June 21, 2016Dear Parents and Guardians,As another school year comes to a close, we take time to think back on the year that has passed and look forward to a new grade, a new school and, for many of our graduating seniors, a time to move away from home and begin the rest of their lives.Reflecting back on a year of learning experiences may culminate in a final exam, a final presentation, a final game or concert and often, a celebration. During our June Board of Education meeting, I listened to students and teachers speak of their learning and share their accomplishments. We honored those who are retiring or moving on after their service to our district and our students.A look ahead is met with both excitement and trepidation. All of our students wonder, in one way or another, what the future will bring.It seems that our future is less predictable than ever before. With new technologies and access to information, teaching and learning is certainly undergoing a transformation. Recent current events as well as the impending election of a new president have brought new worries. It is important that we nurture a healthy regard for change and progress and help our children to navigate through their fears to live a happy, healthy and productive life.Working with our Superintendent and a Global Task Force during this past spring, our district examined ways to promote a world without hate. I recently stood with many of our high school students as they hosted a beautiful tribute in memory of those who were killed in Orlando this month. Certainly, we are living through some sad and troubling times. Therefore, I thought that I would leave you with a resource from the Anti-Defamation League to support your conversations with your children at home when difficult topics arise. The link is called Table Talk: Family Conversations about Current Events. I hope that it is a valuable resource for your family.Enjoy the long days of summer and time together as a family. May this season be a time of continued growth, healing and renewal.Warm regards,Julie GherardiJanuary 15, 2016
Dear Parents and Guardians,
As you know, the new calendar year began on Monday, January 4th, with our district awakening to the news that nearly half of our school bus fleet had been vandalized and the perpetrators had left behind graffiti, including a swastika. As a district we felt violated and enraged. Somers is a quiet town and our schools are the heart of community life here. Who would do such a thing (as of this writing, authorities still have not identified the culprits) and why?
One thing that this event certainly made clear to us is that hatred, intolerance, ignorance of world and human conditions, and bias exist – and they exist right here in our home. Earlier in the school year, it was brought to our attention that children were using racial and religious slurs in our schools. Dr. Blanch and I met with a handful of parents to hear first-hand accounts of incidents against their own children. In response, we began a series of conversations – first with our own administrative team, next with parents and community (with PTA support) on the evening of December 1st, followed by a meeting with Somers High School students and now with faculty groups in each of our four schools. These conversations, dubbed “World Café Conversations” asked participants to define what global citizenship means and ways we can promote it with our students. One comment resonated with me during our conversation with parents. An astute participant stated that while many of our practices might be intent on raising “good” citizens, they are not necessarily helping students to become “global” citizens.
We know that we are far more connected to the world and its people than ever before during the course of human history. Our students may live and work anywhere in the world as adults and even if they stay in the Northeast, they will certainly have opportunities to interact with peoples of all races, religions, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. We are a diverse world. A world that has, more than ever before, recognized and honored the differences among us. The recent Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriages throughout our nation is a recent example of the changes that recognize the differences among us.
Our challenge, as a school district, a community, and certainly, as parents, is to educate our children, confront bias and truly prepare our students to understand and appreciate the differences that make our world a wonderful place. Programs such as Responsive Classroom (used K-5), our counseling curriculum (K-12), Health Curriculums, Middle School Advisory, Peer Leadership (9-12) and mindfulness practices (K-12) promote social and emotional learning. This is the start of being aware of other people and their beliefs, practices and feelings. Unfortunately, the vast amount of information available to adults and children through multi-media, the messages we hear on television, radio, and in popular music often highlight our differences in a negative light. These messages/scripts/lyrics use derogatory language and present a picture that promotes the idea that one way is right and the other wrong. This promotes a closed mindset and lack of understanding. Pair this with games, films and media coverage that have presented violence as a viable solution to our problems and we certainly have great challenges before us.
We are very hopeful that our intention to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Somers High School will press us forward in terms of promoting the understanding of “multiple perspectives.” Some of our teachers and administrators have already begun attending workshops to prepare for teaching IB courses. The idea of multiple perspectives is a foundational principle of IB. Its mission statement embraces our hope for Somers’ students: The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.Our own local New York State Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts for grades K-12 also recognize and highlight the importance of cultural diversity. To this end we are examining the literature and texts that we use for instruction in our classroom. These print materials should present an accurate representation of world differences while maintaining a balance and exposure to classic works. We will continue to engage students in exercises that ask them to explore multiple perspectives, understand different points of view and seek varied solutions to problems. This kind of learning promotes students who can think deeply about issues and express different points of view in a respectful manner.
Exposure to different perspectives through experiences outside of the classroom is also a powerful way to educate our children. We live close to one of the most diverse cities in the world. How are our students experiencing New York City? Is it with curiosity along with a desire to understand or with fear and mistrust? Unfortunately, with world events what they are, we have become a fearful nation. We must rise above this fear and maintain our safety while at the same time, seek to understand and continue to learn.
We are so grateful for the support of our community – our PTAs, SEF, Team TUSKERS Mentoring Program have been amazing resources in support of educating our students. Representatives of these groups have already reached out to Dr. Blanch, to me and to our building principals to offer support in the form of speakers, programs and resources. Meetings are in the works to put plans in place for these programs and ideas.
In this country, built from the hopes and beliefs of people who were persecuted and marginalized, we must recognize that the power of our democracy, and indeed, the hope for our world, is to realize that through education (in schools, communities and homes) we can build an understanding and acceptance of our differences and realize that through our hard work and with the guidance of our parents, teachers and community members we can, indeed, achieve anything. Our children’s success will be meaningless if it occurs at the expense of others or is grounded in the belief that they are superior and have nothing to learn from others. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey names Habit 5 as “Seek first to understand – then to be understood.” Let this be our hope for all. That we listen to understand, we respect and embrace our human differences and we strive to create a community that raises children who can make our world a better place.
Assistant Superintendent for Learning
Somers Central School DistrictWe are very excited about our candidacy as an IB World School at Somers High School.To learn more about the International Baccalaureate, see these links: