NPS Teaching and Learning Flyer

Issue II, April 2023

Students are learning about the histories of race, racism, and resistance in the United States

The district has contracted with Self-Evident Education this year to model history lessons in many elementary classrooms and has also purchased a site license for all NPS educators to access its continually evolving online library of educational resources. This library has many multimedia documentary films and rich, standards-aligned curriculum and activities that help educators, students, and the general public to better understand the histories and legacies of systemic racism in the United States.

As part of the 2022-2023 Professional Development & Curriculum Plan, and in alignment with goals on the District Improvement Plan, during the 2022-2023 school year, Michael Lawrence-Riddell (SEE founder and executive director) and Ousmane Power-Greene (Clark University professor and founding board member of Self-Evident) have been working with fifth grade teachers and students in all elementary schools as well as eighth and ninth grade teachers at JFK and NHS on ways to use the Self-Evident resources to engage students and bring important history to life. At the center of all of the work is using a deep understanding of our past to better understand our present and to help build a more just future.

Examining 18th Century Art for Bias

Students get a new view of the American Revolution, one that emphasizes the stories of several African American soldiers during this time period. Students also learned the story of Elizabeth Freeman, the first enslaved Aftrican American in Massachusetts to win her freedom through the Massachusetts court system. This newsarticle from the Gazette has photos and the full story.
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Sojourner Truth

A student at Ryan Road School is proud to show the deep thinking in response to the Self-Evident film 'The Truth is Powerful', about Sojourner Truth's life and legacy.
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High School Counseling Curriculum Development is Underway

The district has contracted with Mount Holyoke's Karen Harrington, from Unique Potential Consulting, to work with the Northampton High School counseling and guidance department to provide training, consultation, and technical assistance in creating a comprehensive and developmental school counseling curriculum which supports college and career readiness and social emotional development. Counselor Marisa Castro reports, "It is clear that Karen-Marie Harrington is very knowledgeable in the field of SEL and I have enjoyed the collaborative approach in the work we are doing."

The HS team of school counselors and consultant have been meeting this year to:
  • learn more about curriculum development, college and career readiness, and social emotional learning;

  • start to create a comprehensive and developmental Scope + Sequence for the school's counseling curriculum for grades 9-12th;

  • develop grade-specific learning objectives mapped to the Scope + Sequence; and

  • become familiar with resources for designing and delivering lessons on college and career readiness and social emotional development.

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NHS Poetry SLAM!

This April being National Poetry month, NHS is reviving it's 20 year Poetry Slam tradition by inviting back the first slammer at their first slam in 1998 to give poetry workshops to many classes. Christian Drake, who went on to participate and win many state and national poetry slam events, returned to NHS in March and wowed the crowd with his spoken word, and he conducted enjoyable writing exercises which inspired writers to write! On April 3rd, through collaboration with the Smith College Poetry Center, we welcomed spoken word poet, Lyrical Faith, who also wowed the crowd. The NHS Poetry Slam will be held on April 13th- Please contact the school for details.

Educator Spotlight

JFK English and History Interdisciplinary Planning & Teaching

The middle school ELA and History departments have been working together to use historical fiction texts to teach students about anti-racism, anti-semitism, and how to recognize and respond to hate symbols. Additional student books and new titles were purchased for students through our Targeted Assistance Grant. In addition, JFK invited nationally recognized educator and author, Tiffany Jewell, for an "Empowering Youth" workshop. Tiffany shared common language relating to anti-bias antiracist work. She guided educators through an accessible framework to help teachers gain confidence and competence in noticing what is happening in their classrooms, analyzing the injustice present, and making action plans to move into a place of transformation and justice to best support ALL learners. Teachers and staff were able to connect what they are currently doing and what they would like to do to honor all students' identities. Educators received curated resources that support their personal growth as ABAR educators. Tiffany is also working with our elementary schools (via NEF grants) supporting teachers and learners in gaining a deeper understanding about identity, justice, and activism. We are so fortunate to have Tiffany with us in partnership in our anti-racist/anti-bias work!

Here is what the JFK teachers would like to share with you:

6th Grade

In the 6th grade, students learn about other cultures through various texts. We have important conversations around race & racism, as well as an in-depth look at the U.S. immigration process. We also learn about and celebrate other cultures. Texts are read in both our English and reading classes. In our English classes, we read a book called “A Wish in the Dark” by Christina Soontornvat, which is a fantasy story that takes place in a fictional world that is heavily inspired by Thai culture. During our “coming of age” unit, we read a book called “Santiago’s Road Home” by Alexandra Diaz. The book is the story of a young boy from Mexico who illegally crosses the U.S. border and is taken to an ICE detention center. Students learn about the challenges and flaws of the U.S. immigration system. In our reading classes, we read the graphic novel “March: Book One” by John Lewis, Andrew Ayden, and Nate Powell. This is an in-depth look at John Lewis’s early life and career. We have difficult conversations around racism in the U.S. both in the past and present.

7th Grade

In 7th grade, we utilize a diverse collection of texts, genres, and authors throughout the year influenced by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's ideas of "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors" in literature. We begin the year with the beautiful and powerful graphic novel The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen about immigration and identity. In the winter months we read The Giver by Lois Lowry and give attention to ideas of utopia/dystopia, community, and symbolism. Typical years include an April unit on poetry across the generations-- from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Denice Frohman. For the first time, the 7th grade ELA classes will also be reading Jason Reynolds' powerful narrative in verse Long Way Down. This new unit will focus on analysis of figurative language, imagery, and how an author uses symbolism to depict challenges in society or within a character (ex: the elevator). We will end the year with an NEF funded unit on Afro-Futurism and Fantasy where students select a novel by Nnedi Okorador, Tomi Adeyemi, and other authors, with lessons influenced by the black literary societies researched by Gholdy Muhammed.

8th Grade

In 8th grade, we teach The Book Thief by Markus Zusak during the months of February and March with a heavy focus on the historical background which students are lacking at this point of their education. Historical connections include Elie Wiesel's Nobel Prize acceptance speech where his message is to "take sides," "interfluence" and "never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation." Students are asked to draw connections between the historical context and struggles and conflicts faced by Liesel and Max's in Nazi Germany. Students are offered multiple opportunities to explore symbolism, history, craft, and theme throughout their reading.

JFK's Scrabble Team

This past weekend, five members of the JFK Scrabble team traveled to Washington DC to compete in the North American School Scrabble Championship (NASSC). The students play in teams of two against other teams of two. One of the JFK Middle School teams finished in 5th place out of a field of 40+ teams from all over the country! They won $200 and Scrabble game boards from Hasbro. In addition, they won a prize for having made the highest scoring single play of the event (playing the word CHARLOCK for 194 points)! For this remarkable achievement (a typical play is around 10-20 points), they received personally autographed copies of the Scrabble-themed best-selling book Word Freak.

Our own Mr. Ben Greenwood has been involved with the School Scrabble program for many years and was hired by Hasbro Games to direct this year's event in DC. So he was there as both the Event Director and the JFK Scrabble coach. This year's event consisted of 100+ players including a high school division. The JFK Scrabble team has been meeting with Mr. Greenwood weekly to practice their Scrabble playing skills including topics like spelling, math, strategy, and most importantly, teamwork. They also practice at the Northampton Scrabble Club which meets weekly at Lilly Library in Florence. Congratulations to the JFK Scrabble Team for their amazing performance!

The website for the event including the results is here:

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Northampton is Getting a New K-5 Literacy Program!

The Northampton Public Schools have been awarded a highly competitive Evidence-Based Practice Grant grant (Fund Code 117) in the amount of $169,200 through the Student Opportunity Act (SOA). Roxanne Dorrie, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, applied for the grant through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) along with over 80 other districts in the Commonwealth and is pleased to announce Northampton received one of the highest award amounts in the state. The funds will be used to purchase a new literacy program for all kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms in the district. It will replace the current K-5 literacy program: Teacher's College Units of Study in Reading & Writing.

Earlier in the month, the district was also awarded a federal grant: Accelerated Literacy Learning through High-Quality Instructional Materials Grant (Fund Code 719) in the amount of $154,000. Together, the funds from both grants will allow the Northampton Public Schools to purchase a new, K-5 research-based literacy program and provide initial spring training for teachers. Director Dorrie and elementary literacy coach, Rachel Nicholas, both new to the district this year, have been working with elementary teachers and administrators to evaluate different core programs that are approved by DESE and have been vetted by the curriculum evaluation tools: CURATE and EdReports. The district’s vertical Literacy team has written a district literacy vision statement and has identified priorities and parameters to focus on when choosing a new program. The next steps in the process will be to garner caregiver input and pilot the finalist programs, and to arrange visits to other Western Massachusetts schools using the materials and lessons. Finally, the team will be conducting a thorough review of both programs using Black Print's 7 Forms of Bias Tool/Protocol and The Reading League's Curriculum Evaluation Tool.

Northampton’s elementary teachers are poised to take on the challenge of learning a new approach to teaching reading and our elementary literacy coach will be working hard to assist the teachers in a successful launch next fall. Many teachers in the district have taken a synchronous Science of Reading graduate course delivered by Crafting Minds Group, Inc and our elementary principals are dedicated to providing research-based and highly engaging instruction to all students. NPS is grateful to the Massachusetts Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for this opportunity to improve students’ literacy experiences and outcomes and to realize a vision of excellent education in the English Language Arts for all learners. Our texts/materials budget is about $300,000 and most DESE approved programs fall within that budget.

The choices have been narrowed down to:

Please note that although the literacy team also liked what the ARC Core program has to offer, their quote was out of reach at over $700,000 for the materials alone.

We invite all parents/guardians of students in grades K-5 to complete this K-5 Literacy CAREGIVER SURVEY (in both English and Spanish). This is your opportunity to provide information to the literacy team about what is most important to you. We want to hear your thoughts and ideas! Although a 'perfect', published program may not exist, part of our work next year and in future years will be to identify and fill gaps in whatever program is purchased and implemented, so that all learners are exposed to a variety of texts and are provided with ample opportunities to read and write.

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VIRTUAL NPS Community Event: The Science of Reading & "The Right to Read" Film Viewing

Thursday, May 4th, 6-8pm

This is an online event.

Parents, guardians, caregivers, educators, and students of the Northampton Public Schools are invited to participate in a VIRTUAL informational session to learn more about the Science of Reading and what it means for teaching young readers how to read. Sarah Gannon from Crafting Minds will be on hand to answer your burning questions and to provide you with an overview of the research. In addition, our district purchased a virtual viewing of the documentary film, "The Right to Read." The film will begin at 7:00pm. We hope you join us for part or all of this workshop or for the film viewing in preparation of adopting a new K-5 reading program next school year!

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 856 1061 1565
Passcode: 297504

Dial by your location
+1 305 224 1968 US

RSVPs are enabled for this event.

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Podcasts & Articles on THE SCIENCE OF READING

This newsletter was created by Roxanne Dorrie, Director of Curriculum & Instruction

The Director of Curriculum & Instruction provides leadership & program management in the following areas:

  • Curriculum Development
  • Instruction and Assessment
  • Title I Program Management
  • Entitlement and Curriculum Grants
  • Educator Professional Development
  • Mentorship Program & New Teacher Orientation