TMHS Principal's Newsletter

November 2017

From the Principal's Desk - Kristen S. Vogel

For years I have been giving students and my own children advice on how to best study for quizzes, tests and exams, and do homework. Much of that advice was rooted in my own experiences as a student and as an educator. I knew what strategies had worked for me when I was in school and I had learned from my own students what strategies had worked for them. However, last week I took a pause when I read a summary of the eleven essential questions about learning from Benedict Carey's book How We Learn. It really made me think about the advice I had been giving to students and that maybe I needed to change what I have been saying. For years, I have been recommending that students use a dedicated study area at home. According to Carey, having a dedicated area does not always prove the best for retention. I will need to change the advice I have been giving! Benedict Carey also confirmed that some of the strategies I had been recommending for my own children and my students over the years do work! His recommendation about starting long term projects early and getting a regular night's sleep before a test are two that I have always given. I know that you all work hard to support a home environment that supports learning. I hope that some of the suggestions below confirm strategies that you have put in place at home, or maybe they are ones that you can now suggest as your student or students are preparing for assessments or doing homework.

How important is routine, like having a dedicated study area? Not at all, says Carey. “The more environments in which you rehearse, the sharper and more lasting the memory of that material becomes… That is, knowledge becomes increasingly independent of surroundings the more changes you make.” Most people learn better by studying in different locations, using different methods, at different times of the day, constantly changing the way they store material in memory.

Is there an optimal amount of time to study or practice? “More important than how long you study is how you distribute the study time you have,” says Carey. Ideally, break up study time into chunks over two or three days, each time reengaging with the material, retrieving it, and re-storing it in memory – “an active mental step that reliably improves memory.”

How much does it help to review notes from a class or lesson? Very little, he says. Looking over highlighted material is one of the least effective ways to study; the same goes for verbatim copying. That’s because both are fairly passive and don’t engage the brain in the kind of work that will make learning sink in. What’s more, passive review can cause what cognitive scientists call the “fluency illusion” – unwarranted confidence that you’ll remember it for good.

Is cramming a bad idea? Not always. It’s okay if you’re behind and have no choice. But the downside is that you won’t remember much after the test or performance. That’s because the brain sharpens memories only after a little forgetting has taken place.

So what does work? “Self-testing is one of the strongest study techniques there is,” says Carey. “Old-fashioned flashcards work fine; so does a friend, work colleague, or classmate putting you through the paces.” So does reciting a passage from memory, or explaining a concept to yourself or a friend. Testing yourself (or being tested) does two things: it forces you to retrieve information from memory, and it gives you immediate feedback if you couldn’t remember it so you know what you don’t know and need to work on some more.

What’s the most common reason for bombing a test after what felt like careful preparation? It’s the fluency illusion – the erroneous belief “that you ‘knew’ something well just because it seemed so self-evident at the time you studied it,” says Carey. Several passive, ineffective study methods feed this illusion:

  • Highlighting or rewriting notes;

  • Working from a teacher’s outline;

  • Re-studying after you’ve just studied.

Far better to test yourself, space out the study, and find out what you actually don’t know.

Is it best to practice one skill at a time until it becomes automatic, or to work on many things all at once? Working on just one thing (free throws, a musical scale, the quadratic equation) improves skill. “But over time, such focused practice actually limits our development of each skill,” says Carey. “Mixing or ‘interleaving’ multiple skills in a practice session, by contrast, sharpens our grasp of all of them.” Mixed practice helps review material from several areas, sharpens differentiating among them, and trains the brain to match the problem types with appropriate strategies. This is especially helpful in a subject like mathematics.

How does sleep affect learning? The deep sleep that occurs in the first half of the night is most important for consolidating and retaining hard facts – names, dates, formulas, concepts. So if you need to remember that kind of information, Carey recommends going to bed at your regular time to maximize deep sleep. But the kind of sleep we have in the early morning hours helps consolidate motor skills and creative thinking. If you need to perform creatively, whether it’s in math, science, writing, or music, you might stay up later and sleep in to maximize the effects of the second kind of sleep.

How about improving performance on longer-term creative projects? The proven method for a big, complicated project like a term paper is getting started as early as possible, chunking the work, and spreading it out over time. Doing this “activates the project in your mind,” says Carey, “and you’ll begin to see and hear all sorts of things in your daily life that are relevant. You’ll also be more tuned into what you think about those random, incoming clues.”

Are distractions from smartphones and social media a bad thing? Not unless you’re trying to give continuous focus to a lecture or some other sequential, connected learning experience. When you’re struggling to solve a problem, “a short study break – five, ten, twenty minutes to check in on Facebook, respond to a few e-mails, check sports scores – is the most effective technique learning scientists know of…” says Carey. “Distracting yourself from the task at hand allows you to let go of mistaken assumptions, reexamine the clues in a new way, and come back fresh.” Your brain will keep working on the problem offline, without your fixated, unproductive focus, and you’ll often have fresh insights when you return to it.

Can “freeing up the inner slacker” really be called a legitimate learning strategy? If by this we mean “appreciating learning as a restless, piecemeal, subconscious, and somewhat sneaky process that occurs all the time – not just when you’re sitting at a desk, face pressed into a book – then it’s the best strategy there is,” says Carey.

How We Learn by Benedict Carey (Random House, 2013, p. 223-228)

Parent Teacher Conferences

We will be having Parent Teacher conferences on Tuesday evening, December 5th, from 6pm to 8pm. Sign ups for conferences will be done using SignUpGenius like we used last year. The link will be live from November 28th to December 3rd.

Senior Project Informational Parent Meeting

On Tuesday, December 5th, at 5:30pm in the Auditorium at TMHS there will be an informational meeting for parents of seniors interested in pursuing a senior project for fourth quarter. This meeting will take place before parent/teacher conferences begin.

MIAA Sportsmanship Award

Our unified basketball team won the MIAA Sportsmanship Award on November 14th. The award was presented to Coach Aylward and the team at the Unified Basketball Jamboree that took place on November 14th.

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MIAA Leadership Summit

On Friday, November 17th, the following students attended the 24th Annual MIAA Leadership Summit at Gillette Stadium. The following juniors were chosen by their coaches for the leadership they have shown on their teams this fall: Michael Polimeno, Cameron Grace, Jay Connolly, Trace Trant, Haley Mignon, Brenna Kaiser, Lauren McIntyre, Grace Higgins, Amber Buttaro and RJ Florino.

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Yearbook News – November 2017

Student Recognition Ads are now available to create for your senior! Go to and you can create an ad to congratulate your graduate. Find your favorite childhood photo and let your son or daughter know how proud you are of all their accomplishments. The deadline is January 31, 2018.

If you haven’t ordered a 2018 Yearbook, they are available on The price is $65 until the end of December. After this date they will increase to $70. If you prefer to pay by personal check, send in a check with your student made out to TMHS Yearbook and give to Mrs. Sullivan in Room A103.

Click here for yearbook ad page information.

Thank you for all your support. Susan Sullivan, TMHS Yearbook Advisor

Health Class Activity

With the food drive the week of November 13th, Mrs. Fabiano wanted to help increase their awareness of hunger in the community. Students were given varying amounts of money to spend in "Fab's Food Market" with varying family sizes and situations. They had to stay within their budget and buy food for 3 days. Some students realized that they were living off so little money that some days, members of their family may be hungry, and some students had extra money to buy snack foods. The students then discussed what nutrition might be like for people who have limited means, and also I had them find out where in the community (Tewksbury Food Pantry) someone could go if they needed assistance, and they also had to describe how someone would gain access to that service. Mrs. Fabiano wrapped up the activity by reminding them about the current food drive being done this week at school. Below is a video of students engaged in the learning activity.

Bonjour Québec and Montréal!

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TMHS is expanding our program of educational travel and we are excited to be going to Québec City and Montréal in May 2018. It will be a fun, eye-opening and, most importantly, an educational experience for your student. The enrollment window is now open! Here’s a summary of the trip and how to enroll. To learn more about the trip and sign up, visit our tour website at and enter our tour ID: 2045041UB

Tour Information

Tour name: Bonjour, Quebec!

Tour number: 2045041UB

Payment needed to reserve spot: $95

Approximate monthly payment by enrolling in November (depending on chosen withdrawal date): $205/month (for 5 months)

There are 2 different ways to enroll your child on this trip:

1. Online at

2. By calling 888-333-9756 (if you have traveled with EF before ask for a $50 discount)

For more information, please contact:

Sra. Dudley, or

Mme Ryan,

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Fine and Performing Arts Department

TMHS Theater Company

The Fine and Performing Arts hall has been a flurry of activity. The Theater Company’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher was a great success! Thank you to Mrs. Chan, Mr. Moffat, Ms. Scarpa, and Ms. Ware for all their hard word and the amazing opportunities they continue to provide our students. The Dr. Christine L. McGrath Performing Arts Center at TMHS was transformed into a magical world of pirate ships and tropical islands. Members of the painting class displayed an exhibit of pirate ships, skulls, and island scenes to complement the show.

The TMHS Theater Company is busy preparing for the Spring musical Jekyll & Hyde to be held April 26-28th at TMHS. Tickets are $7 for students and senior citizens and $10 for adults. Please note the show is PG-13.

Cocoa, cookies, and Moffat! Paint night is November 30th in the TMHS cafe from 6-9pm. Please join Mr. Moffat and the TMHS Theater Company in a festive evening of painting snowmen and cardinal paintings while enjoying light refreshments. Admission is $25 per person or $40 for a two person group.


In Music news, The TMHS Band came in 4th place at The New England Scholastic Band Association competition held in Lawrence on November 5th. Congratulations on a job well done! Affinity Winter Color Guard is starting rehearsals every Sunday 4-7pm and Monday and Wednesdays 5:30-8:30pm at the Ryan School Cafeteria. Chorus meets on Tuesdays from 2pm-4pm. New members are always welcome. The band and chorus have been busy preparing for winter concert which will be held on December 14th at 7pm in the Dr. Christine L. McGrath Performing Arts Center.

Special thanks to the TMHS band for performing at townwide Veteran’s Day ceremonies that included Bayberry Community, TMHS schoolwide assembly, and Town Common Veteran’s Day. We are very proud of the band for helping celebrate an important holiday and honoring veterans.

Visual Arts

TMHS art classes, in conjunction with Mrs. E and the Larabee Library, have created an outstanding literacy tree to add to the collection of community-decorated trees which the Tewksbury Public Library annually displays. This year’s tree was based upon “Gingerbread Christmas”, a children’s holiday book written and illustrated by Jan Brett. Ms. LaPierre’s Painting class members: Clarissa Chisholm'18, Emma Vaara'21 and Elaina Walazek'21 contributed impressive, large size cutouts of characters from the book. Destiny Gennetti'18 of Senior Art Studio assisted in the creations. The Design, Foundations, and Drawing classes helped color beautiful decorations for the tree. Special thanks to Hailey Furilla'21, Trinity Gustin'21, Kaitlin MacDonald'21,and Kristina Russell'21 for drawing the decoration templates. The tree will be on display at the Tewksbury Town Library through December.

The Tewksbury Education Foundation is hosting a holiday season fundraiser at Barnes and Noble in Burlington, MA on Saturday, December 2nd all day. B&N is located at 98 Middlesex Turnpike. All district art teachers will have student work on display. We have been working in collaboration with parent member, Danielle Clark to beautify the store for the event. There will be book readings and musical performances as well. Please come out for some holiday cheer and support our schools!

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Sophia El Hakim, Class of 2019

The month of November and December the Foundations in Art students have beautiful symmetrical geometric designs on display at the superintendent’s office. As well, the Digital Imaging students have object collages on display.

Take a Hike!

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On November 15th, Mrs. Gordon’s G block Environmental Science class explored the conservation trail on Tewksbury State Hospital property. The goal of the walk was to gather ideas and observations to aid in the design of a nature trail on the TMHS campus. Over the next several months, students will investigate the particulars of trail siting and design as well as environmental and other considerations that go into making a sustainable nature trail.

Citizen Science and Sustainable Gardening

Mrs. Gordon’s C and A block Environmental Science classes have been busy on projects of their own in recent weeks. The C block class has tested our school garden soil for nutrients and layered the beds with compostable yard waste for the winter. This material will return nutrients to the garden beds over the next few months as it starts to decompose. Next spring, students will plant vegetable seeds in the garden. Garden produce is donated to the Tewksbury Food Pantry throughout the growing season.

The A block class has finished the collection of color change and leaf drop data from designated trees on campus for the Harvard Forest Buds, Leaves and Global Warming study. As citizen scientists, they will be contributing their data to the Harvard Forest database in the days to come. Next spring, they will be monitoring the timing of budburst and leaf growth on the same trees with the goal of documenting changes in the length of the growing season on campus.

Calendar of Events


30 Admin Chat 7:30am (Athletics)

30 Paint Night 6-9:00pm


2 TEF Fundraiser at Barnes and Noble

5 Senior Project Informational Parent Meeting 5:30pm

5 Parent/Teacher Conferences 6-8:00pm

7 Half Day

8 Midterm

14 Winter Concert 7:00pm

15 Admin Chat 7:30am

18 Progress Reports Available

18 School Council 4:30pm

21 Hats Off Luncheon 12:15pm @ TCC

22 Half Day

25-29 No School—December Recess


1 No School—New Year's Day

2 School Reopens

Tewksbury Tribune

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The Tewksbury Tribune online school newspaper is back! Go to: to read all the school news that's fit to print!