School Focus: Community and Curriculum

| 07 Mar 2019 | 01:33

    By Mandy CoRiston
    Andover - At the Long Pond School in Andover Township, Principal Bryan Fleming’s office is decorated with student artwork and the coffee pot is always on. Fleming, who came to the school district in the latter part of the 2016-17 school year, is an enthusiastic administrator, and it’s clear from the atmosphere in the school that his enthusiasm is contagious.
    Decked out in a red Andover Chargers jersey on Thursday, Feb. 21, the day of the 8th-grade versus faculty and police basketball game, Fleming reflected on the state of the 2018-19 academic year as it comes past the 100-day mark.
    “Obviously, we’re excited about this game tonight,” Fleming said, “and it’s a great community activity. The kids are looking forward to it, and we’ve even got Mr. Tobin (the superintendent) playing for us, as well as Officer Haggerty from the ATPD [Andover Township Police Department]. Daniel Cruz from the Board of Education is going to referee.”
    The game, in its third year, has become an event which the whole school district embraces. Fleming said the student team coaches itself, and clubs from around the school get promote and participate beyond the basketball court.
    “The SOS (Smiles Overseas) Club will be selling snacks to raise money for school supplies for children in other countries, and we’ve got students who’ll be performing a bucket-drumming routine at halftime," Felming said. "The whole school is involved, and the kids love it.”
    Long Pond faculty members work on innovative ways to integrate the curriculum. Eighth-grade English and Language Arts (ELA) teacher Elyse Mirena’s classes recently undertook a science fiction unit which began with fundamental study of the genre and ended with students writing stories and creating and coding scenes in virtual reality.
    “I really wanted the students to think about how fiction meets reality,” Mirena said. "So we studied some Bradbury works, and I had the students write their own flash fiction stories.”
    The next step was to build a scene on the computer, using a program called CoSpacesEdu. The students worked on backgrounds and details, one pair even going so far as to put flower arrangements on their virtual tables.
    “The options available to us in the VR program are cool,” said student Rylan Ivaldi. “I really enjoyed writing the story. Now I get to bring it to life.”
    Once the scenes were built, they could be sent to an application on a phone to be viewed in virtual reality using Google’s VR CardBoards.
    “These students are going to need technology for all trades,” Mirena said, “I wanted to create a unit that’s meaningful and interesting. They’re learning that coding is another form of writing, and it reinforces the need for proper dialogue and scene-setting, or else the code won’t run smoothly.”
    Mirena said that even in this age of technology and academic tools, she still incorporates solid grammar skills and language structure into her lessons.
    “They still need to know how to write,” she said, “We’ve worked on everything from putting together a professional, email to learning when it’s acceptable or not to use texting slang.”
    Another of Mirena’s units was a collaboration with the math department, where the students learned about finance and business writing.
    “We’re lucky to have a teacher like Elyse, who thinks outside the box,” said district director of curriculum, Jennifer Reynolds.
    Back in Principal Fleming’s office, he’s happy to talk about other initiatives they’ve been working on this year, including the school’s new PEP program. The Personal Enrichment Period allows students to work on projects and interests outside the scope of the core curriculum.
    “We created a whole new period in the school day, by taking away a couple minutes from each class and lunch, and we initially thought we could use it so the band and choir kids wouldn’t have to be pulled from academics for rehearsal," Felming said. "But we realized that all the students could use the time for things other than a study hall.”
    The PEP program now allows students in all grades the opportunity to mingle and collaborate in electives such as print and broadcast journalism, computer coding, art, debate, and solar sprint car racing. Also available are; academic remediation, a school spirit club, and a peer mentorship group where 7th- and 8th-graders create recess activities and lunchroom conversation starters for the 5th- and 6th-graders.
    “When I first got here, there wasn’t much interaction between the grade levels, and now we see the kids working together on all these projects, and it’s just amazing," Fleming said.
    Of note for meeting academic standards, the district began using the Eureka math method this year, and according to Fleming, while there was a bit of a learning curve, it seems to have caught on. The Florence M. Burd Elementary School even hosted a Math Night for parents to familiarize them with the new system.
    “We’ve all had our ‘aha!’ moment with it now, and we’re on track to succeed with it," Fleming said.
    The innovations at Long Pond extend to finding ways to draw parents and students to the district’s Board of Education meetings.
    “When we want to recognize a faculty member or student for an outstanding achievement, we invite them to the Board of Education meetings to highlight that recognition,” Fleming said, “It brings people to the meetings who might not come, and they can stay and see the Board in action. On the flip side, the Board gets to see some of our achievements that they might not know about. It’s good for everybody.”
    Looking forward to the rest of the school year, Andover is looking to finish out strong.
    “We’ve got L.E.A.D. coming up, and our field trip to Stokes (State Forest),” Fleming said, “and the budget is coming right along and looking good. It’s going to be a good Spring.”
    This is the second installment in a three-part series on innovative curricula, community initiatives, and cooperative learning. Districts around the region have marked the 100th day of school and looking towards the last few months of the academic year, administrators and faculty members shared their insights on what’s happening in their classrooms and communities.