D.c.'s Powell Elementary Embraces Growth, Pushes For Resources (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C.'s Powell Elementary Embraces Growth, Pushes for Resources

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and all around the region kids are hearing this again…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:16
That's right, school is back in session. So as students head back to the books, we are, too, with a show all about learning, both inside and outside the classroom.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:27
We'll begin in the District's Petworth neighborhood, where earlier this week hundreds of students flocked back to Powell Elementary School. At the front doors of the dual-language institution they were greeted in English…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:39
…and Spanish…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:43
… Principal Janeece Docal, who was ready with a smile, a hug, and a wicker basket brimming with granola bars.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:54
As Principal Docal notes, a lot of students look different this year. The student body is 85 percent Latino and 12 percent African American, and after the summer break, a number of the kids are taller, or bigger, or sporting different haircuts. But the students aren't the only ones who've changed since the spring.

MS. LISA STRZEPEK

00:01:11
So this is our new wing.

SHEIR

00:01:13
Smells new.

STRZEPEK

00:01:14
I know. It has that new-car smell.

SHEIR

00:01:16
Instructional coach Lisa Strzepek is walking me around a brand new wing for Powell's younger students.

STRZEPEK

00:01:21
I feel like just the outlook of everybody is elevated being in a beautiful new space. Good teaching is just accelerated when you have a beautiful place to learn in.

SHEIR

00:01:31
The two-story wing is the first part of a renovation and expansion plan developed for Powell by the D.C. Department of General Services. The full plan calls for modernizing the entire school, and erecting two additional buildings. The fourth and fifth graders are currently housed in portable trailers or "Learning Cottages," as they're called, behind the school.

MS. JANEECE DOCAL

00:01:49
When I started as the principal in 2009, we had around 211 students, and this year we will have around 425, which is amazing. And I think it's a sign of confidence from the community.

SHEIR

00:02:01
And mind you, Principal Docal is talking about a community whose members, just a handful of years ago, were picketing outside the school, protesting what they saw as a subpar facility. But since Docal took over, truancy has fallen from 12 percent to zero. Math and reading proficiency have gone up, and in a recent competition hosted by the Embassy of Spain, Powell won second place for the top bilingual school in the country.

DOCAL

00:02:25
One of our main priorities is that students continue to love school, and be creative, and that they own their classrooms and their learning.

SHEIR

00:02:34
But that ownership is difficult, she says, when students and teachers are so crunched for space. Not only are classes being held in those "Learning Cottages," but also several teachers are floating without permanent classrooms, and the cafeteria has to serve five different lunch rotations to accommodate all the students currently enrolled.

DOCAL

00:02:51
We have a pretty substantial waiting list. So we do still need that expansion to be able to serve the students that we have, and the ones that want to come in.

SHEIR

00:03:00
That's why a group of Powell parents known as POPP…

DOCAL

00:03:03
Parents Organized for the Power of Powell.

SHEIR

00:03:05
…is petitioning the mayor and City Council for funds to complete the modernization plan. Docal says they're crossing their fingers for a grant of $20 million.

SHEIR

00:03:13
Are you confident about that?

DOCAL

00:03:14
I think so. Everyone really wants to see the project finish, and so I really hope in October that there will be the dollars to back that, for fiscal year '14 and some money has already been allocated for fiscal year '15. And like I said, everyone really wants to finish the project, and is very positive about it.

SHEIR

00:03:33
And that includes Percia Williams. She's had two sons attend Powell Elementary. Her eldest is moving on to middle school this year, and her youngest is starting third grade.

MS. PERCIA WILLIAMS

00:03:41
The school is really doing real good. I hope the education committee and the mayor will listen to us. Please, we need more funds.

SHEIR

00:03:49
Lois Baker, who has sons in kindergarten and fifth grade, also hopes the school will receive enough money to renovate more than just one wing.

MS. LOIS BAKER

00:03:56
Because Johnny, he's in the fifth grade, and his classes are in the cottage. So we hope it can, you know, extend over there as well as soon as possible.

SHEIR

00:04:05
In the meantime, everyone -- students and teachers alike -- seems pretty geared up as school starts again. Like seven-year-old Catherine.

SHEIR

00:04:12
So what are you most excited about for this new school year?

CATHERINE

00:04:15
I'm excited for being in second grade.

SHEIR

00:04:20
Catherine's classroom is in the older part of the school and she's already energized, but for students in the new part, like those in Joel Loewenguth's class? Well, the first-grade ESL teacher thinks they'll be in seventh heaven.

MR. JOEL LOEWENGUTH

00:04:31
I'm pretty sure their jaws are going to hit the floor. If the teachers' and all the adults' and the parents' and everybody in the community's jaws hit the floor, I can't imagine. The kids will probably be doing back flips.

SHEIR

00:04:40
And instructional coach Lisa Strzepek says she thinks Loewenguth is spot-on about the kids' reaction.

STRZEPEK

00:04:45
There's just something about their faces that you can't see on radio. But I don't think I've seen anybody truly unhappy. Mostly very excited.

SHEIR

00:04:55
In the next few years she hopes they'll be even more excited, as they do their reading, writing and arithmetic in a bigger and better facility, designed, truly, to leave no child behind.

SHEIR

00:05:15
For more on Powell Elementary School and other D.C. public school dual-language education programs, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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