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August 23, 2018

Greetings Parents and Guardians,

It is with great joy that I welcome you to the 2018-19 school year!  We are experiencing the smoothest start I have experienced since coming to Dutch Creek 11 years ago.  Thank you for sending your students ready to learn, be kind, and grow!

As many of you know, Dutch Creek is launching a new program for literacy (reading and writing) instruction.  The resource we are using is EL Education.  Recently, this resource was called Expeditionary Learning.  At that time, there were schools that taught through field trips only.  Some of these schools are in the Denver metro area.  Shortly after Common Core State Standard (CCSS) were created, EL assembled a team of exemplary teachers to write a curriculum for language arts that is based on CCSS.  This team of educators used science and social studies topics to create deep learning for all students.  EL is based on content mastery, character, and high quality work.  Unlike when we went to school and teachers focused on coverage of content, this resource encourages students to become experts and develop deep knowledge of content.  It uses many texts that are at grade level – in terms of reading level.  Grade level texts are used with all students.  Students learn with and alongside each other, which is similar to the real world.  Additionally, many of the texts integrate concepts about becoming an ethical, kind, person who cares about the world around them.  The focus on character will help us revise our Positive Behavior Support System that has existed at Dutch Creek for many years.

Here are some questions and answers I have been having with other parents and guardians about EL Education.  I hope these are helpful for you as well.

Will EL change how the teachers interact with my student?  I anticipate you will see teachers serving as a learning coach who facilitates student learning.  You will see them thoughtfully engaged in posing many questions to cause students to analyze, think, compare and contract – to understand the content on their own.  You will see many of our teachers and our school shift towards intrinsic (internal) rewards as opposed to extrinsic (external) rewards.  Some of our teachers are getting rid of the clip-up/clip-down or flip-a-card systems, as these are extrinsic in nature.  Instead, you will see teachers having conversations with your student by asking them to think about their decisions and reconsider their options.  While these conversations were occurring in the past, many are now intentionally removing the extrinsic clip-up/down and card systems.

What are Learning Labs?  Learning Labs occur 1 hour/day for Kindergarten through 2nd Grade.  During lab time students build what they are learning.  Students begin lab time with a 15-20 minute read aloud.  Then they engage in 40 minutes of purposeful play.  For example, if they are learning about birds, student will build replicas of birds.  Students end with reflecting about the goals they set for themselves for lab time.  Although this is very different from how we have taught in the past, it provides students with time to engage in play-based learning where they can practice using academic vocabulary, getting along with others, and have time building.  This structure encourages creative students to form knowledge while constructing.  I hope this makes sense.

Where and how will my student learn about character?  The texts students read often incorporate character.  For example, many of the texts are about people who have real world struggles, challenges, and problems they have to overcome.  The texts are about perseverance and how characters problem-solved various situations.

Why does EL care about quality work?  High quality work is an expectation of EL Education.  Students will create drafts and revise their work based on their teacher’s feedback – more than they have in the past.  This is honestly frustrating for some students because they have been accustomed to getting their work done and handing it in, sometimes without attention to quality.  The focus is shifting to producing high quality work and incorporating feedback as opposed to just getting it done.  In the real world there is a balance to strike, which we are trying to hit here too while we work with your students.

What are the core values of EL Education?  The core values of EL Education include:

  • Self-Discovery
  • & Compassion
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Having Wonderful Ideas
  • Empathy & Compassion
  • Success & Failure
  • Solitude & Reflection
  • Collaboration & Competition
  • The Natural World

These are the core tenets of being a human being.  These core values, our implementation of EL Education, and partnership with you helps us raise wonderful people who have the skills, values, and problem-solving to learn and succeed in our world.

While implementing EL we will continue to identify community partnerships to connect our learning to the real world.  Examples of this work include our partnership with the Clyford Still Museum last year while writing personal narratives and with each student creating their own Clyford Still abstract art.  For another example, 5th grade studies human rights, specifically by reading Esperanza Rising, which is about a girl who immigrates to the United States.  Our former facility manger, Mensur Hadzic, immigrated to America when he was 17 from Bosnia.  He is going to be a guest speaker after our students have some understanding of what it means to immigrate to a new country and what rights we have as citizens of the United States.  For those of you who were here when Mensur attained his citizenship, we had a school-wide celebration for him.  He has since been the facility manager of Arvada West High School.  We are looking forward to having him as a guest speaker.  These are examples of how EL forms connections between learning and the real world.

This year we are continuing to use Math Expressions as our primary resource.  Mathematics instruction is based on the Standards of Mathematical Practices, which include:

  • Making sense of problems and persevering through them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model mathematical concepts.
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.

You should receive a parent letter at the beginning of each new unit and periodically throughout some units explaining how math is taught and the concepts students are studying.  I hope this helps you.  Please feel free to contact your student’s teacher if you have questions.  

As your principal, I recognize EL Education is a shift for you and for our teachers.  Frankly, the students love this new model of teaching/learning and the resources, which makes it worth all of the work and effort for our staff!  Please be patient with us as we make this shift.  Please keep asking questions so I can help you understand this transition.  I value your feedback and guidance throughout this process.

We will continue to talk about this transition at PTSA and SAC (School Accountability Team), which meets right after PTSA.  I am also happy to meet with you in person.

Thank you again.

Fondly and respectfully,

 

Jennifer J. Pennell, Principal

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