Skip to comments.School puts phonics 'phirst'
Posted on 04/24/2003 8:37:16 AM PDT by Jakarta ex-pat
Nothing about The Phonics Phactory is ordinary, starting with its name.
The school holds classes Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with parents expected to pick up the slack Mondays and Fridays. Everybody brings a sack lunch. There are no buses, no P.E., and parent volunteers monitor recess. Field trips are held on off days.
It's a private, Christian school but doesn't teach the Bible, figuring that's up to parents, too. Tuition is cheap, by private school standards: ranging from $130 to $245 a month for preschool through eighth grade -- less than half of what some schools charge.
The curriculum is a throwback, as the school name implies.
"We're trying to teach kids to be literate," says the school's principal and founder, former pastor Brian Mayer. "If you can read, if you can write, you'll be successful in every other subject. It's the core foundation, the basis of every other aspect of learning.
"We're the old philosophy that everybody abandoned that got our country where we are today," Mayer says.
Which includes an unabashedly positive spin on America. Emphasis on respect, dignity and manners. Flag salutes, prayer in class and not a word about evolution. And above all: a commitment by parents to take charge of their children's education.
It's an approach that resonates with an increasing number of families. The school has outgrown a string of rented facilities and moved three times in nine years.
Next month, the school plans to break ground on a 17,900-square-foot building on Northeast Eighth Street off Kane Drive. Mayer hopes to have 16 classrooms ready by fall; a second phase could bring a 6,900-square-foot gymnasium. The school has about 220 students and projects having 260 next fall.
The draw for many parents is a bare-bones education, stripped of what Mayer and the staff consider clutter. Teachers are hired to teach a structured curriculum, not to freelance from topic to topic.
"We don't waste a lot of time," Mayer says. "When classrooms are under control, when things are respectful, well-ordered and well-organized, you'd be surprised at how much you can accomplish."
With students in class only three days a week, the school makes decisions all the time on what to emphasize, Mayer says. Teachers in public schools, he says, have lost instruction time to the demands, concerns and problems of society.
"We've reversed that," Mayer says. "The parents are in charge of that. We work on the basic academics, the rest is yours.
"Our philosophy is, kids at younger ages don't have to be exposed to everything," Mayer says. "When they're older, then they can deal with all the other issues of society."
High expectations It's 10:07 a.m. when teacher JoAnn Harrison glances at the clock. She finishes instructions for a genealogy notebook her combined class of fifth- and sixth-graders is working on: "My Place in History." Now it's time for math, and the Spanish teacher who visits each class one day a week is coming at 11.
"We've got to get started," Harrison says.
She moves at a brisk pace, reviewing lessons with her 21 students: how to find the perimeter of a rectangle, square and triangle. Solving equations such as 6y = 23+7. "What's the first step?" she asks, and reminds students they must show their work even if the answer, as in this case, is apparent.
Despite having their students in class only 100 days a year, Harrison and other Phonics Phactory teachers say the children are, on average, a year ahead of their public school counterparts. It's not uncommon that children transferring from public schools have to drop down a grade, at least temporarily.
A school brochure includes a 52-word, seven-sentence paragraph about a gray mouse and asks, "Can your kindergartner read this?" The average Phonics Phactory kindergartner can read it by mid-April, the school maintains.
Private schools have a self-selected student body, however, and Harrison acknowledges that Phonics Phactory students begin with an edge because they come from motivated families. But they are not necessarily brighter, she says. Rather, the school has high expectations and a clear focus.
There are few differences between Harrison's classroom and one in a public school. Bulky backpacks slump beneath desks. Girls whisper to each other, and boys scratch their heads. One girl wears an Old Navy sweat shirt, another wears a T-shirt that says "Worship!"
Science projects are in the back of the room: rocks soaking in vinegar and plants spritzed with vinegar to simulate the effects of acid rain. Fertilized chicken eggs sit in a pair of incubators. The natural world is presented as fact. Animals may be described as "uniquely gifted by God," but the debate over creationism and evolution is not raised.
Harrison doesn't use a computer in her class because there is no room for it. Most of the children have computers at home, anyway, she says.
Harrison taught five years at Reynolds High School. Her husband still teaches in the Reynolds School District. The Harrisons enrolled their children in Phonics Phactory when their son was in fourth grade and their daughter in second, transferring them from Troutdale Elementary School. Both are now at Reynolds High and doing well. JoAnn Harrison is in her sixth year of teaching at Phonics Phactory.
Parent volunteer Erin Kalmbach taught 11 years in the Parkrose School District. She has four children at Phonics Phactory.
Kalmbach says she didn't feel like she knew what her children were doing in public school. At Phonics Phactory, the work comes home and parents follow along in a home curriculum guide. Parents get weekly updates on how their children are doing.
The curriculum comes from A Beka Book, developed by Arlin and Beka Horton, the founders of Pensacola Christian College in Florida.
A conservative Christian theme is woven through the school materials. For example, a language arts text asks students to find run-on sentences from among several examples. One is about President Eisenhower, another about the properties of gasoline. Yet another reads, "The Bible contains more truth than all the other books in the world combined, it is the most important book ever written."
The introduction to a mathematics textbook says arithmetic involves learning to think precisely and learning to believe in absolutes.
It also involves "indirectly learning more about the God who created the world using mathematics" and applying a body of knowledge "as one way to obey the command of Genesis 1:28 to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it," according to the text.
"Look for smiles" Some education experts might describe the Phonics Phactory's approach as too narrow. Current research indicates there is no single right method for teaching reading, for example, and that a balance of phonics and "whole language" methods is appropriate, according to the International Reading Association.
The Phonics Phactory is not certified by the state. Certification is not required of private schools.
Factors that contribute to a school's success include strong leadership and collaboration, consistent use of data to judge student performance, professional development and innovation, and strong links to parents, says Alexa Parker, coordinator of the education graduate school at the University of Oregon.
Parents considering enrolling their children in private schools ought to check with parents of other students at the school and see how well students adjust to public school after eighth grade, says Gary Welander, chairman of the Division of Teacher Education at Western Oregon University.
Research and expert opinion may not reveal the full story of a school's worth.
"First of all, look for smiles," Welander says. "You don't need a lot of money to have enthusiasm, energy and commitment."
Having a basic educational philosophy shared by like-minded teachers and parents can be very powerful, he says. "The downside is becoming one-minded, like looking through one eye."
Private schools may isolate students at a time when issues of multiculturalism and diversity are crucial to society, he says.
"You have to be careful," Welander says. "One of the great worths of the public school system is that it keeps this country together."
Making learning fun Mayer, 52, was a senior pastor at Gresham Nazarene Church when he and his wife, Debbie, founded the Phonics Phactory in 1993. Debbie Mayer teaches kindergarten at the school. Brian Mayer retired as pastor in 2000 to devote full time to the school. He teaches seventh and eighth grades.
With their own children, they used public schools, traditional private schools and home schooling. The Phonics Phactory, they say, is a blend of the three methods -- with parents retaining the role of their children's chief educators. They are careful not to criticize the other systems, saying theirs is an alternative that's not for everyone.
In Brian Mayer's view, the Phactory produces learners. Much of learning is self-discipline, he says. The school emphasizes study skills and how to use time wisely. The idea is to make learning fun.
"If you can't get a kid to want to come to school, you're dead in the water," Mayer says.
Truly, this is The Key to succesful education in our country. When we convinced parents that The Government and The Schools knew best, we started to slowly lose our world-class educational system.
Of course, it's not surprising to hear the normal clap-trap about multi-culturalism and the dangers of parents and teachers agreeing about God. It's also worth noting that no where did I read that the Phactory's students were primarily white or black or asian or whatever.
Fascinating, though, isn't it that these are the same people who divide people into groups when speaking about society? Their whole strategy, touted as one to bring people together, is blatantly about pitting those groups against one another.
It takes a village to raise an idiot, imo.
Yeah, it's real tough for me to buy into the whole "phonics" thing, but it's my own personal experience and I'm kind of a weirdo.
I was reading at age 4, was never specifically tought to read (but was read to a lot), and NEVER EVER EVER EVER "sounded out" a word at any time....read on a 12th grade level by the third grade, and ended up with a 780 on the Verbal SATs.
Learning to read by sitting down and sounding out letters just seems like a gigantic painfully slow waste of time to me.
"Phonics thing" is the original traditional method of teaching reading in the non-ideographic alphabets. The "whole word" method was introduced by leftists decades ago in United States and some think that it is the standard. This "whole word" was first tried by Soviets before WWII and ended in a complete disaster.
It is true that a large part of students can manage to master reading through "whole word " method, but they do it despite this method and they are not necessarily more talented. But many fail and we all pay very steep price.
Your mother sounds like mine!
I was also aided by a magnificent library, ultra-special town, and the best grandfather money could never buy.
Exactly the reason why the whole spiel about needing more funding for education is a crock.
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