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Our DPS Weekly: Discovering Your Einstein at Lena Archuleta Elementary School

Dec. 13, 2019
Teacher speaks to a group of students
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Pictured above: Watch this video about Archuleta Elementary about how the school “powers up” – almost like the Super Mario Bros. do!

Dear DPS Community,

I watched Principal Yolanda Ortega walk purposefully through the hallways of Lena Archuleta Elementary School, her face beaming with pride and excitement. She stopped to admire an elaborately handmade, papier-mâché tree that seemed to grow out of the wall. The tree’s thick roots and trunk served as a powerful foundation for its branches and stems to grow freely. Such a strong, sinewy tree is a great symbol for Archuleta Elementary: rooted, growing from the soil up, and cultivated with just the right mix of warmth, light and energy.


What’s immediately apparent at Archuleta is the connection between the students, teachers and leadership of the school. This connection has been eight years in the making – and entirely from the ground up. Archuleta has been making strong growth in early literacy, and simultaneously growing their performance in literacy, math and science compared to similar schools. How did Archuleta arrive at this particular point of success and achievement?


“It’s heart and brain together. We have very high expectations for kids in this building. We know that they can achieve their full potential, and that heart piece is a culture that we’ve built where the kids know that the adults around them believe in them,” said Assistant Principal Karen Matson. “Our mantra, ‘Discover Your Einstein,’ really supports that belief. We know that every kid who comes to us has special talents and abilities, and when we can tap into those, there is no limit to what kids can accomplish.”

It is true that Archuleta sets very high expectations for students – above grade-level expectations. But what has made it possible for students to reach those expectations is the school’s strategic approach, rooted in an accelerated intervention system among students, teachers and staff – especially in the areas of literacy, math and science.


“The strategy we use is small-group guided reading instruction, so our students can have individualized feedback on the things that they need,” shares Dr. Jackie Cuthill, Literacy Facilitator. “And our professional development is focused on helping teachers to improve their guided reading instruction, so that kids can receive that feedback.”


All students who are below grade level in first or second grade – whether a little or a lot – receive guided reading instruction with their teacher three times a day in their classrooms. These small-group sessions give kids the opportunity to strengthen basic skills and practice new techniques while getting personalized support from their teacher. In addition, many students receive daily guided reading instruction from an interventionist, who specializes in working with struggling readers. Both the teachers and interventionists track the students’ growth and progress before meeting with school leadership to discuss next steps for each student.

The school uses the same approach for math instruction. In a third-grade math class, five students sat together at a semi-circular table facing the teacher, who guided them through a series of mathematical questions. The rest of the students in the class worked independently in one area, while others quietly engaged in computer-based tasks. The students were calm and thoughtful as they went about their work, both with their teachers and with their peers.


“This is what happens when kids know where they’re at and what they’re working toward. This is what happens when you have a system that ensures high-quality instruction for kids and that every teacher in our building knows exactly what to do when sitting in front of kids,” said AP Matson. “So really, a lot of professional development and systems that support strong instructional practices.”


After eight years of focused system building and intervention, Archuleta educators can feel great about the exciting academic gains their students are making, thanks to their dedication to building on each student’s strengths and believing in their ability to achieve. Typically, only about 30% of first-graders start the school year at Archuleta reading at grade level, but by the end of the year, those same classes have 85 to 90% of students reading on grade level – year after year.


“The opportunity of having a big community where people come from all different backgrounds is exciting,” said Ortega. “And our job as educators is to find out what makes each individual student tick, what they need support with, discover where they want to go in life and help them get there.”


Archuleta’s educators and leaders are creating a culture of instructional excellence. They’re an inspiring example of what’s possible when we have high expectations for every student, believe that every student can improve and grow, and provide the support and care every student needs to thrive.

Warm regards,