Gilcrease Elementary teacher Nicole Powell was teaching in Thailand for the summer when she asked herself what would be the “craziest and most fun thing” she could put in a classroom. Fifteen months later, in October 2018, a full-sized outdoor playground slide was installed in Room 37 at Gilcrease Elementary much to the joy of Nicole, her co-teacher Hanna Al-Jibouri, and the 55 third and fourth graders they teach. It is likely the project would not have happened without dedicated All Souls Partners In Education (PIE) volunteer Bonnie Darby. Bonnie is also the chairman of the Ed Darby Foundation, the non-profit arm of the pipeline equipment company.
The Gilcrease Slice of PIE
“If I hadn’t been involved in PIE, I doubt that we would have become involved with Gilcrease,” Bonnie said. All Souls PIE assists Gilcrease, Unity Learning Academy, and McLain 7th Grade Academy with monthly family dinners, school supplies, tutors, and extra curricular activities. Bonnie has volunteered for PIE for seven years, and was the PIE liaison to Gilcrease for three years. When Nicole sent her an email about the slide Bonnie thought it was a great idea.
“I realized they needed help with students’ attendance and tardiness and a slide would be a good motivator. I wish I had a slide!” Bonnie joked. When Nicole asked Gilcrease Principal Tasha Johnson for permission to pursue the slide, Tasha approved it provided Nicole and Hanna raised the money, around $10,000. The Ed Darby Foundation contributed $4,000, the students and their parents raised $2,500, and the remainder was provided by an educational grant Hanna received from a fellowship she completed at 36 Degrees North.
Support PIE at their annual FUN-raiser, Sing for Our Schools, on Saturday, February 2, 2019.
Nicole and Hanna both began teaching at Gilcrease in 2012 and shortly afterward began pursuing a Masters’ degree at OSU-Tulsa that would certify them both as reading specialists. In 2017, many of the Gilcrease students failed the state reading exam needed to move up to the fourth grade. “Being held back can permanently scar a child,” Hanna said, “so we had this crazy idea to combine a class of third and fourth graders and put them all in one room with the two of us.”
It just happened that the only room large enough to accommodate the combined classes was Room 37, and it had an upstairs loft. Nicole and Hanna said combining classes allowed them to fill in students’ missing gaps. “Our class is centered on the need of each individual student,” Nicole said. “We care less about their age or grade level and more about how we can propel them forward in all areas.” After joining the classes, the students have made drastic improvements in their reading. Two years ago there were about 25 third graders retained at Gilcrease. Last year there were around 10 students retained. Next year, Nicole and Hanna are confident that number will be even lower.
From Tardy to On Time
In addition to reading challenges, many of the Gilcrease children had been arriving to school late. But when they arrive on time, they get to climb up the stairs to the loft to slide down into the classroom, sometimes to the cheers of their classmates.
“The slide changes your mood and puts a smile on your face. At least it always does it for me,” Nicole said. That’s how she routinely starts her day. “Before the slide we would have students constantly trickling in throughout the morning. Now, students show up on time because they want the joy of the slide to start off their morning. Students are excited to be at school and be in our classroom.”
But joy in this room goes beyond sliding into class. The children are encouraged to consider their class a family, and Nicole said they take that very seriously. “One of our mottos is that if you break it, you fix it. If one child calls another a name, it breaks that kid’s heart. The offender has to either write or say three nice things about the child to try and fix their broken heart,” she said. “It feels good to hear nice things about yourself! Students start realizing all the things they like about each other and end up with a closer friendship. They hardly ever have second issues with one another.”
From Birdhouses to Readers
Seven years ago, Room 37 was being used for wood shop when Gilcrease was a middle school. Now instead of producing birdhouses and chessboards, Room 37 is turning out good readers who know how to get along with their teachers and classmates. “Nicole and Hanna are just amazing the way they come up with all these forward-thinking ideas to give the kids a reason to want to come to school and do well,” Bonnie Darby said.
You Can Help!
Partners In Education will hold its only fundraiser, Sing for Our Schools, Sat., Feb. 2, from 7p.m. to 10 p.m. at All Souls Church, 2952 S. Peoria Ave. Sing for Our Schools is a rip-roaring, toe-tapping, fun-filled singalong where the audience is the star. It also features a fabulous silent dessert auction. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 at the door. All proceeds benefit PIE’s work of supporting our students, faculty, and families at our partners schools.
Partners In Education has a far-reaching impact on our community and for the PIE volunteers who work with the schools through PIE’s many programs. Read more from Sallie about how PIE helped one mother regain her identity in The Parable of Mathilda.
Sallie Godwin is a regular contributor to beyondbelief.online. Read more from Sallie, including her story about All Souls food ministry, Moveable Feast. You can find her personal blog at salliegodwin.com.
Cover photo and images courtesy of Nicole Powell.