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Wolfle Elementary School recognized for reading achievements

KINGSTON — It wasn't long ago that David Wolfle Elementary School test scores were at the bottom of the list.

Less than 16 years ago, Wolfle, the smallest school with the highest percentage of students living in poverty, was last in scores for student assessment tests in the district, Principal Benjamin Degnin said.

That outlook has changed, as the school was recently nationally recognized for exhibiting best practices in the education of Native American students by the Office of Indian Education. Specifically, the school was given the reading achievement because of the higher reading scores at Wolfle compared to other schools that teach Native American students. Wolfle was one of five schools in the nation recognized for its educational practices.

As past scores show, this did not come quickly.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's website, less than 60 percent of fourth grade students met reading standards on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning during the 2000-01 school year. During the 2009-10 year, about 80 percent of third-graders and more than 80 percent of fourth-graders scored above the state average in reading. The state average was 71 percent.

Though the increased reading success is a blend of many different efforts, the school's use of Professional Learning Communities — collaborative time for teachers — and the implementation of Native American culture are two key aspects that helped, Degnin said.

"It's hard for all children to relate to the same material," third-grade Wolfle teacher Nancy Meyer said.

Meyer has increasingly become involved in the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, including being officially inducted as an auntie in the canoe family. In her classroom, she incorporates Native American history and culture into her curriculum to help make it appealing to more students.

"It's not like my curriculum is Native American focused, I just bring it in where it fits," she said.

Her curriculum includes field trips to the Quilcene National Fish Hatchery during salmon-focused science instruction and fictional stories with a Native American focus. This integrated material helps draw the Native American students into the classroom and helps all students learn more about where they grew up.

Not only does Wolfle host one of the largest populations of young Native Americans, it also has one of the largest populations of students living in poverty — more than 25 percent. Because children learn differently and have different opportunities to enhance learning outside the classroom, "We need to ask 'how do you make education engaging for all students?’" Degnin said.

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