CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Elk Elementary Center Principal Cathi Bradley knows that not every student is going to earn straight A's or excel in sports.
But each child has talent, even though it's sometimes hidden.
"We want to reach them all," Bradley said. "We just want every student to be successful at something."
Last month, the state Board of Education gave Elk Elementary Center $31,765 to create an "innovation zone," one of 19 in the state (others include Charleston's Piedmont Elementary and the new West Side Elementary School).
Innovation zones allow schools to waive state laws and policies -- such as requirements in the school calendar and daily schedules -- and also allow teachers to try out new, creative strategies to improve student achievement.
In large part, Elk Elementary Center's effort is designed to introduce young students to the arts -- through visual art, music, dance and drama -- to better develop the "whole" child. They plan to blend in health, wellness and environmental awareness as well.
Bradley arrived at Elk Elementary five years ago. Before that, she was an assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum at Capital High School, the county's "magnet" high school for the performing arts.
Bradley saw that Elk Elementary's auditorium and performance stage went largely unused.
She wants musical performances and plays to become a regular part of the culture there, so parents and the public can attend the occasional weekend or evening performance.
Fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Dinah Brown inspired much of the focus for the innovation zone at Elk Elementary. Brown knows her students on a personal level, and works to discover their talents, Bradley said.
For instance, student Michael McDonald has shown a talent for the violin. In Brown's class, he learned how to properly hold the bow and read all the musical notes, he said.
Michael is a perfect example of the kind of student Bradley and Brown hope to reach by identifying his niche.
"He has thrived [with the violin]," Brown said. "It is one reason he comes to school."
Too often, principals and teachers around the state and country focus primarily on standardized tests, which have largely driven public education over the past decade, Bradley said.
"They're losing ground on the whole child," Bradley said. "To get those test scores, we've got to grab the Michaels."
In Brown's classroom this week, fourth-grade students Trent Wolfe and Sydney Frame took lead roles in the play "The King in the Kitchen."
"Young children learn physically more so than any other way," Brown said.
Earlier, Frame explained why the tiny brook trout swimming in the classroom aquarium were swimming "upstream" into a pumped current of water. It's instinctual for them to catch food that's moving downstream.