Tag Archive | "pierson middle school"

Sag Harbor’s Eighth Graders Host Book Drive to Aid Middle School Affected by Hurricane Katrina

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Students in Christine Farrell's eighth grade English class at Pierson with books they're donating to Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, which lost all its supplies due to flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Christine Farrell.

Students in Christine Farrell’s eighth grade English class at Pierson with books they’re donating to Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, which lost all its supplies due to flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy Christine Farrell.

By Tessa Raebeck

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it looked like the flooded Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, would close its doors forever. Nine years later, the school has a brand new building, but its desks, bookshelves and supply cabinets remain empty.

Sag Harbor students are determined to help fill those shelves. Eighth graders in Christine Farrell’s English classes at Pierson Middle School are collecting books to send down to Kenner, a small city in the New Orleans suburbs.

“They are very happy to pay it forward,” Ms. Farrell said of her students, who have plastered posters around Pierson’s halls asking classmates for donations.

Superintendent Katy Graves connected the middle schools after hearing from a former student of hers, Katy Clayton. Ms. Clayton began teaching at Roosevelt Middle School this year, with six classes, including eighth grade English.

“She started the year with no paper for the copy machine, no books,” Ms. Graves explained. “Literally, the school was gutted. They built the school where the flood had come in, but they had no resources at all.”

Ms. Graves quickly got on the phone with John Olson, the principal at Roosevelt Middle School. Mr. Olson had worked in some of the highest performing schools in the south, but, rather than pursuing a lucrative interim job, after retirement he decided to return to work in his hometown. His hometown needed his experience: Before its doors opened for classes this fall, the middle school was already in the red, with no money for such basic supplies as pens and paper.

Ms. Katy Clayton and her eighth grade English Language Arts students at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana.

Ms. Katy Clayton and her eighth grade English Language Arts students at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana.

“They have a brand new building and it’s all pretty, but they have literally next to nothing for the classroom, they don’t have even white Xerox paper,” explained Ms. Farrell.

“The kids,” she said of her eighth grade students in Sag Harbor, “ have an abundance of books and typically for eighth grade, I ask them to read independent books on their own and usually they read it once and then nothing happens—it gets lost under their beds.”

The eighth grade ran a “very successful” book drive for the Little Flower School in Shoreham several years ago, so Ms. Farrell said she knows “Pierson will definitely come through with this.”

Although the focus is on the eighth grade at Roosevelt Middle School, Sag Harbor students have been collecting non-fiction, fiction and picture books for all students in the school, which has students in grades six through eight. “They need really everything,” said Ms. Farrell.

The drive has only been running about three weeks, but Pierson students have seen ample donations from parents and community members since word got out.

Eighth grade students bringing donated books into Pierson. Photo courtesy Christine Farrell.

Eighth grade students bringing donated books into Pierson. Courtesy Christine Farrell.

“We have all this stuff collecting in our house,” Ms. Farrell said, “but you don’t want to throw it out, it’s a book.” Families who may have overdone it on the school supplies shopping this fall can bring any extra items to the school. “Whatever they’re not using can be donated,” she said. They are still working out the logistics of how to transport boxes of heavy books to Louisiana.

Although Pierson students are starting with the book drive, they hope to continue working to support the southern school in various ways throughout the year.

“We want these kids to develop; we’re really working hard on character and empathy and thoughtfulness and really reaching outside yourself,” said Ms. Graves, adding, “I’m so proud of them.”

Ms. Farrell hopes to connect her eighth graders with their southern counterparts more directly by establishing literary pen pals; students would write letters to each other based on the books they’re reading in class.

When Ms. Carlson, the teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, accepted Pierson’s offer to help, Ms. Graves gave her one condition: The Yale graduate will be coming to Sag Harbor to speak with students about getting into a top school from a small town later in the year—and she’ll likely be returning south with plenty of boxes.

If you’d like to donate books or school supplies to the Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, please drop items off at the main office at Pierson Middle/High School, with an attention to detail for Christine Farrell.

Pierson Middle School Student Calls on Classmates to Stick Up for Others in Anti-Bullying Film

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By Tessa Raebeck 

Bullying has come to the forefront of the national dialogue in recent years, but it’s always been a constant among seventh graders.

“We really wanted to take a stand against bullying,” said Olivia Corish, a seventh grader at Pierson Middle School, whose latest short film, “A Cry for Help,” has made waves as a statement against both being a bully and being a bystander.

Through the film, which was shot entirely on her iPhone and edited using Final Cut Pro, Olivia called on her classmates to be “upstanders,” or someone who “steps in and says you’ve gotta stop,” she said Tuesday.

In the film, shot at Pierson, a young girl played by Anna Schiavoni, Olivia’s best friend and go-to lead actor, traverses the school day as best she can, but is frequently intercepted by a herd of bullies as she navigates the halls.

Playing the “victim,” Anna’s character struggles when she has a sign saying “Loser” taped to her back, is not picked for a sports team in gym class and is first forgotten and later ridiculed when another girl is passing out invitations to her party. As she tries to get through the day, the victim is laughed at, pushed or completely isolated. Even taking a sip of water is dangerous, as a passerby shoves her head into the fountain.

Shot in black and white, the YouTube film is reminiscent of the silent films of the 1920s. There is no dialogue, only sad music, “I’m in Here” by Sia Furler and Sam Dixon.

In one scene, the victim is putting on lip gloss in the bathroom at Pierson as one of the bullies looks on. A dialogue frame pops onto the screen with words said by the bully, “Why are you wearing lip gloss? It’s not going to make you look any prettier.”

The decision to keep the film silent was in part logistical, as play practice was going on at Pierson while the film was shot, and audio “can be really hard,” Olivia said, but it was also symbolic.

“We also thought that our video shouldn’t be dominated by words. It’s kind of the small things that hurt,” Olivia said. “It’s the silent things—like maybe someone just bumping into you or laughing behind your back—and we thought that that really didn’t need any words to describe it.”

The turning point in the film comes when the lip gloss bully is confronted by the “hero,” played by Gabriella Knab, who serves as the story’s upstander.

The inspiration for the hero upstander came from a tolerance and anti-bullying conference Olivia and other Pierson students attended at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove.

Every year, the center invites student leaders from across Long Island to participate in the half-day conference, at which they hear from a keynote speaker, then break into small groups to exchange ideas and action plans of how to combat bullying and prejudice in their schools.

“We try to be [upstanders],” Anna said Tuesday.

“As much as possible,” added Olivia.

“A Cry for Help” premiered May 10 at the inaugural Young Filmmakers’ Festival at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. In the weeks since, it has received 135 views on YouTube and has been widely shared by Sag Harbor parents on Facebook.

Anna and Olivia, however, are more concerned with the tangible response to the film’s message they have seen in school.

“They have really loved it,” Olivia said of her classmates. “I think it really inspired a lot of them to take a stand against the small bullying that happens.”

Anna said she too has been inspired by her role as the victim in the film.

After a school year of watching a certain bully in her class pick on another student, stealing his food and being generally unpleasant, she decided to step in. Anna asked the victim whether he enjoys having his food stolen, to which he replied no (perhaps unsurprisingly).

“He was like, ‘No, not really, but I think it’s just one of those things that you let happen,’” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘No. You’re not supposed to let that happen.’”

During the class period in which his food is traditionally stolen, the day Anna spoke up, the boy instead reportedly said to his bully, “Actually, I think I want to eat my food today.”

As of Tuesday, the bully was no longer asking him for food.

“And now it stops, like in my film,” Olivia said of her friend’s story. “Just like that.”

 

FILM URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An_ZDfsr_pg

Pierson Middle School Student Earns First Chair in State Honor Band

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Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

Pierson Middle School student Thomas Brooks poses with his award certificate and saxophone at the New York State Honor Band recital in March. Photo courtesy of Austin Remson.

By Tessa Raebeck

At the beginning of each band class, Austin Remson has a dilemma. Does he tell Thomas Brooks—who is, without fail, playing music from memory on the piano—to stop playing and get to his seat, or does he let him play a little longer?

Mr. Remson, director of the seventh and eighth grade band at Pierson Middle School, has to tell Mr. Brooks to take his seat so the class can begin, but his reluctant strictness has paid off. Earlier this month, Thomas earned first chair for alto saxophone in the New York State Honor Band for middle school students.

Sponsored by the New York State Band Directors Association, the award is “a big honor,” according to Mr. Remson. “He made our school very proud.”

Students have to achieve a certain level on New York State School Music Association evaluations and earn a certain grade in music class in order to be considered. If they meet the criteria, the music teacher recommends the student and a committee of music teachers from around the state selects the best students, about 65 in total from grades six through eight who are then inducted into the Honor Band.

“He received a perfect score at NYSSMA,” Mr. Remson said of Thomas, “so that put him in qualification to be recommended for the honor band. Along with this NYSSMA score, they want to know what his extracurriculars are, whatever music things he does and how he performs in the class—and everything was very high achieving.”

Upon arriving at the symposium, held from March 7 to 9 in Syracuse, Thomas auditioned for his seat, achieving first chair. After rehearsing for two full days for seven hours straight, the honored students performed a concert.

Thomas’s music career started five years ago, when he was in third grade, with private piano lessons with Sue Daniels.

After asking to play drums but having to settle for his second choice, the saxophone, because the drum section at the Sag Harbor Elementary School was already full, Thomas could have been disappointed, but instead he was hooked.

“It just happened to be that way,” he said of how he came to play the instrument, “and then I liked it.”

“It’s just a really fun instrument. I like the sounds. I like the way our band sounds when we play a really good song. And I don’t know, it’s just lots of fun,” he added.

Thomas also plays baseball, basketball and soccer competitively and works as a camp counselor at Future Stars at SYS, but music is his true passion.

“I like to listen to all sorts,” he said. “I mean, anything that sounds nice I’ll listen to. I like playing it just as much as listening to it. On iTunes, there’s anything you can listen to, so I listen to anything.”

Thomas likes to buy songs on iTunes, listen to them and then figure out how to play the song on the piano.

“I’ll kind of just think about it and then I’ll try to play it,” said Thomas, who is now in his second year of Mr. Remson’s seventh and eighth grade ensemble.

“He has a very good ear for music,” said Mr. Remson. “He just loves music, I can see it. And as someone who loves music also, I see a lot of myself in some of my students that really love music and it’s great.”

“He’s got a real natural talent and he’s very receptive if I give him a direction in how to play something,” he added. “Two years ago, when he came into the ensemble, he had difficulty articulating the notes. Within a week, he was perfect… He just excelled and excelled and excelled.”

Besides his natural talent, Mr. Remson said, Thomas excels due to his hard work and devotion to constantly improving. NYSSMA evaluates students on levels 1 through 6 and Thomas is already preparing to perform at level 5—despite not yet being in high school.

“I did level 1 in fourth grade and then I just went on,” he said.

At NYSSMA, students prepare a piece at their respective level to perform in front of a judge. They are graded on different criteria—tone quality, intonation, musicality, rhythm—and if they do well enough they can be invited to play in honor ensembles.

Thomas was accepted into the select ensembles for the Hamptons Music Educators Association and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association, but could not attend because he was performing in the state honor band the same weekend.

If Thomas has an upcoming event, such as the state band, he practices about 14 hours a week. If he doesn’t have anything on the horizon, he still dedicates at least six hours a week to practicing.

Thomas is the first Pierson Middle School student to be named to the State Honor Band, let alone achieve a first chair position.

“It’s going to be much more difficult to get into these kinds of things because I’ll be the youngest one [in the high school division] as a freshman,” Thomas said. “But, I’ll still try for HMEA and maybe I could get into the high school honor band…it’ll be hard, I have to work on my NYSSMA solos.”

Of the honor he’s already earned, Thomas said, “I guess it looks good on a college application.”

Thomas’s future plans are up in the air. “I could do that community band in Sag Harbor,” he said.

Students Express “Dream” With Umbrellas

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By Claire Walla

This year, art teacher Meg Mandell pushed the limits of what her students could achieve in the Pierson Middle School art room. She took on a project that bridged artistic endeavor with social justice — and had real-world significance.

It started with an umbrella.

Mandell and 44 of her sixth grade students participated for the first time this year in a national movement called “The Umbrella Project.”

Started in 1990 by a woman in Washington D.C. named Hilda Brown, the project disperses white umbrellas to participants across the country who are then asked to decorate the silk panels. Each year, Brown chooses a new theme. This year’s happened to be “I Have A Dream.”

In August, the umbrellas will be part of an art show in Sedona, Ariz., where they will be sold for $50. All proceeds will be donated to the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington D.C.

To prepare for the project, Mandell showed her students footage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, then asked them to jot down some ideas for how they might be able to translate those concepts into visuals.

“My idea was to have people holding hands on an umbrella that said ‘love’ all around it,” said sixth grader Aryanna Lyons. She worked together with five other students to turn this concept into an actual design.

“Everyone had really great ideas,” Lyons continued.  “It was really fun.”

Students ended up creating a variety of images, from umbrellas with individually designed panels incorporating words like “faith,” “hope” and “love,” as well as smiley faces, butterflies and rays of sun, to a more conceptual design featuring two birds, each draped across one half of the silk canopy.

“The kids really surprised me, they really rose to the occasion,” Mandell said. “I was impressed with how seriously they took it…. They knew other people were going to see their designs and they wanted to be proud.”

Mandell initially broke all students up into groups of five or six, and each group was assigned one umbrella. (In total, Mandell sent away for eight.)

“I labeled the roles for the students,” Mandell explained, saying some students colored and some drew designs, while others kept everyone on task, or became the team “go getter.” The only role Mandell hand-chose were the leaders, but other than that she said the students themselves naturally fell into comfortable positions on each team.

“It as amazing to see the different levels of skill [the kids exhibited],” she continued. “They all found a niche.”

The class also included several special education students.

“Every student had their hands in the project,” she added. “I really saw the best in the kids. They helped each other and were encouraging to one another.”

Mandell herself first heard about The Umbrella Project through her sister, Kerin Crowley, who teaches art in the Sachem School District. She said that after several years of administering the program, her students have come up with some impressive designs.

Mandell added that she’s excited to build upon what her students achieved this year, perhaps even turn it into a fundraiser for the school. (While The Umbrella Project asks for $50 per umbrella, schools and organizations are encouraged to sell the pieces of art for more money and then donate all profits.)

“Every year it’s going to get better,” Mandell added. “I will definitely be doing it again.”

Middle School Focuses On Those Three Little Words

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By Claire Walla

The P.S. I Love You campaign was started last year by a high school student in West Islip, Brooke DiPalma, whose father committed suicide in 2010. His last words to his daughter were: I love you.

According to Pierson eighth grader and student council member Sheila Mackey, DiPalma’s school banded together after the event and wore purple to express their support for her in her difficult circumstance.

“She said she walked into a sea of purple,” explained Mackey who, along with other student council members, had heard DiPalma speak earlier this year at an anti-bullying conference they attended. “And that’s what we wanted to do here.”

“And we did!” Alex Kamper, the student council president, added.

In the vein of what DiPalma began at her school, the Pierson Middle School Student Council have successfully managed to create what they refer to as an atmosphere of support at Pierson. Last Friday, the middle school student body was unified with a sea of purple clothing and individual lockers were decorated with purple post-it notes bearing those three little words.

Purple is actually the national color for abuse prevention, said Helen Atkinson-Barnes of The Retreat, a domestic violence agency on the East End. Atkinson-Barnes was on-hand during the student-led activities last Friday, but she’d also been a presence on the Pierson campus the first two weeks in February, leading talks for seventh and tenth grade students on the elements of healthy relationships on behalf of The Retreat.

Student council members first learned about P.S. I Love You this past fall when they attended an anti-bullying conference put on by the Holocaust Center in Commack. In addition to presentations by DiPalma — who made a YouTube video about her struggle, and the good that eventually came of it — students watched a video made by a teen who had been bullied and became suicidal.

As part of their P.S. I Love You campaign, the Pierson students wanted to show these videos to their classmates.

“You could see jaws drop in the audience,” said Mackey.

She went on to explain that student council members also came up with a concept of their own, called “mix-it-up at lunch,” where students sat in groups according to their birth months, rather than their peer groups. The concept, Mackey continued, was to get students to mingle and learn about classmates they’ve never really talked to before.

Her fellow councilmember Ariana Moustakas said their goal was to raise awareness about these issues and encourage students to exercise more tolerance.

“We want to use this day to influence people,” she began. “Because when everyone’s nice to each other, it makes a big difference.”

“The kids seemed a lot nicer,” Mackey added. “I definitely want to bring it up to the high school.”

Detective Makes a Visit to Pierson Middle School

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By Claire Walla


Sag Harbor Village Police Detective Jeff Proctor made his way to the Pierson Middle/High School campus last Thursday, January 2 where he proceeded to Mrs. Duff’s second-floor classroom and stood face-to-face with 16 middle school students.

He wasn’t there to make an arrest, or investigate a case; he was there to educate the students on the consequences of their actions. From graffiti and trespassing to possession of marijuana, Det. Proctor discussed the legal ramifications for such crimes. And he explained how the justice system works.

Misdemeanors (like making graffiti) are punishable by up to one year in jail, he said, while felonies (like dealing drugs) are punishable by more than one year in prison.

“And there is a difference between jail and prison,” Det. Proctor cautioned, pointing out that the Riverhead Jail holds less extreme offenders than New York State prisons do.

The students commented sporadically on Det. Proctor’s presentation, offering up definitions for key phrases, like “peer” and “consequence” when asked to do so. And, after estimating that roughly 15 percent of their class probably smokes pot, they discussed the downsides to marijuana use. (Such suggested drawbacks included: “it affects how you act,” “you can get suspended,” “it makes you feel depressed,” “memory loss,” and “it’s expensive.”)

Finally, a student in the front row pepped up and questioned the detective about the examples he had been using throughout his presentation to illustrate his points, like the circumstance he described involving kids trespassing and spray-painting an abandoned building in the village.

“Where are you getting all these examples from?” the student asked.

“Where do you think?” Det. Proctor answered right back. “It happened!”

Effort to Fight Bullying

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By Claire Walla


Vanessa Leggard began to notice her daughter’s behavior gradually changing at the end of last year, the tail end of sixth grade.

“She had a really short fuse,” Leggard explained. “And I began to notice that, for about two months, she wasn’t invited anywhere and she was by herself on the weekends.”

Leggard said it was odd because her daughter is typically very spontaneous and outgoing. After some coaxing, Leggard was able to get her daughter to talk about the issue.

That’s when she realized her daughter was being bullied at school.

Her daughter’s friends would talk in front of her in the cafeteria, but would not invite her into the conversation, Leggard explained. Or they would post a photo album on Facebook titled “my friends” but not include certain girls.

“In their world, that’s so huge,” Leggard added. When a child is bullied, she continued, “It dominates everything. And before you know it, they can’t think about anything else — they can’t do anything.”

After delving into the issue last year, Leggard reached out to about 15 middle school parents and learned that almost every one of them admitted that their child had been affected by bullying in some way. So, as she announced at a school board meeting last month, she has decided to tackle the issue in a significant way this school year.

Leggard and other parents have recently organized to urge administrators to implement more interactive anti-bullying programs in the coming school year in an effort to have students themselves better understand where the problems originate.

“I’m convinced that the kids don’t understand what bullying is,” she continued. “And that’s a problem.”

Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said bullying is often addressed by teachers and administrators as an issue of tolerance, which is a topic embedded in every teacher’s yearlong curriculum.

“I don’t even think [teachers] talk about it in the context of bullying,” he said. “Teachers confront inappropriate behavior; and there are punitive consequences, as well.”

There are “a dozen or so” incidences that get reported and dealt with each year, Dr. Gratto added, and there are a number of steps the district takes to prevent problems from occurring, including administering programs on tolerance and setting up one-on-one discussions between students and teachers and guidance counselors.

Dr. Gratto admitted it’s an issue that is typically more prevalent at the middle school level, which is why Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Beckermus is invested in developing tactics to prevent bullying. In fact, when she first came to Pierson five years ago, Beckermus said there was little in place that addressed anti-bullying tactics directly.

She has since asked three teachers each year to be “team leaders” — there to guide faculty and students on issues involving bullying — for every grade level in the middle school and has been more proactive in coaching teachers to address inappropriate social behaviors both in and out of the classroom. This year, Beckermus added she is currently in the process of developing programs on specific types of bullying, addressing issues like racism and “relational aggression,” which is mostly seen among girls.

“It’s become a little more difficult [to prevent bullying] because of the Internet and technology,” Beckermus added. “The minute students walk out of the classroom with their smartphones, it’s no longer under our control. In the past, kids could at least go home and breathe a sigh of relief.”

“I think parents really want to do something about [cyber-bullying],” she added. “But they didn’t go through it themselves, so they don’t really understand it.”

As Sag Harbor School Board President Mary Anne Miller sees it, the degree to which students at Pierson Middle School are bullied “is somewhat normal.” She clarified, “While I don’t believe bullying is normal, it’s something that’s existed for some time in society and I think [relational aggression at Pierson] is nothing out of the ordinary for kids this age.”

The real culprit when it comes down to it is technology, according to Miller.

“I don’t think parents are as engaged and aware of these technologies as they should be,” she said. “Situations will escalate in the evening and then kids come to school after these horrible incidents online … How does the school police that?”

Combating bullying largely comes down to the parents, according to Miller.

“I just feel like unsupervised electronic use is a big part of the problem,” she said.

Beckermus continued to explain that the school has held workshops for parents through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), but few parents ever show up.

“I guess there really could be more of that,” she added, referring to parent involvement. “It’s like that old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ It really does. When everyone does something [to fix a problem], that problem has to decrease.”

While Leggard believes the school should be doing more to actively make students aware of the different types of behaviors that can be considered bullying, she agrees that parents play an important role in preventing such behavior. (She added that she has even interacted with parents who have refused to address instances of bullying related to their child.)

Leggard said she recognizes that “relational aggression” is nothing new, and that bullying is a common developmental phase for some junior high school students.

“Yes, it will blow over and it’s not the end of the world,” she noted.

“I foresee issues for this seventh grade class,” Leggard told the Sag Harbor school board at a meeting last month.  ”If the school chooses not to do anything, I’m still going to do something off school grounds,” she added.  Leggard said she will continue to contact parents to address anti-bullying techniques.

While Leggard has been assured by Pierson administrators that the school has hired a new middle school guidance counselor this year, she said the school’s efforts to combat these problems remain to be seen.  She concluded, “I think kids are still confused with what bullying really is.”