(Photos and video by Ellen Cedergreen for WSB)
As West Seattle Elementary School fifth-grader Allamagan Anod returns to school today, he has an extra reason to be proud.
He wrote an essay that won a school contest!
West Seattle Elementary, you might recall, is in the first year of an intensive improvement plan. One year after landing on a list no school wants to be on, the school is “soaring,” as new principal Vicki Sacco recently told WSB. That’s not the result of her work alone – her staff is generating innovative ideas as well as emphasizing stepped-up academics.
This is where WSES school counselor Laura Bermes comes in. She suggested an essay contest to help inspire better attendance – fewer absences, fewer tardies. After all, the more you are at school, the more you will get out of school.
The theme: Attendance Matters. It’s not just an emphasis for high schools, as they work intensely to keep students from dropping out. It’s a value that elementary schools work to instill as well.
Laura asked if WSB would be interested in publishing the winning essay. (Of course!) So the essay’s appearance here is part of the prize package, along with a pizza party for the winner’s whole family. The winner (and two runners-up) received certificates too.
Participation wasn’t mandatory, but Laura reports it was sizable. Essays were evaluated for criteria including thoughtfulness and – most important – what life could be like with an education. We were there as Allamagan read his essay to classmates Friday afternoon:
Here’s what he wrote:
“When I first came to America, I lived in San Diego for about two years. I went to a school called Porter Elementary School. I was nervous about the first day of school because it was my first time going to school in my life. I never went to school when I was in Africa. When the teacher was talking, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then, when I wanted to use the restroom, I didn’t even know how to say it. But now, I am starting to learn how to speak English, because I never gave up. Now, I see myself driving a beautiful car, coming from my important job as a lawyer, and donating money to build a park for children to enjoy. To keep that dream, I must go to school every day and never be late!”
Laura also is tackling attendance problems by working with parents/guardians. When a student has an unexcused absence, a letter is sent home requesting “a meeting mandated by the school,” she explains. At that meeting, the importance of regular attendance is explained, and a school magnet is given , with information including how to contact the school. The family is also offered the chance to discuss any issues affecting attendance, and how they might be resolved. Laura says these meetings are working well, with a dramatic reduction in the number of second-time unexcused absences.
She’s optimistic that, once everyone is clear about the necessity for good attendance, it will improve exponentially. If the students’ enthusiasm regarding the essay contest is any indication, she is on the right track.
P.S. Here’s a look at Allamagan’s essay, with the drawing that accompanied it:
P.P.S. A “best picture” winner was chosen too – here it is, by Ashley:
Congratulations to the students and staff of West Seattle Elementary!