Parents used to camp out overnight to try to get their 5-year-olds into Bozeman's Hawthorne Elementary School, and it's easy to see why.
Hawthorne's 325 students did well on the state's standardized tests last spring, with 94 percent scoring at grade level or higher in reading, and 88 percent doing that well in math.
Those are "pretty fabulous" test scores, Principal Robin Miller told Bozeman School Board trustees Tuesday. Trustees have been visiting each of Bozeman's 10 schools. Hawthorne is one of five Bozeman schools that made "adequate yearly progress" this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Hawthorne is also celebrating its 20th year as a school that integrates the arts into every aspect of teaching. The walls of the school are bursting with student paintings, collages and murals. Children as young as kindergartners serenaded the School Board on Tuesday with holiday songs in hip-hop and jazzy styles, and one girl sang a beautiful a capella version of "Pie Jesu."
Miller gave credit for the school's success to "the most dedicated, committed and caring staff" she has ever worked with.
Still, Hawthorne faces several challenges, Miller told trustees.
Children are feeling stress as parents have lost jobs, and some have even become homeless, forced to live temporarily in basements or motels, she said.
When Miller became principal five years ago, 13 percent of Hawthorne kids qualified for free and reduced-price school lunches, because of low family income. Today that's nearly doubled, to 25 percent.
Low-income children have test scores nearly as high in reading and math, and sometimes even higher, with the exception of last year's fourth-graders in math. The school plans to focus on math skills for all students this year, Miller said.
Hawthorne has seen an increase in at-risk children with emotional disturbances, and so it is increasing the counseling available through the state-funded Altacare counselors from part time to full time, Miller said. Counselors meet with students during the day so they can return to their regular classrooms and be successful, instead of having to transfer to a special class for emotionally disturbed students. Altacare also offers some family counseling.
Hawthorne's doors are open from 7:15 a.m. until 6 p.m. It opens early for about a dozen children whose parents have to, for example, drive to Big Sky to work, and offers an after-school program, like all Bozeman schools, funded by Greater Gallatin United Way.
In addition to math, the school will focus on improving writing this year. On the school district's own writing tests, 97 percent of second-graders performed well, yet only 57 percent of fifth-graders were writing at grade level.
A survey of parents about student behavior found many were concerned about student cliques, bullying and teasing. Hawthorne's staff is responding with several strategies, such as having students who feel picked on choose one adult with whom they feel safe and who will check on them four times a day. Kids can't pay attention and learn if they're worrying about what's going to happen on the playground, Miller said.
The school also is urging all students to imagine they're filling "buckets" with the kind actions they or others perform. Miller said she had an "Aha moment" when she asked students accused of bullying to notice the nice, kind actions happening around the school, and they didn't recognize any. So she has worked with those students to help them develop the sense that they want to be kind, too.
The bucket program is really working, Miller said. One kindergartner recently told her, "'I went to Yellowstone and nature filled my bucket!'"
The school is so full this year, it had to move its psychologist into a windowless closet. Hawthorne is accommodating all the students living within its new attendance boundaries, Miller said, plus the children grandfathered-in when the boundaries were set, whose parents used to camp out under the former first-in-line registration rules.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.