Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day in the Life of Tim Swick: Recap

The day starts early in Mr. Tim Swick’s classroom at Pontiac Elementary School. Mr. Swick’s students trickle in one-by-one as they arrive to start their day. They open their Chrome books to get a head start on projects, or they silently read to themselves as they wait for class to start. During this time, Mr. Swick visits with each student to touch base.

“Did you finish your Social Studies projects?” He asks one student, who proudly shows Mr. Swick his projects on his Chrome book.

Mr. Swick, a teacher for 15 years, teaches at Pontiac Elementary’s Montessori Magnet Program. This “school within a school” features five primary, four lower elementary and three upper elementary classrooms serving students from three years old through fifth grade. Fourth- and fifth-grade students fill Mr. Swick’s multi-aged classroom. Montessori is a hands-on, interactive learning approach that allows students to learn in an enriched, supportive environment through exploration, discovery and creativity, with guidance and encouragement of a guide or teacher. Each child learns and develops at his/her pace through the use of materials and lessons introduced by the teacher. The program is child-directed, where students pursue interests, make responsible choices for themselves and direct themselves to constructive activities.

The first thing you might notice when you walk into Mr. Swick’s classroom is the lack of desks. Instead, the room is filled with book cases stacked with books, science projects and lessons — all accessible to students to help foster independence. There are group tables, rugs and a small library area where students can sit and read or work on projects. These areas allow students to work together as a group or work independently. The room is cozy, warm and welcoming. This enforces the Montessori idea that students learn best in a homelike setting, with materials provided that allow self-exploration and independence.

Once the school day starts, Mr. Swick asks his students to put away their materials and gather on the large area rug by the window for morning announcements. After morning announcements, students head off to “Global Time” — which, on this day, happens to be art. While the students are in art, Mr. Swick meets with Principal Katie Barber and Assistant Principal Jennifer Gillespie to discuss end-of-year data.

After “Global Time,” students file back into the classroom and take their seats on the rug for their daily morning meeting. Mr. Swick uses the time to help the students focus on the tasks ahead, which allows them set up their day for academic success.

“Let’s talk about what we are going to work on today, our plan of action,” Mr. Swick says. A big part of Mr. Swick’s job is keeping track on individualized work for each of his students.

“Fifth-graders, I would like you to write your own commencement speeches. I want you to have one final chance to say something about your school,” he says. The students watch a video of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford on the SMARTBoard.

Afterwards, students grab their writer’s notebooks. “What are some of the ingredients for a good speech?” asks Mr. Swick.

“Good quotes.” said one student. “Memories,” says another.

“You want to develop a theme,” says Mr. Swick. “And make it funny,” says a student.

“Keep adding to what you think makes a good speech as you work on your speech,” says Mr. Swick.

After the morning meeting, students move to uninterrupted work time, which allows them to work at their own pace on assignments. Mr. Swick walks around the classroom, posing questions to students as they work and offerings suggestions and encouragement.

“Try to use Scratch to make a presentation. Do you think you can do that? Give it a shot. You may surprise yourself,” he says to a student working on a social studies project.

While Mr. Swick acts as a guide in the classroom, he also steps in to offer a little extra help to those struggling with a task. “Bring your Chrome book, and let’s work on it together,” he says to one student.

During this uninterrupted work time, Mr. Swick also moves students into other tasks: spelling assignments for fourth-graders or a lesson on speed for a small group. After completing assignments, students are also encouraged to mentor a young student on different lessons. This is a win-win situation: one student learns new material while the other student masters old material through teaching. Mr. Swick can also determine if the student needs more practice in a lesson when they are unable to teach it to another student.

In the room, one fifth-grader mentors a fourth-grader on pre-algebraic equations.

“Are you going to use materials with that lesson? We are in a Montessori classroom,” Mr. Swick says with a laugh.

A highlight of Montessori education is its hands-on approach to learning. Students work with specially designed materials that they can manipulate until they master the lesson. Each material or lesson teaches a single skill or concept at a time.

To stay on track, students fill out a Work Time Choices sheet. This sheet lets them log their lesson or project, the time they spent working on it, as well as a description.

After two and half hours of uninterrupted work time, students gather on the rug for guided reading. Mr. Swick spends 30 minutes reading aloud The Fourteenth Goldfish, a book about coping with change and growing up. As he read, he notes important items. “There has been a foreshadowing in this book. Do you remember what foreshadowing means?” Mr. Swick asks the class.

After lunch the students return to the classroom for more independent learning. His fourth-graders stay working with his Teacher Assistant Lala Bowman while Mr. Swick takes the fifth-graders outside for fresh air and some spelling work.

Next, all the students spend time outside for recess, running laps or playing a friendly game of soccer. Mr. Swick joins in as a referee, coach and sometimes even as a player. Back inside, the class watches their favorite webcast and conducts an afternoon meeting before dismissal for the day. Mr. Swick ends his day with helping afternoon dismissal.

For Mr. Swick, the best part of his job is the 11 fifth-graders and 6 fourth-graders that make up his class. “I get the most out of being a part of helping my students learn to challenge themselves and accomplish new things they never thought they could accomplish.”

Below is Mr. Swick's day in photos. Visit our A Day in the Life album on Flickr to see more!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Family Intervention Services Grant to Improve Success for Students Returning From Alternative Placement

Richland Two's Family Intervention Services is the recipient of an Education and Economic Development Act (EEDA) funds for the Preparing College and Career Ready Graduates grant. The grant will be worth $ $375,000 over the next two-and-half years and will be used to fund the Building Bridges to Success program and other support and enrichment services at our two alternative academies.

Building Bridges to Success is a six-week multi-family group program that was developed specifically to meet the needs of the students and their families at Blythewood Academy and Anna Boyd School.  Participation in this or another family counseling service is required in order to transition back to their home school. Over the course of the grant, approximately 750 students will be impacted.

"We provide services to families because we see the family as the key to improving outcomes for children," said Dr. Karen Cooper-Haber, Family Intervention Services Coordinator.

Based on 2014-2015 school year data, participation in the program should result in decreased truancy, absenteeism (reduced 3 percent), discipline infractions (reduced 3 percent), and  drop-out rates (all participants complete an individual graduation plan). This will result in students' increased achievement, graduate rate (80 percent of participants will graduate on time) and positive attitudes about school and learning.

The money will fund add two “intersessions” during the summer. During these 4 day-long sessions, students will receive remediation as well as participate in learning and leadership activities. The grant also pays for three part-time positions: two case managers and a program coordinator. Case managers Ebony Langhorne and Taylor Davis develop plans for each student prior to their return to their home school. The plan includes linking students with a teacher, social worker, counselor or other appropriate adult who will assist in the student’s transition and success upon return to the home school.

Housed on the campus of Richland Northeast High School, the staff of Family Intervention Services provide individual and family counseling, multi-family groups, community service opportunities and ongoing dialogue with the school and other community representatives. Building Bridges to Success, recognized as an evidence-based intervention by the National Drop Out Prevention Center, focuses on family engagement, one of the 15 Effective Strategies for Dropout Prevention, according to National Dropout Prevention Center/Network at Clemson University. Family Intervention Services is the only school district program in the Midlands that employs family counselors who provides on-going counseling services to families.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Coming tomorrow: A Day in the Life of Tim Swick

Step into the shoes of Tim Swick, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Pontiac Elementary’s Montessori School, during this week’s A Day in the Life. Mr. Swick has held a variety of jobs, including baker, frame carpenter and newspaper journalist, before finding himself at home in the classroom for the last 15 years.

For Mr. Swick, his students are the best part of his day. "I get the most out of being a part of helping my students learn to challenge themselves and achieve new things they never thought they could accomplish," he said.

We're following Mr. Swick tomorrow. Follow @RichlandTwo on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook for a peek into A Day in the Life of Mr. Swick! ‪#‎ADITL

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thank You, Teachers

2016-2017 Richland Two Teacher of the Year
Kaitlin Manchester
Muller Road Middle School
Each year, National Teacher Appreciation Week is observed during the first full week of May. In Richland Two, we take this time to thank teachers for their dedication and hard work to reach and engage every child, every day. We're not shy about saying that our teachers are nothing short of amazing. As one speaker at the 2016 Richland Two Teacher of the Year Banquet put it, "What you do is magical."

So to each of our teachers we say, we are thankful for your magic and for you.

Take a moment and click on the following blue link for a message from U.S. Secretary of Education, John King: Thank You, Teachers

So much to see, so much to do! This weekend (May 6-8, 2016) in our community!

Visit the Richland Two Community Events Pinterest board for flyers and links to events this weekend! 

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Day in the Life: Daniel Murphy Recap

Special Education teacher Daniel Murphy begins Thursday, April 14, 2016, like most other days. He meets a student at the bus and walks him to class. Before the bell rings to signal the start of the day, several students from other classes stop by to wish him and his students a good day. The classroom is warm and inviting to visitors and the eight to 12 students who learn, engage and (often) dance there.

Mr. Clark, a teaching assistant from the classroom next door, stops in with a birthday gift Mr. Murphy's student. When the school year began, the boy had recently immigrated to the country and did not speak English.He had been diagnosed with autism in his home country but had not received services and did not have an IEP (Individualized Education Program), a written document developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. Less than nine months later, the student speaks English to his teachers and classmates without hesitation.

"It's really amazing," Mr. Murphy said. "He's absorbed so much in just this short amount of time."

Back in the classroom, Mr. Murphy takes a few minutes to check overnight folders for permission slips for upcoming field trips. Soon, seven students have arrived. They choose their incentive, which include, fruit snacks and iPad time, for the the day.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. In Richland Two, the number of students with autism receiving services has grown steadily. The district currently serves just under 500 such students in a variety of settings. The district has grown from seven classes for students with autism in 2000 to 23 this year. In just the past five years, the number of students served has increased by 132.

Mr. Murphy's classroom is self-contained for students in grades kindergarten through second with autism. Throughout the day, some of Mr. Murphy's students will leave occupational and speech therapy or join general education classes for related arts classes with  as well as for . They settle in a row of chairs near the front of the room to choose lunch and  watch the school's morning news show.

The class has been working on learning to tell time. On the SMARTBoard, Mr. Murphy draws hands on the clock and asks students to tell him the time. Then it's their turn.

"How would this clock look if it was 3 o'clock?" he asks a student. "Make sure your little hand is smaller than the big hand."

Next, it's on to counting money. Students follow along, counting by five as he points to nickels on the board. Then, it's time for a brain break. A second grader requests "A-moose-ta-cha," her favorite GoNoodle song, and the class breaks into a happy dance singing along.

The students spend the next chunk of time rotating through several centers including: fine motor, computer, reading and independent work. At one table, students examine small plastic animals and discuss their habitats. They play a memory game at a large table. At another, they work on counting. At each station, they work one-on-one with Mr. Murphy or teaching assistants Ms. Dana and Ms. Joy. The group of adults is rounded out by graduate student teacher Ms. Emily and substitute teacher Mr. Trevor. Throughout the day, the team works together seamlessly to keep students engaged and on task. Next, the class takes a trip to the computer lab. After they've practiced typing their vocabulary words, students are free to play an educational game.

After lunch, students practice their handwriting until recess. Back in the building and after a snack, it's time for some spelling work. One of the students is having trouble staying focused. Mr. Murphy is as patient as he is firm. "Hey," he says to the student. "Come back to me. You need to write this word."

Mr. Murphy loves his job, and it's evident in the care and attention he shows his students and staff. It's funny because he never planned on being a teacher at all. He enrolled at the University of South Carolina as a business major. After quickly discovering he had no passion for it, he changed his major to psychology. His mother found him a job working as an instructional assistant for children with autism, a job he kept for almost three years and the rest, is history. He student-taught at Forest Lake Elementary before teaching for six months at Rice Creek Elementary. Since 2009, Mr. Murphy has called Polo Road Elementary home. He met his wife Courtney when they both worked as teaching assistants at Bookman Road Elementary School.  She currently teaches a preschool inclusion class at Bookman Road. They have two children.

As the day winds down, students have some free time to play educational games, read to themselves or enjoy the incentive item they've been working towards. Mr. Murphy takes a few moments to answer emails and prepare for an upcoming IEP meeting. After school dismisses, he waits with a kindergarten student until her bus arrives, and he's done for the day.

"The best part, I would say, is getting to directly impact not only my students lives but the lives of their parents as well," he said.

Below is Mr. Murphy's day in photos. Visit our A Day in the Life album on Flickr to see more!

Be sure to follow @RichlandTwo on Twitter and Instagram. On May 12, 2016 we'll follow Pontiac Elementary School Montessori teacher Tim Swick!