School board honors student arts — and gets a science lesson

 

Pictured are, left to right, Masuk Assistant Principal Julia Strong, honorees Lauren Young and Julianne Farnham, Monroe Board of Education Vice Chair George A. King III and school Superintendent John Battista.

“It’s exciting to go into a classroom and see students not sitting in a row — but working together in groups, even sitting on the floor,” said Roseanne Haughton, K-5 science coordinator, at the Monroe Board of Education’s April 17 meeting. “It’s science … and it’s messy.”

Haughton was giving the Monroe Board of Education a snapshot of Connecticut’s Next Generation Science Standards — and how Monroe’s schools and teachers have met and even exceeded those new requirements. Presenting with Haughton were colleagues Jim Stoelzel, 6-12 instructional leader, and Director of Curriculum Sheila Casinelli.

This month’s board meeting covered a lot of bases, most notably the introduction of Dr. Jacob Greenwood to board members and other members of the community in attendance at the meeting.

Greenwood’s appointment as Masuk High principal was announced earlier this month by a selection committee consisting of 16 Monroe teachers, parents, board members, and administrators, and one Masuk student. Greenwood comes to Monroe from Darien High School, where he had served as assistant principal since 2012. He succeeds Joseph Kobza, who will become Monroe’s new assistant school superintendent on July 1.

Additionally, Masuk students Julianne Farnham, Jacqueline Plavnicky and Lauren Young were honored as exemplary people. This is an award the district makes to recognize outstanding achievement in a variety of disciplines. Farnham, Plavnicky and Young are students in Advanced Placement (AP) studio art and were standout participants in the school’s recent Da Vinci Festival. Each created a portfolio with 29 masterpieces representing different visual-arts categories, which they will submit to the College Board for scoring in May.

The presentation on science education and on a separate language arts initiative took up the greater share of the board meeting.

“We have been ahead of the game in adopting the new Next Generation Science Standards,” said Casinelli. “In the curriculum, science and mathematics are interrelated. It is all based on claims, evidence and reasoning.”

Pictured are, left to right, Monroe Board of Education Vice Chair George A. King III, Masuk honoree Jacqueline Plavnicky, Masuk Assistant Principal Julia Strong and school Superintendent John Battista.

Because of the latter, children’s writing and speaking skills become reinforced by the curriculum as well. The new curriculum builds on the strength and popularity of Monroe’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program, which was instituted in 2011.

“The new curriculum standards don’t come in a ‘kit’ but are something that requires innovation at the district level, including ongoing professional development for teachers,” said Stoelzel.

That professional development might consist of workshops at Audubon preserves and the Norwalk Maritime Center, for example. In these settings, teachers gather ideas for development into classroom lessons, he said.

Even in the younger grades, the curriculum incorporates a distinct engineering slant. Students start by asking questions and defining problems. They then proceed to identify potential solutions.

“Also new is the incorporation of modeling techniques,” said Casinelli.

Lessons offer a high degree of interactivity. As part of a science lesson, students might draw a representation of a phenomenon — and they might do so individually or in a group. Other students then ask questions by posting sticky notes to the drawing.

The language-arts initiative is a district-wide Word of the Week program and is the brainchild of Dana Firmender, an English teacher at Masuk High School. The program is designed to achieve both greater vocabulary skills as well as a deeper appreciation, district-wide, for the ramifications of important words and the concepts they convey. The district-wide initiative will debut at the beginning of the 2018-19 term.

“Each Sunday evening during the school year, we will email the word of the week to all students, teachers and administrators,” said Firmender. “Because there are 40 weeks in the school year, there will be 40 words of the week.”

Students will incorporate the word of the week in their weekly writing exercises, examining a particular word’s meaning and relevance to their own lives. Firmender is enlisting participation from the larger Monroe community as well.

“For instance, the Monroe Senior Center is getting on board with the Word of the Week,” said Firmender.

A similar program exists in Shelton, and community businesses there take part in it each week.

“One bakery in Shelton bakes cookies with the word of the week spelled out on them,” said Firmender. “It’s a great way for businesses to take part in the communities they serve.”

Among other business, the board unanimously approved three measures associated with the school district’s Healthy Food Certificate. This is a certification made by the state Department of Education. Two of the measures concerned the sale of foods and beverages not on the state’s healthy foods list, provided such sales take place after school or on weekends and are during events such as sports competitions and school plays.

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