From Physical Education to Music: El Rancho Charter School is Thinking Outside of the Curriculum Box

February 29, 2016

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Every day, more than 1,100 7th and 8th grace students walk among the hallways of El Rancho Charter School. Born from a desire by the teachers to offer more to their students, this Anaheim Hills middle school has done that and more since it was converted to a charter school in 2002. El Rancho boasts the highest attendance rate in the district at 98 percent and has been named a California Distinguished School twice, and nominated as the top school in Orange County by the OC Register.

While El Rancho has a variety of electives and outstanding academic programs, the two programs that stand out the most are music and Physical Education (PE). What makes the PE program unique is its incorporation of core curriculum within the subject. For example, students wear T-shirts with vocabulary words printed on them so kids are practicing their words as they run. They also learn about nutrition, reading labels and velocity. They not only experience the mechanics of physical education but the science behind it. The innovative PE subject is widely renowned, and the school garnered a Gold Ribbon School Award from the State of California for its program.

The school's music program is equally impressive. Students are given the option of learning from seven different types of instruments, and the school recently hired a theater arts teacher with a strong chorus background to start a Musical Theater program. The musicals, include Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, are rivaling high school performances.

El Rancho's innovative programs are a direct result of the teachers and leadership who pride themselves on thinking outside the box with respect to teaching and learning. They are also developed starting with what the kids are interested in learning, and expanding from there.

"There's never a dull moment," said Michele Walker, principal. "There are always new things happening and the freedom to think outside the box is so empowering. It's always about making it happen and how do we do it. It's how, not no! That's really fun for me."

El Rancho operates with a team approach to learning, with teachers, administrators and parents all involved in the process. The school has four vice principals that connect with kids and parents on a regular basis. This helps tremendously to identify kids who are struggling in certain subjects and getting them the help they need early in the learning process. The interventions are tailored to the student's needs and learning styles.

"It's always about how we can get better," said Walker. "We constantly ask: What more can we do for our students, and what are the needs we didn't know before? When then communicate amongst ourselves (teachers, staff) to support our kids and get them ready for high school."