Area schools returned to session for the 2019-20 school year over the last two weeks. The following provides students and parents a look at changes undertaken by school districts to enhance learning experiences in the new year.
The district’s 1:1 computing initiative, now in its third year, will again expand to encompass all middle and high school students.
The initiative, which aims to provide a Chromebook laptop computer to each individual student, will reach grades 6, 7 and 12 this year, making devices available to all secondary school students, said Superintendent Chris Pegg.
All students will be issued email accounts to better utilize the Google Classroom platform and to enhance communication with teachers.
A new computer science course is being offered to juniors and seniors for the first time. Upperclassmen can also take a new English course — Career English — to develop and practice “soft”skills and to improve oral and written communication skills, like writing resumes and preparing for job interviews.
Newly hired JROTC instructor Lt. Col. Joe Walsh is bringing with him a grant for VEX Robotics to provide STEM learning to JROTC students and other high school students through a cross-disciplinary partnership with engineering teacher Dave Diamond, said Pegg.
Focus at the elementary level is on intervention and remediation to ensure that students are prepared for middle school, with continuing efforts targeting early literacy in grades K-2, Reflex Math in grades 2-3 and computer literacy.
A grant from Chevron will fund Project Lead the Way programming in engineering and STEAM for grades 3, 4, 5 and 8.
Fifth graders can look forward to a career fair in November at the high school featuring local businesses.
Brownsville is aiming to bridge gaps and build partnerships in the new school year.
In a joint effort with Penn State Extension, the district will offer the Prosper program to middle school families beginning in October, which is designed to strengthen family-school partnerships and develop students’ life skills, such as conflict resolution and communication. The district will hold weekly evening events, and the “life skills” curriculum will be integrated in seventh grade health classes.
As its elementary school did last year, Brownsville’s middle and high schools this year have incorporated Pennsylvania’s Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports System to help build a positive culture at the buildings, said Superintendent Dr. Keith Hartbauer. The program reinforces positive behaviors and maximizes learning by decreasing “off-task” behavior through accountability and sustainability.
The high school is adding an Advanced Placement course in Biology, as well as a blockchain coding curriculum to be embedded in the school’s entrepreneurship course.
The Rural Arts Collaborative will visit the district for the entirety of 2019-20, starting with Bricolage Production Co. working with eighth graders in the fall to research and create a theater performance. In the spring, middle and high school students will help an artist-in-residence create a mosaic art piece for the high school foyer.
The district joins South Fayette School District as part of a pilot program made possible by a PAsmart grant to incorporate STEAM curricula at the elementary level. Also in the elementary school, the district paired with social emotional learning program TEAMology, which teaches life skills and aims to create a safer school environment, said Hartbauer.
In September, the district will implement the Raptor ID scanning system at all buildings to better monitor visitors to the schools.
Superintendent Fred Morecraft said the district is focusing this year on giving its high school students more career-driven opportunities with the addition of 40 elective courses.
To prep students for the “real world,” the district introduced new curricula like home and car maintenance and personal finance classes. As to the latter, librarian Cassie Menhart applied for a grant for a personal finance lab to be located in the school’s media center.
The district is also implementing a social-emotional program for K-12 students that is designed to equip students with emotional and academic skills. Part of the program involves seven mind sets of successful people around the world.
Carmichaels, like all five Greene County school districts, is partnering with Penn Commercial in Washington for a program at the Career and Technology Center in Waynesburg where students will be trained in oil and gas industry and CDL safety. Morecraft said the training will make the students highly employable after graduation.
Another goal this year is to develop partnerships with local businesses to provide students with internships, externships and apprenticeships.
According to Morecraft, the district is continually making updates to its security programs and recently installed new security cameras from money awarded the school districts by the county commissioners. The district upgraded its communications between teachers and the security officers, and is continuing to focus on STEM and STEAM programs.
Superintendent Dr. Helen McCracken said, as a result of a grant, the district will train its teachers in grades K-2 to teach computer coding.
In addition, $2,000 from the Community Foundation of Greene County (CFGC) for a K-2 computer science and technology program will supplement the K-2 coding grant. With the CFGC grant, the district will purchase seven iPads and cases to use in the kindergarten classrooms and learning support classrooms for primary grades.
Margaret Bell Miller Middle School will be instituting a new character building initiative through the Positive Action Program. Also added is an advisory class to improve academics and to strengthen students’ age-appropriate emotional reactions and behaviors.
The elementary school implemented a new K-5 math curriculum, Ready Math, which helps teachers foster a meaningful classroom environment where students develop mathematical reasoning, engage in discourse, build strong mathematical habits and become active, real-world problem solvers through teacher-led instruction. They will also have access to the iReady interactive online learning environment where their individual instructional needs are reinforced.
Starting this fall, high schoolers, because of a newly created partnership with Waynesburg University, can take dual enrollment courses through the new Achievement Academy, allowing them to take college level courses and receive both college and high school credit at no cost.
The high school will also offer an Intro to Computer Science course through Carnegie Mellon University starting this fall.
As to staff changes, Justin Stephenson takes over as principal and athletic director of Margaret Bell Miller Middle School.
Teachers in the Connellsville Area School District are adopting a new philosophy for a new school.
According to Superintendent Joseph Bradley, district educators are focusing on the “growth mindset” and reviewing data to ensure every student achieves and has access to equal education.
The growth mindset, coined by Stanford University psychology professor and pioneering researcher in the field of motivation Carol Dweck, is a concept that describes students’ ability to learn and achieve through effort if that effort is commended and reinforced, said Bradley, adding that the district is looking at student achievement growth of over a period of time.
To help students achieve, he said, the district will maintain focus on two recent technology initiatives: its complete 1:1 computing initiative that provides Chromebooks to all students K-12, and its five SMALLabs (or Situated Multimedia Art Learning Labs), which are installed at the district’s middle school and four elementary schools and provide embodied, interactive learning environments, of which Connellsville is one of the leading users throughout the nation.
Over the summer, the school district’s security personnel underwent a tactical training course to equip police officers and armed security with skills, techniques and knowledge to respond to active shooter situations. C2 Tactical Training & Consulting provided training to 15 members of the district’s security team in areas of weapons handling, restraint, de-escalation and active shooter response.
Frazier Elementary School was recently selected for the WQED/PBS Smart School initiative, through which the two media companies will provide educational resources and content focusing on STEM, literacy and technology education to students and staff during the one-year partnership.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Henderson said within the district’s 1:1 computing initiative, Chromebooks are receiving an upgrade at the elementary level, where they are utilized in grades 2-5. Students K-5 are set to revive digital literacy lessons through curriculum from nonprofit Common Sense Media.
The elementary school also added a maker space, extended its microgreens and aquaponics programs and is increasing computer science opportunities in grades 3-5 through curriculum from nonprofit Code.org, which will provide coding and programming activities and lessons.
Frazier Middle School will offer algebra I to eighth graders and Project Lead the Way curriculum in advanced design and modeling with robotics through a grant from Chevron, while the high school adds courses in human biology, life science, environmental science and public speaking.
Henderson said the district took advantage of grant money from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to upgrade the high school surveillance and security system by replacing approximately 77 cameras.
The district has added a makerspace to enhance problem-solving and discovery learning activities for its elementary students and expanded its engineering initiative into earlier elementary school grades to enhance and build connectivity, problem solving and hands-on learning with a focus on coding and computational learning.
The elementary school has continued to develop its partnership with Waynesburg University for after-school reading and math assistance. It has also established a Life Skills Autistic Support Classroom.
The middle school schedule has been modified for elective classes to move to a trimester system to allow for more time in computer coding, Spanish, engineering and public speaking classes.
The middle and high schools expanded their computer science and Project Lead the Way engineering programs.
High school health sciences curriculua now includes medical terminology, health careers and forensic science. The music department added an audio engineering course.
There’s been an addition to the graphics print shop in association with entrepreneurship course, Life Skills and engineering students. A cafeteria face-lift includes new furniture, charging stations and more.
After completion of the high school phase last school year, the district’s 1:1 computing initiative was introduced at the middle school level this year. In its third year, the technology initiative will put a tablet or device in the hands of all students within four years.
Dr. Jesse Wallace, superintendent, said Chromebook carts will be utilized in elementary classrooms for grades 3-5, and 60 iPads will provide interactive learning to K-2 students. The district also purchased new computers for classroom teachers.
Two capital improvement projects in the district are on the verge of completion, Wallace reported. Contractors are only weeks away from finishing a roof replacement at Clark Elementary School and a boiler replacement and air conditioning installation at Laurel Highlands Middle School.
Security enhancements across the district include the installation of 34 new 180-degree, ultra-high definition cameras in the interior and exterior of buildings.
Laurel Highlands’s three-year comprehensive plan was approved by the state Department of Education, which Wallace said was significant for the district. The plan, he said, redefined the district’s mission and established goals that include preparing students with goals to be successful and ensuring implementation of standards-aligned curricula across all schools.
Wallace said the district will begin a rebranding initiative later this school year to generate more school spirit and community connections. The rebrand will expand upon current Mustang iconography. The district will seek student, staff and community involvement in the process.
In Southeastern Greene, Superintendent Rich Pekar said an EQT STEM grant is providing a four-day workshop for Bobtown Elementary students grades 3-6. Each workshop will be divided into three stations: coding/robotics, makerspace/computer science and a discussion of STEM careers conducted by an EQT representative.
Mapletown’s new art teacher, Audrey Mlay, will teach a 3-D design and craft class that includes ceramics, vinyl and woodworking (in partnership with the wood shop).
Construction continues for a new sports storage and practice facility on campus. The district had been using Penn Pitt Elementary for practice and storage for wrestling, baseball and volleyball, but the building, in need of repair, was sold in June of 2017 because it no longer met district needs and wasn’t located on campus. Proceeds from the sale are being used to build the new facility which should be completed by the end of August.
Uniontown is taking steps to expand STEM education throughout the district, according to district curriculum coordinator Mindy Harris.
The district will introduce Hummingbird and SAM Lab robotics kits at the middle school level that require students to build and program robots to perform tasks through the use of Bluetooth technology.
Uniontown was awarded a PAsmart grant to add coding curricula to grades 3-8, through which all students will be exposed to coding and programming activities during computer classes by using Code.org lessons.
The district will continue its partnership this year with TEALS, or Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, in providing a high school computer science course that brings industry professionals into the classroom.
Several behavioral programs will also be introduced.
Lafayette and Ben Franklin schools have implemented school-wide positive behavior management for social emotional learning. Like Brownsville, Uniontown is teaming with TEAMology to teach weekly lessons on life skills and characteristics for students to deal with their emotions, said Harris.
Middle and high school students will receive lessons in substance abuse prevention through a partnership with the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission, with Botvin LifeSkills Training providing an evidence-based substance abuse and violence prevention program to sixth grade students district-wide, and Project Towards No Drug Abuse presenting drug prevention program lessons to high schoolers.
Additionally, Uniontown was awarded a state Pre-K Counts grant to provide 180 days of early childhood education to children ages 3-4 through partnerships with local childcare centers.
The high school has implemented Classroom Diagnostic Tools, designed by the state to help teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses in the three Keystone Exam subjects, around which instruction and curriculum is adapted based on student needs.
In West Greene, a renovation project is in the planning phase, for which the district is currently looking for sponsors for each room in the STEM, Agricultural Education and Art Education wings of the building, said Superintendent Brian Jackson.
The donations, said Jackson, would help fund the project from equipment to renovation costs.
The district is completing a paving project that involves the widening and lowering of the roadway behind the school for the purpose of loading and unloading the buses behind the school for safety and efficiency.
The West Greene Drone Academy will start up at the beginning of the school year, and the district is transitioning from just the BotsIQ competition to now building flight control robotic drones. It purchased two DJI Mavic Pro and Zoom drones through a grant received from the Community Foundation of Greene County.
Through a school safety and security grant, the district has made numerous purchases of safety equipment throughout the summer for installation throughout both the elementary and high schools, including Raptor ID scanning systems that run background checks on all school visitors.
New safety additions include security window film, locking devices for each classroom, new cameras, monitoring, intrusion detection and access control systems for exterior doors, trauma kits for each hallway to cover all of the student population, two-way radios, metal detectors and roll down security doors to be able to section off parts of the building after instructional hours to secure segmented areas of the school.