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McGaugh Is Distinguished Again


As part of social studies, a Seal Beach elementary school's fourth-graders will be designing a mini-mall this semester. Fifth-grade students in Jill Robinson's class have made travel brochures, circa the 1600s, for the 13 original colonies.

And in Suzy Linnen's class, kindergartners discover Irish culture by learning to dance a jig and creating an imaginary stew.

By design, J.H. McGaugh Elementary School incorporates creativity into its curriculum. One of the dividends for what Principal Judy Smith refers to as the "artistry of teaching," is that the school was informed last week that it will be recognized as a California Distinguished School for the third time in seven years. The school was also honored in 1993 and 1997.

The official announcement will come May 5 at the state Education Department awards ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel.

McGaugh is one of 681 California elementary schools that applied for the recognition, given to only 200 schools this year. In addition to handing in extensive applications that cover academic performance, standards, parent and community involvement and use of technology, schools are visited by representatives of the state agency for further evaluation. McGaugh was one of several schools that qualified without an inspection because of its prior distinguished school designation.

Smith says the days of education when students just "open the book and learn," as was the case during her childhood, are over. The energetic administrator, who was vice principal at the school for four years and is now in her third year as principal, said students must be presented with a style of teaching that is visual and interactive.

"There is a lot of talk about art leaving our schools," Smith said. "The arts never left our school."

Every year, a famous artist is chosen as a subject for a school-wide study and theme to be carried out in an annual event styled after Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters. This year, art in the tradition of Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky graces the school's media room. Students from every grade are participating in the painting of the backdrop for Kandinsky's "Riding Couple" to be featured in the April pageant.

"At McGaugh we believe the arts are so pervasive a part of our culture and our daily lives that they need to be an essential part of a balanced education program," Smith stated in the school's award application.

McGaugh has been able to harness community support in a way that Smith says is unprecedented. County educators have taken note.

"They have a very, very supportive community," said Elaine Hamada, director of instruction for the Orange County Education Department. "The parents are involved in every aspect of the school."

Hamada said veteran and relatively new teachers work together to instruct in a "very cohesive manner. The staff has a strong commitment to making sure all the kids are progressing."

Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974

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