“Principal Travis Ridley smiles when he recalls one of his favorite memories from his time at North Elementary School in Colonial Heights.
“Last year, we had a student come here from China, who knew no English,” Ridley said. “At the fifth grade graduation, they gave a speech thanking everyone. It was really moving.”
Success stories like the one recalled by Ridley have become commonplace at North Elementary, where the school has excelled academically despite obstacles that are not normally present at other schools.
“We’re a very transient school,” said Ridley, who is in his sixth year as the principal. “We have a lot of kids move in and out, whether that be because of the military or economic reasons. That’s been a challenge to find out where those kids are and how to put things in place that will serve those kids effectively.”
Though North has been consistently successful over the course of its fifty-year history, new external challenges have arisen that make sustaining academic success harder.
“Our community is changing,” said Ridley. “When I first entered here, about 23 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. Now we’re hovering right around 70 percent.”
For students to be eligible for free or reduced lunch, their household income must be below a certain level as determined by the state.
The population of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students has also surged in recent years at North, with seven different languages being represented across the board.
“All schools have certain challenges, but these are definitely unique to North,” said Ridley.
Ridley credits his staff, as well as the school system for allowing North to flourish despite these challenges.
“The staff makes my job easy,” said Ridley. “They put the expectations up there and don’t move them.”
It also helps that Dr. Joseph Cox, the superintendent of Colonial Heights Schools, is an alumnus.
Among some of the programs that North uses to engage its students is the Reach for Reading program. Set up by Literary Extension Teacher Christina Simmons, the program uses volunteers who come in and work one-on-one with students on their reading and writing skills. Though the program takes a lot of work to set up and run (volunteers must go through special training before they work with students), Simmons says the positive reinforcement gives the students confidence.”