Oysterponds discusses communication program

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Oysterponds reading specialist Maureen Brisotti talks with residents Thursday about how the district is preparing students for college and careers.

Oysterponds elementary school officials talked with parents and residents Thursday about how the district is preparing students for college and careers by implementing the state’s new set of benchmarks known as “common core” standards.

During the Oysterponds School District’s third installment of its public series “What is 21st century education?” at the elementary school in Orient, superintendent Dick Malone, principal Francoise Wittenburg and the school’s reading specialist, Maureen Brisotti, met with eight residents to explain how the common core program has been integrated into the school’s curriculum.

The topic of Thursday’s educational coffee hour was complex communication skills — reading for meaning and writing to learn.

Ms. Brisotti, who has worked as the school’s reading specialist for the past 18 years, described the new standards as “challenging” but also “exciting.”

“I believe it’s the only way our country will become competitive,” Ms. Brisotti said before the meeting.

The group met in the school’s new literacy center, which was formerly the library. Instead of having only bookshelves, tables and chairs in the space, the room has been separated into sections. A reading area includes futons donated by school board member Deborah Dumont. Another corner of the room has been transformed into a workspace for students to complete projects and homework. There’s a computer area set up in the room, too.

Ms. Brisotti said she believes the new space motivates students to read and write because of its atmosphere — a cozy spot for reading; a section stocked with supplies for creative activities; a designated area to work on the computer — and entices them to work independently.

“Independence builds self-esteem,” Ms. Brisotti said. “The more independent we can help our children be, the more control they will have of their own decisions.”

Orient resident and former Oysterponds school board president Walter Strohmeyer said during the meeting he agrees more rigor is needed in school curriculum, but stressed students should have a strong understanding of reading and writing fundamentals before venturing into more complex studies.

“It’s like building a house,” he said. “If the foundation is poor, its not going to do you any good.”

Ms. Wittenberg agreed and said teachers are cautious of pushing students to read if they aren’t ready because that approach could turn children off from reading. Since a love of reading and writing isn’t typically an issue with students whose parents had read to them when they were young, Ms. Wittenberg said the district is committed to focusing on early childhood education.

The district, which serves the Orient and East Marion communities, first implemented a preschool this year. The pre-K through sixth-grade program sends its secondary students to neighboring Greenport schools.

Mr. Malone said he believes the new reading and writing standards are the “most critical” components to the state’s core curriculum plan.

He said the district is preparing students to be college and career ready by teaching them the difference between facts and commentary. The school is also teaching them how to write analytically about literature, as opposed to writing summaries about what they’ve read.

In addition, Mr. Malone said more non-fiction has been added into the school’s curriculum and students are learning how to research on iPads.

Mr. Malone, a former social studies teacher, said he used to cut out articles from three different newspapers about a single event and would make copies for his students. Now students can instantly learn about current events from multiple news sources by using their iPads. But with the new technology’s convenience also comes with several learning challenges. Mr. Malone said students need to understand the difference between fact and opinion at a younger age because of the amount of unfiltered information available on the Internet and they must be able to detect an author’s bias.

“It used to be ‘We can’t teach the way we taught 10 years ago,’” Mr. Malone said. “I say we can’t teach the way we taught five years ago.”

Oysterponds has also scheduled future meetings to address learning through technology (Jan. 10, 2013) and the importance of early childhood education (Feb. 7). Previous meetings addressed the state’s core curriculum standards and the school’s science, technology, engineering and math program, known as STEM.

For more information, contact the school at (631) 323-2410.

[email protected]