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Greenwich Goes To Washington

"This is where the middle school magic happens, friendships blossom, and new relationships form," reflects GPS teacher Stacey DeBlasio

 

At the Korean War Veterans Memorial  there are 19 stainless steel statues, but the "spooky shadows in the reflection" of the wall really symbolize 38, explains 8th grade science teacher Stacey DeBlasio.

This is just one of the history lessons that come to life for 8th graders every spring.

While certainly many families from Greenwich have visited Washington, D.C. before, the trip is an opportunity for all students to travel with friends and teachers allowing them to experience education in a different way.

Taking The Classroom On The Road

DeBlasio says the annual D.C. trip is "where students and teachers see one another in a new light. Teachers are not the authoritative dictators demanding students' homework and students are not simply looked at according to subject, period, or grade."

As one of the organizers of the Western trip, DeBlasio says that "the experience of traveling in itself is educational; packing what one needs, being responsible for one's belongings, being depended upon and dependent on one another."

The district partners with WorldStrides, an accredited travel organization, to take Greenwich 8th graders "beyond classroom walls."

visited in late April, in early May and Western will caravan next week.

Central Middle School art teacher Barbara Gotch, who has been teaching in Greenwich Public Schools for 45 years, has made the trip with the Central students for 8 years now.

Their Faces Convey The Impact

"They don't want to admit it," but the annual trip to D.C. "really impresses" the teens, Gotch says.  "It's a memory for them" she says with smile indicating that the annual journey is clearly one for her as well. She proudly returns each year as she is invested emotionally in "giving the kids the opportunity to see our nation's capital." Not surprising because of her profession, Gotch's favorite stop in D.C. is the National Portrait Gallery.

The trips to Washington are not without preparation on the students' part. "They don't go down cold," explains Gotch, and the work isn't done once the trip is. The students are given time to reflect in their journals during the trip so they don't forget key events or places and when they return there are a variety of activities across different academic strands, including art posters.

When the Central students visited, they had the opportunity of meeting with CT U.S. Rep. Jim Himes of Cos Cob. "I always enjoy visiting with young people from my district. Their fresh eyes on our issues and enthusiasm are energizing," said Himes.

When asked if there is a consistent question that he gets from students, Himes revealed how the teens are just like adults, except younger. "Kids are interested in the same issues we all are. Almost always they're curious about why and how I decided to get into public service," added Himes.

Expect The Unexpected

Western Middle School Principal Al Sackey, who has chaperoned the trip twice, will be traveling with the Western 8th graders next week.

Sackey said that the first time he went the students were lucky enough to find the Washington Monument open, which is not always the case. Sackey recalls "total and complete amazement" on the students faces seeing D.C. from that perspective.

The World War II Memorial, is another "very moving" stop as Sackey explains that the students often look for their grandparents' or other family member names in the registry.

Sackey also has seen the Western students chosen for the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier, which is a "once in a lifetime experience" for anyone.

The monuments can be very "solemn" places for the students Gotch said. "One girl asked me why there was a pair of boots left at the Vietnam Wall." Gotch explained to her that they probably belonged to a soldier.

Like Gotch, Sackey has had the pleasure of "physically seeing the amazement" in the students.  The Holocaust Memorial Museum is another emotional stop and Sackey says that he has never seen students go through and not be "moved" by the history within. "It is a powerful experience for them."

DeBlasio concurs with Sackey on the impact and calls the visit to a "somber and sobering experience for students, but one that they remember forever. Having read nonfiction novels related to the Holocaust and having heard a guest speaker lecture at school, students begin to empathize, as oppose to sympathize, with these victims."

The Take Away

"Visiting a new city brings so many questions to light and opens their eyes to other places they may want to visit. They may not remember that the Lincoln Memorial was made with two different facades from the left and from the right sides, but they will remember the feeling of seeing this massive memorial for one of our greatest presidents," said DeBlasio.

For DeBlasio the Washington trip is a constant source of inspiration. She explains that she is really moved by the "comments from students a week after the trip, a month after the trip, and a year after the trip." When she ran into some "former WMS students who are current GHS 9th graders" they asked to go again on the upcoming trip.

"It is usually not the typical attentive student who enjoys this trip. The students who come back with a new appreciation are the ones you didn't suspect! The trip speaks to all students, on all levels," DeBlasio added.

"All of the symbolism in the monuments, memorials, and architecture" are a source of consistent enchantment with the students explains DeBlasio. "These things are not studied until college, but it is so very interesting to overhear students saying that a certain general must have been wounded in battle since one of the horse's legs was posed in the air, etc."

Effective Learning Environment

Back here in Greenwich, the Board of Education will meet Thursday for its monthly Work Session at Havemeyer. In addition to a follow-up on the 2012-2015 Technology Plan presented earlier this month, a first read of E-040 Effective Learning Environment Monitoring Report is on the agenda.

When Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ellen Flanagan presented last year's Monitoring Report to the Board last spring, the questions from the then Board included the potential alignment with District Success System, the updated District report card and its relationship with TEPL, homework and the utilization of online courses for teacher training.

What significantly contributes to the effectiveness of a learning environment is obviously the teacher.  The District has put a concerted effort to focus on classroom instruction and to develop quality initatives intended to improve teacher performance.

Does Size Matter?

In addition to 'Instructional Management,' a topic which is often a priority for parents is class size.

The current ranges for such sizes in GPS are:

  • Kindergarten - Grade 1:                   16-21 students
  • Ham Ave Magnet K - Grade 1           12-15 students
  • Grades 2-3                                     18-24 students
  • Grades 4-5                                     19-26 students
  • Grades 6-12                                   12-30 students (excl. PE and some music classes)

While parents intuitively believe that smaller classes will lead to better quality teaching, it is the quality of the teacher that is the district's focus in improving student achievement. 

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