New programs at Sewickley Academy as students head back to school

September 23, 2018

There’s a lot of new and exciting things awaiting students as they head back to class Aug. 30 at Sewickley Academy.

The Cavalier Room in the Hansen Library at the middle and senior school has been transformed into a modern, collaborative workspace. Changes to the middle school English curriculum will provide students with a choice in reading. And a new math application is being rolled out at the lower level school.

Over the summer, all three English teachers from the middle school headed to Columbia University’s Teachers College for a weeklong reading and writing workshop. There they learned alongside teachers from Scotland and South Africa how to implement a program that allows students to choose which books they read in place of teacher’s assigning the same book to everyone in class.

“Instead, we’re going to be teaching uniform skills, like: What do good readers do? And allowing them to find that in their own text,” said Jessica Hecht, seventh-grade English teacher and dean of the seventh grade.

The focus is get to students to read more, said Anna Foust, sixth-grade English teacher and middle school English chair.

When students read books that are of “high interest” to them, they tend to read more, she said.

The goal this year is to get students to read about one book a week.

Although the students will have input about which books they read, it won’t be a free for all, the teachers said, and genres will be assigned to the students.

There will be units of study, for example, historical fiction, that seventh-graders will learn the skills surrounding truth versus fiction, Hecht said.

There will be times the teachers will give the students 10 books to choose from in a certain genre, Hecht said.

Students will have about 20 minutes out of a 70-minute English class to read, Foust said. During that time, teachers will pull students aside for targeted instruction.

The students will each be given readers’ notebooks where they will be asked to capture their thoughts as they read, Foust said.

The teachers collaborated with library personnel to ensure there were enough books ready for the students.

The overall goal is create a love for reading, Hecht said.

“We want our kids to be able to know who they are as a reader,” Foust added. “We’re trying to get them excited about a book.”

Students looking to kick back and read on their own, or just study in a chill space, will have the opportunity, as the Cavalier Room in the Hansen Library was transformed this summer.

“It feels just like a Barnes and Noble,” said Bevan Koch, director of teaching and learning. “It’s an amazing space.”

The area has club chairs and collaborative work spaces where students can work together.

“It’s not the old shh library space,” Koch said.

Students in the middle and senior schools have access to the library all day, she said. The senior school has college-style scheduling and students have free time during the day that they could spend in that space.

Another change for 2018-19 is the new math application for the lower school that teachers are being trained on prior to the first day, Koch said. The math application, Bridges to Mathematics, focuses on building a conceptual understanding of math.

“They’re learning: What is multiplication and how does it work?” she said.

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