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SCHOOL SCENE A Special Supplement to the Sullivan County Democrat

A look at activities in the Fallsburg Central School District






New principal savors district’s diversity and commitment to kids STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY


awne Adams is passionate about wanting to improve students’ experiences as kids make their way through junior high and high school. “This should be the best time of their lives –– carefree, able to explore opportunities,” Adams said. “And a school should be a place where families, and everyone really, are able to feel welcome.” Adams took on leadership at the Junior/Senior High in July. “The teachers are tremendously earnest, and the community is welcoming,” she said. “The student population is hugely diverse and everybody seems to get along.” Before arriving in Fallsburg, Adams served as an Associate Principal for

the Binghamton City School District. There, she coordinated a program that increased opportunities for high school students to gain course credit for working in career fields to which they were attracted; and to earn college credit while still in high school. This year, Fallsburg is ushering in a new way to develop the “soft skills” students will need as they progress to college and careers. On progress reports that go home to parents, students are graded on Homework, Citizenship, Classroom Participation, Perseverance/Effort and Attendance, all of which are separated from their academic grades. Teachers rate the student skills on a three-point scale: Exceeds Expectations; Meets Expectations; or Needs Improvement. The students’ 10-week report cards include the new information, noted Dr. Matthew Fallsburg Junior/Senior High School Principal Dawne Adams shares a light moment with ninth grader Julius Kessler, one of 650 students in the building.

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Evans, Assistant Superintendent. The new reporting system helps students and their parents understand the areas that need work. “It reveals how students are progressing in these lifelong skills,” explained Principal Adams, “but does not penalize their (academic grade) for any shortcomings. These are the professional skills they will need in college and the workplace.” Adams is delighted with the rich roster of adventures in learning available throughout the school district. For instance, 50 to 60 students, most of whom newly arrived from Spanish-speaking countries, are benefiting from Spanish-led classes in social studies and math until they are brought up to speed in English. The diversity in programming at Fallsburg attracts students to join the Ecology Club, to study robotics, to get in the creative swing of the music and art departments, to earn college credit in 14 subjects and to master Advanced Placement courses that also give students the chance to tack-

le college-level work while earning college credit and college placement. Beyond the school boundaries, the social studies department squired 100 seventh graders to New York's capitol city, Albany, to see how both houses of government work. For older students, field trips to potential college choices are routinely provided through a grant from My Brother’s Keeper, a nationwide initiative that helps boys and young men of color to close opportunity gaps through mentorship and support networks. Then there’s the week of kindness and joy, from Dec. 16-20 in which students were encouraged to post positive messages around the school to underscore “that Fallsburg family feeling,” the principal noted. And students stirred up their spirits by choosing something new, like sitting with a different person at lunchtime. After all, said Principal Adams, “We're not just filling brains with content but rather growing good human beings.”





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Teacher to students: I’ll show you - Then you do it STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY


Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matthew Evans notes that new initiatives are part of a larger push to focus on enhanced teaching and learning.

n emergency medical technician must quickly analyze the patient she’s rushing to the hospital. An electrician has to evaluate the tools he needs to do the particular job at hand. A lawyer pores over evidence to devise whether or not to settle out of court. Critical thinking is an essential element in the 21st century workplace. More than just a buzzword, it’s now a way of student life that goes far beyond the rote memorization of the past. “Today, a teacher is more of a guide on the side as opposed to a sage on a stage,” offers Superintendent of

Schools Dr. Ivan Katz, paraphrasing an often-quoted comment by an educator, Alice Johnson, in Kentucky. Basically, “We want to see more kids taking charge of their learning,” Katz said. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matthew Evans noted that this school year the District is launching a five-step active learning initiative, called a “gradual release model.” During a particular lesson in, say, American history, a teacher strategically transfers the responsibility in the learning process from teacher to students, giving them greater independence. For instance, a teacher might give a lesson on the causes of the 1929-1933 Great Depression. She begins by

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offering a compelling and brief talk about the topic and what the learning objectives will be. She then directly instructs the students about the topic. In a third step, she breaks the class into small groups to research specific causes of the Great Depression: the stock market crash, bank failures, low wages. In step four, students increase g their independence, in this case, seeking and analyzing other causes for the Depression. A child might come up with the debilitating drought, over-production and problems with the gold standard. Finally, the teacher wraps up the lesson and and assesses student learning. a With the gradual release model, a student can really “get it” on a deep level. Or conversely, a teacher can see quickly that she will need to re-teach. “With this model, you know how the kids are doing,” said Dr. Katz. The five-step process of active learning was developed by educator/author Suzy Pepper Rollins, who a will lead a day-long workshop for Fallsburg teachers in May. y For many in the School District, the process will be familiar: “Some of our teachers have been doing it all along, and others are trying it on,” said Evans. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Another emphasis on robust teaching and learning is making sure students know right away what skills and knowledge a lesson is intended to teach. With the New York State Education Department fine-tuning its learning standards, teachers in Fallsburg are developing easy-to-understand learning objectives that their students can “own.” For example, in sixth grade English Language Arts, students must be able to use evidence from the book, magazine or newspaper they are studying to prove a point. Take the classic book “Island of the Blue Dolphins” about an Indian girl who is forced to live alone for several years. One of its overarching themes is self reliance. A student must be able to cite parts of the book that relate to that concept.






Fallsburg Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ivan Katz emphasizes that ‘Kids seem to remember the subject matter better when the teacher shows them, gives them an example, and then lets them do it themselves.’


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A learning objective for the child would be, “I can cite evidence from the text to prove my inferences about the text I am reading.” Learning objectives, which must be specific, clear to kids, and measurable, not only guide students as they work through the course. They also guide teachers in assessing students' learning progress, said Dr. Evans. Last month, the District planned a conference day to work on a learning objectives project, which, linked to the gradual release model, is all about good teaching and learning. “We’re moving away from teachers' knowledge that kids get passively,” said Dr. Katz. “It’s all about kids becoming active participants.”

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At Benjamin Cosor Elementary, 20 sixth graders, above, were trained to teach younger children about kindness and helping when they see bullying taking place. At far right are Sweethearts and Heroes staff members, Tom Murphy and Patrick Finn, who worked with the group. Teachers Nicole Cortes, second from left in the front row, and Brittany Davis, fifth from left, are supervising the project at the school.

Sixth graders ‘teach’ first graders compassion, empathy STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY


oday’s kids are skilled in walking through fire drills, lock-down drills and emergency evacuation drills. So why not a drill that equips students with the tools to face down a bully?

That’s what’s happening at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School where 20 sixth graders, the oldest students in the pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school, are learning to be school leaders in teaching younger students how to react when bullying takes place. “They are learning within themselves to empower younger students to

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stand up to a bully,” said teacher Nicole Cortes. “They are learning it and spreading the word.” This school year marked the unveiling of the project, which is called BRAVES Buddies. The anti-bullying program is part of the motivational program Sweethearts and Heroes, based in Fort Ann, near Glens Falls.

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up with a scenario that might take place in the lunchroom. A student spills food on his or her clothes, and peers begin laughing and joking. The first graders learn that they can be helpers in times of bullying by saying to the student who is being abused verbally, “Come sit with me.” Or the student being laughed at might stand up for herself or himself by saying, “Can you please stop laughing. I didn't mean to spill the food.” They learn to work out issues appropriately, how to self monitor and how to be a “buddy not a bully.” They study the ABCs of anti-bullying: A –– “If you see someone who’s being bullied, get them Away from that situation. B ¨–– Be their Buddy. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but be a Buddy. C –– Call for help. “It’s easy to be a bystander,” said Davis. “It takes a strong person to be a hero.” “The sixth graders are teaching the first graders about empathy,” said Cortes. “They are learning it and spreading the word.”

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everyone has the potential to be someone’s Sweetheart, who is a carrier of hope, and a Hero, who is willing to jump into action to help another student who is being bullied. At Fallsburg, sixth grade teachers Cortes and Brittany Davis are in charge of the empathy empowerment program. “It’s new this year,” said Davis. “It’s a one of a kind program involving multiple grade levels. We are one of the first schools to pilot the program.” In October, Cortes and Davis received comprehensive training from Sweethearts and Heroes. Then for more than six weeks, the two teachers trained the 20 sixth graders to be BRAVES Buddies. These students pass on their knowledge by guiding their younger peers through various bullying scenarios and what to do to defuse the situations. They “teach” first graders about what bullying is and how kids can recognize it. They guide the younger students in how to act if they are victim or onlooker when bullying takes place. For example, the sixth graders came




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Ecology club keeps a healthy environment front and center BY KATHY DALEY


eacher Elisa Baum makes it clear to students: as the world population increases, resources decrease and waste piles up. Enter the 15-member Ecology Club at Fallsburg High School where, says Baum, “the benefit of belonging to the club is awareness.” “By being aware, we are learning and teaching others about the concerns of overusing resources and increasing waste,” said Baum, who co-advises the club along with teacher Goranka Rogg. “Our club encourages students to problem solve and find solutions.” For example, last summer, the club met with Thompson Sanitation's

Kristine Walsh, who walked students through Sullivan County’s recycling program and then donated bins to help students get a bottle return program up and running. “Once a week, club members sift through the bottles and separate the plastic and glass,” said Baum. “They also collect the bottles that have a five cent return, earning $50 so far this school year.” Club members hope to use the funds in order to buy and plant lavender or lilac “because they are the best for honeybees and pollination,” said Baum. The club also collects paper and cardboard for recycling, with Life Skills students, who are learning disabled, collecting from classrooms

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Ecology Club students, above, are on the front lines of keeping the school and wider environment free of litter. At Fallsburg High, for example, they sift through used bottles, plastic and glass to place in bins for Sullivan County's recycling program. Pictured first row, from left, Haddy Gai, Kimberly Mahler (Treasurer). Back row, from left, Neema Darboe, Janelly Santos Lopez, Nevaeh Valree, Geovanna Pineda-Reyes, Ennie Lee, Cody Harvey, Jose Rodriguez Diaz (Vice President). Missing from photo: Faith Columbo (President). Amanda Zeno (Secretary)

during the last period every Thursday. Teachers leave their recycling baskets outside their classroom, and the students stop by and collect them. “It’s an ideal project,” said Baum. “It teaches recycling and community responsibility along with cooperation, routines and job-preparedness skills. The Life Skills students are an integral part of our recycling success this year.” The 15-year-old Ecology Club is famed for its “litter plucks” in areas outside the wider school community. Club members pick up empty bottles, cans, coffee cups and more that are, unfortunately, tossed out of car windows by uncaring residents. Often, the kids happily accept appreciation from neighborhoods. “During our litter pluck this fall we chose to clean Laurel Avenue where a Yeshiva is,” said Baum. “While we were picking up, many people stopped and thanked us. People were

leaving their homes and bringing the students water. The students were overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation. They were amazed at how the Jewish community responded.” And the kids were proud of their work, she said. In the near future, they plan to address the unfortunate role that Styrofoam plays in lunchtime at school. They also plan to begin research on waste management itself and on renewable energy jobs. For all the work they do, Ecology Club members gain community service credits, which they need in order to graduate from high school. “The students really enjoy being a part of keeping our schools and community clean and spreading the word of the necessity of recycling,” said Baum. “Yes, the club is about litter plucks and taking part to ensuring that our community is litter free. But they want the club to be much more.”





Fallsburg athletes enjoy the field of sports


From left, Diego Bonilla showed off his skills on the pitch, Jesse Acevedo led the Comets to their first football playoff appearance in school history, and Trevor Johnson hits a jump shot.

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A one-mile trail teaches its own lessons at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY


t’s exciting! All the trees! All the beautiful colors! Fresh air! Adventure!” Spoken as true sixth grade enthusiasts, Justin Chavez, Kaddyjatou Darboe, Veronica Mann, Douglas Medina, Johnarris Lopez and Amarey Armour can’t stop singing the praises of their school's beloved outdoor trail. The one-mile jaunt around Benjamin Cosor Elementary School in Fallsburg is a real nature trail complete with signs and brochures, most of which were created by the schoolchildren. Over the past three years, students have written 15 brochures on topics like birds, animals and shapes in nature. They have learned about inhabitants of the trail area: box turtles, snapping turtles, opossums and beavers. This year, the sixth grade class prepared a tree identification packet that labeled red maples, white birch, American beech, blue spruce and Norway spruce, to name a few. Fascinatingly, relics of the past turn up occasionally, said first grade teacher Leah Exner, who spearheads the project. From the 1940s and '50s, relics of the old hotels such as plates, salt and pepper shakers and mason jars turn up in the trail area, she said. Often, Exner turns to County

A nature trail that circles Benjamin Cosor Elementary School attracts sixth graders including, from left, back row, Justin Chavez, Kaddyjatou Darboe, Veronica Mann, Douglas Medina, front row, Johnarris Lopez and Amarey Armour. Flanked by teacher Leah Exner on the left and Principal Mary Kate Stinehour on the right, the students display new signs that reveal the purpose of the trail: Make Life Better By Walking Daily.

Historian John Conway, who has designed a sign that will feature details of the Lenni Lenape native people who lived in the region and likely would have inhabited the trail area, which is wooded and features a creek. “John Conway will speak to third and fourth graders about the Lenape people this spring,” noted Exner. The Lenape sign and other additions to the trail are being funded by a $2,000 Unsung Heroes grant to Exner from Voya Financial in October. Voya is a New York-based investment and insurance company. The funds will

School Scene

‘A look at Activities in the Fallsburg School District’ Published by

Catskill-Delaware Publications, Inc. Publishers of the

(845) 887-5200 Callicoon, NY 12723 January 7, 2020 • Vol. CXXVIX, No. 60

pay for, among other things, a writing, drawing and thinking area of four picnic tables with a stone and mulch flooring. Begun some 13 years ago by teacher Lee Smassanow, the revival of the trail after Smassanow retired began in 2016. Sullivan Renaissance and Sullivan Cornell Cooperative Extension have played significant roles in the work on the trail, as have the Center for Discovery, Dynamite Youth Center in Fallsburg, and the Lions Club of Tri-Valley and Fallsburg “along with 30 to 40 businesses that have given donations or discounts to

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us,” said Exner. “The outpouring from the (wider) community has been phenomenal,” said Exner. For example, “Chris Sutton of Sutton Underground (a Woodbourne contractor) is donating his time on the wooded area of trail and has offered to continue at no cost as we add the last bit of stone and mulch,” Exner said. “And special thanks to the Kiwanis of Woodridge who have begun the bench donation to the trail and have now been followed by Behan’s Garage of Hurleyville.” The school district as a whole takes pride in the trail. Fifth and sixth grade students, for example, worked on measurement skills in planning the new 10 foot by 10 foot flooring. They are joined by members of the high school's Honor Society, track and football teams, and the Leos, which is the high-school age version of the Lions Club. “We want to empower our youth to become problem solvers,” said Exner, “as well as use their creative thoughts to design and implement changes to benefit the community and our future.” “The main purpose of the trail is wellness,” she added. “It’s about walking and feeling good about yourself.” And, perhaps, being captured by the beauty of the trail that never stops giving.

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A Present Surprise for Pre-K Kids at BCES


or the past several years and just before Hanukah and Christmas, the Student Government Association (SGA) at Fallsburg’s Benjamin Cosor Elementary School (BCES) has provided gifts to the two sessions of Pre-Kindergarten classes. This year on December 20 was the day for the gifts. It was also the last day of school before the Holiday Break as well as Pajama Day. BCES has been taking one day a year when staff and students wear pajamas to school as a way to generate school

spirit. So just a little after the children arrived for the morning Pre-K class at about 10:15 a.m., the four SGA Officers and their faculty advisor Peter Dworetsky entered the classroom like Santa’s elves. Teacher Mindy Conciatori and Aide Jennifer Varner were not surprised, but the little children became very excited when the visitors arrived. Mr. Dworetsky introduced everyone from the SGA and told the children why they were there. Because he is a


The entire morning Pre-K session with Teacher Ms. Mindy Conciatori and Aide Ms. Jennifer Varner with the four SGA Officers and Advisor Mr. Peter Dworetsky.


SGA Officers left to right: Vice-President Adam Frunzi, President Jaecob Espinoza, Secretary Addison Ingber and Treasurer Marilyn Santos.

math coach at the school, he had several math puzzles and devices to engage the children in answering questions geared to pre-K level. They each answered the particular questions and were rewarded with a gift with their name on it. Carefully wrapped books, balls, and other toys were distributed. Ferocious tearing of paper broke out in the room with

adults providing waste paper baskets for the debris. It was a delightful morning with eighteen small children, in their pj’s, enjoying some pre-holiday gifts from the generous SGA students. Officers of the SGA are President Jaecob Espinoza, Vice-President Adam Frunzi, Treasurer Marilyn Santos and Secretary Addison Ingber.

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Fallsburg School District 2020  

Here's a look at activities in the Fallsburg School District.

Fallsburg School District 2020  

Here's a look at activities in the Fallsburg School District.