Classroom decor aimed at enhancing learning

Christina Martin, 28, is starting her second year as a fourth-grade teacher with the Victoria school district. She talks about what she expects from the STAAR writing exam for her students this next year while decorating her room for the new year.
  • Elementary STAAR

  • According to preliminary State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results from the Victoria school district and the state, here's how the top three areas of least performance did on the tests.

    VISD's Top 3 areas of most improvement ...

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  • Elementary STAAR

    According to preliminary State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results from the Victoria school district and the state, here's how the top three areas of least performance did on the tests.

    VISD's Top 3 areas of most improvement needed on the STAAR:

    1.Fourth-grade writing with a 54 percent passing rate and 11 points behind the state's average.

    2.Fourth-grade math with a 55 percent passing rate and two points above the state's average.

    3.Third-grade math with a 57 percent passing rate and two points above the state's average.

    The state's top 3 areas of most improvement needed on the STAAR:

    1. Fourth-grade math with a 68 percent passing rate.

    2.Third-grade math with a 70 percent passing rate.

    3.Fourth-grade writing with a 71 percent passing rate.

    Source: VISD, TEA

Light poured out of Christina Martin's classroom windows as she pressed bright orange paper onto her front door.

The fourth-grade teacher said she likes to use natural lighting as often as possible to keep her students' creative minds working.

Martin, 28, is about to start her second year teaching at a public school. On Tuesday morning, 12 days before the first day of school, she was up at 9 a.m. decorating her classroom.

She spent her first four years in education teaching at Nazareth Academy, a private Catholic school in downtown Victoria for 3-year-olds in prekindergarten to eighth-graders.

Her last year at Nazareth, Martin was one of two fifth-grade teachers on the campus.

Now, she's one of four fourth-grade teachers at the O'Connor Elementary campus, on the southeast part of town.

"The amount of resources available to teachers are a lot different in public schools," Martin said. "It helps out when you have someone you can go to for advice."

Martin said she decided to go with an owl theme that she used the year before to cut back on her back-to-school costs.

And burnt orange was a natural choice for the University of Texas-Austin alumna.

"We're the frogs here at O'Connor, but I wanted to do something a little more colorful for my fourth-graders as they start to write their first essays and stories," Martin said. "This is the first grade level where they're really being pushed to bring out their creative sides."

With a 54-percent passing rate, fourth-grade writing was the area of least achievement shown by Victoria school district elementary school students on the 2013 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, according to preliminary results reported by the district.

Having to bring up the lowest elementary school passing rate means the pressure is on for Martin and her fellow fourth-grade teachers.

This year, the district has provided Martin with new writing desks with drawers for students to keep their tools safe.

And in one of the far corners of the room, Martin has cereal boxes which she crafted into book boxes for her students to keep their classroom library books.

Outside the classroom is a bulletin board laden with owls representing each of Martin's incoming students.

Each time a student is absent, their owl gets taken down from the board.

"It's part of the district's new effort to get attendance back up," Martin said. "It'll be sad to see a student get taken down, but hopefully, it'll encourage them to get perfect attendance."

This year will be more of a challenge for Martin, as she prepares to become a self-contained instructor.

Last year, she taught writing, reading and social studies to her students while another teacher taught them science and math.

Now, she will teach all five subjects on her own.

This summer, she went to three teaching camps - on her own time - to brush up on her writing and math teaching skills.

The new teaching structure was introduced to the campus by its new principal Landon Zamykal, Schorlemmer Elementary's former assistant principal.

In April, Zamykal was named the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association's District 3 Assistant Principal of the Year.

"We're adopting the new structure to improve our test scores," Martin said. "We'll see what works better this year."

By using the same classroom theme from before, Martin said she plans to use the money saved to buy school supplies for students who show up without any paper or pencils on the first day.

On average Martin said in the past she has spent about $300 on classroom decorations and student supplies.

And the district reimburses teachers $150 for their back-to-school expenses.

"Just because their parents didn't get them ready for school doesn't mean it's the students' fault," Martin said. "Some kids show up with nothing at all."

As she pinned down the last of her owls to the wall, Martin looked at her classroom thinking about what she had left to do before the first day, Aug. 26.

Wearing a gray shirt with a heart centered over the state capitol and with her auburn hair tied to a ponytail, Martin returned to her front door and kept on pasting.