Gratitude

Science has now shown us what many of us, including most world religions, have known for generations. Gratitude is good for us!  A recent article in Forbes magazine (http://bit.ly/2gaZi37) pointed out seven proven benefits to practicing gratitude on a regular basis.  These include improved relationships; better sleep; increased mental strength; and better physical and psychological health.  So many benefits for something so simple!

Here at Malletts Bay School, our students were asked to show their ‘attitude of gratitude’ all last week.  In class discussions students generated lists of the many things we have to be grateful for. They completed a “gratitude chain” to decorate our hallways and serve as a visual reminder.  On Veteran’s Day, we invited local military veterans to join us for lunch.  During the morning assemblies, I reviewed with students the simple way to thank any veteran for their service.  It was lovely to see the children cautiously approach our guests, offer their hand, and say, “Thank you for your service.”

In the spirit of “Gratitude Week,” I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for helping make MBS a a wonderful school for our community’s children.  I’ll name a few names, but please know that each and every contribution is welcomed and appreciated:

Thank you to the Four Winds volunteers; Odyssey of the Mind and Lego League coaches; and sports coaches through Colchester Recreation for helping provide expanded opportunities for our children.

Thank you to Trish DiFonzo and the many volunteers who made this year’s Monster Mash a huge success!

Thank you to Jaycie Puttlitz for steering the Yearbook committee and helping us to have something “real” for the students to vote on during Election Day.

Thank you to the “tally crew” for getting the annual fundraiser ready, and to Angela Bean for stepping up and finishing the process with grace and attention to detail.

Thank you to every parent who juggled work schedules to visit us during the school day to see classroom performances, science events, and other demonstrations of learning.  I know parents who are able to come in during the school day make a point to help every child feel “noticed” and honored; for this I thank you.

Thank you to the many volunteers who helped Mrs. O make this year’s Book Fair a huge success.

Thank you to every parent who figured out a way to contact teachers during parent-teacher conference days. While 20 minutes is never enough time, every moment that we have to partner with you is time well spent.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday.  May you enjoy time with friends and family, a good meal, and some time for relaxation.

Welcome Back 2016!

Welcome back!  We are so excited to welcome our 2016-2017 Ospreys to an exciting school year.  We’ve worked hard to organize our school to support safe, respectful, and responsible learners as they grow and change from third through fifth grades.

When you come into MBS, you will notice that most of our classrooms have moved!  This year we added a new third grade section and two new special educators.  We are now organized into six smaller “communities” with one special educator working with three or four teachers at the same grade level.  The teachers in each community will work together to support the learners in their community.

This is also our first year as a “PBiS” school.  PBiS stands for positive behavioral interventions and supports.  At MBS, PBiS will mean taking the time to teach everyone very clearly our expectations for how we will conduct ourselves throughout the school day.  Adults in the school community will work hard to recognize our Ospreys when they are following expectations and helping to create the safe and orderly learning environment we all need.  We will celebrate our successes with All School Meetings and celebrations!

We are very excited about the changes in our school.  We hope you will explore our updated website and mark your calendars now for our Open House on the evening of Thursday, September 22nd.

Playing with fire

flames

My two children, Megan and Adam, are now young adults.  I feel fortunate that their elementary years took place in a world where kids did not have cell phones, and Facebook had not yet been created.  Rearing children is a challenging enough enterprise without adding social media and text messages to the mix!

Back in the ancient days of the 1990s, I heard a parenting expert lament, “It used to be the job of parents to introduce their children to the culture.  Today, the job of parents is to protect their children FROM the culture.”  That was true then, and it is even more true now.

Still, I completely understand the lure of the connected child.  I am certain that if Megan and Adam were 10 year olds today, I would allow them to have some kind of connected device.  I am equally sure that I would put strict limits on their use and fight endless battles about when, where, and with whom they could interact online.

This year, MBS has markedly increased our access to computers for our students.  Every classroom has 12 “devices” (Chromebooks, ipads, or desktops) in addition to the desktop and laptop used by the teacher for instruction.  This means our students can use computers flexibly as a learning tool instead of waiting for their class to have a turn with the computer carts.  It means our teachers can use the power of computing to help their students research, write, create, communicate and connect.

With that power, we have a huge responsibility to teach our students responsible use.  We have adopted the digital citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Media.  You can read about it here: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/curriculum.  Some of the lessons will be taught in the classroom; some in the library; and some through the guidance curriculum.   The Common Sense Media site has ideas for parents as well.

While our newly increased access to computers is exciting, I assure you that we continue to teach our students to use all kinds of tools for communicating and creating.  I recently visited Summit House during a project time.  Last week, the students were paired up to use K’Nex to create a working golf club.  This Friday, they created a plan to promote and market their product.  Two students were using an ipad to create a video.  One student proudly showed me his slide show in Google docs.  Two girls had a cardboard sign, carefully lettered “50% off!” They held the sign as they performed an “jingle” they wrote together.  Another was using colored pencils to design her print advertisement.  Colored pencils and markers were valued equally with ipads and Powerpoint by students and teachers alike.

Giving elementary children computers and mobile devices is powerful and exciting, but without careful guidance from adults it can be like playing with fire.  We set strict limits with MBS students.  Their access to Google docs and the District gmail account is for school purposes only.  Any unauthorized use will result in losing their access to computers for a period of time, perhaps for the entire school year.  We appreciate partnering with parents to make sure our children grow up to be good “digital citizens.”

Why vote?

Tuesday is an important day for our community- it is voting day!  I’ve talked to many people who are unsure about whether or not they will take the time to vote.  “I’m really not political,” they’ll say.  Some let me know they are just too busy to stand in line to vote.  I get it.  Politics today are nasty; who isn’t tired of hearing politicians point fingers and blame each other while nothing gets done!?  And our busy lives!  I remember well the elementary school years.  My husband Jeff and I had to make charts showing where our two children needed to be on any given day, and writing down who was going to ferry them to their various activities.  When Megan and Adam were little, there were no cell phones!  Imagine that.  Thank goodness Fairfax is a small town and others helped to pick up the pieces when mom and dad got their wires crossed and left the kids waiting at school!

Still, I can’t think of anything that is more important than the vote you are being asked to cast on Tuesday.  “Politics” may be a nasty business, but at the local level your volunteer School Board members have worked incredibly hard with the administration to craft a budget that respects the pressure imposed by property taxes while still allowing us to provide a quality education.  Colchester has low per pupil cost, but high test scores.  The Board included NOTHING new in this budget; we will be able to maintain what we have with the proposed budget, but nothing new was added.

Whether you support the proposed budget or not, I ask that you make time to cast your ballot.  I am passionately patriotic and believe democracy is the greatest form of government in all of history.  Democracy only works when people participate.  If we want to continue a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we have to vote.  Its a privilege, a right, and a responsibility for each of us as citizens of the greatest country on Earth.  Please, vote on Tuesday!

Veteran’s Day

I genuinely appreciate all the families that have taken time to send in a “thank you” page describing a veteran in your family.  We have a nice display in our main hallway for everyone to share.  I notice the students really paying attention and reviewing the different stories.  This Tuesday, Mrs. Roger’s fifth grade will explain a “white table” tradition to the other Ospreys in the cafe.  This tradition is appropriate for either Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day (http://bit.ly/1pFDuwH).

I think it is doubly important for us to recognize Veterans in this era when so many individuals are removed from the military and the sacrifices our military families make.  When I was just a little older than the Ospreys, our country was embroiled in the Vietnam War.  My brothers were in line for the draft “lottery” by which young men were chosen to fight in that faraway land.  I was terrified that my brother would be called upon.

Today our military is all volunteer, allowing most Americans to remain distant from the complexities of military service.  On this Veterans Day, we thank those who have chosen to serve.  In addition, we thank their families.  Military families sacrifice a great deal, and for this I am appreciative.

The course of my own family’s history was changed in 1918 when my great uncle Walton died in Bois de Harville, France, just ONE DAY before Armistice Day.  My grandfather had to drop out of high school to support his family when Walton was killed.  Charles Beauvais became a successful banker in spite of his limited education, but he always regretted not finishing school.  I know a part of my passion for education came from my grandfather’s insistence that all ten of his grandchildren have a quality education.

I hope everyone will take a few minutes this week to pause and reflect on our nation’s military men and women, and the service they provide for our nation and indeed, the world.

With hope for peace,

Julie BenayUS-Flag1

Smarter Balanced

We are mid way through the month of October.  We have all breathed a huge sigh of relief as the weeks pass by and we are free from the responsibility of organizing and administering the annual New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). This standardized test has been phased out as educators worked to develop a new assessment that will measure the recently adopted Common Core State Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/).

During our in-service day on October 17th, teachers in kindergarten through Grade 5 worked with our curriculum team (Director Gwen Carmolli; Math Coach Susan Morin; and Literacy Coach Sara Blake) to delve deeper into the Common Core and examine the shifts we’ve been working on in our instruction.  In the following weeks, we will link this work to the new assessment, “Smarter Balanced.”  This new assessment is entirely online and will be given to students in March and April of this school year.  During December, our students will login as “guests” and give the new exam a trial “road test.”

Some Vermont schools piloted the Smarter Balanced Assessment last spring.  While the test items themselves are rigorous and complex, most adults worried about the students being able to manage the online features.  Adults were concerned about the students learning to scroll, read on a split screen, and manipulate online tools such as protractors.  The educators in the pilot schools saw students initially struggle with these elements, but the students picked up skills quickly and seemed far less stressed about Smarter Balanced than many of them were with the NECAP test.  They seemed to enjoy testing on computers!

Of course, we have concerns about this new technologically based standardized test.  We have concerns about scheduling all 465 students taking an online test with our few devices (25  laptops, 25 Chromebooks, and 25 ipads).  We worry that the Smarter Balanced site will not run efficiently, that our own District technology infrastructure will not bear the added load, or that some unpredictable event will make test administration unduly complex.  Still, we are preparing well, with our IT department planning ahead and our building based committee starting on the scheduling and logistics.

Meanwhile, October feels uniquely productive this year, after a decade of juggling NECAP test booklets and scheduling “make up” days for testing.  It is a joy to visit classrooms and see uninterrupted learning.  Standardized testing is a feature of our public schools today.  We welcome the new challenge of Smarter Balanced, and look forward to seeing how our students perform with this new experience come spring.

 

Go ahead, be “that parent”

Malletts Bay is a safe and welcoming place for learning.  These years of child development are important ones for peer relationships and other aspects of social development.   A large part of our responsibility as educators is to partner with you to help children understand how to develop and support healthy relationships.  This sometimes means solving relationship problems and building strong character through our discipline process.

 

Each year I interact with a parent who calls to tell me about some difficulty their child is experiencing at MBS.  Inevitably, the parent starts by saying, “I don’t want to bother you with this,” or “I didn’t want to be that parent who always calls the school.”

 

I am encouraging you from the start of the school year, to “be that parent.”  Ms. Burke and I work with all the MBS adults to monitor the social and emotional growth of our students very closely.  Still, students have opportunities to interact at lunch, in the hallways, on the bus, or on the playground.  Further, they interact outside of school during sports, clubs or other community activities.  Increasingly, we find unkind behaviors happening through social media.  The “online” relationship issues find their way into school, affecting how students feel about their learning environment.

 

We do not have a significant problem with bullying or harassment in the legal sense.  All our staff members receive annual training regarding prevention of bullying and harassment, and we are on the lookout for potential problems.  This month, Ms. Burke and I are visiting all MBS classes to talk with our students about our school rules and expectations around behavior, particularly toward one another.  We are explaining the legal definitions of bullying and harassment, and letting the students know that these behaviors cross a “red line.”  We have strong policies in place to prevent bullying and harassment.  If you would like to read those policies, you can find them at http://csdvt.org. The policies are F2 and F23.

 

One way you can support us is by being “that parent.”  If your child is unhappy or uncomfortable with some kind of peer relationship problem, please give us a call.  We’ll check into the problem and work to solve it.  If the problem meets the definition of bullying or harassment, we’ll implement the procedures outlined in the policy.

 

In regard to social media, we are hosting Prevent Child Abuse Vermont’s training for students and adults known as TECHNICOOL.  All fourth and fifth graders will participate on October 16th in small assemblies.  All parents, regardless of the age of your children, are invited to come at 6:30 that evening for a parent presentation.

 

I hope to see you there!

The Birds and The Bees

Dance of Love
Photo Credit: Lori Branham via Compfight

It may be 10 degrees and snowy outside, but spring is definitely in the air for many of our Ospreys.  Research is clear: Children today, both boys and girls, start puberty at a younger age than they did even 15 years ago.  The average age of puberty for boys is between 9 and 10 years old.  Girls start puberty as young as 8 years old.  Pediatricians and medical researchers attribute this shift to many things, including childhood obesity and food additives.  Whatever the reason, the facts are clear: most MBS students will start puberty during the time they spend with us.  The issue is further complicated by access to media.  In a world of 24 hour news and social media, Miley Cyrus’ twerking escapades did not only appear during the music awards, they were shown on prime time news channels and all over social media!  Sex continues to sell, as it has done for generations, and our children are exposed to advertising on TV, online, in stores, and on the radio.  Between biological changes and media exposure, it is no wonder our Ospreys are curious about reproduction.

To some extent, women can’t avoid having some kind of discussion with daughters, as obvious physical changes inevitably bring up questions.  Many families, however, are not prepared for the earlier onset of puberty in boys.

Still, children are curious creatures, and once they begin to wonder, they will have questions.  If they do not get answers from caring adults, they will turn to one another or ask older brothers, sisters, cousins, or kids on the school bus.    I’ve already had three instances this spring during which boys were sharing explicit information with one another.  Some of it was accurate; some of it was not.  What do you want your children to learn, and where to you want them to get the information?  When you are in control, you have the opportunity to convey your values along with the facts.

One strategy is to find some good information and leave it for them to read.  Invite them to ask you some questions, and give them the basic information along with your values.  Our PE and Health teachers will be sharing information with our fourth and fifth graders this spring, with a parent night held prior to student lessons so parents know what is being shared.

I promise you, it is NOT too soon.  I know we all want to cherish these last few years of childhood.  At MBS, we have a hard and fast rule – no “dating.”  We know that some of our fifth graders “go out,” but we tell them that we don’t want to hear anything about it during the school day.  We let them know that humans are funny animals – we spend the first part of life wishing we were older, and the second part of our life wishing we were younger!  We do our best to maintain innocence at MBS, but the culture (and biology) are working against us.

I encourage you to consider this information and make a plan.  If you are not ready now, when will you be ready?  There are plenty of good web sites and books to help you out.  Mr. Hunt, Mrs. Eastman, and Mrs. Frieberg are good resources, as is Mrs. Routsong.  We’re happy to offer you some websites and materials to help with this important topic.  I’ve listed a few sites below:

http://childrenshospitalblog.org/

http://kidshealth.org

http://healthychildren.org

 

I Cried Twice

Maybe I was just a bit tired, but I found myself in tears twice during the past few weeks.  The first time was in late November, near the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.  Some of our fifth graders were learning about the event through one of their news subscriptions (most teachers use Scholastic, CNN or Time for Kids).  I realized that I was one of the few adults at MBS who lived through that horrific event, so I offered to stop by and tell the kids what I remembered.  After I described my experience as a six year old, I said, “So, guys, that is why I feel so strongly about teaching you to resolve your issues without fighting or bullying.  I want you to be safe!”  Much to my surprise, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  The world DID seem safer when I was a child.  When I was little, my bus route was really long and I hated riding the bus.  Our driver would let my brother and I off at a crossroads in Jericho and we would walk the two miles home.  Can you imagine a driver doing that today??  While we practiced “duck and cover,” the reality of a nuclear bomb actually seemed pretty distant and unlikely.  Today my Ospreys are all post 9/11 children.  Their country has been at war their entire lives.  They practice “lock down” drills every other month, and hear about mass shootings at an alarming rate of frequency.    The responsibility of keeping our children safe both physically and emotionally is one we all take very seriously at MBS.  The world may be a wild and wacky place, but we endeavor to create a welcoming “home away from home” where each and every child feels a sense of safety and belonging.

My second emotional moment came following the loss or theft of the funds being raised to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.  The young student leaders who were steering the event were so upset and disillusioned about the loss or theft of the money.  Officer Fontaine took their police report very seriously, and we all searched and investigated to try to recover the loss.  Sadly, the money was gone.  However, within the next few days, donations began to pour in.  The money came in amounts ranging from $30 to $200, all from families of modest means.  As I tallied the donations and wrote thank you notes, I kept tearing up at the generosity of the response.  Our Ospreys learned a hard lesson when the money was lost or stolen, but these donations taught them that there is good in the world to balance disaster and loss.  We earned more than money for the Red Cross, we earned the chance to show these young leaders that their community will pull through for them in tough times.  I personally felt the love and support of this wonderful community.  While I bear my responsibility toward your children with all due gravity, it is very nice to know that you all have my back!

I imagine I’ll have a better handle on my emotions now that I’ve had a good long rest. I enjoyed plenty of Benay family time in spite of multiple power outages during this long holiday break.  I hope you all had a chance to rest, relax and reflect.  I am very much looking forward to seeing “my kids,” and am excited about the weeks and months ahead as we venture forward into 2014!  Happy New Year to one and all.

To sweet or not to sweet, that is the question…

Candy Corn
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Krystle Fleming via Compfight

The title of this blog entry is a play on Hamlet’s famous soliloquey, “To be or not to be…”  With Halloween fast approaching, I’m getting more questions about the “no sweets” rule at MBS for birthdays and celebrations.  Those of you who attend the Monster Mash (Friday, November 1st) will find plenty of sweets for sale in the PTO “snack bar” at this annual party.  You’ll see cupcakes at Girl Scout meetings and Yearbook Club.  Is this inconsistent? Why is it okay to have cupcakes and brownies at the Monster Mash but not during the school day?

I’d like to explain my thinking.  Schooling in our nation is compulsory.  The first U.S. state to require all children to attend school was Massachusetts, beginning in 1852.  Mississippi became the last state to require compulsory school attendance in 1917.  The fact is, all children in our country must attend school, either private, public, or in an approved home school program.  In our increasingly diverse country, our public schools have an obligation to create learning environments that are welcoming to a wide variety of cultures, religions, beliefs, habits, and parenting styles.  In addition, our schools grapple with public health issues plaguing our nation such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity.

Imagine you are a parent whose child has diabetes.  Imagine your family is working hard to instill healthy eating habits and you strictly limit sweets in your home.  Imagine that your child is sensitive to gluten, nuts, food dyes, or other elements that are part of the treats often brought to school to celebrate birthdays and holidays.  You have no choice about sending your child to school – the law compels you to do so.  If the school then exposes your child to foods and/or rituals that are contrary to your beliefs or bad for your child’s health, you are in a difficult situation.  This is the main reason we have restricted our classroom celebrations to include non-food or very limited, healthy food options.  Our schools need to be welcoming and inclusive for everyone, since everyone is compelled by law to be there.

On the other hand, joining Girl Scouts or attending The Monster Mash are completely optional activities.  These are community sponsored events being held in the school building.  No one is forced to go.  Offering an array of foods at these community events is up to the organizers and sponsors of the event, not up to the school administration. Student’s own lunchboxes are similar.  You choose what to send to school or purchase for snack for your child.  That is not my decision, and I’ve had to explain to teachers that parents certainly have individual rights to feed their children however they wish!

I hope this helps clear up what might seem like inconsistency on my part.  In my personal life, I enjoy occasional sweets.  My own two children fondly remember making chocolate chip cookies together, or the specially decorated cakes for their birthdays.  Part of my  job as your principal is to design and enforce procedures that create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for our diverse community.  I have to balance personal liberty with public responsibility.

I appreciate the supportive comments I received when this new rule was first announced, and I also appreciate the questions because they challenge me to clarify and communicate my thinking.

I hope all the Ospreys who participate in the holiday of Halloween will have a fun and safe experience.  I look forward to seeing many of you at the Monster Mash this Friday night!

Julie