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.