Tag Archive | "education"

Sag Harbor School District Will Look Into Later Start Times

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In an effort to listen to both concerned parents and tired students, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday announced its goal to review options for a later school day start time.

As part of the board’s visions and goals for the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Katy Graves announced an ad-hoc start time committee would be created to meet with the superintendent, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and Athletic Director Donnelly McGovern, and develop multiple plans “of how we can do a later start time for the district.”

The plans are expected to be complete by November 2014, with a December 1 deadline for a report to the board, “which also puts us before our budget cycle,” Ms. Graves said.

The decision comes in light of a national discussion on moving start times for high school students later due to research that finds American students are chronically sleep-deprived and perform better behaviorally and academically when start times are moved past 8 a.m. At the end of August, the American Academy of Pediatrics joined the discussion by publishing a report recommending that all high schools start after 8:30 a.m. for students’ health, calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue.”

Research has found that humans’ circadian rhythms change during teenage years, making it close to biologically impossible, according to studies, for high school students to go to bed before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m. Doctors recommend teenagers get at least eight and a half hours of sleep, which some Pierson students and parents say is quite difficult with a start time of 7:26 a.m., which requires some students, particularly those who live farther away or take the bus to school, to wake before 6 a.m.

Although the school board appears to be standing by the science behind later start times, the district will have to contend with athletics and bus schedules in order to make the changes, which proponents say hope will be in effect for the 2015-16 school year.

At Monday’s meeting, the district also announced its intention to “develop and present a plan by June 15, 2015 to share services with other regional school districts and municipalities with a goal of showing a cost saving to the district of two percent of our tax levy,” according to Ms. Graves.

Ms. Graves said the board has already had its first shared services meeting with five school districts in the town of East Hampton and will continue to work with regional districts in order to find ways to cut costs by sharing services such as sports teams and buses.

Another goal the board hopes to tackle this school year is improving district communications, which a survey found was an area of widespread discontent among parents and students.

The board goal, Ms. Graves announced, is to “implement and improve communication strategy to become an engaged and active pathway for school and community through newsletters, work toward a current and active website, continue with emails, phone calls and videotaping [of school board meetings].”

The parties primarily responsible for implementation of that goal are the superintendent, administrators and the “Communications Director,” a position that is not yet filled. The district aims to have a report finalized by December 15, 2014.

A communications committee that met last year had announced in the spring its recommendations that the board fill the position in-house with a full-time staff member, a communications director/specialist who would be dedicated primarily to enhancing communications between teachers and the district and parents and students.

School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said similar positions in Suffolk County offer a salary of at least $46,500 in addition to health benefits, and more, adding, “There is definitely a significant cost associated with using this model.”

The Southampton School District has a “Community Relations Specialist” who is required to pass the state’s Civil Service test and is part of the district faculty.

Ms. Buscemi said an alternative to the in-house position recommended by the committee would be to use Syntax Communication, a Long Island firm that specializes in public relations for school districts, which the board used last year in a limited capacity.

Ms. Buscemi said for the standard service fee from Syntax, “you’re talking close to $90,000,” but another option “would be to go with someone part-time,” which she said would cost around $37,000.

School Board Vice President Chris Tice, who served on the communications committee, asked how much of what the committee thought was vital to improve communications “will actually get done and continue to be done consistently and well” under the less expensive Syntax package.

Board member Tommy John Schiavoni wondered how well the company would be able to integrate with the faculty and Sag Harbor community.

“I’m not ready to make any decisions on any of this until we get at least a preliminary three to five year [financial] plan,” said board member Sandi Kruel, adding that communications/technology “changes daily” and although it needs to be improved, the board needs to know “where we’re going to come up with that money.”

Ms. Tice said while they need to make a financial decision, she is concerned as to how communications can be immediately improved in the interim.

If the board is to postpone bringing a communications specialist in, she said, “then in the short term we need to figure out how to have increased attention in areas that we are failing at now.”

Bridgehampton Test Scores Fall in Wake of Common Core

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By Tessa Raebeck

Following the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards last year and the immediate alignment of student assessments to the new curriculum, Bridgehampton School saw its scores on standardized tests drop across the board.

The Common Core, which according to its philosophy, aims to enhance learning essentially by teaching students to be thinkers rather than memorizers, was largely criticized last year for its implementation, which many educators, parents and students said was haphazard and too fast.

“There’s a difference between pre-Common Core and post-Common Core,” Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre told the school board at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 24.

“By all measures that we have here our kids are growing,” she said, adding that 96 percent of Bridgehampton students met local growth targets, which are measured by where students are in September “to where we expect they will be at the end of the year.”

For English Language Arts (ELA) tests in grades 3 to 5, less than half of students scored the higher scores of a 3 or a 4 on the new state assessments. Dr. Favre said what needs to happen now is for the district “to understand better what the state tests are asking,” adding “that’s the training that the teachers are going through now.”

“This year is the first year that the state is actually releasing some questions, so we finally have an idea of what the test looks like,” Dr. Favre said.

Dr. Favre said Bridgehampton’s numbers tend to appear worse than they actually are, because the school’s small class sizes make for more extreme percentages. If two students fail in a class of eight, for example, the pass rate goes from 100 percent to 75 percent, whereas those same two students failing in a larger class would have a much less significant effect.

The superintendent said in moving forward, a primary goal of the district is to look at vocabulary development and to “change strategies we use to teach so that kids start to think in a different way.”

“I couldn’t understand why they would change standards and the test at the same time,” Dr. Favre said of the New York State Department of Education, saying she would have preferred to “watch our kids grow on the tests we’re familiar with.”

Students performed better on the math assessments, which the district had made an “area of focus,” the superintendent said.

Dr. Favre announced her intention to team up with other small schools, such as the Amagansett School District in East Hampton, so that teachers have colleagues to strategize with. Many Bridgehampton teachers are the only instructors in their subjects at their grade level and she believes they would benefit from a relationship with others experiencing the same challenges. Dr. Favre is in talks with Amagansett Superintendent Eleanor Tritt to make such an alliance happen.

Despite the poor showing on many primary tests, Bridgehampton did “beautifully” on high school exams, she said.

“That’s why I have every faith we have a great curriculum. We have great teachers, it’s just a matter of getting to know this test,” Dr. Favre said of the Common Core assessments.

In an effort to address weaknesses, the district has established data teams, groups of teachers that will meet for two hours every month to “really talk about these things” and plan curriculum alignment across the board.

Sag Harbor to Consider Later School Start Times for Sleep-Deprived Students

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Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

On weekday mornings, Grace Gawronski’s alarm goes off at 6:20 on the dot. The 12-year-old reserves about 10 to 20 minutes to drag herself out of bed, then spends another 20 to 30 minutes getting ready for school at Pierson. She gets on the bus at 7 a.m. and arrives at school between 7:10 and 7:15 to make it to class by the starting bell at 7:26.

Most days she doesn’t have time to eat breakfast or pack a lunch, and her stomach rumbles until she can buy some cafeteria food during her lunch period.

Grace, a seventh grader, is in school from 7:15 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. After school, she has two hours of field hockey practice or a game, which can involve upward of an hour of travel time to and fro. She gets home at around 5 p.m. and starts her homework, which takes her 45 minutes to two hours.

“I am tired throughout the whole day,” Grace said Tuesday. “When I get to field hockey practice I’m very tired and I really don’t feel like playing sometimes because I’ve been in school all day. But it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Her most favorite part of the day, Grace said, is after school, sports, homework and dinner, when she finally gets to return to her bed. Grace tries to get in bed before 10 p.m. so she can get eight hours of sleep, but said she needs “at least nine and a half hours of sleep to be wide awake the whole day.”

Schedules like Grace’s are prompting a discussion among parents and administrators about potentially moving Sag Harbor’s middle and high school starting times—which are some of the earliest in the country—about an hour later, to 8 or 8:30 a.m.

In addition to personal anecdotes from tired families, research into teen sleep cycles and the effects of sleep deprivation on mental and physical health, as well as on behavior, safety, and academic, athletic and extracurricular performance have prompted the Board of Education to look into ways to balance healthier starting times with already established schedules.

At its meeting on Monday, September 29, the board is expected to announce a district goal to come up with plans that would allow Sag Harbor students to sleep later.

Busing logistics, both in the morning and to after-school sports, are often cited as the key reason schools start their days around dawn and end mid-afternoon. Sag Harbor’s head bus driver Maude Stevens said in an email Wednesday that she hasn’t been “approached by anyone in the district about time changes.”

In addition to pointing to scheduling obstacles, some opponents of later times express fear that teenagers will start going to bed later and parents who need to be at work by 9 a.m. will be unable to get their kids on the bus or drop them off. Those were the concerns raised upstate last year after Glen Falls High School changed its start time from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. The school board narrowly voted to stand by the changes and in the first year, students’ grades improved, teachers said they were more alert in class and the percentage of students who were late for school dropped by nearly 30 percent.

“It can be done, because there’s a ton of school districts throughout this country that are showing us it can be done,” said Susan Lamontagne, a Sag Harbor parent who has been at the forefront of the national push for later start times for over four years. Some schools, she said, have early morning hours for families who need students dropped off earlier so parents can get to work. Research shows students with later start times aren’t going to bed any later, they are simply getting more sleep.

“It’ll be challenging,” Superintendent Katy Graves said of the potential switch, adding the board will be forming an ad-hoc committee “to look at what are all the challenges involved with the later start time and what are the pieces that we have to put in place to make a later start time happen.”

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

At previous school board meetings, Vice President Chris Tice cited the research in support of later start times and encouraged the board to look into how it could be applied in Sag Harbor. Other board members appear to be supportive while acknowledging athletics as a major obstacle to a change.

“They’re listening to the community and they’re listening to the medical community and they’re saying, ‘Let’s see if we can make this work.’” Ms. Graves said of the board.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged the scheduling difficulties in an NPR interview last September during which he voiced his support for later start times.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “I think it’s incumbent upon education leaders to not run school systems that work good for buses but that don’t work for students.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also weighed in on the issue in a publication released last month, in which doctors recommended all American middle and high schools start after 8:30 a.m.

Calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue,” the academy urged schools to aim for later times that allow students to get at least eight and a half hours of sleep a night, in order to improve physical health and reduce obesity risk, improve mental health and lower rates of depression, increase safety by limiting car crashes caused by “drowsy driving” and improve academic performance and quality of life.

Pierson senior Zoe Vatash said she usually wakes up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. “which is late compared to some of my friends.”

“Teenagers need more sleep. Telling us to ‘just go to bed earlier’ isn’t realistic and isn’t working,” she said.

During teenage years, the body’s circadian rhythm shifts some three hours backward, making it nearly biologically impossible for teenagers to go to bed earlier than 11 p.m. and awake before 8 a.m.

“Because of the shift in their circadian rhythm, asking a teenager to perform well in a classroom during the early morning is like asking him or her to fly across the country and instantly adjust to the new time zone—and then do the same thing every night, for four years,” said David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”

On Shelter Island, school starts for all students at 8 a.m. Everyone rides the same bus, with elementary students in the front and middle and high schoolers in the back.

“Shelter Island is even smaller than Sag Harbor and often travel time to games can be quite long” with added travel time on ferries, said Jean Cowen, a Sag Harbor parent who was the guidance director for the Shelter Island School District for 25 years.

The school day on Shelter Island ends at 2:30 p.m. and teachers are contractually obligated to stay in their rooms until 3 p.m. to provide extra help, which many also do voluntarily from 7:30 to 8 a.m.

Senior Liam Rothwell-Pessino, who travels to Pierson from his home in Springs, wakes up for school before 5:30 a.m. “At least in theory,” he said. “Most days I hit the snooze button a few too many times.”

If he had gone to the Springs School, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade, instead of Sag Harbor, Liam would have started school at 8:20 a.m. and gotten out at 3:10 p.m. Instead, he aims to leave home by 6:40 and get to school by 7:10 at the latest, in order to have time to stop by his locker and be in class before the 7:26 bell.

Sag Harbor parent Andrea Grover said the current schedule “negatively impacts an entire family, and I know we are not alone.” Her 12-year-old Lola wakes up at 6 a.m. to get to Pierson Middle School in time for the morning bell.

“Last year her lunch was at 10:15 a.m.; this year it’s mercifully one period later,” Ms. Grover said. “I drive her to school because it buys her an extra 30 minutes of sleep and because I don’t want her waiting for the bus on Noyac Road in the dark.”

After dropping Lola off, Ms. Grover heads home to wake up Gigi, her 9-year-old who attends the elementary school, then returns to town to drop her off by 8:35 a.m. when morning program starts.

“So from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. I am in transit between my children’s schools and my home, and then I finally head to work. I’d say we are often all sleep deprived,” said Ms. Grover, who added that out of the schools her children have attended in Texas, Pennsylvania and other towns in New York, Pierson Middle School starts the earliest. Ms. Grover said Lola tells her she is tired at least once a day.

Liam, the senior at Pierson, confirmed the condition: “Ask any high school student how they’re feeling and nine times out of 10 the response is, ‘I’m tired,’ or something along those lines. On a daily basis, I will see four middle school kids out of five holding a coffee cup walking down the hallway. That’s not even an exaggeration.”

Sag Harbor School Board Still Looking for Committee Members

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By Tessa Raebeck

Three primary goals for the 2014-15 school year were approved by the Sag Harbor Board of Education at a special meeting on Thursday, September 11.

The main goals, which encompass smaller, more specific items to be approved later, are: 1. Increase communication to become an engaged and active pathway for school and community; 2. Build, share and measure the tradition of each student achieving a successful “Sag Harbor School Experience;” and 3. Raise districtwide accountability to reinforce student and school success.

The subcommittee that helped articulate the board’s goals will reconvene this month to establish the smaller sub goals for the board to approve, which members hope will happen at the board’s next meeting on Monday, September 29.

Board liaisons and committee assignments were also approved at the meeting and administrators repeated the need for community members to come forward to also serve on committees. The district is looking for all members of the community—and especially those with related knowledge—to serve on the Athletic Committee, Communications Committee, Educational Facilities Planning Committee, Nutrition/Wellness, Health and Safety Committee and the Wall of Honor Committee. Interested candidates have been asked to send a letter of interest to District Clerk Mary Adamczyk at madamczyk@sagharborschools.org or Sag Harbor UFSD, 200 Jermain Avenue, by Monday, September 22.

Committee charters and more information are available on the district website.

Also at last Thursday’s meeting, the board approved a salary increase of $20,000 for Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis, resulting in a total salary of $122,500.

The increase, Superintendent Katy Graves said, is “because when she was brought on board for our middle school, her salary was not in the competitive range because she was new to the program, and she has truly proven herself in the last year.”

“So, we will be seeing that increase in her salary to bring it to a competitive range, so that we can secure our team and move forward,” she continued. “We feel very excited about the challenges we will be facing for our middle school and a very exciting year ahead.”

Sag Harbor Students Fare Well on Standardized Tests

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Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

 

By Tessa Raebeck

While board meetings at the start of the school year can often be tense, the mood was light and cheerful Monday, September 8, as Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves updated the Board of Education on the district’s results on state assessments.

At the educational workshop, Ms. Graves, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone compiled an extensive presentation of history, graphs and raw data on Sag Harbor students’ test performances.

“I always caution everybody that it’s only one piece of what we’re looking at,” Ms. Graves said of the data. “We take our data and we bring it to our teachers and our teachers take us that next part of the way.”

Sag Harbor fared well out of the 64 districts in Eastern Suffolk BOCES that took standardized tests in 2014.

Out of those districts for ELA, Sag Harbor’s fourth grade ranked 11th, the fifth grade ranked fourth, the seventh grade ranked third, and the eighth grade ranked fifth.

Mr. Nichols said the sciences at the high school level are all strong.

“Much like at the middle school,” he said, “we far exceed the New York State average in every discipline with the exception of mathematics, which you’ll see we’re still on par with New York State, but certainly not performing at the level as you see in other disciplines.”

He added that after two years with the Common Core, “We’re seeing some patterns in the assessment results and we’re able to allocate resources accordingly to where we’re focusing.”

In an effort to raise math achievement, the district has added math specialists at the middle school and elementary school, as well as teaching assistants who are trained in specific areas to add to “key instructional times,” Mr. Malone said.

Instructional time in math for the sixth grade has been doubled and math exposure is increasing for all middle school students, Mr. Nichols said.

Standardized testing of New York State students dates back to 1865, when Regents exams were first administered as high school entrance exams. Younger students began being tested in reading and mathematics in 1966, in writing in 1983 and in science in 1989.

The required tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and math that students take in fourth and eighth grade began in 1999. After President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2003, which expanded the federal government’s role in student testing by requiring states to develop assessments in order to receive federal school funding, all states were mandated to administer ELA and mathematics tests for all students in grades three through eight and science tests twice, once during grades three and five and another time during grades six through nine. New York State chooses to administer the science exams in grades four and eight.

At present, Sag Harbor students are given the following state-mandated tests: the New York State Alternate Assessment (only for students with severe cognitive disabilities); one speaking test and one listening, reading and writing test for English as a Second Language students; ELA tests for students in grades three through eight; mathematics tests for students in grades three through eight; a science performance test for grade four; a science performance test for grade eight; a written science test for grade four; and a written science test for grade eight.

High school students are also required to take the following Regents exams, which are in the process of being aligned with the new Common Core curriculum: Grade 11 ELA; either integrated algebra or geometry or algebra II/trigonometry; grade 10 global history and geography; grade 11 U.S. history and government; and a choice of earth science, living environment, chemistry or physics.

Testing this year starts September 29 with the alternate assessment and runs through June 24 with the last Regents exam.

Implementation of new exams is usually done slowly, but New York’s recent switch to Common Core raised protests from administrators, parents, teachers and students across the board last year due to its fast implementation.

“It was a blindside to the educational community who were used to things being implemented in a fairly strategic fashion… Most teachers and most educators didn’t have a problem with the Common Core, they had a problem with the implementation and how that felt,” Ms. Graves said.

The first administration of the Common Core Geometry Assessment will be this year. In 2017, this year’s 10th graders will be the first grade required to pass the Common Core Regents Exams with a 65 percent passing grade in order to graduate and in 2022, this year’s fifth grade students will be the first required to pass the Common Core Regents exams at “aspirational performance levels” of 75 to 80 percent.

The administrators’ presentation on the data is available online.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Graph prepared by Sag Harbor School District administrators.

Sag Harbor School District Seeking Committee Members

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Below is a letter sent by the Sag Harbor School District on Wednesday, September 10.

 

Members of the Sag Harbor Schools Family and Community Members,

The Board of Education invites you to become a member of one of the Board Committees below. Members of the community with the requisite knowledge may serve on a committee. You may review each committee’s charters by using this link. The committees are listed on the left side of the screen under “Committees.”

  • ? Athletic Committee
  • ? Communications Committee
  • Educational Facilities Planning Committee
  • Nutrition/Wellness, Health and Safety Committee
  • Wall of Honor Committee

Please send or email a letter of intent by September 22, 2014 to:

Mary Adamczyk, District Clerk, madamczyk@sagharborschools.org

Sag Harbor UFSD, 200 Jermain Avenue, Sag Harbor, NY 11963

 

Sincerely,

Theresa M. Samot

Board President

Katy Graves

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Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves.

By Tessa Raebeck

The first week in September brings drastic changes to the East End, but one of the more standard of the season’s transitions is when children head back to school. Katy Graves, who started her first school year as Superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District last week, discusses her excitement about coming to Sag Harbor and her visions for her new role in the community.

 

What is your favorite part about the beginning of the school year?

It’s just exciting, at least for me, I think that we have the greatest job in the world—we’re preparing the new generation of children, and every year, it’s a brand new crew of kindergarteners all the way through 12th graders.

 

Have you had the chance to meet many of Sag Harbor’s teachers, parents and students?

I really consider everyone—from our administrative assistants to our bus drivers to our security staff—everybody’s a teacher, and I said that to them the first day; each one of them plays a role teaching children, teaching our family. They all play a role teaching what’s best for children and helping everyone be successful here.

I feel very fortunate, because that first day and our first conversation started other conversations…and they’ve come right up and introduced themselves and are very warm and welcoming, both faculty and staff.

[The families are] so warm and welcoming…. you really feel like their children are in a really special place and this is a very special school district.

 

With the continued implementation of Common Core and the expansion of the International Baccalaureate, Sag Harbor’s academics are undergoing a lot of changes. How do you hope to support students and staff during these changes and what do you see as their respective benefits and/or disadvantages?

We’re so successful when we put our district in the context of New York State, of Nassau County, of Suffolk County and even our surrounding school districts. Sag Harbor schools are a very bright and shining place as far as our student performance and how well our students are doing. Even with the challenges of the fast implementation of the Common Core, even with the challenging curriculum of the IB, even with the burden New York State has placed on our teachers, our students have scored well above New York State averages in their performance in every single arena.

It’s only one measure, and assessment scores should never be the only way we look at our children—we look at how happy they are to come to school, how much they love their day, how much they connect with their teachers and our staff, but for one measurement, our students are really shining and that’s a nice indication that we’re moving in the right direction and we need to continue to support our students. But we also need to support our students in the arts, in the athletics, so that they love coming to school every day.

 

When we spoke in May, you were very excited about coming to another small town and tight-knit community. Has Sag Harbor met your expectations?

I was excited about coming to Sag Harbor, but I think it’s exceeded my expectations. Everyone I meet tells me their history of Sag Harbor, either that their family goes back 300 years or how they first fell in love with Sag Harbor, be it five years ago, 10 years ago, or even two decades ago. Everyone seems to have their story of their romance with Sag Harbor and it really is a romance, it’s funny. Every story seems to be so different, but so much the same about why they love this place so much.

They have so many historical references that they really want to share and they really want to talk about—and Pierson is always embedded in that. Even if they didn’t have children who went here, [they say] how important they think Pierson Hill is and how important they think the school district is as far as being a center of the community…. they want it to be successful and they think it’s very important.

In some communities, it’s just where the kids go to school, but this is absolutely a part of our culture here—Sag Harbor schools.

Local Leaders Accept Sag Harbor Express’s Ice Bucket Challenge

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County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After being issued an ALS ice bucket challenge by the Times Review, Sag Harbor Express co-publishers Kathryn and Gavin Menu and consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan boldly accepted the challenge on Thursday, August 21. View the video here.

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Mr. Thiele, who was allegedly out of town Friday, accepted the challenge in Marine Park on a beautiful morning Wednesday, August 27. Photo by Mara Certic.

While trying to hide their fear awaiting the buckets–aptly distributed by our intern, Sam Mason-Jones–the publishers challenged some local heavy-hitters: Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

At the top of Pierson Hill on Friday, August 22, Mr. Schneiderman and Ms. Graves were doused with buckets of ice water–much to the delight of their respective staffs. In the district less than a month, new School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi selflessly accepted the opportunity to dump ice on Mr. Schneiderman, while Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols soaked Ms. Graves with a smile on his face. A full video recording of that endeavor is available here.

 

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Toshi Shiga

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Toshi Shiga, at the Sag Harbor Fire Department Carnival at Havens Beach in August, is excited for Kindergarten.

Toshi Shiga, at the Sag Harbor Fire Department Carnival at Havens Beach in August, is excited for Kindergarten. Photo by EJ Shiga.

By Tessa Raebeck

A graduate of Sag Harbor’s prekindergarten program, Toshi Shiga is on the verge of entering kindergarten at Sag Harbor Elementary School on Wednesday, September 3. A lover of the Ninja Turtles, video games and girls, Toshi grew up in Sag Harbor—and some would argue that he’s still growing. He discusses his plans for the first day of school, kindergarten and looming adulthood.

 

Now that you’re going into kindergarten, you’re going to learn to read and write, meet new classmates and be in a new building. What makes you most excited about entering elementary school?

I think I’m going to get a Power Rangers backpack. Or a Ninja Turtles one and a bunch of pencils, pens and crayons to go in it. On the first day, I want to wear my skeleton shirt. I have two, but I’m going to wear the one that glows in the dark.

 

Entering grade school also means a lot of monumental life changes. Anything you’re nervous about?

Making friends. It’s kind of hard, but if I want to be friends with somebody in my class, I would have to ask them if they want to be my friend. Or say please. Maybe I would ask them to play a game with me. If it were a girl, maybe I would kiss her.

 

At the Sag Harbor Elementary School, where you’ll be starting next week, there is a green playground. Are you familiar with it? 

I love the school park because I like the slides. That’s the school I’m going to? Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous. That’s the one we always go to with my friend Antonio; I’m jealous that I’m going to that school with the big, cool playground. I’m jealous of myself.

 

What did you learn in pre-k that’s prepared you for kindergarten?

I learned about insects, tweeters [birds], swings, choo-choo horns [steam engine whistles] and how to make friends. I learned that a bully is someone who’s naughty and not nice. If you meet one, you should tell your teacher they’re being mean to you and try not to play with them.

 

Between the sciences, technology, counting, shapes and all the other things you’ve learned about, what’s your favorite thing to do at school?

Free play.

 

What do you want to learn about in kindergarten?

I want to learn how games are made and about the iPads and computers. If I could read, that would help me make and play video games, so I’m excited to learn reading. Stampy [a video game creator I admire] learned Minecraft and other games in school, so I could do that too. When I visited a class last year [during kindergarten orientation], they had a mailroom. It was a toy mailroom. You could play with the mail and that was really cool.

 

Show-and-Tell is a pivotal part of kindergarten. Have you brainstormed ideas of what you want to bring in to show your teacher and class?

I love show-and-tell. I would bring in my awesome Ninja Turtles thing I have. It’s a comic book. It’s the first comic book I ever had; I loved it.

 

Kindergarten is a big step from pre-k. It’s the first time you’ll be in a school with older kids and more classes like gym, math and science. Do you feel this is a big life transition for you?

Yeah, pre-k is for big boys, but kindergarten is for bigger boys. I’m on level five [years old] and might level up to six in kindergarten. I don’t really feel like I’m five yet—I still feel like I’m four—but when I get to kindergarten I think I’ll feel older. I used to just eat grilled cheese, noodles and white macaroni and cheesy shells for lunch, but now that I’m in kindergarten, I’m going to have a chicken sandwich for lunch. I was too young before, but now that I’m going to be a big boy in kindergarten, I’m going to have a chicken sandwich—and a freeze-pop.

Sag Harbor Teacher’s Trip to Malawi a Life-Changing Experience

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Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher Kryn Olson with students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher Kryn Olson with students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

By Tessa Raebeck

Kryn Olson left Malawi in tears. Ms. Olson, a science teacher at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, wasn’t crying because she had a bad trip. It was, in fact, quite the opposite.

“It was really amazing,” Ms. Olson, who left Sag Harbor July 17 to spend over three weeks at the Jacaranda School for Orphans, said of her experience on Tuesday, August 26.

Jacaranda, located in the village of Che Mboma, near the city of Limbe in the south of Malawi, a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa, feeds, clothes, houses and educates 412 local orphans.unnamed-2

Ms. Olson, who was a driving force in the outdoor gardening program at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, was invited by the school’s founder, Marie Da Silva, to whom she was introduced by Elena and Barbara Gibbs, to spend several weeks in Africa helping Jacaranda students and faculty expand the school’s gardening programs.

During her stay, she worked primarily on agriculture with 16 boys aged 12 to 18. By the end of her trip, she and the boys were nicknamed “The Green Team” and had become close friends. The students accompanied her to the airport when she left; they gave her cards and hand-drawn pictures and sang songs the whole bus ride there—hence the tears.

“We really got to know each other very well, because we were together five to eight hours a day,” Ms. Olson said. “And they were just such good, respectable, hardworking, inquisitive and very intelligent boys. We bonded very, very much.”

The Green Team planted five gardens during the three-week period. Before she left, some in Sag Harbor had expressed concern to Ms. Olson that American seeds would not necessarily grow successfully in African soil. In true science teacher fashion, she did a plenty of research, augmented by hope and, sure enough, the gardens flourished. Within weeks, the seeds grew to be two inches tall and were “so unbelievably successful, ridiculously successful,” said Ms. Olson, who seemed to be in a permanent state of ecstasy over her trip.

After Ms. Olson was initially taken to a Shop-Rite 25 minutes away from the school, she expressed the need to go shopping somewhere slightly more authentic to the local community, and the boys took her instead to the farmers’ market in Limbe. She saw the city market, met the vendors, and got insight into what the locals grow.

“It was a very exciting place for me to go shopping, because it’s where everybody goes that lives there… it was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” she said.

Two days before she left, Ms. Olson and her team of boys had a huge feast, in which they served meals using mature versions, purchased from the market, of the vegetables they were in the process growing.

“I cooked five chickens, we had a huge salad and I cooked potatoes and carrots, tomatoes, peas, celery, everything that I could find in the market,” she recalled.

Kryn Olson and The Green Team. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

Kryn Olson and The Green Team. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

“And afterward I said, ‘Do you understand why you have planted these vegetables now?’ ‘Cause they eat porridge every day—this was beyond crazy for them,” she continued.

They had a long conversation on the value of well-balanced meals and the boys, she said, could not devour the veggies fast enough, “it was just such a successful end-all… It was really just such a bonding time, I couldn’t have asked for a better result. There was just one good experience after another.”

The Green Team also built a greenhouse, an idea of the boys’, to enable the students to continue growing vegetables during Malawi’s long rainy season.

Ms. Da Silva wants Ms. Olson to return to Jacaranda to design vegetable plots for a pre-school she hopes to build.

Ms. Da Silva and Ms. Olson are hopeful gardening will help to change not only the students’ diet, but also their economic position, as they begin to harvest and sell the crops.

In addition to her Green Team of newly trained farmers, Ms. Olson also built relationships with some of the hundreds of other students at Jacaranda.

“Every time I would walk through the gates,” she said of the children, “they would come running to me with their arms open. Every day, you just felt like your life couldn’t have gotten any better, ’cause there was so much love and so much compassion with these children and the people that worked there… It was awesome, it was just truly, truly awesome.”

Ms. Olson said when she held the smallest of the orphans, they would immediately fall asleep in her arms “because they were so excited about getting nurtured…it was a beautiful experience.”

While volunteer opportunities in Africa are vast, Ms. Olson said what’s special about the Jacaranda Foundation, which supports the school, is that the change it’s instilling in the community is tangible.

Ms. Da Silva and the school’s executive director, Luc Deschamps, “have actually started a big chain reaction that’s going to change Malawi and that could change other communities,” she said.

In addition to the school, they have started a public library in Malawi, outreach courses to empower women through learning to read, write and take care of themselves and other initiatives.

A public school less than five miles from Jacaranda has 3,000 students.

“They have 200 per classroom, one teacher, no books, no paper, no pencils,” said Ms. Olson. “But Luc has actually started to build a library there… it’s like the change is coming, it’s growing and every single time that they do something they look, ‘What’s the next step?’”

“They think bigger than themselves,” she added, “they’re completely compassionate and have no personal agendas. This is their entire life to service this community—not only is that incredibly rare, but it’s quite venturous—it’s an incredibly poor community.”

Ms. Olson’s friends from Sag Harbor, Suzanne Shaw and her daughter Winter, met her in Malawi and she expects many more friends will join her when she returns, which she said will be “as soon as I can.”

Several students and parents have already reached out to Ms. Olson in hopes of joining her next summer.

“I would definitely consider something like this,” she said, “because it’s a wonderful thing to be able to see life at the purest of places. Relationships were just really honest and pure, there’s just a lot less stuff, so there wasn’t any other conversation. It was just magical, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

To donate supplies or money to the Jacaranda School, contact Kryn Olson at kolson@sagharborschools.org.