' A great place to learn."                                                                    

 April 2013, Vol. 3: Issue 2



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In This Issue
Wampus Third Graders
Coman Hill Diversity
High School: Added Benefits to Science Research

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Study of China is a Highpoint for



Each year, third-graders at Wampus Elementary School parade through the halls carrying colorful banners in celebration of the Chinese New Year.  Often dressed in red or traditional Chinese costume, the students proudly show off the masks and lanterns they've made as the whole school stops to cheer.


The parade is a fun highpoint of the year for all. But for the third-graders, it is the culmination of a six-week interdisciplinary unit on China and its culture. The unit involves social studies, geography, reading, music and, of course, art.


"They love it," said third-grade teacher Donna Scorrano, "They take what they've learned and create decorations that symbolize the New Year - and it all culminates in the parade."


But before the parade comes weeks of learning about China. In Social Studies, the third-grade team compares and contrasts the cultures of China and the United States, with a particular focus on the children of both countries. The students also study how the physical features of China have influenced its culture.   


Third-graders prepare banners for the Chinese New Year celebration.
Within the reading workshop, the children were exposed to Chinese Folk Tales and immersed in literature about China. The children wrote opinion pieces deciding whether the third-century emperor, Chin Shih Huang Ti, was a good leader. Some teachers also used the unit of China to do nonfiction research and writing. 



The third-grade classes also had the opportunity to visit Caramoor, where they experienced the culture of China through music and art, and participate in a tea ceremony.  In May, the group will also visit a monastery in Carmel to add to their knowledge of Chinese culture.  


The students also seem to really enjoy the time spent working on the banners, masks and lanterns, and trying their hand at calligraphy.


Said third-grader Jane Zeltner, "We're having so much fun even though we're learning." 

Embracing Diversity and Cultural Differences Through Books 


One story is about two girls who sample each other's culture through a "sandwich swap." In another, a dog must face his preconceptions about dragons when he realizes that the "lizard" he has raised from an egg is suddenly spouting fire.


They're simple stories about friendship - but they also offer a way for children at the Coman Hill School to touch on complicated topics like cultural differences and stereotypes. Through books, the school is encouraging children to think about ways to view and embrace differences among people and cultures.

Librarian Jane del Vilar.

"In the elementary school, we thought literature would be a good way to introduce the topic of cultural proficiency," said Coman Hill librarian Jane del Villar. 


Ms. del Villar said the "systems approach" being taken encourages the children to develop tools for how they view the world around them, rather than exploring specific issues like racism. The approach is designed to get children thinking about constructive ways to develop opinions. Moreover, it fits with a new emphasis on opinion writing that is part of the Common Core Standards.  


Beginning in January, Ms. del Villar started reading books geared to each grade that offer lessons for discussion. 


To one class, for example, she read "Harry on the Rocks," a story about a dog that rejects the friend he loves once he realizes that he is not a lizard, but a dragon. When the dragon eventually returns and saves his life, he comes to realize that he must trust the experiences they've shared together over his preconceived ideas about dragons.  That story prompted a lesson about how people can have "mental models" not based on facts or actual experiences, and hold onto them even when they are contradicted by evidence.


The children then came up with their own answers to the question, "How can we help ourselves get over negative mental models?"


"Talk it out," wrote one student. "Talk to the person and see if you like the same stuff," wrote another. "Give people a chance." 


Learning that opinions should be supported by facts or experiences will also help the students as they move forward in school and practice opinion writing. That will require them to effectively express opinions - and back them up. 


Coman Hill students have also explored aspects of the books during their technology time. And, as a pilot, some teachers are expanding on the ideas being discussed during class time.


"The more places that the child hears the same thing, the more impact it's going to have," said Ms. del Villar.   


 Household Donations Turn Into Art at Middle School

Take a look at the oversized "Pop Art" sculptures that jazz up the entrance hall at HC Crittenden Middle School, and you'll applaud students' creativity and whimsy. But before they were art, they were trash.


Sixth-grader Ben Kahn uses a chopstick to stir paint.

That dazzling pink lipstick, bow-wrapped Tiffany box, and giant candy bar took shape from cardboard boxes dropped off by parents.


"Boxes really come in handy," said art teacher Nicole Minoli, who guides the Pop Art project, a perennial favorite and long-standing Byram Hills tradition. "They're often the base of the sculpture."  


If you've ever wondered what happens to the supplies that art teachers request - including large boxes, chopsticks, clean plastic containers, dry-cleaning plastic, newspapers and more - step into the art classrooms at Crittenden.


Pop Art sculptures created with boxes and other donated "trash" on display in the HCC hallway.

Art teacher Joanna Bergelson reminds students to use chopsticks instead of brushes to mix certain glazes because glass particles can damage brushes. Paints and glazes are mixed and stored in plastic containers that once held food. Dry cleaning plastic is wrapped around clay to keep it moist and pliable.


"I like opening students' eyes to the fact that things can have more than one purpose," she said. "It helps them to think outside the box."



Some of the more interesting donations end up in boxes brought out when students are working on printmaking or clay. Items such as keys, small tools, tiny boxes or lace can be used to make a variety of impressions.  The one item that teachers always had plenty of - newspapers - is now becoming harder to keep on hand as more people read digital versions. Art teachers go through piles of newspapers because they use them for many purposes, such as paper mache, lining tables and wrapping up students' projects so they don't break on the way home.


"It used to be that we were all swimming in newspapers," Ms. Bergelson said, "now it's becoming a hot commodity."


And Ms. Bergelson said she's always happy to talk to a parent who wonders if items they're throwing out could serve an artistic purpose.  


"I love the idea that sometimes you get a donation and that creates the project," she said. 



Melissa Krohnengold and Elysse Karozichian make use of donated trash during art class.
Students Learn Speaking Skills, Teamwork


Students enter the high school's science research program knowing they'll master a science topic they choose. What they don't know is how many other skills they'll learn in the process.


During a recent class, for example, two students stood before posters and presented their research to small groups. Other students worked at a nearby computer, discussing final changes to a research poster almost ready for printing.  It's all part of a process that not only teaches science - but how to craft verbal and written presentations and collaborate effectively. 

Gregory Fishberger explains his research project to Jennifer Gold.


"It is the part of the program that students come back from college and talk about," said science teacher David Keith, director of the Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program. "We've received letters from students who've said that they are the only ones in a class who know how to give a presentation." Along with Mr. Keith, Stephanie Greenwald and Kenneth Kaplan also teach the program. 

Natalie Pudalov practices her presentation skills.


Over three years, students are taught how to prepare formal and informal presentations, and are given opportunities for practice. That readies them for competitions where they are judged by professional scientists, and leaves them with speaking skills that will prove invaluable in college and the workplace. There are 105 students in the program of varying academic abilities. All have demonstrated a passion for science and a commitment to perform and present research through the second half of senior year - a time when students can be tempted to slack off.  


That's not an option for seniors in the science program. In March alone, six students -- Emma Goodman, Brett Roston, Megan Ahern, Chris DiCapua, Gregory Fishberger, and Karan Goyal -- competed at the annual New York State Junior Science and Humanities Symposium held in Albany after qualifying at a regional competition. In Albany, Karan won Highest Honors for poster presentation; and Chris and Emma both took Third Place in their category.


 Brett travelled to San Diego to present research at the annual meeting of the Academy of Neurology after winning the prestigious Neuroscience Research Prize.


A group of seniors also took part in the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair, which leads into the International Science and Engineering Fair held by Intel. In that fair, Becky Barnett took Second Place in category and a "Future of Medicine" special award; while Chris and Karan earned Fourth Place honors in their categories. Chris earned a special award for his unique display. 


In March, students were putting final touches on upcoming presentations with support from their peers. As Gregory practiced his presentation, fellow seniors Jennifer Gold and Rebecca Lachs offered advice and told him not to worry about questions from judges.


"I understand what you're talking about because you are so good at explaining your project," said Jennifer. Nearby, Emma Goodman helped senior Natalie Pudalov with her presentation, advising her to keep certain points "plain and simple." 


One hallmark of the program is the teamwork that develops among students.  Underclassmen also learn from the seniors, who, in turn, act as mentors.


"This is a group of students who want to see each other do well," Mr. Keith said, "and are very supportive of each other."  

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 21st century.
Byram Hills School District Board of Education: Mr. Brett Summers, President;  Mr. Ira Schulman, Vice President;
 Dr. Leslie Blum (Cziner); Dr. Alban Burke; Ms. Robin Glat; Ms. Joyce Meiklejohn; Dr. Ann Tedesco

Dr. Bill Donohue, Superintendent
   Classroom Connection is published by Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES