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Capturing Students' Passions Makes Temple Heights A Special Place

By Ray Huard


At Temple Heights Elementary School, third graders in teacher George Doyle’s class will welcome their parents to an April open house with a video they created on iPad computer tablets.


With Doyle’s help, they discovered through the Internet how to sketch a self-portrait that will be included in the video, write a script, and how to navigate websites they’d use to produce the video.  


“Most of it, they learned by doing it,” Doyle said. “Sometimes, when you raise expectations, kids can do more than you expect.”


A few doors down, in teacher Ramiro Santana’s third grade class, students were hard at work designing a garden they’re making on a small plot of land outside their classroom.


“They’re researching the kind of plants they want to the point that they were calling Home Depot,” Santana said. “They were learning a lot about what they wanted to put in here, including the cost, and then they wanted a water fountain.”


The students designed and made a solar-powered fountain.

All of this and more was on display during a recent Leadership Day in which Temple Heights showed off the changes it’s making through a “Leader in Me” grant and as an Apple Distinguished Program.


Temple Heights third graders build the solar-powered fountain they designed.


Temple Heights and Monte Vista Elementary School in Vista Unified were each awarded grants of $45,000 during the 2015-2016 school year from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me Program” that teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals, and listening before speaking.


Temple Heights also was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2016 to 2018 for its use of iPads to support personalized learning from kindergarten through fifth grade.


Principal Kim Morton said that it’s taken six years, but every student now has an iPad to use in the classroom, and those in the second through fifth grades can take them home.


“We’re really proud of what we’re building,” Morton said. “We want to offer things that stand out from the traditional.”


With about 650 students, Temple Heights is a neighborhood school serving families who live nearby, but Morton and Assistant Principal Kerry Perez said that they wanted to make Temple Heights something special.


“We feel very passionate about doing something extraordinary out of the ordinary,” Perez said. “We wanted to get at what captures our kids’ hearts.”


As part of that, Temple Heights is piloting a move from traditional teaching methods to personalized learning in which lessons build on the strengths and interests of each student, guided by teachers.


“We just want them to love school. We want them to jump out of bed in the morning and want to get to school,” Morton said. “We’re trying to get away from getting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.”


As part of the Leader in Me Day, students served as ambassadors, showing guests around the school.


Fourth-graders Trevor Cobb and Emily Macias made a point of showing off the unconventional furniture Temple Heights is using, from stand-up desks and bouncy stools to picnic tables and outdoor sofa-like covered seating areas where students can stretch out and work on their iPads. “They help you relax,” Emily said.


Trevor said that he’s fond of the outdoor couches. “We sit in these couches and think,” Trevor said. “We can find our own comfort.”


Fourth-grader Trevor Cobb delivers his self-designed class presentation on an iPad.


Fifth grade teacher Rya Hege brought in some wooden lawn furniture, which has turned out to be the most popular spot in her classroom. Her class is far from the traditional setting, where desks were arranged in rows and the teacher lectured from the front of the room.


Students roam about Hege’s class, iPads in hand, sharing information as Hege guides their research. “They don’t really have an assigned seat,” Hege said. “It depends on the project they’re working on.”


Perez and Morton said the personalized approach to learning is paying off, with improved student reading scores, Perez.

“It’s really about the kids,” Morton said. “You can see how excited they are, and engaged.”



Posted by: Dave Palmer, District Associate, Vista Unified School District Published:4/7/17
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