December 2018 Principal's Message

posted Dec 19, 2018, 7:09 AM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:27 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Hello Walnut Acres Parents,

As always, life is busy at school with holiday energy abounding. Teachers are enjoying the opportunity to create a holiday experience with their classroom families before relaxing with their own families during winter vacation. Our students are collaborating to create gingerbread houses, singing about the season in a multi-cultural performance, and creating holiday surprises for you across our school! Life is eventful and generally joyous, but I begin this newsletter with information that is bittersweet.    


Personnel Updates

Our beloved Ramah David is retiring as of 12/21/18. Mrs. David has taught elementary students for 35 years and she has decided the time has come to step aside given her recent health issues.

Mrs. David has been an inspiration and a mentor to the students, parents, and colleagues with whom she has worked at Walnut Acres for the last 23 years. She will be greatly missed for the sincere heart and skill she brings to her work with children, her astute diagnostic prowess, her patient, encouraging spirit, and her creative, multi-sensory approach to learning. Mrs. David actually began her career working as a bilingual teacher and after 12 years she arrived at our school to take a job share position with a second grade class. In 1996, she began teaching first grade at Walnut Acres and she has been a pivotal member of the first grade team ever since. Mrs. David shared with me that first grade has been her favorite teaching experience because she loves to teach kids how to read. She has done that incredibly well at Walnut Acres for many years while also building confidence and hope in young hearts. I will miss Mrs. David both personally and professionally. I know I speak for all of us when I say that Walnut Acres is a better place because Ramah David has been among us.

Those of you who know Mrs. David will not be surprised to learn that she wants no “hoopla” as she departs. However, if your children were taught by Mrs. David (or if you had her as a teacher), I invite you to write your thoughts about how she touched your child’s life, pass them to me in a sealed envelope, and I will give your private messages to Mrs. David on Friday, 12/21/18. I hope this quiet opportunity to say good-bye will provide personal notes to Mrs. David that she will cherish.

We are very lucky that as we searched for a teacher to join the first grade team, Jean Condon, our current math intervention teacher, stepped up. Mrs. Condon has 16 years of teaching experience and 12 of those years were spent teaching in 1st grade classrooms. She is a practiced Reading/Writing Workshop teacher and she is eager to continue implementation of our Fundations program. Mrs. Condon has a strong sense of first grade math skills and as our math intervention teacher, she knows all about math games and hands-on activities that develop number sense and make learning fun! Mrs. Condon is also passionate about the positive climate work in which we are engaged as a whole school and she is very comfortable with the differentiation we promote at Walnut Acres. We are grateful she is joining the first grade team!

With Mrs. Condon’s move to first grade, we are left with an open positon in our Math Lab.

Mrs. Ellen Bellendir, who retired last June, has agreed to take on our Tier 3, small group math classes, and we welcome her home to continue supporting our wonderful learners! Mrs. Bellendir has taught at Walnut Acres for 28 years and her focus during her last 5 years has been mathematics. Mrs. Bellendir loves teaching math above all else, and we are lucky to have her back to share that passion with our children.   

In an unrelated personnel situation, you will be happy to know that Doug Grebe is recuperating well from his hip surgery following his biking accident. With approval still pending from his doctor, he hopes to return to us the week of 1/14/19. We’ll keep you posted on that plan. Meanwhile, Mr. Grebe thanks the parents who have kindly remembered him and he wants his students to know he is learning all sorts of new jokes and riddles to share with them upon his return.


Homework Reminders

Homework can be a conundrum and is often a topic of conversation during parent conferences. The topic is also among the comments on our recent parent survey, with some folks in the same grade level wanting more homework and some people wanting less. I will share with you a bit of the educational research status on homework which led to the development of our current homework policy known as the Walnut Acres Homework Plan. I refer you to that plan on our school website under the Information tab.

I’d like to highlight 3 components of the homework plan: our focus on reading, our use of research findings to provide developmentally appropriate experiences, and the role of parents in homework completion.   

Focus on Reading:

Studies strongly indicate that reading daily is crucial to improve reading.  Logical, right? As shared in Edudemic in a 2015 article entitled, “The Long Term Effects of Skipping your Reading Homework, if a student reads 20 minutes each day, that’s 36,000 minutes of reading in a school year and about 1,800,000 words. If a child reads 5 minutes a day, that’s 900 minutes in a school year and approximately 282,000 words a year. If a student only reads 1 minute a day, that child has only completed 180 minutes of reading in a school year and will have read only 8000 words. Which student will be more successful? (Check out the graphic in the article which is more compelling than my restatement.) We also know that reading not only improves reading, it also enhances math skills, boosts self-esteem, and increases communication abilities, while reading literature tends to build empathy skills.

All students will benefit from reading in any form every day! Via any delivery system (such as being read to while cuddling, or listening to books on tape, or reading to the family pet) and across reading formats (such as graphic novels, informational text, magazines, and more), reading is key to learning. For that reason, daily reading is a requirement at Walnut Acres at each grade level.  We also often ask students to be “active readers,” noting comments and insights as they read and tracking their own reading experiences; this enables them to share their thinking with one another and practice the metacognitive skill of routinely analyzing who they are as readers.

Use of Research Findings to Provide Developmentally Appropriate Experiences:

The research is much more ambivalent when it comes to any other form of homework! The Center for Public Education (CPE) notes in “Key Lessons: What Research Says About the Value of Homework” that, The link between homework and student achievement is far from clear. There is no conclusive evidence that homework increases student achievement across the board. Some studies show positive effects of homework under certain conditions and for certain students, some show no effects, and some suggest negative effects” (Kohn 2006; Trautwein and Koller 2003).

The same article also indicates that homework appears to have more impact on certain groups. For example, findings are consistent that older students – those in high school and middle school – benefit more from homework than elementary students (Cooper 1989; Hoover-Dempsey et al. 2001; Leone and Richards 1989; Muhlenbruck et al. 2000). It also appears that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006).

On the other hand, studies also suggest that there are nonacademic benefits of homework, especially for younger students. These benefits include learning the importance of responsibility, managing time, developing study habits, and staying with a task until it is completed (Cooper, Robinson and Patall 2006; Corno and Xu 2004; Johnson and Pontius 1989; Warton 2001).

So, in addition to our consistent focus on reading, we try to provide homework within the parameters of research findings. One aspect of that effort is that we support developmentally appropriate time-on-task for homework. Our homework plan includes incremental increases in homework time at each grade level. We aim for a balanced approach to homework as recommended by the National Education Association (NEA) in their article “Research Spotlight on Homework”. 

You know that we promote student ownership of learning at Walnut Acres, and this core value is integral to our homework planning as well. Student choice, interest, and motivation are components of homework planning across grade levels, as we seek to make homework relevant and meaningful to each learner.

Our homework goals are to support good study habit formation, provide practice with concepts and skills learned, and create an opportunity for parents to interact with their children about what students are learning in school. We do this knowing the educational research about the value and pitfalls of homework generally, and the need to support individual students.

Parents Are Our Partners:

We encourage parents to ask their children about assigned homework, to create an effective environment for homework completion, and to encourage children to do their best to complete assigned tasks. For some children that will mean a little positive reinforcement, while for others it may mean work-checking and/or hand-holding.

We expect that you will be our collaborative partner regarding homework, as with any other learning related to your child. If homework activities interfere with family events or peace at home, please let us know and we will make modifications to assignments. If your child needs more skill practice, communicate that too, so we can help assess the situation and provide appropriate practice. For example, did you know that Reflex is great for math automaticity practice? Do you realize we have a typing tutor program on our school website? If your child needs concept extension, that’s another conversation to have with your child’s teacher, so we can work collaboratively to provide challenge. The challenge process does not necessarily mean more homework, but different homework based on a student’s skills and needs.   

One size does not fit all, so we have a homework plan that is developmentally appropriate, based on research, and open-ended enough to flexibly support individual needs. The art is to apply the plan appropriately to maximize each student’s learning, and your input is valued as part of that process.    


Caring in all Seasons

I hope that you discern caring in all we do for students at Walnut Acres. Our homework planning is typical of our general educational approach to consider research-based practice, apply those insights developmentally at our school, and reach out to you to collaborate with us in appropriate application of our plan for each student.

Speaking of Caring, our last Sing-Out of 2018 is this coming Wednesday, 12/19/18 at 8 a.m. with our 3rd - 5th graders and 8:30 a.m. with our younger students. You are welcome to celebrate our message of Caring at either assembly. Please remember that chairs along the side of the MUR are for teachers only, so they can monitor our cherubs.  

This season offers many authentic caring opportunities. If you are looking for a local donation site, please consider HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program for Education.) The program is designed to provide needed supplies to homeless and foster youth within our district. At this time of year, the HOPE team focuses on gathering holiday treats for local MDUSD children and teens. Check out the information on the district website or under the “Current News” section of our homepage on our school website. I realize the district website deadline indicates that 12/17/18 is the last day to give, but there is never a last day to show you care!

One last shout-out to all the caring parents who help us make Walnut Acres a great place to learn and grow! To name a few recent examples: Read-A-Thon was great fun and organizers hit their target goals; the recycle folks are strategizing on many fronts to bring the message of sustainability to our children; the morning drive-thru volunteers are doing a great job; we received generous donations to our annual holiday toy and clothing drive to benefit families at our sister school Shore Acres; and my special thanks to all of you who trooped down to school to help us cover classrooms during our pre-Thanksgiving smoke days. Your active involvement in our school is a powerful message of community service and a great boon to our daily work with our kids.

Together we are a great team, and because of our collaboration and perseverance to keep growing our school as a safe, comfortable, and enticing place to learn, we keep improving. As I am fond of saying, our children deserve no less! Or as more eloquently stated by the famous chemist, Louis Pasteur, “When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.”

Here’s to creating happy family time memories during this winter holiday season as you enjoy your little miracles and guide them to become all they can be!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd