Mandy Johnson, third-grade teacher at Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) Wimauma Academy, says she got goosebumps when she received the news of her students not just passing, but excelling on the Florida Standards Assessment. The entire grade level, 36 students, achieved a passing score.
“This is a great achievement,” says Johnson, who teaches math using a marching cadence. “My kids live in poverty and we still beat the rest of the schools in the county. That speaks volumes.’’
The students take the exam in the spring. Results released in June show that no other school in Hillsborough County, and only 11 others statewide, achieved a 100 percent passing rate for an entire grade level. The school’s fourth- and fifth-graders surpassed the state average for math and the averages of other elementary schools in the Wimauma area. In addition, students at RCMA Leadership Academy
recorded higher math passing rates than the area’s neighboring middle schools.
“I am elated with not only the third grade math results, but with our results overall,” says Mark Haggett, principal of the RCMA Academies in Wimauma. “In a time where so many negative things in general are being said politically, we have stressed to our scholars that the best way to combat that thinking is to show everyone their ability, which is just what they have done.’’
“My kids live in poverty and we still beat the rest of the schools in the county. That speaks volumes.’’ -- Math Teacher Mandy Johnson at RCMA Leadership Academy in Wimauma.
One of Johnson’s students, Diego Sanches, received a perfect score on the math portion of the exam. All 64 questions right, Johnson says with an air of pride. For the past four years, Johnson’s classes have achieved a 97, 95s, and now 100 percent proficiency on the math portion of the standardized test.
“Strong leadership, effective instruction and parent partnerships contributed to our students’ success,” says Juana Brown, RCMA’s director of charter schools. “There was such fierce determination and focus on the part of everyone in our school community.”
So, how is Johnson managing to help children who are disadvantaged by a language barrier achieve such high scores?
“I teach it, review it and drill it until my students get it,’’ she says. “Language is a barrier, but these kids are always ready to learn. They come everyday eager to learn because they know I will teach them something new. They work hard.”
Johnson implements STANDOUT Math methods and strategies in her lessons. STANDOUT Math is a program that combines oral, visual and kinesthetic aspects to achieve a whole brain math approach. Johnson says that what she learned from the creator of STANDOUT Math was based on the Colorado state standards, so she adjusted it for her own students’ needs, creating chants and songs for the math concepts she teaches.
So far, Johnson has written 50 chants associated with the math concepts she teaches, which her students memorize.
Johnson, who has a military background, says she also uses Fact Fluency, a multiplication and division program, in her classroom.
For homework, Johnson assigns two pages front and back with a variety of assignments such as five multiplication, five area and five measurement problems. The idea is that they develop different skills, she says. By the end of the academic year, she has brought the homework load to five pages front and back. By then, the students can solve addition, subtraction, fraction and division problems.
“I’m not mean, but I’m strict,” Johnson says. “My kids know what they do first, second, third and fourth. We sing, and we play review games. I show them I care for them. They know they have a teacher that will be there for them, that will support them.’’
In her teaching career, Johnson has taught in both all white and mixed schools, but RCMA is Johnson’s first experience working with all Hispanic children.
“I love them. I tell them often, your parents brought you to this country because they don’t want you to work on the fields, they want you to do better,” Johnson says.
Johnson has taught seven years at RCMA. She taught second grade for three years and third grade for four years. Next year, besides teaching two groups of third grade, Johnson will work reviewing math chants with fourth and fifth graders.
“We’ve known that with the right environment and good, passionate teachers who constantly strive to improve learning, students can succeed,” Brown said. “And they’re doing just that.”