Playing to Success

For years, the staff at Bells Elementary didn’t feel like underdogs – they felt defeated. As one of the lowest performing elementary schools in the state, their reputation preceded them in their community and among their peers.

Principal Lauren Behie was looking for a path for deeper learning for all of her students. She toured multiple NTN schools including Cougar New Tech in South Carolina and Washington Discovery Academy in Indiana. Working with Colleton County School District, Lauren started the journey of school transformation.

Around the same time, the Ruffin, South Carolina community passed a bond referendum with funds that were to be directed toward improving the school’s facilities. The facilities were the oldest in the district and only had minor improvements made since opening in 1954.

Behie explained how excited the kids were on their first day back to have new furniture and a beautiful school. She said that the most shocking part was the reaction to their new playground because until then, Bells only had a few broken swings. Behie said that when the kids were let out for recess, they didn’t fully understand what to do with the new equipment.

“We had to teach them how to play on the playground,” Behie said. “After the first day on the playground, as they were coming back in, all we heard was, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

The physical improvements to the school only took a few months, and the academic improvements haven’t followed far behind. In just the short time they’ve worked with New Tech Network, Behie and her staff say they’ve already seen substantial improvement.

As the first elementary school in South Carolina to partner with New Tech Network, Bells thought they were going to face yet another challenge – the closest neighboring NTN elementary school was in Ohio. The distance could have easily felt isolating, but thanks to coaching and support from the New Tech staff, and smart utilization of the Network of schools, Bells saw student growth by the mid-year benchmarks.

“We aren’t in last place anymore. We were outscoring other schools on mid-year benchmarks and our children were scoring the same even though we hadn’t taught the material yet,” Behie said.

Janet Rizer, an instructional coach at Bells said there is a huge difference in how the students interact with the adults. She said they feel more empowered and confident.

“You can’t grasp the work until you actually see the students and talk to them. It’s indescribable, you just have to experience it. This is just our first year, I can’t wait to see, especially with our little ones, the conversations that we’re going to have with them.” Rizer said.