Fox Chapel Area District Forum
February 9, 2016
LGI Room of the High School
- Welcome from the District Forum President
- Introduction of Superintendent and Administration
III. Questions Submitted to District Forum
Question #1 The Fox Chapel Area School District Creativity and Literacy Program run by Alison Francis for three to five year olds is such a wonderful and engaging program. Our three year old has participated in three sessions so far this year. She loves the science, math, creativity and literacy activities and has been so excited each week about what she learned in session and activities she participated in. She is bored in preschool and wishes that preschool could be as fun and interesting as the CLP class she enjoys each week! The activities that Alison Francis designs for this program are covering a wide range of educational topics, developing knowledge of spatial relationships, introducing pattern logic and skills that enhance computer programming literacy, introducing kids to smart board and tablet technologies, building confidence and creativity through maker station activities. Reading stories with the kids and engaging them in games that enhance understanding of the story and recall of plot details and the order of events in the story. Using puppets, manipulatives, arts and educational activities to link experiential learning opportunities to storytelling is so enriching! I love the depth of learning the program offers. We really enjoy the thoughtfully collected and shared program library books and activity backpacks, as well as exploring a wide variety of new and interesting building block sets, puzzles, STEAM games and stations such as the light table, or Velcro pipes wall that offer rich hands on learning opportunities. We also have a fourth grade student in the district who has reported disappointment and boredom with school, particularly in regard to science and math, and a lack of interesting enrichment activities for the past three years. Our only hope for academic enrichment thus far for her has been to pursue after school programs, summer programs and at home enrichment, as well as applying for gifted assessments in the hopes that she would gain access to more rewarding and nurturing educational opportunities. Having learned about the wonderful Creativity and Literacy Program for young children, I couldn’t help but desire this level of educational enrichment for my fourth grader! I would argue that the science activities explored in the CLP class with three year olds are more engaging and fun than anything taught thus far in the elementary school curriculum for first through fourth graders. The enthusiasm for learning that these interesting topics inspire is heartwarming. How can we, as a district, work toward providing all students with more enriching, meaningful, valuable and engaging STEAM educational opportunities? I fully acknowledge that literacy is important in elementary education, but today’s children will need to be fluent in more than reading and writing the English language to succeed. Mathematics is also a valuable language used by the sciences, such as physics and chemistry to describe the world around us. Engineers use more math to communicate their ideas than words. Engineers think spatially, they think optimistically and creatively about solving problems. Scientists think in terms of relationships and they think in terms of logic and cause and effect. Programmers utilize both creativity and logic to develop novel solutions to today’s problems. Exposure to the sciences at an early age helps children learn about the world around them and helps prepare them for successful, rewarding careers. Learning and practicing critical thinking, having the freedom to explore and cultivate interests, practice making things and solving problems, and gaining a science based vocabulary to describe their observations and novel solutions is important to progress. To grasp the ways in which the sciences use math to describe the world around us is fundamental to developing an interest and appreciation for the subject. I cannot say how valuable educational enrichment is to keeping students interested and engaged in learning, creating and feeling meaningfully connected to the world around them. Other than striving to design hands on science experiments, activity stations and educational opportunities to share through an after school science club, paid for out of pocket, I’m not sure how else I can help. I have seen the fourth and fifth graders in my program lighting up and feeling curious and engaged about physics and chemistry. I’d like more of that for them! The high school students who have volunteered to help run the after school activities are eager and engaged as well, and the fourth and fifth graders are learning so much from them! What wonderful role models! What can we do as a community, in a more organized way to meet this educational need and create more STEAM learning opportunities in all the district elementary schools? Administration response: The District agrees that more can be done to enrich the science curriculum at the elementary levels. Fox Chapel has made a hire based on these exact needs. A Science Review Committee has also been formed to research and develop the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics based curriculum. Fox Chapel right now states that the science curriculum is a work in progress and is making steps to align the district students with the tools necessary to help them navigate the STEAM world around them.
Question #2: In the wake of school shootings in the 1990’s, schools created zero tolerance discipline programs in an effort to decrease violence. Unfortunately in the years since these plans were adopted, research has shown, that zero tolerance policies increase violence and cause more children to enter the criminal justice system. Fox Chapel’s code of conduct lists items such as dress code violation, disrespect and plagiarism as reason to send a child to court. These seem like minor issues to require a referral to the courts. Referring school discipline issues to the court system creates what is sometimes called the school to prison pipeline. These policies have been shown to cause increased rates of juvenile crime in the community. Research shows that limiting the number of school referrals and filing referrals after 3 offenses rather than after a first offense, actually decreased the presence of weapons in school by 70%, decreased fighting by 80% and decreased disorderly conduct and other minor acts by 36%. Is Fox Chapel planning to update their discipline program? If so, when? If not, why not? Administration response: Every level of student handbook from elementary to high school is reviewed annually by the district. There are state and federal mandates that have to be enforced. In each disciplinary action the district may have a spectrum of circumstances, consequences and facts. The Safe School Report filed does acknowledge that violence and weapon state and federal mandates have decreased the amount of disciplinary cases in schools.
Question #3: It was reported that Governor Wolf passed a bill that Keystones will not be required until 2019. Is this true and how does it affect our students from now until then? Administration response: Fox Chapel Area School District is making a stand to keep the requirement of the Keystones in order to graduate. The district feels that it is an invaluable educational tool. The Keystones gauge student achievement versus an assessment like the PSSA’s which don’t produce student results till over a half year later. The Keystones gauge student performance and guide the district to promote a more dynamic teacher/student learning process. There is an alternative means of testing if the Keystone is not passed to fulfill the graduation requirement.
IV. Meeting Adjourned: Next Meeting April 5th, 7:00 p.m. LGI Room