Back to School: Hilltown Cooperative

School pets to join youngest classes

  • Hilltown Cooperative Charter School students Lola Wiemeyer, left, and Bea Hamilton perform a scene in a play called “Immigration Stories” last school year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — Students at Hilltown Cooperative Charter School can look forward to some new faces in their classrooms this fall — school pets.

Many kindergarten and first-grade teachers are taking the opportunity to bring furry friends and other creatures into their rooms — everything from guinea pigs to frogs.

“I’ve heard a lot of teachers are bringing class pets,” said Lara Ramsey, director of teaching and learning. “I imagine they’re probably going to integrate them into their classrooms and teaching.”

As they gear up for the first day of school Aug. 30, Ramsey said she is most looking forward to the week before classes, when teachers will take part in a week of workshops.

One workshop will focus on universal design for learning. It will help teachers learn how students engage with learning so that the learning that happens in the classroom offers equal opportunities for all. Teachers will also attend an anti-bias education workshop to help show them how bias affects teaching and what they can do to counter it.

Another workshop will focus on community service learning. Teachers will spend an afternoon in a nursing home volunteering.

“It reminds ourselves of the community service we can do and also helps develop relationships in the community so that one day we can bring back our students to volunteer,” Ramsey said.

The workshop week will also include days focusing on mathematical discussions and room environments. Teachers at the math workshop will work on how to have mathematical discussions and ideas with students. The room environment workshop will teach staff members how to create a good room environment.

“We’re going to talk about how we want to design and arrange our rooms,” Ramsey said. “The room environment goes before everything.”

The week before students arrive is the best time to launch new programs, Ramsey said. The workshops are a way to do that.

“None of this is a one-time thing,” Ramsey said. “All of it is planting seeds for projects that we’ll carry out throughout the year.”

Hilltown Cooperative has seen a change in administration for the coming year. Longtime Director of Administration Amy Aaron retired in May. Taking her place is Dan Klatz. He previously worked as the director of teaching and learning, the position Ramsey has now.

The school also hired three new teachers for special education, music and Spanish, and four new teaching assistants.

“All of our new teachers are great,” Ramsey said. “They’re bringing great experience to the seventh- and eighth-graders. I know the other teachers are excited.”