In the last weeks of the past school year and even over summer, students and teachers have been learning and gearing up for the new year.
Roosevelt School sixth graders visited historic Boston, and a group of students and educators toured a research vessel that tracks marine species. Meanwhile, many Weehawken teachers have spent the summer learning how to enhance their professional practices.
Teachers pursue summer learning
Many Weehawken teachers have spent much of their summer learning how to enhance their professional practice, from an elementary school teacher who is honing her skills on how to teach science to kindergarteners, to a middle school teacher adding layers to her understanding of African-American studies, to a high school teacher learning how to get more girls interested in learning college-level computer science.
Karen Garcia Adorno, who teaches kindergarten at Daniel Webster School, went for two weeks to STEMteachersNYC in Harlem to study how to awaken scientific curiosity in her students. The program is funded by 100Kin10, bent on training and retaining 100,000 accomplished kindergarteners through third-grade STEM teachers over the next two years.
“This is extremely important,” Adorno said. “It wasn’t about teaching the lesson, but how to make the students more engaged in the lesson. You want to grab their attention on the subject; you want them to have questions, to wonder about things and to always be investigating. As you a teacher, you want the student to ask, ‘Why does the car move that way?’ They have to develop their own path of inquiry.”
Theodore Roosevelt School fifth-grade teacher Andrea Eberhard spent three days at the 2017 Amistad Commission Annual Summer Curriculum Institute for Teachers. Eberhard, who is certified to teach social studies as well as other subjects from kindergarten through 12th grade, attended a three-day residential program at Kean University in Union.
The Amistad Commission’s goals are to infuse the history of Africans and African-Americans into the social studies curriculum to provide an accurate and inclusive history, and to ensure that New Jersey teachers are equipped to effectively teach the revised social studies core curriculum content standards.
“It was amazing,” Eberhard said. “It was really an exceptional program.” She said she takes pride in the fact that currently New Jersey is the only state to require teachers to teach a curriculum such as one recommended by the Amistad Commission.
“I have always taught in such a way to make clear to my students that there are many racial groups involved in the founding of this country,” she said. “There were other people that made this country so great.”
A Weehawken high school teacher was the only educator from New Jersey and one of only 50 in the nation to be invited this summer to Facebook’s headquarters for a summit on teaching college-level courses in computer science in high school.
The invitation made Weehawken High School one of 50 out of the 2,500 schools offering Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles nationwide.
Paul Bannon, who taught the newly-approved AP class, “Computer Science Principles,” to Weehawken High School sophomores, juniors and seniors, was invited to the Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters this summer on the strength of his students’ high pass rate on the AP exam. “Weehawken had an eighty percent pass rate which is considered very high,” he said. The national average pass rate of students taking the AP exam in “Computer Principles” is 56 percent, according to College Board figures.
The College Board launched the AP Computer Science Principles class last year, with the goal, said Maria Eugenia Alcón-Heraux, media relations director for the College Board, “to create leaders in computer science and give those who are traditionally underrepresented in computer science fields tools and opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
On history’s trail in Boston
Theodore Roosevelt sixth graders enjoyed a trip to Boston just before school let out. All students in the grade were invited to participate.
“We value every student and want to make sure they each have opportunities like this remarkable learning experience,” Roosevelt School Principal Suzanne Mera said, noting that most of the students had never been to Boston.
At the Museum of Science, the students attended a physics lecture on electricity. At the New England Aquarium, the students encountered striped pajama sharks, giant Pacific octopus, and balloon fish. They enjoyed touching fish in the museum’s Touch Tank.
“We were so happy to see the students laughing, eating, exploring in such a safe and responsible way,” Mera said. “They comported themselves with such respect and maturity.”
Despite a torrential downpour, the Weehawken contingent pressed on for the famous Freedom Tour. Mera said, “The students found it to be fascinating and really enjoyed listening to the tour guide and seeing sites that they had studies in their social studies classes.”
The sixth-graders also took toured the campus of Harvard University. Other highlights included America’s oldest public park, Boston Common; the Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere and three signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried; the site of the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere’s home. They also wandered through Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, which for 275 years, continues to be a site of meetings and public debate.
Out to sea with the shark trackers
Also before the year’s end, a group of 30 Weehawken students, teachers, and parents travelled to Montauk to tour the shark research vessel Ocearch, run by a team of scientists and fishermen that is the world leader in track marine species such as great whites and tiger sharks. The Ocearch team tagged and released the now infamous Mary Lee The Shark, who frequents New Jersey waters.
The scientists and crew of Ocearch were anchored off of the tip of Long Island, making final preparations for an expedition to tag and track white sharks who have a nursery off the New York coast. Last summer, the Ocearch team tagged 16 juvenile great white sharks off the coast of Montauk.
Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer arrived at the dock in a speed boat to ferry the eager students out to the Ocearch to meet the crew and scientists. Student then were treated to a tour of the entire boat, including the science lab and shark-tagging platform.
The visit is the result of a unique partnership between the Weehawken School District and Ocearch.
The M/V Ocearch is an at-sea laboratory powered by Caterpillar engines and holds a 75 thousand pound capacity hydraulic platform that can safely lift mature sharks out of the ocean for access by a multi-disciplined research team. The crew can conduct 12 studies in 15 minutes. Ocearch has generated data for more than 50 research papers.
Allisyn Yanuzzi, who will be teaching science to third- graders this year, said about the experience, “It was just exciting stepping aboard the Ocearch vessel, having something the school partnered with, now visual and come to life. To see the science behind the whole program was great.”
She added, “The kids were in awe that they were even there, and allowed to go on a boat that was just about to leave on expedition the next day. All the scientists were coming aboard. A lot of the kids were very excited too because, they had seen the show on National Geographic. They were also excited to see how the tracking of sharks they had participated in, looked on the actual research vessel.”
Weehawken High School students get AP Scholar Awards
Weehawken High School is distinguishing itself for the large percentage of Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar awards being earned by its students.
The AP Program gives these awards based on how well a student does on its AP Exams, which test a student’s mastery of a college level course taken while still in high school. A good score can equate to college credit.
Weehawken High School has had 16 AP Scholars for 2016-17. There are three levels of awards: “AP Scholar” “AP Scholar with Honor,” and “National AP Scholar.” Weehawken High School students have earned all three of these awards. The student's average AP Exam score is based on all exams taken throughout his or her high school career.
AP Scholar Awards are granted to students who receive scores of 3 or higher on three or more AP exams. The school has had seven AP scholars, including Jorge I. Carrera and Imani J. Fulton, both of whom will be seniors this year.
The other AP scholars were Class of 2017 graduates Gabriela Carrera; William P. Hammond; Juan Pablo Rivas Navarro; Nicole Primero; and Failen Rosa.
Some Weehawken students earned the title of “AP Scholar with Honor,” given to students who receive an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP exams taken, with scores of 3 or higher on four or more of those exams.
Nadia Fuchedzhy, who will be a senior this year, took a total five exams so far, and has scored fours or fives in all but one of them.
Another “AP Scholar with Honor” is Class of 2017 Kamil K. Rahhali, who scored three or higher in seven out of a staggering total 11 AP exams. He is now an entering freshman at Georgia Tech.
“AP Scholar with Distinction” is granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams. Weehawken High School can boast six such “AP Scholars with Distinction”: all members of the Class of 2017: Grace M. Denfeld took a total of five exams; Kathleen Dewan; Gauthier S. Dunan; and Isabel J. Jaffoni each took a total of eight exams; and Daniel Sanchez, who is an entering freshman at Yale University, took nine exams; eight of which he scored 3 or higher.
Kenzi Fukuda, who, last year, graduated from Weehawken High School as class valedictorian, received the top honor of “National AP Scholar” award, granted to students who receive an average score of at least 4 on all AP exams taken, and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more of those exams. Fukuda took nine exams, and scores from 4 to 5 on all but one of those exams.
Although the Weehawken School District’s goal was to increase AP Exam participation by 10 percent, it succeeded in increasing it to 83 percent. The “culture of risk” being developed at Weehawken High School has more students feeling supported enough to take on the challenge of college-level work, Superintendent Dr. Robert R. Zywicki said.
As a result, AP classes offered to Weehawken High School students have nearly doubled from 16 during 2015-2016 to 31 in the 2016-2017 academic year, when the school administered 240 AP exams to 112 students.
Weehawken High School’s high AP participation rate was one of the reasons that last May, The Washington Post named Weehawken High School to its list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools,” ranking it in the top 12 percent of high schools in the nation.