Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October 2012

Ojo Amarillo Elementary School is a little school showing big success
Condensed by Native Village

New Mexico:
Ojo Amarillo Elementary School lies deep in the heart of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry area. Its new principal, Abena McNeely, not only wants people to know that the school exists, but that its students and teachers are moving in a positive direction.

McNeely has been duplicating many strategies she brought to Newcomb Elementary School, where she served as principal for 10 years prior to coming to Ojo Amarillo last year. During McNeely's term, Newcomb received more Adequate Yearly Progress ratings than any school in the county and earned the highest state Public Education Department score -- an "A" grade.

Like Newcomb, Ojo Amarillo, which serves 407 students in grades PreK-6, is in a remote location on the Navajo Reservation. Many of its students lack the advantages afforded students in larger communities.

"I've tried to level the playing field for these kids. They are intellectually the same as any other kid, but they sometimes lack opportunities, so I'm trying to make sure they get a lot of the same benefits as more economically advantaged kids who go to the better' schools," said McNeeley.

McNeeley, who is originally from Ghana, believes she achieves this leveling by raising expectations of what the kids and educators can achieve, and by building a sense of community in the school.

"One of my goals is to have high expectations, but also to know how to effectively communicate this to teachers, parents and kids," she said. "But besides the expectations, we have to show that we believe they can achieve them, and that's what we do. We give the kids opportunities for success."

Using a system of incentives such as "Bobcat Bucks" that the kids can earn to spend at the school's store, as well as having a "Student of the Month" and giving out key chains and throwing class parties for good attendance, McNeeley and other faculty members have noticed a change in the student's attitudes.

"I feel like we won the lottery getting (McNeeley) here," said kindergarten teacher Lisa Madera, who has taught at the school since 1994. "The climate of the school has changed tremendously by instigating so many new programs and incentives. She's also so supportive of the teachers, and there's so much more school spirit."

Second-grade teacher Amy Taylor agrees that the atmosphere at Ojo Amarillo has changed since McNeely's arrival.

"The main influence she's having is motivational, and I'd say the incentive programs for kids to earn rewards is the biggest change," said Taylor. "Morale is much better, and the school hasn't had that in a long time."

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