Miami's Roosevelt Elementary School has been recognized by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OKSDE ) as a 2016/2017 Title I Academic Achievement Award recipient.

MIAMI – Progress and achievement can be challenging for students living in poverty, but a local school is meeting those challenges enabling students to succeed.

Miami's Roosevelt Elementary School has been recognized by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OKSDE ) as a 2016/2017 Title I Academic Achievement Award recipient for outstanding progress in academic performance. Roosevelt will receive a $37,384 monetary award from the Office of Federal Programs to be used for site level instructional purposes.

“It is indeed a privilege for me to wish you continued success in the pursuit of excellence as you prepare our children for their future,” Office of Federal Programs Executive Director Dr. Gloria Bayouth wrote in the award letter.

The award was based on the academic growth of the students’ previous three school years.

“My goal when hired six years ago was to change the perception of Roosevelt,” Principal Melissa Bekemeier said. “I was the sixth principal in ten years and first woman. The first two years were really rough. My strengths are organization, communication, setting structures, scheduling, gathering and allocating resources. I also gather and make very transparent all our student data. Everyone is accountable for our students learning, and not just the tested grades.”

An extremely high poverty level, language barriers, mobility of students in and out of the district are some of the difficulties facing the students and staff at Roosevelt, but these challenges have been met with success through determination and persistence.

“Roosevelt students’ poverty rate has been 93 to 95 percent, with English Language Learners (ELL) comprising as much as 20 percent of our student demographic,” Bekemeier said. “There are definite challenges for children from economically disadvantaged homes, being raised by single parents or grandparents, or from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Regardless, all children can learn. It’s our job to find out where they are behind or what other needs they may have. We use data, observation, and collaboration to become very specific with instruction.”

In comparison, the Oklahoma state average for poverty level students during that same time was at 62 percent, and 67 to 74 percent for the district.

Bekemeier credits the success to several programs implemented at Roosevelt to help address specific areas of learning, especially in reading.

“The thing that I think we’ve improved upon is being more specific and focused, and I think that’s the key to some of our success, ” she said. “I think our teachers are getting better at better at being very specific in their instruction and meeting each kid's needs.”

Using data to identify needs and strengthening early literacy skills was fundamental to the educational achievement at Roosevelt, according to Beckemeier.

“Five years ago, we began a Walk to Read program where K-2 students go to a skill-specific group for thirty minutes every morning. All teachers and support staff have a group which allows us to have as many as fifteen groups. The students are placed based on Literacy First assessments and we re-group every 4 to 6 weeks,” she said. “We also implemented a Green Monster incentive program based on STAR assessments. Students who benchmark or make gains each quarter get to participate in a fun activity. Three years ago, we added and half-time Instructional Coach Amie Whitehill who is a Reading Specialist. We hold monthly data meetings with each teacher to look specifically at our struggling students and determine best strategies for them.”

Some of the programs came with some resistance, according to Bekemeier, but soon the teachers faced the challenges and were pulling together to implement the educational programs, and the success was proof of the effectiveness.

“We identified the areas of low performance and worked to build those skills,” she said. “The way I look at it is early education is so important to student success.”

Bekemeier visits with each student before testing to encourage their best performance.

The award is based on Roosevelt students’ academic achievement and progress over the 2013/2014, 2014/2015, and 2015/2016 school years. Over those years, Roosevelt’s letter grades determined by OKSDE rose from a D-, B+, to an A-, the only A letter grade, Kindergarten to 12 in Ottawa County, and one of 196 As out of 1765 letter grades assigned to Kindergarten to12 publics schools in Oklahoma.

“Our staff has always been dedicated and worked hard, but we are working more focused and efficiently,” Bekemeier said. “It’s important to share credit with our 4th and 5th-grade teachers who have since moved to Nichols during the reconfiguration.”

Bekemeier said she will now be working with the school’s instructional coach and teachers to determine the best use of the award funds. Potential uses include creating and elementary STEM lab, purchasing additional technology resources, providing professional development for staff, hosting math and reading family nights, special assemblies, additional ESL and classroom instructional materials.

Bekemeier says the entire staff at Roosevelt is part of the school’s success and achievement.

“I feel like we’ve gotten where everybody feels responsible. All our staff, certified and support can take credit for the success we are having,” Bekemeier said. “They’ve created a culture and environment where our kids feel loved, safe and can learn. All parents love their children and do what they can with the resources and challenges they have. It’s not our place to judge, but rather to help them any way we can.

"When our kids walk in our doors, I believe, beyond a professional responsibility as educators, we also have a moral and social responsibility to our children and especially those with challenges. It’s not really an exaggeration to say that the health and success of individuals, our community, state and country depends upon education. I believe we reap what we sow.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.