Originally created 05/01/00

'Loop' creates close-knit class



There's something to be said for familiar faces.

And at Riverside Elementary School in Columbia County, the comfort of familiar surroundings has been taken to a new level. Through a concept known as looping, the school has given more time to some teachers and pupils by allowing them to move together from one grade to the next.

"It's fun, and you know what you're expected to do from the teacher," said Lauren Ryan, 10, who moved with the same teacher and classmates from third to fourth grade. "The studies are harder, but it's the same class."

Under the concept of looping, pupils move to the next grade level with the same teacher for two or more years. Four classes at Riverside Elementary currently work under the program and are in their second year together.

It's in the second year that the benefits of looping appear, teachers said. Classes can move right into lessons instead of spending time reviewing and getting to know one another. Teachers know what the pupils learned the previous year, and the pupils don't have the fear of starting a new school year with a new teacher.

"They know us; we know them," said Patti Jordan, who moved from first to second grade with her class. "Basically it's just building longer, easier relationships with the students and parents."

Principal Jeanie Hill says that comfort zone allows learning to take place more easily. The principal first looked into looping eight years ago while at North Columbia Elementary.

"I know it can work if you have support of administration and if you're interested," she said. "If you have teachers who want to do it, then it's probably going to be successful ... they can either make the program or break the program."

Teachers kept up contact with children during the summer between the first and second years and even assigned some activities to keep improving the pupils' skills. Teachers also hope the extra attention will have a lasting impact on the children.

"I think they just have a better feeling about school," said Lou Coakley, a third-grade teacher who moved up from second grade. "It will be hard when they loop without us. It's like a bond you've created."

Although Riverside Elementary might have more classes looping next year, the school has decided not to allow the same classes to remain together for a third year so that the pupils can be exposed to other children and teachers in the school.

The school has made sure that the teachers who do loop have some knowledge of the curriculum at the different grade levels. And other teachers had to be willing to move to other grade levels to allow room for those teachers looping. In the future, the school will only loop classes when it has a team of two teachers willing to trade positions.

The school should know by the end of this month if the benefits of looping will show up in test scores, Ms. Hill said. Although only third-graders took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, other informal testing will help gauge any gains the pupils made from the first to the second year.

Parents -- who were given the choice of allowing their children to loop together -- said they found the looping approach to be positive for their children, but that two years with the same class is probably enough.

"The children knew what to expect when they went into the next school year," said Cindy Fredo, whose son and daughter were in looped classes. "It relieved a lot of the anxieties that you have over the summer of `Who's going to be my teacher? What is she going to expect of me?' We didn't have all that going-back-to-school jitters."

Pam Noblett said having her child assigned to the same teacher the second year eased some of her concern as a parent.

"I liked it because I liked the teacher a lot," Mrs. Noblett said. "To me that's the biggest thing is if they're going to get a teacher who's going to challenge them and hoping they're going to get the right teacher each year."

Teachers like Ms. Coakley and Ms. Jordan will remain at their current grade levels rather than moving back to their original positions.

While pupils in those classes said they enjoyed the second year with the same teachers and classmates, some said the change will be welcomed.

"I like to meet new teachers and meet new people," said 9-year-old Rick Grumman, who moved from second to third grade with the same class and teacher.

For the school's part, Ms. Hill said the looping won't work unless parents, pupils and teachers are all behind it.

"Everybody had to buy into this one to make it work."

Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112.