Vernon Township School District (37-5360-050)

Walnut Ridge Primary School

As the first building Vernon Township School District children enter, the faculty of Walnut Ridge Primary School begins the all-important process of developing the skills for lifelong learning where all students develop natural curiosity, self-regulation skills and grow cognitively and developmentally. The most precious resource and the pride of Walnut Ridge Primary School are the wonderfully talented approximately 100 faculty and staff working with the youngest children in the Vernon Township School District. During the school 2016-2017 school year, we house two full day and six half-day sections of preschool using the NJ Department of Education endorsed Tools of the Mind curriculum. There are ten sections of full-day kindergarten, nine sections of first grade, one kindergarten Resource Program, one first-grade In-Class Resource, one first-grade Resource Program, one full-day self-contained special education class and one ABA kindergarten-first-grade class. In addition, we also provide specialized instruction in the areas of speech/language, art, music, physical education (including Peaceful Playground), ELL (English Language Learning), World Language (Spanish) instruction, library skills, and computer/technology education. A full-time Reading Specialist provides individual and small group instruction for students who struggle with early literacy skills, models lessons/co-teaches in general education classes, and provides professional development on best practices in balanced literacy for faculty members. Three part-time Title I teachers assist students who require support with the reading and writing process. One full-time Basic Skills math teacher supports students with math instruction in the classroom as well as providing a pullout program. Walnut Ridge Primary School also has a full-time registered nurse, a full-time school counselor, three Child Study Team members, a part-time physical therapist, and a part-time occupational therapist to serve the needs of each of our students. Teachers at Walnut Ridge Primary School work extremely hard to provide a nurturing environment focusing on the social/emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development of each child.

The early childhood student develops physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally at varying rates through their early years. The Walnut Ridge Primary School faculty understands the young learner and implements a plethora of strategies when working with students at their developmental level. Individual differences and leveled support is provided within each classroom setting through learning centers and stations, giving students an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and achieve their potential.

Walnut Ridge Primary school uses all research-based curricula that are aligned with the NJ Student Learning Standards. Beginning in preschool, students participate in the Tools of the Mind curriculum. This program is based on the work of Vygosky and focuses on developing children’s self-regulation skills as an essential foundation for all future learning. A large part of this program includes theme-based make-believe play where students work together to create props and become doctors, restaurant owners, farmers, and more. Cognitive, social-emotional, and self-regulation skills are embedded in all academic and play activities in the Tools curriculum. Students learn how to share, wait, work with a partner, talk with a friend and problem solve while participating in well thought-out social and academic games and activities. The Tools curriculum includes reading, writing, and math activities that serve as a natural bridge to the Kindergarten curricula in Walnut Ridge. Teachers informally assess student learning daily as a way to differentiate instruction and foster independence as appropriate to each student. Walnut Ridge preschool teachers have been utilized in training videos for others learning the curriculum nationwide as they demonstrate best practice and model lessons while using the Tools curriculum.

Walnut Ridge Primary School uses all research-based curriculums in our kindergarten and first-grade classrooms such as Wilson Fundations phonic program, Readers and Writers Workshop, Math in Focus (Singapore Math), Handwriting without Tears, Responsive Classroom, and Peaceful Playground. Teachers are able to use these programs to level and differentiate instruction by using benchmark assessments and data collected on each student to inform instruction. All teachers create two Student Growth Objectives to measure student achievement throughout the school year. Teaching through a balanced literacy approach, all classrooms are replete with a library of approximately 500 books that complement the Readers and Writers Workshop. To help guide and inform instruction, each student is administered the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA2) three times a year to determine the reading level of each student. This assessment assists teachers focus their instruction and provide support at each student’s appropriate reading level. All entering kindergarten students are given the DIAL4 (Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning) in the spring prior to arriving to school. This screening looks at all five early childhood areas: motor, language, concepts, self-help skills, and social development. This tool is used to help the kindergarten teacher understand his or her student and guides instruction. A specialized Summer Academic Camp, funded by Title One funds, offers entering kindergarten, first and second grade students literacy and math support. Entering kindergarten students attend based on scores on the DIAL4.

The Walnut Ridge Primary School library media center has been completely redesigned for the 21st century and is a most exciting educational hub of our school. Students build a love of reading as they explore the hundreds of books in the library and all of its other resources and state-of-the-art technology available. Students explore literacy through a range of lessons activities that serve as a complement to our Readers and Writers Workshop. Centers such as the listening station, Smart Board, Smart Tables, iPad, and multiple computers allow the students to explore text in a fun and motivating way. Students will begin early research skills using QR codes this year and will begin experimenting with early stages of coding.

Our school counselor provides our students with a number of developmentally appropriate units, lessons and learning opportunities to elicit their most positive behavioral traits. Using the Responsive Classroom curriculum, teachers are able to help students learn appropriate responses when they are in difficult social situations as well as facilitate the acquisition of appropriate social skills. Individual and group counseling is available to support students. Guidance lessons are taught in every classroom and cover friendship skills, identifying and managing emotions, conflict resolution, decision-making skills, understanding/appreciating differences, anti-bullying, and handling change. Lunch Bunches assist students in building positive peer relationships. Our guidance counselor serves as the coordinator of the Intervention and Referral Service (I&RS) Committee, assisting in developing strategies for student success. In addition, our school counselor serves as the building Anti-Bullying Specialist. WRPS first graders named student of the month for demonstrating positive character traits of fairness, respect, responsibility, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness, and friendliness is a program well received by the school community. Another new initiative by the principal and school counselor during the 15-16 school year, entitled “School Safeties”, focuses on our first graders selected to assist with arrival and dismissal times. The school counseling programs at WRPS emphasize cooperation, relationship skills, and peer leadership.

Using value-added technology in the classroom continues to be a priority across the Vernon Township School District. Available technological resources enable teachers to use the Internet to support instruction across all subject areas. Effective use of instructional technology has enhanced instruction. From online science, social studies and health textbooks to websites that support learning, the Internet has changed not only how teachers teach but also how our students most comfortably learn and receive information. All classrooms are outfitted with a station of laptop computers, a data projector, a Smart Board, Smart responders, and a document camera for interactive learning. Walnut Ridge Primary School has one recently redesigned computer lab as well as two computer labs on carts. To teach digital citizenship and extend the classroom to a virtual setting, our students beginning in kindergarten use Schoology to enhance their learning and use collaboration-enabling technology. Students add to a simple discuss thread with classmates; they also find handouts, complete homework and other valuable resources for learning in this virtual learning platform. This is our students’ first experience with understanding how to practice communicating and learning online as well as how to safely create and maintain a positive online presence. In addition, Walnut Ridge Primary School students are learning how to use Google Docs to learn and collaborate with peers online. Beginning with preschool, students learn the basics of coding through play and exploration using Beebots, Legos and discover using MakerSpaces.

Teachers at Walnut Ridge Primary School keep current through professional development provided in and out of the school and by taking graduate level courses, teacher-led in-service courses, peer coaching, webinars and submitting and viewing each other’s best practices via Vernon’s Teaching Channel. Walnut Ridge Primary School teachers meet the NJ Department of Education standards for “Highly Qualified” and many have earned advanced degrees in the field of education.

Walnut Ridge Primary School has a highly active School and Community Association (SCA), the parent organization that provides many student activities and programs. The SCA’s involvement helps support the mission of Walnut Ridge Primary School and is dedicated to making the school great for their children. Parents and community members support students through academic, cultural, and social enrichment activities. Parent and community involvement is a vital aspect of the successful primary school experience and continues to be an integrated component of Walnut Ridge Primary School. The SCA assists with various service learning and humanitarian projects such as the Monster Mile, Veteran’s Day Program, Jump Rope for Heart, Relay for Life and donating to various food banks and other noteworthy causes.
Our mission at Walnut Ridge Primary School is to recognize the uniqueness of each student and the importance of developing the whole child. By creating a nurturing atmosphere in a child-centered educational environment, our students are encouraged to develop academically, artistically, emotionally, physically and socially. With “all children learning”, we are committed to providing a developmentally appropriate model of education for the youngest students in the Vernon Township School District, which will foster a lifelong love of learning. This is what makes “The Little School with the Big Heart” such a special place for the boys and girls of our school.