Tuesday, April 11, 2017

ABRHS Wellness Week!

It is Wellness Week at A-B. In support of our overall focus on wellness and with the planning and coordination of several dedicated staff and community members and students, we are expanding on the success of the Physical Education and Health department's Health and Fitness Day (Thursday 4/13) to promote physical and mental health and overall well-being all week. The goal is to highlight a different area of wellness each day. Our student groups are running all of the activities and greeting students at the door in the morning.

Monday's theme was "Play." Our Ambassadors transformed the lower gym into a fun, engaging, and relaxing atmosphere, complete with a photo "booth" and games. We loved seeing students take some time to play and decompress during the school day.

Here are the themes and activities for the rest of the week:
Tuesday 4/11: Mindfulness: Join The Wellness Club in the cafeteria during all lunches to do some mindful coloring and write notes of gratitude to people who are important to you. During 4th period Jen Mast, from Revolution Yoga, will be leading a session on Mindful Yoga in the lower gym.  During 5th period, Ms. Sullivan, one of our teachers here at the high school, will be leading two sessions on mindful meditation from  11:05 - 11:25 and 11:30 - 11:50  in 115N.  Ms. Sullivan will also lead the whole school in a short mindfulness meditation during Advisory and the Wellness Club has planned an activity where students and staff will be asked to write down things they do to take care of themselves, are grateful for, or make them happy.

Wednesday 4/12: The Day of Silence: Join Common Ground in participating in The Day of Silence. You can support The Day of Silence by signing a silence pledge in counseling or wearing purple or an Erase Hate bracelet. Erase Hate bracelets and  a limited amount of  Erase Hate T-shirts can be purchased in the Counseling Center on the day of the event.

Thursday 4/13: Health and Fitness Day: Teachers are encouraged to bring their classes and join the Physical Education Department throughout the day up at Leary Field and Dow Track track to participate in a variety of activities such as Zumba, frisbee, soccer, and walking.  Also, as part of the Teen Driving Program, there will also be a distracted driving simulator set up for students to try.

Led by Associate Principal Beth Baker, this week of activities is possible because of the thoughtful and collaborative planning of our student Wellness Club and faculty Wellness Committee; Ambassadors; Common Ground; The PE and Health Department; Counseling Department Leader Todd Chicko; community members Cindy McCarthy, Susan Lerner, and Amanda Ashton; and our incredible main office secretaries Deb and Jeanne. 

A special thank you to our students for their tremendous leadership in making Wellness Week possible. As we approach the April vacation week, I wish you all a relaxing break with plenty of time for play~

Sunday, April 2, 2017

High School Schedule Process Update, Mindset and Learning

High School Schedule Change Process Update
Thank you to our parents and guardians who have completed the high school schedule survey. We have received more than 1,000 responses so far, and we are grateful for your feedback about what you value in a high school schedule. If you have not yet had a chance to share your thoughts in the survey, please do so. The final decision about a new, pilot high school schedule for the fall of 2018 will be made by the high school leadership team and the district leadership team. 

We are seeking feedback from parents/guardians and students about what you value in a high school schedule. This feedback will serve to inform our process and help us to plan for what we will need to do to educate students and families about a new schedule. The survey link was emailed directly to all parents/guardians at the high school. If you have a question about taking the survey, please contact Tina Vanasse at cvanasse@abschools.org.  

We will dedicate significant time next year for professional learning for staff to prepare for a new schedule, including any impacts on instruction, assessment, and homework.

As a review, here is a portion of my previous post about the high school schedule change process:

High School Schedule Change Process
We have made some changes to the high school schedule change process to allow for flexibility given the events of this year and our need to take care of staff, students, and families along the way. For an updated timeline, please click here. You will see that we are still planning to survey students, parents & guardians as well as to hold focus groups to hear feedback about potential high school schedule models. 

Mindset and Learning
Please take a moment to read ABRSD April's Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter, which focuses on mindset.

Do you have a FIXED mindset, or a GROWTH mindset? 

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success - a simple idea that makes all the difference. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports.

Dr. David Miele will be presenting Academic Mindsets: Their Role in Learning, Parenting and Teaching on April 5 7:00-8:30 PM in the RJ Grey Auditorium.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Celebrating Foreign Language Week and Getting our ZZZZs

ABRHS celebrated our Foreign Language Week 2017, which included musical performances, food, language and culture lessons, and immersion activities. Staff and students were encouraged to have "passports" stamped as they took part in Samba and Zumba lessons, heard music of the Andes performed by Inca Son, and tasted foods from around the World.

We were treated to a student Flamenco guitar performance, and students learned from Career Speakers how language skills will be beneficial to them in the future.

Thank you to our World Language Department Leader Sinikka Savukoski, all of our teachers and assistants in the World Language department, Dean of Students Maurin O'Grady, and our many wonderful parent and community volunteers for their time and enthusiasm in making it such a fun week and a rich celebration of culture and language.

ABRSD's March Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter focuses on sleep. Sleep is important for growth, immune response, learning and memory!

In this edition, we highlight the research on how much sleep students need, some of our Challenge Success student survey data around sleep, and a variety of other resources for you to consider if you are interested in learning more about how sleep affects us.

I hope that you all have a happy (and restful) weekend~

Thursday, March 2, 2017

SOS Program Updates and Continued Support for our Learning Community

Singing Valentines in the Administrative Office

I hope that you and your families were able to relax and have some fun during February break. Our 5-year-old son had his first snow tubing experience in 65 degree weather...something he's not likely to experience again soon, I'm sure...

As our superintendent Dr. Brand referenced in his letter to parents and guardians earlier in February, we are putting into place some additional, preventative measures in the area of mental health for our students. As you may already know, we currently offer a health & wellness curriculum through our Physical Education department, SOS screening for all 9th graders, grade level counseling groups that focus on wellness, and trainings for staff regarding mental health, wellness, and learning. We have also done presentations on depression and suicide this year, including how to ask for help and access resources, for all students in grades 10-12.

In the course of the next month or so, we will screen our 9th and 12th graders based on the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program, a school-based suicide prevention curriculum and screening tool. Our 9th graders are screened annually; we are now adding 12th graders to be screened as well.  It is important that you read carefully the relevant items below if you are a parent of a 9th and/or 12th grader in order to provide the correct opt-in information for your child's participation in this program.

If you are a parent/guardian of a 12th grader, please click HERE for information about the upcoming Signs of Suicide (SOS) Booster program and screening, and click HERE for the permission form.

If you are a parent/guardian of a 9th grader, please click HERE for information about the upcoming Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and screening, and click HERE for the permission form.

Thank you in advance for your continued partnership in supporting our students' health and wellbeing. I hope you will consider attending the parent/guardian information session on March 16th at 7pm in the ABRHS auditorium to preview the SOS program.

Upon returning from the vacation week, I sent the following message to my staff. I wanted to share it with you as well:
You may have seen that Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester issued a statement in support of transgender students on February 23rd that reads, in part: I would like to affirm for you that Massachusetts remains dedicated to protecting the rights of transgender students even in light of recent federal actions. No one should be discriminated against based on their gender identity, and under existing state statute and regulations, protections for students and families will remain in place in the Commonwealth.

At ABRHS, we, too, affirm the rights and protections of our LGBTQ community, including our transgender students.  As challenging as this time is in many ways, it also offers us the opportunity to return to our core values as a school and district and be explicit in our support for all within our learning community.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Chinese New Year Celebration and High School Professional Learning Update

Students perform during ABRHS's Chinese New Year celebration on February 3rd

Thank you to our World Language department leader Sinikka Savukoski, teacher Amy Li, and our students for their planning and participation in our Chinese New Year celebration that included an exchange with Datong No. 1 School and culminated with a performance of traditional and modern music, opera, and dance.

High School Professional Learning Update
I have a few updates to share with you about our ongoing work at the high school that supports our Challenge Success partnership. The work focuses on two areas: instruction, assessment and workload (IAW); and the high school schedule change process.

Instruction, Assessment, and Workload (IAW)
If you are interested in learning about our Instruction, Assessment, and Workload (IAW) work during our Thursday, February 2nd Professional Learning early release day, please click here.  I have included the articles we read as a faculty as well as a summary of the work we did together and our goals for this year. We will continue this work at our April faculty meeting and throughout spring department meetings.

High School Schedule Change Process
We have made some changes to the high school schedule change process to allow for flexibility given the events of this year and our need to take care of staff, students, and families along the way. For an updated timeline, please click here. You will see that we are still planning to survey students, parents & guardians as well as to hold focus groups to hear feedback about potential high school schedule models. 

February "Expanding our Notion of Success" Newsletter
Our district's Expanding our Notion of Success newsletter for February focuses on student engagement. The Glossary of Ed Reform defines student engagement as the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.

Ten years ago, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) embarked upon research to understand the answers to two questions: What Do Students Want (and What Really Motivates Them)?

They found the responses centered on the following four goals:
·       Success (the need for mastery),
·       Curiosity (the need for understanding),
·       Originality (the need for self-expression),
·       Relationships (the need for involvement with others).

Please take a few moments to learn more about student engagement, including student data from our 2016 Challenge Success survey, through this month's Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter.  

Stay warm and safe tomorrow in the snow~

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Importance of Being "Known"

I shared the following thoughts with my staff this morning. I wanted to share them with all of you as well.

I am keenly mindful, as I’m sure many of you are as well, that the events in our country and around the world may be impacting families, students, and staff members in our district. I’ve had some good conversations with several of you recently about the challenge of remaining politically neutral in a school setting while being able to advocate and support those among us who may be feeling targeted for a variety of reasons in the current climate.

We do not wear buttons, march, or carry signs in school, nor do I believe that we should. Our role is not to further polarize. However, we work in a diverse school community where right now some of our students who do not speak English at home may feel vulnerable, students with family members abroad may be worried that they will not be able to come home, and some students may feel that they, or their families, do not have voice in our country right now. Regardless of political affiliation, our job is to make sure that all of our students and staff members feel respected, welcomed, and known here. What we do everyday in our micro-level interactions with students makes the greatest impact as to whether or not they feel valued and safe.

I had the privilege of joining a social studies class on Inauguration Day and listening to our students talk about the speeches and the issues, and I was so impressed with their ability to listen, disagree, and learn from each other in the face of some deep divides.

Regardless of the divides in our community and in our country, I am asking you to please make a special effort in the coming weeks to really see your students and connect with them. I believe so strongly that the sense of community we create within our school does make a difference outside of our walls.

Thank you for your continued partnership,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Glimpse into Midyear Week

Peer Leaders and Principal's Advisory Students provided a surprise ice cream social during midyears today

We are halfway through midyear week, and as I've talked with students over the past two days, they have shared that the pace of the week feels calm and manageable overall. As you know, this is our second year of providing a "pause" in the school year with a midyear week, and we have incorporated feedback from students, parents/guardians, and staff to try and make this week as balanced and productive as possible for everyone.

What I like most about this week is seeing students having downtime together between assessment periods. They are able to use the fitness center, both upper and lower gyms, and several study spaces throughout the building. Given our focus on wellness, it is great to see them taking advantage of the time and opportunities to relax and have fun together during the day.

As promised, we will be asking students for their feedback about the two-week pilot assessment calendar, as well as how the midyear week feels to them overall.

Thank you all for your flexibility yesterday with the weather-related late start. I know lots of students were happy to sleep in!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Community Service Recognition and Family Learning Opportunities

Students representing Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) present their annual grants

We recognized 763 students this past Wednesday evening for their service of at least 25 hours to our community during 2016. It is always one my favorite events of the year, as it is done in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and represents students giving of their time to individuals and organizations that are meaningful to them. Thank you to staff members Melissa Dempsey, Kay Steeves, Shannon Dandridge, Glenn Manning, and all who contributed to make it a successful event.

YIP advisory Sara Clinton and students presenting this year's grant awards

Three upcoming ABRSD Family Learning Series events may be of interest to you:

January 25, 2017: Pamela Katz Ressler on Mindfulness
Audience: Grades PK-12
RJ Grey Auditorium

Please take a few moments to check out the ABRSD's January Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter, which focuses on mindfulness.  ​Author Patricia Jennings defines mindfulness as "attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance."   

This month’s newsletter contains a variety of resources about mindfulness: how it appears in our schools, video resources, apps, books, and more.  We hope that you will find some of these useful.

February 6, 2017:  Dr. Josephine Kim
Let's Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child
Audience: Grades PK-12 and students grades 6-12
ABRHS Auditorium

February 13, 2017: Chris Herren
Rebound: The Chris Herren Story
Audience: Grades 6-12 and students ages 13 and up
Location: ABRHS Auditorium
If you haven’t had the chance, I encourage you to spend some time on our district's AB Wellness website, created by Assistant Superintendents Dr. Dawn Bentley and Deborah Bookis to learn about our efforts to support our long-range strategic plan, which focuses on wellness, equity, and engagement. This positive, proactive approach to social and emotional learning and wellness will continue to be our district's focus.

In continuing support of our high school students, our counselors and psychologists have now visited all 10th and 11th grade classes to share a presentation and discussion about depression, suicide, and how to ask for help on behalf of themselves or on behalf of friends about whom they have concerns. The therapy dogs are with us at least once each month, and we will be offering our students a variety of wellness-oriented activities during Midyear Week. Beginning this month, our extended Advisory lessons are focused on community building, anti-bullying, building empathy, and mindfulness. 

Our high school staff continues to keep in their thoughts the staff members, students, and families who have been most impacted by the death of an elementary school student last weekend. I met with my Principal's Advisory seniors on Tuesday, and I was heartened by the care, concern, and perspective they held for others during this difficult time. We talked about the influence of social media during times like this, and they made me very proud with their clear and firm stance that negative, critical messages are not helpful as we work to support each other within our school community. Their positive leadership continues to inspire.

I hope you are enjoying the long weekend~

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Year of Change for Good

Faculty and student "Festive Music Flash Mob" 2016

I hope that you've all had a relaxing, peaceful, and fun vacation week. Our week leading up to the break had some lovely moments with staff and students, culminating in our annual "Festive Music Flash Mob," organized by English teacher Sara Mann. Staff and students play instruments (Mr. Csorba on saxophone!) and sing as students enter through the main entrance. It was a great way to end the week.

As we look ahead to 2017, we remain committed to the three areas highlighted in our commitment to Challenge Success in a high achieving high school: School Schedule, Homework and Workload, and Family Engagement/Communication. I'd like to update you on our School Schedule process here.

We began to focus our thinking about our school day schedule approximately a year and half ago as part of our professional learning work related to student wellness and learning. While our current schedule has some positive aspects, it also requires many transitions, dictates that our students have homework in every class most nights, and does not allow for collaborative planning time for staff.

Our plan was to begin a collaborative process to a new schedule this past October, but we needed to shift our focus to our student and community wellbeing at that time. Beginning this month, we will engage in a comprehensive process to transition to a new high school schedule with the goal of a fall 2018 start date. Changing a school schedule can be an emotionally-charged issue for many people. Some love our current schedule and don't want it to change. Any change to a school schedule requires compromise. Teachers will be afforded time and support in the 2017-2018 school year to work on shifts in curriculum and planning in advance of a new schedule. We will prepare our students and families with what to expect as well.

Throughout the process, we will remain mindful of the many opinions out there. Ultimately, the decision about a schedule change will be made by our high school leadership team (LT), which consists of our five administrators and our department leaders, in conjunction with our district's central office leadership team. We will keep the best interests of our students at the center of this process.

I am sharing a draft of our timeline for this process (click here), and you will see that we plan to include focus groups and feedback from students and parents/guardians as we look at potential schedule models. I hope that you will consider participating in this process.

Like many people, I was grateful to see the calendar shift to a new year. Regardless of the challenges that 2016 may have brought us, I am hopeful for what will be in 2017. Our staff is engaging in difficult, important conversations about what it means to teach and learn in a healthy way on behalf of our students. We continue to focus on the relationship between assessment practices and homework load, and I believe that we will be able to make shifts to our practice that will improve engagement, wellness, and balance for all, staff and students alike. We will also continue our efforts to educate our students about depression, mental illness, and how to ask for help for themselves and on behalf of others.

Our country remains divided post-election, and schools are often a microcosm of larger society. Please know that our students' intellectual, physical, and emotional safety remain priorities for us, particularly as we approach the inauguration ceremony. We know that if our students don't feel safe, they can't learn. It has been particularly tricky for some during this election season to remain neutral in a school setting when respect for individuals and groups has at times been in question. My message to staff will continue to be that we do our best to honor the diverse beliefs, perspectives, and experiences of those in our school community while making respect for self and others the core of our work together.

I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days in Disney World with my son over the break to meet family there. While I am typically an awful photographer, both in front of and behind the camera (I'll never be known as the "selfie queen," for sure), I was able to capture this moment:

I hope for many moments of joy, for all of us, this year~