Public work sessions focused on district strategic plan continue with middle school presentation


Public work sessions focused on district strategic plan continue with middle school presentation

April 22, 2022

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, Warwick Valley Central School District presented its third in a series of five public work sessions that are part of the district’s overview of its instructional program. Each work session provides details about and promotes understanding of the district’s curriculum, demonstrating the reasoning behind curriculum decisions, how they are being applied, and how they benefit students.

Work sessions are being held this year for each program level. The April 7 presentation focused on the Warwick Valley Middle School (WVMS) program. Principals and teachers presented the elementary program earlier this year, and building administration and faculty will present the Warwick Valley High School program during a work session in May.

Portrait of a Graduate
The presentation opened with a review of the district’s Portrait of a Graduate by WVMS Principal Ms. Georgianna Diopoulos. The Portrait of the Graduate includes seven essential skills, qualities, and dispositions representing the community’s aspirations for all graduating Warwick students. This person is a “collaborator, communication expert, creator/innovator, ethical and global citizen, resilient person, problem solver, and life-long learner.”
“The district and the community worked closely together to create what we now know as our Portrait of a Graduate, which lays out the qualities we believe a graduate needs to succeed in an increasingly global and interconnected society,” said Dr. David Leach, Superintendent of Schools. “To ensure that our students attain these outcomes, our teachers—at every grade level—are mindful of approaching each lesson, classroom activity, event, and mentoring opportunity with these qualities in mind. We are proud to offer curricula that present Warwick students with unique opportunities to envision and shape a future all their own and access to the resources and support that facilitate such growth.”

Well-stocked classroom libraries – including classic and current titles, in different languages, on varied topics, in all disciplines, across all four grades – are a point of pride at the middle school. There are libraries specific to world language classrooms, math classrooms, social studies, and ELA rooms.
Fifth and sixth-grade students participate in a reader’s and writer’s workshop model developed at Teachers College, Columbia University. It includes independent reading, read-aloud, shared reading, word work, and small group instruction.

In the writer’s workshop, students:

  • Learn they have stories worth telling and information worth sharing, and they can use their writing to persuade others and affect change
  • Self-select their topics, leading to independence
  • Write for extended periods, which leads to increased stamina
  • Collaborate with peers for feedback and assistance
  • Participate in mini-lessons where the teacher offers instruction on a writing strategy or technique to try.

Seventh grade ELA teacher Ms. Amanda Wright explained the benefits of word study instruction, which involves new approaches to vocabulary. She also talked about F & P benchmark assessments.

“These assessments give us incredible insight into what type of reader a student is,” she said. We can change our teaching to be more effective for each student when we know that. “

The district’s approach to math emphasizes conceptual understanding and reinforces that understanding with procedural practice. This approach is much different from the past’s multiple textbook and workbook/textbook models. The middle school program aligns with the same chief instructional resources as the elementary program, which creates an effective continuum of learning from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Our math program focuses on process over product,” said Ms. Diopoulos. “When we aligned our standards across the elementary and middle school programs five years ago, we were able to give students working textbooks, a formalized vocabulary, and effectively move students from the concrete to the abstract.”

Social Studies
WVMS Associate Principal Mr. Jared Yapkowitz discussed the middle school’s program and how it closely aligns with the high school regents program. The program, which has strong thematic links to the high school program, emphasizes map skills.
“Students in fifth grade deal with world geography, students in sixth-grade look at world civilizations, and students in seventh and eighth grade take on US history,” said Mr. Yapkowitz on the breakdown of topics within the study area.
Teachers have also incorporated constructed response questions (CRQ) into their instruction. These assessment items ask students to apply knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities to real-world, standards-driven performance tasks.

“With our science curriculum, we challenge students to learn new concepts and then how to apply them to project-based learning,” explained Ms. Diopoulos. “As with our math curriculum, we aim for process over product. We integrate three key dimensions of science learning into our curriculum – science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts – to help students develop a contextual understanding of the content of science.

Students examine scientific phenomena and how they relate across these three dimensions, giving students valuable skills to be critical thinkers and doers in real-world situations. Adopting and adhering to a new chief instructional resource has guaranteed curriculum across grade levels, and reassessment is ongoing to align the curriculum with current standards. The science curriculum continues to move towards even more experiential, hands-on learning.

Multi-Age Classroom (MAC)
The district wants its students to be able to discuss ideas, think analytically, think critically, and question the world around them. The MAC program at the middle school gets students to inquire about different things, including their own learning and their understanding. The integrated curriculum is a product of collaborative design, and classes utilize reading and writing workshops for ELA.

The program, available in grades five and six, is an extension of the elementary PIE program. MAC teachers incorporate the four PIE cornerstones into an environment wherein students are assigned a homeroom and switch classes throughout the day.

The four cornerstones are:

  • Multi-Age Classroom
  • Family Involvement
    • Creative ways to keep parents involved
  • Integrated Curriculum
  • Nature Appreciation

“Every year, the MAC program has about half fifth graders and half sixth graders, which provides a wonderful opportunity for the older students to become mentors for the younger ones,” said MAC teacher Mr. Robert Kirschke. “It can be daunting to come into the middle school for the first time, but those sixth graders provide comfort and guidance; kind of showing the fifth graders the ropes. It can take a while to get used to the type of work we do, and the older students provide a stable role model for the younger ones, and that helps them along.”

World Language
Warwick Valley is proud to offer Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese in its world language curriculum. The district’s approach to teaching world languages is to give students a contextual understanding of the language, as opposed to delivering exercises for rote learning. This top-down approach stands in contrast to the old bottom-up model, which relied heavily on listening and repeating, as well as memorization, to try and build mastery of a new language. This new approach is intercultural and interdisciplinary, and involves tasks that elicit all three modes of communication: interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive. This model encourages students to take charge of their own learning and explore their interests, with the teacher as facilitator.

Engineering classes extend across all four years of a student’s career at WVMS, and the district applies Project Lead the Way. PLTW empowers students to develop and apply in-demand, transportable skills through real-world challenges. PLTW offers pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, teaching students technical skills, problem solving, critical and creative thinking, communication, and collaboration. Teachers are provided training, resources, and the support needed to engage students in real-world learning.

“Our four years of engineering see students working in areas we never dreamed of as young people, including green architecture, automation and robotics, design and modeling, and computer science for innovation and makers,” said WVMS Associate Principal Mr. Chris Radon. “Our students have shown themselves to be true innovators, creators, and problem-solvers through their amazing work on projects like designing orthotics, and creating homes from recycled shipping containers.”

Response to Intervention
Warwick Valley applies a three-tiered support model called “Response to Intervention” (RTI) to identify and assist struggling students. Once identified, these students receive help from Academic Intervention Services Specialists (AIS). On tier one, an AIS may advise a teacher on how to handle a student’s needs within the classroom instruction. At tier two, the AIS may enter the classroom for targeted small group instruction. At tier three, the student will meet with an AIS outside of the classroom for a more specialized intervention. A team of teachers from different fields helps teachers make sure that each student is successful in the classroom.

“We have seen this process work incredibly well for many students,” said Mr. Radon. “When you support a teacher by providing the resources to identify the best way to meet a student’s needs, and then meet them, you’re hopeful for great results. We have seen students who received AIS attention in fifth and sixth grade getting ready to head off to high school as thriving eighth graders.”

Their RTI process starts with an initial consultation, then an instructional support team meeting, then the agreed-upon interventions, a follow-up meeting to see how things are going, and figuring out what to do next.

Middle School Counseling
School counseling programs play a positive role in a student’s academic development, college and career readiness, and social and emotional development. Each student in grades six through eight meets with their counselor in person. Counselors also work closely, consulting with administrators, classroom teachers, and school staff, as well as a student’s family when needed. Middle school counselors are involved with class scheduling, crisis response and intervention, peer mediation, social-emotional as well as academic support and intervention, 504s, RTI, and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, among other things.

Character Education: ROAR
They teach and show how to be a good person every day. ROAR is a positive character development program for middle school students and staff.

  • Respect
  • Outstanding Choices
  • Acceptance
  • Responsibility

Yale RULER: Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, Regulating
RULER is an evidence-based approach to understanding and expressing emotions, developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. RULER supports the entire school community in:

  • Understanding the value of emotions
  • Building the skills of emotional intelligence
  • Creating and maintaining a positive school climate

Clubs and Extracurriculars
“We are proud to provide our students with a broad range of extracurricular activities and clubs that allow them to figure out who they are and what they’re into,” said Ms. Diopoulos. “Being involved in these kinds of things gives students a better understanding of the world around them, and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated teachers who donate their time and free periods to make them happen.”

The middle school offers robust modified sports and music programs, both of which prepare students to continue on seamlessly with their athletic and artistic interests seamlessly into high school. There are special interest clubs for conservation and environmentalism, literature, writing and publishing, and running, among others. The middle school also offers class and community engagement through the National Junior Honor Society and its Student Senate. The middle school chapter of the Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition also gives students a way to be informed and involved when it comes to issues of drugs and alcohol. The group has participated in Red Ribbon Week, participated in a Youth Leadership Academy, and has led community events such as Community Forums, and a successful inaugural Trunk or Treat event this past fall.

Other Areas of Study
The presentation also included segments on Family and Consumer Science, a class where students learn important life skills, including money management and budgeting, how to find a career that suits you, and cooking and sewing. Representatives from the music department discussed the many ensembles available to musicians at all levels, as well as clubs for ukulele, guitar, and specialized string groups.

The art department talked about the growing use of technology in middle school art classes, and highlighted the cross-curricular nature of artist studies in which students engage – learning about an artist from published resources, then combining their knowledge and art skills to create in the style of the artist. The presentation also outlined how things like physical education and mindfulness are being incorporated into the middle school physical education curriculum, which aims to increase students’ physical fitness knowledge and participation.

In closing, Ms. Diopoulos presented student achievement data for ELA and math, drawn from the most recent NYS assessments over a four-year period, 2016-2019. In both content areas, Warwick Valley Middle School students ranked among the highest in Orange County, with many students exhibiting mastery of the subject matter. This collection of data includes high marks for students who have taken Algebra I and Earth Science, two high school freshman courses offered to eighth grade students at WVMS. The students also have the opportunity to take the NYS regents exams for these courses.

View all of the work session presentations and other related content as it becomes available, on the WVCSD Strategic Plan webpage.


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