SOUTH BEND - Sitting on stools in an art studio at Dickinson Intermediate Fine Arts Academy, students are surrounded by supplies, inspirational messages and vibrant prints by artists like Kandinsky.
On this morning, though, a group of eighth-graders doesn’t have their hands in clay.
Instead, they’re learning about different types of text documents, from print ads and magazines to manuals.
And art teacher Ronda Lyden is leading them.
It’s third period at this west-side school and students - all of them - are in Success class.
It’s part of the 8-Step Process, a method by which youths learn a set of standards, are quickly tested on them and if need be, retaught the material in a different way.
For those who don’t need remediation, like this group, they receive enrichment.
And most of the staff members, down to the art and music teachers, as well as the paraprofessionals, get involved.
The process, which was expanded this school year to all of South Bend’s schools, is especially important for Dickinson.
The school holds the unfortunate distinction of now being South Bend’s closest to state intervention.
Dickinson is in its fourth year of academic probation under the state’s school accountability system, Public Law 221.
If it remains in the same category for the next two years, it’ll face the potential for state intervention, up to a takeover.
Principal Tom Sims, new to Dickinson this year, is intent on that not happening.
He talked directly with parents at the beginning of the school year, telling them there is an urgency to do things differently at the magnet school.
The 8-Step Process is a big part of that.
South Bend’s Riley and Washington high schools used it and recently raised standardized test scores enough to thwart state intervention.
At Dickinson, the principal said, the changes will go beyond that.
Each student - via a nickname known only to himself or herself and the teacher - will be able to track their own progress in language arts and math on displays called data walls in classrooms.
And, for students who are suspended out of school, a Saturday school will soon be an option. Though it’s a punitive measure, Sims said, tutorials will be available during that time so children don’t fall further behind.