Notes From the Board Table: Student engagement

It wasn’t on the agenda, and no one really planned for it to happen, but last Thursday night’s Board of Ed meeting turned out to be a celebration of sorts, of all the wonderful things happening in our schools. I think it’s worth a minute to share what we experienced.
First, the evening began with a gallery of presentations from fifth grade and eighth grade students that was set up in the Wilton High School library. There were about 15 presentations in all. For each, a team of students identified “a problem,” and then detailed how they went about conducting research to guide them in developing a solution. To do this, students had to invoke all their educational tools -- technology, math, science, social studies and writing. Whereas in the past, what a student learned in math pretty much stayed in the math classroom, and the same for every other course, today’s learning is based on cross-disciplinary models, where all learning is used all the time.
One group of Cider Mill students, for example, chose “too many inactive kids at recess” as their topic. They thoroughly researched the subject — why kids don’t get engaged in games or active playtime, the negative impact on health and well-being, and some ideas for encouraging students to get involved. The students interviewed a school climate expert, and had an iPad available so we could see the interview. Their recommendation? Initiate a program of organized activities during the recess period.
No doubt Cider Mill Principal Jen Mitchell and her team will take a close look at that recommendation!
You will be hearing more about this type of integrated instruction, because it really is a transformative approach to learning that will be used more extensively throughout our schools.
Next up on our agenda was a “poem recitation” by Middlebrook student Pierce Bazewicz.  Pierce gave a dramatic reading of a fabulous poem he wrote called “Ode to Clash of Clans,” which detailed his journey through the various levels of his favorite video game. It was incredibly well done, and Pierce just might have a career ahead of himself as a poet. But what really struck me was that Pierce was joined in his presentation by his English teacher, Suzanne Sedlak.
Sedlak introduced Pierce and explained how she had attended a professional development conference last year at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, and learned about various ways to engage students in literacy. Sedlak’s pride in her student was very plain to see, and really, that’s what it’s all about: A teacher and student presenting a project and sharing their obvious joy of learning.
We also engaged in the year-end tradition of receiving school yearbooks from each building.  Every year the books become even more professional looking, and more creative than the year before! This year’s high school yearbook expanded on the use of “augmented reality” technology, whereby videos have been linked to photographs throughout the book, that can be activated via an app-enabled phone. It’s something you might expect to see in a college-level or professionally done publication, but our yearbook looks stunning, and I congratulate everyone involved.
Aside from these student-led presentations, the board approved several new courses for Wilton High School that will be offered beginning in the fall:
• Computer Animation and Game Design;
• Farm to Table Culinary Arts;
• Multivariable Calculus (college level course that will allow students to go beyond curriculum currently offered);
• AP Calculus BC (restructuring of current course offering).
Finally, I want to comment on a report we received from our principals and administrators about the progress made this year in working toward our “district vision and goals.” If you aren’t aware of the vision and goals that were developed by Superintendent Smith and the Board, I urge you to visit the district website and spend a few minutes reviewing them. They really are the roadmap we have established for our schools, and for giving our students the absolute best education, bar none.
With this in mind, it was inspiring to hear our principals talk about the work accomplished in each school this year. A common theme seemed to be “student-led,” and “student engagement.” Long gone are the days when teachers would stand at the front of a classroom and lecture. As Miller-Driscoll Assistant Principal Jeremy Cross described the environment in his building: “There’s definitely a buzz in the air, and it’s very exciting.”
We’ll spend the summer continuing to build on this positive momentum. As always, I encourage all parents and community members to share their thoughts.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy summer.