Feb. 12, 2018 -- Oxford Elementary was rocking out on a recent Friday afternoon at the school's monthly "Oxford Rocks" awards ceremony. The entire staff and student body had gathered in the gym, where reading specialist and Title I literacy lead Patrick Carpenter was emceeing a raucous celebration of individual achievement.
One student from each class was introduced to great fanfare by Mr. Carpenter, who read out a paragraph either submitted by their teacher or compiled from their classmates' nominations describing why that particular child "rocks."
Some students won for academic achievement, such as the fourth grade girl who improved her winter MAP scores by double-digit gains. Most students were recognized for their good behavior and positive attitudes. One student had "made a major attitude adjustment," another was "actively engaged at all times," and yet another was "conscientious and a joy to have in class."
A fifth grade girl was celebrated for being a "kind-hearted individual who always works hard for the benefit of herself, her classmates and her school community." This particular "Oxford scholar," as they're all called, walked past her teacher on her way to accept her award and whispered, "Thank you."
A monthly awards ceremony is not unique to elementary schools, but the reaction of the fellow students felt exceptional. In what was a mix between rock concert and pep rally, the gathered children cheered their classmates on with enormous enthusiasm and pride. When Mr. Carpenter finished each description with, "Give it up for…," the crowd went wild, hooting, hollering, whistling and clapping with abandon.
The other thing that makes this awards ceremony special is that a staff member and community member are both recognized for their contributions to the school. The community member component is new this year, the brainchild of the school's TAP team (Teacher-Administrator Partnership). "We have a major focus on bringing in the community this year," said Principal Brigitte Pronty. "We're working really hard to engage with our community members and strengthen our partnerships."
So far this year, the school has honored a father who uses his professional skills as a barber to give free haircuts to boys who need them during their lunch hours, a "grandmother to all our students" who lives down the street and walks countless children home each day, and the building's PTA president who took on that responsibility after just one year in the district.
January's honoree was Elizabeth Watkins, a neighborhood resident, CH-UH substitute and retired educator from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Ms. Watkins is a regular in the Oxford building, filling needs whenever they appear and even stepping up to serve as a volunteer at PTA events. According to Pronty, "She was subbing one day last November and we happened to be hosting a Thanksgiving potluck that evening after school. Well, she stayed and served food for hours, just because she could."
Ms. Watkins, who was a high school English teacher, said the award makes her feel "happy and appreciated."
"I have relationships with all the teachers and children here," she said. "I love this little school."
Building social worker Cindy Schmidt would likely agree. She was January's honored staff member, recognized as "the heart of Oxford School." As she walked up to receive her certificate and special edition "Oxford Rocks" t-shirt, Ms. Schmidt's colleagues and students gave her a standing ovation.
When asked about the event, she wanted to talk about the students instead. "When you know their stories -- kids who are homeless, kids who've experienced intense trauma in their homes – and then, they win these awards…" she finished her sentence with a shake of her head and tears in her eyes.
Her emotions were reflected by the students – both those who won awards and those simply present – the proud teachers and the even prouder parents. There couldn’t be a more appropriate name for this monthly celebration than "Oxford Rocks."