Elementary schools have sure changed in the last 40 years. At least they have in Beaufort. And moving them even further ahead is the new Principal at Beaufort Elementary, Melissa Holland.
Melissa is the daughter of a radio executive and growing up had the curse and blessing of living in a lot of different towns. She spent some time in Hilton Head which is where her love of the Lowcountry began, but her love of academics started way earlier. Melissa remembers going to an opera in Pittsburgh as a youngster where she was told by her Principal that she should really consider being a teacher. And she hasn’t wavered off that path ever since.
After getting her BA in Early Childhood Education at Clemson, she added two masters’ degrees – one in Early Childhood Education and one in Educational Administration. She has taught first and second grades in number of local schools and has had a focus in literacy throughout her years of working.
Melissa got her feet wet in administration when she doubled as the Literacy Coach and Assistant Principal at Bluffton Elementary and then at Lady’s Island Elementary. This is also where her determination to push those around her to really “understand it is their responsibility to shape children for the future.” For her, this isn’t just a platitude but a real mission. “Our kids need to feel safe, secure, and empowered to be who they are.”
So how does this manifest itself at Beaufort Elementary? First, the school has just received it’s accreditation as a STEM school. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and is a fairly new initiative in schools nationwide to encourage students to become involved in these academic areas where our schools have been weak in the past. Overall, the belief is that studies in these disciplines will better prepare out students for college and later for jobs in the real world.
Beaufort Elementary uses a “responsive classroom” method of teaching. This is a research proven way to achieve both higher student achievement and success through greater teacher effectiveness. This then leads to a better school climate. Elementary school isn’t just a place where you hopefully learn to read and write, in Beaufort it is now a place that offers interactive, appropriately challenging, purposeful and engaging activities for every student based on their interests. The old days of “you will learn it my way” has been replaced with “how are we going to keep you, the student, engaged in the learning process so you stay engaged and connected?”
Think back and wonder if “emotional safety” and having “students who were secure in taking risks” was ever a discussion at your personal elementary school. At Beaufort Elementary, there is a required morning meeting for all the students and teachers every day. This time is used to build a community feeling among the students. It also allows teachers to share successes, hear about new initiatives and adds a measure of structure to the day.
“Our students are individually challenged by their teachers to achieve at their own levels and be recognized for that achievement. Our current standards for teachers are higher than most but we will be adding some additional new standards this coming year.”
“I believe it possible to weave academic achievement into interesting projects that, on the surface, seem too advanced for the students but in reality, gives them a focus to explore and experiment.” An example of this is a program, created in conjunction with the Ladies Island Garden Club, is to integrate an app for people to download and then be able to learn more about the trees along The Beaufort Tree Walk that many visitors enjoy. The students have identified and photographed all the different trees found along the walk and the app then gives you information and pictures of what you are looking at. You can get the app for free under the name Aurasma and it requires you create an account and then find The Beaufort Tree Walk from their inventory. Then you can focus the “aura” on the appropriate tree in the Garden Club’s Walking Tour Guide, and it takes you to a description and photos produced by Beaufort Elementary students. It’s pretty cool if you happen to want to be more knowledgeable about historic Beaufort.
Students are also working with the Fripp Audubon Society to build an environmentally appropriate home for birds and turtles to live safely in an outside atrium at the school.
And then there are the Lego Labs-engineering and technology through play. What it is possible to build just using Lego’s is awe inspiring and amazing. In this classroom, imagination melds with advanced engineering principles to push students beyond what their age peers are studying in school.
So, what does Melissa do outside of school? With what little time there is when she isn’t finishing up this school year and getting ready for next year, she is running half marathons and being “just mom” to three wonderful daughters, her husband, and family chocolate Lab.
So is Beaufort Elementary in good hands with the new Principal Holland? You bet! With the help of an outstanding and dedicated group of teachers and administrators, these lucky students are destined to start their higher education with a solid background encompassing academic skills along with real self-confidence and a sense of what a real community can be. Welcome aboard Ms. Holland!