'A lot of character': Students and staff display 'integrity' during Varnell Elementary Red Carpet Tour

Feb. 5—Principal Paula Wheeler says visitors to Varnell Elementary School will see "a lot of character."

During a Red Carpet Tour of the school on Thursday, Feb. 1, Wheeler said students and staff not only put emphasis on character but "love, family and treating each other with respect."

"Overall, we just want to really develop our students to have wonderful character traits wherever they are," she said. "Not just at school, but to be those productive, wonderful, loving and giving citizens out there in our community as well."

A joint effort between local school systems and Believe Greater Dalton and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, Red Carpet Tours allow community members and leaders in the North Georgia area to receive an inside look at the day-to-day operations of a school.

"We are grateful to have this opportunity to be able to share our school with you and for you to have the opportunity to come in and be able to see the amazing instruction that takes place and meet the most amazing students and staff around," Wheeler said to visitors on the tour.

Varnell Elementary has 391 students and 45 staff members, including 19 homeroom teachers, 12 resource teachers, seven support teachers and office staff.

According to data presented on the tour, of Varnell Elementary's students, 73.26% are economically disadvantaged, 16.8% are English Language Learners and 13.55% are students with a form of disability.

Community members visited the hallways of the school's kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms, including third-grade teacher Abby Elliott's room where students were reading "Those Darn Squirrels!" by Alan Rubin, a book about the struggle between a grumpy old man and a group of squirrels who torment his yard.

"We're talking about plot," Elliott said as students defined the word and its function in a story.

Kindergarten teacher Laurie Wilson's class were also having a lesson on reading and writing.

"We do writer workshops," said Lisa Cable, the school's instructional coach. "What (visitors) got to see was the share portion. That last five minutes of intentional sharing."

Students wrote about animals and drew illustrations to match their stories while classmates provided feedback and asked questions.

"The big standard in kindergarten is being able to ask questions and to be able to talk and notice things and ask questions about another person's writing," Cable said. "The share (factor) is very important."

Another stop on the tour was the school's book room, which includes reading materials, packets and books organized on shelves much like a library.

Cable said through federal funds, local funds and "lots of planning," the book room was built for students to use for reading instruction on their grade level.

"We're pretty proud of it," Cable said. "All of our teacher resources, which are shared resources, are in here for them to check out and take to the classroom as well."

Annie Worley, an Early Intervention Program teacher, said the shelves in the book room are under constant rotation so that students can continually bring a new book home to read.

"Our children read these books in class and then take them home," Worley said. "The beauty of it is that our children that don't have books at home are always going to have a bag of four or five books that are perfect for them as a learner. They can read by themselves, to their parents or even their pets."

And that "familiar read" that students have already read inside the classroom "helps build that fluency and comprehension piece," Cable said.

"We find that really strengthens their reading process, especially in the lower grades," she said. "They enjoy it."

Worley said what it means to be "COLTS," which is not only the school's mascot but a "philosophy" that the students and staff live by.

"Each letter of COLTS stands for a different thing that we want our students to take on," she said. "Caring about others, owning your actions, leading by example, think before acting and staying safe. Chances are, if you were to ask any students in the school what each of these letters stand for they could tell you because they own (those qualities)."

Worley said teachers and staff at the school hand out "COLT slips" throughout the week to students who have displayed those characteristics and recognize them each Friday in front of the school.

"One thing we actually started new this month was that we started letting the students nominate their teachers that are taking on that character trait," Worley said. "Because what we thought was at the end of the day, in our school, teachers are the ultimate role models for our students. Whatever we asked of our children, we wanted for our teachers to model as well."

Part of the Red Carpet Tour included the school's monthly Red Carpet Assembly, when students and teachers who displayed that month's dedicated character trait are recognized by walking down a red carpet while surrounded by their classmates and peers in the gym.

January's character trait was integrity.

"That means doing the right thing even though no one is watching," Wheeler said during the assembly.

After students from each grade who were recognized walked down the carpet and gave high-fives to teachers and classmates, Wheeler announced two teachers who were nominated by students for exhibiting that trait as well.

Nominated by fifth-grade student Bryant Moss, Varnell Elementary counselor Keri Blackwell was recognized, while Tiffany Lowe, a special education paraprofessional, was nominated by fourth-grade students Fernando Fraire, Cayden Baggett and Dylan Villanueva.

"Mrs. Blackwell always shows integrity," said Moss. "She is always kind no matter who the student is. She loves them just the same. She shows integrity to everyone she teaches and always does the right thing."

Students who were recognized during the assembly include:

—Kindergarteners Colten Amos, Genesis Castillo, Tiffany Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanchez, Haadi Sheikh, Caden Bennett, Audrey Broomhead, Jaxon Thames and Presley Roach.

—First-graders Samantha Brown, Skylar Siewert, Houston Cheek, Azmund Custer, Kannon Phillips, Yzabel Caro, Nina Crider, Hank Worley, Dylan Paz, Malakia Harris, Jazlyn Mendez and Zoey Sansom.

—Second-graders Amaiya DeSantiago, Evelyn Peinado, Hadasa Rangel, Isaac Velazquez, Ellie Richards, Junior Denis, Noah Crook, Bennett Higdon and Weston Tatum.

—Third-graders Jace Dorman, Madden Ricks, Emily Lua, Kinsley Roach, Samantha Rodriguez, Zulema Maldonado, Melody Valencia, Corben Moore and Lettie Owens.

—Fourth-graders Liam Bennett, Jazmine Dunn, Lia Rodriguez, Rosalee Truelove, Kevin Perez, Maggie Calvillo, Simon Gilbert, Eleanor Headrick and Nadilyn Fraire.

—Fifth-graders Jessee Bibian, Paige Roark, London Lashley, Neymar Chavarria-Pereira, Jonathan Lugo, Lydia Favela, Luke Douglas, Hailey Lowrance and Liam Hall.