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Robin Bedford

Principal Robin Bedford greets students Wednesday morning at Arrowhead Elementary School.

Most of Arrowhead Elementary School's 484 students arrive between 8 and 8:15 a.m. About 200 ride buses and the rest come in cars, on bikes or on foot. Principal Robin Bedford stands on the sidewalk among the throng of children, exchanging greetings with students who crowd around her. Then they line up according to grade level near the doors that will take them inside for a day of study.

I observed the start of a day at Arrowhead last Tuesday as a participant in Educator for a Day, an annual event sponsored by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, to bring local leaders and business people into our public schools. I was among 60 participants who spent the morning in schools all over town.

Like most of Billings' other 21 elementary schools, Arrowhead is full or close to full in every classroom. All of its four second-grade classes are over the state accreditation maximum of 20 students. Throughout the district, nine kindergarten classes, nine first-grade classes and 35 second-grade classes were over that state standard, according to the fall enrollment count provided by Kathy Olson, director of elementary education.

The state standard for third- and fourth-grade classes is a maximum of 28 students; no classes exceed that. For fifth- and sixth-grade students, the max is 30; four sixth-grade classes in the district have more than 30 students. In addition, the district has 15 combination classrooms in which students from two grade levels are combined.

Arrowhead and Meadowlark are tied for the highest student enrollment. However, Arrowhead has the largest number of K-6 students in its attendance area. In addition to the 484 grade 1-6 students who attend Arrowhead, about 80 kindergartners are bused to Boulder Elementary School. Arrowhead doesn't have room for kindergarten.

The students I saw in Arrowhead classrooms were all busy, but classmates weren't all doing the same thing. For example, in Tiffany Hall's first-grade class, some of her 18 students were reading together, others sat on bean bag chairs reading to themselves and another group was at the whiteboard on the wall. This is no ordinary whiteboard. Thanks to the magic of technology, Hall was projecting color images from a “short vowel” lesson she prepared on a computer. The students used their hands to choose a vowel and pull it across the white board to complete a word.

Like most of the technology at Arrowhead and other Billings elementary schools, Hall's was acquired through private grants, gifts or PTA fundraising. The Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools provides limited teacher grants for technology.

“These kids are reading at all different levels,” Bedford noted, adding later: “School is really going toward an individual educational plan for kids. They may need remedial or they may need extensions or interventions.”

For struggling readers, the Read 180 program can be a huge boost with students progressing two grade levels in a single academic year. For advanced readers, there are enrichment classes to challenge them to learn more.

My biggest surprise of the morning was meeting a world renowned cellist. Sponsored by Arts Without Boundaries, a local nonprofit group that connects students with art, Eugene Friesen demonstrated his amazing musical and teaching talents. Bedford also demonstrated her amazing principal talents by instantly quieting about 250 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders with the school chant:

“Who are we?” she asked.

“We are Arrowhead,” the youngsters seated on the gym/lunchroom floor replied.

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Then they recited the key points of the school's mission statement:

Knowledge is “learning, learning, learning.”

Character is “doing what's right.”

Community is “helping others.”

To help kids help others, the school and student council create opportunities, such as a Toys for Tots collection now under way and a food drive that has bags and boxes of groceries piling up along classroom walls. Arrowhead also has a long tradition of partnering with St. John's Lutheran Ministries for volunteers in the schools and students to visit elders in the nearby nursing home.

St. John's is one of dozens of businesses volunteering in the Partners in Education program, also sponsored by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools. There's still a need for more business/civic group partners. Beartooth, Eagle Cliff and Poly Drive elementary schools and Castle Rock Middle School are seeking partners. For more information on Partners in Education, please call Krista Hertz at 245-4133 or e-mail to hertzk@billingsschools.org.

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Contact Pat Bellinghausen at 406-657-1303 or pbelling@billingsgazette.com.

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