GE program enhances learning at Oak Hall

Students Ethan Lollman and Grace Reed read during a classroom lesson in Alyssa Allen's fifth grade class at Oak Hall Episcopal School last week. The private school was named a model school by the Great Expectations Education Foundation for the ninth consecutive year. Laura Eastes/The Ardmoreite

Jimmie Wallis doesn’t just introduce a quote of the week to her kindergarten students each Monday. The Oak Hall Episcopal School teacher plans a lesson to go along with the quotes from presidents, leaders, writers, legendary coaches, inventors and more.

With each lesson, Wallis hopes to emphasize why the words are important and who are the people behind the quotes. While the quotes focus on perseverance, success, excellence, hard work or relationships, the students take away the wisdom as well as a history lesson.

Introducing quotes into the classrooms of Oak Hall was integrated into the curriculum nearly a decade ago — when the Ardmore private school first began to implement the Great Expectations education program.

In 2006, the school became the first private school in the nation to achieve model status, the top honor awarded by the Great Expectations Education Foundation. Last month, the school learned it had once again reached the milestone of model status. Oak Hall has achieved model status for nine consecutive years.

Wallis remembers when Oak Hall leaders embraced the program, which calls for enacting 17 classroom practices, life principles and embracing a new teaching style. The practices are intended to bring positive change and innovate classrooms — breeding a culture of respect and high achievement.

Additionally, the program calls for teachers to vow to create active, interesting and hands-on lessons that integrate multiple subjects with real-world connections.

Wallis describes the program as offering guidance to teachers and is flexible. The teacher determines which lessons to relate it to the real world — like the quotes discussed each week in her classroom.

“There are a lot of opportunities to integrate Great Expectations practices into every aspect of teaching,” Wallis says. “Once it has been integrated, you practice it each day for it to be mastered.”

In the fall of 2013, Ken Willy joined the Oak Hall staff as headmaster. Prior to his arrival at Oak Hall, he had not worked at a Great Expectations model school, but was impressed by Oak Hall’s commitment to the program.

“You know when you are in a Great Expectations school,” Willy says. “The students are confident. You knock on a classroom door. A student comes to greet you and brings you into the classroom to be introduced.”

Willy said the practices and teachings of Great Expectations matched what many private and religious schools aim to teach — positive attitudes, leadership, manners and academic excellence.

To be named a model school, 90 percent of teachers must successfully implement 100 percent of the 17 practices daily. Teachers are vital to the success of the Great Expectation program, but students also play a big part. The program becomes familiar and part of every day school life as they advance through the grades, says Willy.

“What it does is get everyone on the same page, knowing the same language and the same expectations,” Willy said.

Willis says the classroom climate has been positively impacted since she began practicing the Great Expectations program. She describes the climate as one of mutual respect from students, teachers and staff.

“Truly what I love about Great Expectations is the character characteristics,” Willis says. “They are not just for the classroom, but life concepts that we are teaching the students.”