Spend five minutes walking around Lawson Early Childhood School with Principal Susie Towber, and what becomes quickly apparent is an abiding devotion to her students.

They range in age from three to five, and she seems to know them all by name—which is noteworthy on a campus of more than 600 kids. When she finds a class lining up tidily in the corridor, Towber fairly glows as she engages them in a brief exchange that is equal parts inquiry and praise with a dash of correction thrown in.

The 90,000-plus sq. ft. Lawson campus is home to a dizzying array of programs: Early Head Start, Head Start (Bilingual, ESL, Monolingual), Pre-K (Bilingual, ESL, Monolingual), PPCD (Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities), STC PPCD (Structured Teach PPCD), PALS (Preschool Articulation and Language Services) and the Community Based Preschool Program.

Towber loves them all. And, she would say the same of her entire staff. It’s the driving force behind everything they do.

And, what they do is pretty remarkable. In their words, “Everything is Lawsome!”

H-E-B has named Lawson a 2018 Statewide Finalist in its School of Excellence in Education Award program. According to H-E-B, the initiative was launched in 2002 to honor outstanding public school professionals and thank them for their dedication and commitment. Each year, a winner is selected in each of five categories—including one for Early Childhood Schools.

“I’m extremely happy that the hard work of Lawson Early Childhood School has been recognized by this fine organization,” says McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel. “The work that Lawson does is critical to the future success of McKinney ISD, and I’m pleased that they are being recognized at a state level for all of their outstanding efforts.”

The initial H-E-B applicant field was narrowed to 25 semi-finalists and then five finalist schools, which each received a $5,000 grant. This spring, on May 6, the winners will be announced at the H-E-B awards dinner, and the winning campuses will each receive a $25,000 grant.

“H-E-B was looking for exemplary schools in early childhood education,” says Towber. “They really want to promote early childhood education. They see the importance of it just like we do. We feel like our kids deserve the very best, and we want to enhance all the programs we have here. We are the first face of MISD. Of course, we want to make it marvelous for the kids, so we write a lot of grants to fund our programs, and this is one of the grants that [MISD Chief Program Evaluation Officer] Geoff Sanderson sent us and thought we would be a great school to apply.”

When the H-E-B evaluation team visited the school, they spent several hours touring the campus and talking with Towber both individually and with a panel made up of Lawson and district-level staff as well as parents.

“They really looked at the social/emotional and the academic, so we highlighted our social/emotional curriculum,” explains Towber. “We highlighted our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) Lab, our Motor Lab and our outdoor classroom because that really makes us unique. We want our kids to learn in all different areas and apply their problem-solving skills and social skills in many different areas.”

In the STEAM Lab, students work busily on Smart Tables and apply problem-solving and coding principles as they play with BeeBots. In the Motor Lab they jump and slide and spin and laugh and carry on. But, it’s all purposeful and focused on learning.

“What you and I might consider play activity is very much intentional behavior on the part of Lawson with their students,” Sanderson points out. “And, I think that to be able to take all of the day in and day out activities and have them directed toward accomplishing some reinforcement or new skill development is really what sets Lawson apart.

“If you look at the STEAM Lab, they have various stations for the students, and each one of them has many activities that Susie and her staff have already made a decision about what they want the kids to accomplish,” Sanderson says. “With the BeeBot devices for example, there’s mathematics involved. The kids have to be able to count how many advances that the device makes before making a turn. They have to understand the concept of direction about where they’re going to point the bot. They have to be able to follow sequence because they have to enter multiple steps at once.”

In the middle of all this are the teachers, kneeling on the floor next to the kids, engaging students with questions and encouraging problem-solving. What the kids do in the Motor Lab and the STEAM Lab is not parallel play, Assistant Principal Iliana Gonzalez points out. “It’s done together, and the teacher facilitates by asking questions. They get so excited. It’s really amazing,” she says.

Beyond the learning that happens on the Lawson campus, perhaps one of the staff’s most important objectives is to engage parents. Sometimes that means hitting the streets and going door to door.

“You know one of the exciting things,” says Gonzalez, “is at the beginning of the year, teachers go to every student’s house to present themselves, and they have a packet of information about Lawson. So, that alone opens the door for parents.”

Over the past 2-3 years, Lawson has grown their Parents of Pre-Schoolers program from what was once a lackluster 3-4 parents per meeting to 30-50 parents at each meeting. And, the school’s IMPACT (the Importance of Parents and Children Together) events draw attendance in the hundreds three times a year.

“It’s the whole family — and the neighbor’s kids,” says Jen Mitchell, who serves as school counselor at Lawson, of the IMPACT nights. “They always leave with popcorn and a book, but they also come and find out ways that they can interact with their children at home. The last one that we did was a social/emotional and a general health event. We’ve also done literacy and math.”

“We’ve done some rotations so that every team is represented here,” adds Towber. “The parents walk away with an activity in English and in Spanish that they can continue to work on together as a family at home.”

Ultimately, the goal of all of this is for Lawson’s students to enter kindergarten prepared.

“Al Conley, the principal at Burks, came over and spoke about that,” says Towber, “and he said that he was going through his data meetings, and what he saw was that kids who went through Lawson were at least a semester ahead.”

But, Towber isn’t surprised by this. “Our kids know how to problem-solve. They know how to think,” she says. “Of course we teach them their ABCs, but it’s so much more than that. They know how to collaborate. They know how to share. They know how to attend and problem solve. So, kids that come through Lawson really know how to do school.”

For Towber and her staff, Lawson Early Childhood School is a labor of love. And, the hard work that they put in on behalf of these children can set a new trajectory for their entire academic career—one that is headed up and to the right.

That is worthy of acclaim.

And, it is completely…Lawsome.

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or smauldin@mckinneyisd.net.