"A great place to learn."
May 2012, Vol. 2: Issue 2
A  Note from the Superintendent

Dear Byram Hills Community Members,
Please take the time to scroll through this e-newsletter, which features a story from each school that we think gives a good illustration of why Byram Hills is a great place to learn.
Both in class and during afterschool activities, our students are engaged in active learning in all disciplines, most often in multidisciplinary activities, as these stories illustrate.
Please remember that next Tuesday, May 15, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., the polls are open at H.C. Crittenden Middle School for the annual budget vote and board trustee elections.
It has been my honor to serve as the Superintendent of this exceptional school community. I will always cherish my time in Byram Hills.

Dr. Jackie Taylor
Also in This Issue
Theater Workshop for Wampus Students
Eighth Graders in Jury Trial
Coman Hill Pen Pals

Theater Workshop Offers Multidisciplinary Learning

While the high school students work from a script when producing their drama and musical productions (see story at right) fourth graders in Theater Workshop at The Wampus School actually write their own. In fact, they do more than that: they create every aspect of a play, which has a few musical numbers, and even have "historians" documenting the entire process in a photo story.
Josh Leffel (left) and Jarrett Weiss making the light board.

The project, a pilot this year in Heidi Marchesini's and Lori Mulvey's fourth grade classrooms, involves two classes working together over a period of six months. "It's an opportunity to integrate all the skills," says enrichment/theater teacher Judy Brewster, who runs the class. "There are real-world applications to all the different aspects of the production."


Fourth graders Victoria Vettoretti and Casey Kaufman, who took on the role of publicity, would agree. "We could see what all the jobs are about," Victoria said of the process where the students selected their job from a long list of opportunities, from playwright to make-up artist. On the letterhead of their newly named production company, the Chatty Challengers, the two handed out a press release about the production.


Reese Tateo enjoyed her part in costumes: "It's like you're a real costume designer," she said, working on cardboard cut-outs of the characters. Responding to a compliment on the costumes, Cole Picca pointed out, "I like to use my imagination to make the costumes." 


Kallie Hoffman was excited about her role as stage manager. "We're helping the actors ," she explained. "I like helping people."


As one of five writers, Victoria Khaldarov felt the pressure in the early stages of production. "Everyone was depending on us," she said, explaining that her group met each day over three weeks to develop their storyline. They wrote The Green-Blooded Connection, a nine-scene tale about fairness, tolerance and discrimination.


Another writer, Blake Assael, was confident about the group's work: "I think it's going to be a good play."


And it was. The production was a resounding success at its March 2 showing, and Mrs. Brewster was eager to give the students all the credit. "The kids are totally running the show," she said before the curtains went up for the 45-minute production. "This isn't about the five performers; it's about the 43 students involved.


"Everybody got to try different things and hone in on their interests," she pointed out. "They had such amazing ideas." While there's no end to the lessons learned in this experience, Mrs. Brewster believes one of the most valuable is the art of active, respectful dialogue. "All the kids can enter the conversation. It's a very collaborative experience."


As the show went on, Reese Tateo took a little time backstage to share some observations: "I thought it was going to be so hard and we'd never make a whole play. I mean, we're just two classes of fourth graders," she said.


But during the process, Reese discovered the importance of team work. "It was really fun working with everybody. I learned if you work together, you can do anything you put your mind to."


See more photos 


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Shining the Lights Backstage 

While bright spotlights capture the many talents of actors and actresses in a school stage production, it's easy to overlook the fact that scores more students are involved behind the scenes. Set design and construction, costume and makeup, and lighting and sound all involve teams of students spending weeks together to produce a finished product fit for the stage.

Costume designers, freshman Elie Rakower, senior Kelsey McKenna and junior Lauren Carbone with the hats they created. Click here for more backstage photos.

While a dozen students had acting roles in Stage 2012's recent production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, more than 100 were actually involved.

"High school musicals offer a huge variety of experiences to a huge variety of students," says Stage 2012 director and high school chorus teacher Adam Shatraw. "Anyone can be involved and there are loads of learning opportunities whether it's acting or learning about electricity," he says.

Now in his twelfth year in the district, Mr. Shatraw firmly believes that any level of involvement in a stage production has huge benefits. "It promotes collaboration, teamwork, communication; there are leadership opportunities with each section overseen by a captain. Plus there's often a good history lesson," he says, explaining that many productions are period pieces that the students might not be familiar with.

That's particularly important for the costume team. Senior Kelsey McKenna was the lead costumer for Drood. Before her team could begin work they had to "research the time period, read the play and dissect it and see how we would interpret it."

A tight budget didn't hamper her team's creativity. Using foam and yogurt cartons, the costumers designed a complete set of 19th century ladies' hats to one-third scale. "We thought it would be a fun twist on the costumes," says Kelsey.

Freshman Elie Rakower learned more than costume design "I learned how to budget time better. You definitely can't save things for the last minute!"

Alex Chen has been on crew for four years. "It is a lot of work," he acknowledges, "but running the shows is really fun." In building the set, the crew is fortunate to be involved with set designer Eric Zoback who brings years of professional experience to Byram Hills.

The lighting crew also benefits from a professional's touch. Lighting designer Peter Petino has been helping out with Byram Hills productions for several years.

Involvement in a production demands substantial commitment. A show like Edwin Drood calls for daily three-hour rehearsals for the cast and the construction crew for eight weeks. By the time Tech Week comes round, everyone is committed to even longer hours. "The weekend before involves two 12-hour rehearsals and the week before show time everyone is here from 5 - 11 p.m.," says Mr. Shatraw.

But he makes clear that isn't an excuse to let other things slide. "It's imperative that you manage your time well," Mr Shatraw told  his students in a Tech Week meeting. "When you are not here, you are doing your homework."

More photos.

Click here to see a behind-the-scenes piece on Bobcat TV.

Stage 2012's next production will be Grease on May 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Email stagetkts@byramhills.org to order tickets or call 273-9200 x-4550.

Jury Trial for Eighth Graders 


Was the United States' decision to drop the atomic bomb justified? That's pretty meaty material for an eighth grader, but it's exactly what Crittenden's social studies classrooms sought to decide this spring when they took the question to a trial, complete with lawyers, researchers, witnesses, judge, jury and media coverage.

The Hiroshima jury trial, with Japan prosecuting the United States, has become a regular feature in the eighth grade curriculum, one that both teachers and students appreciate.

HCC cross exam
Ryan Starker, prosecution lawyer cross examines Jesse Deutsch, playing the part of President Harry Truman, a witness for the defense. More photos.


"Simulation is a great way to learn the research process and to grasp the nuances of the issues," said teacher Jessica Agovino. "Being in a courtroom means there is so much going on and they have so much invested in it. The students really put a lot of effort into this."

Hearing opposing legal arguments was enlightening for eighth grader Ben Morgenthal, who was a lawyer for the defense: "I thought it was pretty interesting to hear different sides of the story. I never thought it would be bad of America," he said of Hiroshima, "but it is interesting to see it from the Japanese point of view."

In Mrs. Agovino's Period 4 class, the prosecution produced survivors of Hiroshima with compelling stories to tell. But it wasn't enough to convince the jury. The defense won the case.

And no one could complain that the jury was biased. Acting on a suggestion from a student last year that a completely unbiased opinion was really needed, members of the high school leadership council were invited to act as jurors this year, Mrs. Agovino said. "It was a terrific added component. They took it very seriously and really struggled with their decision."

All students had a role to play and spent two weeks preparing their parts. By the time the trial came around, they were comfortably bandying around references to such historic milestones as the Manhattan Project, the Geneva Convention and the Potsdam Conference.

They also learned a great deal about the jury trial process. "It makes you feel like you are actually in a case. It was a good experience," said Danielle Sauro.

Sami Sinon agreed. "All the researching was interesting ...that there could be a right and a wrong answer," she observed. Hannah Bergman, who was a lawyer, said preparing for the trial was no easy task. "The work was really hard."

In debriefing the exercise after their verdict, several jurors expressed frustration that they could only use what was shown in the trial. "It's so frustrating when you know more than what the lawyers and witnesses are presenting!" said one student.

Ben appreciated the importance of preparation. "The prosecution's military witness was kind of fuzzy. I found him unbelievable," he remarked when the class debriefed after the trial.

As in past years, jury decisions went both ways in Crittenden's various classrooms this year, leaving students with a better understanding of more than what happened at Hiroshima. "They learn about perspective and learning history through others' eyes," said Mrs. Agovino."In the end, they understand that history isn't always black and white and that there are grey areas, which many of their textbooks do not explore but are equally as important to learn."

Click here for more photos. 



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Pen Pal Exchange Values Traditional Techniques

In this age of high-tech communications, at least one decidedly low-tech method is proving its value at Coman Hill Elementary School: Second graders are writing letters to pen pals in Ossining and Yonkers.

Coman Hill
Second grade teacher Betsy Eininger helps Sydney Levy with her letter while Abby Krupa puts the finishing touches to hers. More photos. 

The letter exchange adds a language arts and social studies component to the SPLASH (Science Partners Learning About Animals of the Sound and Hudson) environmental program, which involves several hands-on activities and field trips.

As students in the three districts engage in similar learning experiences, like seining in Long Island Sound and visiting a lighthouse in the Hudson, they get to share those experiences through a yearlong pen pal exchange. 

"They get so excited that they're writing to their pen pal," said Coman Hill teacher Betsy Eininger. "The students are motivated to use their writing skills because it is a real-world experience."

 Second grader Jed Strober succinctly described the process: "You write to them and they write back. You get to know about each other."


Mrs. Eininger's students recently responded to letters they had received from their pen pals at Yonkers' Hawthorne PEARLS School, who wrote about their visit to the lighthouse. "She told me things about the lighthouse that I didn't know," said Abby Krupa of the letter she received.


While learning the mechanics of letter writing, from the salutation to the closing, the students were thoughtful about the things they had in common with their pen pals. Said Jed, "He has a dog like I do." Chloe Talbot and her pen pal found that they both liked science.


And then there's always the lesson in good examples. Sydney Levy was very impressed with her pen pal's letter. "She didn't erase once!" Similarly, Abby noted that her pen pal, Rianna, "has really good handwriting!"


When the idea of a postscript was raised, many students found they had one more thing to say and added a P.S. to their letters.


"The whole experience is very empowering for them," says Mrs. Eininger.


The relationship isn't entirely low tech: Earlier in the year, the students "met" each other via a videotape exchange of each class. In March they met face-to-face for the first time at an interactive concert at Byram Hills High School. They are looking forward to another meeting later this month at Croton Point Park, where they will visit with a naturalist to talk about the fish of the Hudson.


Click here for more photos.  

Our Mission

In an environment of mutual respect, the Byram Hills School District and

its community will provide students with the means, the knowledge, and
the opportunity to excel in order to become productive and responsible
citizens of the twenty-first century.

"A great place to learn."