Tuesday, August 17, 2004

School year opens with fresh features

Plenty is new, from lunch menus to bag fashions

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

Thousands of students go back to school this week and next. Check out their wrists. Those yellow "live strong" bracelets, honoring cyclist Lance Armstrong and raising money to fight cancer, are among the trends for fall.

"Everyplace is selling out of them," says Jordan Wilson, a senior at Covington Catholic High School. "They're back-ordered for weeks."

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To find out what else is cool this year, the Enquirer talked to teachers, parents and administrators about their plans. Here are some of the trends popping up around Greater Cincinnati schools in 2004-05:

• Lunchrooms that are faster and more fun.

Gone are the ladies in hairnets plopping "mystery meat" on trays.

The new cafeteria is all about student choice. High schools are eliminating traditional lines altogether, allowing students to grab their burgers, fries, subs and the like. Even elementaries are experimenting with self-serve, although students still get some help in lines.

Among the schools trying the new concept this year: Conner Middle School in Hebron, all four elementaries in Erlanger, Walton-Verona Elementary School, Monroe Junior/Senior High School and Lebanon High School.

Some schools also are offering more nutritious selections, such as salad bars, and limiting access to junk food in vending machines.

• New approaches to testing.

Instead of waiting for state tests at the end of the year, more schools are using pre-tests to determine which students lag and which are sprinting ahead. Lessons can then be tailored to meet specific needs. In some cases, computers even spit out detailed reports and suggested lesson plans.

Among the districts or schools embracing the new approach: Cincinnati Public, Mason City Schools and West Union Elementary in Adams County.

Kindergartner Kelsie Trent smiles as she heads into Florence Elementary School Monday.
(Enquirer photo/CRAIG RUTTLE)
In Kenton County, some teachers are using wireless technology to get even quicker feedback on student performance. Teachers project questions on a screen, and students answer with hand-held remotes. The teacher instantly sees who answered incorrectly and needs more help, but individual scores are hidden from the class' view.

• Spanish in elementary school.

Young children are good mimics, and research shows that learning a foreign language strengthens academic performance overall.

Schools adding Spanish in lower grades this year include St. Paul Lutheran in Madisonville and The Children's Meeting House, a Montessori school in Loveland.

• More emphasis on technology to reach parents.

The "backpack express" is over. "Kids lose the papers," says Julie Fowee, PTO president at Yealey Elementary School in Florence.

Instead of trying to send notices home, her group is working on updating its Web site more frequently and using it to sell spirit items and sign up new members.

Other schools, including Boone County, Dixie Heights, Simon Kenton and Scott high schools in Northern Kentucky, are using phone systems to leave automated announcements on parents' answering machines.

• Easier fund-raisers.

Catalog sales featuring wrapping paper, candy and candles are falling out of favor with PTOs and PTAs. The orders can be difficult to track and deliver, and some parents would rather just write a check than go through the hassle of buying or selling things, leaders of parent groups say.

The fund-raiser of choice these days ends with "-athon." Walkathons, mathathons and spellathons are better for kids and easier on donors, parents say. New Haven Elementary School in Boone County is one that's switching this year from knickknack sales to a walkathon.

• Mesh versus clear: Still no contest.

If you go to one of those schools that requires a clear or mesh backpack, the choice should definitely be mesh, students say.

Clear "has always been dorky," says Whitney Berberich, 17, of Simon Kenton High School in Independence.

Alex Butler, 18, elaborates: "If you've ever been over to grandma's house, and all the furniture is covered with plastic ... it's kind of like that."


E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com

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