack of enthusiasm toward writing. Accordingly, initiatives were undertaken to assist students in these areas. Nineteen teachers and both administrators were involved in the Board’s Collaborative Inquiry into the Learning of Mathematics (CIL-M) process. Three of the teachers worked with teams from three other schools, and the rest were released as a group to work together at the school. CIL-M gives teachers a series of days, spread over a few months, to work together and plan, implement and reflect on a math problem-solving activity, followed by a discussion of possible next steps for students. The school has included parents in the learning process. Just as schools have traditionally encouraged reading by organizing “book bag” programs, whereby children can bring home good reading material to share and read with parents, teachers at Edna Staebler joined with teachers of three other schools to create five Grades 1 and 2 kits for each math strand. These are available to be sent home on a rotating basis throughout the school year. This initiative is currently being expanded, and teachers are working on kits for Grade 3 students. Principal Jeff Parliament praises his staff for their creativity, eagerness and commitment when it comes to taking on whatever task will assist the students.
Since boys’ writing was also designated as an area of need, the school formed a Writing Club for boys in Grades 2 and 3. Teachers researched successful writing strategies and brought in guest speakers, both for their own professional development and for the inspiration of the students. A related strategy, “Word Nerds,” was also instituted to assist in vocabulary development. Thus the Lightning Writers Club began and has been well attended. Students have demonstrated enthusiasm and improved writing skills.
At Edna Staebler, students take part in the guidance of their own learning. They are taught why specific activities are assigned, and when the administration visits classrooms, the students are expected to be able to verbalize what they are doing and why. As they become more familiar with the expectations placed on them, they are better able to recognize what is required of them to “bump up” their own learning. Student moderation of work only serves to deepen the understanding of levels of achievement.
Edna Staebler has a clear vision of its direction: to educate the total child within a loving, nurturing environment. Great effort is expended to be successful in all phases of this mission. Clubs, teams and activities foster a sense of belonging and inclusion for each student, and an open-door policy ensures parents are involved. The goal is that no child is excluded, and each is taught empathy and the value of belonging along the way to becoming a “world changer.”
“We use data from a wide variety of sources to inform our decisions... We also have a staff that is eager to learn and try new ways of meeting their student needs. But what makes Edna Staebler a great place to be is that we collaborate closely together, with the student’s well-being as our first priority.”
— Jeffery Parliament, Principal
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient