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The Virtual Backpack will contain information about upcoming events in the Mahopac CSD. It is located on the right of the navigation bar, next to "Staff Resources."
The Virtual Backpack will contain information about upcoming events in the Mahopac CSD. It is located on the right of the navigation bar, next to "Staff Resources."
With the holidays and almost half of the school year behind us, Mahopac’s elementary schools remain a place where students are encouraged to be kind and engage with their teachers and fellow students.
Each day this week included a costume and activity theme. Students dressed for a beach day on Tuesday, in their pajamas on Friday, and on Wednesday each elementary school even had unique themes.
The theme on Tuesday was Ride the Wave of Kindness, and the theme didn’t just extend to students’ attire. In Kate Legeret’s kindergarten class, students passed a beach ball around, and whoever caught it sat in a beach chair and told the class about a kind thing that they did.
Classes throughout Lakeview participated in a schoolwide activity that began with a special video message in which Principal Jenn Pontillo read “The Jelly Donut Difference,” by Maria Dismondy to students. After that, Robin Clark’s kindergarten class was tasked with coming up with six different ways that they could be kind, just like the children in the story.
“I can help someone up when they fall down,” kindergartener Caroline explained.
With the help of their fifth-grade buddies from Mary Moriarty’s class, the kindergarteners wrote down the ways that they could be kind on their worksheets.
“I can share my toys with my friends,” Cassidy said. “And I can let other people join my games!”
While the kindergarteners were coming up with ways to be kind, their fifth-grade buddies guided them in putting their thoughts to paper.
“I’ve wanted to be a fifth-grade buddy since I was in kindergarten,” fifth grader Maddie said. “I remember my fifth-grade buddy, and I really like working with the little kids.”
The Great Kindness Challenge, presented by the global nonprofit, Kids for Peace, was launched in 2012 to address bullying and foster connection, inclusion, and compassion. Millions of students across the country participated in acts of kindness this week.
Velcro. Shark Skin swimsuits. Aircraft.
These are all examples of biomimicry, the practice of devising solutions to everyday problems using strategies from nature. Austin Road fourth graders learned about biomimicry recently in a workshop with Danny Carvill, an educator from the Center for Environmental Education at PNW BOCES.
When Carvill asked for a volunteer, Thomas stepped up to the front of the class. Carvill gently placed a small cluster of burrs on the back of the student’s shirt. As burrs often do, they stuck to the fourth grader’s shirt. Next, Carvill asked the students why the plants stuck to Thomas’ shirt.
“They’re seeds!” one student called out, “Spikes!” “Hooks!” yelled others.
Carvill explained that burrs have small hooks that grab onto loops in fabric and animal fur. In fact, the inventor of Velcro fasteners took the idea from the burrs that stuck tenaciously to his dog’s fur.
After providing other examples of biomimicry, Carvill challenged the students to take inspiration from the natural world and create their own inventions. Some drew wings that could carry a man in flight. Others made multi-purpose suits that could protect wearers against extreme temperatures and camouflage them in various terrain.
A student named Zaen drew an apparatus with multiple joints and strong, arm-like braces.
“It’s a claw grabber like on a praying mantis,” Zaen said. “It has hollow parts to scoop things up in case you want to grab something round that would normally slip out.”
By teaching students about biomimicry, teachers can connect the natural world, technology, human innovation, invention and sustainability – all relevant areas of study for today’s students.
A flurry of yellow and red leaves fell around the students from Mahopac’s three elementary schools as they waited for the event that they had spent weeks preparing for to begin. Students were wearing their elementary school colors: green T-shirts for Fulmar Road, black for Austin Road and yellow for Lakeview.
The 145 second, third, fourth, and fifth-grade students sat on the grass at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park listening as physical education teacher Bill Huestis prepared them for the run.
“When can we go?” one Austin Road student called out.
The students were about to run 3.1 miles in two laps around a paved, flat, circular route. Some of the students were nervous, while those who had run the 5K before were excited. After some final words of encouragement from Superintendent Christine Tona, students took to the starting line.
The shrill sound of a whistle carried across the park. The runners were off. They began in a pack but stretched out as the race progressed. Parents and teachers waited by the finish line.
After less than half an hour, students began to cross the finish line, beginning with Isaiah Mitchell who said that “the race was only a little hard.”
Mitchell and his classmates had been training for the run in the weeks leading up to the event and had participated in the run at Lakeview Elementary School the prior week.
Parents and teachers congratulated students as they poured across the finish line, handing out ribbons and medals.
When asked how he was feeling after the race, Fulmar Road student Jonathan said that he felt good about his performance, but that “I kept looking back for other runners.”
That was when another Lakeview fourth grader chimed in, saying, “I’m happy and I’m hungry.”
By 3:10 pm on Tuesday, three groups of Mahopac students had collected on the grassy hill outside of Lakeview Elementary.
Each group wore T Shirts corresponding to their elementary school, green for Lakeview, Black for Austin Road, and Yellow for Fulmar Road. All three crowds cheered and looked on in anticipation at the grass field and array of cones below. It was a day that they had been training for, the day of the Lakeview Run, which had been organized by all of the Mahopac elementary physical education teachers.
“I want to go first!” one Lakeview student called out.
That was when the first heat was called up, the oldest of the elementary school runners, the 10 to 11-year-olds. Once all of the students were corralled behind the starting line, Donn Tobin held his flag up and signaled for the first run to begin.
The oldest group ran a 1-mile-long course, while the two younger groups ran three quarters of a mile and half of a mile respectively. There was a healthy sense of competition as each of the races began and the runners spread out.
Some students slowed down, encouraging their winded classmates who were struggling to keep up and pushing them to make it to the end.
By the end the runners were exhausted. Students collected their award certificates and then made their way back to their spots on the hill to rest.
“Waiting was really nerve wracking!” fourth grader Fiona said after the race.
While many students were challenged by the distance, others were looking forward to next week’s run, the FDR Park 5k.
“I was tired,” fourth grader Scarlet said, “but I was ready for it to be harder!”
Who doesn’t love a fire truck?
First graders from Austin Road Elementary were thrilled to get up close to a fire truck when they visited the Mahopac Falls Fire Department as part of fire safety month.
The trip began with an explanation of the suits that firefighters use and how to remain safe during a fire.
One fire volunteer pointed to his colleague who was wearing a breathing apparatus and said. “If there is a fire and you hear that noise, make a lot of noise so that he can find you!” The firefighter began to breathe and the distinct sound of air running through the device filled the room.
The Austin Road students then split up into four groups and visited various locations around the fire station. They had a chance to sit in and learn about an ambulance. In another area, they saw and got to climb inside a fire engine. Students even had the opportunity to use a firehose to put out a mock fire under the supervision of one of the volunteers.
The final stop for the students was the safety truck where they viewed multiple real world examples of situations that could result in a fire. The displays in the safety truck included common household locations like the stovetop in a kitchen, fireplace, and a second floor bedroom.
As adults, many Americans struggle to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Teachers at Austin Road Elementary strive to help students form healthy habits that they can carry with them throughout their lives, beginning with the Elementary Cross Country Program. A staple in the town for decades, the program culminates with a 5k run at FDR Park on October 26.
Students from second to fifth grade who volunteer get together to run several mornings a week behind the school. They run under the supervision of Bill Huestis, Lauren Kittredge, and Bob Cohowicz.
As the students completed lap after lap during a recent session, the teachers used markers and popsicle sticks to denote how many laps each student had completed. Each student had to complete all 10 laps within 40 minutes in order to qualify for the 5k run at FDR Park.
“We have entire families that have run the race,” Kittredge said.
For his part, Huestis said, “It’s all about healthy habits… it’s great to hear from parents that their children have kept up with it into middle school.”
Both the FDR Park and a run at Lakeview are scheduled to take place in the next two weeks and they are certain to be a true challenge for the elementary school students, but the Austin Road runners will be ready.
When Roseanne Hall’s fifth grade class heard that they would be having a lesson with Sarah Weeks—bestselling author of “Pie,” “Save Me a Seat” and “So B. It” —the students were excited to get started.
In events organized by PTO Co-President Susan Downey, Weeks has been video calling into fourth and fifth grade classes to provide students with tips and lessons on writing. Many of Hall's fifth graders are excited to write but struggle to find the spark to start their stories, so the class was all ears when Weeks introduced that topic. Her answer, however, wasn’t quite what they were expecting.
Weeks told the students that in order to find something to start writing about, they only needed to look up from their notebooks. The class was presented with an image that Weeks had taken of the front of an abandoned bowling ball; visible within the gripping holes of the ball was a spider web.
Weeks told students that when she saw the bowling ball, she felt compelled to take a picture of it and to use it as a basis for writing. She speculated as to what kind of spider might make its home in such an odd place. From there, all of the details and characters and story flowed. The lesson was simple: all that the students need to do to start writing is to take a close look at the world around them.
The next image to go up on the smartboard was of cookies shaped like animals on a baking sheet. That was when Weeks handed the reins over to the students and told them that they should search for inspiration in the image and write a story from the perspective of one of the cookies with the added challenge of not explicitly stating which cookie each student had chosen.
With only five minutes before they would start to share their writing, the room hummed with the sounds of scratching pencils and turning pages. Every student focused in on their unique cookie and perspective. Once time was up, students began to share their stories with Weeks and their peers.
While only a brave few students raised their hands initially, after the first volunteer, almost every student in the class wanted to share their work. The time went by quickly and there was too much enthusiasm for writing for everyone to be able to share their pieces with Weeks.
It seems that the author’s lesson had the desired effect.
Sarah Weeks will continue to speak with students in Austin road's fourth and fifth grade classes in the coming weeks.
How do you express yourself through art? Start small.
That was the lesson that Chris Williams, Austin Road Elementary’s new art teacher, shared with kindergartners Wednesday. Williams began the class by reading “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds, a picture book that describes the struggle of Vashti, a student who finds it hard to express herself through art. Eventually, Vashti’s teacher convinces her to start with a simple dot and then to sign the paper, helping her take ownership of her work.
One dot became two, small dots became large dots and all sorts of colors were used and she even made an inverted dot by surrounding the blank space with other dots. Vashti made all sorts of images from dots and found that she could make bigger images from smaller, easier shapes. While showing off her art, Vashti gets to take on the role of teacher for another student who is just as nervous as she was.
While art class isn’t necessarily the place that you would normally expect to find a read aloud, the story was the foundation of the lesson and the kindergarteners easily found their groove drawing with lines and dots with all sorts of colors and techniques. When quizzed, some students had a very clear idea of the images that they were creating, like Jack, who pointed to the concentric lines on his page and declared, “This is the outer core and the inner core of the Earth!”
Williams also took the time to explain that the author of The Dot also illustrated it. The students couldn’t believe that someone could write and illustrate. Later, this prompted a student named Teagan to claim that she was going to grow up to be “an artist and a principal!”
By the end of the lesson, (and the end of several paint sticks), some students had to be pulled away from the art that they were creating. In stacking so many dots and lines on top of one another, the kindergarten students learned an important lesson: lots of small, simple skills build into more complicated and difficult ones over time.
The message was clear, in order to become good at something, you have to start small.
When the fifth graders in Beth Doré’s class start to garden, they learn about more than getting their hands dirty.
Doré, who has been the garden coordinator at Austin Road Elementary School for 1o years, turns gardening into an opportunity for hands-on learning and incorporates most subjects in the curriculum into the experience.
“The students start by writing a story we call “Hello Garden,” Doré said. “It's about using your five senses in the garden. Then they learn about plant parts for science, distances and measuring for math and healthy eating for health and nutrition.”
Along the way, she works some history and geography into the lessons. It is a lot to pack into a small plot of land, but somehow she manages to plant the seeds of learning along with the tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, herbs and flowers that grow in abundance.
On a recent morning, the students harvested the bounty. They washed, dried and prepared it into a salad before serving it to their schoolmates. To them, it seemed, the gardening experience was all about the fun.
“We planted everything in the spring,” said Aidan, who is 11. “Now we’re going to harvest chives and lettuce and Swiss chard.”
Doré taught her class to test the soil, make the compost, fill the beds and lay the irrigation system.
“They do all the behind the scenes work, then the other fifth grade classes get a chance to do the planting and all the kids get a chance to harvest,” she said.
When Lisa Coen’s fifth graders came out for their turn at harvesting, Sophia, a 10-year-old in Doré’s class, explained the right way to harvest lettuce.
“It grows from the middle, so you take the leaves from the outside first,” Sophia said. “You go from the outside to the inside.”
Then she stood back and smiled as the other students picked lettuce leaves for their own salad.
“The best part of this is that the students feel so proud,” Doré said.
“Oh, wow!” “No way!” “This is so cool!”
To hear the kindergartners at Austin Road Elementary School tell it, eating lunch in the school cafeteria on Monday was nothing short of amazing.
“They have never eaten in the cafeteria,” said Kindergarten teacher Diane Binns. “This is a really big deal to them.”
For the first time since the pandemic upended regular life in March 2020, elementary students throughout the Mahopac Central School District returned to their school cafeterias for lunch on Monday, March 7. While the schools reopened in full in September, lunch had been restricted to the classroom, where students sometimes ate in shifts.
“This is exciting,” said Caltha, a kindergartner who waited on a brief line to pick up a sunflower butter sandwich, a carton of chocolate milk and an apple. “It’s like a restaurant.”
A restaurant with rules, perhaps.
Austin Road Interim Principal Robert Meyer greeted the children and spelled out the dos and don'ts of cafeteria dining.
“Raise your hand if you need to get up from the table,” he said. “See how clean this room is? That’s because we all clean up after ourselves.”
The students didn’t seem to mind a chore if it meant they could sit with their friends in a big, noisy, happy room.
“This is so great for them,” said Nancy Libertino, a monitor. “In the classroom, one half of the class would eat for fifteen minutes and then they’d switch and the other half would eat. We got used to it, but this is so much better.”
In this holiday season, Mahopac Central School District students had many ways to show their gratitude and give to others. There were toy drives in each building and food and clothing drives throughout the community.
But, Yulisa, a fifth grader at Austin Road Elementary School, wanted to give something unique. She wanted it to be something that would help another person long after the holidays passed, and so the 10-year-old decided to cut her beautiful waist-length hair and donate it to someone who has lost their own hair.
“It makes me happy to help other people,” said Yulisa, whose shiny, jet-black hair is now chin-length. “I went to my aunt’s hair salon and she cut 10 and a half inches. Then we wrapped it in bubble wrap and mailed it off.”
With her mother’s help, Yulisa chose Locks of Love, a Florida-based nonprofit that makes wigs for children who suffer medical hair loss.
“We did it in honor of my grandmother who has cancer and is starting to lose her hair and also in honor of my grandfather who died from cancer,” Yulisa said.
Bryan Gilligan, the principal at Austin Road Elementary School, said Yulisa showed a lot of initiative for a girl her age.
“We were so impressed that Yulisa was the one who suggested it,” said. “She was the one who went to her mother to ask if she could donate her hair.”
Yulisa said she felt so good about giving her hair to someone in need that she is thinking about growing her hair long again – just to cut it and donate it. The hair donation has to be at least 10 inches in length for Locks of Love to accept it.
“My hair grows very fast,” Yulisa said.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, teachers throughout the Mahopac Central School District talked to their classes about the importance of gratitude.
In Carolyn Ryan and Tiffany Ziegelhofer’s fourth grade class at Austin Road Elementary School, the discussion led to feathers -- “Thankful For Feathers,” that is.
Some children in the class pasted photos of beloved family members, pets, favorite foods, games and more on a feather-shaped piece of construction paper. Others drew their own pictures, of flags, trees, school buildings and nature. The feathers were then assembled around a turkey cut-out for all to see and discuss.
Paige said she was thankful for her dog Charlie, a German Shepherd. She was also thankful for her parents, who are both police officers, her brother, friends and teachers.
Lilliana said she was thankful for her older brother, who teaches her what he already learned in fourth grade.
Throughout the district, children were likely also thankful that they had a long holiday weekend coming up.
When Austin Road Elementary students can't sing together (check out the video here!), they sign together instead! Music teacher Elizabeth Day, using technology and sign language, helped her students perform "Thanks a Lot" by Raffi in celebration of Thanksgiving and in gratitude. Enjoy!
The Lyrics of the song are:
This Calendar includes school breaks, holidays, and color cohort days for the entire 2020-2021 school year. *Please refer to specific communications from schools for building specific changes and updates.*
Michelle Tween has joined Austin Road Elementary as the school’s new assistant principal.
“I speak for everyone at Austin Road in saying that I am pleased to welcome Michelle to the Austin Road Family,” said Principal Bryan Gilligan. “I am grateful to the administration and The Board of Education for working diligently to select someone with the combination of educational experience and philosophy that she brings. I look forward to working closely with her to continue the good work being done at Austin Road to the benefit of all our students. I believe that her passion and dedication to early childhood and elementary education is well-aligned with mine and am confident will make a great team.”
Prior to joining Austin Road, Mrs.Tween spent nearly a decade as Director of Early Childhood Education at the Chapel School in Bronxville supervising and supporting preschool and K-2 team leaders, teachers, and teacher aides. Her other duties included coaching and observing teachers in instruction, management, and planning. She also created and implemented a schedule and protocol for school-wide faculty instructional rounds to create a culture of collegiality and collaboration. She was a reading specialist and a classroom teacher for Kindergarten, first, and second grades and participated on and led several educational and community committees including chairing the Cultural Competence Curriculum Review Committee.
“I am thrilled to be joining the Austin Road team. The warm welcome I received from Mr. Gilligan, the staff, and all of the teachers has been nothing short of amazing,” said Mrs. Tween. “Everything that I was told about the culture of Austin Road is what drew me here, and my experience so far is better than I could have imagined. Austin Road’s commitment to each other, to our students, and to our families will continue to keep us a truly connected and strong community.”
Mrs. Tween, who lives in Eastchester, NY, earned both a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fordham University and a master’s degree in early childhood education and early childhood special education as well as an advanced diploma in school building leadership from The College of New Rochelle. She returned to Fordham to earn an Ed.D in Educational Leadership, Administration & Policy and is planning to graduate in 2021.