An impassioned 8-year-old girl expected nothing short of perfection as she threaded silver sparkling beads onto a pink string at Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy on Friday morning.
“It’s not finished yet,” second-grader Madison Thornton said before adding a colorful stone to the bracelet-in-progress. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
Madison is a newcomer to Club Friday at Wayman Tisdale, but she’s a fast learner. She’s also determined. That’s because she’s making up for lost time.
At the elementary school she attended a couple weeks ago, Fridays were just another day of lessons and assignments. It’s different at her new school.
Now she gets to spend an hour at the end of each week designing jewelry. While some classmates who have been here longer are content with tackling one project per week, Madison wants more.
“I’m making bracelets, necklaces, lots of things,” she said.
The jewelry-making class is one of 27 electives available to students at Wayman Tisdale, 4132 W. Cameron St., as part of Club Friday. The unique program allows the kids to choose a different elective each semester.
Club offerings are divided by grade level with topics including photography, robotics, fashion design, yoga, cooking, dancing and chess. One club is centered on meaningful discussion.
For a single hour on Friday mornings, school officials have their students’ undivided attention.
“I’ll tell you, and I’m knocking on wood, but I’ve never had any discipline problems during Club Friday,” Principal Elaine Buxton said. “Not a one.”
The program launched in November after about nine weeks of preparation. It’s mostly the brainchild of Buxton and Rae Trampler, a social service specialist at Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy.
They came up with the idea in May 2018 as a way to expose kids to nontraditional art forms and give them confidence to learn new skills. This new focus aligns with the school’s recent name change and seeks to prepare students for the fine arts and performing arts magnet program at nearby Central High School.
Teachers and staff members, who are required to help lead the weekly sessions, created the clubs based on their own interests.
Although the original goal was to emphasize fine arts, Buxton said Club Friday also has succeeded in making students want to come to school. Her staff prioritized improving attendance this year after experiencing some of the worst rates in the district.
Wayman Tisdale has surpassed its goals so far with a 93.1% cumulative attendance rate and a chronic absenteeism rate of 26.3%. Friday attendance also improved from last year.
“When (the program) began, we started seeing our attendance was higher on Fridays because the kids wanted to be here,” Buxton said. “We even have kids that might come in late, but they get here for the clubs. They’re coming for the clubs, where normally they probably would have stayed home.”
Another benefit is the opportunity for students to connect with an adult with similar interests, Trampler said. Not only are the kids happier, but the teachers enjoy sharing their passions with a younger generation.
Looking back, she called the first year of Club Friday “a wild ride” and believes it was successful in changing how kids perceive school.
“When you think about school, so often people think about classrooms and lessons,” Trampler said. “This year we got to take it up a notch and re-envision what school and joy look like. Ms. Buxton gave us permission to think outside the box on how to best serve our students, and the results have been tremendous.”
Part of what she appreciates about the program is how there’s something for everyone. Pre-K students can’t choose an elective, for instance, but they do have their own collage art club.
A thematic arts club is offered for students with disabilities; last week they made pictures of the planet for Earth Day.
Angie Walker, an early childhood multidisabilities teacher who oversees the club, said many of the students don’t respond well to standard teaching methods. The club lets them work on big-picture projects that focus on the basic themes of deeper topics.
“A lot of my students aren’t able to go to PE class with peers,” she said. “We aren’t able to go to the cafeteria all the time because if one of my students get sick, it could be life-threatening. But for them to be able to participate in the same thing that everybody in the building is doing is really important.”
Some of the electives help students step out of their comfort zones, Trampler said. Several boys in the jewelry club are just as excited about making bracelets and necklaces as the girls.
And then there’s fifth-grader Janet Cowan, who’s the only girl in model rocketry club. She signed up because it reminded her of when she and her dad built miniature rockets a long time ago.
“It’s just fun to me,” Cowan said. “Plus I always get caught up in my work, and this is just a relief to me, being able to come in here and do something I like.”
School officials are working to expand Club Friday for its second year. That process includes partnering with Central High School to let older students help lead electives.
Some companies and organizations also have agreed to sponsor the program so that teachers don’t have to keep buying supplies out of pocket. Public Service Co. of Oklahoma currently is the largest sponsor and will donate a total of $4,500 during the next three years.
Despite Club Friday’s success, Buxton said Wayman Tisdale still has a long way to go to live up to its name as a fine arts academy. Part of the school’s three-year plan to achieve that goal is to have staff across the building specializing in various art forms to ensure students are receiving teaching in the arts.
The principal said she is pushing for the school to receive teachers for art, music and physical education.
“If we want our kids to feed into Central and be ready to attend Central, then we have to be able to offer them all of these things,” she said.