At Johnson Elementary School, history is serious business.

Fifth-grade students there recently celebrated their completion of a U.S. history research project by dressing up as important U.S. historic figures and teaching their younger classmates what they learned.

“I’m famous for riding to the town of Lexington to warn that the British are coming,” fifth grader Michael Rea-Munguia says earnestly, dressed in a convincing Paul Revere costume. He excitedly rattles off facts about the Revolutionary War hero as his classmates listen.

This Living Timeline event at Johnson Elementary School is an annual tradition that comes after the students spend about two months entrenched in U.S. history. Each fifth grader chooses a famous American to research from a list of historic figures from colonial times all the way up to the modern era.

“They get really excited to apply what they learned in their research report and teach it to the younger kids,” fifth grade teacher Diane Witteveld says about the event.

The students line up by the year of their historic figure’s birth. Younger students walk around and ask the fifth graders questions about the people they are representing.

These students learn about famous Americans including abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman, American pioneer Daniel Boone, and famed aviator Amelia Earhart. Some of the more recent historic figures represented at the event include basketball star Michael Jordan, tech giant Steve Jobs, and Olympic medalist Mia Hamm.

While working on the research report, students learn to identify trustworthy websites and put together reports with the facts they gather.

Fifth grader Adalynn Carl picked American Red Cross founder Clara Barton for her research project. She came to the Living Timeline equipped with a stethoscope, a nurse’s uniform and a hat with the iconic Red Cross symbol.

“She was interesting,” Adalynn says. “I learned that she was a Civil War nurse, fought for women’s rights and founded the Red Cross.”

Putnam Elementary selected for CDE Centers of Excellence award

Whether it’s students assessing their own work, leading a school event or being challenged by an enrichment class, Putnam Elementary is all about providing opportunities to help students grow academically, socially and personally.

“Wherever a student is, we want the student to be growing,” says Steve Apodaca, the principal at Putnam. “We’re always looking at how we can provide opportunities for all students to grow.”

Their efforts are paying off. Students are having successful experiences, and, based on 2016-17 state test results, showing excellent academic growth. The Colorado Department of Education recently honored Putnam by selecting it for a Centers of Excellence award. The prestigious award is presented to schools that demonstrate the highest rates of student academic growth and achievement while having a student population of which at least 75 percent are at-risk.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Lambert says the prominent award is well-deserved and reflects the hard work of everyone at Putnam.

“Mr. Apodaca and the staff never stop believing that their students can improve,” says Lambert, who oversees PSD elementary schools. “They have made a non-negotiable commitment to empowering students to take more control of their learning.”

Teachers and students work hard together on learning and teaching. While Putnam’s success is a result of many factors combined, Apodaca says instilling a growth mindset among staff and students has made the biggest difference with student growth and achievement. As part of this focus, “Impact” teams, made up of Putnam teachers, analyze student work and teaching methods to support and increase student growth.

“They’re reviewing student work and looking at what their instruction was and seeing if they can make improvements,” says Apodaca, adding that the Impact teams help teachers calibrate an understanding of academic standards. “We may interpret things differently. We talk a lot about clarity. Are we all clear about where we’re headed, what actions we need to take and what we’re delivering.”

The growth mindset extends beyond staff to students by giving them some responsibility for their own learning and making sure they know what the expectations are. During the school day, it’s not uncommon to see Putnam students reviewing their own or each other’s work.

“We’re empowering kids and teachers. We’ve seen tremendous growth with that. It’s a challenge to provide opportunities for all students to grow. We have to look at how we can do things creatively and differently, so we can provide those opportunities,” says Apodaca.

Individualized instruction and enrichment classes expand student learning

Other positive forces at work at Putnam include providing individualized instruction to meet specific student needs and offering extra enrichment classes that increase learning and take kids beyond the regular curriculum. Coding and robotics classes hook kids into learning more about technology, while a class on quilting reinforces what they’re learning in art class. In addition, a leadership club teaches fifth-graders positive management skills followed by opportunities for the students to practice what they’ve learned, like leading a school assembly or family night event.

Social and emotional skills are also woven into the daily curriculum, which Apodaca believes is especially important in today’s technology-focused world. “We’re in a technological age, but these are still skills that need to be taught—how to talk with each other appropriately, how to listen to each other’s perspective. How do our actions make others feel and also how do they make ourselves feel,” he says.

Seeing their students succeed and grow is the best reward for the Putnam community, but Apodaca acknowledges that receiving the Colorado Centers of Excellence award is the icing on the cake for them, making their efforts even more worthwhile.

“I’m really excited for our staff and our community, for our teachers and teams,” says Apodaca. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work and time. They really do care and they’re here at Putnam to serve.”


Calendar of Events

Feb. 8 – Audit Committee meeting

Feb. 13 –  Board of Education meeting

Feb. 19 – No School K-12 students, teachers on duty

Feb. 27 – Board of Education meeting