Block Island School looks to the mainland
Superintendent Robert Hicks turned the attention of the Block Island School Committee once again to the future.
This year, the board has already agreed to expand the use of technology to create a curriculum of blended learning in the classroom, and now at the most recent meeting on May 19, Hicks introduced another idea to promote growth at the island school.
“As we have been looking into possible futures of the school, there is one vision that’s [repeatedly] come up, and that is to draw people [students] from the mainland here,” Hicks said.
Hicks asked the members of the board, “Can we run a program here to draw in pupils from other places?” Some discussions during the past year have centered on projections that student numbers will decline in the coming decade. This year the school has 120 students, with a graduating class of seven. This is up from a total of 112 students last year.
Among the people Hicks drew upon for discussion were fourth grade teacher Judy Durden, high school English teacher Maureen Flaherty, special education teacher Kate Mello and retired technical education teacher John Warfel. Hicks said he wanted the board to weigh in on the idea, as well.
“We’re so isolated. How can we bring people here?” Board member Pat Doyle asked.
“Some schools do send students to an island for a week-long program,” Hicks said. He added that the island school has sent students off to Mystic, Conn., to spend time on sailing vessels, and noted the ferry continued to bring boatloads of bird-watchers to the island.
Doyle was reminded of a program known as “Nature’s Classroom” in the Connecticut school system in which students spend a week studying about and living with nature.
School Board Chair Bill Padien said for many years “the Maritime Institute has tried to get our students involved in its programs.” Warfel, who was in the audience, said, “The important thing is to try a pilot program and then fine-tune it.”
Parent Molly O’Neill reminded the group that The Nature Conservancy had a similar program, adding, “And they’ve been trying to pull our kids into it.” While agreeing the program ideas were interesting, board member Elizabeth Connor said, “There’s certainly nothing in our budget for something like this.”
O’Neill suggested taking funds from an ongoing enrichment program. However, Connor objected to taking “money from an existing program.”
Another parent, Wendy Crawford, recommended expanding the opportunity begun by André Boudreau several years ago called “Drama 911.” She said it could grow with the introduction of photography, filmmaking and musical performance.
Crawford thought a program might be developed in which the island students could make their own films, perhaps on a subject such as solar energy.
The inspiration for filmmaking came, she said, from a program at the University of Rhode Island, to which Boudreau had recently taken a group of island students. Teams of students each created a one-minute film. Clearly elated by the students’ experiences, Crawford said, “It’s unbelievable the connections we’ve made.”
After much lively discussion, Hicks and Padien agreed the subject was one worthy of “an island-wide discussion.” Doyle added, “I like the idea of involving the community in discovering what we can offer or do.”
Hicks suggested that if interest carried on into the fall, another group could get together “to see what might develop.”
Summer reading programs
As part of a presentation on academic programs beyond the school year, Co-principal Kristine Monje explained that it was the policy of the school to use the building during summers for remediation and tutorials. “Our philosophy is to keep our kids in the educational mix,” Monje said, including those students “at risk.”
Students with Individual Educational Plans (IEP’s) are eligible for the program, as are those who have low scores on NECAP tests and those who’ve been recommended by their teachers. Currently, she said, “We have a rough count of 15 to 20.”
She used a smart screen to help explain another program offered by the island school —a summer reading program — which is voluntary but advocated by teachers. Monje said students would go home with a packet containing a book list and project ideas.
Monje also demonstrated an online program called “Live Binder” that the school was using to help students and teaching staff create their own on-line binders, a process for organizing and categorizing material. As applied to the reading program, she said the site offered reading lists, a reading log and ideas for projects.
There will be programs suitable “for every discipline,” for students at both elementary and high school levels. “We’re hoping it will help students through the use of games and other activities and be an added resource for the summer,” Monje said.
Anticipating they will complete work on the project by the end of the school year, Monje said, “It’s our own way to spice up our summer reading program.”
Teachers’ contract reached
Hicks announced after a brief executive session at the start of the meeting that the administration had reached an agreement with the New Shoreham Teachers’ Association for “a new two-year contract, with salaries set at a state mean.” He particularly noted that negotiations had been amicable and said, “We’ve had a wonderful working relationship with the teachers and want to compliment them.”
Addressing the school board, Block Island Health Services Executive Director Barbara Baldwin noted the medical center wanted to continue its practice of providing dental screening and follow-up care to students at the island school, both of which are mandatory programs. The cost is $7,500 per year.
She reminded the committee that the center could not pay for dental care other than for those who could not afford it. She said in 2012, the center saw 26 patients and in 2013 saw 22. The board voted to continue the contract with the medical center.
Hicks explained that there was “a problem with the dust collector for the shop; it surpasses noise ordinances.” With that noise affecting neighbors, Hicks said, “We’ve been measuring at people’s houses, looking for noise abatement solutions.” He added that a manufacturer’s representative would come out “to look into modifying the equipment.” Hicks was hopeful that there would be a solution before the next school year.
Connor announced she would be going into classrooms to introduce the Junior Achievement program to youngsters at the BIS. Hicks noted the organization had approached the school and Monje said, “Interestingly, lately I’ve been asked by parents about what we’re doing to help students [understand] financing and the handling of money.”
Hicks announced that two students had won this year’s fire poster contest: first grader Tim Connor, who won a $300 first prize and a trophy; and sixth grader Allison Pineda, who won a $200 second prize and a trophy. An award luncheon was held for students, their teachers and families on May 28 at the Providence Marriott Hotel.
Two other students won recognition and citations for their poetry on the theme of the Holocaust seen through the eyes of a child. Prize winners are seventh graders Maya Veldman-Wilson, who took first place and Mac Brown with third place. The awards were sponsored by the Holocaust Education and Resource Center of Rhode Island as part of their Art and Writing contest for 2014.