Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cranston teachers become students with technology-based professional development

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

TEACHERS BECOME STUDENTS: Teachers fill the computer lab at Glen Hills elementary school, using technology to enhance their students’ learning.

When people think of teachers at this time of year, immediately their summer schedule comes to mind: two months of sleeping in and days at the beach.

What many people don’t realize is how many teachers use the summer as a chance to take advantage of professional development opportunities that directly benefit classroom instruction.

For the second summer in a row, many Cranston teachers were accepted to the Rhode Island Teachers and Technical Training Initiative (RITTI) through the Model Classroom Grant, part of a federal program called E2T2, which took place at Glen Hills Elementary School for two weeks in July.

“This program gives teachers two weeks of full-day training using technical tools in relevant ways to go along with the standards. They are trained in how to connect English/Language Arts with Science and Reading and Writing with Science through the use of technology,” said Fritz Benz, one of the program trainers from North Smithfield High School.

Initially, the teachers spend time delving into the state elementary science standards, learning exactly what needs to be taught at each grade level. They discuss ways of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of every student, and they are trained how to connect the most relevant technology tools to each unit of study at each grade level.

“We expose them to a whole variety of technology, and we get them to utilize that technology in ways that are relevant and meaningful for students,” said Benz.

During the second week, each teacher had to develop a unit or portion of a unit, centered on the state science standards, using technology.

Each unit will be entered into a database that all teachers who participate in the training will have access to, encouraging the sharing strategies across Rhode Island.

“The caveat is that each teacher who participates in the training also receives $4,000 in technology for their classrooms, which can include computers, digital video equipment and presentation technology,” said trainer Jean Carmody, a Cranston teacher.

Steve Sposato, a Westerly High School teacher and program trainer, explained that ultimately the goal of the program is to “get teachers to buy into and integrate whatever tools will facilitate kids getting hands-on technology experience.”

One of Cranston’s district math coaches, Linda Bello, was impressed by the presentations at the end of the two weeks.

“How they have developed their ideas and integrated technology is fantastic,” she said. “The kids will be responding to homework and prompts using wikis, and working on projects that are technology-based. Teachers have found new learning games for kids and linked them to their classroom websites.”

Carmody notes that the use of technology in the classroom allows kids to become further engaged in their learning and motivates them to learn at a higher level.

In addition to the benefit to the students, the teachers reap the benefits as well. They are able to spend two full weeks sharing ideas with other professionals, something they don’t often get to do as professional development opportunities are often few and far between, given the current fiscal crisis across the state.

“There’s a lot of teacher sharing, a lot of co-learning and socialized intelligence,” said Benz. “We want them to do more than just reproduce information. We want them to get the facts and utilize the facts and have a deeper engagement in their learning.”

The Cranston teachers participating in this summer’s training particularly impressed Benz.

“As somebody from outside Cranston, I have to say how impressed I am with the efforts of the teachers here. These teachers are fantastic,” he said. “They’re trying to get to another level for the kids. All of their focus is on the kids, and they really seem to be appreciative of the program.”

Benz noted that for every teacher who receives the training, there were twice as many applicants. He also stated that Cranston is a leader in the state of Rhode Island, piloting their science curriculum mapping work with the University of Texas’ Dana Center, and taking part in the RITTI/E2T2 training.

“They’re really taking control of the curriculum mapping information,” he said.

As part of the grant, the teacher participants are expected to bring back what they’ve learned and share it with the rest of their staff, teaching others.

“There’s a spirit of excitement and collaboration,” said Sposato. Carmody agreed.

“We’re encouraging them to think out of the box. It’s not just PowerPoint and Excel anymore,” she said. “There’s just no limit to what’s out there.”

Theater comes alive with 'Living Art'

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

TAKING THE SPOTLIGHT: Singing and dancing was a big part of this year’s “A Jungle Book” performance.

After five weeks of auditions, memorizing lines, learning songs and making new friends, the cast and crew of this summer’s Living Art Theatricks theater group performed another successful show this year.

There were students from all over Cranston performing the adaptation of Disney’s “A Jungle Book.” The students ranged in age from 5 through 17 years, according to the show’s producer, Jeff Buco.

“We had a lot of new kids this year and younger kids as well,” said Buco.

The group was started six years ago in order to bring theater to the children of Cranston by Buco and the show’s director, Michael Miele.

“Our goal was not just to put on a show and learn the fundamentals of theater, but to create friendships and a family atmosphere along the way. It’s more about the journey than the perfect show,” said Miele.

First-time performer, 10-year-old Samantha Mastrati enjoyed the journey very much.

“It’s pretty fun,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to memorize all the lines. I have a lot of lines; not as much as Mowgli, but a good amount.”

Mastrati played Buzzy the Vulture.

Two different actresses played Mowgli in this show. Hannah Sasa, a second grader at Hope Highlands, played Baby Mowgli, while Jayna McCarvill played the grown-up version.

"This was my first time in a show,” said Sasa. “It’s fun because you try out, and you get a surprise part, and you get to have fun with it.”

Sasa agreed with Mastrati that the hardest part of being in the show was memorizing all of the lines.

Sasa’s brother, Jordan, is heading into the ninth grade at Hendricken in the fall and has been in the Living Art Theatricks shows for the past three years as an actor. He transitioned this year into the more technical aspects of the show, working on the crew.

“This was fun. It really gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how you run the show,” he said.

Alex Sparks, a Park View student, played King Louie in the performance. He was a first-time performer as well.

“It’s really very fun, and you get to make new friends,” he said. “You get to play someone you can’t be in real life.”

The thrill of being in a stage performance in front of a live audience was expressed by many of the actors and actresses.

Robert Susi, an Oak Lawn fifth grader, was excited by being on stage.

“We get to be on stage in front of all the people, and they clap for you,” he said.

Susi has an interest in writing his own plays and has been working on several over the past few months.

Kaylee Dorr, age 10, explained some of the more technical, behind-the-scenes details that one might not think of when watching the show.

"The hardest part is getting in and out of costume,” she said.

Dorr plays an elephant and enjoyed all of the singing and dancing the best.

The performances were last weekend at Hope Highlands Elementary School, and the show seemingly went off without a hitch, although according to Miele, that’s not all that matters.

“It’s not about a perfect show or how it ends, but rather the friendships you make while getting there.”

Gill tournament 'rings' in a new year

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

A DAY TO REMEMBER: Jonathan Gill proposes to longtime girlfriend Bella Moses at the start of the golf tournament

The PS3 Ronald A. Gill Jr. Memorial Scholarship Foundation kicked off their fiscal year with the fourth annual golf tournament at Cranston Country Club on July 24.

The year’s tournament, which has been a sell-out every year, brought in 144 golfers this year and more than 200 people for the dinner, raising just under $13,000 for the scholarship fund.

The Gill Family began the Memorial Scholarship Foundation three years ago when their son Ron Gill Jr. was killed in a tragic accident while on duty with the Coast Guard in Alaska. Since its inception, the foundation had raised $70,000 in scholarship money as of June 30.

“We had more people than ever before, and this was our kick-off to start the new year,” said Ron Gill Sr. “If everything goes the way we think it will, we should exceed $100,000 next year.”

This year’s tournament was especially meaningful and yet very difficult for Ronnie’s family because July 21 would have been his 30th birthday.

“Although this event is a tremendous success and the primary fundraiser, I think you all know where we would rather be,” said Ron. “Never in a million years did we think we’d be spending Ronnie’s 30th birthday visiting him at the cemetery.”

A bright spot occurred on that day, however, when Ronnie’s brother, Jonathan, proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Bella Moses, on the golf green at the start of the golf tournament.

“That was a special moment; she was very surprised,” said Ron.

The golf tournament began with a full lunch sponsored by Shaw’s, and after a full day of golfing (despite a rain shower before the back nine), a full dinner was served at Cranston Country Club, another one of the foundation’s generous supporters.

Businesses and individuals around the state support the foundation events, donating services, raffle items, even golf tees for the golfers.

Mayor Allan Fung was ready to spend his day golfing for a good cause that afternoon.

“It’s a beautiful day for this fantastic event. I’m happy to be able to support the Gill family and foundation,” the mayor said. “They do so many wonderful things for Cranston and our students. I hope we raise lots of money for the foundation so we can help even more Cranston students in the future.”

The golf tournament is just the beginning, and two more events are close on the horizon.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, Christopher’s Cranston Deli and Pub at 1458 Park Ave. will be donating 20 percent of all proceeds from noon to 6 p.m. to the foundation, as well as tips from “celebrity” bartenders Barbara Dardeen and Tara Harrington.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, The Tavern in Framingham, Mass. will be hosting a “Meat Shoot” to benefit the foundation at 2 p.m.

“These are our two newest events,” said Gill. “Kelsey DeJesus, one of our scholarship recipients, always works so hard to come up with new ideas, and these were her ideas.”

Gill noted that Tommy’s Pizza also raised a great deal of money for the scholarship fund on July 6, when a portion of all proceeds that afternoon went to the foundation.

“They sold 226 pizzas alone that day,” Gill said proudly. “It was extremely successful.”

The Foundation has all of its usual events planned for the upcoming year, as well as a new event planned for Saturday, Sept. 17. Witzend will be holding a benefit concert at Cranston Country Club from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. A minimum $5 donation will be taken at the door and Cranston Country Club will offer free pizza, calzones and sandwiches until 10:30 that evening.

“The band has been around for years and they approached us and said they’d like to do a benefit concert for us,” Gill said. “They’re donating all of their time. If this goes well, it’ll become a regular fall fundraiser for us.”

Ed Hanley of the Cranston Country Club summed up the Gills’ dedication to their son’s memorial scholarship foundation and Ron’s never-ending efforts for the foundation when he welcomed everyone to the tournament.

“I’d like to thank you all for coming today. This man puts in 110 percent every year,” Hanley said.

For more information on the upcoming PS3 Ron Gill Jr. Memorial Foundation events, visit their website at

Bain fights the summer slide

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

JUST THE FACTS: Derek Masterson works closely with Nick Burns on mean, median and mode during the math portion of Bain’s summer SMART program.

Tom Barbieri has a dream that one day his school, Hugh B. Bain Middle School, will be open almost all year long.

This year, he began moving steadily towards his goal when Bain remained open for several days during school vacations for academic enrichment and recreational activities.

And this summer, Barbieri took another step forward as the school hosted a four-week program that again combined academics and recreation.

According to a story from Time magazine, a century of studies have found that “the average student loses about a month of progress in math skills each summer, while low-income students slip as many as three months in reading comprehension, compared with middle-income students.” Additionally, “By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.”

Barbieri and his staff are trying to fight what’s been nicknamed the “summer slide,” or summer learning loss, by keeping students at Bain actively engaged all year long.

What started out as a random question about summer reading from a faculty member quickly became a real goal: keeping students academically engaged over the summer in preparation for the coming school year.

“We decided to ‘require’ our students to do something in reading, writing and math over the summer to keep them fresh for September,” Barbieri explained.

A packet of activities in the various subjects was developed, which was aligned with the Rhode Island Grade Level Expectations, and a letter was sent home to parents explaining the available options. The program was nicknamed the SMART program (Student Math and Reading Tasks).

Students could complete the packets on their own at home, or they could take advantage of free academic support at the school each morning over four weeks’ during the summer months.

The packets featured fun and engaging themes and activities.

The math packet was based on a Boston Red Sox theme (Barbieri is a steadfast fan) and had students learning about player statistics, ballparks, merchandise and franchise history.

The reading packet asked students to pick two recommended books from a list, or two other books of interest to the students while still at their level, and complete activities such as creating the front page of a newspaper, writing a movie script, writing a song, or creating a mobile about the book.

In addition, Bain+2, the extended day program housed at Bain during the school year, was offering a four-week Adventure Camp summer program as well.

Therefore, the students could participate in academic enrichment with Bain faculty members in the mornings, and then join the camp for structured learning activities and trips in the afternoons for a nominal fee.

“Why can’t school be different in the summertime? Why can’t we do some academics in the mornings and do fun activities in the afternoons, all around our state?” Barbieri asks.

“These are lifelong things our kids need to know about their own communities,” he said, citing some of the opportunities for afternoon activities that were being scheduled, including surfing lessons, trips to parks, aquariums and the local libraries for teen activities.

Barbieri emphasized that creating the summer SMART program and the accompanying packets was a partnership that involved many people, not only his dedicated faculty and staff but also faculty members from other schools as far away as South Kingstown Middle School. He also cited Brittany Sandbergen, the Bain+2 coordinator, as the backbone to the program, helping him to develop the schedule and much of the school to home communication. Sandbergen estimated that on a daily basis during the four-week program, approximately 70 students participated in the programs.

“And that’s just a start,” Barbieri said. “I’d love to see the whole school here.”

Sandbergen felt that parents were excited and heard them express appreciation for the program.

“One dad was so excited, he said he’d never seen a program like this before,” Sandbergen said.

Barbieri stressed the fact that time is of the essence when working with the students.

“We only have two years with these kids,” he said. “We need to start building relationships early and building leadership capacity, which will hopefully benefit them in the high school years and in our community down the line.”

Sandbergen agreed.

“Because so many incoming seventh graders are enrolled here, they’re getting to see teachers that they may have, see their principal, and the Bain+2 program. It eases their transition,” she said.

Barbieri tries to tour the building each day during the four-week program, popping into classrooms.

“It’s important for these kids to see that I’m here, too,” he said. “No one’s here because of the [hourly wage]; they’re here because they want to give those kids a good shot for September. It all started with one staff member, and this is what we should be doing for kids.”