January 2020 Newsletter

News from the Superintendent …

Greetings! Over the past few years, vaping has become a nationwide epidemic among teenagers and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 27.5% of high school students reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. This is up from 20.8% in 2018. Please make no mistake, vaping is on the rise, and it is not safe! Unfortunately, many students and parents are under the impression that vaping is safe as long as the product does not contain tobacco. Nothing could be further from the truth. The nicotine in vaping products is highly addictive, negatively impacts brain development, and may also increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs. Sadly, there are other vaping products advertised as “nicotine-free,” being sold to America’s youth, and these are also dangerous to your children. All e-cigarettes and vaping devices produce an inhalable aerosol. This aerosol is not harmless “water vapor” as some would believe. Vape aerosol contains heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead, cancer-causing chemicals, other tiny particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and some contain diacetyl, a chemical associated with lung disease.

To combat teen use of vaping and tobacco products in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf signed Acts 93 and 111 of 2019 into law on November 27, 2019. These new laws increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco in the Commonwealth from age 18 to age 21. More importantly, the law makes the possession, use, distribution, or sale of any vaping products or devices on school grounds, vehicles, and at school events a summary offense. Additional charges will be levied should the vaping products contain controlled substances like THC and tobacco. The Susquehanna Community School District fully supports this new law. It will prosecute every incident of vaping and/or the possession of vaping-related items, such as pods and vaping devices, to counteract this disturbing trend.

Parents and guardians, please realize that nothing about vaping is safe for your children. Talk to your children about the dangers of vaping and seek support for your child if you believe that he/she is struggling with chemical addiction. Many resources are available related to this issue at the following websites:  www.e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov; www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data; and www.health.pa.gov/topics/programs/tobacco/pages.

News from the High School Principal …

Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes a day can be the difference between passing grades and failing marks for our Jr./Sr. High students. A common misconception is that parents need to be handed off in regards to education once a student hits the 7th grade. While it is undoubtedly true that many students will start to be more independent with their studies, parents must still be involved in the education process. A daily fifteen-minute conversation with your child about their school work will pay dividends. This everyday conversation is needed to center your students and to keep them focused.

All too often, as parents, we ask questions and get little information in return. I am right there with you. How was your day? What did you learn in school today? These questions are answered with a shoulder shrug or a half-hearted grunt. As parents, how are we supposed to stay connected when our children don’t supply us with the most basic information? Gaining information from your child about their day is a skill that some thought must be put into. The key to getting data is in asking specific questions. What was the best part of history class today? When is your next science quiz? Can you show me your last homework assignment? What was something that frustrated you today? These questions will provoke answers that give you a glimpse into the school day of your child.

While having this conversation, at all costs, avoid believing your child when they state they don’t have anything to be working on. In most cases, there is an assignment they should be working on. It may not be due tomorrow, yet it is still a task on their to-do list. Your student will also almost always have at least one assessment weekly. A few minutes a night creating flashcards and reviewing notes will most certainly improve these scores. Grabbing your student’s study guide and quizzing them for a few minutes will undoubtedly catch them off guard and drive home the point that their effort directed at their studies is essential. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your students to show you their work. “Show me the homework that you said you completed in study hall.” “Show me your interactive science notebook.” So much of what we do in education is online. Your student has 24/7 access to their Google Drive and Google Classrooms. Ask them to show you the work they have saved there.

Purposeful, daily interaction between a student and their parent is directly related to an increase in student success. In just a few minutes, discussing education and showing that you are part of the education process will have a lasting impact on your student. Although this is important at any age, it is vitally important in the middle school years. These fifteen-minute conversations may propel your students to stay organized, study more, and work on assignments in the days leading up to their due date.


News from the Elementary Principal…..

This school year, Susquehanna Community School District migrated from a paid program, OnCourse, used for teacher websites and lesson plans, to a lesson plan template that can be personalized specifically for each teacher. Through my certification as a Google Educator, I, along with HS Principal Brent Soden, developed the current lesson plan template in Google Sheets. Google Sheets, as with many Google products, is free to use, whereas OnCourse, over the last few years, resulted in increased costs to the district, and with education costs rising, every penny counts. In addition to saving money, the new template allowed the school to focus more on objectives, standards, and assessment of learning.

Standards are the guide teachers use to ensure that they, along with the students, are covering the correct content in each grade level and subject. Standards drive what the daily objective is and how teachers will assess student learning. The connection between all of these is essential. It requires daily reflection, asking oneself did the student learns the intended objective for the day, and what does the assessment data show. This connection drives small group instruction later in the day and throughout the week, with teachers planning how to reteach in a way that the students can better comprehend. By focusing lesson plans on these three main points, it has allowed administrators and teaching staff to have more thought-provoking data meetings each month.

To have teachers continue to learn how to use Google Sheets and other Google products, like Google Classroom, the professional development for the school year is focusing on becoming a Google Educator through a thirteen-hour online course. Through the course, teachers will hone their skills in an abundance of Google products, including Docs, Slides, and Forms, which can be used to assess student learning. To help teachers apply their knowledge in the elementary school, I have set up a Google Classroom for each grade level where the teachers and myself share resources, submit data for upcoming meetings as well as other required assignments throughout the year. This has allowed teachers to learn how to navigate the Google Classroom with the future headed toward digitalization. The Google Classroom will eventually replace OnCourse's teacher websites and will allow for a seamless school to home connection.

Susquehanna Community School District will continue to strive to educate our students and our teachers through professional development and learning that is relevant and useful for today and tomorrow. Google is not just a search engine that knows what you want to search for; it also provides some of the best communication and collaboration programs out there, allowing students and teachers to gain valuable 21st-century skills.


News from the Supervisor of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment….


In December, I attended a workshop presented by Dr. Steven Feifer on how the brain processes scientific information. Different areas of the brain are activated for various mathematical tasks. For example, the frontal cortex is activated when we use executive functioning. Executive functioning helps us to choose the correct process to solve a word problem. Counting and sequencing numbers require us to use our working memory. Estimation and pattern recognition require visual-spatial processing.

Dr. Feifer also discussed the challenges our students face. Math anxiety is a barrier to success in math. When we have fear, our brains produce more cortisol. When our brains have too much cortisol, there is a negative impact on our working memory, which is needed to perform many mathematical tasks. As parents, we need to make sure that we are not sharing our math anxiety with our children. This can happen when we make negative comments about math, such as, “I was never good at math,” or “Math is tough and complicated.” When students hear negative talk about math, they tend to feel that they should adopt a negative attitude towards math and expect that math should be hard. As teachers, we need to provide a positive climate in our classes where teachers and students work together to explore mathematical concepts and to develop strategic, problem-solving thinking.

Dr. Feifer recommends using math games to teach and to develop mathematical concepts. In the elementary building, our math series, Everyday Math, integrates math games as an essential part of the curriculum. Learning through games and explorations can help reduce math anxiety and make learning more meaningful to students.

Dr. Feifer also stressed the importance of our students learning conceptual knowledge. This refers to our students’ understanding of how and why math works, not just memorizing facts and formulas. The math teachers here at Susquehanna Community are continually working on growing our students’ mathematical, conceptual knowledge.