WPSBA Districts Share Their Initiatives:
Briarcliff 2nd Graders Showcase Coding Skills at Code Fest
The second grade classrooms were unusually quiet given that the entire first and second grades were gathered in them for Todd Elementary School’s inaugural Code Fest. Every desk, chair, table, couch, and inch of rug was in use with pairs of students diligently working on iPads solving puzzles. As simple as that scene sounds, it was a year in the making.
Code Fest was made possible by Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District‘s 1:1 technology program and planning by the technology department that began in the summer of 2018. In September, Technology Mentor Dr. Tracy Campanile met with teachers to set a technology goal for the year and then plan strategies and develop lesson plans to meet that goal. The second grade set the team goal of making Code Fest happen.
“Teachers were required to meet a minimum number of times with Dr. Campanile to practice and refine the skills necessary to help students succeed,” said Director of Technology Ms. Erica Beasley. “I was pleased that many of them requested meeting with her far more frequently, enabling them to master the best practices and model them for their students with ease.”
For students, Code Fest 2019 kicked-off with each second grade classroom screening a short coding video, followed by a group discussion about key terms like algorithms and programmers that would be used throughout the activity. The students then split up into small mixed groups of first and second graders who opened the “CodeSpark” app on their iPads.
The teams chose avatars and began working on puzzles and recording the skills they used to solve each one, as well as how many they were able to complete. Second grader Saam Shanani’s description of the activity demonstrated the depth of student understanding of the activity and assignment, “Coding is giving the computer a message to do something. You tell the computer what to do you get to see things happen. The more you code the better things you make. We are learning how to do this now so that when we get to high school we can create more things.”
Once they had finished the assigned tasks, second graders shared videos about second grade that they had created using the “Apple Clips” app. The videos gave first graders a sneak-peek at what life will be like next year.
"Code Fest was a unique opportunity for our second graders to showcase the coding skills they have been working on all year, and to make connections with younger students,” said Ms. Michelle Kiger, a second grade teacher. “It was gratifying to watch the teams follow directions, work together, and solve complex puzzles using emerging coding skills. It truly exemplifies what can be accomplished when the technology department and the teachers team-up."
Dr. Campanile who both watched and participated in the day’s festivities said “The students' comfort with the iPads after having used them as educational tools all year was truly on display at Code Fest. And, of course, the willingness of the first and second grade teams to plan and collaborate made it a reality."
Brewster High School Showcases Their Best Senior TED Talks
Students sat in complete silence, staring intently at senior Sara DeLuca as she spoke to them in Brewster High School’s ILC. There was no fidgeting or quiet whispering. She held their undivided attention as she gave a deeply personal TED Talk.
Her talk, “Society’s Secret Encouragement of Mental Illness,” was part of a Best of Senior TED Talks conference created by English teacher Robert LoAlbo. DeLuca explored how social media contributes to depression and eating disorders and, during her talk, revealed that she has struggled with some of the issues she spoke about.
“I didn’t think it was going to be hard to talk about,” DeLuca said with a smile. “But then I got up the first time to do it and I realized that I really had to tell everyone that I suffer from so many things.” She wondered if students would be able to relate or if they would think she was strange.
After a little bit of thought, she realized she could not be the only one. “When I looked at all of the kids’ faces while I was speaking, they were completely zoned in. I felt like they were feeling what I felt at the same time,” DeLuca said. “I think it’s a topic that a lot of people can relate to, so it really influenced them. People even came up to me after the talk.”
Not all of the talks were as personal as DeLuca’s, but they were all incredibly thoughtful. “I listened to all my seniors,” LoAlbo said. “These were the best.”
In addition to DeLuca, Sierra Cervantes, Chloe Charles, Jessica Hamel, Tyler Maloney, Caitlin Otto, Mollie Toscano, and Gavin Winkler also shared their talks with their peers. Topics ranged from déjà vu, self-love, disabilities, and premature birth to environmentalism, America, and politics.
“I’ve never done it on a grand scale like this,” LoAlbo said of the talks. For two full periods, students could choose from three talks that were happening simultaneously in the ILC, the DaVinci lab, and the iTheater. “I’ve always had it in my brain to do it like this, but I haven’t been able to work out the logistics until this year. It’s good. They’re getting a lot out of it.”
When asked what she hoped her peers took away from her talk, DeLuca said, “Love yourself. What other people say about you, what society says about you doesn’t determine your worth in this world.”
Dows Lane Elementary School Reduces Trash by Half
The Irvington Union Free School District is deeply committed to caring for the environment and instilling a sense of responsibility in its students, thanks to an expanded districtwide recycling and waste reduction program.
At Dows Lane Elementary School, students and staff have already had a positive impact and significantly reduced the school's waste production – going from 104 pounds of trash every day to only 39 pounds of trash per day, and from eight to four bags of trash every day. In addition, thanks to the newly implemented recycling and waste reduction program, the school projects its annual waste production to be reduced to 7,000 pounds of trash compared to 19,000 pounds annually in previous years.
“The recycling initiative at Dows Lane has been successful, thanks to all students, staff and parent volunteers who are leading the charge to reducing our waste,” Principal Deborah Mariniello said.
The program, which was first launched at Main Street School as a pilot, was expanded to all schools at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. During the first year of the waste reduction program, Main Street School students worked with their principal, Joyce Chapnick, community members and school members to successfully accomplish their goal of reducing waste. Chapnick attributed the program’s success to the collaborative efforts of parent volunteers, students, teachers, custodial staff, lunch aids and staff, and volunteers from Irvington’s Green Policy Task Force.
“Our students see firsthand that each one can make a difference by doing his or her part,” Chapnick said. “Our efforts to further recycle will reduce our carbon footprint, and an individual’s effort does have an impact.”
Similar to Main Street School, the expanded waste reduction program at Dows Lane Elementary School features three recycling bins – one for paper recycling, one for commingled recycling and another one for trash – in each classroom, hallway and office. Meanwhile, there are four bins in the cafeteria: liquid, commingled, trash and compost. At the Irvington Middle School and Irvington High School campus, the program is similar, but without the compost component in the cafeteria.
To further support the program, parent volunteers at Dows Lane Elementary School – also known as Recycling P.A.L.S. (Parents as Learning Support) – have been assisting students to properly sort items at the two recycling stations in the cafeteria during K-3 lunches. Fourth- and fifth-graders at MSS were educated about waste reduction through assemblies and lunchtime presentations. At the middle and high schools, students and faculty were also educated about the program and encouraged to further get involved in the efforts throughout the year.
PNW BOCES Certified First Responder Class at Tech Center Teaches Students to Save Lives
Eric Holmbo, Haldane, and Molly Vaughn, Lakeland, learn how to perform CPR and use a defibrillator.
They applied tourniquets, performed CPR on a dummy and practiced how to work a defibrillator—and that was just in one class. Students at the new certified first responder (CFR) class at The Tech Center at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES are learning what to do in an emergency setting that can save lives.
After demonstrating tourniquet application on a dummy, teacher Robert Cuomo had students take turns replicating his work. “It’s important that you write down the time the tourniquet was placed,” Cuomo told students, “so that doctors know how long it has been there. You don't’ want a tourniquet to be on for more than two hours because you can lose blood flow to the limb, which can compromise that limb.”
Students also learned how to perform CPR and how to use an automatic defibrillator (AED) on a dummy.
A certified first responder is a medical professional who provides basic medical care at the scene of emergencies.
“A firefighter or policeman can be a CFR, or you can be a CFR in an office setting and provide emergency care to someone in need,” Cuomo said. CFRs are qualified to perform basic first aid, treat shock, stabilize injuries, and administer oxygen, among other tasks.
“I really want to learn as much as possible about what to do in an emergency,” said Molly Vaughn, from Lakeland High School. Vaughn said that working in the medical field runs in her family. “My grandmother is a nurse, and I am really interested in studying nursing in college.”
Grant Awarded For Substance Abuse Awareness
The Somers Central School District and the Somers Partners in Prevention have been awarded a federal grant by the Drug Free Communities Support Program. The $125,000 grant is aimed at reducing substance abuse among students, in part by strengthening collaboration among community groups.
The grant will fund substance abuse awareness programs and speakers at the schools, vape detectors in bathrooms, staff training, student conferences and surveys, and additional police officers at some activities and events outside of school hours.
Additionally, the grant will expand the Youth-to-Youth club to the middle school and enable the previously part-time student assistance counselor at the high school to be there five days a week.
“This funding will allow us to do things that were financially out of our reach,” says Phil Kavanagh, director of counseling at the high school. “One of our goals is to help our students better understand how substance abuse and mental health are intertwined, often going hand-in-hand.”
Kavanagh will work closely with Kathy Cucchiarella, who is the Chairperson for the Town of Somers Partners in Prevention. “We are very excited to receive this grant,” Cucchiarella said. "The Somers Partners in Prevention has made significant strides in raising awareness about alcohol and substance abuse. We will continue those efforts as we face new and emerging substance abuse challenges such as youth vaping and marijuana abuse."
The grant is administered through the annual Drug-Free Communities Support Program which gave 731 grants totaling $90.9 million this year. Somers Central School District and the Somers Partners in Prevention were among 17 grants awarded in New York.
The grant encourages different sectors of communities to work together to combat substance abuse. There are plans in Somers to hold town-hall style events, inviting not only students, but their parents, and any other interested community members.
Schoolwide Book Talk at H.H. Wells (Brewster CSD) Encourages Collaboration and Critical Thinking
On Thursday morning, students throughout H.H. Wells Middle School sat in front of their Chromebooks—but this was no ordinary lesson. Instead of sitting quietly, listening to lectures and occasionally tapping out a few notes, students schoolwide were engaged in spirited discussions about Restart by Gordon Korman as part of a Schoolwide Book Talk.
Organized by the Facing History and Ourselves committee at Wells, the book, which centers around a bully who gets amnesia and is faced with figuring out both who he was and who he wants to be, was chosen by ELA teachers and the PTA. According to Wells’ Assistant Principal, Christian Hernandez, the committee identified recurring themes from the book and planned activities surrounding it for both the talk and for upcoming grade level meetings and assemblies.
“It’s all in an effort to support our students’ wellness,” Hernandez said. “Socially, emotionally, and academically.”
Today’s event was a huge success. Teachers and National Junior Honor Society facilitators had a menu of options to choose from when discussing the book. “This year, for the first time, the book talk is one hundred percent digital,” Hernandez explained. “All the materials they needed for discussion were on Google classroom.” In addition, the grade levels were mixed so that sixth, seventh, and eighth graders mingled together.
“It was interesting,” said librarian Mary DeBellis. “I like the fact that it was sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. The students were excited to see new faces and they were engaged.” DeBellis’s group did one activity where NJHS member Charlie Armon acted as a talk show host. Her fellow students loved it. “She was awesome,” DeBellis said.
Students in other classrooms mirrored what DeBellis noted. “It’s fun because it’s very interactive,” eighth grader Alescia said while coloring in a diagram of two hands that asked students to consider their present and future selves.
In another classroom, students took that very same diagram and approached it from a different angle. Lester, Anthony, and Yeimy, all Guatemalan immigrants and students in the ENL class, used the diagram to explore who they were in Guatemala and who they are in the US.
In other classrooms, additional thought-provoking questions were raised. “Isn’t it nice to get up every day and have a restart?” Mrs. Pascale asked. “What responsibility do we have to guide other people in our life?” asked Mrs. Romaine. “Is it possible to change who you are?” asked Mr. Daly. “I was surprised at how the school got mad at Chase for damaging property and not for bullying someone for months,” a student noted as a discussion starter.
Many, if not all, of the skills included in the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan were at play throughout the morning as students adapted to mixed classrooms and collaborated on critical thinking about the book, themselves, and their civic responsibility.