JOHN DAVIES: Prince's innovation helping girls in Gary

2013-03-10T00:00:00Z JOHN DAVIES: Prince's innovation helping girls in GaryBy John Davies nwitimes.com
March 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Can children be nurtured and yet learn boundaries of behavior? Of course!

Countless educators practice what Pearl Prince, principal of Frankie Woods McCullough Academy for Girls, calls: “Punish the act, not the child.”

No better example than two students recently caught fighting by their lockers. Prince said to them, “Come on, Frazier and Ali, I have a job for you.”

She led the two girls to a room where she gave them gloves, a bucket of soapy water and instructions to wash down recently donated chairs. She added, “I’m not going to watch you, but I expect these chairs to be clean.” When she returned, the students were laughing, working together, and wanting to deliver the now clean chairs to classrooms.

Her point: “Why suspend these students? They would only play video games, eat junk food or watch TV. Instead, they stayed in school.” Indeed!

But Prince often accomplishes the unexpected. In 2005, she was given the task of developing and implementing a new model that would deliver enriched opportunities through an all-girl’s academy. The now K-7 school is not only the first public school just for girls in Gary, but perhaps the first gender-specific public school for its grade levels in Indiana. Moreover, students come from low income areas, including two of the largest housing complexes. Further, the academy must accept all who apply, unlike other award-winning schools in Gary.

She also is a proponent of interactive learning. “We have to get away from passing out ditto sheets in classrooms,” she added. So look for these students to practice the scientific method of learning.

Sixth-graders teach younger students how to access the computer. In turn, kindergartners instruct the older girls to make compost bins.

Did I mention parades? That’s right! Leading up to ISTEP testing, a different class walks through the school each day with fun chants and cool moves. It is intended to inspire best performance among students. In fact, classes try to outdo one another. “It only takes a couple of minutes,” Prince said. “But it removes anxiety and inspires students toward successful outcomes.”

Student achievement is the endgame here. This team has been using creative techniques since the academy started down the street at the old Duncan School. Since last August, the academy was relocated further west to a refurbished $10 million school. “Being in this building has made a huge difference,” she said.

Then there’s continuous improvement. At a training session last year, Prince learned about putting up a data wall with test scores of all the students for teachers and parents. She thought it a great idea, but she wanted to empower the students to take charge of their own learning. Now students can view their own progress because each classroom has its own data wall for every student. 

We are proud that Pearl Prince is a Fellow in the Society of Innovators.

John Davies is managing director of the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, which is part of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center of Ivy Tech Northwest. The opinions are the writer's.

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