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Tiger Clubs at Westside Elementary allow students to pursue their interests


After Westside Elementary School's recorder club ran through a performance of Hot Cross Buns — an "awesome" performance, according to teacher Barb Weiss — fifth-grader Kailey Headen demonstrated how she produced the notes.

"Normally, we work with G, A and B," said Kailey, 10. "G would be with three fingers on these holes. A is two fingers . . . and B would be with one finger."

Kailey didn't know any of this before joining the club.

She'd never had a music lesson. Neither had most of the other club members. And many of them might never have a chance to take such lessons — which is the reason the school formed the so-called Tiger Clubs at the start of this school year.

Meeting every other Friday, the clubs offer activities such as drama, photography, computer design, journalism and sign language that are out of reach for many parents at the school, which has one of the highest rates among Hernando County schools of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches — 88 percent.

"We wanted to provide opportunities to our students that are typically things they would go to after school, but that they might not be able to (pursue) because of transportation or cost," said Westside principal Kristina Stratton.

Some of the clubs also compensate for classes that might otherwise be offered as part of the curriculum. In fact, the inspiration came from a program that was especially designed to close such a gap.

Because of budget shortfalls after the recession, music classes were eliminated at Westside and several other Hernando elementary schools.

When Stratton arrived at the school 21/2 years ago, Weiss, a reading resource teacher with a background in music instruction, "volunteered to start a chorus," Stratton said.

It was an immediate hit. As was a talent show held for the first time last school year.

"It was a moment for kids to really shine and shine in a way they might not have been able to during the school day," Stratton said.

Seeing all of the enthusiasm, staffers started to look for ways to offer other extracurricular programs — an effort Stratton said might be duplicated at other schools in the county.

A group of teachers in the school's Organize to Lead program came up with the idea of Tiger Clubs, named after the school's mascot.

Teachers were encouraged to form clubs offering activities "they were really passionate about," Stratton said. Students signed up for the ones that appealed to them most.

Teachers donated some of the needed materials. The school also received money from Walmart and the Hernando County Education Foundation, which provided a grant that paid for the recorders.

On designated Fridays, class periods are shortened by a few minutes to leave an hour at the end of the regular school day, which means that every teacher and every student participates.

On Nov. 18, Stratton led a tour through several of the clubs, walking down hallways buzzing with the sound of kids pursuing their favorite activities.

The Lego club for kindergarteners teaches science and design, teacher Amy Tilton said as students constructed Lego boats and tested them in bowls of water to see if they would not only float, but also carry cargoes of marbles.

"Class," Tilton called out to get their attention. "Take your designs out of the water and dry them off so we can talk about why they floated and why they didn't."

In a drama club for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, some of whom were sprawled across a stage in fake slumber, students rehearsed a performance of Sleeping Beauty.

In computer engineering club, Jordan Moore, 10, wrote code for a computer game character named Nathan that allowed Jordan to control Nathan's arm movements from his keyboard.

He explained how he had upgraded a drive on teachers' laptops to increase their speed, and that he hoped to write software that would allow him to pursue his hobby, tracking hurricanes, and maybe help him in his future career.

"I want to be a meteorologist, and that's a lot of computers right there," he said.

And over the sound of students practicing on their recorders, Jasmyn Barosso, 8, showed off the white, yellow and orange "belts" she had earned for learning songs, including Hot Cross Buns.

Like martial arts belts, these are awarded for levels of achievement, though rather than belts they are lengths of yarn tied to the base of students' recorders.

Students get excited about even such small rewards for progress, Weiss said. That excitement carries over to school as a whole.

"They get that little belt and it make them hungry to learn and grow," she said.

"They can't wait to get out of the club and show it to their friends."

Contact Dan DeWitt at; follow @ddewitttimes.

Tiger Clubs at Westside Elementary allow students to pursue their interests 11/30/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 3:36pm]
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