As school doors opened for the first day of a new year, Wild Peach Elementary welcomed 350 children into the building, though they were collectively younger than last year’s students.

Trying out a new method to improve academic performance, the elementary now serves only pre-kindergarten students through first grade, while Barrow Elementary serves grades two through four.

“A lot of parents were excited about this change, but plenty had concerns,” Wild Peach Principal Mary McCarthy said.

After Columbia-Brazoria ISD administration examined poor academic performance between Wild Peach Elementary and Barrow Elementary last fall, they developed a strategic plan to improve the gaps, McCarthy said.

The two elementary schools previously served students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, McCarthy said. While classroom size wasn’t a factor, McCarthy said she thought placing an emphasis on reading to a smaller range of students would ensure their academic success and bring up test scores.

“There was a definite problem here academically and I strongly believe in first instruction,” McCarthy said.

After more than five presentations to the school board and public, C-BISD trustees approved splitting the two elementary schools by grade level instead of geography, McCarthy said.

Superintendent Steven Galloway said the move already has proven itself socially.

“When it comes to younger children, being able to consolidate resources is very important,” Galloway said. “Just looking at the number of parents and the emotional wall of dropping their kids off for the first time. That’s a big deal, so it’s really nice being able to consolidate resources and partnerships.”

Galloway said the academic performance will be proven in time, but he believes the move was a positive step toward creating a better atmosphere both emotionally and academically.

When the board approved the change, staff packed up boxes of supplies and began preparing for the transition before school let out last spring, McCarthy said.

Instead of having two of each grade level, Wild Peach now has six classes of each grade, which allows stronger areas of focus within that age group, McCarthy said.

Stephanie Key, a 24-year first grade teacher at Wild Peach Elementary, said the change is definitely beneficial.

“Having the smaller kids on one campus I think definitely helps,” Key said. “It’s just going to be a really fun and exciting year.”

Galloway said having the older students at another campus is good for that group, though some parents with multiple children expressed concerns over dropping their kids off at separate locations.

“The older kids kind of know the rules and have a routine, so it’s good for them as well,” he said.

With a focus on phonological awareness, or blending sounds, with reading, McCarthy hopes as kids grow, they’re on grade level reading by third grade. Time will dictate how those results pan out, she said.

“You know, sometimes the little kids get overlooked. With this new set-up, we can now focus 100 percent on them,” McCarthy said.

Courtney Blackann is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0152.

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