A passion for writing

Glendale News Press

Sixth-grader Owen Hammer break-danced across the Fremont Elementary School stage in full Michael Jackson attire Thursday, but instead of the hit song "Beat It," the sixth-graders behind him chanted, "Just write it."

Owen's performance was the grand finale to a writing celebration that recognized students for their academic achievements, but also gave them a chance to relax as school ends in less than two weeks.

Students put the hourlong game show performance together in a few days, sixth-grade teacher Theresa Osment said.

"Kids love their teachers and this school," she said. "We're passionate about it, so it's easy to share it with the children."

All Glendale Unified schools have instructional focuses, and the Fremont Elementary School staff chose writing, which nurtures critical thinking and problem solving skills, educators said.

Anne Beachey-Kemp said her daughter Leah's progress has been consistent.

"They break down the grades to see where they can improve and they have them reflect on it every time, and I think that helps them reach their goal," she said. "She knows what to work on to improve."

In the beginning of the year, 19% of students tested proficient in writing, and last month, 71% of students were at or above proficiency, Principal Cynthia Livingston said.

"The latest writing test was last week, and we're hoping for 100%," she said.

Administrators track student progress with Post-it notes that are coded by grade level, and scattered across four levels, representing the different categories of academic achievement.

As students test stronger and write more persuasively and accurately, they move along the wall to proficiency status.

"For writing, we try to be proficient every time," said sixth-grader Marty Herboian. "If I mess up, I go over my mistakes and look things up in the dictionary."

In 2009, 36% of Fremont students were bilingual according to the California Department of Education, and Alvin Ham was among them.

He moved to the U.S. from Korea and couldn't speak any English, and flunked his writing exams until last year.

"Now I am passing," he said. "[Writing] helps you think better."

Students displayed their writing chops in a series of game show sketches, where they challenged teachers to look for idioms and rewrite flat and lifeless sentences like, "the bug moved."

"The slimy, colorful, hairy bug crawled to avoid getting eaten by the silk worm," second-grade teacher Linda Winfield said to approving applause and cheers from the crowd.

The school's writing focus has helped make sixth-grader Nikolas Caceres more of a voracious reader, he said.

"I read more books because my comprehension will be higher," he said. "I never really read books, but now I'm starting to get more vocabulary."

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