During a teacher workshop at North Aiken Elementary School Tuesday, the faculty participated in intense and engaging discussions about providing help to their students this year and beyond.

The Aiken County School District set up five full days of training to introduce the teachers to the concept of Model Schools – a national program that includes schools with a similar demographic.

For several years, North Aiken has had the highest poverty rate or nearly so in the Aiken County School District. The achievement data also led to a search for innovative programs.

Veteran educator Elisa Sanders-Pee took the principal’s position in March, specifically to introduce the new concept.

“What we’re doing are best practices – focusing, planning and using our data to make sure we stay on this vision,” she said.

A few years ago, the School District offered some master classrooms that featured best practices for other teachers to visit. The intent at North Aiken is to create all the classrooms with that approach.

The venture can be described as promoting the “Three Rs” – not the iconic “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic” – but “rigor, relevance and responsibility.”

Sanders-Pee, district academic officer Janice Kitchings and the new assistant principal, Clyde Jobes, attended a Model Schools conference in Washington, D.C., a month ago, networking with administrators from other schools that are moving toward or already have introduced these approaches.

“North Aiken is going to build partnerships within the home and with the community,” Sanders-Pee said. “But we at North Aiken understand that the responsibly for the children is at North Aiken. We have accepted that responsibility.”

The facilitator this week is Alisa Braddy, a Florence-based education consultant.

“The overriding message is how can we enhance instruction in our classrooms, so that students are thinking and working. Teachers become the facilitators of that process,” she said.

The Model School gives teachers a chance to provide what’s best for their students in the 21st century, Braddy said. She acknowledges students from many elementary schools bring with them difficult experiences through their learning and emotional environments. As a result, they can start kindergarten already two years behind.

Yet students do have the capability of succeeding, said third-grade teacher Erin Smith. The difference through Model Schools is going to be the mindset of the teachers as they focus on effective instruction with maximum outcomes, she said.

“It’s not a new way of teaching,” Smith said. “Our planning model is changing with more collaboration that will be expected throughout the school. Our purpose is to prepare our students globally so they can use (that education) everywhere. Everybody here has bought into this.”