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Rio Del Oro nominated for national Blue Ribbon
Plumas Lake school ups API score
Fifth-grader Esteban Morales has been in and out of schools in Mexico and the United States, but said none are like Rio Del Oro Elementary.
"At a lot of my other schools, most of the teachers have been soft with me. Here, they really push me and tell me to do the best you can do, not just do what you can," said Esteban, 10.
Whether in class or during after-school tutoring, students are always challenged, he said.
"Most of the teachers make it fun," Esteban said. "They don't just teach you a lesson. That's what makes it interesting, so I want to learn."
And students are learning. The Plumas Lake school's Academic Performance Index has grown from 767 five years ago to 888 in 2011, well beyond the 800-point target the state has set for all schools to meet.
Recently, Rio Del Oro Elementary was the only school in Yuba-Sutter nominated by State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which recognizes some of the highest-performing and most-improved schools in the country. Thirty-five schools in California were nominated, either because of overall excellence or for showing vast improvement with a large percentage of disadvantaged students.
Principal Baljinder Dhillon credits all the students' success to daily abilities classes, where students are separated for an hour with others who are at the same skill level. Whether struggling, average or advanced, all students are pushed to excel based on their current needs.
"It's high expectations for all the kids," she said. "Our kids are wonderful. They want to learn, they want to be here."
Third-grader Ivy Huizar, 8, said she really likes her abilities class because it focuses on what she needs.
"We do stuff before we do it in class, which really helps us learn the lesson," she said. "It makes our brains larger."
Students say they have watched their grades improve through the year, and many say they spend a lot of time on homework.
"You can learn a lot about lots of things you want to learn about, like math and science," said third-grader Manuel Galvan, 9. "What makes me want to work hard is curiosity. I do my best by trying and not giving up."
Second-grade teacher Danika Bauman has been at Rio Del Oro since it opened in 2004 and said teachers are always working to determine what works and what doesn't for their students.
"The standards are so important, but we allow these kids to learn all the things they need to learn. We are teaching the whole child," she said. "A lot of teachers decided we want to have fun, and learning can be fun."
The Blue Ribbon nomination was a welcome surprise, she said.
"I have an overwhelming sense of pride not only for people I work with but every student I've ever had," Bauman said.
Students are pleased with themselves and Rio Del Oro.
"I think it's an awesome school where you get friends and you get to learn a lot," said third-grader Alaina Miller, 8. "Writing helps you write more sentences, and math is good because you do division, multiplication, addition and subtraction — a whole bunch of things you need to learn."
Fourth-grade teacher Ericka Schallmo has been at Rio Del Oro for four years and said the school, parents and students deserve praise for the nomination. They share a goal to see students do their best, she said.
"Sometimes, you are gonna get a high-five or just the feeling you did a good job," she said. "They are not just doing it to people please. They value their education."
Though the Blue Ribbon nomination is performance based, it's not the school's only accomplishment, she said.
"You kids are rock-star academians, but you also do fundraisers for breast cancer research, you support veterans and you do Pennies for Patients," Schallmo said.
Many of the students credit their teachers.
"They help me learn a lot," said fifth-grader Ashley Wilson, 10. "If I could, I'd stay here forever."