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Tools of the Mind

Tools of the Mind—Article for the Register Are you one of those residents of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District who wonders if the district is really doing something to improve student performance? If the answer is even slightly “Yes,” then I invite you to consider a program called “Tools of the Mind.” Tools of the Mind is presently the model for instruction in 5 kindergarten classrooms at Station Avenue Elementary in Yarmouth. Next year it will become a presence in all kindergarten classes in the district. So what is Tools of the Mind? Let me tell you what I saw when I visited teacher Giordana Cote’s class recently. Suspend your image of 5 and 6 year olds squealing, pushing, shouting, and rolling on the floor because that vision will simply get in the way of the real picture of this class of nearly 20 kindergarteners. As each student arrived at the classroom s/he put a lunch box in a large basket or a paper containing his/her lunch choice in the pile so designated, placed his or her velcro-backed name tag under “home” or “cafeteria” or “milk” on a board near the door, and then went to the closet and hung up coat and backpack. Then each child moved to a corner where three words were posted—bag, boat, and bone. The child’s task was to place his/her velcro name tag (another set on the wall here, handy for this task) under the word that had the same middle sound as “boat.” The children each went through a structured process for sounding out the separate sounds of each word in order to reach their conclusion. Each day brings a new language task in this corner. When the children completed this activity, they went to the front of the room for a counting activity, using materials that were posted at their height on the wall. Then each got a chair and took it to their table and sat down. What was remarkable was that this set of activities was completed very quickly and by everyone. Ms. Cote did not give directions for these activities. She simply observed. With the use of the name tags at each task site, she could tell who was absent, if a child didn’t complete a task, or if the child had difficulty with the task. After morning announcements, the children came up to the carpet at the front of the room and participated in a physical exercise for just a couple of minutes. Everyone made it to the rug and participated without a reminder. Each child then sat on the rug with his/her buddy for the week, and engaged in a structured conversation, which began with an established question—on this day, “How are you feeling today?” The questioner was required to probe the respondent for more detail after the first answer; whether we see this as learning to converse, or learning to seek information or evidence, either way the kids were developing valuable literacy skills of speaking and listening. What is the purpose of Tools of the Mind as an instructional approach? It is to develop self management skills in the children so that they are ready to learn and are more independent in their learning. The program changes teacher behavior too. Says Ms. Cote, “Now instead of telling kids what to do, I can pay attention to what they are learning and who needs a little more support on a task. I don’t need to manage behavior; I can focus on each child’s learning.” “Tools” has been in use at Station Avenue for 2 years, so don’t look for changes in MCAS scores just yet. But do imagine what a difference this approach can make in how much time can be devoted directly to learning. And think about how much more positive kids are likely to be about learning activities when they manage their involvement. And do imagine what these kids will be like as learners when they reach the science, technology, engineering, and math program current 8th graders are experiencing. Tools of the Mind and the other recent academic initiatives promise leaps forward in learning opportunities for students enrolled at DY.

M.E.  Small Innovation School

M. E. Small Innovation School By now, most people in the Dennis Yarmouth School District have heard that M. E. Small Elementary School in West Yarmouth is an “innovation school.” But just what does that mean in practice? What makes the school “innovative?” The easy answer is that the school, along with many others across the state, applied to win the designation of “innovation school” awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The application was among a very small number of successful ones, and now the school the title. Along with the title came an award of $50,000, which the school chose to spend to upgrade student access to computers for instructional purpose. M. E. Small also hosted visits by Governor Patrick and other state dignitaries. But what really lies behind the title of “innovation school?” Another short answer—a lot of hard work over time resulting in significant changes in curriculum and instruction. Of course the anticipated end product is increased student engagement and achievement. A focus on enhanced instruction and student outcomes began nearly four years ago when Emily Mezzetti came to the school as principal. Under her leadership teachers came together to talk about what would lead to greater student achievement. One of the first steps was to apply for a federal grant called 21st Century Learning Communities.” This application was their first big success, resulting in an award of $125,000 per year for after school programming. The grant must be used to fund after school programs targeted especially at under performers, include both academic and recreational activities, and invovle a number of community agencies. The idea is to give additional academic support and engage students in activities that increase their commitment to learning. 21st Century projects are based on the understanding that education is a community-wide responsibility and that students will benefit from finding opportunities to learn across the community. M. E. Small was able to tie this program to its regular after school program and to add a summer component where students attend an all day program for several weeks during the summer. The next major step toward innovation was lengthening the school day so that at least half the teachers were present during the after school hours. Teachers unanimously supported the plan, as did the teachers union and the school committee, to schedule half of the staff to start school an hour later so that they could staff the after school program. The school has operated on that schedule for the 2011-12 school year and will likely continue in that mode. Throughout the four years of innovation efforts, teachers have participated in several professional development programs: workshops, courses, and regular involvement in professional learning communities (PLCs). Their work has included instructional techniques especially in math and literacy. The PLCs, centered on a grade level or subject area, give teachers an ongoing opportunity to dig deep into their understandings of how children learn and thereby improve their instructional strategies. Teachers have also developed new curriculum and refined existing curriculum in their work groups. Beverly Brembt, teacher and coordinator of the after school program, noted that teachers and community providers have all learned to integrate academic skills and activities into the enrichment activities in the after school programs. While we look to improvement in MCAS scores, there is other evidence that the program is working. The external evaluation of the 21st Century program is positive, and it has been refunded twice. Kids clamor to participate in the summer program, and want more time in it. Students in the after school program look to me to be joyfully engaged, and teachers are as well. And perhaps the best indicator: several students now at Mattachese return to the program that served them well to help out with younger kids. If that isn’t learning and engagement!

Wixon’s Middle Level Academy

My recent visit to the Middle Level Academy at Nathaniel H. Wixon Middle School in Dennis convinced me that, had I a child of age for the 6th grade, I would do all I could to insure that s/he attended that program.
You might wonder what I observed that made me so certain. In short, it was the work of teachers and students that so impressed me. More specifically, I saw small classes, lots of individualized accommodation and challenge for students, challenging academic work, integration of curricular topics and areas, problem-based approaches to teaching and learning, and student engagement in issues of the community.
The Academy—new this year—is the product of parents joining with school leaders to articulate their wishes for their children’s educational experience at the middle level. Administrators and teachers liked what they heard from parents and ran with it. Less than a year since dream stage, the Academy has evolved, according to Principal Carole Eichner, into a program intended to provide its 80+ participants with a challenging educational experience every day, through which they acquire essential skills and knowledge by working through tasks, problems, and simulations that mimic the real world. That is, they confront problems that one might meet in the family or community or career, and they learn to solve those problems. Teachers have learned to guide the learning, stand back when students can find their own way, and provide the route to necessary information and skills when appropriate.
Let’s consider a few examples. While I was in a classroom, students were working independently or in small groups on a math problem about a candy bar sale. The problem, in short was this: the student found a needed box (of 3 specified dimensions) to hold the candy bars as s/he carried them out to sell; the bars were also of 3 certain dimensions. The question was, what was the greatest number of candy bars that would fit in the box? My first reaction was, “Oh my, how do I tackle this one?” But I didn’t hear that from any sixth grader in the room. They simply settled in to determine a strategy and do the calculations–fractions, decimals, and all. In another class, I saw the results of their first stages of work on another equally difficult problem—evidence that they can indeed handle the challenges.
In a third classroom, a student very confidently and articulately explained the design and construction of a model Phoenician war ship he had constructed as one part of the study of early Mediterranean cultures .
In an art room I saw a collection of hand-made clay soup bowls, constructed, glazed and fired by the students as a part of a collaboration with Cape Cod Potters in a “soup bowls for hunger” project. I also noted letters students had written to the professional potters, the research they had done on those potters and on issues of hunger in our communities, and their invitations for the potters to visit their classroom. Later this year, the students’ bowls will be a part of a fund raiser for which participants pay an entry fee to eat soup and socialize and then take home a bowl. The Wixon students’ bowls will end up in homes all over the Cape, and profits will go to local food pantries.
Lee Hanscom, teacher of math and science in the Academy, confirmed my observations about the benefits students receive from participating in the Academy. They learn how they learn and can apply those approaches to complex problem solving; develop the social skills so essential to collaboration—in the workplace, among other venues; get a working sense of the integration of many content and skill sets as they apply in workaday problem solving; learn the skills, privileges, and rewards of contributing to the well-being of their communities; and develop a level of confidence and enthusiasm to propel them forward into more learning.
If you want to know more about the Middle Level Academy at DY’s Wixon Middle School, which will serve grades 6 and 7 next year, contact Principal Carole Eichner at (508) 398-7695, or HYPERLINK “http://us.mc1617.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=eichnerc@dy-regional.k12.ma.us” eichnerc@dy-regional.k12.ma.us . A discussion of the program is scheduled to be broadcast on Channel 17 next week at 4 p.m. on Monday and 7 p.m. on Thursday.


The towns of Dennis and Yarmouth comprise a “regional” school district.  A regional school district includes two or more towns with varying administrative, governing, and fiscal configurations.  Of the 391 school districts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 94 are regional. (Students in Dennis, Yarmouth and ten other Cape Cod towns make up the population at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School located in Harwich.)

The Community and Ezra Baker Elementary

Local schools are typically as good as their communities make them. And Ezra Baker Elementary School in Dennis is no exception.

Clearly the school receives the majority of its financial resources from the DY School Committee which determines budgetary allocations of tax revenue and other income to the district. But community involvement in the schools makes the school more than it would be if it received only district funding.

This article highlights a few of the very valuable educational opportunities for the 360 children who attend Ezra Baker–50% of them living in poverty—available because generous members of the community, individually and in groups, make them possible.

Children at Ezra Baker are actively encouraged to read several books over the summer vacation period—for enjoyment and to keep their reading skills sharp.  Their involvement in reading is ensured by the fact that the children are sent home with appropriate books to read. Parents do not need to buy books or go to the library. And the books come from a parents’ group that raised the funds to buy the books.

The number of books each child had access to last summer was increased by a summer reading cook-out at which students returned the first round of books to exchange with others, and went home with a new set of readings. The cook-out was made possible by Ring Brothers Market of Dennis, which provided hot-dogs, rolls, and water for the event. Principal Kevin Depin is convinced that the success of the summer reading program is due to the parents’ group and Ring Brothers, whose contribution doubled the reading opportunity for the students.

Much research shows that kids who do not read over the summer break return to school having lost the equivalent of half to a quarter of a year in skill level.  Summer reading keeps them fluent with their skills and allows them to move on from the level at which they ended the school year. A number of parents have reported to Mr. Depin that summer reading has stimulated their children to continue reading at home.

Dennis Memorial Library plays a part in the enrichment of education for Baker students too.  During this past summer, 5 volunteer tutors provided regular assistance to children who were in danger of losing ground over the summer without academic support.

The after-school program at Baker also flourishes because of community involvement.  Most of the activities that allow children an alternative learning opportunity and the chance to make new friends and develop new skills and interests are taught by members of the community. Students can learn to cook, use sign language, sew, practice orienteering, do beadwork, participate in reader’s theater, skate board, and publish a newspaper because parents and other community members have offered to share their skills, enthusiasm, and passion with them. The Yarmouth Dennis Soccer Club also contributes by providing a soccer clinic for interested students.

Finally, some organizations and individuals have enriched the school by raising funds to meet particular needs. For example, Ring Brothers Market conducted a fund raiser to help the school purchase Smart Boards for the classrooms. Lincoln Security Investments helped to purchase summer reading books.

Some of these community contributions are small, others somewhat larger. But every one of them comes out of the care, interest and effort of an individual or a group of community members. And every one of the community contributions makes a huge positive impact—on individual students, on a group, or in some cases, on the entire school population.  The community contributors are essential to the health of the educational program and the learning experience for hundreds of students at Ezra Baker.

Article by Crystal Gips
Published in the Register
February 24, 2011


John Pierre Ameer

I have had the pleasure for the last year and a half of hosting Channel 17’s “Support Our Schools” show, focusing on the personnel, students, alumni, families, programs, and achievements of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District.  This has given me, and, I hope, viewers as well, a comprehensive picture of the remarkable work being done for students in this district.  My lengthy experience in secondary school teaching and in teacher education enables me to affirm, by comparison, the wonderful best practices in our district:  individualized learning, teacher professionalism and collaboration, administrative support and leadership, curriculum variation and demand—all of which explain the positive reaction of D-Y students and families to the schools.

Supporting and sustaining successful student achievement is an awesome task in the best of circumstances, but to accomplish that amid funding limitations exacerbated by top-down, unfunded mandates testifies to the outstanding work of the district’s teaching and administrative personnel.  The D-Y district’s ability to accomplish for students—in academics, arts and music, athletics, extracurriculars, counseling, post-secondary success, and more—is a testament to a  remarkable achievement that deserves celebration.

Sadly, for reasons that are not wholly transparent, some among us continue to engage in unfounded, unwarranted, and superficial criticisms of the schools.  These critics rely on criteria that are terribly flawed, and, so, not constructive.  Indeed, they can be destructive.  These two oft-used criteria are MCAS scores and the percentage of students opting for other schools.

The use of high-stakes standardized tests like MCAS has been widespread recently in American public education with negative consequences for student learning.  Such tests, inaccurately described as “objective,” are actually constructed to provide simplistic numbers in place of comprehensive and multi-dimensional measures that would accurately assess student learning.   MCAS tests provide limited information; the sum total of a school experience in any course or at any grade level cannot be reduced to one score; that deadens learning and demeans the professionalism of teachers, counselors, and administrators.  Test numbers are seductively easy to use, in contrast to the complex and comprehensive accountability systems that require knowledge of teaching and learning.  MCAS tests ignore what we have learned over the last few centuries about cognitive psychology, demographic variation, pacing, successful teaching methodologies and the crucial element of the teacher/student relationship.  Hence, they are inappropriate as the sole or even the most important among multivariable instruments of assessment.

The second criticism, around the number of student and family decisions of choice, ignores the reason that these policies were initiated:  a bait-and-switch game to distract citizens from insisting on the democratic necessity of fully-funding and equally resourcing all public schools.  By allowing some students to move around among districts, a safety valve was created through which student’s and families’ frustrations and angers have been diverted so that their criticisms of inadequate funding are muted.  It is a basic element of our democracy that every student is entitled to educational equity: fully resourced and professionally staffed public schools.  Allowing some students the prerogative of choice contradicts this universal law of democracy, and serves to divert heat away from our political system, and delays and defers the creation of equitable education for all students.  And, of course, we have no systematic analyses of choice decisions so that using them as criticisms is flawed and unproductive.

What must we in the D-Y district do in order to assume our critical responsibilities?  We need:  to know our schools; to celebrate our students’ successes and the professionalism of those tasked with educating them; to maintain consistent pressure on state and federal representatives to increase funding for public schools; to seek out whatever local resources are available to support the work of the schools; and to dismiss and reject baseless and unjustified criticisms.  The future of our children requires no less of us.

John Pierre Ameer is a resident of Yarmouth Port.

Published in the Register, February 3, 2011

Laurence C. MacArthur After-School Program

When you were in the third grade, could you define “artifact?”  Or name the rocks that flake best to make a spear point? Or explain the function of feathers on an arrow? The answers to these questions and many others that arise from findings in an archeological dig are among the many ideas a small group of third grade girls at Laurence C. MacArthur Elementary School in Yarmouth explored in a recent session of Adventure Girls—one of several activities in the after school program.

In this particular afternoon session the girls got a taste of the life and work of someone who studies the history of civilization. Kevin J. Quackenbush of  the Robbins Museum in Middleboro, shared his experiences with finding artifacts even as a young boy, and with the more sophisticated methods used by professional scientists, archeologists and historians to not only discover items from centuries past but also to interpret and understand their findings.  Mr. Quackenbush enriched his presentation by sharing samples with the girls of the many artifacts he discussed.

This short experience of less than an hour not only provided the girls with information and but it also engaged them in the kind of thinking practiced by professionals in the field of archeology. The activity linked the workshop content to the girls’ study of social studies and science. It clearly demonstrated the connection of classroom learning to discovery and learning outside the school in the everyday world. And for some of the girls, the session may have offered a window to a potential career. Together with the other activities in the Adventure Girls program, the students experienced a sense of wonder regarding the natural world—observing and identifying birds, carrying out a nature scavenger hunt, observing and predicting the weather, and getting to know some turtles up close.

According to principal Peter Crowell and program coordinator Audrey Lee, the school offers three after-school program sessions of 5-6 weeks in length each year with approximately eight activities in each session. Activities typically serve no more than 10 students at once, and approximately 80 students can participate in a single session.

Adventure Girls, directed by Ms. Devlin, the school’s nurse, is just one of several after-school activities offered each week at L. C. MacArthur. Other activities include Lego construction, sign language, yoga, hands-on science, drama and theater, and in- and outdoor sports. The activities are designed to meet the interests of students in grades K-3. The activities are offered by teachers, parents, and community members who have a passion for a topic or activity.

Participation in the after-school program costs each student $5 per week. The school helps families who are financially challenged so that children who wish to participate can do so. Principal Crowell noted that the school is seeking additional community sponsors who can fund scholarships for children whose families cannot afford the fee.

The after-school activity program serves several purposes. First it allows students to engage in a variety of activities and interests beyond the standard curriculum and potentially to develop long lasting interests. Second, the after-school activities engage students in a more informal approach to learning and allow them to see just how possible it is to learn in a variety of contexts. The activities also bring students into contact with students and adults not in their regular classrooms. And finally, the program builds community spirit around the school by engaging outsiders in the activities of the school.

Mr. Crowell and Ms. Lee also indicated that they welcome the opportunity to talk with members of the community who might like to offer a specific activity for children in the after-school program.

Crystal Gips is a resident of Yarmouth Port

Published in theRegister, February 10,2011

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

The Dennis Yarmouth Regional High School is moving forward with an agenda to insure that its graduates are ready to compete in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to Ken Jenks, DYRHS principal, the purpose of the new efforts under development is to expose students to and engage them in a more rigorous cross-disciplinary STEM curriculum and to send them forth from the high school with a superior background in the STEM fields.

Jenks and his staff are currently developing a pilot program to bring 40 8th grade students to the high school beginning in September 2011 to immerse them in a special STEM curriculum. Students who participate in this pilot would take a specialized course in the STEM subjects along with the standard curriculum offerings—English, social studies, foreign language, the arts—that are designed to incorporate, draw on, and link to the STEM course content. As a whole, the educational experience for these students would focus on the development of problem solving skills. While the STEM fields will serve as the foundational content, skills and knowledge from all of the subjects will be used in the problem-solving tasks, and students will practice a problem solving approach in all of the content areas.

Pending successful implementation of the grade 8 pilot, the program would then build out to include 9th grade in the 2012-13 school year, with students progressing to the next level, at the same time that a new 8th grade group begins the program. The vision is for a 5-year sequence which would allow students to complete a broad and deep STEM curriculum that would give them highly advanced knowledge and skills in preparation for both higher education and employment.

This initiative is supported by funds the district received from the Race to the Top program. Funds will support training for teachers, curriculum development, and necessary equipment and materials.

The STEM initiative also will potentially get support from a partnership with the technology Department at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Faculty there will share expertise and equipment, collaborate with DY teachers on instructional strategies and materials, and host students from the program on the campus.

The DY School Committee approved the pilot program at their meeting on January 5. Program materials have been sent to the families of all current 7th grade students, and the high school is currently accepting applications for enrollment in the pilot in September.

Crystal Gips

Yarmouth Port

Published in the Register, January 2011

DY Open House Big Hit Again

The Dennis-Yarmouth High School second annual Open House held January 11th for 7th and 8th graders and their parents provided an opportunity for these students to experience first hand the extraordinary academic and co-curricular opportunities that soon awaits them.

Following a free spaghetti dinner, Ken Jenks, the Principal, gave a brief power point presentation that showcased the impressive strengths and results of DY’s comprehensive programs. Then the middle school students and parents scattered to choose among the scores of curricular and extracurricular show and tell presentations by DY faculty and students. A sampling of offerings included: Freshmen Mentoring, Advanced Placement Program, Computer Science, Special Education, Robotics, Jazz Band, Chorus, Poetry Out Loud, Academic Leadership Program, and sports.

As an old blackboard guy I wanted to learn about “white boards” whose brand name is SmartBoard. Blackboards and their erasures have gone the way of the dinosaur. SmartBoards are large white interactive “touch” screens that permit teacher and students to teach and interact in real time with high speed access to all internet teaching and learning resources. They are powerful, efficient and necessary tools for today’s classroom. Teachers love them: students thrive with them.

Next I headed to “Work Based Learning”. Teacher and Program Advisor, Patricia Fruggiero immediately said, “ You need to talk to some of our student interns” and introduced me to Kelly and Morgan who were most enthusiastic about the program and their experiences in the elementary schools. Offered as an one semester elective course, between 45 and 60 eleventh and twelfth graders intern with a community organization. They intern an hour and a half each weekday except on Wednesdays when they have someone from the community speak – most recently Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson.  During the 15 years of the program’s existence DY students have interned with nearly 100 different Cape Cod Partners including environmental, financial, tourism, communications, criminal justice, education, health care and retail organizations.

The evening demonstrated that it’s a lot more than SmartBoards that make a good high school work so well. The real treat is to experience the enthusiasm, togetherness and productivity of the students and teachers at DY. They are the real deal!

Phil Wick

Yarmouth Port

Published in the Register, January 20, 2011

Family Resource Center

In this time of economic turmoil, large numbers of school children live in homeless families– without a place to eat, sleep, keep their possessions, do their homework. What these families do have is plenty of anxiety, turmoil, uncertainty, chaos, and stress.
In the Dennis Yarmouth district, more than 5% of students—over 100 youngsters– are homeless at any given time. Being homeless often means that a student comes to school tired, hungry, dirty, not prepared for class, scared, in emotional turmoil. Educators are well aware that students in these conditions cannot study and learn effectively.
In order to address the needs of homeless children of all ages and their families across the district, DY  recently established a Family Resource Center. The center is located at Wixon Middle School on Route 134 in Dennis.
A chief purpose of the center is to make families aware of students’ rights to get the same educational services and opportunities as other students while they are homeless. One important right is the child’s right to remain enrolled in the district in which s/he last lived, regardless of where s/he lives while homeless. This provision is intended to provide stability in the student’s life and thus preserve his/her opportunity to learn.
Secondly, the center is intended to provide services and information to homeless families with children in district schools—either to prevent homelessness or to provide help for those already homeless.
The center is an inviting, private, and easy-to use resource, decorated with student art. Straight across the lobby from the front entrance of the school, the center is open to walk-in users from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday each week.  The room features racks of brochures and fliers on problems confronting homeless families. A computer and printer give users the opportunity to find forms they need and print them. The center’s proximity to the school’s main office insures visitors that assistance is just steps away.
A schedule of special services is included in the monthly newsletters from the schools. At this time they include an attorney who is donating her services to support families regarding their legal issues and an advocate who can guide families in dealing with such issues as finding emergency shelter, getting fuel assistance, applying for food stamps, responding to eviction notices, and addressing debt problems. Families are encouraged to take advantage of the services as a preventive matter with the hope of avoiding homelessness.
One day per month from 4 to 6 p.m., a school social worker is available to help families.  A primary role of the social workers is to link families to relevant external community agencies.  Two special services from the social workers address needs for food and clothing. “Create the Good,” the community’s school-based food pantry, is housed in the Family Resource Center, making it very easy for a family in need to pick up a box of food during a visit to the center. Social workers also both refer families to community sources of clothing and provide donated gift cards for clothing for families in need.
Visitors sign in during a visit the center, providing only the date, the school(s) in which the family’s children are enrolled, and the number of school-age children in the family. Names and addresses are not requested.
Carole Eichner, Principal at Wixon, indicates that the Family Resource Center is the outgrowth of a small state grant to the district under the federal McKinney Vento Homeless Services legislation. Funds are distributed to local schools to provide related professional development for teachers and staff, information to the broader community, and services to homeless students and their families. In addition, the district is partnering with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to offer mental health services to unaccompanied youth at the DYRHS—students who are no longer attached to their families. Cynthia Horgan, coordinator of the McKinney Vento grants in the DY district, has provided guidance and services to the district to establish the Family Resource Center and the additional services at the High School.
Families with questions about the services should contact Principal Carole Eichner at 508-398-7695.

Crystal Gips

Yarmouth Port

Published in the Register, December 2010

Kudos for Ch 17 Education Series

Wow! Did I learn a lot last Thursday about the complexities of educating today’s children.  I was watching the latest Dennis – Yarmouth Support Our Schools (DYSOS) Ch 17 program called “Student Services” in its fall series.  The series is highlighting essential programs and initiatives provided by teachers and staff in the Dennis Yarmouth School District. The programs air on Mondays at 4 PM and Thursdays at 7 PM. Currently airing through Nov 18 is the program  “Community Volunteers in the Schools”.

The educational challenge for 21st century schools bears little similarity to what those of us who were in school in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s experienced. For starters, schools today, as required by state and federal law, are responsible for providing special education services from age 2.9 to 22 years old and to insure students’  academic progress according to state mandated standards.. This involves locating, with the help of social services, pediatricians and family members those children who, before turning 3, need some intervention to develop the necessary cognitive and/or social skills to “catch up” with their age group for school readiness. It is then that the expertise and collaboration of pre-school teachers, speech therapists and physical therapists is called upon.

A highly successful  ‘reading recovery” program enables first graders with reading limitations to enter first grade with reading readiness.  Students are carefully monitored during their early years. If it becomes apparent that a student needs additional help, “pullout” sessions are arranged. In other words, the student leaves the classroom for “one on one” instruction until such time he or she can comfortably re-enter the  regular classroom. Similar intervention strategies can be utilized for any grade level students.

More than 150 students in the district are either English language learners or are limited in their English. This comes as no surprise since they come from 17 countries and speak 18 different languages. The district also must be the first line of assistance for children with physical, cognitive or other learning disabilities as well as those facing emotional or family hardships, including homelessness.

All school districts are responsible for the whole child. This was not true 40, 50 or 60 years ago when children with mental or physical impairment stayed home, our society was less diverse and the family structure was more stable.  Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists are as essential as teachers in today’s school environment The challenge requires ongoing communication and collaboration among teachers and professional specialists.  It was eye opening and impressive to listen to Dennis-Yarmouth’s  Judy Dion, Jeanne Ryan and Patricia Leon Finan share the complexities of these 21st Century demands while expressing  their obvious professionalism and pride in the successful results of their work and initiatives for the DY School District.

Phil Wick

Yarmouth Port

Published in Register on Wednesday, November 10, 2010