Soboba Tribal Preschool adds innovation to classrooms

Soboba Tribal Preschool teacher Ana Garcia shows a sample lesson about colors using the interactive whiteboard and Benchmark Education curriculum. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to Valley News

When Bridget Lowe was asked to research curricula that could better serve the students at Soboba Tribal Preschool, she said she was happy to find one that coincided well with the new Smart Boards that had been installed in each of the classrooms.

Lowe is in her fifth year of teaching at Noli Indian School and currently teaches math, which has always been her passion. Noli’s principal, Donovan Post who is also serving as director of the preschool, selected Lowe to be the curriculum coordinator at both sites to provide extra support in that area.

“I lead the selection process, adoption and implementation of new curricula,” she said. “I support teachers in the use of curricula and related classroom programs.”

In the simplest terms, curriculum (singular for curricula) is a description of what, why, how and how well students should learn in a systematic and intentional way. The curriculum is not an end in itself but rather a means to fostering quality learning, she said.

Lowe said the kindergartners are using Benchmark Advance, while the other classes are using levels of Ready to Advance appropriate to their grades/ages. Ready to Advance integrates language arts, mathematics, social studies and science into a rigorous, cohesive academic program. In kindergarten, Eureka Math has been adopted for mathematics.

The “top-notch curricula from Benchmark Education” is the one that has been chosen for the preschool and the staff there couldn’t be happier. To meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards, new curricula were necessary, and this one seemed to be a good fit for students and teachers, she said.

“Previously, teachers were creating their own units of study,” Lowe said. “Benchmark Education is a leading publisher of English-Language Arts curricula. Their programs run up to grade 6.”

Locally, this curricula is being used by Hemet Unified School District in grades TK-5 and in Murrieta Valley Unified School District for grades 2-5.

Lowe said among the many deciding factors in choosing Benchmark Education were the rich text experiences, close reading, interventional options and digital components. There are authentic literature selections included from many cultures, including Indigenous peoples. The language learning is a separate subject being taught by teachers from their own planned units of study. This is typical as world languages are not a component of the standards for English-Language Arts.

Although the teachers and students have enjoyed working with the new curriculum in conjunction with the newly installed Smart Boards, there has been a little bit of a learning curve.

“A learning curve is always expected with a large-scale change,” Lowe said. “The teachers and classroom aides have been enthusiastically using the new program, and that really helps the students adapt. The students see their excitement, and it gets them excited, too.”

Benchmark Education president Tom Reycraft said, “Proven time and again in field research, our programs help boost reading proficiency under the new state standards. Since our inception in 1998, our mission has remained to provide classroom-tested solutions that help educators differentiate instruction and enable every student to achieve success.”

“I have prior work experience as a training coach for several curriculum companies; Benchmark happens to be one of them,” Lowe said. “I was able to use my own expertise to provide professional development for the teachers and classroom aides.”

Since 2019, Lowe has also been the Google coordinator at Noli and took on that same position at the preschool since she began working with Post at that site about two years ago.

“The position began as the Google administrator and has grown into other instructional technology support, including Clever single sign platform at the preschool and Smart Board support at both sites,” Lowe said.

State-of-the-art interactive whiteboards were installed at the preschool at the start of the current school year. A lot of work happened behind the scenes last summer to get ready for students to return to in-person learning.

An interactive whiteboard is just as it sounds: a digital whiteboard with interactive enhancements. Lowe said teachers and students are really enjoying this new technology and all the opportunities it provides to the learning environment. Students can use it for a drag-and-drop activity to practice sorting words by vowel sounds or read along in their books as the words are highlighted on the large monitor in front of them.

Teachers can lead their class in a real-time creation of a graph or use the interactive whiteboard in a collaboration meeting to analyze data and record ideas.

“The possibilities really are endless,” Lowe said.

Teachers continue to learn alongside their students who are always finding creative and exciting ways to use the new technology.

“It makes our job a little easier,” Ana Garcia said.

Teaching the three-year-old classes, she said the Benchmark curriculum makes it easier to present the material to her students. Having the interactive whiteboard allows her to access materials in front of the students instead of having to go to a computer to do so. Lessons can be adapted creatively to meet the needs of all the students.

“Because I’ve always taught ages 3 to 5, I look at the 3s as a ‘tween’ because they still want to be little but also want to be more independent. They are so fun,” Garcia said.

Melissa Arviso, who team teaches with Garcia, said the new whiteboard gets the children’s attention more. Everything is linked to the computer so they can read along with their lap books as well as count and recite colors and other lessons that appear on the 85-inch screen. Their morning class has 20 students and the afternoon session has 12.

Post said when he took over as preschool director he assessed what was needed to enable staff to do their jobs in the best way to benefit the students. Because technology plays such a big role in the life of children these days, it was an easy transition for them to get used to having such interaction in their classrooms.

Amanda Vallin is the pre-K teacher and she likes the new tools because she can add things into the lesson since the boards are connected directly to the internet. If they are learning about bears, she can show a video about them to reinforce the topic, for instance. She can also use her computer to add interactive games that expand on what is already available in the curriculum.

Kindergarten teacher Sierra Vivanco said the board is super useful and the touch screen capabilities make it fun for all the students to participate. She said the Eureka Math program allows her to monitor a child’s progress to see if they are grasping the concepts and she can present the same information with a different approach to help them understand it, if needed.

She has incorporated a writing companion that pairs up with Benchmark Education that helps children comprehend what they are reading and this has made the lessons more engaging for the students. Another way Vivanco utilizes the new technology is with a “dot cam” or document camera which is a small camera connected to her desk computer that can transmit images to the large monitor.

Amber Young is her classroom aide and Vivanco said they make a really good team. Young was a teacher for 20-plus years and it is Vivanco’s first year of teaching so they are learning from each other, Young said.

“We’re really thrilled to bring these opportunities to our students and are already seeing the positive impacts of these resources,” Lowe said. “We look forward to 2022 with new achievements from our students. It is still very early in the adoption, but preliminary informal assessments are showing promising results.”