Herricks lauds new elementary school program

Richard Jacques

Based on the progress of their students, elementary school teachers are enthusiastic about a new approach to learning recently initiated in the Herricks Union Free School District.

During a glowing progress report presented at a Herricks School Board meeting in New Hyde Park on Nov. 4, a group of six educators gave the recently implemented Fundations program high grades based on early results and student response.

“This September was like none other because the children came into our classrooms so well prepared when we were doing writing activities,” said Pam Blank, a Center Elementary School first grade teacher for 12 years. “Never before have we seen anything like this. Even our more struggling students were able to get more words on the page, which is a credit to kindergarten teachers and to the Fundations College Writing Program which is really an amazing combination.”

Fundations daily classroom lessons, implemented last year for kindergartners throughout the school district, focus on carefully sequenced skills that include print knowledge, alphabet awareness, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and spelling. Critical thinking, speaking and listening skills are also practiced.

Taught through second grade in HUFS general education classrooms, the program serves as a prevention measure for students to help reduce reading and spelling failure.

Assessing students each day through the Fundations methods, Blank said she and other teachers are able to quickly see if early education students are proficiently using such things as upper case letters to begin sentences, or periods and question marks at the end of sentences.

“Believe me, this is really unusual for this time in first grade to be going in-depth in this. We are expecting our students to be able to do this and they can do it because they have a really great foundation that has been given to them in kindergarten,” said Blank

Through constant assessment and observation, Blank said teachers are able to prove that what they are doing is working. She and other teachers are delighted that the school board has adopted the program.

“When we see them now in second and third grade it blows are minds,” said Searingtown School teacher Heather Evers. “This is really the first year we have seen the effects of a student being in Fundations for two years, so these third-graders have come into their classrooms knowing all of this. … It has been a really great experience.”

Students diagnosed with specific areas of weakness or a language disability work in small group settings up to 30 additional minutes three to five times per week.

“Nothing is perfect and nothing works all the time for students who still need more, and it’s a very small percentage here in Herricks,” said Evers. “For a student who is not meeting the benchmarks … that’s telling us they need a smaller group and need to go at a smaller pace.”

Rather than completely replace core curriculum, Fundations provides the research-validated strategies that complement installed programs to meet federal standards and serve the needs of all children.

The Fundations reading and spelling program provides a research-based program defined treatment for Response to Intervention. RTI is a process that assesses learners’ needs and provides early effective instruction to struggling readers.

“I think of RTI as almost a preventative science. Now I have all of this information and I can really identify which students are in need of support before they experience great difficulties,” said Michele DePace, a reading teacher at Denton Avenue Elementary School.

Also speaking in favor of the program was Denton Avenue Elementary School Principal Mel Haley and teacher Robyn Tsiokos, and Liza Binetti of Center Street Elementary School.

School board members were pleased with the results presented to them.

“There’s nothing more amazing than seeing teachers excited about a program,” said Herricks School Board Trustee Peter Grisafi.

Also at the public meeting:

•The board recognized Meena Yoo of Herricks High School for an essay submitted to the “Celebration of Suburban Diversity 2010” which won first place.

•The board recognized Herricks High School senior diver Nicole Honey for breaking a Nassau County record with a score of 543.10. The previous record stood for 20 years.

•The board accepted the guarantee of the $1.3 million EXCEL grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to be used for capital improvements to various buildings as per the terms listed in the agreement between the state and the Herrick’s school district.

•The board accepted a gift of funds from the Herrick’s Art Boosters Association in the amount of $350 to be used to acquire the necessary permit for the Herricks Student Art Show scheduled for June of next year.

•The board accepted a gift of finds from the Herrick’s Art Boosters Association in the amount of $1,150 to be used to purchase a digital camera and Art Document DVD’s, and to send Searingtown 4th grade students to the Hillwood Museum and CW Post College.

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