Winstead Elementary nurtures young minds

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Winstead Avenue Elementary first-grade teacher Tarnisha Langston discusses the book 'Luca's Lunch Box' with Madison Moss, 7, right, during a guided reading group session Wednesday, March 8, 2017 with students, clockwise from bottom, Andru Stacy, 7, Jaden Bryant, 7, and Ras Powell, 7, at the school.


Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In hallways filled with light and color, Winstead Avenue Elementary School nurtures some of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools smallest scholars.

The school was built roughly 18 years ago with the needs of students in Pre-K to second grade in mind. An open floor plan welcomes students to mural-covered halls of learning. Child-sized bathrooms separate pairs of classrooms in some areas, with glass windows opening onto hand-washing stations so students are in view of teachers as much as possible. Learning stations in classrooms offer access to knowledge through creative, hands-on activities and technology.

For Yolanda Wiggins, principal of Winstead Avenue Elementary School, such elements support her desire to promote a more holistic approach to early childhood learning.

“In these early grades especially, we need to not only address the educational needs of students, but their social and emotional needs as well. We need to focus on the whole child,” Wiggins said.

For Wiggins, that approach means educating parents as well as students. To this end, the school holds parent-teacher conferences to involve parents in the discussion of student data and offers reading and math nights to help give parents the tools they need to support student achievement.

“We use these nights to bring parents in touch with the expectations we have for these students and to teach them strategies they can use at home to put their students on the fast-track to success,” Wiggins said. “We also want them to see the fun side of education.”

Wiggins said such efforts are necessary because parents often view school through the lens of their own preconceived notions.

“Some parents did not have good experiences when they were in school and how they left school is how they feel about it,” Wiggins said. “Other parents are not aware of the new expectations for kindergarten, which are far more than they remember. Education in these early grades is not like it was when we were in school. The standards are much more rigorous now.”

But if the school works hard to help parents, Wiggins said the school is blessed in return by a very strong Parent-Teacher Organization led by PTO President Sharon Joyner, who served for 14 years as an elementary school teacher in Edgecombe County Public Schools before assuming the role of mom to three young children.

“I felt that we were welcome from the first day of school and that is really important to you when you bring your child to kindergarten for the first time and your heart stays in that building when you walk out of the door,” Joyner said. “My son had a hard time letting go to begin with, but a teaching assistant would hug him and that made all the difference. He feels loved at that school, and when you feel loved, you are more likely to learn.”

Wiggins said another important part of the story at Winstead Avenue Elementary School is the teaching culture. Wiggins encourages collaboration between teachers on the same grade level especially and encourages her teachers to develop their leadership skills.

“Roughly 90 percent of my teachers are in some sort of leadership role at the school,” Wiggins said. “I rely a whole lot on my teachers for guidance when I am making decisions for the school because they are the ones who will be affected by those decisions. I value the teacher’s opinions because I want to make sure what I do is right for kids.”

This strategy seems to be paying off for Winstead Avenue Elementary School. Though the school does not receive an N.C. school report card because all students are below grade three, Wiggins said the school has exceeded growth for the past three years. As students leave Winstead Avenue, they graduate to their sister school, Englewood Elementary School, and the two schools work together to improve reading scores and student progress.

One key element of this collaboration is the use of shared literacy coaches at the two schools. Wiggins said this measure is a new one that was crafted by the school district in response to low performance scores at Englewood Elementary. 

“Our teachers say that this was the piece that we were missing. I am grateful for these coaches because I think they will help our kids even more,” Wiggins said. “At our school, it is all about nurturing and growing our kids.”