The Block Island Times

“School days, school days …”

By Gloria S. Redlich | Oct 01, 2013
Photo by: Shannon Cotter-Marsella Field Biologist Scott Comings poses with the Block Island School’s sixth grade class after doing some field work compiling information on animal and plant life in the sea.

“School days, school days …”

The doors have opened to a new academic year at the Block Island School and students and faculty are once again back cracking the books, or are they? In at least one case, the classroom seems to have moved out of doors.

As this visitor enters the school one bright autumn morning, she finds science teacher Shannon Cotter-Marsella and her sixth grade class just returning from “a beach study” that took place just below the Surf Hotel.

“For the last 15 years,” she says, “We’ve been going out [weekly] with [Field Biologist] Scott [Comings] to inventory animals, plants and algae.” When they return to the classroom, the students will continue compiling a class book on the classification of their specimens. This class is putting the finishing touches on a study they began in fifth grade.

Their book is filled with depictions and sketches of their discoveries, for each of which the students record the common name, the Latin name, a description, habitat, range, adaptation, an interesting fact and the dates found. The sixth grade researchers each carry a notebook of their own in which they document their findings.

NECAPs and the Common Core

Meanwhile, in her office, Co-Principal Kristine Monje is in the midst of plans for the upcoming New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests. These, she points out, will take place throughout most of October (the first through the twenty-third) in three-day modules for grades three to eight and grade 11.

Monje announces that plans are currently in the works for a parent night, to be held on September 30 at the island school, which offers “an opportunity for parents to come in and get an overview of their child’s classroom curriculum and procedures from their teacher.”

In a departure from the past, Monje distinguishes this event from the usual open house, stressing this is a program strictly for parents and guardians. Later in the fall term, she adds, “We will have a family night when families and community members can visit.”

Monje is eager to describe a student information system that was developed by the X2 Development Corporation, a leading student information system. Though X2 has been acquired by the Follett Software Company, the exciting news for the families of high school students is that they can easily access progress reports –within a two-week window — on their children’s academic development in each subject area. They simply log in to Aspen to view data on grades, schedules, attendance and discipline. “Parents can get a snapshot,” Monje says.

The Aspen Platform, as it is called, currently serves 81 school districts and more than 600,000 students within seven states.

Monje also notes she’s been trying to coordinate a plan for collecting student reports, essays and artwork to be regularly submitted to The Block Island Times for a page devoted to island school news. The project is still in the process of being developed, she says.

During the first month of the new academic year, faculty are continuing to work on developing Common Core standards for math and the English Language Arts (ELA), begun last year, Monje says. “Whereas last year the focus was on math, this year it has shifted to focus more on ELA.”

She points out that teachers have already done work in August with Common Core Curriculum trainers, who are coming back for a teacher work day in November.

Monje explains that changes in the Common Core are meant to encourage strategies for in-depth learning. “It is described,” she says, “as going a mile deep rather than a mile wide,” with emphasis on deepening understanding of a subject rather than learning a number of facts.

For math, the changes are in content, Monje says, while in English what is altered is less the content than the approach, such as strategies for close reading, development of an academic vocabulary and placing emphasis on writing argumentative and persuasive compositions.

While she acknowledges the Common Core proposes a shift in time spent on reading fiction to more on informational [non-fiction] literature, Monje says, “There’s still room for a balance of the two.”

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