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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Treasuring Kids and Their Educations on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

As the smallest K-12 public school in North Carolina, Ocracoke School strives to provide diverse learning opportunities in a place that can be reached only by ferry or plane. The small number of students and their isolation on their island home on the Outer Banks foster a close relationship between the school and community. Included: Principal George Ortman talks about how Ocracoke School achieves its success.
A student-created mural in the school's commons area reflects the island's swashbuckling past.
(Education World photo)
Far from the mainland and "mainstream" ideas, the landscape on Oracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks is picturesque, and the residents practical. With access only by ferry or plane, the 14-mile-long Ocracoke Island is remote by almost any standard, and yet those who are tasked with educating its youth say its one school and fewer than 100 students lack for nothing. "The geography of the area first drew me to Ocracoke," George Ortman, principal of the K-12 Ocracoke School, told Education World. "I decided to start a new chapter in my life in North Carolina near the coast. As an avid fisherman, the draw was a natural one. Having lived on a peninsula for almost 30 years, an island had its appeal -- sound on one side, and ocean on the other."
The island's beauty only was outdone by the friendliness of the residents. "They impressed me as honest and hardworking people," Ortman recalled. "They have an intense interest in the education and welfare of their children and demonstrate this through their involvement in all facets of their children's education."
A Powerful Partnership

In such a challenging setting, what makes Ocracoke School work? George Ortman believes its island location has produced a strong and effective partnership between the school and community.
"The reason we have been so successful with our students is because of the cooperation between and among our teachers and our parents and community," said Ortman. "All are connected, one to the other. Students help students, parents know each other's children, and do not hesitate to correct any inappropriate behavior of their own as well as their neighbors' children. The children know that if they are rewarded for their accomplishments at school, they receive additional praise at home. On the other hand, if our children misbehave at school and receive a consequence here at school, they receive a consequence at home that is usually more severe. Parents work hand-in-hand with the school."
As the smallest school in the state with only 93 students, no one slips between the cracks at Ocracoke. Teachers become very involved with each student and his or her needs. "You get to know the children, where they live, their parents, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins and even their dogs and cats," Ortman said. "It doesn't get much more personal than that."
The attention is paying off. All of Orackoke's students in grades 3-12 passed the state tests in 2003-2004, with only three of the students requiring a second try. The teachers are attuned to the students' educational needs, and the parents are very much involved in their children's education. The majority of the students strive to perform at the high benchmark established by both teachers and parents. As in other areas, some graduates choose to remain in the area or return after further education, while others move on.


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