July 5, 2020

Sail Program: Students Actively Involved in Learning

I have had several opportunities over the past two years to meet with the staff and administrators at Cypress Ridge Elementary School in Lake County, Florida. My interest in teacher teams who share student accountability was peaked by the schools’ SAIL program so I asked principal, Rob McCue, and his staff to share some explanation and experiences.

Please tell me about Cypress Ridge Elementary School and the SAIL program.

Cypress Ridge Elementary School is a math, science, and technology magnet school. Since the schools conception it has always had a team oriented approach to decision making and teaching strategies. The SAIL program (Students Actively Involved in Learning) features teaching teams, parents, and students that make a commitment to one another to stay together for three years in either a K – 2 or 3 – 5 model. The SAIL team is comprised of three teachers that specialize in reading, math, or language arts/writing. The students rotate between the three teachers switching classrooms to receive instruction in the three core areas. Each teacher has a designated homeroom assignment and is responsible for their social studies and science instruction.

What are the benefits to the SAIL program?

The teachers work closely together planning appropriate curriculum sequences to meet the needs of students at all three grade levels. The close scrutiny of the standards and skills for each grade level creates a unique and comprehensive understanding of subject area for the individual teachers. A teacher’s concentration on a specific subject creates a strong level of expertise with an understanding of where students start and where they should be in order to successfully move forward in their acquisition of skills. SAIL teachers know each child’s achievement level throughout the year as well as where to begin the following year. Teachers also know the content they have taught and are able to build upon that each year. There is a smooth transition between the grade levels.

SAIL teachers understand that traditional classroom and curriculum control is given up and responsibilities are shared. Each member of the team must fully trust the other members to teach the curriculum and standards of their respective subjects and meet the needs of the students within the group.

The students who join a SAIL team are welcomed by three caring teachers who are concentrating on providing the best possible educational environment. The classrooms may be different in style but have a similar commitment to excellence. The classes have a common set of rules and share many of the same procedures. The students move smoothly through the day interacting comfortably with each other and the adults that serve them. Students have consistency working with three teachers, and camaraderie staying with their peers for three years. There is no anxiety at the beginning of the next school year.

The parents have the support and input of three teachers during their child’s educational journey. All three teachers meet often with parents to discuss class work and student progress. The communication between parents and teachers becomes open, honest and straight forward over the years. Parents feel a comfort in knowing that their child has the same teachers for three years and like their children there is no anxiety at the beginning of the next year. We become a family with strong parent support and confidence in their child’s educational program.

Our parents are required by the school to spend 10 hours doing volunteer work. SAIL parents benefit from their time in school by experiencing not only their own child’s class and grade level but getting a sneak peek at what is to come. Parent volunteers can see the relationship of skills by working in three classrooms on three different grade levels. There is a comfort and disarming of fears as they look into the window of their child’s future and more clearly see how the system works and how skills build on one another. Over three years the teachers have an opportunity to create a positive parental force for education.

One special note from my time with the staff at Cypress Ridge…. While the staff consist of teachers who were original founders of the school 11 years ago, teachers who have been there for 5 or 6 years, and new folks who joined the staff this year, the beliefs and values of the school are similar. While principals have changed, and new staff joined, the embedded belief in collegiality to serve students is constant.

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