Summer Stories (and homework)

“But we all have stories, right? They might be milk-snorting-out-of-your-nose funny ones, or listen-to-how-cool-and-awesome-we-are ones, or come-close-so-we-can-whisper-in-your-ears- juicy ones. They might be old favorites or stories about new experiences. But no matter what, our stories are unique, just like we are.”

That is how Ellen Oh introduces the collection of stories in Flying Lessons and Other Stories that she edited for young people. It captures part of the reason that as human beings we are storytellers and story listeners — stories are a critical way that we learn about the world, make sense of our experiences, and develop empathy.

Summer homework this year is all about stories.

Reading over the summer is essential to avoid a decline in reading skills that often happens over summer vacation. This is the homework that we take most seriously. All children should read and/or be read to often. There are a number of programs to encourage reading. (Children and teens can get a free book by participating in the Barnes and Noble summer reading program. The New York Public Library also offers a summer reading challenge and recommendations for great books.) Middle school students are expected to log the books they read and respond to one book. Instructions are on the school website.

Introducing the first annual PS/IS 276 Story Telling Contest!

 This year, we are also encouraging our students to become storytellers.

 Students can enter our contest to tell stories about what they are experiencing or learning over the summer. The story should have characters, a setting, a problem and a solution. Stories should also include, in some form, a reflection on what was learned: a moral can be embedded into the story, students can write a prologue or afterward, or they can document their learning in some other way. Creativity and clear self-expression is valued.

Story submissions can take multiple forms.

An important goal is that students practice crafting and telling stories of importance. Another goal for this work is that students explore their creative sides and develop interests. Some examples of story format include (but are not limited to….):

Video

  • Stop motion
  • Animation
  • Compilation of images (a la 5th grade documentaries)
  • Performance (get some friends together and act out a screenplay)
  • A video game

Text

  • A graphic novel
  • Fiction (short story or chapter book)
  • Poetry
  • Personal narrative

Audio

  • A song with lyrics performed and recorded (get a band together and record your work)
  • A podcast.

Visual

  • A painting, drawing, collage or series of art pieces
  • Three dimensional work (sculptural, diorama, 3 D printing)

First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

  First place Second place Third place
Rising 1st – 2nd graders $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble $15 gift card to to Barnes and Noble $10 gift card to to Barnes and Noble
Rising 3rd – 4thgraders $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble $15 gift card to to Barnes and Noble $10 gift card to to Barnes and Noble
Rising 5th – 6th graders $25 gift card to Shake Shack $15 gift card to Shake Shack $10 gift card to Shake Shack
Rising 7th – 8th graders $25 gift card to Shake Shack $15 gift card to Shake Shack $10 gift card to Shake Shack

 

Math

This week, our 3rd through 7th graders are going to sit for the New York State math test.  This year it is two days of untimed testing —  a mix of multiple choice and constructed response in which students have to show their thinking.  (Hopefully, it won’t be as time intensive as the ELA test was this year.  Very few students completed that test in the 60 – 90 minutes the State predicted.)

While I understand that students need to learn how to take tests successfully in order to gain entry to most professions (from civil servants to MBAs and doctors, many professions require us to pass tests), I regret how these tests force so many away from the true purpose of the discipline. Mathematics isn’t just calculating numbers; it is an approach to problem solving that involves logic, deep understanding of numbers, communication and creative thinking.

Last week, Basia went to hear Eugenia Cheng talk about math and the concept of infinity. One of Dr. Cheng’s goals is to rid the world of math phobia (a goal that is not made easier by math tests.) Below are some excerpts of an email Basia wrote me about the lecture:

“The lecture was greatly enhanced by the way it was shared. Eugenia Cheng discussed the ideas using storytelling, visuals, and even music including singing. She also said a few things about teaching that I feel is worth mentioning here. For example, she talked about the attitude that students have to math. When she taught students majoring in math, she often heard them saying that they like math because it’s easy. In her words, “that’s a shaky idea.”  She thinks they felt this way because they were expected to work with concepts they already knew/grasped. Learning, though, is about gaining new knowledge and understanding. Currently, Dr. Cheng is teaching at the Art Institute in Chicago, and she finds that art students often approach math in her class the way it suppose to be approached because they are interested in thinking. Math is about making connections — not really about correct/incorrect answers. As a professor, she teaches her students through storytelling and hands on activities. She tailors the stories to students interests (ex. when she taught math majors she used lots of food stories because they seemed to become more engaged in the lectures). Reflecting upon this, I keep on encountering the idea of teaching as storytelling – it is something I find very enticing, and something that is so human – people of all cultures, as far as we can go back in our history as species seems to engage in storytelling. It’s not easy but it is powerful.”
We continually work to find new and interesting ways to hook students on the magic of mathematics.  Games, stories, and puzzles provide an alternative entry point to mathematics that then allow students to apply algorithms, strategies and formula to problems with more confidence and flexibility.  In the end, our goal is not to develop students who are calculators, but instead, students who are confident problem solvers and thinkers.

Civics

Historically, the main purpose of school was said to teach students the 3 R’s — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  That isn’t really true, however. Schools were also expected to teach students civics — the history of our country, how to be a good community member, and how to participate in our democratic government.

I am part of a progressive school leaders group at Bank Street College of Education. At our March meeting, we read and discussed an article about how schools work for and with democracy. This conversation got me thinking about what exactly do I mean when I say we are educating our students for participation in a democratic society? The article we read suggested that there are 5 goals we have for our students; we want them to be

  1. informed,
  2. inquiry minded,
  3. empathic and inclusive,
  4. confident and vocal, and
  5. involved.

Our teachers work tirelessly on our curriculum so that are students are informed about important events, people and ideas in our nation’s history and in the world. Our curriculum is grounded in inquiry where students are encouraged to ask questions and to investigate possible answers. This happens in science where students learn to conduct scientific investigations, social studies when students investigate the impacts of human action on the environment and the legacy of Brown v Topeka, and reading when students discuss theme and craft.

We nurture empathy through our use of restorative practices and in working collaboratively with a range of peers. This work with peers takes place within classes and across grades. Our 8th graders buddy with younger students. Children volunteer to be special buddies to younger students who need support to start the school day and we are establishing a partnership program with the students at P94.

We also create spaces for our students to be confident, vocal and involved.  Our student council and GSA are given a voice in our school. They are encouraged to identify aspects of our program that need change and given the opportunity to help shape policies.  I was so proud of our students for organizing themselves and raising their voices (we have some photos in People magazine) around the debate for safety in schools and access to guns.  And as adults, we model democratic experiences for our students through providing access for parental involvement, being informed about world events, and engaging with local elected officials on issues important to our community. 

Our work together shines a light on how public schooling prepares students for participation in civic life.  We want to make sure that we are preparing all our students to be informed, empathic, and active members of our society.

IMG_6366
Students protesting during the #MarchForOurLives

 

School Priorities

School budgets are finicky things. Our school budget is calculated by number of students on a grade. Schools in NYC get about $4100-$4300 per student with additional funding for students with IEPS.  These funds are expected to cover teacher salaries, supplies, and some supplemental items such as professional development.

I have two key funding priorities when figuring out the budget.  One #1 priority is to have teachers to provide support for struggling students.  When this work is done well, not only do the students who struggle gain confidence and skills, teachers also learn from each other how to support all students.

The other #1 priority is to continue to provide the rich program we currently have. We have a very luxurious program! Spanish in elementary school, two full time music teachers, an amazing librarian, and a developing technology program. Rachel Lewis wrote a grant proposal for a robotics program last Spring and she is now rolling this work out with our older students.

These two priorities may seem a little at odds with each other. I don’t believe they are.  Students who struggle in school need the intervention support. They also need a rich curriculum that allows them to develop different intelligences and ways of self expression.  Our program also gives all students the opportunity to excel in school.  Students who are visual and kinesthetic learners shine when given the opportunity and can often assist students who “excel” in traditional academic tasks.  Children who are bilingual, become expert resources in Spanish even though they may struggle in English literacy. These programs also stretch the students who do not struggle with academic tasks.  We have a lot of high achieving kids who we need to challenge in new ways.  Our rich school program helps all students become more well rounded problem solvers, thinkers and citizens.  In turn, it builds content knowledge and vocabularies  and improves engagement, learning, and test scores.

My challenge is to keep the reality of this vision going.  It may mean we need to squeeze some budget lines here and there — cutting back on some PD expenses, figuring out solutions for covering classes for intervisitations and for IEPs (sub coverage is a big expense in our school), using MyNYPL for books for units, making sure kids treat our technology with care, recruiting more student teachers to help in classrooms instead of assistant teachers.

In past years, we usually had money left to roll over to the next fiscal year. Unfortunately, declining enrollment this year, has us owing funds back.  My commitment to our school program is secure, however.  I have been working closely with the PTA to make sure that we are covering necessary expenses.  I will continue to market the school to parents and to work with the PTA to increase donations.

Given the new tax laws, this is also a reminder that your donations to your preferred charities (hopefully the Battery Park City School PTA is one of these) are tax deductible this year, but may not be next year. I am making sure to make my donations in the few days remaining.

Angst

The 276 Wellness Committee organized a film screening of the film, Angst, in late November.  The film was followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Michelle Zaccario, Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist and PS/IS 276 Parent, Dr. Anne Marie Albano, of the Columbia University Clinic For AnxietyDr. Jerry Bubrick, Senior Director of Anxiety Disorders Center, Child Mind Institute.  I was surprised to hear that 20% to 25% of young people will experience anxiety disorders before they are out of school and that anxiety can begin to manifest as early as 4 years old.

Separation anxiety in the morning at drop off, misbehavior in the classroom, frequent trips to the nurse’s office for stomach and head aches, and extreme shyness are just some of the ways that anxiety can manifest at school. When we notice these behaviors in children, the 276 staff works collaboratively with parents to implement supports so that the children learn to manage their fears.

These supports may be simple such as arranging an alternative plan for arriving at school in the morning, offering time with a counselor or teacher to talk through anxious thoughts, and practicing mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

We also have built in supports to help students manage anxiety. Students in grades 5-8 have weekly advisory meetings, we use google classroom to help children organize and keep on top of assignments, and we have a grading policy that values persistence and participation instead of just grades.  Teachers in grades K-4 use the Second Step program to help children understand their feelings and to practice self-expression and self-advocacy. Our teachers are also trained in how to use mindfulness techniques to help students focus and de-stress.

It is important that parents and school work together to help children develop strong social emotional skills and resilience.  If you ever have any concerns about your child, please let your teacher or a school counselor know.

Here are some resources to help you understand anxiety and how to help your child manage these emotions.

The Child Mind Institute has a number of articles on helping children with anxiety. One that caught my eye was how we adults sometimes pass anxiety on to children and how we can ameliorate the impact on the children.

Usable Knowledge, an electronic newsletter I receive from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has a series of articles on helping young people (and their grown ups) manage anxiety.

The Angst film makers also have a number of resources available on their website.

 

In case of emergency

(This also went out as an email blast through mailchimp.)

Dear Families,

This morning children came into school in a variety of moods. Some were excited to share their Halloween candy with our troops overseas (two children donated 100% of their trick or treat candy!) and to talk about their costumes. Others were more preoccupied with the incident on West Street and Chambers. Whether they talked about the event or not, all students knew something had happened. We know it is important to directly address concerns and news like this with students. We want them to know that we work diligently to keep them safe.

This morning all students had an opportunity to participate in community circles where questions and concerns were answered and safety protocols were reviewed again.  Our staff was proud of our students for their thoughtful comments, concern, and empathy.  Students were encouraged to speak to a school counselor or teacher if needed.  While the staff was impressed with the students, they also expressed that many of the students were struck by the closeness of the event. We are watching the kids closely today and urge you to check in with your children as well.

Here are some resources to guide you in navigating these conversations with your children.

National Child Traumatic Stress Center

How to Talk to Kids About Violence: A Response from Parenting Press

Child Mind Institute trauma resources 

Due to recent events you may be feeling overwhelmed with concerns, worry and questions.  I would like to take this opportunity to re-visit our school emergency protocol, how to connect with school after hours, and resources available including tips for supporting your child.

I also want to review safety and emergency protocols with you.
Emergency protocols 
As Susan shared in an earlier email and we have 3 main safety protocols that we practice. The familiar fire drill (now called an evacuation drill), lock down drills (the scariest of the 3; we hide in classrooms with doors locked), and shelter in place (where the danger is outside the school building, we lock the doors, and keep things as normal as possible for the children.) Yesterday, we used the shelter in place protocol.  Whenever we are instructed to use a safety protocol by the FDNY or NYPD, we are not allowed to lift it until we are given the go ahead. While this can be frustrating, it is done with the intention of keeping our community safe.

Communication from School to Home
If events happen during the school day, we will send out blasts through twitter (@terriruyter), a blog post, email blasts (we had some technical issues yesterday and not all emails arrived at the destination) and through MailChimp. I am also working on finding an easy to use emergency group text service.

Communication from Home to School
If you have concerns, you can also call the school (remember that many parents might be calling and the phones may be busy) or Manhattan Youth if it is during after school hours.

School office: 212-266-5800
Brad Lewis – K through 5th 646-592-1233
Cynthia DeLeon – 6th through 8th 917-565-7249

Thank you for your support and courage during this time. Our community is a very strong and resilient one. One I am very proud of.

Perseverance and Grace

PJPeter John Rendall is a role model in my eyes.  PJ has been in our school since kindergarten.  In that time, he has accomplished a lot of the goals of each grade along with his classmates.  He is learning to read and write with increasing fluency and depth of comprehension. He is learning mathematical thinking. He is studying history and geography and science.

PJ has also had other things to learn that most of our students able to do with little thought.  While in elementary school, PJ transitioned from using a walker to moving about with crutches and leg braces.  This year, in fifth grade, he participated in his first Run for Knowledge.  He completed the run slowly and steadily.  His stamina and drive to accomplish this goal is admirable.  This perseverance serves him well as it is as applicable to athletic accomplishments as it is to academic accomplishments.  When the going gets tough for me, I remember PJ and students like him who face additional challenges.

By the time, PJ reached the finish line, we were long out of medals.  One of our first graders, Gregoire Jaffres-Bell, was still at the finish line with his mom.  He watched PJ cross the finish line to the cheers of those left in the park.  He noticed that PJ did not get a medal.  In a moment of grace and compassion, Gregoire gave his medal to PJ.  I am as proud of Gregoire for identifying the hard work of a fellow Charger as I am of PJ for completing the mile run.

Some of our middle school students saw this interaction and quickly joined in the generosity  by giving both Gregoire and PJ their medals.  They made two young boys very happy.

Often the work of schools is thought to be limited to teaching academics.  Equally important is the culture of care and communal responsibility that is nurtured in school.   I am proud to publicly celebrate Peter John and Gregoire who demonstrated these values at the Run for Knowledge and to the middle school students (sorry, I don’t remember who they were) for joining in.

(Photo courtesy of The Broadsheet and photographer, Robert Simko.)

Self Aware/World Aware

Welcome back to school!

The middle school team, with the support of our amazing middle school assistant principal, Nico Victorino, has launched the school year in a very thoughtful way.  Rather than diving right into formal academics and homework, middle schoolers spent the first two days of school building community and awareness.

Students spent significant time in their advisories. Typically, each advisory is made of small groups of grade specific students.  This allows advisors to focus the advisory curriculum on age specific needs — from building independence in 6th grade to planning for high school in 8th grade. This year, in addition to those aspects of our advisory program, groups have cross grade partnerships.  These partnerships will meet on occasion to engage in community building activities.

This past week, advisory partnerships met together to discuss important topics in the news under the theme of self awareness and global awareness.   Students were given options for news items to learn about and discuss.  Choices included removal of confederate statues, the events in Charlottesville in mid-August, DACA repeal, and the impact of extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Teachers helped students understand relevant vocabulary and concepts as well as necessary scientific and historical background information.  Students then engaged in discussions with each other about the pros and cons of diverse perspectives. As usual, I was impressed with the students’ thoughtfulness, questions, and ability to have complicated and respectful conversations. The work this past week is setting the stage for the complex thinking we expect of our students during the school year. Additionally, it is building understanding of the role of government and the habits of mind and knowledge needed for civic engagement.

Of course, teachers also shared behavioral expectations and reviewed school policies with the students. (Our new student handbook is coming home. Please review it with your child). And teachers and students took time to celebrate community through assemblies.

Students also met new staff members and learned of new roles for some of our prior staff.

Dawn Schafer will be leading the middle school math department again this year.  Dawn will be joined by Yoobin Noh (6th grade), Peggy Chen (7th grade), and Saeed Golpoor (Algebra 1).  Erika Richardson and Jessica Kuhl will be teaching 6-8th grade science. Jamie Christian will continue to support 6th grade in math and science.  Audra Benjamin is returning to our school from a several year stay in Colorado. She will be supporting 7th grade in math and science.  Lisa Bartuccelli is joining our staff from a high school in the Bronx. She brings many years of experience supporting students in Algebra 1 and science.

We will continue to have our fabulous social studies team of Natalie (Delmonte) Skeels, Carmen Robles and Mary Valentine.

Katie McGinn is supporting middle school students in literacy.  She will be working with small groups of students in grades 6-8.  Tamar Goelman continues to teach 8th grade ELA and Maren Aydogan is teaching 7th grade ELA.  Jessica Beck is joining our staff as the 6th grade ELA teacher. Catherine Cohl will be the learning specialist in ELA in grades 6 and 8 and Morgan Fusetti is returning as the learning specialist for ELA in grades 6 and 7.

And we are grateful to be able to learn band and chorus with Stephanie Mazarakis and Krista Bruschini, art with Amanda Capalbo, PE with Jon Carey, health with Melissa Kefales, tech with Rachel Lewis, and Spanish with Pooja Shekar.

On September 19 from 6 to 7:30 you will have the opportunity to hear from your children’s teachers at Back to School Night.  We look forward to seeing you there.

 

State Test Scores 2016-2017

As many of you know, NYS test scores have been released.  We are in the process of looking at the data for our school. I will be sharing results with the school community in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, parents of students who took the tests can access their children’s scores through their NYC Schools Account. This is an informational account for parents that has information on attendance and test scores and is the account that will be used for this information for your children as long as they are in New York City public schools.

Some parents have set up these accounts already. (Letters have gone home several times with the instructions.) Click here for information on NYC Schools Account registration.

If you have not yet set up an account, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.  Unfortunately, it is a bit complicated. In order to set up an account, you need two pieces of information.

  1. Your child’s OSIS number. This is the 9-digit identification number assigned to your child in the DOE computer system.  It is on your child’s report card. You should keep this number stored somewhere as you may need it whenever navigating DOE systems.
  2. A secure code for your child. The only way we currently have of getting this number to you is through a hard copy letter. Susan will generate a new set of these letters early next week. These letters are only available in pdf as a group file.  We cannot email individual letters to you. You can come in to pick up your letter next week.

I wish that this process were more user friendly. Right now, this is the only method we have.

Nurse Elissa

I want to give a shout out to Elissa, school nurse extraordinaire. This spring, I nominated Elissa for a School Nurse recognition award. She has been  selected to be honored by the Office of School Health for her contributions to our school community.  Elissa and I will be going to the awards ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

In nominating Elissa for a recognition award, I highlighted her attention to individual students and her ability to advocate for them in thoughtful and personalized ways. Whether she is setting up families with medical specialists to support children, finding role models for students in need,  listening to them as they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood, or just creating a safe space for children, Elissa is a role model for me in how she cares for others.

Elissa recognizes that an important part of wellness for young people includes mental health. Elissa recently completed a Thrive training on assisting young people in mental health crisis. As a nurse in a middle school, she develops strong, trusting relationships with our students. Students then feel comfortable coming to her for a talk or support when they are stressed.  Add to this intense work, Elissa also provides band-aids, ice packs and asthma pumps. She checks for fevers with the “mom thermometer” of a wrist to the forehead and with the Star Trek version where she uses a high tech tool to measure temperature with no skin contact. She is on top of all children with allergies, trains all teachers to use epipens, and monitors the health of children with chronic illness from diabetes to lupus. She is able to help children with lagging communication and sensory processing challenges successfully navigate regular visits to the nurse’s office. She knows most of the over 900 children in the school by name.  I didn’t include in my recommendation for this award that Elissa has a ready ear for parents who are struggling and that she coaches our staff on our own healthcare because I was worried that it would get her “in trouble” for going above and beyond. Her office remains a respite for graduates who return to check in with her and for teachers and Manhattan Youth staff who need a little TLC.

One of our younger students had surgery on his Achilles tendons this winter. When his surgeon spoke to him about the next steps in his recovery, he confidently told the doctor that he would check with Elissa for her opinion. The doctor, confused, asked the mom who this “Elissa” is. The mom told him that she is our amazing school nurse.

So, hats off to Elissa for being an outstanding medical professional and human being. Largely remaining in her windowless office with her very cool thermometer, she is the Dr. Bones to my Captain Kirk.

elissa