Riverhead School District

New lesson plans have students exploring global issues

Riverhead Middle School principal Andrea Pekar at Tuesday night's school board meeting. (Photo by Jennifer Gustavson)
Riverhead Middle School principal Andrea Pekar at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. (Jennifer Gustavson photo)

Riverhead Middle School teachers are continuing to intertwine the state’s recommended curriculum into their own lessons plans in order to ensure that their students achieve Common Core standards.

During a presentation at the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, principal Andrea Pekar said seventh-grade teachers have added the ELA module 1 into their lesson plans this school year.

One of its components involves having students read the nonfiction book “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park and articles about Sudan. Students are also watching clips from documentaries like “Lost Boys of Sudan” and “God Grew Tired of Us,” she said.

Students are using these materials to develop an understanding of the water crisis in Africa, as well as other issues like the use of child soldiers and the refugee crisis, according to Ms. Pekar’s presentation.

The new lesson plan is also designed to engage students by having them learn about global issues. It also helps them master reading, writing and research skills, she said.

“The Common Core is not a curriculum, meaning it’s not a playbook,” Ms. Pekar said. “The standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do — not how teachers should teach.”

Assistant principal Paul Hewitt, director of ELA Maria Casamassa, and director of math Angelica Babino also took part in the presentation and showed videos of how students are achieving the standards inside the classroom.

Many of the videos depicted students working with their fellow classmates and referring back to their texts to support their opinions.

As for math, Ms. Babino said the school has created two different programs for seventh and eighth graders. One curriculum involves students learning math based on their specific grade level. The other is an accelerated program.

Seventh graders taking the accelerated math track start learning materials within their grade level and then move on to eighth grade work.

In the accelerated eighth program, students start with eighth-grade curriculum and then move on to ninth-grade work, Ms. Babino said.

“In essence, it’s doing three years in two,” she said.

Ms. Babino also outlined how teachers have prepared for the more rigorous changes since the summer. In particular, she explained how the school has become more meaningful and time efficient with its professional development by the use of a “turn key” process. That involves having just a few teachers attend a workshop then give a presentation about what they learned to the entire department.

One challenge has been the timeliness of the state releasing its lesson plans, she added.

Despite these lesson-planning setbacks, Ms. Babino said teachers are preserving and making sure their students are on target with achieving the standards.

“It has been a real work in progress,” she said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve been doing. Our teachers are doing the absolute best for our students, but it has been a lot of work since August. We’ve spent a lot of time together trying to figure out what was best for our kids.”

Tuesday night’s Common Core presentation was the last in a K-8 grade series the school board has hosted in recent months.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said the district has scheduled a public forum for parents at 6 p.m. March 27 in the high school Large Instructional Room to further discuss how the district has implemented Common Core. The forum came about after a recent request made by Yolanda Thompson, an Aquebogue parent and organizer of the Facebook page Riverhead Parents Questioning Common Core.

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