NOTES FROM THE PRINCIPAL
Welcome to "Notes from the Principal," an online newsletter to the community from A. A. Gates Elementary School Principal, Julie Podolak. To receive these notes as they come out, please click here.
August 22, 2020
March 13, 2020
In order to continue “Opening minds,” we would need to ensure that students have access to learning opportunities at home, and so we have been making plans for all students to have a device in order to continue learning from home. The technology department prepared and distributed iPads for students in grades PreK-2, as these students are already familiar with how iPads work. Devices will be linked to individual students, so it will be user-friendly to login. In grades 3-6, Chromebooks are available for the students to take home. It was determined that Chromebooks would be the best option for all of the other students, because we can utilize Google Classroom through them.
Teachers across all grade levels will provide learning opportunities to students electronically via Google Classroom. This could take the form of videos, PDF documents, or links to other websites. As with all new initiatives, there will certainly be a learning curve to all of this. Step-by-step instructions are being developed to help students, families, and teachers utilize this new platform. Teachers also participated in training to make sure that all of the Google Classrooms are up and running.
Should this scenario come to fruition, we have also been working on plans to continue “Nurturing hearts.” Students would have many questions and concerns if they were not able to attend school for a period of time, and we certainly want to help support our students with their social-emotional learning too. Our school counselors have been planning ways to help the students remotely, as well.
At A.A. Gates, we will be ready with a plan to continue learning and growing. “Opening minds, Nurturing hearts… Imagine the PAWSibilities!”
At A.A. Gates, students will celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with a Spirit Week, guest readers, and guest announcers on the morning announcements. Each day of the spirit week will be devoted to celebrating the works of Dr. Seuss.Monday – Green Eggs and Ham – Wear as much green as you can!
Tuesday – Fox in Socks – Wear mismatched or silly socks!
Wednesday – The Lorax – Wear as much orange as you can!
Thursday – I Can Read with My Eyes Shut – Wear a shirt with writing on it!
Friday – The Cat in the Hat – Wear a hat or do a crazy hairstyle!
As part of Literacy Week, retired teachers, administrators, and other support staff have dedicated time to read to students in the various classrooms. The special guests will read one of their favorite picture books to the students. We are sure the week will be fun for the students, and provide opportunities to enjoy reading! Opening minds, Nurturing hearts…Imagine the PAWSibilities!
Our school is extremely fortunate to have a counseling team that consists of caring, hardworking, and highly-effective professionals. This team is made up of three district employees; a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), a School Counselor and a School Psychologist. We also have other LMHCs servicing our students from local agencies.
Our district’s LMHC, Stacy Austin-Root, provides individual and small-group counseling. She also ensures that families are connected to services, in and out of our building as needed, and plays an active role in our home visit and backpack programs. Our School Counselor, Arin Elia, teaches Second Step social emotional learning curriculum to all students UPK-6, as well as in the special area rotation for grades 2-6. She also finds time to meet with individual and small groups of students and helps with conflict mediation. The School Psychologist, Lynn Fryer, does individual counseling, social skills groups, and handles Committee of Special Education responsibilities for students K-12. We partner with Cayuga Counseling Services to have another LMHC in our building, Amber Bocian, to provide Cognitive Behavior Therapy and long-term Mental Health Counseling. Additionally, Integrative Counseling Services provides a third LMHC, Pam Gicale, who provides Play Therapy three days a week.
National School Counseling Week not only helps focus our collective attention on the amazing contribution school counselors make in our schools across the country, but should also shine light on the tremendous impact A.A. Gates school counselors have in helping students achieve school success and be the best humans that they can be! If your child is in need of counseling support in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out to their teacher. They can start the referral process with you.
Opeing Minds, Nurturing Hearts…Imagine the PAWSibilities!
It is strongly recommended that your child be symptom-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school.
The young students are just learning how to take care of themselves during an illness. Please remind your children (and show them how) to discard used tissues promptly, not to share personal items, to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, to keep their hands away from their face, and to wash their hands thoroughly (and often) with soap and warm water. Thanks for all of your support in helping to keep our students healthy.
More information will be sent home with students in our UPK, and any Port Byron student in the BOCES UPK, Gavras, or Head Start programs. However, if you know of other students entering our kindergarten class next year, please have their parent call the elementary office for more information.
The PTA-sponsored Scholastic Book Fair has been a huge success this year, and many students have left with at least one new book to read. If you would still like to purchase books, the fair will be open during the Port Byron Winterfest on Saturday, Feb.1 from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. in the high school gym. The family event includes age-appropriate games and activities for elementary-aged children. There will also be a cake wheel and prizes! Admission is $5. Stop by and enjoy a day out with your family!
The Book Fair is one of many events that is sponsored by the parent-teacher association (PTA). The PTA organizes the event by recruiting volunteers, ordering materials, setting up the room, and helping students make purchases. They also maintain a website to make shopping a little bit easier. On the website, parents and guardians can view an interactive flyer and add money to a student’s digital eWallet. If money is placed in the eWallet, you don’t have to worry about sending students into school with cash or checks. For additional information, please check out the website by clicking here.
Reminder: For parents and guardians who pick up their children at parent pick up, please utilize available parking spaces in the Athletic Center parking lot before coming into sign out your child. We want to ensure we are taking every measure possible to keep our students safe at dismissal. Vehicles that are not parked in parking spaces make it dangerous for students and other vehicles to maneuver around safely. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Just like at the end of each summer, over a long two-week winter recess, it is not unusual for parents to allow their children to stay up later than when school is in session. If you have been lax with making sure your children go to bed at a regular time, you may want to re-focus on getting them to bed at a consistent time; one that allows for the required sleep that their young brains and bodies need. According to the sleep council, children aged three to six require 10-12 hours of sleep; seven-12 years olds need 10-11 hours; and teenagers need around eight to nine hours.
Establishing an evening routine will not only assist with getting to bed on time, but will help with getting up and out of the house on time in the morning, too. Part of this nighttime routine should include:
Once your children are in bed, take this opportunity to enjoy one-on-one time, and depending on their age, have a chat about something that happened that day, or what you can do to prepare them for the next day.
In the morning, select a wake-up time for your child that affords them enough time to get ready and out the door without rushing. This will minimize stress for the entire family, and increase the likelihood that everyone can start the day in a positive way. Once they get to school, we will feed them breakfast and take it from there!
It is obvious that routines such as those suggested are beneficial. Furthermore, the plan I laid out will undoubtedly provide adults with the opportunity to squeeze out at least 15 minutes a day of quality time with their child. This will have positive impacts on our adult-child relationships, as well as the behavior of our children.
But let me be clear: I know first-hand that all of this is easier said than done. We are all busy with various obligations and priorities, and can get waylaid by things that are in and out of our control. However, just like any other new year goal or resolution, we must have a plan in place in order to have a fighting chance at success. While I wish you all health and happiness in the new year, I also wish each family, including my own, the fortitude to stick with these routines and reap all of the benefits positive school routines will have in our homes and at school.
Our school community is fortunate to have students that are learning skills to help them grow socially and academically, as well as with the arts and athletics. We have administrators, faculty and staff that are dedicated to learning and growing along with the students, so that we may continue to evolve over time as well. We have a board of education that supports all of our students and adults in our effort to be the best that we can be. Lastly, we have our terrific families. A.A. Gates families welcome us in their homes, attend school functions, and share our love for their kids and, of course, PAWS pride!
When George comes home at the end of the movie, he learns to appreciate all of the people in his life. He runs through Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve, greeting everyone he sees. The whole town is there to support him and his family. The note that Clarence, George’s guardian angel, leaves him says, “Dear George, remember: No man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings. Love, Clarence.”
While I celebrate “It’s A Wonderful Life” this weekend in my home community, I will be thinking about how much I appreciate being surrounded by so many “friends” in my school community.
Opening minds, Nurturing hearts… Imagine the PAWSibilities!
Last week, students in grades 4-6 had the opportunity to have their own student-led conferences with their parents or guardians. The students shared their work samples, self-evaluations, and goals with their family members. I had the opportunity to sit in on some of the student-led conferences, and I was impressed with the students’ ability to lead the conversation.
Not only did the students set their own academic goals and convey a plan to reach them, but they were given time to talk to their parents. Students started each conference by welcoming their parents, and asking them to save their questions until the end. They had their parents’ undivided attention for the length of the conference. The students went through a checklist to ensure they discussed their progress in ELA, math, and PAWS. They also showed samples of their work, and let the parents know how they can best support their students in reaching their goals.
There was a lot of thought, planning, and preparation that went into transitioning from parent-teacher conferences to student-led conferences in this year. From the conversations we’ve had so far with students, parents and teachers, it was a positive experience for everyone. We made this shift because we are always “Imagining the PAWSibilities.” Allowing students to set their own goals and self-report their own progress is the number one influence on student achievement. Opening minds, Nurturing hearts, Imagine the PAWSibilities!
The elementary students recently collected brownie mix for the Port Byron Food Pantry. This drive was the result of a collaboration between the charitable organization and our own elementary student government to help fill holiday food baskets, which are distributed to local families each year. These baskets include all the necessities to make a dinner for the holidays.
Students in the elementary school also had the opportunity to donate $1 to wear a hat to school today. The student government collects this money, and purchases presents for the Christmas Angel program for local families in need. Already, our students are learning to give back to our community.
Our staff participates in the Christmas Angels program, as well. In the past, this program has provided presents through generous donations from the school and community to more than 150 children in need. This outpouring of generosity is a true representation of how much our school and community cares for our students and their families!
Throughout the year, there are many other opportunities to give back to our students and community as well. If you ever find yourself in a difficult situation, there are programs that can help you and your family too. Please contact Mrs. Stacy Austin-Root, Counselor, for more information about any or all of these programs. Thank you for all of your generosity throughout the year!
A student-led conference is just what it sounds like: A meeting facilitated by the student. In a student-led conference, the teacher takes a back seat, and the student hops in the driver’s position. Each student will sit across the table from a family member and lead a conversation focused on his or her goals, data, and portfolio of work. Students will discuss his/her progress and how school is going. These conferences will focus on individual student goals and growth.
The ultimate goal of these student-led conferences is to have students take ownership of their own learning, and encourage ongoing conversations about that learning at home. By allowing each student to take charge of their conference from start to finish, we hope that they’ll become more excited about learning, build confidence in themselves as learners and leaders, and will be inspired to strive toward reaching their goals.
When students set their own academic goals and look at data, they have a better understanding of what they need to do in order to be successful. Additionally, student-led conferences encourage open communication between students and families about their learning. After participating in student-led conferences, families will have a good understanding of what their child is working on this year. Throughout the school year, conversations at home can focus on what students are doing to work towards accomplishing their goals.
With all of that said: Families of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, we need your help to make these student-led conferences a success. Please help us reach our goal of 100% conference participation for these students, because the kids look forward to meeting with you! If you have not yet set up a student-led conference, or have any questions about this process, please reach out to your child’s teacher or myself. We will help find a time that works for you to participate in this awesome opportunity!
Opening minds, Nurturing hearts….Imagine the PAWSibilities.
The majority of students learn with the regular classroom instruction through a core, comprehensive program. However, some students need supplemental small-group instruction, or intensive intervention/remediation to learn. You may be wondering: How do we identify students who need specific interventions?
During the year, teachers give screening assessments to determine whether students are meeting the benchmark or goal that is set for students. As one example, students are given an Oral Reading Fluency assessment. This assessment consists of a student reading a grade-level passage for one minute. The number of words the student reads correctly is calculated to determine that student’s oral reading fluency. When a student scores below the grade level’s benchmark, additional screening assessments are given to determine where the child is struggling. Once we have a clearer picture of the student’s strengths and weaknesses, targeted instruction can be provided to remedy the problem. Throughout the process of providing targeted instruction, teachers will monitor the student’s progress to ensure that the interventions are working.
The process described above is cyclical, and one that continues throughout the year in all grade levels. As students learn and grow, their strengths and areas of need change. The students’ data is reviewed regularly to ensure we are always doing our part to Open Minds, Nurture Hearts, and Imagine the PAWSibilities.
PTA Update: The fundraiser pickup date has been changed to Nov. 14 from 3-6 p.m. in the Community Room. Please use the Athletic Center doors to enter the building.
The annual Halloween Parade (for students in Grades K-4) will be held on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 2:30 p.m. With the completion of the new athletic complex, this is the perfect year to start a new tradition in the stadium.
Halloween Costume Reminder:
Please remember that all of the students in grades K-4 are a welcome part of the parade. It is therefore important that we remember the above points so that our younger A.A. Gates students are not overwhelmed and frightened. As always, we appreciate your support in helping to care for all of our students.
This week, members of the four local fire departments (Port Byron, Conquest, Throop, and Montezuma) presented to each of the elementary classes, with a focus on fire safety and prevention. Thank you to all of the fire department volunteers who spent time with our students this week. We appreciate all that you do!
In the primary grades, the students were curious to see the firefighters with their gear. The firefighters spent time showing the students their gear, and crawling in the classrooms to simulate what the students would see in a real emergency. In the upper elementary grades, the firefighters reviewed escape planning, so students know what to do if the fire alarm goes off in their house.
We practice fire drills in school every year, so students will be prepared in the event of an actual emergency. It’s important for you to practice them too with your family, as well. In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to ensure your child knows the escape plan, and where to meet the rest of your family. Please consider spending time with your child to review the safety plan for your house.
PTA Reminder: The fundraiser pickup will be on Nov. 6 from 3 – 6 p.m. in the Community Room. Please use the Athletic Center doors to enter the building.
At A.A. Gates Elementary, we work hard every day to open minds, nurture hearts and imagine the PAWSibilities for each one of our students. Why? Because we know that when students are in an academic environment in which they believe that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as individuals, they will be more likely to succeed. In our building we do this in a number of different ways. One way that we have attempted to encourage this type of school connectedness is through the development of a principal advisory committee (PAC), affectionately named the “Panther PAC.”
This month, our social emotional learning theme is our school is: “A welcoming place where every student feels like he or she belongs.” In our morning announcements, schoolwide assembly, and daily instruction, we’ll be reminding students to welcome others, and to act and speak in safe, respectful, and responsible ways. In addition, we’ll be explicitly teaching and reminding students of our school’s expectations. They are PAWS, which stand for Practice respect, Accept responsibility, Work honestly, and Safety matters.
Our PAWS team meets monthly to plan for and discuss all of our schoolwide PAWS initiatives. The team consists of teachers, counselors, staff members, and administrators. As many of you already know, students who practice PAWS during the day earn PAWS cards, which can be used for classroom incentives or random drawings.
In addition to those cards, we also acknowledge students who go above and beyond to practice PAWS during the week. Positive Office Referrals are handed out to individual students each week by Mrs. Sinicropi and Mrs. Podolak. There is always one student chosen to receive a positive phone call home to celebrate how the student went above and beyond to practice PAWS. The students are always so excited to receive Positive Office Referrals! This is just one of the many ways we incorporate PAWS into our school.
At A.A. Gates Elementary, we use a math program called, “Eureka Math,” and have been doing so for the past few years. Over the summer, our teachers took advantage of some professional development opportunities to gain an even better understanding of the units and concepts that are taught across the grade levels. Through Eureka Math, students are taught to think conceptually, so they are not just memorizing facts and formulas. We want students to understand why and how to solve problems.
Using Eureka Math, students are taught multiple ways to solve problems. In addition to the traditional means for solving math questions, students are given additional problem-solving tools in their toolbox. If you’ve seen any of your child’s math work, you may have seen number bonds and tape diagrams being used to solve problems. These two strategies are used across the grade levels to solve more complex math problems.
For parents and guardians, Eureka Math offers resources that you can use to help support your child’s learning at home. The Homework Helpers and Parent Tip Sheets provide step-by-step explanations on how to work math problems, key vocabulary, sample problems, and offer links to useful videos. In addition to these tools, the Eureka Math website also offers free online resources. To sign up for a free account, visit GreatMinds.org/signup. After you’ve entered your name, email address, and zip code, select “PARENT” as your role. You can then “shop” for free parent resources and add them to your personalized dashboard.
If, during the year, you have any additional questions about any of the content being taught, please reach out to your child’s teacher for support. We want to work together to open minds and nurture hearts. Imagine the PAWSibilities!
Throughout the day, students strengthen their ability to become fluent readers through explicit phonics and comprehension instruction during their English Language Arts (ELA) classes. During students’ ELA skills instruction, teachers systematically teach phonics lessons to ensure all sounds and spelling patterns are taught. In the primary grades (PK-2), students practice phonemic awareness exercises, which enhances their ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds. For example, a teacher may say the word “baker” and ask students to say the beginning sound, which is /b/. In the older grades, morphology and syllabication of words is taught. This includes prefixes, suffixes, root words, and the six syllable types. Ensuring that students have a solid foundation in word recognition is critical for building a strong reader.
The other part of reading includes language comprehension. This includes background knowledge, vocabulary, understanding language structures, verbal reasoning (problem solve/think using words), and the understanding of text structure (how written information is organized). During the other part of the students’ ELA class, they are exposed to diverse content knowledge in history, science, literature, and the arts. Some sample topics across all the grade levels include: Plants, Presidents and American Symbols, Early World Civilizations, Frontier Explorers, Fairy Tales and Tall Tales, Cycles in Nature, Geology, and Poetry. The exposure to these topics helps students build their language comprehension and become better readers.
On Thursday, Sept. 26, we invite you into Curriculum Night to hear more about what is being taught in each grade level. I encourage you to learn more about what you can to do support your child’s learning at home, and how you can partner with us in educating them.
Every year, we also welcome other new students into our district as well, whether they are just joining us in kindergarten or have moved into the district over the summer. We hope all of these students received a warm welcome from our teachers, staff, and support team.
The parent and student handbook was emailed out to all parents. The handbook has a lot of important information about attendance, field trips, transportation, code of conduct, health and safety, and information about a variety of other important topics. A link to the handbook can also be found on the A.A. Gates website. We hope you find the information within the handbook to be helpful.
In addition to reviewing the handbook, it is important that you have the appropriate contact information for staff at our school. Your primary contact will likely be your child’s teacher. Below are some other staff you may need to reach out to during the year:
We hope your student has an amazing year at A.A. Gates Elementary School! Opening minds,
Nurturing hearts… Imagine the PAWSibilities!
Question: What do I do with the census verification form that was mailed home?
Answer: All primary student residences should have had the census verification form mailed to them this summer. Please update the contact information, transportation information, and the list of who can pick up your child. The forms need to be sent back into school, so we can update our Schooltool system.
Question: What have the teachers and staff been up to this summer?
Answer: Along with getting their classrooms ready for the students to return, teachers and staff have participated in many professional development activities this summer. They attended workshops focused on reading intervention programs, math curriculum, literacy practices, and working to support students with various needs.
Question: Are there any new staff members?
Answer: Mr. Alan Arnold was hired to teach some of the elementary music classes. Mr. Arnold will be teaching grades PK, K, 1, 4, 5 and 6 this year. Miss Bartlett-Morse will teach students in grades 2 & 3, along with the vocal choral groups in grades 5-12.
Question: When will my child get school supplies?
Answer: Just like last year, we purchased the majority of the school supplies for students, and they will have what they need in their classrooms when they arrive on the first day of school. Hopefully, this lessens the burden of purchasing typical back to school supplies for families. This will also eliminate any competition students feel about making sure they have the “right” supplies.
Question: What does my child need to do with the Summer Reading Log?
Answer: The summer reading program will end on Sept. 2. Please have your child fill out the reading log that was sent home at the end of last year. All logs have to be submitted to the elementary office by Friday, Sept. 6 to be eligible for the Summer Reading Celebration. The reading celebration will take place later in September. I hope there were many students who read over the summer!
Question: How do I stay up to date with information about the school?
Answer: If you are new to the district or to receiving the weekly eNews, welcome! Each week, I will write about what is going on in the elementary school. The elementary school also has a Twitter account that you can follow: @AAGatesPBCS. These are great ways to stay up-to-date with everything that is happening at our school.
Question: What time is the school day?
Answer: The elementary school is in session from 8:40 a.m - 3:20 p.m. Students should not be arriving to school prior to 8:40 unless they are enrolled in band, chorus, or Sunrise Scholars. This year, the Healthy Kids Program will be providing before and/or after school child care to interested families. For additional information about the program, you can visit their website at www.healthykidsprograms.com or call/email Hailey Cougler at (845) 568-6100 ext. 1016 or Hailey@HealthyKidsPrograms.com
I hope this has provided you with some of the most important information for the start the school year. I look forward to seeing all of the students on Sept. 3!