Two weeks ago, we sent a large group of elementary teachers to a conferring workshop to assist our teachers in improving their ability to hold focused learning conferences with students and their work. (This all fits into our "workshop” model.) Some of you may have heard that Dr. Karch and I decided that subbing in a class would allow us to put some "skin in the game" as well as for us to cut down on the number of subs required for the day. We insisted, to each of our “assigned” grade 4 teachers, that we would run the day as scheduled and that we would teach reading, writing and math workshop lessons as planned. Whatever was in the queue, we would carry it out. There were many takeaways for us including, and most importantly, how hard our elementary colleagues are working to improve their skill with this new workshop pedagogy. It was ever so clear to us that the many hours that we both spent preparing for one day of teaching was nothing compared to what our teachers do each day of the week.
In addition, I happened to have a student in my class with a severe behavioral issue, so that made my day even more special. By the time I finished cleaning up and writing my requisite note to Johnna Cunningham, it was nearly 4:30 PM. As a veteran teacher said to me on the way out of school..."Philip, now we go home and plan for tomorrow." OUCH!
Dr. Karch and I have reflected on the experience and still talk about the day. (I continue to perseverate on how BAD my math workshop lesson went.) We have decided to do this again for two primary teachers at Valley View next month. (Yes, that’s even scarier.) We are grateful for the true professionalism of our elementary teachers and thrilled that they have embraced their own new learning with passion.
School, Based Behavioral Health Clinic
Two years ago, I announced that Portland Secondary Schools would be pursuing a school-based behavioral health clinic at the secondary school (7-12) in cooperation with Community Health Center in Middletown. After a year of planning, the secondary school launched the program in late August with a full-time clinician. We are now one of 50 schools in Connecticut providing crisis intervention, as well as individual, family, and group counseling services.
Our Behavioral Health Clinician, Mrs. Lauren Annino, is an integral part of a 7-12 multidisciplinary team of student service professionals including a School Psychologist, School Social Worker, two Nurses, and 3 School Counselors. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and came to Portland with outstanding experience working with adolescents and families.
Mrs. Annino is currently meeting the counseling needs of 21 youth and their families and is still accepting referrals. Referrals are made for various adolescent adjustment issues that require a more intense therapeutic intervention. We know that when adolescents experience emotional difficulties it can significantly affect school performance and interfere with learning. Therefore increasing our capacity to work with community agencies remains so vital and is the reason we are so pleased with this initial project.
With that in mind, we are weeks away from establishing a second behavioral health clinician who will be housed at Brownstone Intermediate and who will be servicing students in each of the three elementary schools. In addition, if the behavioral health needs of our student population continue to grow at the secondary school, we will add an additional counselor in the future. For more information, contact a school principal, school nurse, or school counselor or call (860) 347-6971 ext.3796.
This week, our literacy coach, Najla Staggers, has started her work in the district to support the reading workshop initiative. Our goal in adopting the reading workshop model is to establish a teaching method in which students learn strategies for reading and comprehension. The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all their students. Reading Workshop helps to foster a love of reading and gives students opportunities to practice reading strategies independently and with guidance. This workshop model is similar to the writing workshop model, which Portland Schools adopted last year.
To ensure a balanced literacy approach, our Valley View teachers have also implemented Fundations, which is based on the Wilson Reading System. Fundations will provide our students with a systematic program in the foundational skills for reading and spelling. The content emphasizes phonemic awareness, phonics-word study, high-frequency word study, fluency, vocabulary, handwriting, and spelling. Our Valley View teachers will receive training on Fundations at our professional learning day this upcoming Tuesday.
While our instructional shifts in reading are in the infancy stage, we will be gathering data to assess the growth of the students and the progress they are making in the area of literacy.