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Turlock schools innovation honored at awards ceremony
golden bell
Walnut Elementary School principal Sumeet Singh, Jessicas House representative Nancy Daley, Dennis Earl Elementary School Principal Laura Fong and Walnut teachers Brett and Sheri Sutterly accept honors for their respective schools at the California School Board Association Golden Bell Awards on Nov. 30. - photo by Photo Contributed

Turlock’s schools have a lot to brag about, and that list was recently made even longer thanks to the innovative efforts of Walnut Elementary School and Dennis Earl Elementary School, which were both recognized by the California School Board Association Golden Bell Awards.

The CSBA Golden Bell Awards promotes excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts throughout the state. On Nov. 30, both Walnut and Dennis Earl received Golden Bell Awards, with Walnut receiving honors for its Dual Magnet Program and Dennis Earl receiving recognition for its School-Wide Social Skills Program.

Walnut’s two magnet programs, Math/Science and Visual and Performing Arts, were noted by the awards program in the “Integrated Content” category for offering diverse opportunities through progressive and innovative standards-based instruction that involves family and community partnerships.

Walnut Electives, which allows students to grow and develop skills in the areas of their own personal interest and unique talents, is one of the defining features of the school’s Dual Magnet Program.

One example provided by Walnut in the school’s submission letter to the CSBA was the story of a sixth grade student who succeeded in spite of his learning deficits through the application of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) opportunities. He built a hovercraft for his science project that went on to the county science fair, earning the highest accolades for his achievement. In addition, he was the teacher mentor for the sixth grade LEGO Robotics program.

“The dual magnet program is a dynamic, evolutionary program that provides an enriched, academically integrated curriculum promoting student application of standards knowledge to real life situations and guiding students toward career and college readiness,” said the CSBA.

Dennis Earl’s School-Wide Social Skills Program provides students with social-emotional support to ensure their success in academics. As the school, social skills groups meet weekly and run for eight weeks in areas like social behavioral skills, social and general problem-solving skills, ability to cope with anger and emotional well-being and self-esteem.

“In addition to teaching children rigorous academic content standards…we also need to focus helping students with their social emotional learning,” said Dennis Earl Principal Laura Fong.

In addition to the school-wide program, Dennis Earl has also adopted a Comfort Corner in every classroom as an intervention tool to use when students need to self-regulate in times of emotional distress. The school has also partnered with Jessica’s House to provide trauma-informed and grief support groups.

“This program is in its third full year of implementation and has helped many of our Earl Explorers with strategies on how to self-regulate their behavior, control their anger, cope with the loss of a loved one, and navigate peer relationships,” said Fong.