February 28, 2018
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Reading isn’t the only way to learn.
Sometimes students are better off when they can see it, touch it, feel it or smell whatever it is, and some of the best lessons are when they literally get their hands dirty.
One recent lesson for fifth-graders at Homer Pittard Campus School involved worms. No, they did not simply read about worms and look at photos in a picture book.
“We got in groups, and we actually got to have worms and we got to take our notes firsthand,” recalled student Caleb Hagan.
Hagan’s best friend and classmate Leah Perry said, “We definitely have hands-on experiences. We aren’t just burying our head in the book all the time.
“Like Caleb was saying about the worms, that was fun.”
Learning at Campus School is always fun.
Teachers there oftentimes create lessons that provide opportunities for collaboration between students that involve guidance and oversight from teachers and staff. The emphasis is on giving kids the responsibility that comes with the freedom of taking part in student-led group activities.
“It’s a wonderful collaborative school,” said Debbie Frisby, a fifth-grade teacher at Campus.
Frisby led a project called Invention X in which groups of two to four students paired up for a cross-curricular project that took them through the entire process of inventing a new product.
The fifth graders worked together in the idea phase.
Peer critiquing then led to adjustments that included budgets with their proposals, constructing their innovative project using materials found either in the classroom or at home and finally presenting their inventions.
“We do a lot of group activities,” Frisby said. “They’re really good with it as long as you give them that feedback and you’re straight up with it, they’re good.”
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Rutherford County Schools currently offers six choice programs that accept applications for students countywide. Those programs include Central Magnet School, Holloway High School, McFadden School of Excellence, Thurman Francis Arts Academy, Oakland High’s IB program and Homer Pittard Campus School.
At Campus Scool, applications for prospective students are accepted on or after the child’s fourth birthday.
Prospective students are then placed and enrolled based upon a waiting list maintained by application date order. Priority consideration is given to children of Campus School faculty and staff as well as siblings of currently enrolled students.
The administration also strives for a gender and demographic balance during the student selection process.
“It’s a very special place with special people,” said Dr. Sherry King, who is in her fifth year as principal. “You feel a part of something different. It’s not easy to explain. … We come together here and we become a family.”
In late February or early March, King sends out letters to the applicants.
There are usually 200 to 250 prospective students on the list for 40 kindergarten spots in the school. King has seen instances when parents have waited and applied a few days after their child’s fourth birthday and doing so proved to be a factor in their child missing the cut.
The school has two classes per grade level for kindergarten through fifth grades with an average enrollment of about 250 students total.
King said that not many children transfer out of the school once admitted. However they open up 10 additional spots for fourth and fifth grade because the state allows more children in those grades.
The same list used for kindergarten is used to fill the extra spots four years later.
“You never know what will happen,” King said.
Campus School is steeped in tradition.
It’s legacy dates back to 1911 when Middle Tennessee State University opened the school as a laboratory for education majors.
The school moved into its current building in 1929.
For years, former students return to the school once and sometimes twice a year, and they continue to do so.
Every spring Friends of Campus School hosts an open house and they highlight one of the past decades. Since becoming principal, King has seen classmates from the 50s and 60s with bonds that were formed when they were in school.
Each October, former Campus School students who are now graduating seniors gather at the Fall Festival and have their class photo taken on the front steps.
“We’re building a legacy with our students,” King said. “History matters to me (and) we have an appreciation for that here.”
“When you hear about the people who were here 80 years ago, it makes you feel this school might be around another 80 years,” Hagan said. “Even if you’re in kindergarten right now, you’re still trying to leave a legacy.”
“Fifth grade is our year to say goodbye to Campus School,” Perry said, “but it’s also your year to make a legacy. We always say it’s our legacy of excellence.”
Tonia Carter Nadeau felt all the history and traditions and the spirit of the school’s legacy, three years ago, the moment she walked in the front doors for her interview.
“Love and connection is so important to me,” Nadeau said. “I felt like I came home.”
MTSU owns the facility, while Rutherford County Schools oversees the program.
“MTSU has always been Campus School and Campus School has always been MTSU,” King said. “They’re intertwined.”
Campus School is unique in that faculty members serve in a dual capacity as classroom teachers for RCS and adjunct professors for MTSU.
In 2013, the Ready2Teach initiative was fully implemented by the university’s College of Education. The Residency I Teaching Candidate program became the school’s primary focus.
Campus School teachers serve as mentors for Residency I teaching candidates.
Tonia Carter Nadeau, a second-grade teacher and Teacher of the Year at Campus School, said the relationship is symbiotic and beneficial for teachers at Campus School.
Nadeau quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes, “a mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions” in an effort to express the power having faculty members who continue to learn new best practices in education.
Their roles are to model innovative strategies and best practices in instruction so future teachers can learn from and successfully transfer to Residency II (formerly known as student teaching) and eventually to a classroom of their own.
One of two of the Residency I teaching candidates will observe a class at one time.
“They bring so much with them,” said Nadeau, who cherishes the “fresh eyes” residency I and II candidates bring to her classroom. “I learn from them as much as they think they learn from me.”
Nadeau added, “You can’t do that unless your administrator is on board with (growing) something beautiful.”
“It’s an opportunity to do something different in a different way,” said King, who noted the relatively small student body allows them “a little more flexibility to do something special.”
Frisby talked about a recent collaboration between fifth-graders and kindergarteners that involved the telling of fractured fairy tales.
Fifth-graders presented the kindergarteners with the fairy tales and in turn those five-year-olds were able to identify the fractures. Fifth-graders then explained why they chose each of the fractured fairy tales.
“It’s amazing what these children can do if you just give them the space to do it,” Frisby said.
Those opportunities begin right away.
For example, Melissa Flowers’ kindergarten classes have been raising and learning how to care for chickens.
For what will be two years this spring, Campus School has been home to six chickens — Beaka, Chicklet, Dixie, Hot Wings, Nugget and Poulet — housed in a coop on the kindergarten-only playground outside of Flowers’ classroom.
Raising chickens, collecting eggs and maintaining the coop provides kindergarteners with their first hands-on learning experience outside of a typical curriculum.
MTSU also provides Campus School students with exciting opportunities ranging from field studies to guest speakers, which further strengthens the collaborative bond between the school and the university.
That legacy and the traditions are not lost on the elementary-aged students.
“It’s really extraordinary what they do here,” said Hagan, who recently became the first student-elected mayor of Campus School. “This school has been around for a really long time and a lot of people have come and gone from Campus School. They leave a role of legacy and leadership and perseverance.”
Even 11-year-old Perry agreed.
When asked about teachers, staff and administrators, she said, “They make Campus School happen.”
Though it’s been located at 923 East Lytle Street for more than 88 years, Perry described the school as a “hidden jewel when it comes to Rutherford County.”
“There are a lot more mainstream schools,” Perry continued, “and then you stumble upon Campus School. When you take a look, you’re like, ‘Wow, it really is different.’”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT