One School, One Author
To find out more and to hear the teachers reading chapters, go to https://sites.google.com/mahopac.org/austin1author1read/home
Dear Austin Road Parents and Students,
It is hard to believe we have reached the final months of the 2018-2019 school year. We all certainly look forward to a change to warmer weather, along with many exciting events that will be upcoming for our students. In May and June students will have the opportunity to watch different performances in our auditorium and also experience learning outside the classroom through various field trips, all sponsored and supported by our wonderful Austin Road PTO. In the classroom, our hardworking teachers will continue engaging students with meaningful, hands-on learning experiences that will build on all the great learning throughout the year. It will certainly be an exciting next couple of months here at Austin Road!!!
Austin Road Interim Principal
While most of us spent the first days of January focused on our new year's resolutions or recuperating from the holidays, Austin Road physical education teacher, Bill Huestis, and fifth grade teacher, Mary Jean Cerbini, were immersed in creating a sensory room for students.
Huestis was challenged when some of his students became overwhelmed during his PE class due to the noise level and activity from a large gym space. After pursuing professional training and doing extensive research for ways to help students self-regulate, including students with special needs, Huestis decided to create a sensory room in the school.
With the help and building expertise of Austin Road’s custodian and maintenance team, and the oversight of Dr. Greg Stowell, Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel & Educational Services, Huestis converted an unused locker room to create a therapeutic space that provides a secure, calm and refreshing environment for students. His particular focus was developing a room with tools and toys that help students with proprioception, the awareness of where your body is in space, and the vestibular system, the sense of balance. Cerbini volunteered to take on the aesthetics of the room by designing a soothing and cheerful scene that she sketched and painted entirely by hand.
Cerbini ensured every aspect of the sensory room was detailed as a dreamy oasis. She painted the entry to the room as a soothing blue sky with cheerful animal illustrations that carry through the small hallway into a room surrounded with a bright and sunny beach mural that covers the walls. Cerbini made sure each animal she painted had such a level of accuracy that she consulted her son who is the bird curator at the Toledo Zoo.
“Mary Jean would be in at 6:30 in the morning and stayed until 8:30 night. She also used her lunch time and break to paint the room and made it such an inviting space for our students,” said Huestis.
Both Cerbini and Huestis purchased the materials needed for creating the room out of their own pocket. “We look at this as an investment in what we use everyday. There are lots of other things to spend money on that don’t hold the same meaning,” says Huestis.
The room is thoughtfully filled with things that encourage learning, communication and calming. There are overstuffed Yogibo pillows that students can melt into and other sensory stimulating tools like blocks, buzzers, squishy toys and puzzles. A favorite sensory toy of Huestis is a “mood pillow” that allows students to express emotion by flipping a “smiling” or “frowning” face.
Any student who may need a space outside of the classroom to calm, focus and “reset” is welcome to use the sensory room. Teachers can schedule specific times to take students into the room, or they can use their discretion to send in a student who might just need a break.
“Austin Road’s sensory room is a model space for students to be better prepared for learning and interacting with others. Mr. Huestis and Mrs. Cerbini’s undertaking of this project goes above and beyond which truly exhibits the ‘Mahopac Way,’” says Anthony DiCarlo, Superintendent of Schools.
Huestis, Cerbini, along with the district-wide team support, have plans to continue to evolve the sensory room by adding a sensory swing, soothing lighting and painted “sky” ceiling that surrounds the existing skylights. “This is only the beginning,” says Huestis.
While most Austin Road Elementary students get a bit restless and distracted on a grey, cold Monday just before Thanksgiving recess, Mary Jean Cerbini’s fifth grade class was attentive, inquisitive and focused. All eyes and ears were on Don Wildman, Travel Channel’s host of "Mysteries at the Museum," "Monumental Mysteries" and "Greatest Mysteries.”
Wildman, a personal friend of Cerbini, took over Social Studies class with lively stories from filming and researching shows for “Mysteries at the Museum.” He started with theories on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance and engaged a thought-provoking class discussion on theory validation.
Doing what he does best, Wildman then smoothly transitioned to UFO and extraterrestrial sitings that led to testing the clandestine surveillance forces of the Unites States Airforce’s “Area 51” in a helicopter.
The students were given an assignment from Wildman to read a book that is at least one and a half inches thick. He explained to them that his first “big” book was about the civil war which fueled his interest and eventual career into exploring history.
The Buddy Bench, a dedicated place at elementary school playgrounds where a student can sit if feeling lonely or bullied, has generated national attention in recent years and has even been the subject of a TED Talk.
About five years ago, the Buddy Bench concept originated with a boy named Christian Bucks who was reviewing brochures about potential new schools in Germany with his mother. They were preparing to move there for his father’s new job. He would be the new kid. He was just in first grade, but he understood what feeling lonely on a playground looks like. He’d seen it at his own elementary school in York, Pa.
However, one German school he and his mom looked at had a solution for this. It was called the Buddy Bench, and if a child was sitting on it alone, it was a signal to the other kids to ask him or her to play. Although Christian’s family did not end up moving to Germany, the boy is credited with introducing Buddy Benches to the United States. He brought the idea to his principal, Matthew Miller, and the two immediately set out to install a Buddy Bench in his school, Roundtown Elementary. Their project was covered by the local newspaper and went viral.
Eighth-grader Becca Lomas decided to extend the Buddy Bench ideology as part of her bat mitzah by raising funds so benches can be in the Middle School – and Austin Road too! Becca is an inspiring example of the values we uphold at Austin Road and our community.
Each year, Mahopac’s Kindergarten students participate in ABC Bootcamp by studying a letter a day for 26 days! To celebrate completion of ABC Bootcamp, the kindergartners created a fashion show donning their handmade, custom letter design
Fostering student athletes beginning, the #MahopacWay tradition lives on with the annual Mahopac Elementary Schools Cross Country and 5K races held in October. Students begin to develop the basic running fundamentals and learn the health benefits training for these running events. “Our aim is to create not just life-long learners but life-long runners, as well,” said Lauren Kittredge, Austin Road Physical Education teacher and 5K organizer. In fact, high school students from the cross country and track teams return to their roots and help with the races.
The Cross Country race includes all students who run by age on the Lakeview grounds. The 5K is made up of 4th and 5th graders who’ve committed to train before school before race day at FDR Park. This year’s 5K race was a record setting finish with all participants finishing under 41 minutes.
Austin Road finished big with top finishers:
1st Aidan Paris-Devane (Austin Road) 21:21
2nd Vince Cataldo (Austin Road) 21:49
2nd Niamh Kelleher (Austin Road) 24:14
3rd Fiona Kelleher (Austin Road) 24:30
We are so proud of all Austin Road student athletes!
Along with schools across the country, the Mahopac Schools participated in a week-long celebration of making healthy choices and community connections with Red Ribbon Week. By helping students build a foundation of mindfulness to themselves and their community, the risk of substance abuse is lessened.
“Substance abuse prevention starts with the promotion of good mental health in kids and teens,” said Valarie Nierman, MCSD Health Coordinator. The District is committed to helping each individual student. Read more.