Family Book Club

We Read Together… Isn’t that Enough?

By: Kerry Phillips

Does your child love to read?  Do you?  Something special is happening at Primrose Hill School in Barrington, RI, it’s called Family Book Club.  This year we have sailed over 5th Avenue during the Thanksgiving Day Parade (Balloons on Broadway by Melissa Sweet), been part of and exclusive spy club (Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead), learned about snakes (Snakes by Nic Bishop), visited the South Pole (The Adventures of a South-Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz), and sat with a young girl visiting her great-grandfather for the first time (The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman).

Held twice a month, families come to interact with each other and the books. Primrose Hill Family Book Club is a wonderful way to model and foster a love of reading and is a fun way to do it together.  As soon as we enter the library we participate in an engaging activity related to the book before we sit and discuss the book more in depth.  Adults and children are reminded of the only rule, that we are all readers and are encouraged to share!


Bring Your School Together: How One School Turned Trash into Treasure- You Can Too

By: Victoria Pelit

The weatherman announces 6 inches of snow for this coming Friday. Energy rushes through your body. No school! RIPPPP! Your brand new winter coat gets caught on the railing and rips. Now, instead of excitement, you feel panic. How are you going to play out in the snow without a coat, especially with your overprotective parents? Lucky for the kids at Deering Middle School, the Student Exchange Center is right in their school. No, you don’t get exchanged for a  foreign student, you simply visit and leave with a gently used winter coat.

Here in room 22B, there is a variety of different clothes and other things students may need at home. “Right now we have a lot of jeans, shirts, winter clothes… We give away a lot of books, games, dry food, and canned food,” says Mr. Tufan Oral, the seventh grade math teacher and founder of this program. Students can come in and drop off or take anything they need at home that they can’t afford. “Kids think that they are shopping over here. They don’t think anything of it. Sixth and seventh graders really like it. Some kids really need it.”

The inspiration for this program was what you might call “unlikely”. His son was 18 years old and Mr. Oral’s wife thought that it was time for him to clean out his closet. He had an abundance of shorts and jeans. Obviously, he couldn’t just throw his clothes away, so he asked his dad to bring them into school for kids that may need them. Mr. Oral did exactly that and by the end of the day, all the clothes were gone. This blossomed into the idea of the Student Exchange Center. The process of setting up the program took two years. During these two years, the program grew slowly but steadily. Originally, there was just a 6 foot table in the back of the room,and over the past two years, Mr.Oral has added storage to fit the bags of clothes being steadily donated by students. The amount of tables multiplied. Even though there more tables, all the clothes were getting piled up. Mr. Oral needed more space and he wanted it to look more professional, so he added some coat racks. Now in 2014, there are tables, shelves (made and donated by students from West Warwick High School), and several clothing racks. It looks exactly like a real store!

Kids visit the Student Exchange Center often. Students at Deering that can’t afford new clothes every time something rips or gets too small, benefit from this unique little program here on the second floor. This is also beneficial for kids that have many clothes at home that can be used by other kids in their neighborhood. Students that have outgrown their clothes at home can come in and donate to the Student Exchange Program. Mr.Oral takes these clothes and organizes them throughout his store. The racks, shelves, and tables are located, surprisingly, right in the back of his classroom.

This is one of his math classes working right in front of his “store.”

This is one of his math classes working right in front of his “store.”

Something that was recently introduced to the Deering Middle School community is the opportunity for parents to come and visit the Student Exchange Center after school. Parents can come in and shop for their families.

Whether you need boots for your toddler, a scarf for yourself or jeans for your teenager who’s growing like a weed, the Student Exchange Center can accommodate your every need!

A Nice Day for a Revolution

By: Grace Miner

High school is not a place to start a revolution. Or is it? On February 14, 2014, the adult leaders of East Greenwich High School started a revolution and then let the path of this uprising be set by its students. For the first time in Rhode Island history, Choose2Matter, a global movement that leverages the passion, potential, power, and genius of young people to solve the problems that plague our lives, transformed a high school into an agent for social change. Choose2Matter challenges young people to give, create, and contribute today because the world is waiting and what we say matters and can help. For two days, the entire student body worked in tandem with local, state, and national leaders in industry and civic leaders to develop innovative and empathetic solutions to social problems. The work was collaborative and based on the belief that students have ideas that matter to the world, and they should be empowered to turn those ideas into solutions to the problems that break our hearts every day.

For many girls and young women, high school is like falling through a looking glass. Suddenly our lives, bodies, perceptions, and the world around us are changing daily. We face enormous challenges to excel in the classroom, maintain meaningful friendships, and find our voices in the midst of a culture that often bases a woman’s value on her appearance and treats her as an object. Your best friend from middle school is suddenly unrecognizable to you, you find yourself avoiding certain areas in the lunchroom because you fear the “mean girls,” and being strong, courageous, and confident makes you undesirable. What is a girl to do?realgirlsmatter

For dozens of East Greenwich female students, Choose2Matter presented us with an opportunity to solve this problem. Within minutes of meeting together, we began to identify the problems we face. No matter which segment of the high school population we came from, we as young women had similar experiences, feelings, and faced similar obstacles. We were truly amazed by this as we glanced around at the circle of girls and young women assembled. We felt a sense of relief and solidarity. It was a transformative experience as we set aside our own insecurities and misconceptions and supported one another as we worked towards finding a solution to overcoming our problems. Together with adult leaders from the building, both male and female, we began to explore ways in which we could make a change to the culture of our school, form stronger bonds with other female students, and help middle school girls who are just starting to struggle with these same issues. We openly discussed eating disorders, body image, dating, the challenges to success in the classroom, the need to encourage young women interested in careers in science and technology, and ways to tap into the resource of strong, engaging, passionate women teachers in our building. We felt empowered and founded @realgirlsmatter. Our work is just beginning. We are using every resource available to make our school and our community a place where real girls matter, where young women are judged on their character and not their external images, and all of us have equal opportunity, access, and encouragement to follow our dreams. Our goal is to partner with PlanUSA’s “Because I am a Girl” and find ways to help women worldwide. Everywhere across the globe, women who face enormous difficulties are turning oppression into opportunity. We want to be inspired by their example, and we want to help make a difference for women locally, nationally, and internationally. On February 14-15, 2014, East Greenwich High School female students chose to care, to be involved, and to matter. This revolution is far from over, and we remain committed to work we have diligently begun.

It turns out high school is a perfect place to start a revolution. In fact, every high school should start one.

The whole school assembled for Choose2Matter.

Misty Days at EGHS

By: Tim Sanzi

You may not have thought that our inspiration and drive could have been buried so deep. So deep, it was a joke to many that unearthing its power was a feasible task and not one to be left to the holders of this power themselves. First and foremost to say that this is completely and utterly false. All people have something inside of them that makes them unique and gives them the ability to be influential in situations. The sooner this realization occurs, the better. An event recently ensued that caused an outbreak in the best form of virus. This life enhancing storm of brilliance has been what birthed world altering ideas like Real Girls Matter, an organization dedicated to fostering young girls self confidence, and 50 Shades of Green, built to increase suicide-prevention and depression awareness. One group has started an agency to raise money for those with speech impediments to seek treatment. Another group is planning to demolish the common core, and in the process, solve some hefty economic conundrums. The best and brightest, and even those we may not have expected to participate shone with a bright light worthy to be recognized as nothing less than world-changing. They should be recognized as nothing less than mattering wholly, as this event was committed to making sure students felt respected not only by their peers, but by themselves.

 The whole school assembled for Choose2Matter.

The whole school assembled for Choose2Matter.

Choose2Matter started with one woman’s increasing uncertainty with the lack of self confidence and motive to change things that ordinarily would not have even been touched by teenage students. With the help of countless individuals, Angela Maiers and her vision has grown to a tangible organization devoted to doing exactly what no one thought could be attained. Now, Maiers goes from school to school harking her message that “You Matter”. Upon this cry, she has inspired students to take action against what breaks their heart, and then solving their problem efficiently and with great thoroughness. With techniques like “Heartbreak Mapping” in which students go into great detail over every facet in which their issue pertains, Maiers has given the tools to get students to  successfully explore their heartbreak in greater light. From here, students get to work with the help of mentors from every level of the ‘real world’ including senators, congressman, big corporation CEOs and educators. Students puzzle over, and fumble with their solution many times along the way, but the end results are seemingly thought out better, discussed more efficiently and presented superior to even those of the senator that mentored the process.

 Mentorship from the community was a big part of this event.

Mentorship from the community was a big part of this event.

On Friday, February 14th, the entire population of East Greenwich High School of East Greenwich RI began this process with the help of Maiers and her associate Mark Moran, a co-founder of the organization. The students went through the heartbreak mapping, and began to work in small groups to get down to the nitty gritty in solving their heartaches. Unplanned, as it was, for day one of this process to begin on Friday instead of Thursday provoked skepticism from many. The result of the one day of furious thinking, collaborating and pure energy from the school made the quality of the work seem like something that should have taken a week to complete. Faced with where to turn, Principal Michael Podraza and Asst. Principal Tim Chace decided to make, on a voluntary basis, Saturday the second day of Choose2Matter. Astoundingly, over fifty students showed up and began working out the details of their projects and organizations with each other. Computers were whisked around, new organization Twitter accounts flourished and credit cards flew to buy website domain names. All this happening on the first Saturday of a vacation.

Not only the ideas, but the simple and sincere trust students showed to one another became a primary value of this event. Seeing students who ordinarily wouldn’t have the courage to stand in front of over six hundred of their peers, do so, and with great faith that their ideas were valued and talked about with serious considerations and appreciation, is a great treasure of this event. Students saw something in themselves and in each other that maybe they weren’t going to breeze through this event unmarked and unnoticed, but that their contribution became inherently necessary. They forgot their previous thoughts and emotions about the upcoming event, and allow themselves to be moved by the abundant energy and creativity. Choose2Matter accomplished its goal there, making students feel that they matter, and not just matter, but that it was because they matter that their input was needed.

 Heartbreak mapping.

Heartbreak mapping.

Choose2Matter left behind the normalities, if there are any, in giving students the tools to do something far greater than they would have imagined. For me, Choose2Matter wasn’t just something that was happening, but the mentality itself seemed to hold fast in the air around East Greenwich High School and envelope in a mist of carefully woven potential.


Even Middle School Students Can Make An Impact

In the United States alone, 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.  In Rhode Island, 1 in 6 women are affected.  We, at Woonsocket Middle School, had the opportunity to help.  We chose to work with the Gloria Gemma Foundation because they work locally in Rhode Island and help make a difference in many people’s lives.


Everyone knows that breast cancer is a very important issue.  We chose to raise funds and awareness here at WMS because we really wanted to help others.  Many people at our school have had their lives affected because of breast cancer.  We thought if we, as students, could raise enough money to help just one person, then we could help change someone’s life.  Helping one person is better than not helping anyone.  We need to look out for one another.  So, that’s what we did.

We started collected donations in September, but that’s not all.  As a school we sold breast cancer t-shirts and awareness bracelets the students and staff.  We even hosted ‘Dress Pink Fridays’ where, with a small donation, students could wear pink for the day.  Our school also held a walk for breast cancer awareness on Friday, October 11th – there were so many people there!  The next day, October 12th, fundraisers could walk in Providence to support the cause.


There are three of us, Sonia Merbouche, Eamon Wynne, and Heidi Knipfing, that went to the School Committee and City Council meetings in October.  At those meetings we sold more bracelets, collected donations and got sponsored for the walk.  Olly’s Pizzeria donated pizza and Greggs even donated a cake for our celebration.  The meetings we also attended a ‘Thank You Brunch’ sponsored by the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation.  It was a great experience to meet so many inspiring adults and see how hard work can pay off.  We began to realize that even as middle schoolers, we were making a difference and that the community of Woonsocket is very supportive.


All in all, with the help of everyone in our school and all the individuals that donated, we raised a staggering $6,437.55.  Our goal was $2,500.  We raised more than double!  Even though it’s January now, we know that we’ve made an impact and wanted to share some of the great things that happen at our school.  We would like to thank everybody that helped and supported our efforts.




A Walk to Remember

It’s no secret that in RI, there’s been a great deal of controversy around changing graduation requirements. Among the copious related details for schools to consider, is educating students and families about these changes in a meaningful way- a task much easier said than done… especially in communities already struggling to foster ongoing collaboration between schools and families.

One such community is Providence. A series of meetings was held during the 2012-2013 academic school year, at which both Mayor Angel Tavares and Superintendent Susan Lusi addressed families and described the upcoming changes to graduation requirements. Notices were sent home, and meetings occurred at most Providence high schools with minimal attendance.

These attendance levels likely did not shock anyone. The Providence School Department, a city in which 71% of its residents speak Spanish, has been addressing families in English at school meetings (with translation services available) for years.

The teachers at the Juanita Sanchez Complex took the initiative to invite families to their meeting in a different way. With teachers leading the charge, their meeting’s attendance was the highest of any meeting at their school in years.

So how did teachers on a voluntary committee change the course of community engagement in the Broad Street neighborhood? Teachers knew that sending home a notice to families would not bring them to a meeting, even if that notice was printed on colored paper. These changing graduation requirements were going to have the greatest impact on students with borderline or low NECAP scores- the children of the parents that MUST be engaged. Specifically, 80% of juniors scored a 1 on the NECAP math assessment. These families needed to be reached.

Teachers collaborated with a small group of families, and they listened. As they listened… the number of families involved grew… and their ideas about how to best engage families began to take shape. After much collaboration and organization, their ideas about how to invite families to a meeting looked very different than they had before. There was still a paper notice… but it looked much more like a theater ad, and was created by a talented teacher from Mt. Pleasant High School.


Additionally, their plan to invite families didn’t rely on students bringing a notice home, or families separating it from the junk mail. Instead, on March 2 a group of 80 parents, educators and students spent their morning together talking to local owners, employees and customers of the neighborhood businesses that line Broad Street. Organized into groups maximizing the language skills of each group member, participants armed with maps, talking points, posters and passion moved from business to business wearing shirts boasting their mission, “Graduating Providence.”


How did it go? Well, businesses hung up “Graduating Providence Tee shirts,” some of which can still be seen hanging behind cash registers or on walls. Stacks of posters/flyers were gladly accepted by business owners and later made their way into residents’ homes via grocery bags and friendly community conversation.


But to truly measure the effectiveness of this work, we should consider the turnout at family meeting, the sustainability of the community outreach and engagement or even more importantly- the impact on student learning. The event itself was attended by more than 400 family members- a record… But the attendance in the following months, at an April vacation intervention course, and a summer skills course may even be more noteworthy. 70 students spent their April vacation at school learning, and 300 attended a summer credit retrieval course.


Interestingly, two weeks ago teachers, students and parents took to the streets again with their folders, maps, flyers and talking points. This time they were promoting the school’s annual Open House. At the well attended Open House event, the foreign language teacher-leader and Committee Chair Piedade Lemos, had a “packed house” in a Parent Session, according to principal Michaela Keegan. Parents took surveys, signed up to work on the new school website or to take free English as a Second Language classes.

“In trusting the teachers to build something, it’ll happen,” says Keegan, who credits the teachers for the success of this grassroots effort to engage the community.  The work of the Family and Community Engagement Committee, now the largest committee at the school, is voluntary. Teachers like Piedade Lemos, organize and execute this important work before and after school and on weekends.

So, what will the Providence Public School Department do with this success? How will the school department honor the voices of its families? It’s important to note that at the March 6 meeting, for the first time in the history of Providence Public Schools, the meeting began in Spanish.


Teachers, students and families beautify the campus at the Sanchez Complex in preparation of the 2013 Open House Event.[images: Charles Moreau]



Educators from all around RI collaborated at the second EdTech Unconference.

A Good Reason to Give Up A Little Summer Vacation

Why was Friday, August 2, 2013 a great day for Rhode Island teachers?  Because fifty four of us attended an informative, enthusiastic EdTech Unconference

Educators from all around RI collaborated at the second EdTech Unconference.

Educators from all around RI collaborated at the second EdTech Unconference.

for teachers!  It was held from 9:00am-12:00pm, at the Barrington, Rhode Island High School Library.  “What is an “Unconference” I wondered?  It was called an “Unconference” because of the unstructured format for the exchange of ideas.  We were there to learn and share strategies about the use of new technologies in classrooms.

The Unconference was the brainchild of Alicia Sullivan, Gino Sangiuliano and Liz McGuire, Rhode Island Induction Coaches who facilitated the event.  Ten school districts were represented.

Why would I be inspired to volunteer vacation time to attend this event…because it was just what I needed to update use of classroom technology!  When I asked my fellow teachers why they attended, here are some of the responses:

  • One teacher said, “It helps to demystify issues with technology.”
  • Another stated, “I want to be able to give and receive tech knowledge.”
  • “I want to learn to work smarter, not harder.”
  •  “I like learning tech as an effective tool to engage and enhance students.”
  • “I need to get more comfortable with the tech process.”

It started with a short introduction then we could choose small groups, by topics of interest, such as Twitter, IPads, etc.  I started with a group to learn more about Twitter.  After about 20 minutes, I moved to a “Tech Chat” table to exchange ideas, learn about new sites and add new people to my contacts. Others chose iPad groups or other topics of tech interest.  It was all about what we were interested in lear

ning…we could set our own agenda within certain time-frames.  It’s always been my experience that high interest equals high learning!


Educators from West Warwick collaborated as they anticipated the start of their district’s 1:1 initiative.

All morning I consistently heard very positive feedback from fellow teachers. In fact, Alicia, Gino and Liz have been invited to collaborate with other tech enthusiasts to offer more Unconferences on a regular basis.

I learned a lot during this terrific Unconference.  I know, and think others would agree, that collaboration with knowledgeable and enthusiastic colleagues is the best way to learn.  I truly think our little state could be a model for the nation in developing teacher collaboration that benefits all students.  Can’t wait for another Unconference!

Connie McCarthy

In RI, it's no urban legend- Ordinary teachers have an extraordinary impact every day!