By Nikki Velarde, The Belton Journal
Chisholm Trail Elementary school has recently started up Chisholm Trail University, a time during the week when kids can get out of their classrooms and participate in various special activities and clubs. The clubs take place on Mondays from 7:45 until 8:30 a.m.; they meet for three weeks and then break for two, which gives them a total of 12 times to meet before winter break.
“We decided on Monday morning because it’s a good kick-off to the week and they are excited about coming to school Monday,” said Chisholm Trail Elementary, Principal Calvin Itz. “At the beginning of the year, students got to choose what clubs they wanted based on their interest. About 95 percent of the kids were able to get their first choice. In total, kids had over 30 different clubs to choose from.”
Clubs ranged in size from the smaller groups in the Shoe Typing Club to the larger groups in the Lego Builders with about 140 kids and the Girls Just Want to Have Fun club with about 100.
“Our goal is about a 1:15 ratio, which is better than a normal classroom,” explained Principal Itz. “Everyone is involved; everyone is helping in some way with the clubs. It also helps build relationships with their teachers since they get to see them in a different way.
“We got the idea to start this after the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisor Association (TEPSA) Conference in Austin,. Several BISD principals were there, and Pirtle Elementary even started a similar program. It gives us the opportunity to have K-5 in one club, and we’ve talked to the older kids about being the big brother or big sister. It helps build culture and helps make a connection for a Kindergartener to be in a third grade teacher’s room so they can help build those relationships and make connections prior to getting to that grade level.”
The classes also go deeper than a social level.
“Research shows that it helps maintain focus in the classroom, engagement, and it helps with attendance,” Principal Itz explained. “When research is done, they look at the effect size, the effect on children and their growth. The effect size of 0.40 is about 1 year’s growth, so really you want to look at those activities and things that create higher than 0.40. Creativity clubs tend to be around 0.67. It was really a no-brainer once you had the research backing it up. And certainly we don’t want it to cut into instructional time, but it’s one of those things where if you give a little bit in the beginning of the day, they are going to be more focused and engaged in the classroom, and it motivates them.
“That’s our goal, to get them excited about learning something new. And many of them may not get experiences like this. If kids are interested in something and we facilitate that growth then they’re going to really go after it and dig into something.”
This time around, the teachers did most of the designing for the clubs. After receiving feedback from the kids on what sort of clubs they’d like to see, the spring semester may see the addition of some new club choices.
“Some of the boys are already talking about a snake club,” said Principal Itz. “Of course you may talk about reptiles and snakes in science for a little bit. But if the child has a genuine interest, they are going to go so much deeper than what our curriculum may put in there for snakes.”
The curriculum already talks about specific concepts such food chains and symbiotic relationships, but because the kids will be looking at it from an angle that they are genuinely interested in, the concepts will stick with it a little bit more.
“The Thursday before winter break we will have a gallery walk,” Principal Itz added. “We will have the final product or photographs to show what the clubs have been doing and working on. We’ll use it as a day to let our school show off all the different clubs.”