Meeting Students Where They Are

Filling in the Gaps: Shwab Student’s Academic Growth Shows Power of Support by School and District
Posted on 10/06/2022
Student with educator and family

Abrianna King is chatty and charming, her smile bright as she talks about her favorite activities and TV shows, her dogs Reese Cup and Hayfield, and her eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head great-aunt, who “sees me whenever I try to get Nutella.”

student with family and educator in school

But this Shwab Elementary School fourth grader has been through a lot in her young life, and it took the proverbial village to help her get up to speed academically with remarkable growth after she moved to Shwab from a difficult situation in another part of the state last year. 

Abrianna’s story shows how a school community and MNPS can help students succeed when they’re in tune with children’s needs and ready to provide strong teaching, wraparound services and other support.

“Her teachers really got in there and worked with her,” said Abrianna’s great-aunt, Gloria Whitley, a retired MNPS teacher who lives with and cares for the 9-year-old girl. “I couldn’t ask for any more.”

When Abrianna came to Shwab in East Nashville for third grade at the start of the 2021-22 school year, she was way behind academically. Testing showed she was at a kindergarten level for math, for example. Her previous school in west Tennessee had said she needed to be held back and repeat second grade, but Whitley disagreed.

And Abrianna’s struggles weren’t a problem for the Shwab faculty and staff, led by Executive Principal Dr. Cheryl Bowman.

Meeting Students Where They Are

“We just embrace everybody that comes and meet them where they are,” Bowman said. “We knew she was low (academically), and we just worked to bring her up.

“Abrianna is very articulate, inquisitive and a go-getter. We’re just working to fill in her gaps.”

Interventions in reading and math, coupled with Abrianna’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, worked like a charm by the end of the year. Sara Morrison, Abrianna’s math teacher, said steady work on basic skills helped her grow by two full grade levels over the course of those nine months – “a crazy amount of growth.”

Morrison said Abrianna could see herself learning and “getting it” as the weeks rolled by, and she gained confidence from that. Nearly perfect attendance made a difference as well. So did strong communication and support from Whitley.Student with two teachers

And the third-grade teachers, described by Bowman as a group who “have taught together so long that they finish each other’s sentences,” saw their skill and dedication make the impact they always want to see.

“It does work,” Morrison said. “We can fill the gaps that are there. Hard work does pay off.”

Abrianna also worked with a tutor through MNPS’s Accelerating Scholars high-dosage tutoring program, which supports students in reading and math for three 30-minute sessions a week. She received clothing and shoes from the district after she moved to town, and MNPS social workers and school counselors also supported her in her transition to a new city and new school.

Dr. Michelle Springer, chief of Student Support Services for MNPS, said strong support “is critical to the well-being of a young scholar” as the district works to fulfill its mission of ensuring every student is known, cared for and on a path to success.

“Layering student support and services fosters social, behavioral, emotional, and physical and academic growth,” Springer said. “As we mobilize individualized needed supports to assist students and families with eliminating barriers to success, our students thrive and reach their full potential.”

School Becomes Fun

Abrianna said Shwab was “a little scary” at first but “got fun” before long. Lately she’s been learning about poems in English Language Arts, fractions in math class, and potential energy and kinetic energy in science. (To explain the difference, she pretends to hold an object in her hand and then pretends to drop it.)

Wearing small bee earrings that match the Shwab mascot, Abrianna says she loves to put on fashion shows in her room, donning a long dress and letting her hair down to look like the character Rapunzel. She’s starting to explore extracurricular activities, too: soccer, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, and pageants held by the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs' Teen Empowerment Net Youth Club, where she’s the reigning Penny Queen. And she says she might try playing the saxophone one day.

In Abrianna’s corner every day is Whitley, her grandmother’s sister, the caregiver she calls “my TT,” who works with her on her homework every night and helps her with “things that are hard.”

Whitley shares the credit, saying Abrianna’s cousin, CC, and big brother, Eric, are also mentors and inspirations to the girl, and her younger brother, Ricky, “loves her and wants his big sister to do great things.”

“It takes a village of committed persons with lots of love and patience,” Whitley said.

While she jokes about just how much Abrianna can talk, her love for the child is clear.

“It all starts with this woman,” Principal Bowman says as Whitley sits a few feet down the table from her in a Shwab conference room on a recent morning. “Because when you bring a child to us who’s ready to learn, it’s easy.”

“She’s blessed to have you,” Bowman adds.

“I’m blessed to have her,” Whitley replies. “I’m so happy she’s in my life.”
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