2013-08-22 / Front Page

Island students get ready to go back to school

Teachers, administrators busy preparing for year
By Ken Shane

The Jamestown school year starts next week, and teachers and administrators are already hard at work preparing for the upcoming year.

This will be the second year of implementation for the state-mandated Common Core State Standards Initiative, curriculum that aims to make students more competitive. Also, the initiative helps make education across the nation more consistent – 40 states have already adopted the new measures.

This will be Carole Melucci’s seventh year as principal at Melrose School. According to Melucci, this year the elementary school will use three grants from the Jamestown Education Foundation.

One grant will fund a visit from Junior Achievement of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that prepares young people to succeed in the global economy. The organization will provide three grade levels with workforce-readiness programs.

A second grant will pay for the construction of a three-season greenhouse. It will be used to support the school’s science programs with lessons that are aligned to next-generation standards. The greenhouse will be utilized by all grade levels.

The final grant will be used to set up vermiposting bins to teach students how decomposers, such as worms, interact with the environment.

There will also be a new preschool teacher this year: Laurie Campfield has joined the faculty.

“We’re really excited,” Melucci said about the new hire.

As for the Common Core standards, Melrose School hopes to fully implement English language arts. Last year the mathematics standards were applied, but English was only partially implemented. The elementary educators hope to complete the transition in this year.

“Teachers have been working hard all summer long aligning the curriculum to these standards,” Melucci said. “Last year it went pretty smoothly, but by the end of the year there were definitely refinements needed. This year will be smoother. When you’re making a change, it’s exciting, but at the same time there can be unknowns. These standards are definitely more rigorous.”

Following the Newtown tragedy last December, security upgrades were put in place in both schools. Not all of those changes were made public, for obvious reasons, but one change involves access to the school buildings. While the school doors have previously been locked during the day, a person who was buzzed in then had access to the entire school. Now, internal doors have been installed so anyone who is buzzed in only has access to the office. From there, they have to get a pass in order to access classroom areas.

“It’s our responsibility to increase the security, and I definitely think these changes have allowed for an increase,” Melucci said. “We want to make sure that people feel welcome and comfortable, but at the same time we have to ensure the utmost safety we can.”

Another new program at Melrose is the summer reading program.

Students were encouraged to read over the summer, keep a log of the books they read, and bring the logs with them next week. The program encourages lifelong reading.

For the younger kids, there will be an orientation for incoming preschool and kindergarten students Thursday, Aug. 29, at Melrose School. Classes will begin for those children the following day.

Older elementary students will return to school on Aug. 29. On Sept. 10, there will be an open house for parents at Melrose School at 7 p.m.

At Lawn School, Deb DiBiase is entering her second year as school principal. One change this year at the middle school is its new 8:10 a.m. start time, instead of 8:20. Also, students will be dismissed at 2:40 p.m., five minutes later than last year. The changes were made to stagger schedules at the two buildings so students don’t have to wait for buses. The homeroom period has been eliminated so students can go directly to their first class of the day.

The Common Core standards are also being implemented for the second year at Lawn School. DiBiase said anytime a new curriculum is implemented, there are going to be bumps in the road. Despite those bumps, she said, things have gone well thus far. Among the challenges encountered last year was the difficulty in knowing just how long it would take to teach any one unit of the curriculum, since it had never been taught before.

“There were challenges around pacing,” DiBiase said. “You’re basically teaching the new curriculum as you write it. We had a great team of leadership teachers who worked on it. It’s an ongoing work in progress.”

DiBiase agreed with Melucci – while the new standards are rigorous, they are doing what they were intended to do.

“I think it’s great,” DiBiase said. “One of the things I like a lot about the Common Core standards is that they really emphasize applications and critical thinking. Students are not only learning the skills, but learning how to apply them. That’s what our students need to be successful in the 21st century.”

Security upgrades at Lawn School are similar to those that were installed at Melrose. New internal doors prevent visitors from accessing the classrooms. Visitors will come to the office, sign in, and be given a badge to wear. They will also have to leave behind their car keys or driver’s license.

The middle school will welcome two new math teachers this year. Jenelle Goodburn will work with the eighth-graders, and Brittany DeRita will teach sixth grade.

An upcoming highlight of the school year at Lawn will be the arrival of Heifetz on tour. For a week in October, young musicians from the Heifetz International Music Institute will visit to interact with Lawn students. The week will conclude with a concert at the school, and another at the Jamestown Arts Center.

The eighth-grade class will take its annual trip to Washington, D.C., an overnight trip to the Boston Museum of Science is being planned for the seventh-grade kids, and the sixth-graders will take a team-building trip to the University of Rhode Island’s Alton Jones Campus.

“I’m thrilled to be starting my second year,” DiBiase said. “I had a great first year. It’s a privilege to be here in Jamestown with such wonderful teachers, staff, family members and community. It’s just a great place to work.”

There will be an orientation for new families on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 5 p.m. at Lawn School. The school’s open house will be Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

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