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Newberry fifth-graders celebrate ‘ordinary to extraordinary’ journey

At Newberry Elementary School at 5540 Newberry Avenue there is a focus on making the transformation from “ordinary to extraordinary.” Special to the Tri-State Defender

At Newberry Elementary School at 5540 Newberry Avenue there is a focus on making the transformation from “ordinary to extraordinary.”


Fifth-grade graduate Cameron Woodard said he changed his act at Newberry Elementary School, lining up with the goal of moving from “ordinary to extraordinary.” (Courtesy photo)


And if one taps the shoulders of the teachers, students and administrators, there is good chance that the person who turns around will share a view of just how well he or she thinks that process is unfolding.

Last Thursday was Graduation Day for the school’s 2011 fifth-grade class. The ceremony was held at New Direction Christian Church – one of the school’s big boosters – and Lydene Aldrich, the school’s Instructional Facilitator, said, “Our fifth grade promotion program was a complete validation of (our) efforts this year, transforming from ordinary to extraordinary.”

During her time at Newberry, the school has maintained “good standing” status and was honored with a Silver Gain School Epic Award in 2007-08 and again in 2010-11. “This is a testament to the dedicated efforts of my teachers, students and supportive parents,” said Aldrich.

Like Aldrich, Heather Randall, a fifth-grade teacher, associates the school’s success with the presence of principal Yolanda Williamson and the way Williamson goes about her work.

“During my 12-year tenure here at Newberry, I’ve seen changes at the district and the administrative level. What hasn’t changed is the level of excellence we have held our students to. Every time the state or district has raised the bar we have worked hard to ensure that the students make those goals, said Randall.

“Mrs. Williamson is the academic leader here at the school. She has courage to try innovative ideas, and consequently, I feel encouraged to attempt new ideas in my classroom. She makes Newberry feel like a family. I truly believe that the school would be very different without her here. She sets the mood for the school.”

Mary Bolton, another in the school’s corps of fifth-grade teachers, emphasized that the school has improved academically through its writing scores. She noted her students’ diversity – culturally and academically – and added, “I also grew closer to my class at Newberry than any other class I taught because we had a feeling of togetherness and understood that we were in this together.”

Cameron Woodard, one of the graduating fifth-graders, was asked about his experiences at Newberry.

“My experience has been good because they taught me about a lot of things that I didn’t know, such as The Great Depression, how to respect others, making new friends and how to solve fractions,” he said.

And yes, he’s also a fan of his principal.

“At first I used to be bad,” he said. “When I met Mrs. Williamson, I changed after seeing how strict she was and I changed my act.”

Williamson keeps things in order at Newberry, he said. “She cares and loves you. She taught us how to change from ordinary into extraordinary.”

Williamson said Newberry provides an excellent option without being an optional school. She touted the support Newberry has received from neighboring faith-based and business organizations.

“New Direction Church, World Overcomers Outreach Ministries and Comcast have consistently supported our school by providing tutoring, counseling and mentoring. These organizations have also provided monetary assistance for students and teachers,” said Williamson.

“They have also served as advocates that have helped communicate all the exciting things that are happening throughout the school year. This has helped make Newberry a school of choice for the children in the Hickory Hill area. Which means that Newberry is a school that people choose to send their children.”

Edward L. Stanton III, the nominee President Barack Obama chose to be the new United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, was the Graduation Day speaker.

“I was honored to deliver the commencement address to the Newberry Elementary graduating class,” said Stanton. “I was impressed with the intellect and enthusiasm of the graduates. It was obvious to me that the teachers and faculty at Newberry Elementary have prepared these students well for the challenges ahead of them.”

Community outreach has been a priority for Stanton since President Obama appointed him the chief federal law enforcement officer for Tennessee’s Western District.

“It’s very important to me as a product of the Memphis City Schools system to share my story with students in our community,” said Stanton.

“I was educated, from preschool through law school, in Memphis, Tennessee. It is important that students know anything is possible through education, hard work, and unwavering faith. The possibilities are limitless. Any one of these students could someday be the United States Attorney, or maybe the President of the United States.”

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