Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza recently announced that, for the first time in history, all three of the town’s elementary schools — Monroe, Stepney and Fawn Hollow — were recognized as Connecticut Schools of Distinction in the same year.
The following story is the third in a three part series highlighting each school.
MONROE, CT — Someone stole Mr. Pocket’s prized autographed baseball collection during a game and police suspected the umpire, Pete Unkenholz, of foul play. Good thing the girls from Fawn Hollow Elementary School’s Mystery Unit were on the case.
Using one of the reading strategies that made Fawn Hollow a Connecticut School of Distinction, the girls sat around a cluster of desks Thursday afternoon, while Kayla Ray, their third grade teacher, led them through readings of author Ron Roy’s book, “The Unwilling Umpire”, part of the A to Z Mysteries series.
The students took turns reading chapters, and jotted down clues and the names of suspects into their notebooks, while discussing their findings.
The girls cast doubt on some of the alibis, wondering if one suspect actually went to the bathroom during the theft like he said he had, and whether another really had a food allergy.
This is an example of how educators are engaging their students to embrace reading.
Fawn Hollow students’ performance on English language arts on the SBAC test last spring is among the factors that led to its being named a Connecticut School of Distinction by the Connecticut State Department of Education.
Other factors were Fawn Hollow students’ high participation on the test, growth and improvement in math.
“I feel it’s a testament to all the hard work our teachers and curriculum leaders do day-in-and-day-out,” Principal Leigh Ances said of the recognition her school received. “Fawn Hollow’s teachers are lifelong learners. They are always willing to learn and be reflective in their practices, doing what’s most effective for children.”
Ances said at least one teacher from each grade level participates in the school’s book club, with books focusing on topics like math, ELA (English language arts), and social and emotional learning.
“Our teachers are collaborative,” she said. “They work and plan together. Our curriculum is a living breathing document. We’re always fine tuning and making adjustments as needed.”
Ances said this work takes place districtwide in a town where all three elementary schools, including Stepney and Monroe, earned recognition as Connecticut Schools of Distinction this year.
“I think it makes Monroe a special place to work,” she said. “Monroe is a district where we all work together in the best interests of the students, teachers, administrators, curriculum leaders, teacher interventionists, and special education teachers.”
A focus on phonics
Fawn Hollow’s teachers work to improve structural literacy among their students, especially in kindergarten, first and second grades, Ances said.
“What we are doing is shifting our instruction so that students are getting phonics,” she said. “They’re building their phonological awareness and developing their phonemic skills at a young age. Students need to be able to identify individual sounds. They need to blend sounds together. They need to break words apart. They need to rhyme.”
“Our focus on literacy is to make sure all children learn that instruction to ultimately help them decode, to read and ultimately comprehend,” she said.
Ances said much of this instruction is spearheaded by Fawn Hollow’s reading consultants and Kim Nelly, the ELA coordinator for k-5.
Fawn Hollow educators also work with Lucy M. Calkins, a children’s literature professor and director of the Literacy Specialist Program at Columbia University.
“They have staff developers who come and spend an entire day with teachers, and go over research based practices we should be using in class,” Ances said.
She said the staff developers also teach Fawn Hollow students to show how it’s done properly, so teachers can see the benefits.
The staff developers come each month to work with teachers, meeting with educators from a different grade every time. They also ensure curriculum aligns with state standards.
“It really strengthens our teachers’ ability to deliver the curriculum as intended,” Ances said. “It’s a support for them.”
Jill Silvestro, a second grade teacher, demonstrated the Heggerty approach of breaking down the sounds of words by doing an exercise with two girls and a boy, who sat on a carpet with her in the hallway.
Silvestro pronounced the “d” in “dark” with the children, followed by “ar” then the “k” sound. Then they said the word “dark” together. They also broke down the words “hard” and “shark”.
The school provides many opportunities for students to use their skills.
Lisa LeBlanc, a reading consultant, noted how teachers’ school libraries have a variety of books students like to promote reading.
Students have reading, writing and phonics partnerships, rug clubs, and games that incorporate their skills, according to Matthew Benaroch, a second grade teacher. He said children build words with cards and syllables.
“Nonfiction reading and writing is our focus,” he said.