There is no magic formula when it comes to encouraging literacy instruction at George C. Clarke Elementary. The Fort Worth ISD school in the Shaw Clarke neighborhood takes a total team approach.
“First and foremost, every adult at Clarke cares deeply about the growth of every student at Clarke,” Principal Kimberly Benavides said. “We all teach reading.”
Benavides and her staff strategically focus on literacy instruction and closing gaps, helping students read on grade level. Clarke’s Reading Center provides one-on-one tutoring for students in the early grades through Reading Partners. Reading groups include students of all grades and levels.
Students respond to group and individual teaching because trust is established, Benavides said. It’s a two-way street that leads to meaningful progress for both the child and the adult involved.
“Relationships and shared risk-taking are vital,” Benavides said. “When students look forward to spending time with their teacher, tutor or group leader, they will work hard and try new things because trust has been established.
“The focus on growth is something students understand. When children begin to see that reading is getting easier, and there’s an adult making sure they make progress, doors open for them, and they work even harder to grow more.”
Growth is there. Clarke, with its 419 students in 2018-19, received an accountability rating of “B” from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). (Ratings were waived for 2019-20.) TEA classifies 68% of Clarke students as “at-risk” of dropping out of school, 93.6% as economically disadvantaged and 43.4% as limited English proficiency. The student body is 88.3% Hispanic.
Benavides is in her eighth year as principal at Clarke and she’s spent her entire 20-year educational career in FWISD. The culture she’s helped instill at Clarke is one of family and mutual reliance.
“We trust each other, and we depend on each other to be supportive, honest and hold ourselves and our students accountable for growth,” she said. “Getting better and better is always our focus. We share the work so we can share the results.”
Clarke teachers and staff collaborate, giving each other constant feedback and new ideas with the goal always centered on student success. Clarke families know that the teachers and staff care about their children, Benavides said, and will do whatever it takes to help them succeed.
“The staff and teachers at GCC are dedicated,” she added. “They always want to do more, learn more, and help students make progress. Everyone is willing to help in lots of different ways and to think creatively about how to impact children.”
That includes involving families. Clarke teachers meet weekly to provide resources for parents, such as YouTube videos and other educational tools. The formula at Clarke is not magic. It’s doing it together. It’s about being a team and working every day for Clarke students.
“It’s difficult to describe what makes Clarke so special because it isn’t just one thing,” Benavides said. “There’s a feeling when you walk in the building. You just know that there is real love here. There’s a love for children, for learning, and for each other that lets students and adults know that this is the place they belong.”