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Payne Elementary School Wins Landmark Keller Grant

Payne Elementary School will receive the Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s prestigious Arnold F. Keller Jr. Grant, which has doubled in size to $20,000 this year. The funds will be used to train Payne’s teachers in the Responsive Classroom method, a social and emotional learning program that independent research links with higher academic achievement in math and reading.

Payne Elementary Principal Stephanie Byrd has seen Responsive Classroom produce impressive results at other D.C. elementary schools like Marie Reed and Hyde. “I know firsthand the impact it has on school climate and culture and on the children themselves,” Byrd said. “Classrooms become not just more manageable but also more nurturing.”

“We all agreed that the time is right for Payne,” said CHCF Vice President Stephanie Deutsch. “The school has an outstanding principal and an increasingly active and involved parent body.” And for several years CHCF has supported other successful programs at Payne, including Playworks, Reading Partners, and REACH, an out-of-school time program that pairs teen reading tutors with younger students.

Byrd immediately introduced a key element of Responsive Classroom when she joined Payne last year. Each school day begins with “morning meetings,” gathering everyone in the classroom in a circle for 20 to 30 minutes for a greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message. Byrd also organized a Responsive Classroom workshop last October, where both teachers and aides responded enthusiastically and began implementing its principles in the school.

Now the CHCF grant will enable 30 Payne staff members to complete four days of Responsive Classroom training, followed in about a month with consultant visits to observe the teachers and identify areas for growth.

Based on the belief that teaching both social and emotional skills and academics creates the best environment for learning, the Responsive Classroom approach trains teachers to use intentional language that helps students solve problems. In addition, instead of using punitive responses to misbehavior, teachers learn to set clear limits and help students learn from their mistakes.

“Responsive Classroom is about how you speak to children and involve them in developing rules,” Byrd explained. “Instead of saying ‘Line up because I said so,’ it’s more like ‘Line up so that everyone can have their own personal space as we travel safely through the hall.’ It allows students to think through their problems and develop solutions themselves.”

With about one-third of its students living in shelter at D.C. General, Payne has challenges that the Responsive Classroom approach is particularly effective in meeting. As Byrd notes, “Many of our students live in extreme poverty and have experienced trauma. Responsive Classroom helps students feel welcomed, acknowledged, and safe. That lowers their emotional filter and opens them up for learning.”

By enhancing Payne’s educational environment, Responsive Classroom can improve the school’s academic performance, attract more families to the Capitol Hill community, and help keep high-performing pre-k students in the school for first grade and beyond. And while training and immersing new teachers in the Responsive Classroom culture, Payne will support and collaborate with the growing number of other D.C. public schools that have adopted the method, such as School Within a School, Garrison, Hyde-Addison, Marie Reed, and more.

“We are so grateful to the Capitol Hill community for making this training possible,” said Deutsch. CHCF grants, totaling about $300,000 a year, are entirely funded through the contributions of residents, businesses, and friends of Capitol Hill. Every dollar raised is donated to organizations that enhance the community’s children’s education and youth programming; social services; arts, culture, and recreation; and neighborhood beautification.

Learn more about Payne Elementary School at https://paynedc.org/ and Responsive Classroom at www.responsiveclassroom.org. Visit the Capitol Hill Community Foundation website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com.

Barbara Wells is a writer and editor for Reingold, a social marketing communications firm. She and her husband live on Capitol Hill.

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