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Lab school expands, has new name, principal

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Laura Bilbro-Berry shows the Discovery Innovation Lab that is part of the ECU Community School. One of the goals of the school is to have state-of-the-art instructional practices.

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A laboratory school piloted last year as a collaboration between ECU and Pitt County Schools is undergoing changes for the coming school year.

ECU Lab School, which launched in 2017 as a school within a school at South Greenville Elementary, has expanded from grades two, three and four to include classes for kindergarten through fifth grade. It also has a new principal and a new name, ECU Community School.

“We've changed our name to reflect the partnership with Pitt County Schools and the community at large,” said Laura Bilbro-Berry, director of partnerships and university liaisons in ECU's School of Education.

“We don't experiment on children; It's just sort of a connotation there,” Bilbro-Berry said. “You learn lots of lessons when you open a school in nine months, so that's one of our biggest lessons is about perceptions “

Tracy Cole, a former principal at A.G. Cox Middle School, has been named principal of the school, which has enrolled nearly 100 students for the coming school year. She replaces Tasha Rodriguez

After beginning with 75 students from South Greenville and Lakeforest elementary schools last year, the school has outgrown its allotted classroom space. A modular unit is being added this fall.

Plans call for the introduction of a pre-kindergarten program as early as next year for a total enrollment of 115 to 120 students. Average class size is about 18 students per classroom.

ECU was named in 2016 as one of eight schools selected by the UNC Board of Governors to establish a lab school in response to a mandate from the N.C. General Assembly. The legislation was modified in 2017 to require the creation of nine schools, all aimed at improving achievement among students attending low-performing schools.

Lab schools also serve as as a training site for future teachers and administrators. But ECU Community School incorporates resources beyond ECU's School of Education. Services available to students and to families in the South Greenville attendance area include marriage and family therapy and dental care.

”Children don't come to school as purely academic beings,” Bilbro-Berry said. “There are a lot of things that impact learning, so our goal is to really address the needs of the whole child.

“(Families) will have access to quite a bit of services that we have here at ECU that normally schools don't have,” she said. “We have a lot of resources that we have access to at ECU that will be able to enhance the programming at the school, so I think that's what makes it really unique.”

ECU Community School has a full-time school nurse as well as a school counselor and social worker.

“We know that many of our students have experienced trauma,” Bilbro-Berry said. “So being able to mitigate that by providing counseling, social emotional services, being able to have that right there on campus so families have access to that is huge.”

In addition, students from the ECU School of Dental Medicine will provide screening and dental education at the school.

“In years past the schoolhouse was the center of the community,” Bilbro-Berry said. “We really would like, with our partnership with Pitt County Schools, to have that kind of initiative.”

Initially, health and wellness services were to have been part of the community school's extended day, which meant students were at school from 7:20 a.m. until 5 p.m. Due to budget constraints, the school will not operate an extended day program this year.

However, ECU Community School students will continue to have a longer school year than many of their peers. Students attend classes for an additional three to four weeks to help lessen the learning loss that has been associated with summer break. Last school year, ECU Community School students attended school until June 29, while Pitt County Schools finished classes on June 8.

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