Two Rock Elementary ’s Community Is at Heart of School’s Success

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski (left) stands with Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson and English language development teacher Karin Beddow at Two Rock Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School celebration on November 18.

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski (left) stands with Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson and English language development teacher Karin Beddow at Two Rock Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School celebration on November 18.

The first thing a visitor to Two Rock Elementary School in rural Petaluma, Calif., is likely to notice is the feeling of community. Teachers, students, support staff, volunteers, the principal, and parents are all very much part of Two Rock, and this sense of community is at the heart of the school’s success. The U.S. Department of Education has named Two Rock Elementary School a 2010 Blue Ribbon School.

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski affirmed that at Two Rock, teaching is a team effort. “We all know not to let a student fall through the cracks . . . The key is, we all have a role,” she said recently at the 179-student school’s celebration of its Blue Ribbon award.

Karin Beddow, the school’s English language development teacher, agreed. “We’re a small school. You feel that you know the children and families really well.”

In addition to knowing each other well, teachers say that communication is the fuel that drives the engine of student learning. According to Ms. Godoski, about 30 percent of the students are ranchworkers’ children, who may not speak English, and in many instances, their parents speak only Spanish, as well.

Two Rock has met the language challenge directly, through ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee). “All of our [students’] parents are members,” Ms. Beddow explained. “We have monthly meetings that are held in Spanish. It’s an extension of the community.” At the meetings, teachers and school officials talk to parents about the importance of school. In turn, parents understand what their children need to succeed and reinforce the importance of school—including studying and homework—to their children.

And, Godoski said, the community communication strategy really works. “By fifth grade, they really blossom, which is difficult for ESL students to do; academic language is not an easy thing to learn. The students get a lot of self-confidence before going off to junior high school,” she said.

Two Rock Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson is a champion of the school’s community emphasis. “I know it sounds a little corny,” Simpson said, “but it takes a village to raise a child…At every grade level, each student is everyone’s responsibility.”

Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.


  1. After reading this post I’m reminded of Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child”. Many people belittled her book when it first was published but I was raised in a small community where every parent’s and teacher’s eyes were on you. If you did something wrong in the community or at school, the child’s parents heard about it, often times before the child reached home. I think this is a model that worked well and continues to where it’s still implemented like at Two Rock Elementary School.

    As far as self confidence, I’ve been a people watcher all of my life. From my observation, if a child is convincingly loved and respected simply because they exist, that child will thrive and even when acting out, know in their deepest selves that they are belong. And when a child feels these things they are more apt to show respect and due diligence in return.

    self confidence

  2. Cindy is right when she says, “Find out the needs of children.” I say that the child needs to feel wanted by parents, school, teachers, principal students and community. The child who is left behind (or left out)is one who wil join the wrong group–gun carrying, street gangs,use drugs or become seuicidal. All teachers, not the teacher must be observing each student Psychologically and bring the non fit into the group. Students will need to be taught acceptance to preserve that life from the waward groupe.Some students will need more attention and the teacher should know which of the above can reach him/her.
    All students will need motivation and that responsibility will fall to the teacher.Observation, attention and motivation may be the best instruments used in self defense! I believe that teachers and principals can bypass some demands written in the (NCLB) and fill the students with proper needs so he/she can feel one of the group. That will change attitudes toward the school is a prison.
    Having been a public elementary teacher, then princdipal after which secondary principal followed by guidance counselor, then 7.5 uears in privgate school giving a total of 52.5 years. I learned a few things which worked for me.I am 97 years old and I can’t wait till I get grown.

  3. I am not against the federal government getting involved when they are trying to improve the human race or improve schools, but I don’t feel as though they are really helping teachers and students completely. Even though their plan is helping in some ways, the plan does need improvement. I feel the psychological needs of the child are not being met. Making Community meets the psychological needs of the student. I am a teacher, but because I am also a paramedic, I have witnessed the evidence of the needs of the children not being met.
    To begin with, the federal government and the state are undermining the importance of family and community, as has long been their tradition. Children need family and community. First the government accepted slavery. Then when they did see the error of their ways, they decided to dole out money in the form of welfare, food stamps, and other financial aid. But instead of giving the money to the men, they gave the money to the women. Essentially, handing the money to the women was a statement that screams we can’t and don’t trust the African American man. When they did this, the government lowered the value of the African American man and broke up the family. When mothers took the money, they found that they did not need the black man anymore. And in this lies the tragedy. Why couldn’t the government give support to the entire family? It would have boosted the value of family. Why couldn’t they trust the black man? Why couldn’t they see that a father loves his children as much as a mother? Now we have generations of women raising children all by themselves without the fathers. This is not family. My point being, the government did believe they were going forward with a reputable act, but in reality they weren’t helping completely: a flaw in their character did not allow them to help completely. There hearts were not pure. They weren’t seeing the whole picture. They didn’t want to. When you create something, you want to believe it is perfect. You don’t want to accept the imperfections. They forgot about family and community and still held mistrust of the African American man. They believe the government and the state are what people need, instead of family and community.
    It is like that today. Today, the government believes NCLB is a wonderful government plan that must be implemented. They see only the good that they are doing and not the appalling whole truth of the matter. They didn’t ask the students what they wanted nor the teachers what they needed. There is a flaw in their character. People don’t need government and state more than family and community. They didn’t see that another way to solve many of our societal problems, along with education, would have been to downsize schools which would have made them more personal to address the psychological needs of the children. They still refuse to see the great effects of a small classroom on a child. The children were screaming loudly, “Schools are like prisons! It’s an institution! We hate this!” But no one was listening.
    I firmly believe in small, manageable, community schools with small classroom sizes. The closest anyone has come to what the children really need is when, in the Time Magazine article, How to Fix No Child Left Behind, it states to “Leave school turnaround to the people who are closer to the students, but fund research into what works (Time, 2007, p. 8)” Large impersonal schools bring large problems that have yet to be solved. There are issues of violence, teen suicide, bullying, drugs, discipline problems, gang warfare and much more. Teen suicide is up 300% now and we wonder why. There is a huge self-perpetuating pervading feeling of insignificance by students in public American schools these days. The kids feel they are treated like dairy cows: bring them in, get what you want out of them, and then get them out. In large public schools, the psychological needs of the children have not been considered, but in small private schools, many children are flourishing.
    I remember the good old days, where our small town had a school of 300 students. Our teachers got to be with us for four or more years. If you got put in the hospital, the old ladies of the town would surely pay you a visit and bring you a toy. We had one field trip after another to the banks, the hospitals, the police stations, firehouses, factories, veteran homes, orphanages, ocean docks, restaurants, bakeries, churches, and larger businesses. The people accepted us and taught us all day about their jobs. They spoke kindly to us. We felt the community was ours. We belonged! Then we would return two-by-two to the places we visited and work there. We learned math, science, history, writing skills, etc. They taught us so much wisdom too. At the veterans’ home, I learned the calendar used by the people of Greece, there cultural values, and their way of counting money. When we completed March of Dimes we were brought to a television station to tell the viewing area what we accomplished. We camped out, in tents, at our school one night, and using satellite dishes, searched the stars for aliens. We used the gulf-stream to send letters in bottles and a man in Australia, found one of our bottles, and wrote back to us! At the end of every month, the cooks made a birthday cake for the students who had a birthday for that month. Parents were involved in the library, for science labs, and for field trips. We blossomed under all this personal attention. We didn’t have as much discipline problems, so we stayed two years ahead in grades. That was considered the norm. Our teachers didn’t rest until we were making good grades. I can guarantee you that the majority of us grew up with social contentment, wellness, and joy. No children in our school ever committed suicide. It takes children years to speak about troubling things to adults. We were allowed to have several years with the same teachers. We were allowed to get to know each other, which taught us to trust the teachers and confide in them, and treat them like humans. They helped us with our problems by talking to us and letting us talk. They helped us get our first jobs and cried when we graduated and went to college.
    Teachers in public school now-a-days are very hard pressed to make “community” to give a student that feeling of belongingness. How can children feel as if they are a part of any community if they are never in it? Now-a-days the students are packed in a room with the teacher, and all are forgotten. They are told to get in the room, sit down, listen, and make the grade. A bell rings, and then they are packed into another room, made to sit down, listen, and make the grade. Where is your community there? Where is the attention the students need? The students are screaming, “It’s not a school, it’s a prison!” Others tell me “We are just dairy cows to be used.” And they are right. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seems to have been put on a back shelf. The federal government and state refuses to see the larger importance of family and community.
    A state worker once, came to my child’s school and asked my daughter and some other children to put on t-shirts. The shirts read, “I scored Advanced on the Leap!” My daughter told me she just stood there in shock. She wasn’t about to put on that shirt. She said it would be like signing your death warrant! And in truth, it is wrong to antagonize people whom might not have made good enough grades for the state. But it shows you the violent conditions that a student lives in along with the pressure the state puts on students to make the grade. I am not against learning and making good grades. I am against people treating my students like prisoners or dairy cows that must produce for someone else’s personal gain. Students are human beings with the needs of family and community. They are not going to work under these conditions. Students are not prisoners nor are they heifers!
    The students tell me their secret little descriptive word for the state people are “Camouflaged.” They tell me the state workers are not real in their speech. My students see through fakery. They coined their own vocabulary word for the state workers.
    For years, I have taught my students to educate themselves for their own gain: not for anyone else. These children are screaming at us to listen to them and understand their needs, and the federal government and the state are not listening. And so another child brings a gun to school, another child takes drugs to kill the pain, another gang member desperately searches for belongingness on the streets, and another child slits their wrists. What is it going to take for the federal government and state to hear the cries of the children?

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