Kudos

Methacton Student Wins Top Math Research Project in the World

Congratulations to 11th grader, Karthik Yegnesh of Methacton High School, who just brought home the prize for the #1 ranked Mathematics research project in the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles!

Karthik’s awards include $5,000 for Intel ISEF Best of Category Award (in Mathematics); $3,000 for 1st place Intel ISEF Grand Award in his category; a trip to China (“Intel Foundation Cultural & Scientific Visit to China Award” partnering with China Adolescents for Science & Technology; and an Asteroid naming (MIT, Lincoln Laboratory, Ceres Connection) submitted to IAU (International Astronomical Union.

Methacton and the Delaware Valley Science Fair will each receive a $1000 prize too. In recognition of the crucial role that teachers play, a minor planet will be named after Robert Helm, physics teacher and science research coordinator at Methacton High School.
Karthik focused on the topic, “The Homotopy Theory of Parametrized Objects” and participated in the fair for the second time.

 

We’re also proud of the three other local students who won medals at the 2017 Delaware Valley Science Fair and earned an all-expense-paid trip to compete in the finals too. They are:

 

  • Sanjna Shelukar, 12th grade, Wissahickon High School, researched “Immunotherapy for Multiple Myeloma Cell Lysis” and won a gold medal

 

  • Judy Zhong, Upper Dublin High School, is a tenth-grade bronze medalist who researched “The Host Range Specificity of Bacteriophage T4r.”

 

  • Claire Tse, Methacton High School is a ninth-grade bronze medalist whose curiosity played a huge role in her project, “Harnessing Anti-Inflammatory and Immunoregulatory Potentials from Nature.”

 

Congrats to all these students and the teachers who helped them to be so successful!

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: May 23, 2017

The incredible commitment that Jeff Moyer displays by involving his students in the “Hoops for Heart” program at Spring Ford In 5th/6th Grade Center in Spring-Ford Area School District definitely is deserving of being highlighted in this week’s #TeacherTuesday.

For the past 20 years, this phys-ed teacher has organized a full week of student activities that have allowed more than 3,500 students to have fun while contributing over $225,000 to the American Heart Association! He also raises additional funds by organizing a silent auction for staff members and asking teachers to pay to dress down on the final day of Hoops for Heart, this year contributing $850 to the total.

Says Jeff, “I see a variety of students every day and the smiles that the students give to me help inspire me to keep doing what I love to do.” He enjoys seeing the students have fun and “whether it is teaching health, physical education, adaptive physical education, or running activities like Hoops for Heart, the students really love participating and that really makes me feel great.”

Newsworthy

DeVos’ First 100 Days Marred By Rollbacks, Missteps And Blunders

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has insulted educators, rolled back student protections, threatened to take scarce money from public schools for private school vouchers, and all too often lived up to the widespread perception that she is woefully unqualified to lead the nation’s public school system and formulate policies that benefit the nation’s 71 million K-12 and postsecondary students. The following are our top nine choices for DeVos’ worst moments, from the oldest to the most recent, in her first 100 days.

 

 

  1. Said Teachers “Are Waiting To Be Told What They Have To Do”

Betsy DeVos fouled up the opportunity to make a favorable first impression. She angered teachers at the first public school she visited, in Washington, D.C., when in an interview afterward she said the teachers’ “attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.”

Teachers across the country are incensed by DeVos’ opinion of public schools, which she once called a “dead end” and which educate nearly nine in 10 of the nation’s children. For decades, DeVos led and funded voucher campaigns in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere. Immediately prior to her nomination as secretary of education, she stepped down as chairman of the American Federation for Children, a national advocacy organization that promotes school vouchers

  1. Rescinded Protections for Transgender Students

 

Mike Gifford / Via bit.ly

DeVos defended the Trump administration’s decision to rescind public-school bathroom rules for transgender students. “This was a huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” said DeVos.

Every student has the right to learn in a safe and accepting school

environment. Supporting transgender students gives them the equal

opportunity that all students need.

  1. Delayed Rules To Protect Student Borrowers

 

DeVos’ Education Department delayed enforcement of a rule requiring for-profit and career colleges to warn prospective students that the school is at risk of losing federal funding because of high student debt levels.

Under the “gainful employment” regulation, for-profit colleges whose students take on high amounts of debt while earning too little would lose access to federal financial aid money. In 2012, a federal investigation found that for-profit colleges routinely overpriced tuition, engaged in predatory recruiting practices, had sky-high dropout rates, spent billions of taxpayer dollars on aggressive marketing and advertising, and gamed regulations to maximize profits.

  1. Reversed Ban on High Fees for Student Borrowers in Default

thisisbossi / Via bit.ly

DeVos’ Education Department revoked a federal policy barring student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans. The rescinded policy prohibited collection agencies under the federal lending program known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program from charging up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest owed on the loans.

DeVos justified rescinding the guidance in part by citing the cost of oversight. Lost in her rationale was concern for the cost to student borrowers drowning in debt.

  1. Launched Voucher Campaign at School That Asks Special Needs Students to Waive Their Rights

EdVotes.org / Via educationvotes.nea.org

Her first joint visit to a school with President Trump was to a Florida Catholic school allowed to waive the legal rights of students with disabilities under one of the state’s voucher programs.

The McKay Scholarship Program provides vouchers for students with disabilities provided the students are willing to waive their rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

  1. Defended Trump’s Proposal To Take $1.4 Billion from Scarcely Funded Public Schools for Private School Vouchers

Via bit.ly

DeVos argued in support of President Trump’s budget proposal, which slashes funding for the Department of Education by a whopping 13.5 percent, sacrificing critical education programs in order to fund the voucher agenda long promoted by the president and DeVos.

Trump’s budget manages to give a $1.4 billion boost to voucher and charter school schemes even as it eliminates all funding for after-school and summer programs and Title II, which helps states hire and train teachers.

  1. Called Historically Black Colleges and Universities “Pioneers of School Choice”

Laurie Moore / Via bit.ly

DeVos, in an attempt seeking to promote vouchers, set off a firestorm of criticism after she mischaracterized Historically Black Colleges and Universities as “pioneers of school choice.”

DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.” DeVos glossed over or was ignorant of the fact that HBCUs were born out of necessity in response to segregationist Jim Crow laws in the South that barred Black students from attending historically White institutions. DeVos, sounding oblivious, said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”

America was reminded of DeVos’ error when she was invited to deliver the commencement address this month at Bethune-Cookman University. The invitation ignited a petition drive among alumni, students and supporters of HBCUs. In its first 24 hours, it collected more than 10,000 signatures. She delivered the remarks to a cascade of sustained boos and jeers.

  1. Said Choosing a School Is Like Taking Uber Over a Taxi

 

Lane & Anne / Via bit.ly

What is it like for parents to choose a school for their child? To hear DeVos tell it, it’s akin to choosing ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft over a taxi.

In an effort to sell the proposition that public schools fear competing with private and charter schools, DeVos said, “Just like the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice.”

Missing from DeVos’ analogy is how the consequences of choosing the wrong car service are far less consequential than choosing the wrong school. If you choose a bad car service, you know it immediately. But choosing the wrong school isn’t apparent until the school shutters with little or no notice or your child is failing.

  1. Compared Choosing Schools to Choosing a Cell Phone Carrier

Sean Drellinger / Via bit.ly

Never one to miss an opportunity to promote voucher schemes, DeVos stepped in it again when she compared choosing schools to picking a phone company.

Speaking at an education technology conference, DeVos said, “If you can’t get cell phone service in your living room, then your particular provider is failing you. You should have the option to find a network that does work.”

Underlying DeVos’ assertion is the premise that schools are like any other commodity, such as a restaurant, a pair of sneakers or a cup of cappuccino. Research and experience show, however, that vouchers will exacerbate the gap between rich and poor by giving a public subsidy to affluent families that already choose elite private schools, which are unlikely to admit students who struggle academically or cannot afford tuition even with a voucher. The reality is that it’s not profitable for private schools to allow in children with disabilities, students who don’t speak English and students whose parents are struggling with poverty.

 

Credit: Buzzfeed.com

Newsworthy

How bringing comics into the classroom made me love teaching again

By Tim Smyth, Wissahickon HS

 

 Most teachers would agree that teaching is one of the most exhausting jobs to love. Between meeting the individual needs of our students, keeping up with the latest initiatives and completing the day-to-day tasks required for keeping a classroom productive and positive, the job can be overwhelming and sometimes discouraging.

In my 15th year of teaching, these feelings only intensified for me. Facing burnout, I realized that I needed a way to regroup and re-energize. If I didn’t, I feared that like so many others, I might have to leave the classroom. I decided to go back to the basics.

Every introductory education class declares that bringing our personal passions into our classroom is fun for us and fun for our students. It was this premise that gave me the permission to finally do what I had been deliberating ever since completing my reading specialist studies: I committed myself to bringing my passion — comics — into the classroom.

Student in Tim Smyth’s social studies class using comics to study history at Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pa. Photo by Tim Smyth

I said ‘yes’ to being excited and to broadening my approach to teaching social studies. I said ‘yes’ to utilizing social media to exchange ideas with people who share my passion. I said ‘yes’ to new approaches, new experiences and stepping out of my comfort zone. But most of all, I gave myself permission to use my strengths to bring to life the core concepts of my curriculum, and it has made all the difference in my lessons, in my perspective and in my ability to connect with my students.

I wrote about this journey, still in its beginning stages, in a blog one year ago. The reaction was swift. My students responded positively, validating that the approach worked for them. Educators, artists and writers in the industry reached out to me over Twitter. I was asked to present a program about comic books in the classroom at Philadelphia Wizard World. I was terrified, but it was so well-received that it was clear other educators want to know how to do this as well.

Through social media, I received a multitude of requests. I helped college professors develop curriculum materials. I previewed possible educational comic books for publishers. I ran Twitter chats for teachers discussing how to integrate pop culture in the classroom. I was chosen as “Geek of the Week” on Philly.com.

For every opportunity, I stayed committed to saying ‘yes,’ which led me to the Super Bowl of all nerdom–I was asked to present on a panel at the San Diego Comic Con about my experiences in the classroom. And it was awesome. I found my people.

“Facing burnout, I realized that I needed a way to regroup and re-energize. If I didn’t, I feared that like so many others, I might have to leave the classroom.”

In August, having just returned from my San Diego trip, I began my 16th year of teaching, feeling energized and excited. Despite having two new courses, I began looking for ways to integrate these new ideas into classroom life. I still have a curriculum, data points, special schedules and lesson plans. But now I look for opportunities for broadening my student’s experiences.

This year we used “March,” a graphic novel by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, to explore the civil rights movement. At the same time, a teacher whom I had met over Twitter and I arranged to have our students work together, discussing the historical and modern implications of the story. It just so happened that the teacher and her class were in Norway.

This forced my students to look at the topic differently, to explain their ideas more clearly and more globally. And it is this more worldly perspective that I think I was missing before.

In another instance, while talking about various atrocities in history, we used the comic book “Madaya Mom” which chronicles the real-life experiences of a mom in Syria. This comic was put together by Marvel Comics and ABC News. We discussed the historical and social implications of the panels and applied them to the human experience of groups facing persecution. My students had many questions. They were drawn in by the emotional panels; they had questions I didn’t have answers for.

Students at Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pa. in social studies teacher Tim Smyth’s class. Students used Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s graphic novel “March” (Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing) to learn about the civil rights movement. Photo by Tim Smyth

Through Twitter, we contacted the ABC news correspondent who had interviewed the real life “Madaya Mom” in Syria. My class then Skyped with the two news correspondents, one in New York and one in Paris, to ask their questions, learning about Syria in a way I never would have been able to convey. Several students took the comic books to their after-school organizations, hoping to develop service projects so that they can help the people suffering from the war in Syria. Seeing their reaction made it the single most rewarding day of my teaching career.

“We must give ourselves permission to use comics, music and pop culture in our classrooms, because we know it works for our students.”

And yet some days teaching is still stressful and overwhelming. The grading, the planning, the expectations still overwhelm me. But over the course of the last two years, I have learned to share more and to celebrate my successes more. I have learned to reach out to other educators, writers, artists, publishers, and not to be afraid to use social media. We need to overcome the self-imposed stigma of boasting about our successes – we need to celebrate the awesome things that happen in our classrooms every day.

I have given myself permission to use what I know and what I love in order to bring new experiences and connections to my students. At my most recent Comic Con experience in Chicago, as I was seated on a panel of teachers, authors and a rapper, I said that we must give ourselves permission to use comics, music and pop culture in our classrooms, because we know it works for our students.

Credit: PBS Newshour

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: May 16, 2017

Conor Corey, an Instructional Support Team/Math Specialist at Willow Dale Elementary School in Centennial School District PA knows there is no blueprint for ensuring success with all his students. But for him, the key is to wake up each day with a “passion attempting to connect with all of them in order to open up the world.” He also values “the ability to laugh each day” and we’re guessing that’swhy his students love to spend time with him.

For Corey, the reward is “the small, hidden smile from the child who finally understands” or “the quiet kid who raises her hand when she isn’t sure if she is correct.” He notes, “Good or bad, we are teachers and our effect cannot be measured or perfected. The first day a teacher thinks they have the blueprint for success is probably the last day they are truly effective.”

CAPS Original

Teacher Appreciation Week, May 7 to 13, Celebrates the Accomplishments of Area Teachers

During Teacher Appreciation Week, the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS) salutes the public school teachers of Bucks and Montgomery counties and gives a special nod to Becky Geremia of Gwyn-Nor Elementary School in North Penn School District who was nominated and won “A Day Well-Deserved” in the 97.5The Fanatic contest. The contest was hosted by Mike Missanelli, a graduate of Bristol High School.

The individual who nominated her called Geremia the quintessential kindergarten teacher. Geremia started her career in North Penn as a kindergarten student in the same school where she has taught for nearly two decades and is truly invested in the community. She met her high school sweetheart and now-husband at North Penn High School, resides in the district, and sends her two boys to York Avenue Elementary School.

Geremia “knows the right words to comfort a sad child, solve a classroom conflict, and build confidence in a struggling learner. As her students leave every day, Becky reminds them to bring their smile back to school the next day. They all give themselves a pat on the back, shout that they had a legendary day, and hug her goodbye.”

Geremia was announced as the winner on Tuesday, Teacher Appreciation Day. Her name was selected in a drawing of teachers who were nominated by parents, students, colleagues, and family members and profiled on the Mike Missanelli show over the past week including:

  • Michael Castelli, Central Bucks West High School, Central Bucks School District
  • Andrew King, Morrisville Middle/High School, Morrisville School District
  • Dawn Martesi, Neil A. Armstrong Middle School, Bristol Township School District
  • Jerry Moore, General Nash Elementary School, North Penn School District
  • Sally Roberts, Skyview Upper Elementary School, Methacton School District

“The comments of the nominators and the community, who raved about these teachers on our Facebook page, reinforce the fact that we are very fortunate to have so many highly qualified and committed professionals teaching our 200,000 students every day, said Linda J. Weaver, former second grade special education teacher in Bristol Township and a representative of CAPS.” She added, “We’re happy to call Mike Missanelli one of our alumni, along with countless other successful individuals including Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Ashton Carter, former U. S. Secretary of Defense.”

Asked about his experience in Bristol Township schools, Missanelli said, “My public school teachers and coaches were conscious of educating kids — it was first and foremost in their minds. They weren’t dealing with privileged kids and the experience of teaching was really important to them.” His own daughter asked to attend a public high school in tenth grade and “loved it,” he added.

Kudos

Tohickon Student Wins Grand Prize in Essay Contest

We’re so proud of Claire Cao of Tohickon Middle School in Central Bucks for being the grand prize winner of a national essay contest and taking home the $5,000 Upstander Scholarship. Her insightful essay, entitled “Speak Up,” recounts her experience in standing up for another Chinese American girl who was being excluded from play because she looked different from the other children.

The words, “Speak up” against injustice prompted her to intervene and she explained, “A good person is one who does the right thing, but being different doesn’t make someone bad.” She said those words as she invited the girl to play with her.

The contest was sponsored by the Facing History and Ourselves non-profit that aims “to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.”

Learn more and read Claire’s thoughtful and impressive essay about the incident inspired by the Japanese-American man who uttered those words as he fought for his people’s civil liberties at the start of World War II.

Newsworthy

U.S. News & World Report Ranks One-Third of CAPS’ Schools Among Top 50 in State

Sixteen public high schools in Bucks and Montgomery counties were ranked among the best 50 high schools in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools Rankings released on April 25, 2017. Top schools included New Hope-Solebury at #2, with a gold medal awarded for performance on state assessments and preparation for college, and Lower Moreland at #9 statewide, with the remainder of the Top 50 earning a silver medal.

Thirty-two percent of the Top 50 schools in the state are located in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Overall, the survey included an examination of 686 high schools statewide.

To compare high schools around the state and across the country, the rankings take into consideration factors such as subject proficiency testing, overall student performance, disadvantaged student performance, college readiness and AP student performance.

“We’re very proud of the schools that were identified in the U.S. News & World Report rankings,” said Linda J. Weaver, former second grade special education teacher in Bristol Township and a representative of the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS). “And we know from many other objective measures that all our Bucks and Montgomery counties’ public schools provide a first-rate education that prepares students for the future and enhances the value of our communities,” she added.

The 16 Bucks and Montgomery county high schools ranked among the tops in Pennsylvania are as follows:

For the full list, visit the rankings at US News and World Report.

Charter SchoolsNewsworthy

America’s Charter Schools Have A Commitment Problem

Just google “charter school closes unexpectedly” and watch the stories pile up.

It happened again. This time in Milwaukee. Students at the Universal Academy for the College Bound Webster Campus returned to find themselves in a completely different school, because a charter management company had decided they’d rather move on than finish out their contract for the year.

Universal Companies took with them their books and their technology. Milwaukee Public Schools filled in the gaps and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association ― you know, that damn union that only worries about adult interests ― stepped in to help the staff.

It could have been worse. In other places it has been worse. The company gave MPS a warning ahead of time ― almost a full month’s notice. And they handed the school back to MPS rather than simply locking the door.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, of course they did that ― what sort of monster would close a building with no notice,” then you haven’t been following charter schools much. Charters don’t have to explain themselves when they close, like these two closures in Indiana ― parents demanded an explanation and were ignored. Or this similar story from Philly. And these schools at least finished the year ― here’s a charter that closed up shop in September. Here’s a story about a charter in North Carolina that had to close mid-year mostly because they got caught lying about enrollment in order to get double the money they were entitled to; parents were informed less than 48 hours before the school closed its doors. Here’s a Florida school that closed suddenly and without explanation in May of a school year. Or this Ohio charter that closed mid-year without warning. Just google “charter school closes unexpectedly” and watch the stories pile up.

But those are anecdotes. If you want to see the big picture, look at this reporting from the Center for Media and Democracy’s Mediawatch that took some simple available data from NCES to show how many charters had closed between 2000 and 2013. There’s an interactive map that lets you drill down, but the grand total is in the neighborhood of 2,500. Two-thousand-five-hundred charter schools closed ― and that’s not counting the schools from the past several years. That includes schools that closed during the school year or schools that folded at the end of the year.

Or the recent report on charter schools from NEA, which shows what percentage of charters have closed as a function of how many years they’ve been open ― after one year, 5% of charters have been closed. At ten years, it’s 33%. When we get to thirteen years, 40% of charters have shut their doors. In other words, a third of charter schools close their doors before they are a decade old.

This seems to be a feature of charter schooling that comes as a shock and surprise to parents. I suspect that’s because one of the most basic things we expect from a school, particularly one that tries to bill itself as a public school as many charters do, is that it will be around basically forever. We expect to be able to go back to the schools we attended; if we can’t, that’s considered a notable loss, a sign that something bad happened to that school or community. It is one of the things we expect from a school that we rarely name ―

Commitment.

But modern charters are not public schools, and they do not make a public school commitment to stay and do the work over the long haul. They are businesses, and they make a business person’s commitment to stick around as long as it makes business sense to do so. That does not make them evil, but it does make them something other than a public school. And it underlines another truth ― students are not their number-one priority.

Some modern charter operators claim that these school closures are a feature, not a bug. The system is working; the invisible hand is weeding the garden. But that ignores the real disruption and confusion and damage done to children and families that must search from school to school. Instead of the excitement and joy of going back to school to see friends and favorite teachers, students face the uncertainty of not knowing which school they’ll attend, how long they’ll attend it, learning their way around, even as they wonder when this will all happen again. If school is a sort of second family, charter schools can be an unstable family that moves every six months with parents always on the verge of divorce.

Some charters are born to be train wrecks ― not only do educational amateurs get involved in charter schools, but business amateurs do as well. But very few are born with the intention of lasting for generation after generation, which is exactly what we expect of public schools. When Betsy DeVos says that she values families and choice over institutions, this is exactly what she is rejecting ― a commitment to stand by those families and communities for generations, to be an institution that brings stability and continuity to a community. More importantly, an institution that says, “When you need us, we will be right here. You can count on us, because we are committed.”

Commitment matters in all relationships. It matters in schools. Parents and students and community members and taxpayers have a right to expect commitment from their schools. If charters want to pretend to be public schools, they should step up and make a commitment greater than, “We’ll be right here as long as it suits us. On the day it doesn’t suit us anymore, we’ll be gone. Good luck to you.”

Credit: Huffington Post

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: April 25, 2017

The lucky students who take introduction to art, painting, drawing, and AP Studio at Bensalem Township School District‘s Bensalem High School can thank a friend of Carly Noella Nájera. That’s because he recruited her from a design and build firm to teach in an alternative school some years ago. Although resistant to the idea at first, this week’s #TeacherTuesday realized halfway through the interview how passionate she is about education, “especially the importance of art in education.”

While Carly loved her design job, she “felt like I really wanted to make a difference in a child’s life” and has never looked back.

“Teaching is the toughest but most rewarding job I can think of. I was meant to teach. I love my students, I love teaching art and I love the difference the students make in my life.”