Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wilkinson Early Childhood Center @ Roe School

Wilkinson Early Childhood Center @ Roe School (WECC), is a magnet school in the St. Louis Public School System (SLPS).  It serves children in grades pre-school to 2nd.  WECC is housed in the Roe Schoolhouse built in 1919 by renowned architect Rockwell M. Milligan and is located at 1921 Prather Street in the Franz Park Neighborhood, otherwise known as "Dogtown".




Wilkinson used to be housed in Wilkinson School, also designed by Milligan in 1927 at 7212 Arsenal in the Ellendale Neighborhood.  They kept the name after moving to the Roe building since Wilkinson was already an established and recognizable name.

Physically speaking, this is an ideal settings for an urban school.  It is directly across the street from Franz Park, a charming little city park for which the neighborhood takes its name with tons of great stuff for the kids to do.  A baseball diamond, soccer field, playground, pavilion, etc. exist for the kids to play before or after school.



The school is even involved in sprucing up the park and adding some sculpture to the corner of the park at Prather and Mitchell.




Franz Park the neighborhoood also hugs the school grounds with residential alleys and streets flanking WECC on 3 of 4 sides.  I admire the way these old schools were built to be beacons of pride for their humble surroundings.  The bar was high for public education back when these schools were built.  Roe is no exception.  It is good to see these buildings still in use...and in the case of WECC...thriving.

The school yards have basketball hoops and nice playgrounds.







Roe School is an achitectural masterpiece .  It takes its name from John J. Roe (1809-1870), a self made man of great wealth.  He was a Union man up to and during the Civil War and believed in abolishing slavery.  At one point in time, he was the largest pork producer in the U.S. (source)


The school sits at Prather and Mitchell Avenues:





The curriculum of Wilkinson is based on Constructivist Theory:
Constructivist teaching is based on constructivist learning theory. Constructivist teaching is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Constructivist teaching fosters critical thinking, and creates motivated and independent learners. This theoretical framework holds that learning always builds upon knowledge that a student already knows; this prior knowledge is called a schema. Because all learning is filtered through pre-existing schemata, constructivists suggest that learning is more effective when a student is actively engaged in the learning process rather than attempting to receive knowledge passively. A wide variety of methods claim to be based on constructivist learning theory. Most of these methods rely on some form of guided discovery where the teacher avoids most direct instruction and attempts to lead the student through questions and activities to discover, discuss, appreciate, and verbalize the new knowledge. (source)
Basically a hands on approach.






I was sitting at a boy scout event with one of my kids and I overheard a couple parents talking about schools.  One mom was talking about how happy they are at Wilkinson. I had never heard of it before and that was when the light bulb went off and I knew right then that I needed to start researching the viable school options that exist in St. Louis.  That mom I overheard talking was Ami Boehlje.  Ami has kids at WECC and was kind enough to share her opinions and experiences on the school.
Ami, is originally from the Detroit, MI region, spent time in Iowa for high school and college and has been in St. Louis for nearly 20 years.  The Boehlje's have lived in the Central West End and now reside in the charming South City neighborhood of Princeton Heights.  They chose the SLPS for their kids and here is their story.

The Boehlje's have 3 children, a 7th grader at McKinley, a 5th grader at Humbolt and a Kindergartener at WECC.

What other schools did you consider before deciding upon WECC?
Their first child went to Kennard, and their second did not initially test in to that program, so they decided to search for other options.  This ended up being a blessing because they looked into Stix (the other Early Childhood Center) and Wilkinson.   
What was the key decision point was for Wilinson?
They immediately fell in love with WECC as it had a great vibe and a tight knit community of families.  The teachers seemed experienced and nurturing and it appeared to be a special place, so they ended up choosing WECC for their 2nd and 3rd kids.  It seemed like an ideal place for young children.
How do you sign up for the school?  
The application process (linked below) is online and admission is based on a lottery which was not a problem for the Boehlje's initially, but there is currently a waiting list as the good word is spreading.  There is a neighborhood preference for admission.  The strict racial quotas that existed as a result of the desegregation lawsuits have expired; but, the administrators do their best to balance the schools by gender and race.
As of 2011, the student body was:
56% male

44% female

61% black

35% white 
3% Asian 
1% Hispanic/Latino

47% eligible for reduced or free lunch
(source)
The Boehlje's are in a carpool, but there is full bus service at WECC as is the case for all SLPS schools. 

When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 10, teachers = 10, principal = 10, curriculum = 10, physical resources = 9, overall educational experience = 9
Safety:  when the kids are dropped off and run into school, there are no safety concerns.  Completely confident in safety, no worries.   
Teachers:  the teachers are very experienced and trained in the constructivist curriculum and can fully engage the students in that philosophy.  They are top notch, caring, nurturing, skilled with a wide range of years of experience.  There are many teachers that have been here for awhile which speaks to the fact that they are happy too.   
Principal:  She is phenomenal.  Even the administration downtown thinks the world of her.  She has been there for 3 years and is an amazing and innovative leader.  Her staff is happy.  She came from a similar environment in another district where she was teaching.  She has been excellent. 
Curriculum:  the constructivist curriculum slogan at the school is "hands on, minds on".  This a one of the key draws of the school.  It is a very engaging curriculum that is student driven, allowing the kids to learn and grow intellectually as opposed to focusing simply on testing well.  For instance, when there is a lesson on penguins, they teach about environmental habitat, math lessons focusing on penguins, ornithology, etc. They try to tie it all together.  Another plus for the curriculum is that it works.  Back when it was being implemented 100%, Wilkinson's test scores were 2nd only to Kennard. The district has since decided to mandate the same curriculum in all schools. However, they still adhere to the same basic philosophy. The district has now adopted it as the prevailing method in early childhood.

Physical resources:  The school has central HVAC, which was the main reason they moved from Wilkinson to Roe School.  There are computers in the classroom as well as a computer lab.  Maryville University partners with WECC in many ways which has advantages including continuing education for teachers and they run their student teaching program through WECC.  Also, with a city park directly across the street, the kids get to walk over there and get their hands dirty...for instance, if there is a unit on trees, they all walk over and do the lessons in the park.  The school also utilizes the "older kids" to engage with the little ones.  For instance, the 2nd graders recently invited the little ones up to their class and assigned reading buddies and read stories to the little kids.  
 Are there enrichment courses available? 
The daily schedule has the kids in a homeroom setting with the regular teacher, there are ancillary classes as well including art, music, P.E., a newly re-decorated library and computer lab. 

Are there extra-curricular activities? 
There is a cub scout and daisy troop.  The teachers started "club time" once a week at school.  And, the YMCA offers before and after care at the school.
What are the kids like? 
The kids are great.  They come from all over the city from all different backgrounds.  They all get along very well.
Is there good parental involvement and accountability? 
Parental involvement is fantastic! Parents have rallied many times to advocate for what our children need. We have been successful in having: lead paint remediated, the playground equipment moved from the old building, and a fence installed to separate the parking lot from the playground. The establishment of Humboldt grew out of a parent movement for our children to benefit from more of the good things happening at Wilkinson (and Stix ECC). And, a group of our parents developed plans for an outdoor learning space. A landscape architect drew formal plans for us. Our plans have been adopted by the district, and will be implemented over the summer, at Wilkinson and multiple other buildings educating the youngest students. This project is being funded by a grant, secured by the director of early childhood education.
Please tell me about the cons of Wilkinson.

There are none, this school has it all: a dynamic and visionary principal, experienced and nurturing teaching staff, and engaged and informed parents, all dedicated to our very special learning environment and school community.
As you can see, the Boehlje's are very positive about their experience and would definitely recommend WECC to other families.  It is a safe, viable option for public education in the city.   In fact, they were so happy with Wilkinson that, after their 2nd son tested into Kennard (1 of 2 gifted programs) they decided to stay at WECC and work with the SLPS to get a continuum school established for the Early Childhood Centers.  They were successful and now Humbolt School is the feeder for Stix and WECC in grades 3 through 5.  Busch School is the feeder for grades 6 through 8, I do not think Busch is using the constructivist method, but the principal says his test scores are 2nd only to McKinley.  This is fantastic news, as students are guaranteed a spot at the downstream schools and get to continue in the constructivist style through 5th grade with, largely, the same group of kids and friends/families.  These schools are filling up fast.

To all expecting parents and young families out there who love city living, please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents and visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts when your children reach school age.  Highly educated and loving parents are raising families in St. Louis and are choosing to have their children attend schools in the city.  These families are helping raise the bar for education options in St. Louis and you can be part of that solution and not part of the problem of mass middle class exodus.

Want to see more testimonials on this special place, click HERE.

To apply for Wilkinson Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade enrollment in 2013/14, click here.

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