When representatives of the Niagara Falls School District received an "excellence in writing" award from the U.S. Department of Education on May 2 in New Orleans, it marked the culmination of a four-year effort to improve student writing.
Dr. Barbara Bundy, supervisor of elementary education, said the improvement was the result of a federally funded program based on economic disadvantage. Since the 1984-85 school year, when 67 percent of the fifth-grade students earned a passing grade in writing, the district has improved to 98 percent passing in 1988, she noted.
"We only had 14 students in elementary school out of 612 who did not pass the writing test," Dr. Bundy said.
The writing award covered kindergarten through the sixth grade.
Niagara Falls is one of 109 districts nationwide -- and just one of four in the state -- to receive the honor, dubbed the Secretary's Initiative Award to Improve the Education of Disadvantaged Children.
Faculty members Mary Anne DiFranco and Mary Margaret Ruggirello, both of the Niagara Street Elementary School, accepted the certificate in New Orleans and presented it recently to the Board of Education.
Dr. Bundy, who last week was honored as Alumnus of the Year by the Graduate Students Association of the University at Buffalo, said although the tests are based on results from fifth- and sixth-grade pupils, even kindergartners express themselves in writing.
"Little children believe they can write, even if it's wiggles on paper," she said. "What we don't want to do is stifle that (creativity)."
Patrick O'Keefe, supervisor of secondary education, said the primary grades also are a part of the 98 percent success process.
"We feel its a reflection of the whole program," he said.
"Our kids are all writing stories from the first grade," Miss DiFranco said. "It's not like when we went to school."
She said that, from their own experience, they write in journals teachers encourage them to draft. Some keep up an active correspondence with their teacher, she noted.
"It's like having 25 authors in your own room," she said.
The district received a similar award in 1988 for its math program for kindergarten through the eight grade. Dr. Bundy said the most worthy praise comes from fellow teachers.
She said some junior high school English teachers are very enthusiastic about the results.
"They say, 'Whatever you're doing, keep it up,' " she said. " 'Not only do (the students) come to us ready to write, but wanting to write.' "