All Around APS

News from the Andover Public School District

Wednesday, November 6, 2019- volume 5

Best when viewed in browser.
Big picture

Students' Spotlight- Disconnect to Reconnect at WHMS

Would you be able to make it through a day without your cell phone or laptop? Wood Hill Middle School students and staff will “disconnect to reconnect” one Friday each month for the remainder of the school year. Everyone in the building, with the exception of administrative assistants, will be “screen-free” during the school day. The focus of “Disconnect to Reconnect” is to provide an environment to foster real-life connections and discover alternatives to screen time.

“Disconnect to Reconnect” days at Wood Hill will include speakers and events, and activities for students to interact and meet new classmates. Principal Patrick Bucco met with a group of student volunteers last week to plan out the device-free days. Sixth graders Daphne Hatzigiannis and Timothy Jaracz joined seventh graders Avishi Agrawal, Shriyaa Anandakumar, Cooper Conroy, James Flagg, Dorian Genovese, Michael Mechegia, Gavin Oliveira, Aditya Savarkar, and eighth graders Nate Allen, Sonika Chaudhary, Connor D’Angelo, Angela Mac, Anyaa Munot, Andrew O’Meara, Taylor Sousa, and Ria Vaishnavi to discuss why the initiative is so important.

“Removing a device offers the opportunity for all to evaluate the amount of time spent with technology,” says Patrick Bucco, principal of Wood Hill. Students at Wood Hill do not use their cell phones during the school day, but do use technology in their classrooms. Wood Hill disconnected for the first time in October, and the students said it was an interesting challenge.

Taylor Sousa saw a big difference in her day, noting that she was very aware of not having her phone and that it really made her focus on connecting with her peers. Nate and Daphne agree with Taylor. Both said it was hard to not have their phones, and that being device-free created a chance to socialize and get to know people they might not have spoken with otherwise. The group was surprised at how quickly the day seemed to pass.

Classrooms went “old school,” in the sense that finding an answer or doing research was accomplished with dictionaries and resource texts, rather than Google. Gavin said he felt more engaged with the lessons, not having the distraction of a screen in front of him. Aditya liked that students discussed the lessons together, “It brought us together more and we worked on solving problems as a group.”

The planning group brought some great ideas to the table to celebrate future “device-free” Fridays. Each “Disconnect to Reconnect” Friday will have a theme, such as live entertainment, volunteer day or “No One Eats Alone” day.

At the end of the first “Disconnect to Reconnect” day, students found they really didn’t miss anything important. They are enthusiastic to be a part of the planning process and realize that they can live without their devices. Michael says, “Checking your phone becomes a habit. You feel like you need to pay attention to every notification, but you don’t. It can wait.” Nate took this a little further, adding, “Social media might actually be the wrong name for it. The best way to be social is to be connected to someone in person.”

Featured Teacher & Air Force Veteran Bill Hecht at AHS

*In honor of Veterans’ Day and Military Families Month

Andover High School’s Bill Hecht has perspective as a special needs teacher. In high school, Bill was a student with special needs. As a father, he was a parent of a child with special needs. Before beginning his career as a teacher, Bill wanted to be an astronaut, but his eyesight was a challenge. Even still, Bill spent twelve years in the Air Force and was a navigator on 21 combat missions in the Gulf War.

Bill still flies as a private pilot from time to time, and recently turned his attention to his art, specifically sculpture. He loves building, and sees potential creations in things that others might throw away. His works has been shown and celebrated in galleries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Service to the country seems to run in Bill’s family. His sister serves in the Army, one of his sons and his daughter-in-law are active Air Force members, and another son is in the Air Force Reserves. Bill is appreciative when people thank him for his service on Veterans’ Day, but also thinks his years as a teacher of students with special needs is critically important work.

Twenty-one years ago, Bill decided to follow his passion of working with students and ever since he has been elated to support students who need a bit of extra help and encouragement so that they can see their way to success. Just as when he was in the Air Force, he sees this as his mission, and his commitment to his students and his colleagues shines through. Students love him and staff are inspired by him. At heart, what he feels is most meaningful is the connection he has to his students. His awareness that by doing this work and making an impact on his students’ achievements, he is still serving his country.

A Student's Story- Positive Sign Thursday for TOP Students

This year, the Transition Opportunities Program (TOP) began participating in Positive Sign Thursday initiative. Principal Philip Conrad began this program at AHS this year; his student groups participate and share signs of positive messages on Twitter. The students at TOPS have been creating similar signs filled with inspiring messages for each other and visitors.

Big picture

Superintendent's Message- Celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street

I’m old enough that I didn’t have the privilege of watching Sesame Street as I was growing up, but I relished every opportunity to share it with my children throughout their early years, from playing its catchy tunes on the car radio to expanding our family’s collection of stuffed Sesame Street characters. For many parents, Sesame Street was a bright light for our children’s entertainment and for their education. It opened our eyes and our minds to the creative possibilities in children’s educational television.

On Sunday, November 10, 2019, Sesame Street will celebrate its 50th year of educational programming. The influence of Sesame Street is so unique, and has so permeated our culture, that it seems appropriate to honor its contributions to generations of children and families.

The mission of Sesame Street has always been to help kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder. The programming makes early childhood education accessible for every child, regardless of background or skill level. The show explores concepts beyond numbers and letters, though those are important; it also teaches social-emotional skills in a welcoming environment.

Many English learners, both children and adults, refined their language skills watching Sesame Street. The setting and the characters are perfect examples of a diverse community, where empathy and acceptance find teachable moments in everyday life. The focus on inclusion and open dialogue was groundbreaking in 1969, and still offers an important lesson on tolerance in today’s world. For educators, the show’s impact has not only been on our students, but on us¾on the very way we teach¾ as we came to understand the importance of creativity and engagement and sought to bring those elements into our classrooms.

Over the years, Sesame Street has created a partnership with families; parents who grew up watching the program saw its value as the show taught important lessons to their children. The show’s characters have evolved with time, gradually creating a space for difficult discussions around topics such as death, divorce, disability, race, homelessness, bullying, addiction and trauma¾bravely addressing social issues with a lens on a child’s mind.

Why, you might ask, am I devoting attention to a program that everybody already knows about? Well, currently there are over 150 international versions of Sesame Street, produced in 70 different languages. Sesame Street works because it reaches out to the parts of our lives where we all intersect. It speaks to our common hopes and fears, our dreams and struggles. It sheds light on issues that we face and gives us the courage to address them with the honesty of a child. On Sesame Street, children’s voices and feelings are respected¾again, something all of us want for ourselves as well as for our children¾and something that we value highly in Andover.

So let’s celebrate this important milestone for Sesame Street. Its success stems from how meaningful it has been to so many families and children. It remains relevant and worth watching because it speaks to our commonalities in a way that lifts us all. For five decades, it has been creating positive change around the world, encouraging us to be lifelong learners regardless of our age and to help our neighbors regardless of our differences.

As Big Bird might say, this message was brought to you by the letters U and I. In honor of Sesame Street’s anniversary, let’s make a positive difference in someone’s life today and let’s offer a hearty thanks to all who have contributed to its production.

Shelley Berman


APS Community News

APS by the Numbers- Athletics at APS

APS competes in the MIAA Division 1 category.

Total regional, divisional and state titles in 2018: 11

Total athletes at AHS in 2018: 915

Total teams at AHS in 2018: 61

Athletes playing:

  • 3 sports: 152
  • 2 sports: 318
  • Single sport: 445
Big picture

Andover High School Quiz Team Club will compete in Season 11 of WGBH’s High School Quiz Show

Congratulations to the Andover High School Quiz Team Club on being one of 17 teams that has earned a place to compete on WGBH’s High School Quiz Show Season 11. Last month, the team took part in Super Sunday, which qualifies them for a chance to compete in January. Competing team members are Ashwin Ganesh, Kush Shah, Naren Savkur, Abhinav Bapanapalli, with Vishnu Suresh and Jennie Wang.

Only 16 teams will advance and appear on the televised show, which premieres in February 2020. High School Quiz Show features a single-elimination bracketed academic tournament that includes eight qualifying matches, quarterfinals, semifinals and a state championship match. Visit for free tickets to join the audience. Andover Quiz Team Club won first place in 2017. Best of luck for season 11!

Hot off the Presses- Access- Ability

The Office of Student Services recently released the fall 2019 Issue of Access-Ability featuring Director of Nursing Services Rita Casper, APS on Dyslexia and Nancy’s Tips for getting children involved in activism! In case you missed it, the issue is available here.

Celebrating Writing at Doherty Middle School

Sixth grade students from Doherty teams 6A and 6B worked diligently on their personal narratives and shared their stories with their peers last week. Language Arts teacher Erica Saum says her students have shown great improvement in their writing through the processes of editing and reading aloud.

Student Lily Elias, agrees with her teacher. “I have grown a ton throughout the year. Starting with dialogue! My dialogue now is a lot better, I have a lot more than what I had in the beginning of the year. (Also) my stamina has improved. I remember when we would just sit and write for about an hour, and how bored I would get, but now I even get excited to just sit and write. I have grown a lot!”

School Start Times Initiative

At the November 5, 2019 School Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Trach provided a status update on the School Start Time initiative. The transportation study by the district’s consultant, Edulog, is still underway and so the presentation of results will happen at a future meeting, most likely on November 21, 2019.

The Committee and Start Time Working Group will take more time to consider options and relevant information, including the Edulog report, and will continue to have the School Start Times initiative on the agenda for future meetings.

Big picture

Casey McQuillen at West Middle School

American Idol season 13 contestant and Andover native Casey McQuillen brought her anti-bullying concert series, the “You Matter” tour, to West Middle School last week, courtesy of the West Middle School Parent Advisory Council. Casey has performed the program for over 35,000 students across the country. Casey uses her original music to engage students in a conversation about bullying and self-confidence and is committed to being honest with her fans and share her personal struggles.