Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Parent Blog

Here’s an interesting and concerning article about diversity in independent schools.  The article gives us much to consider as we know the importance of creating a safe school environment where all are accepted, heard and appreciated.


Admitted, but Left Out

Left, Collection of Idris Brewster; right, Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Ayinde Alleyne, left, graduated from the Trinity School in 2011. He attends the University of Pennsylvania.
Published: October 19, 2012

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my…

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An Innovative Small School in Boston

From the blog: The Learning Pond

Believe in Dewey? School of the Future Today at Meridian Academy, Boston October 14, 2012 by glichtman

The school I visited on Friday in Boston is the smallest I will see on this trip, just 43 students in grades 6-12 on the third floor of a brick building on Beacon Street. Many will be tempted to dismiss the lessons from such a school as not applicable to their own issues and opportunities. It is tempting to say, “They are so small, they can do whatever they want; they don’t have the same obstacles we do.” But that would be wrong. The takeaways are not about how a school works; it is about what they are doing. Some of what they are doing is very scalable and translatable to all of us, like the lessons of the lab schools back in the dawn of the Progressive Era.

Meridian Academy was founded by Josh Abrams, and it is about as progressive as you are going to find. Describing the entire program would take a day; go instead to their website and see what true interdisciplinary learning can look like. It may look like what you would design if you had a totally blank canvas, which is what Josh wanted after a career of teaching in traditional public and private schools. In summary, they combine all of math, science, and engineering into a sequence of multi-year, thematic courses, and do the same with the humanities. Language and art get some of their own designations, but they are both woven into the other courses as well. I sat in all of their classes, talked to all of their teachers, and to a number of the students. It was the most natural learning environment I have ever been in. What do I mean by “natural”? It was the closest I have seen a school come to mimicking what and how the rest of the world actually works. It is utterly seamless and completely contextual. I will quote students at the end of the blog and we will hear the words they use to describe the fluidity and sense that flows through their day.

First, some nuts and bolts of how a school can provide a rich, deep curriculum in downtown Boston with just 43 students. It is not due to high tuition; they charge $22,000 a year and put 40% of that back into financial aid, so their net budget is about $13,000 per student per year. The teachers make less than public school salary, but not by a lot. Josh does not take home as much as he would if he were teaching in another school. A huge leverage they take advantage of: the city of Boston. Meridian has a rich curriculum because they leverage the HECK out of free resources in the city: they go to museums, the Copley Library, music events, an educational lab at Biogen, MIT, and others. All are free. They don’t just go for a field trip for an hour or two; they go for a day, and the folks at these places love to see students who want to come to really learn, not just visit. The librarian at the Copley is tickled to spend 3-4 hours with the students as they conduct research. Josh is getting a ton of free instruction for his students just for showing up and asking.

They don’t admit students based on academics; they admit students who will succeed in this environment. Even though they struggle with finances, they don’t admit students who will flounder. Next year they will have about 55 students and the goal is to top out at about 80. Most importantly, they admit students with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses as that makes the learning richer for all the rest of the school. They have graduated two small classes of seniors, and Josh shared with me the average SAT and ACT scores which are very respectable but don’t mean much in such small numbers. They have no grades. Their transcript submitted to colleges consists of a one-page summary of research and projects written by the student and a one-page student profile written by the teachers. Josh says that college admissions officers are very happy with what they provide as they have a ready-made story to tell, and one that stands out from all of the high GPA’s and AP scores on all the other transcripts. The colleges recognize that these students have learned to research, design, experiment, think, learn, analyze, and, most importantly, “how to get unstuck if they are stuck. Our students are really good at problem solving, but more importantly at problem posing. That is what we do here.” What colleges is not going to love it?

Meridian has completely blown the doors off of subject silos. The courses are uber-interdisciplinary. The students learn content when they need it for a problem they are working on, not at some time determined by their biological clock. 21C skills are not embedded in their classes; 21C skills are their classes. They iterate the heck out of their work. All of their assessment is based on preparing projects and presenting them to an internal and external audience sevral times a year, and since they are presenting their own work, they want it to be good. Both the teachers and students told me that it is nothing for a student to want to rewrite a paper or poem 8-10 times before being satisfied they have done their best. You can see the nature of the courses on their website. Despite the interdisciplinary names, or rather because of them, by the time the students graduate they have been through a year of biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, math up to calculus, seven years of art and Spanish, and a ton of humanities. Sometimes teachers lecture at the front of the class if that is what is needed; other times they set up a range of tasks and the students take over. They don’t think there is one way to teach, but they certainly view teachers as mentors rather than providers.

Here are quotes from some students who were eager to come in and talk to me. They ranged in age from 12-16; age does not seem to matter much here. Older students help younger ones when it is needed. The students talk about understanding the world they live in, not the subjects they are studying:

“You don’t have to switch from your math brain to your Spanish brain. It is one brain all the time.”

“Students here don’t have one thing they are trying to learn.”

“We do things here. We don’t take tests or learn how to take notes. We are interested in learning.”

“Age is melded here. Everybody, regardless of age has something to contribute.”

“Our classes are microcosms for learning. Our conversations connect from one class to another and from one year to another.”

“They are preparing us to be able to talk to professors, not with fear but because we are interested in what they are doing.”

“Our teachers are our guides and our mentors.” “We do a crazy number of revisions until it is something we can be proud of.”

In the 6-7 grade math class the students told me how triangles relate to the shape of tree leaves; how ratios could be applied to the size of a tree and the reach of its branches. They told me how they learned estimating by working out the number of hot dogs consumed at Fenway in a year and the number of likely piano tuners in Boston. In the high school algebra-biology-stats class they learn to set up their own problems, define questions, and “simplify, represent, and interpret”. Some of the recent problems that students have thought up, researched, solved, and presented for assessment: how to eat a Reese’s PB cup with the same portions of chocolate and peanut butter in each bite; how to harvest lobsters without a population crash; how to reduce tension at a meeting of the U.N.; how to design and build a pendulum clock.

At the end of the visit, I asked Josh what he thinks is truly transferable or scalable from their model to other schools.

The fluidity of learning created by truly interdisciplinary courses. Many schools have cross-departmental classes but most still try to get through the traditional quantum of material by the end of the year. The Meridian approach is to create opportunities for student engagement and use “just in time” content provision.

The lack of grades and assessment by portfolio and presentation is something that other schools do. It clearly focuses on, and aligns with, formative learning goals.

The teacher-student mindset of co-learning and adapting to current interests. They don’t necessarily change their course material every year, but they will when they want to and, more importantly, if the students self-direct into new tangents of interest.

Using community resources. They are lucky to be located close to so many great resources, but many others are as well. But you need to get rid of the time silos in order to leverage those.

I said that Meridian is a natural learning setting. It is straight out of Dewey, Parker, Parkhurst, and Montessori. If I haven’t shown my bias strongly enough, I will say that it is a learning pond, a system that operates along the lines of a natural, not manufactured system. Meridian is doing today what the founders of modern education were preaching in the past, and what so many of us are talking about as the future.

Abolishing Homework – Another Strategy

Another recent article about abolishing homework: Tackling the Homework Dilemma by Lee Jenkins found in the Middle Ground Journal from the Association of Middle Level Educators (October 2012). It shares another strategy: students are assigned homework but it is not collected or graded. Instead the teacher gives a homework “quiz” where two questions from the homework assignment (exact problems) are assigned in class the next day. The homework quiz is graded and reflects the knowledge in the student’s heads. Take a look:

Tackling the Homework Dilemma

By Lee Jenkins

Is homework a subject or a method? If it is a subject, shouldn’t teachers request that homework grades be included on the report card alongside other subjects? If it is a method, how can teachers justify grading students on instructional methods?

Somewhere between these two extremes of not grading homework (because it is a method) and adding a new subject (homework) is an alternative I learned from John McDonald, a teacher in Rochester, Minnesota.

John assigned homework but did not collect it or grade it. Instead, he gave a homework quiz. He chose two questions verbatim from the previous night’s homework assignment and graded students’ responses to those two questions. He did not grade students on whether they did their homework; he graded based on the knowledge in their heads. His students considered this process efficient and fair.

Think about it. With this strategy, homework is no longer about writing something down to hand in; instead, it is about learning. Students can study for the homework quiz by writing, reading, talking on the phone with a friend, texting, or discussing with parents. The final goal is to know the answer to the questions.

John’s method solves several homework issues that have plagued educators for decades:

• Students are no longer punished for being smart. They no longer lament, “It’s not fair that I have to work on something I already know.” If they have listened in class, used study time wisely, or have prior background knowledge, they have no homework and receive credit for what they know. • Students do not receive credit for copied homework. The focus is on learning, not writing down someone else’s answers just to get credit for doing the homework. • Students do not receive credit for parents doing the homework. Certainly, parents can help students learn the content, but students don’t receive credit for papers their parents complete. • Teachers have time to prepare for the next day instead of spending so much time grading homework. Now they can put that time into becoming more creative, effective teachers.

I have shared John’s homework process in hundreds of seminars and have been intrigued by some of the results when teachers implement it in their classrooms.

A middle school math teacher lets the first student in the door roll dice to determine the two homework problems that will be used for the homework quiz. Students rush to be the first to his classroom merely to roll the dice. He reports going from 27% Ds and Fs to 9%.

A mom told me her son is a good math student and all of his friends know it. When her son’s math teacher adopted this system, her son’s evenings changed from doing homework about content he already knew to helping his friends learn the content. They texted, e-mailed, and phoned him throughout the evening to get help with their math.

Subject or method? Homework should have a purpose, and that purpose should be to increase knowledge and understanding. Dilemma solved. MG

Lee Jenkins is a former superintendent turned education consultant. E-mail:

France’s President Pledges to Abolish Homework

François Hollande, French President, Pledges To Abolish Homework As Part Of Education Reforms

Posted: 10/13/2012 12:17 pm EDT Updated: 10/13/2012 12:17 pm EDT

Francois Hollande

French President François Hollande this week announced his plans to get rid of homework as part of his far-reaching education reforms, France 24 reports, a move that is also becoming popular among individual American schools.

In his speech, Hollande outlined proposals for his five-year term, which also include increasing teacher presence in disadvantaged areas, targeting absenteeism and reducing the number of students who fail and are thus forced to repeat school years. He pledged to employ some 60,000 teachers in the coming years after former French President Nicolas Sarkozy cut tens of thousands of jobs.

Under Hollande’s reforms, the school week would also return to four and a half days. It had been reduced to four under the previous administration in an effort to cut costs.

“Education is priority,” Hollande said at Paris’s Sorbonne University on Wednesday. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

According to Global Edmonton, Hollande also told reporters that students aren’t on a level playing field when it comes to homework, since some are able to get help from their parents while others cannot.

Just last week, a German high school banned homework in an effort to help students unwind, United Press International reports. Most parents are in favor of the change, and school officials say they will test-run the ban for the next two years to see how effective it is. Michael von Tettau of Elsa-Brandstrom high school said that for students, “there is barely enough time for sport or to learn a musical instrument,” adding that a 44-hour working week was just too much.

The no-homework policy has already been adopted by some schools in the U.S. In lieu of assigning homework, teachers at Gaithersburg Elementary School in Maryland ask students to spend 30 minutes a night reading.

Principal Stephanie Brant said she sought permission from the district to abolish homework after the school’s staff determined the majority of assignments were worksheets that did not relate to what students were studying in the classroom. So far, the experiment has seen mixed results. The percentage of third graders passing the Maryland School Assessment reading test declined from 76 percent to 64 percent this spring. Meanwhile, the fourth-grade pass rate remained the same, while fifth graders scored at 84 percent proficiency, up from 81 percent the year before.

Still, the scores are impressive given 70 percent of Gaithersburg’s students come from non-English speaking households and 82 percent qualify for free or subsidized lunch.

Elsewhere, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee scrapped extra credit and graded homework for middle schoolers. Administrators are hopeful these measures will allow for better confirmation that students have actually mastered the material they are being taught.

Coffee with Kath

This talk was written by my VI form English teacher and class advisor at St. Andrew’s School. How privileged I was to have been able to have teachers like Tad Roach. Every time I read one of their talks I panic about what I am going to do regarding my own children’s education. How can I assure they get even just a little piece of that? It is a strong part of why I am who I am. What will it mean to my children’s future if they miss out on that?

by Tad Roach

Over the course of the summer, I thought about my first 15 years as St. Andrew’s Headmaster and decided I would share a few of the insights I have made from my experience living in this great community.  My teachers and mentors have been my incredible students, colleagues on the faculty and staff, trustees…

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Some Schools Actually Want Students To Play With Their Smartphones In Class

October 3, 2012

In Durham, N.H., Oyster River Middle School seventh-graders Patrick Beary and Morgan Bernier play with StoryKit, a free app that helps middle-schoolers put together simple presentations, and elementary students make storybooks.

EnlargeSam Evans-Brown/New Hampshire Public RadioIn Durham, N.H., Oyster River Middle School seventh-graders Patrick Beary and Morgan Bernier play with StoryKit, a free app that helps middle-schoolers put together simple presentations, and elementary students make storybooks.

In Durham, N.H., Oyster River Middle School seventh-graders Patrick Beary and Morgan Bernier play with StoryKit, a free app that helps middle-schoolers put together simple presentations, and elementary students make storybooks.

Sam Evans-Brown/New Hampshire Public RadioIn Durham, N.H., Oyster River Middle School seventh-graders Patrick Beary and Morgan Bernier play with StoryKit, a free app that helps middle-schoolers put together simple presentations, and elementary students make storybooks.

If there is one thing that the mobile-computing era has made clear, it’s that kids love touch screens. Because those touch screens — smartphones, iPads, Kindles and the like — are an inevitable added distraction to the classroom, schools across the country are struggling to deal with the growing prevalence of the technology.

But a growing number of schools are embracing these hand-held, Internet-ready devices by creating policies that put them to use in the classroom.

For three years, Oyster River Middle School in Durham, N.H., has been letting students use their touch-screen devices in class. The kids learn how to make presentations on iPads, how to keep track of their homework on a smartphone, and what they should and shouldn’t post on social media sites. The devices can be their planners, agenda books, and pocket reference libraries all day long.

Oyster River Middle School has invested in a wide range of mobile technology in the classroom. Even so, Oyster River's bring-your-own-device policy is seen as a way to ensure that kids are using technology every day, as teachers assume they'll do after they graduate high school.

EnlargeSam Evans-Brown/New Hampshire Public RadioOyster River Middle School has invested in a wide range of mobile technology in the classroom. Even so, Oyster River’s bring-your-own-device policy is seen as a way to ensure that kids are using technology every day, as teachers assume they’ll do after they graduate high school.

Oyster River Middle School has invested in a wide range of mobile technology in the classroom. Even so, Oyster River's bring-your-own-device policy is seen as a way to ensure that kids are using technology every day, as teachers assume they'll do after they graduate high school.

Sam Evans-Brown/New Hampshire Public RadioOyster River Middle School has invested in a wide range of mobile technology in the classroom. Even so, Oyster River’s bring-your-own-device policy is seen as a way to ensure that kids are using technology every day, as teachers assume they’ll do after they graduate high school.

Dave Montgomery, a fifth-grade teacher, says his daughter goes to another school that has no bring-your-own-device policy. At home, she uses her smartphone to look things up all the time, he says.

“Then she walks into what’s supposed to be a learning environment, and she can’t use her No. 1 source of learning,” Montgomery says.

Of course, so-called BYOD policies come with their own concerns, says Matt Woodward, the director of technology at a middle school in Hooksett, N.H. His school district is rolling out a bring-your-own-device policy districtwide this year.

“The one concern we heard a lot was: What if my son or daughter doesn’t have a device?” Woodward says.

There’s never an easy answer when it comes to equity, he says, but Hooksett does keep a number of extra iPads at school for students who don’t have one. While bringing your own device is seen as a cheap way to bump up the access to technology in the classroom, schools still have to make a significant investment in technology.

Hooksett parent David Pearl, who is also on the school board, worries that all these devices could create discipline problems.

“I have seen the thumb turn of the iPod, where you’re looking at one screen and the teacher says, ‘What’s on that screen?’ ” Pearl says. “And as the student turns the iTouch, you just slide your thumb across the bottom and the screen changes.”

Pearl says he worries about safety, too — whether the school’s network is secure and well-filtered, and what happens if kids take and share inappropriate pictures. He also worries about distraction.

At Oyster River, where kids have been bringing their own devices for three years, seventh-grade science teacher Janet Martel says students will get distracted if their teachers let them get distracted, the same as it’s always been.

“One of the big things is engaging kids in the classroom,” Martel says. “If kids are engaged and they have a specific task, they’re not apt to be out searching for other things, because they can’t.”

She says allowing the devices has actually decreased discipline issues.

Several teachers interviewed for this story say a combination of allowing devices, and setting aside times where texting is OK, has led to a dramatic drop in “pocket texting” or “sweatshirt texting” in class.

They also say teaching good digital citizenship in classes is what is really needed to head off issues like posting embarrassing photos, or cyberbullying.

Oyster River teachers like Dave Montgomery acknowledge that figuring out how to make class work with 10 different kinds of devices can be tough.

“You get really frustrated,” Montgomery says. But, he says, “you have to work with it, because going back’s not really an option anymore.”

Allowing mobile technology in class has an “inevitable march of progress” feel to it, like when calculators were first allowed. And in classrooms around the country, this change is already occurring.

Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School?

Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School?

September 26, 2012 | 10:40 AM | By Sheena Vaidyanathan

Deep into the digital age, the need for everyone to understand and learn programming is becoming more and more apparent. Codecademy, Coursera and other education start-ups are stepping in to fill the much-needed gap to teach adults to code. For kids, non-profits like CodeNow are raising funds to run summer programming camps for minority high school students, while other organizations like Girls Who Code are working on getting middle and high school girls interested in computer science.

While these are all worthwhile endeavors, each is working to fix what’s broken – teaching an essential skill that’s not taught in most schools. Learning to program has been relegated to summer camps and through programs that exist because of fundraising. But there’s a case to be made about using school time, school computers, and school funding to teach programming to every student. And to start early: Programming is just writing in the language of computers, so why not teach kids to code like we teach them to write?

It’s already being done, and not surprisingly, in Silicon Valley. Last school year, two very different public schools introduced programming to elementary age students. In the high-performing affluent Los Altos School District, all sixth graders (approximately 500 students) learned to code in a required weekly class. Student feedback showed that girls were just as interested in programming as boys. Turns out that special girls-only programs are unnecessary at this stage because the stereotypes may not have yet set in. (Check out the games built by students.)

In Sí Se Puede, a Rocketship charter school in a low-income community in San Jose, a free weekly after school club in the school computer lab gave fourth-graders an opportunity to learn programming. Within the student population, 92 percent qualify for free/reduced lunch program and many of the programming club members had limited access to a computer at home. But given the opportunity, they created these excellent games.

Though the income level, cultural backgrounds, and computer resources available to the students from these two school communities may be very different, the enthusiasm of students to learn and the ability to quickly grasp programming concepts was exactly the same high level.The student work speaks for itself. Girls or boys, minority or not, low-income or affluent – it does not matter. Everyone can learn to program just like everyone can learn to swim when they are young and unafraid. Sheena Vaidyanathan teaches 3D design and computer programming to students in the Los Altos School District in California.