Smith Academy in tune for coming school year; Hatfield Elementary focused on writing



Last modified: Friday, September 11, 2015
HATFIELD — Smith Academy ended the most recent school year as champions, taking the 2015 Western Massachusetts Division 4 baseball title.

Heading into the new school year, students can look forward to the school’s continued commitment to providing first-class programs in athletics and the arts.

Over the summer, Smith Academy’s band room was renovated and expanded — doubling its size, according to superintendent John F. Robert. Unlike most schools, the band program is run as an elective at Smith Academy, conducted during the school day instead of as an after-school activity. And as an elective, it’s a popular choice: a majority of students in grades seven through 12 participate in the band program, according to school officials.

“There have been studies that have shown students who are engaged in music do better academically,” said Robert, noting that the band program’s role in the day-to-day schedule means that students are involved in more than just academic courses.

A school committee report projects the band program will grow in the coming years, Robert said. He credited the work of Kenneth Longstreeth, the academy’s band director, for the successful program.

On the academic front, Smith Academy recently hired Dan Jaworski as a science teacher and Susan Cole as a math teacher. Robert said he expects no major changes in academic offerings for the 2015 to 2016 school year.

The school’s small student population — under 200 students — offers an ideal student-to-teacher ratio.

“It certainly has its advantage regarding small classes,” he said. “There are some challenges being a small school as well. Sometimes we don’t have ability to offer some of the electives larger schools can do.”

Smith Academy participates in the Virtual High School, an online resource used by schools in 22 states and eight countries that allows students to take courses not offered to them. “We have a very aggressive Virtual High School program at Smith Academy,” he said.

Students access the Virtual High School, with the assistance from trained staff, through computers in the school’s learning commons. “It’s a good experience because so much online learning takes place in colleges. It gives them a opportunity to try here,” said Robert.

Smith Academy is known for its strong athletics program, and the baseball team, led by coach Jeff Pluta, played in the Division 4 state championship after winning the Western Massachusetts tournament.

But Principal Andrew M. Berrios said that while a divide exists in most schools between the arts and athletics, Smith Academy promotes “dual involvement” in those areas.

“I could go on and on about why the school is special but it really boils down to our student body. They are an amazing group,” he said.

Berrios added, “Their positive outlook and the value they place in each others differences and similarities is what truly sets Smith apart. The school culture is inviting and refreshing. They are Smith Academy.”

Writing initiative at 
Hatfield Elementary

Principal Jennifer Chapin said Hatfield Elementary will “dive into” a new writing initiative that will emphasize improving writing skills for all grades.

The district has hired Leslie Laud, a writing professional and education consultant, to facilitate the program. Laud will work directly with teachers and two reading interventionists at Hatfield Elementary to bolster the writing program.

The focus will be on so-called Open Response Writing — a key component in the state’s MCAS exam. Open Response Writing is writing for a purpose; students write about particular themes or issues based on reading prompts.

Chapin said most students struggle with this portion of the MCAS Exam.

“We’re hoping to see an improvement in that area as well,” she said. “But it’s lifelong skill and an initiative for the district that goes all the way to twelfth grade.”

The school implemented Open Response Writing in the 2014 to 2015 academic year.

Elementary school “lays the foundation” for a child’s academic success, she said, especially in nurturing solid writing skills.

Also, for the first time this year, Hatfield Elementary will offer a combined pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program.

Last year, only 20 children were enrolled in the kindergarten program. However, applications for the pre-kindergarten program continue to climb. Children who missed the kindergarten age cut-off will be enrolled in the new program, which should help students’ transition from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten.

Chapin will also welcome a number of new staff and teachers in the fall. “Everyone is looking forward to coming back,” she said.

Teachers began setting up their classrooms several weeks ago in anticipation of the Sept. 2 opening.




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