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Oakmont fairies support schoolmates during testing

Claremont Unified School District faculty, staff, teachers, students and parents are all relieved that the 2012 California Standards Tests (CST) have come to a close after months of preparation and 6 days of testing over the last 2 weeks. At Oakmont Outdoor School, however, everyone involved gnashed their teeth and tore their hair out a little less this year, thanks to the “CST Fairies” who flitted from class to class offering support, encouragement and treats to the test-takers.

Sweetly and with very positive results, kindergarten and first-grade “fairies” not yet of testing age adopted upper grade test-takers every day during the testing cycle. The younger kids delivered inspirational posters, notes of encouragement and treats to the second-through-sixth-grade classrooms. 

“We are a team and a family at Oakmont!” said Ms. Stewart, who brought the idea to the school. “[The CST Fairies] encouraged our students to do their best on the state test each and every day. Our students were focused and remained positive throughout the 2-week testing window.”

A lot of the gift giving was inspired by a study conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine, which demonstrated that chewing gum reduces stress, improves alertness and increases academic performance. Happily, children were allowed to fling the “no gum on campus” rule to the wayside during test taking. In one round of CST Fairy gifts, a stick of gum for each test-taker was presented to Scott Boen’s second-graders along with a large poster encouraging them to “Chew up the Test!” Another vibrant poster with the word “SMART” painted on it arrived with Smartees candies for each student. Cleverly, each letter of SMART offered strategies for success: Stay focused, Mark the best choice, Always do your best, Recheck your work, Take your time.

Ms. Stewart praised the younger-grade teachers for going “above and beyond to connect test-taking strategies with motivational techniques.” Kindergarten teacher Lorrie Brown loved the CST Fairy idea and noted how exciting and meaningful the experience was for her young fairies. Every day, as a creative and bonding classroom exercise, they had fun brainstorming ideas for how they could best assist the older students.

“Daily discussions about how we could encourage the big kids were really unifying for our class. This experience cemented our connection to our school’s goals in a very real way. Kindergartners also now have a sense of what to expect when they are older and have to prepare to take the test,” Ms. Brown said. “We’re a team and a family here at Oakmont, and we help each other in every way we can.”

On the receiving end of the goodwill, Mr. Boen’s second-graders eagerly anticipated the arrival of the fairies, “thrilled,” he said, to be supported by their younger friends.

“It was a wonderful community-building event that helped the second graders feel less isolated during their first experience with the CST,” he said. “The show of support reminded them that not only were their parents and teachers rooting for them, but so was the entire school.”

As a student in Leigh Anne Distaso’s first- and second-grade combination class, second-grader Zachary Martin reaped the benefits of both giving and receiving in the chummy support system.

“It feels good to do something nice for someone else!” Zachary told Ms. Distaso after delivering a basket of goodies to testers in another classroom.

Tackling their CST challenges on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the previous 2 weeks, jaws tired from gum, brains tired from concentration and fingers tired from penciling in the classic standardized answer circles again and again, Oakmonters were relieved but proud to finish. The strong emphasis on the importance of being good test-takers together with the levity of the fairies’ fun and friendship helped students care about the test while staying relaxed and calm along the way.

“At the conclusion of testing, our students were excited, and they can’t wait to hear of their accomplishment next year,” Ms. Stewart said.

Wrapping up the testing last Thursday, May 17 meant hugs and kisses from the fairies: Hershey’s “Hugs” candy kisses along with an honest-to-goodness hug for everyone. During this final hoorah, Mr. Boen observed high levels of self-worth on his students’ faces—they knew they had tackled a challenging task. 

“You could see them glow with pride and a sense of accomplishment,” he said. 

In addition to the pint-sized fairies, also chasing the CST stress and blues away was the head-honcho fairy: Every testing day, Ms. Stewart prepared a homemade breakfast for teachers. Renaming the teacher’s lounge the “OOS [Oakmont Outdoor School] Café,” the principal-turned-chef even sent teachers a menu of the culinary masterpieces that awaited them each morning of testing: organic vegetable quiche, pineapple upside-down sausage bake and bacon breakfast casserole were among the culinary delights provided by Ms. Stewart.

With Oakmont performing significantly below the California Department of Education’s goal to have “all students score at or above proficient” in 2011, it will be interesting to see if the CST Fairies gave students the magic they needed to do better in 2012.

—Brenda Bolinger

brendabolinger@claremont-courier.com

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