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Northampton teachers share expertise at national conference

Northampton elementary school educators who made a presentations at a recent National Council of English Teachers conference are, from right, Nancy Harlow, Leeds School; Jenny Bender, former district literacy coach; Mary Ellen Reed and Mary Bates, Jackson Street School; and Karen Bryant, Leeds.
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Northampton elementary school educators who made a presentations at a recent National Council of English Teachers conference are, from right, Nancy Harlow, Leeds School; Jenny Bender, former district literacy coach; Mary Ellen Reed and Mary Bates, Jackson Street School; and Karen Bryant, Leeds. SUBMITTED PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHAMPTON — Leeds Elementary School teacher Karen Bryant had never made a presentation at a national conference before.

But last month, she and three colleagues took the stage in Las Vegas at the annual gathering of the 35,000-member National Council of Teachers of English to lead a session on fiction writing for K-3 students.

With Bryant were fellow elementary teachers Mary Bates and Mary Ellen Reed of Jackson Street School, and Nancy Harlow of Leeds. Also attending were Jackson Street Principal Gwen Agna and Jenny Bender, a former literacy coach for the Northampton schools. The trip was paid for with grants and district professional development funds.

Bender, an author and consultant who’s spent the past four years training city teachers in the Readers and Writers Workshop method, was the one who encouraged them to apply for a conference slot.

Bryant, for one, was skeptical at first. “I felt we needed to be experts to do this,” she said. “But Jenny reminded me that we’re practitioners and we have something to offer.”

Audience feedback showed they offered solid advice about how the workshop model, which stresses individualized instruction, can boost literacy skills.

Reed, who teaches kindergarten at Jackson Street, said the experience took her out of her comfort zone — in a good way. “It’s nice to get shaken up and question why you do things,” she said,

Bates, a first-grade teacher at Jackson Street, said she gained ideas from talking with other teachers. “We had a lot of conversations about how to encourage critical thinking in our classrooms,” she said.

Harlow, a special education teacher at Leeds, also liked meeting other educators. “Teaching is a very isolating experience,” she said. “This was an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and also with the wider teaching world.”

With funds for Bender’s position reduced due to budget constraints, administrators are seeking other ways to continue literacy training in the elementary grades. The four conference attendees plan to present their workshop to school colleagues in the near future.

Agna stressed how important a national conference can be in encouraging such teacher leadership.

“This is the first time in a long time we’ve been able to send a delegation to one,” she added. “I want to make sure we have more teams that can go next year.”

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Pingpong club seeks tables

On Thursdays after school, the Northampton High School cafeteria is home to members of a new pingpong club. Created by NHS English teacher Suzanne Strauss, the group has secured three donated tables for games, including one Strauss bought on Craig’s List.

The club is looking for more — “as many tables as people want to donate,” she said. Tables must be of the wheeled, foldable variety for easy storage. Interested donors can email her at sstrauss@northampton-k12.us.

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Tracking school lunches

Wondering what your kids are eating for school lunch? The Food Services Department has launched a new online system for tracking those purchases. Already, 355 families have signed up for the My School Bucks system, according to department secretary Debbie Zuchowski.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” she said. “It’s very helpful, especially at the middle school and high school levels where there are a lot of a la carte items.”

The system lets parents set up online accounts where they can monitor their children’s school food purchases and, if they choose, pay for meals online for a $2 transaction fee. The system also sends email reminders to parents when lunch accounts fall below a level of their choosing.

So far, the monitoring option is drawing more families than the online payment option, Zuchowski said.

Graham Ridley is one who’s signed up for both. While he feels the $2 fee to My School Bucks may discourage some parents, Ridley – whose children attend JFK Middle School and Bridge Street — said he likes the convenience of the online reminders.

“Overall, I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s about time we had a system like this.”

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Used book sale

Bridge Street School’s second annual used-book sale will feature an appearance by a leading citizen. Mayor David J. Narkewicz is scheduled to read to students at the book sale’s family night on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the school on Parsons Street. Students receive coupons for one free book each. Families are invited to shop from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Pizza and cider will be available in the cafeteria.

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