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Waves of Shore-Minded Oak Mesa Students Hit the Beach

November 3, 2009
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Oak Mesa students, teachers, parents and friends form a human "957," the API number achieved by Oak Mesa students achieved in their state testing. A score of 1,000 is perfection.

Oak Mesa students, teachers, parents and friends form a human "957," the API number achieved by Oak Mesa students in their state testing. A score of 1,000 is perfection.

While most La Verne students were in classrooms reading, writing and ciphering last Wednesday, the entire student body of Oak Mesa Elementary was playing hooky at the beach – and it was the principal’s idea.

Principal Karen Eberhart had promised Oak Mesa students that if they improved their annual state test scores by 25 points, they would earn a day off at the beach. They delivered, collectively raising their API score from 902 in May 2008 to 957 in May 2009 – a whopping year-over-year improvement of 55 points.

Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject

When the school’s overall score was revealed in late August as the 2009-10 school year was getting underway, Eberhart knew she was now on the hook to find a way to transport 500-plus students to the beach.

She organized a convoy of seven school buses, courtesy of Proposition C money that is designated for such special events as her reward program, and teachers and parents rallied to do the rest. They made lunches, brought snacks, set up separate E-Z-Up stations and bought different-colored t-shirts for students in each grade to wear so their high achievers would be easy to spot on the beach.

“Every child also had a wrist band that matched the shirt, and then if they were going swimming, they had a second, fish wristband, so we could identify those children going in the water.”

World War II’s D-Day invasion wasn’t as organized as Oak Mesa’s day at the beach. Remarkably, the volunteer parent-to-student ratio was better than one-to-one. In addition, Eberhart arranged for both first-aid and lifeguard units to be strategically in place, ensuring the large group’s safety.

“Our whole community came with us,” Eberhart explained. “We were more than a 1,000 strong.”

Eberhart could not have picked a better or prettier day for La Verne’s tidal wave of teachers, students and parents to take over Corona del Mar State Beach. The air temperature was about 80 degrees and the water temperature was about 70.

While the children were sunning, swimming, playing beach volleyball or exploring tide pools, a small plane circled overhead, pulling a banner that shouted from the clouds: “Oak Mesa Soars. API 957. You Rock!” Elias Kolios, proud parent of Oak Mesa Anthony Kolios, picked up the tab for the 20-minutes of fly-bys.

A plane pulled the sign above. Not even the sea urchins and sea anemones could miss it.

A plane pulled the sign above. Not even the sea urchins and sea anemones could miss it.

For the return home, there were three empty buses, not because any children were missing, mind you, but because parents had the option to stay longer and have their children ride home with them. All students, however, rode the bus to the beach, no doubt a very festive and noisy one-hour field trip before reaching the Pacific.

To reach the beach, students, teachers and parents alike worked hard all year long. They took up Eberhart’s challenge and stretch goal to meet and exceed the state’s standards.

“First of all,” Eberhart said, “the teachers are incredible, each and every one of them. They work so hard. They know how to target instruction, they know how to analyze data, and we do many assessments, frequently.

“Every week,” she added, “our teachers are working in grade level teams and looking at where their kids are academically. We are always differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of all our children.”

Eberhart’s teachers are further supported by active parent volunteers. With so much parent power, teachers can pull out select groups of students to work with parents so children can continue strengthening specific skills.

“We have anywhere from 50 to 75 parents every day sign in and go into the classroom to help our teachers,” Eberhart said. “So, we have an incredible community involvement in helping us make these children as successful as they are.”

Following their day at the beach, Oak Mesa students dressed up as either vocabulary words or storybook characters for their annual Halloween festival on campus, capping off a fun 48 hours.

“We’ve had a lot of play,” said Eberthart, now in her 9th year as Oak Mesa’s principal. “Now we have to get serious.”

Surely, her students won’t mind. At this time next year, another gorgeous day at the beach could be waiting for her highly motivated and highly inspired young learners.

 

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