By Barry Warner
The month of August is a very busy month for Mr. Martin D. Cox, Clarkstown Central School District Superintendent, since he finalizes plans for the opening of the schools in September. These weeks tend to go by quickly, before the students return and the school year commences.
“The goals for the district are academic, safety, social and emotional learning (SEL), plus Capacity Building, which has to do with professional development offerings,” Superintendent Martin D. Cox told the Rockland County Times. “What’s important, as we work among each other as administrators in partnership with the Board of Education, is to stop and assess and look at the actions we have been doing to support those goals. So there has been a lot of action in the area of social and emotional learning. Dr. Susan Yom has led a committee that has vetted various social and emotional learning programs that have been used by schools. The members of the committee spent an entire year looking at different programs, and, toward the end of last year, agreed that they would implement the Yale Ruler Program. We will start with that by having a person from the Yale Ruler Program come and speak at our Convocation.”
“One of the areas under academics is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that has offerings,” Superintendent Cox continued. “Both high schools and Link Elementary School are IB World Schools. The stakeholder committee of 31 people that was comprised of students, parents, teachers, administrators, plus three board members met for six meetings and we analyzed where we should go. Some of the findings are as follows: not a lot of teachers, students and parents may have a full understanding of the IB Program, plus It needs to be communicated and marketed differently. We need to give kids more exposure to IB. When students get into the middle school, it is likely that they are on a trajectory to an AP (advanced placement courses) pathway. So it is not about AP versus IB, but how we meet the needs of all students through their learning styles. Money has been allocated for professional development. We need to educate ourselves, as well as the Board, and continue to assess. We have students who don’t finish with an IB diploma and that’s fine, but we intend to use the findings from the study to try to increase these opportunities.”
“Another topic under the goal of safety are two electronic devices and those are the alert apps, which allow students and staff to say anonymously something about a concern they may have,” Superintendent Cox. “We piloted this app during the last two months of the school year and we will continue to pilot in the fall when we assess its productivity. The other is a share911 app, which would allow an employee who saw the need to go into lockdown simply activate the app and the Clarkstown Police would react immediately. It is an efficient and effective way to protect all people in the building. That is still in the planning stages as we want to make sure of its safety. I am excited about the implementation of those two apps.”
“As a district, prior to the state releasing these recommendations for greater social and emotional learning programs, we are on this journey to examine our students, as well as our adult learners and our families in our community,” Dr. Susan Yom, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction said. “As a result, we came to the Yale RULER approach because we were looking for the entire district to have a progression from K-12. In the first year, we will be working with all the adult learners who are in the building to staff who drive buses, to individuals who are at the front doors to ways we can regulate and understand labels and to recognize our emotions: We will also be extending the program to the parents in order for them to learn, so we become a district that supports our students. One of the areas important to us is chronic absenteeism. Another area that we might look at is referrals for students wanting to go to the school nurse or the school counselor or the school psychologist because they may be feeling a certain way. Those will be the metrics that we will start to look at so we can come to a greater agreement about the measurements that we find to be directly correlated to the impactful effectiveness of the program.”
“We are involved with the growth of our STEAM opportunities,” Dr. Yom continued. “The district has made great strides with technology as the offerings were far more than the year prior. We have a District Advisory Committee for STEAM. We want to integrate STEAM in every area of our studies. We were able to create a plan for enrichment in all of our elementary schools. We will have four ‘enrichment’ teachers who will be able to provide STEAM enrichment units of study for K-5. We have begun to notice that our students are passionate about learning in ways to not only use their hands but their communication and collaboration skills, and developing their design thinking to work on certain units of study. We have robotics offerings from grades K-5 and 6-12. This is exciting because when you see students as young as kindergartners learning how to code and program robots that really require a level of technical skill, as well as creativity at the same time, students are super excited and engaged in developing creative ways to think about different opportunities to solve our world issues. In that same way, we are working to bring in the ‘next-gen’ science standards and principles of thinking. We had a very successful year with our robotics teams for North and South High Schools. They went all the way to the international competitions, so we are supporting those teams. We want to know how students learn across disciplines—from elementary to high school and high school to elementary school. What we are learning is that our 21st century students are entering a generation where there are jobs that are yet to be created. We are preparing our students to be critical thinkers, not just ‘silos’ of thought. For the first time, we are offering P-TECH at Rockland BOCES through the Hudson Valley Coalition. Students will have the opportunity for project-based learning and be able to work with Rockland Community College and walk out with an Associates Degree. We have expanded our C-Tech seats, which is our career tech program through Rockland BOCES. There are courses such as cyber-security and culinary. What we are trying to do combine multiple pathways for students so they will have the exposure to what opportunities will be like when they graduate.”
The International Baccalaureate (IB) aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. RULER is an acronym that stands for the five skills of emotional intelligence: Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions. RULER is also the name of the approach to social and emotional learning created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence that supports positive emotional climates and the development of these skills in both students and adults in their lives.