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Monday, October 10, 2011

Friendship Skills, Writing, and Community Support-October 11, 2011

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                               

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, weekends are so busy in the Brower house that I look forward to coming back to work for things to slow down.  Between the OSU game on Saturday and the Portland Half-Marathon on Sunday, it was full indeed, but the time provided me with opportunities to reflect on school, teaching, learning and parenting.

On Saturday we went down to Corvallis to see my daughter.  We take our camper down and park in the Wilson Hall parking lot.  About 90 minutes before the game begins, a crowd of sleepy teens dressed in orange come out to enjoy whatever food I’ve prepared.  The best part of tailgating with college freshman and sophomores living in dorms is they think I’m a great cook.  This is the ONLY group that I can confidently say this about.  While the kids eat and play games, I get to listen. Knowing who your child spends time with is important.  Are friends providing positive influence?  Is my child responding in a way that shows respect?  Are friends encouraging healthy habits?  Are they bringing out the best in my child?  Does she do the same in return?  Do they build her up or tear her down? For my daughter, these are questions I’ve been asking since about the time she learned to walk.  Now that she’s away a college, her social skills and emotional health are as important to her success as her study habits and cognitive skills.  At Sexton Mountain, we are a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support School (PBIS).  We teach kids how to be safe respectful and responsible.  We appreciate working with you on this important task.

When the football game begins, my kids and husband enjoy the game while I relish my quiet time. This week, I spent time reading the papers your children wrote with me last week.  Once every six weeks, I will do a project with each grade level.  The purpose of the project is to provide students with a common experience to write about.  The writing will be read and analyzed for themes then discussed, along with classroom work samples, to set goals for next steps in teaching.  During this writing project time, circles of Mr. Sketch marker colors were drawn on coffee filters then kids added a bit of water and observed what happened.  Next, they wrote about the experience.  The writing provides a snapshot of what a child is able to do independently.  On Saturday, I read each of the papers and tried to quantify some of the progress toward grade level learning targets.  Reading student writing brings me great joy! In addition to learning about the children as writers, I get small glimpses of their perspective and personalities.

On Sunday, I did the Portland half-marathon.  Because I’m a slow walker, I had a lot of time to think over my 13.1 miles.  I reflected on International Walk and Bike to School Day.  Kids certainly enjoyed walking with friends.  Thanks to Holly Heaver for organizing! Did you know we have fewer tardy students on the days on our organized walking day? During my half-marathon, I thought about how much I appreciated the support and enthusiasm of all the volunteers along the route.  This fall I’ve been blown away by how generous Sexton Mountain parents have been with support and enthusiasm.  Though the Portland Marathon was a very well supported race with lots of fun along the way, it really paled in comparison to the Sexton Mountain Jog-a-thon last week.  If you were here last Thursday you know that we had cowbells and encouragers along the route so that our kids felt supported along the way.  A number of kids shared their sense of pride in setting their new personal best records.  Many were excited about the money they would raise for the PTC and the important and very special experiences they provide for our school.  Thanks to Karyn Johnson and Michelle Vondenkamp for organizing this event and for all the volunteers who turned out to support our kids. 

As I walked, I thought of the meetings I’ve had over the past few weeks. I’ve had a chance to meet with several teams to discuss student learning.   After we completed the school-wide Easy CBM assessment, teams have been meeting to discuss the data and plan for the next steps for instruction.  This process is called Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement.  With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness.  In some cases, the process helps us to identify students who might become eligible to receive special education services.

Our RTI process starts with a universal screening of all students in our school. Universal screening tests are typically brief and are used with other classrooms’ assessments to corroborate students’ risk status.  The universal screening tool our school uses is called EasyCBM.  EasyCBM assigns a risk level based on students’ scores.  The “high”, “some” and “low” risk levels correlate with percentile scores.   Students that fall within the low risk range are within the 40-99th percentile.  Students falling within the some risk range fall within the 11th-39th-percentile range.  Students in the high-risk range fall within the 1st-10th percentile.  In the high-risk range, this means that if 100 students at this grade level took the assessment 90 or more of the 100 students would perform better than a child in this range. 

At Sexton Mountain, grade level teams meet every six weeks to formally discuss student progress.  We informally talk about student progress almost daily.  During our formal discussion, we use the universal screener as well as the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), informal classroom assessments and observations to guide our discussion as we focus on our most at risk students.  For students not making the progress expected in order to be on track for meeting year-end goals, the team plans additional interventions and support.  We contact families of students needing additional support and let them know what we will be doing at school to support the child.  We can also offer suggestions for what you can do at home.

As I walked last weekend, I thought about all of the great things that are happening for our students at Sexton Mountain. We have great students, staff and parents. I am so happy to be part of this community of learners.  Thank you for sharing your children with us.


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.

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