Back to School: Hatfield

Schools to increase emphasis on project-based learning

  • David Morris, the new band director for Hatfield Public Schools, is shown Aug. 18 at Smith Academy. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • David Morris, the new band director for Hatfield Public Schools, is shown Aug. 18, 2017 at Smith Academy. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

HATFIELD — Hatfield public schools will be increasing the amount of hands-on learning for all students and offering sign language instruction for seniors when the school year begins.

Superintendent John Robert said he expects the 2017-18 academic year to be one where the schools maintain their strengths, including expanding offerings of advanced placement classes, while giving more opportunities for all students to pursue project-based learning.

On Sept. 27, the schools will present a community showing of the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed,” which focuses on project-based learning and how students and teachers can move beyond conventional education.

“We’ll start a dialogue about how we might do things differently to empower students,” Robert said.

Partnering with the Parent Advisory Council and the Hatfield Educational Foundation, Robert said the plan is to offer mini-grants to teachers so they can implement some of these project-based learning concepts into the classroom.

This will supplement the Hatfield Elementary School’s forest classroom, which gave some of the youngest students the chance to be outdoors, learning basic math and science concepts and creating art with organic objects.

Robert said the school will also launch a pilot program in American sign language in partnership with the Willie Ross School for the Deaf in Longmeadow. This won’t impact existing foreign language offerings, but will give around nine seniors, many who haven’t taken a language course, an introduction to sign language in the fall that will be expanded in the spring.

Meanwhile, a major change for the district is having David Morris take over as the new band director, replacing Ken Longstreet, who ran the music program since he brought it back in 2000. Robert said he is anticipating a seamless transition for the students who play instruments.

Other new staff in the district include Alison Slysz and Kevin McGrath, who will teach high school science and high school math, respectively, Katherine Saik, who will teach drama and chorus, and school psychologist Shafiya Finger.

Smith Academy Principal Andrew Berrios said efforts to move everything to digital platforms are continuing, with schedules, report cards and menus no longer being printed.

The school is also considered 2-to-1 digital, meaning there is an average of at least one digital device for every two students.

The buildings and grounds at Hatfield schools will see limited renovations, with a computer lab at Smith being updated and a new carpet being installed.

As in previous years, Berrios said, Smith students will participate in a mural project, this year with the Hatfield Lions at the club’s large pavilion. Students also will be decorating a school bus for the demolition derby at the Three County Fair on Labor Day weekend.

A new student orientation take places Friday at 11 a.m.

One change that will not be implemented is a later start time for Smith students. While the Hatfield School Committee is considering the idea of moving the beginning of the day from 7:30 to 8 a.m., Robert said he doesn’t expect a recommendation to be made until Jan. 1.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.