When principal Ray Mercado arrived at Gilbert Elementary School three years ago, he set about making improvements.
For several years, the neighborhood school has housed a district dual language program. Mercado now refers to it as an “accelerated foreign language academy,” with a bilingual program for students. With that in mind, Mercado and his staff set two goals: All students will meet district grade level standards in their native language and all students will achieve grade level competence in a second language (Spanish for most) in reading, listening and writing.
This year, the school was graded a “B” by the Arizona Department of Education.
Mercado told a group of parents recently that it’s really a “B plus, plus, plus, plus, plus.”
“We were one point from an A,” he said.
The school houses about 640 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. It’s a unique campus, built on a large footprint with several “cottages” in the middle that serve as classrooms for kindergarten through third-grade classes. Staff and students care for several gardens that surround the campus.
Language is the focus at the school, and you can’t miss it. Everywhere, you’ll see “grammar walls” or “word walls” to offer lessons to the students as they walk about the hallways and rooms.
“We started implementing it in the past year. It has made a tremendous difference with the refocus and grammar focus. We’ve seen a tremendous boost in student learning and grasping the concepts,” Mercado said.
Students in kindergarten, first and second grade are learning math in Spanish to immerse them in language and academic learning.
“I was a little nervous,” Mercado said about introducing that program. “But these kiddos, their brains are sponges. They’re really moving forward fast in Spanish material in math.”
The school also adopted a “customer service” and recognition attitude, Mercado said, that starts with the front office and moves into the hallways and classrooms.
Since the school’s mascot is the tiger, each month Mercado recognizes the school’s “top cats” from each class. Their reward is lunch with Mercado, which includes some sports time during the day.
And to reinforce the importance of school, student absences for each class are tracked daily on a whiteboard.
“I tell the students, ‘miss a day, miss a lot,’” Mercado said.
To step out into the community more, the school will host a “Family Fitness Fair” 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday to teach students and their families about nutrition, exercise and healthy habits.
The school’s nurse, Barb Naleski, received a grant to help put on the event.
More than 50 vendors are participating. Seniors from the Gilbert Senior Center will help with a “bike rodeo.” Flu vaccines will be available and children can receive healthy snacks. The community is welcome.
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