Sunday, May 7, 2017

Proposed New Schedules for St. Mary's Academy Middle School

Proposed Schedule and Assessment Changes in the MS - 2017-18

During late-starts professional development time, MS faculty meetings, and in small groups during planning periods, the MS faculty has been considering ways to enhance the learning environment at St. Mary's Academy. 

Our guiding questions include the following:
     How can we deepen learning and joy of learning at school?
     How can we slow the hectic pace of a typical school day?
     How can we structure learning at school to focus homework on reading and math?
     How can we more intentionally use one-to-one technology at school? 
     How can we better guide students in the ethical and social use of technology?
     How can we better prepare students to be smart and creative problem-solvers?
     How can we build character traits such as resiliency, perseverance, courtesy,....
     How can we make learning more relevant?

This coming school year, we will test a new schedule. Five smaller sections of ~15-17 students are scheduled for 55-minute core academic periods that rotate over five days. Each teacher and student meet four of five sections each day. Grade-level CAT time will occur on core days and the traditional MS CAT will meet on Wednesday, for community service, and for CAT games. Religion classes will meet on core class days. Religion, electives, sports, and physical education are 40-45-minutes.

Sixth sports and PE are scheduled together. No electives or fine arts for sixth grade occurs during fourth period. This allows the day to end with religion or electives rather than with core academic classes, something that is not possible with the current schedule.

This year, to provide more regular professional development and in line with RJ and Kent, SMA’s Middle School will have a late start every Wednesday. As in the past, a monitored study hall will be available beginning at 7:30 a.m. on the late-start Wednesdays. In addition, the HS NHS will offer a math lab for those students who arrive at the regular time on Wednesday. This will also be an ideal time for contracted tutors to meet their clients. We hope to develop more options for early arrivals. We also encourage those students who are able, sleep a little later.

On late-start Wednesday, students will engage in exploratory classes and teachers will team up to plan and lead those classes. Products could be a video or writing piece, a presentation of learning, cooperative research work, or problem-solving explorations. On these days, contracted remediation specialists will be able to schedule time with individual students.

In addition, we are reformatting the report card to include learning traits such as engagement, persistence, self-control, respect, collaboration, organization in addition to noting academic progress. After a bit more editing and conferencing, we will provide a link. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Innovating at St. Mary's Academy

Innovating at St. Mary's Academy

St. Mary's Academy is entering its next phase of educational excellence, one that is more firmly grounded in an inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary, creative, and joyful approach in which the student is the center of a community of learners that includes teachers, parents, administration, and trustees. 

Currently, we are studying models, reading, researching, and collaborating on schedule, evaluations, programs, and curricula. What is motivating our quest? Our observations of and experience with students in a rapidly changing world are our prime motivators. We see shifts in how students are learning and how they more often struggle with stress-management and identifying a sense of personal and world purpose. More students are being identified with learning disabilities, defiance disorders, iAddictions, depression, anxiety, and challenges with focus.

We hear from parents who are asking for guidance. Some tell us homework loads, club sports, screens, and other commitments are replacing family time and causing excessive stress at home. Some express worry about their children spending hours and hours on school assignments and not sleeping and playing enough. Others express exasperation for their children who seem to be giving up on learning either because of disinterest, a feeling of overload, or a sense that they are not smart enough. 

We believe that both extremes and all in between can be addressed with innovative ideas and practices that build on St. Mary's Academy's history of innovation, the Loretto legacy of educating students to be bold and positive agents of change, and the extraordinary committed and smart members, past and present, that make up the SMA community. We know every student can learn, and curiosity and a desire to learn are part of being human.

In this evolving model, an increase in reading, writing and speaking skills are paramount, along with a deep understanding of the language of mathematics to model the physical and probable. Emphases on the teaching of leadership, positive risk-taking action, ethics, contemplation, and empathy will continue to be grounded in the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect. We are committed to continuing the positive aspects and commitments that are part of a St. Mary's Academy education. 

The innovations we are considering involve more collaborative partnerships among the three divisions and with schools and organizations outside the immediate St. Mary's Academy community in support of the study of social issues, problem-solving strategies, network complexity, and knowledge management, synthesis, and application. We are re-imagining the summer programming to provide inspiring courses for all ages that include leadership, physics, robotics, mathematical modeling, literature, and collaborative partnerships. We are considering the spaces in our buildings and how to best configure them for learning.

Currently, in MS, changes in schedule and how students are evaluated are inspiring other innovative considerations such as giving students more voice and choice, increasing subject-matter connectedness around themes, issues, and in assignments from reading to science labs to motivate connected, relevant learning. The quantity and focus of home assignments are being studied. We are considering how to implement a more intense and broadly integrated character-ed thread to the SMA experience, as well as teaching students more about how the brain works and what we need to learn well.

A few of the questions we are asking and seeking to answer in the context of innovation, change, and a future that is difficult to envision are the following:

What qualities of a learner are most important for a SMA student to acquire?
What are the most important academic skills for a SMA student to acquire?
What are the most important attributes of character for us to nurture?
Are these qualities, skills, and attributes best to support students in the unknowable future?
How do we fairly and fully assess acquisition of these qualities, skills, and attributes?
What content is essential to impart and ensure mastery of and why? 
How can students be given more voice and choice?
How can we better support and benefit from parents as learners and partners? 
How can we better model and teach the practice of mindfulness and prayer?
What can we do schedule-wise to support student learning?
How can we more optimally use our facilities?
When do we find the time to do this important work that involves collaboration?
How do we create an environment that allows for healthy risk-taking, errors, and revision.

Our teachers and students are creating a base of ideas and energy, and in the coming months, they would like to share and solicit input from parents. To that end, we invite parents, trustees, and any interested member of the St. Mary's Academy community to meet in the MS Commons in April. A series of meetings will be held at different times of the day. Meanwhile, please consider reading any or all of the following books:

Beyond Measure
Vicki Abeles with Grace Rubenstein
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks
Copyright 2015            ISBN: 978-0-670-01671-6

Creative Schools – The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
Ken Robinson, Ph.D. with Lou Aronica
Viking – Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright 2015            ISBN: 978-0-670-01671-6

#EdJourney-A Roadmap to the Future of Education
(Moving the Rock will be published this coming fall-2017)
Grant Lichtman
John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Copyright 2014            ISBN: 978-1-118-89858

Mari K. Swingle PhD
New Society Publishers        

Copyright 2016            ISBN: 978-0-86571-825-8

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Brains in an i-Tech Digital World

Vulnerable Brains - Digital World and Learning

Students are increasingly anxious without their personal devices, and when they are at hand, they are hard put to forego active engagement with them, even when the immediate environment strongly calls for person-to-person interaction. Adults are demonstrating the same. Our phones beep, vibrate and sing through meetings, parties, and family dinner.  

Brain scans are measuring higher states of arousal attributed to a decreased ability to self-quiet as the human brain speeds up to keep up with digital interaction, and therapists note an increase in hyperactivity, depression, and obstinacy disorders in toddlers, pre-teens and young adults (from the book i-Minds by Mari K. Swingle). 

As educators we are paying attention to emerging studies about i-tech's role in development, studies that show a decrease in an "ability to sustain focus on the normal, the baseline states of observation, contemplation, and transitioning from which ideas spark." (i-Minds)

This is shocking even if we have seen and felt it for some time now, and so somehow knew it before we read it in a study. How can students learn, innovate and create in a world desperately in need of such if their observations skills, capacity to integrate information, and ability to be still and contemplate are compromised? 

In school, students begin note taking or research on their devices with good intentions, and then an alert presents itself on the screen. Their curiosity is piqued and almost without conscious awareness they are exchanging text messages, responding to snap chat, or checking in to a i-game. They explain to us that they are trying to stay focused, yet cannot. 

Even the most capable managers of devices are drawn away at critical points during the school day and at home. Some of our students are spending hours and hours gaming outside of school and then when at school, are unprepared and disinterested. We are making adjustments to the program here at St. Mary's Academy in response, seeking to enhance interactions, discussions, emotional and social IQ's, and creativity. 

Below, I have included a link to an article boldly titled "It's 'digital heroin': How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies." The title is extreme but perhaps in this digital age, it takes extreme to grab our attention. If you would, share what you learn - other articles, research, and books. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Loretto Leaders Announce Spirit Week 2017


This is a week of FundRaising and FunRaising dedicated to our service relationships – Martins, Meridian, St. Elizabeths, Cochiti Pueblo and Peru.

During the next week, we will have a different theme for dress and a different contest of the day. Contests take place after recess in the Commons. It costs $2 to play with all proceeds going to our service relationships. Prize for winners is a $10 I-Tunes Gift Card. You may sign up on the MS Door.

We will also have a coin war going on all week. Winning grade at the end of the week receives an ice-cream sundae during lunch. And, we will have a canned food collection with the class collecting the most cans receiving a homework pass.

Each grade is trying to make the most spirit points and win the spirit award, which will be announced before 2:30 p.m. next Friday. Grade winning Spirit Week receives a free dress-down day and pizza lunch.

Points are earned for your grade by:
Weight of the coin containers each day,
Number of cans each day,
Pod clean up each day,
Percent in your grade dressed in theme each day,
Percent in your grade entering the daily contest,
Pod decoration, which is judged on Friday mid-morning

We are hoping for a no-homework night on Thursday, February 9 for the grand finale on Friday and for the seventh and eighth grade boys’ afternoon with their dads on Thursday.

MONDAY – Led by Lydia, Simi and Olivia
Dress Theme – Lounge Day (loose winter PJ’s or sweats; No Onesies; slippers only inside MS building; wear regular shoes to school and change)
Contest – Limbo $2 to enter for Martin’s and for spirit points

TUESDAY – Led by Arely, Lillian H., and Maddie K.
Dress Theme – Super Hero or Animated Movie Character
Contest – 3 vs. 3 Soccer

WEDNESDAY – Led by Gwen, Emma D., and Simone
Dress Theme – Mix-It-Up (crazy colors, crazy hair, mix and don’t match, dress as you aren’t)
Contest – Obstacle Course $2 to enter for St. Elizabeths

THURSDAY – Finn, CeCe, and Maya
Dress Theme – Throwback to Childhood or a Decade (8th-80’s; 7th-70’s; 6th-60’s)
Contest – Jump Rope $2 to enter for Cochiti Pueblo

FRIDAY – Tawnee, Melanie, and Christian
Dress Theme – Oscars (Movies) for 8th; Tony’s (Musical Theatre) for 7th, and Grammy’s (Music) for 6th (Dress as the artist or the character of the artist.)
Contest – Jump Rope $2 to enter for Peru
MORE information about pod decorations to come

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Blog – Screens, Conferences, Spirit Week, and Socials

Winter Blog – Screens, Conferences, Spirit Week, and Socials


For five years now, the MS has issued tech devices to each of its students. With every student equipped to access the world through his or her fingertips on iPads, we began exploring fresh ways to provide skill development, broader perspectives, knowledge, daily assignments, and tests. We excitedly created rubrics for new projects. We purchased apps and online textbooks. We developed Google sites.

Though we established expectations and rules for the use of these devices, even having parents and students sign user agreements, we quickly realized that Pandora’s box was open. Along with all the positive attributes are broken screens, tech issues, lost files, snap-chats, mimes, and games. The interactions that characterize a group of learners in a classroom are less genuine, focused, and meaningful, and the same is true in the pod before school.

Screens are addictive and exceedingly demanding. While making notes or working on a project, notifications keep popping up in the corner of the screen. A friend or mom sends a message that cannot easily be ignored. An addiction to a game or social site distracts you from being in the moment.

The pendulum swings, and we are learning as educators to more intentionally direct and limit the use of the devices at school, creating more device free activities and ensuring that we issue hard copies of textbooks. In seventh grade, we are experimenting with having students leave their iPads at home for study, research, and Google site access. The increased engagement is wonderful to behold.

We believe that technology is a tool, one more of many, that supports curricular design and delivery rather than being the impetus and starting point for such design. The cart was getting ahead of the horse. There is no blame. All of us are learning how to optimally live with our personal devices at hand.


On February 2 and 3, the second set of formal conferences is scheduled. These are short but potentially meaningful meetings with two of your student’s teachers. The primary objective is for students to witness and participate in a meeting where there is collaborative dialogue around goals, strategies and problem solving. Being the focus of teachers and parents together in one place offers students an opportunity to practice representing themselves, as they will increasingly be called upon to do in their lives. 

Please, please know that if you have questions or concerns of an academic, social or emotional nature, do not wait for formal conferences to address them. Teachers are available to you. Leave a voice or email message and set a time to meet with a particular teacher or several teachers as the issue dictates. Do not be shy. We are all on the same team. 

Spirit Week

Spirit week is set for February 6-10 and is a student-led fundraising and fun-raising week of activities that include dress days, silly contests, and sweet-treat sales. We hope to include a faculty-student basketball game in the mix. Do not be alarmed if your student leaves the house with crazy hair designs and costumes during that week. The proceeds from contests, sweet treats and coin war go to the MS service account in support of our work at St. Elizabeth’s, Martin’s, Meridian, Porter Place, Cochiti, and Peru. Each year, we raise close to $2000 on behalf of our work in the community.


The Island social, originally scheduled for February 10 was somehow not scheduled for that date. Now it is February 24. That is why we did not schedule a social in January. The two other socials of the second half of the school year are scheduled for March 10 and May 5.

These three socials are MS socials organized by teachers or parents for SMA MS students only. They are not formal or fancy. They are casual and low-key. For that reason, please respect the following:

1.   For the Island social, parents are asked to come into the building to sign in their child upon arrival and sign out their child when retrieving them. For socials at SMA, parents may drop off and pick up students in carpool fashion in front of Bishop Evans.

2. On behalf of the chaperones, please be prompt for pick up.

3. Limousine delivery and retrieval of students does not match philosophically with the mission and values of St. Mary’s Academy. Your respect of this is appreciated – no limousine delivery or retrieval. These are fun, casual middle school events.

4. Please, no after-parties. A small group slumber party or hanging out afterward with a good friend is reasonable.

5. For many good reasons, this is an event for SMA Middle School students only. Students attending schools other than St. Mary’s Academy are not allowed to attend.