2015-09-03 / Around Town

What's on the Horizon for the Upcoming School Year?

Some Newport students may be disappointed that summer is coming to a close, but principals say they have a lot to look forward to this school year.

Below are a few new programs available to elementary and middle school students. Classes begin Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Pell Elementary School

Kindergarten Soft Start

With an incoming kindergarten class of 180 students, Pell is introducing a program to ease their youngest students into school life.

“It’s a more intimate way for kindergarteners to start the school year,” said Pell Principal Kimberly Behan. On Thursday, Sept. 3, students and their parents are invited to one of two sessions that will split the students into small groups for an academic screening, social time and play. While the students are getting a feel for their classroom and teachers, parents will have an opportunity to ask staff questions.

“We will use the data from the screening to create more balanced classrooms,” said Behan. There are no academic expectations, reassured the principal. “Kindergarten is developmental. We just want to see where children are, and we will take them from there.”

For example, the data may be used to make sure a class has more than one student who can read, so the teacher may form a reading group.

The main objective of the session is to give parents and children a fun introduction to school life. “We want to create a more friendly approach for their first experience in school,” said the principal.

Kindergarten students will begin school Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Robotics

“A second program that we are really excited about is that our STEM teachers are implementing a robotics portion to their classes,” Behan said. Teachers applied for and received an $8,500 grant for the program.

The STEM program was new to Pell last year, and was “widely received” by students and families. “So many community organizations came out for our first STEM night,” said Behan.

Truancy and Discipline Data

“Last year, in our second year, we worked out a lot of kinks and saw some big improvements,” explained Behan. The current chronic truancy rate, which is defined as 18 or more unexcused absences, is at five percent. The number of suspensions declined by 50 percent in one year.

“The state called, they thought it was a typo,” Behan smiled. She credits programs that reward good behavior and the walking school bus as contributing factors to the better numbers.

Construction Improvements

Parents and students may notice several renovations to the school this year, including upgrades to the bathrooms and reception area.

“When families walk into the building, they walk to a person instead of open space,” said Behan. “It looks a lot nicer and more professional.”

Thompson Middle School

SMILE

SMILE, which stands for Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences, is a new after-school academic enrichment program that encourages STEM content.

“Through hands-on classroom activities and field trips, students are exposed to different fields in the STEM area, as well as current degrees and job opportunities,” explained Thompson Principal Jamie Crowley. “The real goal is to inspire a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Up to 20 students will be enrolled in the program, which will meet for two hours each week. Field trips, hands-on activities, snacks and an overnight challenge weekend at the University of Rhode Island are part of the experience.

“I worked with this program 15 years ago as a student volunteer, while attending the University of Rhode Island,” said eighth grade science teacher Candace Lewia, who is one of the two teachers running SMILE. “I am very excited to be a part of this amazing program once again as a classroom teacher.”

Girls on the Run

For the first time this year, a 12-week program led by trained coaches will mentor fifth-grade girls through a running program. The course, which was organized by the Newport Community School, also teaches life lessons such as how to make healthy choices and about peer pressure.

“This is a great opportunity for our students,” said Crowley. “It is a perfect time of year to begin this kind of program. The girls are excited about being in a new school. They get to go outside and train in Newport’s beautiful fall weather and learn from great coaches.”

CyberPatriot

In partnership with the Newport Community School, the CyberPatriot program will return for a second year.

“Last year, the team fared impressively in the U.S. Air Force’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition and were invited to tour the Army’s brand new cybersecurity facility at West Point,” said Crowley.

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