Autumn greetings from the St. Johnsbury School! The spirit of learning is alive and well among staff and students. Our recent sign messages have captured some of that spirit.

The first and second grades posted, "First grade rocks," and "Second graders are voracious learners." Kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade teachers are all using a common approach to reading this year called Daily Five and Café. The Daily Five is a student-driven management structure designed to fully engage students in reading and writing. Students have the opportunity to engage in tasks that promote their independent reading and writing: read to self, work on writing, word work, listen to reading, and read to someone. Teachers use the Café system to teach key literacy skills: comprehension (C); accuracy (A); fluency (F), and expand vocabulary (E). It is very exciting to visit the classrooms and see students "building their reading and writing stamina."

The third-grade sign message back in early October was, "Third graders will rock the NECAP." Students in grades 3-8 have now finished taking the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) tests. Teachers were so impressed with students' hard work and persistent effort during the testing. Third graders are currently engaged in an Abenaki unit with an interesting student presentation evening coming up. Fourth graders are studying New England mills and have begun work on their glogs (online posters). Teachers are integrating informational reading and writing into the unit. When the fourth grade developed its sign message, teachers decided to acknowledge students' work with vocabulary, and their message became, "Fourth graders are multiplying vocabulary knowledge daily."

This morning I was part of a lucky audience treated to the first performance by a sixth-grade Guitar Rock Band, a new endeavor by our band teacher. The students did an excellent job! With this as a preview, everyone is quite excited about what the Band and Choral Concert coming up on Dec. 13 will sound like. The Music Department is still celebrating the rousing success of last week's 50's Drive Through Diner, an event that brought school and community together with a lot of fun.

Daily I am reminded of how very special our school is. Yesterday a second grader proudly told me, "I am reading chapter books now." Fifth and sixth graders have been using Google Earth to study geography. Kindergartners are quite proud of their 'Seasons of the Apple Tree" books. Seventh and eighth graders explain their decomposition projects when I visit the science lab. Teachers recognize students for a variety of successes: being kind and helpful, writing with detail, taking extra effort with homework, demonstrating responsibility, focusing well in class, explaining their thinking. Teachers spend each Tuesday afternoon after school engaged in professional development. Our focus for the first quarter has been asking questions that promote students' critical thinking. Our focus for the next quarter will be differentiating instruction to meet a range of student needs. Teacher leaders attend monthly trainings about transitioning to the Common Core standards in mathematics and literacy.

First-grade teachers wrote in an October parent newsletter, "This is one of the most exciting times in your child's life because they are learning so many new things." A middle school teacher recently said, "These eighth graders are amazing -- they are real leaders for our school." We have important work to do on behalf of all St. Johnsbury's students, and we are committed to building a system of educational excellence.


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