May 27, 2004
Sylvester-- Many southwest Georgia schools are closing for the year, with teachers finishing their work before the summer break. But this past academic year brought more grades than in the past.
Schools were graded along with the students. Results from standardized tests tell if the school passed or failed, with some administrators concerned about what grades their schools made. One school principal used a beautiful secret weapon to help improve scores by asking a local woman to play a character she dearly loves.
In case you didn't know, Barbie collectors find the doll's influence can last for a very long time. "Ever since I was a child, four or five years old," says LeAnn Black, who started collecting the blond beauties decades ago, long after the doll was introduced in 1959.
"Barbie is a very interesting person," says LeAnn, who has 25 Barbie dolls that she still plays with occasionally. "Absolutely," says LeAnn while she gently straightens the blond hair on one doll.
Of the 25, she likes one Barbie in particular. "I like the princess Barbie. She's pretty and wears a big ball gown," says LeAnn, who really takes Barbie literally, one time dressing up like the blond beauty. "I spent right at $400 on my costume to be Barbie." $400 of her own money to participate in an educational experiment to help improve standardized test scores for Worth County Primary School children.
The students had never taken the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, so the principal don't know for sure if Barbie's visit helped, but he strongly believes it helped. "At least five to 10 percentage points, possibly," says Don Turner, principal of the school. "Five percentage points could make the difference in your school being a successful school."
School administrators realize the high stakes that come with standardized tests. "In this day and time, with No Child Left Behind, and report cards, and having to make adequate yearly progress, it means everything. It's the yardstick of how well we do," says Principal Turner.
He came up with the idea of a Barbie visit because his six year-old daughter really likes the doll so much. The principal reasoned the young people might follow Barbie's advice better than what teachers told them before taking an all important standardized test.
"Be on time at school. Eat a good breakfast on the morning of the test. Get plenty of rest the night before," says LeAnn in her role as Barbie.
Sure enough, the young people listened to Barbie's suggestions. When the standardized test score came in, "It made us a passing school," says Principal Turner.
When she's not motivating young students to do their best, LeAnn Black works full time as the administrative assistant at the Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce. "She's no dumb blond. She knows every phone number for every business in the city and county," says Debi Griffin who heads the local Chamber.
LeAnn enjoys playing other characters, such as Minnie Mouse, while her husband played Mickey, and their three children dressed up, too. One time she played Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz for the annual Christmas parade, and dresses as a jar of peanut butter for other events.
But Barbie remains her favorite character. "Barbie would like to be back," says LeAnn. Back to the classroom, especially if a Barbie visit confirms better test results come after she leaves. Barbie had a friend with her during the school visit- not Ken, but Batman.
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