Success Story: Mr. Nance

As principal at Buck Lodge Middle School, Mr. Nance has led a transformation that includes double-digit gains on the Scholastic Reading Inventory in every grade level and becoming Maryland Vocabulary Bowl Champion. We had a chance to talk with Mr. Nance about how Vocabulary.com fits into Buck Lodge’s trajectory of success.
Position:Principal, Buck Lodge Middle School
Grades:6th - 8th
Enrollment:1,250 Students
Location:Adelphi, MD
  • Our school district believes that if we focus on culture, data and performance with a lens on literacy that we will see success.
    Vocabulary.com: There’s a sign in your school that reads: “Culture + Data = Success”. How does Vocabulary.com fit into that philosophy?
    Mr. Nance: This quote is actually used district-wide and is our theory of change. Our school district believes that if we focus on culture, data and performance with a lens on literacy that we will see success. We spend a lot of time on the culture of learning and Vocabulary.com fits right into this! It allows students to take ownership of their learning in a competitive way that makes our students want to learn more new words.
  • V: You’ve been a big champion of creating a vibrant school culture and identity around achievement. Can you talk more about that?
    N: We have a large school population with over 1250 students from 6th - 8th grade and it is impossible to educate that many students in one building if they don’t want to be in school. My main focus is having students want to come to school and feel safe while they are here. Our theme is “Be a Hero”. It embodies who we are as a school. Most heroes have come from hard times and despite this, use their superpower, usually have a cause, and often collaborate with other superheroes. We have been Vocabulary.com state champions for the past two years, we have won a gold award for a US Healthy Schools initiative, and we even had a student representative in the 2017 SCRIPPS spelling bee.
  • Increasing the vocabulary of students builds their academic confidence and helps them create grit and perseverance.
    V: How do you see vocabulary improvement supporting your effort to champion academic achievement to create a growth mindset at Buck Lodge?
    N: We are a very diverse and non-traditional public Title 1 school. I am a firm believer that regardless of your circumstances, your situation is not fixed and that with focused efficacy, you can accomplish almost anything. It is important for the staff and students to understand this, and I see enhancing the vocabulary of students as essential in this knowledge-based economy. Increasing the vocabulary of students builds their academic confidence and helps them create grit and perseverance.
  • The teachers use it in every content area on a regular basis which allows for conversations around cross-curricular instruction.
    V: The staff at Buck Lodge works so closely on the grade-level team level, across content areas. Can you talk about the role of collaboration in your implementation of Vocabulary.com?
    N: The collaboration amongst the staff has a huge part to do with the success of Vocabulary.com at Buck Lodge. The teachers use it in every content area on a regular basis which allows for conversations around cross-curricular instruction. Our school district has a serious push with literacy in all content areas. We have a designated literacy coach who works with our content departments different times throughout the school year around a literacy task. During this time, there is an intentional focus on reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy. Teachers use Vocabulary.com to support their curriculum and the standards by focusing on Tier II and Tier III words.
  • V: What kinds of gains are you seeing?
    N: Some of the gains we have seen are the following:
    • Writing was generally well-organized
    • Students can cite relevant textual evidence
    • Many students are writing full essays
    • Essays start off strong
  • Once they realized they can use it across content and that it was more about literacy than about a particular content area, they got on board.
    V: Was it a challenge to bring in Vocabulary.com at first?
    N: The great part about the Buck Lodge staff is that once they understand how a program works and its relevance, they integrate it into their planning and lessons. Initially, the staff had the understanding that it was mainly a program for reading teachers. Once they realized they can use it across content and that it was more about literacy than about a particular content area, they got on board. It also helped that the program was competitive and engaging.

    I would definitely say that the competition aspect and the engagement of the program has helped with the successful implementation. Our students check their scores daily and even work at home and on the weekends. We acknowledge student leaders and teachers on our morning announcements, which also helps.
  • V: On the subject of students, a large segment of your student body is English language learners. What are your thoughts on vocabulary acquisition for these students?
    N: There is research that shows students who can speak two or more languages have increased attention focus and cognition. Acquiring vocabulary is essential to support their acquisition of the English language. Keeping a focus on literacy and the importance of learning and mastering new words has helped our ESOL students in and out of the classroom.