To the Graduating Class of 2019 (Yearbook)

To the Graduating Class of 2019,

At the 2015 announcement of his Chicago presidential library, President Barack Obama reflected on the significance of the location: “The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned — they’re all based right in the few square miles where we’ll now be able to give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey.” In many ways, the close connection that President Obama described in relation to his local community parallels the small close-knit community that we have here in Dobbs Ferry.

As graduates of DFHS and members of our community, you are part of a legacy and history that goes well beyond any of us as individuals. This was on display in full force on the evening that our basketball team won the Gold Ball for the first time since 1967. That game was about so much more than basketball. It was about our community, past and present. The stands were filled with parents, community members, students, teachers, and alumni, some of whom were students at DFHS in 1967. That evening reminded us that we are a community that supports one another, and that Dobbs Ferry may be small in size but we are mighty in spirit.

At the center of our amazing community are our incredible schools. As graduates of an IB World School, you are prepared with the necessary skills and perspective to leave our small community so that you can truly tackle global issues while making a difference on a local level. Regardless of the path that you choose after high school, you will find opportunities to give beyond yourself and “to bring the world back home after an incredible journey.” I am truly confident that you are ready for these challenges, and that you are ready to make a positive and lasting impact that will make Dobbs Ferry proud.

Dobbs Ferry is the place that we call home, and the lessons that you have learned here will guide you as you move onto college, the workforce, and ultimately the rest of your lives. From your successes in the classroom, your tremendous talents in the arts and sciences, and your fortitude and perseverance on the field, there is nothing that a Dobbs Ferry graduate can’t do.

The legacy of this graduating class will be remembered for generations, and it has been an honor to serve as your Principal for the past four years. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing all of the wonderful ways that you will continue to make our community proud.

Sincerely,

John J. Falino, Ed.D.

Principal

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Promoting Well-Being at DFHS

I recently attended an exceptional IB Leadership training session on “well-being and student leadership” that was facilitated by @moyerteacher in Seattle, WA. The training was part of a new leadership series put out by the IBO in response to the ever-changing needs of all students, including those who attend IB World Schools. This specific training challenged us to explore how we support student wellness within an IB World School while considering how we can empower students to take control of their own well-being.

The importance of focusing on the “whole child” in education is not a new concept. If you spoke to educators ten, twenty, or even fifty years ago, they would more than likely have told you that the “well-being” of students was important. For some, it might have even been a priority, though many teachers, particularly at the high school level, would have likely indicated that their primary focus was on content and academics and that the “feeling stuff” was more for the school counseling department. This mindset has significantly shifted in recent years as schools are finding more and more students in crisis. Though it’s easy to find many anecdotal examples inside of our schools, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recently shared some unsettling data that sheds more light on this growing crisis. According to the piece, 18.1% (42 million) American adults live with anxiety disorders, and statistics around depression continue to rise while the number of children and adults who suffer continue to go untreated.

So how do we define well-being? In the most basic sense, well-being is a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude. It goes beyond basic welfare and aims for all students to be healthy, happy, successful, and productive. This latter point is one that we regularly emphasize at DFHS, particularly at our IB DP Information Night for 9th and 10th grade parents. Simply stated, students who are happy and healthy perform better academically. They have better mental health, make better choices, enjoy greater social inclusion, and ultimately leave high school better prepared for new challenges and change. So decisions around academic choices, whether or not to pursue a full IB Diploma, and the number of co-curricular activities that students get involved with needs to be closely monitored.  

The very nature of the IB MYP and IB DP lends itself to support student well-being despite the perception by some that both programs promote intense academic demands that in turn lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety for students. At DFHS, our entire faculty and staff has examined how we can promote student well-being and social and emotional learning within our existing programs without it becoming an “extra” for students (and teachers!). Here’s some of the ways that our school has helped to achieve this goal:

  • Faculty and Staff Well-Being: If our goal is to ensure the well-being of students, then it is critical that we first focus on the well-being of the faculty and staff who work with our students. The importance of creating a positive culture in a school is at the very core of promoting well-being among faculty and staff. I have said time and again that if you treat faculty and staff like professionals, 99.9% of the time they will act professional and the culture in the school will be positive. At DFHS, we have extended this mindset to include explicit experiences for teachers in the area of mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and stretching. As an example, @meghalberg leads daily mindfulness sessions for teachers who are in need of a quick meditative break from the daily grind. In addition, we have had Jennifer Monness from The Meditation Lab attend some faculty meetings to lead our teachers in meditation and yoga. This is an experience that is designed exclusively for our faculty with the focus being on their health and well-being. Finally, our Innovative Classroom Initiative (ICI), led by Assistant Superintendent @dfdciberry, has further supported this endeavor by emphasizing mindfulness and how we can promote well-being for all students and teachers in our district.  

  • Student Well-Being: As noted above, when faculty and staff are happy, healthy, and well, students that are inside of our classrooms become the direct beneficiaries. Our focus on staff wellness has resulted in many examples of teachers at our school who implement mindfulness types of activities into their lessons. @MsCairoHistory, for example, sometimes opens lessons by having students participate in a quick meditation. Other teachers such as @Mrs_Fahy and @llcgrove have had students get up for some light stretching and yoga-based exercises as an opening to a lesson. We are also inviting Jennifer Monness back to DFHS in May to engage our students in the types of relaxation/meditation exercises that she led with our faculty and staff. The idea is to provide our students with some strategies to “destress” before state exams. The key to all of this is recognize that student wellness is everyone’s business, and finding ways to naturally integrate mindfulness practices into what we do every day is a much surer way to promote ownership among all.

  • Interest Based Learning Experiences: Both the IB MYP and IB DP provide students with seemingly endless opportunities to pursue personal interests that can directly promote well-being. The Personal Project, for example, provides tremendous flexibility in terms of topic selection so that students can virtually engage in any area that is of personal interest. If implemented correctly, this can be an excellent vehicle for reducing student stress while providing an “escape” from the grind of academic classes. The IB DP core provides similar opportunities, and at DFHS we encourage all students to take TOK or to engage in CAS activities regardless of whether or not they are pursuing a full IB Diploma. While each IB program provides opportunities, however, the key is to provide a structure that allows these experiences to be enjoyable and pressure free for students. This involves aspects of scheduling, staffing, and of course proper counseling.

  • Service Learning: In recognition of our 20th year as an IB World School (#DFHSIB20), we have focused more exclusively on finding opportunities within our existing curriculum  to inspire service among our students. Our work in this area has been documented in previous posts and our teachers continue to find new ways for students to give beyond themselves. The selfless act of “giving beyond oneself” is perhaps the greatest form of wellness, and the intrinsic reward that one receives is beyond measure. This mindset is also a core principle of the IB, and one that truly takes form when schools have a positive and supportive school culture that emphasizes wellness for all.

  • Counseling: It’s not possible to write a piece on student well-being without highlighting the critical role of our counseling department. I am proud to say that our district fully supports this belief and has continued to allocate resources in this area. In the past few years, we have added a third school counselor, a full-time social worker, a dean of student affairs, and a full-time student assistance counselor. In addition, our conseloring department has teamed with our special education department to implement programs such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in an effort to support students in need while further promoting mindfulness and empathy among all staff members. The enhancements within the counseling department have provided our students with more individualized support, an expanded focus on social and emotional learning, a team approach to student wellness and mental health, and a restorative approach to student discipline. Our school counselors are also IB trained, serve as college counselors, and have the same caseload of students from grades 9-12. This approach allows our counselors to build personal relationships with students and families so that they can quickly intervene in moments of crisis.

In addition to the examples above, our district is in the midst of designing a K-12 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum that will provide teachers and students with more explicit experiences throughout our existing curriculum and program. In this regard, the key is to maintain the mindset that “well-being” needs to be embedded into all aspects of our school by faculty and students alike. The teachers of DFHS have certainly embraced this belief, and as always continue to lead the way in terms of how to best support the needs of all students each and every day.

IB for All: Inspiring Service at #DFHSIB20

The IB mission of developing citizens who are compelled to “think globally and act locally” has served as the fabric of DFHS for the twenty years that we have been authorized as an IB World School. As the IB celebrated its 50th anniversary and shared many examples of service learning from around the world via the commemorative hashtag #GenerationIB, our school celebrated its 20th anniversary by focusing on how service learning has further promoted our mission of “IB for All” at #DFHSIB20.

Our students have always engaged in community service that has made a positive difference in our local community. It is well documented on our school Facebook page, Twitter, and of course this blog. A quick scroll on our Facebook page will provide many examples, including our recent Thanksgiving luncheon for senior citizens as well as volunteer efforts at our elementary school and other local organizations. This year, our focus has shifted to service learning and, more specifically, how to best leverage what is already a robust IB MYP/DP curriculum to inspire students to go out and make a difference in our local community.

I wrote a piece earlier this year on service learning at DFHS and noted the importance of using our curriculum to “inspire service” among our students. Recently, our ninth and tenth grade English classes took the lead on these efforts by engaging in true service learning that now serves as a model for future work that we are planning as part of #GenerationIB and #DFHSIB20. Our teachers share their stories below:

Grade 9: Oedipus Rex (@CastellanoD1)

As high school English teachers, we are often discussing the motivations of the characters who we study in literature. Our students typically demonstrate empathy and sensitivity towards characters who struggle. This year, we decided to extend that empathy and sensitivity towards the Dobbs Ferry community.

We wanted the students to be involved with this service activity from start to finish, so we discussed our ideas with them from the very beginning. In addition, we wanted the process to organically connect to our curriculum, without feeling forced. Many themes found in literature document those who live in poverty or those who overcome adversity. Our goal was to tap into those themes while giving the students a tangible service opportunity that would allow them to give back to the community.

In English 9, our students read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and as a class, we discussed the importance of working collaboratively to serve the community. In Oedipus Rex, the Chorus works collaboratively as a community to help the people of Thebes who are struggling with a destructive plague that is ravaging the city, and its people. I contacted Molly Rodriguez, at the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, to discuss how we, as a school, could work with their organization to serve the community. Molly was excited and eager to work collectively with us to make our vision a reality. She was most delighted to learn that we were committed to teaching the students about helping others in the community. With Molly’s help, we organized a list of food, and household items that were in high demand by those in need in the Dobbs Ferry community. In my classroom, Laura Cosgrove (@llcgrove), my co-teacher and I, set up three donations bins (one for each of my 9th grade classes) and over a month long span, we encouraged students to donate what they were able to contribute. We were overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the students, and their families.

The week before the holiday break, each one of our 9th grade classes walked from the school to the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, located within the South Presbyterian Church, with our donation items. The students were proud of their contributions and passionate about giving back.Upon entering the food pantry, we were welcomed by the volunteers, who gave us a tour and graciously accepted the donation items. The students learned about the number of people who benefit from the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry and its many services. We left feeling uplifted by our service to the community, especially during the holiday season. We decided that we will be participating in another collection during the springtime.

Grade 10: Black Boy (@Mrs_Fahy)

While our 10th graders were reading Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy, which chronicles his experiences growing up in a time of extreme poverty, hunger and racism in the Deep South, we discussed Richard’s hunger regularly in class. As Thanksgiving approached, the students came up with the idea that they would like to sponsor a Thanksgiving dinner for a local family in need. Other than selecting the recipients of the baskets, which was done anonymously through the guidance department, the students had ownership over the entire project from start to finish. We gave time in class for students to work in groups and collaboratively brainstorm items that the families may need. Unexpected contributions such as printing out word searches and coloring pages for children – things that don’t cost anything – helped ensure that all students could get involved.  From there, individual students brought in items from home, donated money, made signs and printed out the themed crossword puzzles, word searches and coloring pages. Our project culminated with a field trip to our local Stop & Shop to shop for the remaining items together as a class. As one student reflected: “I enjoyed working with my classmates to achieve a common goal. Everyone was focused on achieving a common goal to create a good experience for the family.”

The baskets looked wonderful were full of food and fun Thanksgiving treats. Both Ms. Cosgrove (@llcgrove) and I were very proud of the students’ efforts. A few days later, we asked students to write a reflection on the project and their experiences. One student said that “giving to a family in need made me feel like a really good person” and that the project we did together in class “brought everyone together and made people realize how lucky they are to be able to put food on the table and to spend time with family when others do not get the chance to do so.” Another student reflected that “the experience overall made me so happy” and that assignments such as these help us to “understand how our lives are very privileged compared to the lives of others.” Keeping these reflections in mind, we hope to incorporate and encourage more authentic Service Learning activities into future lessons.

Next Steps

Prior to winter break, our teachers met in grade level teams to brainstorm potential opportunities for service learning within our existing IB MYP/DP curriculum. Our grade level teams will reconvene next week to further develop those ideas while thinking about longer term interdisciplinary efforts that are aligned to the IB and our goals around service learning. The teachers at DFHS are a dynamic group of professionals who continue to push the instructional agenda at our school. It is through their effort, along with a school community that fully supports “IB for All,” that we find ourselves in the fortunate place of being able to focus our attention on an area such as service learning. The Dobbs Ferry “IB for All” story is one that continues to unfold, and service learning is simply a next step in our journey as we continue to develop compassionate and empathetic graduates who are prepared to make a positive difference in the world.

IB for All: #GenerationIB and Service Learning

The DFHS story of “IB for All” is well documented in this blog. Our school was the first public high school to be authorized as an IB Diploma Program (DP) school in 1998 (#DFHSIB20), and our shared belief in “IB for All” served as the driving force behind obtaining authorization to the IB Middle Years Program in 2016. We proudly share our story annually at the IB Global Conference by focusing on a specific aspect of how we accomplish “IB for All” in a small, diverse suburban public school district. In 2015, we presented in Chicago on how our 1:1 Chromebook program promoted equity and access to the IB DP, and in subsequent years we focused specifically on areas such as program development (Toronto, 2016), special education (Orlando, 2017), and the MYP Personal Project (San Diego, 2018). In 2019, our plan is present on service learning, and more specifically how we are working to further promote a “think globally act locally” mindset into all aspects of our school.

A belief in the importance of contributing beyond ourselves is at the core of the IB mission to create a “better and more peaceful world.” This level of service, however, means less when it comes as a result of a school requirement (“every student must complete 30 hours of service or else!”) or as a way to enhance a college resume. With this in mind, our focus has been on how we can compel students to freely and voluntarily engage in meaningful service without it being a mandate or requirement. The trick here, of course, is for students to be so inspired by what happens inside of school that they want to make a difference outside of school. Not always an easy feat, even for an IB school.

As IB celebrates its 50th anniversary (1968-2018), we are proudly celebrating our 20th using the hashtag #DFHSIB20. As part of our celebration, we have taken on #GenerationIB as a rallying point for encouraging service and civic engagement in an effort to truly make a difference in our community. Here are some of the steps that we have taken thus far:  

Establishing a Clear Vision: I met with our department leaders in August to set the course for the upcoming year prior to the arrival of our faculty. Part of what we discussed this year was the work that we have done with “IB for All” and next steps that we may take to continue to push our school forward. Service learning and the idea of “CAS for ALL” has long been something that we have talked about and this is the first year that we have articulated a clear goal around this concept. During our meeting, we came to consensus on the following definition of the term to share with the faculty: “Bringing awareness and empathy to global issues that exist and thinking about how we can tackle those issues in our local community.” In addition to providing a direction and vision for the school, the definition moves service learning to a level of deeper understanding of the issues that exist in order to compel and inspire actual and tangible service.

Inspiring Service: There is perhaps nothing that makes me shake my head more than the idea of “completing” service as part of some type of requirement. Though it may come with the best of intentions, we too often see people completing service essentially because they are being forced to. We see this in schools that have “required” hours of completion, in our penal system via required community service, and even with IB CAS, though to a somewhat lesser extent. Service needs to come from within. It is selfless by its very nature and the reward is intrinsic and personal. At DFHS, we have had early conversations about how to inspire such levels of selflessness so that students are compelled to seek opportunity to serve based on their own passion. These conversations are now taking place inside of our classrooms within the context of our curriculum. This integrated approach to service within the curriculum aims to inspire action outside of the walls of our school.

#Generation IB: As part of 50 years of IB (1968-2018), students around the world from all four IB programs have been showcasing their efforts to find solutions to some of the most pressing global issues. At DFHS, our IB MYP teachers and students have taken this on as a complement to the Year 5 MYP Personal Project. At the start of the year, MYP teacher @MsCairoHistory challenged her students with the following essential question: “What are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and what can be done to remedy them?” This question has served as a focus for the course and is one that we are challenging teachers and students in all disciplines in all grade levels to consider. Simply put, all teachers of all subjects can help students to reflect upon how the respective content that they are teaching impacts the larger global world. In doing so, student thinking is broadened beyond the walls of our school and the call to act and make a difference with tangible service comes from within.

Service Learning Team: As IB Learners, we always strive to be reflective and open-minded inquirers. Our service learning team consists of a group of individuals who have those very qualities. They are dedicated to examining what we currently do as a school with regard to service and, more importantly, how we can inspire all individuals in our learning community to engage in service that makes a positive difference in our local community. We have already seen our students rally behind several efforts, including recycling, hurricane relief, and school safety. We also have many students who are individually engaged in service outside of our school, service is a pillar of our honor society, and of course our full IB DP students are engaged with IB CAS. Given that, our team (and school!) is working from a place of strength.

Recognizing Service:  A few years back we started a full campaign to truly imbed the IB Learner Profile into all aspects of our school. This included revamping our behavior expectations to include IB Learner Profile qualities, adjusting all aspects of teaching and learning based on the profile, and most significantly recognizing the members of our school community who demonstrate one or more of the respective qualities. In doing so, we recognized teachers on a weekly basis as well as students at our monthly IB Learner Profile breakfast. In terms of service, the same approach is going to be taken. The point in this, however, isn’t necessarily to provide an extrinsic reward in as much as it is to celebrate the work of others and to inspire thought and possible action in others.

We are looking forward to sharing our work from this year at the IB World Conference in New Orleans next July! The conference theme is #GenerationIB, and we are looking forward to being inspired and inspiring others to truly think globally and act locally.

MAC Field Day: Community, Activity, Service (#DFHSIB20)

History and tradition. Two words that fully capture what Dobbs Ferry is all about. From the murals that adorn our hallways to the our football games at Gould Park, DFHS holds a proud history that truly sets our school community apart from all others. What has also historically set Dobbs Ferry apart is our ability to join together in times of need and for important causes that impact the lives of our students, families, and community members. At the core of the IB Program is the importance of compelling students to “think globally while acting locally,” and time and again our students have demonstrated this mindset in all areas of our community. As we gear up for our 13th MAC Field Day on September 28th, and in the spirit of the late Coach James “Coach Mac” Mackenzie, we are reminded once again of the importance of joining together to celebrate our history while bringing awareness to important issues in our community.

In May of 2006, tragedy struck Dobbs Ferry when we lost our football coach, teacher, mentor, and friend Coach Mac. This loss was not only difficult for his football players, but also the student body and faculty of our high school. Coach Mac made an impact on every individual he encountered here in Dobbs Ferry. His personality was infectious. He had a larger than life aura and it was impossible for any person he met to forget him. Many would say it was his unique look and the “handlebar” mustache. Others might say that it was the fact that he would be wearing shorts on a sub-zero degree day in January. Those that knew him best though would argue that it was because he made every single person he came across feel important.  He made people, no matter who they were, where they came from, what their situation may have been, feel they mattered. He represented caring, unity, togetherness, and community. He represented the very best of Dobbs Ferry. He represented what we are all about, and what we always strive to be.

Coach Mac was also legendary for his sayings. He may have been second only to the immortal Yogi Berra in this department. A favorite was “Do what I mean, not what I say.” His starting quarterback knew this one better than anyone. But the one we remember best here at DFHS is “Who’s better than you?” That saying summed up better than any other what Coach Mac was all about. No matter what anyone has told you, no matter what you might think, “you matter, you’re important, and I care about you.”

In the summer of 2006, just prior to the start of school, the students at DFHS wanted to do something to honor and thank Coach Mac for all that he had done for them and for this school. They decided to name our annual field day in his memory, and the following year, on Friday, September 21, 2007, Fox 5 NY had its morning show Good Day NY broadcast live from our turf during our second MAC Day. The school spirit could be felt everywhere throughout town. It was a fitting celebration of Coach Mac, and a wonderful way for our school and community to show everyone what Dobbs was all about.

Fast forward to present day and our school is now prepared for our 13th MAC Field Day. Last year, our students united to raise money for the victims of the hurricanes and chose the non-partisan “One America Appeal” because it spoke directly to what Coach Mac was all about–-togetherness, community, and helping others. This year, we celebrate our 20th year as an IB World School (#DFHSIB20)! As always, our mission is to promote service learning and civic engagement while emphasizing the development of student driven, student focused, and student run endeavors. Within this framework, our Ecology Club and Fundraising Club are joining forces during MAC Field Day for a recycling effort that will aim to raise money for one of our local charities. Our current students are already part of our school’s rich history, and continue to find new ways to give back while aiming to inspire future generations in the same way that past generations have inspired them.

IB for All: The IB MYP Personal Project (#IBSD2018)

Authorized in 1998 as the first IB DP school in Westchester County (NY), Dobbs Ferry High School (DFHS) is a model public school for how to best promote student access to the IB DP. We present annually at the IB World Conference on this topic and regularly welcome guests from districts who are interested in learning about how our rich diversity serves to enhance our work as an IB World School. All students at DFHS take an average of three DP courses and approximately thirty percent pursue the full IB Diploma. This “shift” to “IB for All” has evolved over the years. At #IBORL2017, we shared the DFHS story while placing a specific emphasis on special education. This year, we turn our attention to the MYP Personal Project (Year 5).

In 2016, DFHS was authorized as an IB MYP school and all sophomores completed the MYP Personal Project for the first time in 2017. The MYP PP has further allowed DFHS to promote access to the IB DP while providing all students with rich academic experiences that will prepare them for success beyond the walls of our school. The MYP PP has also allowed us to further instill the IB Learner Profile into the fabric of our school while providing our students and staff with more opportunities for reflection and growth. It is also paving the pay for new initiatives, including a transition to “IB CAS for All” starting in 2018-19.  

Please be sure to check out our session on this topic on Saturday, July 28th, at 3:45 p.m. in Aqua AB, Level 3. In addition to focusing on the MYP Personal Project, we will contextualize the discussion by sharing our story, how we have gained community and staff buy-in, and how the MYP has further aligned our middle and high school.

We are thrilled to present at the IB Global Conference for the fourth straight year in the incredible city of San Diego! Have a great conference.

John Falino (@johnfalino1)


The following guest post was written by Dobbs Ferry High School teachers Mallory Cairo (@MsCairoHistory) and Connor Cohn (@MrCohn9), and is part of a larger series of posts around “IB for All.”

We live in a moment in human history in which we can access a mind-boggling amount of information, oftentimes with the small devices that live in our pockets and our hands. It’s not often enough that we stop to ask ourselves, as educators, but also as citizens, how do we engage with that information? How can a person begin with an idea or a datum and take it from a discrete piece of information to a logical conclusion? How can we assure that our students are able to confront the information they will be bombarded with for the rest of their lives in a meaningful, effective, and thoughtful way? Oh – and also – what do students actually want to do with their time?

Enter the MYP Personal Project (MYP PP). Dobbs Ferry High School implemented this aspect of the MYP curriculum for the first time during the 2016-2017 school year. At DFHS, all students complete the MYP PP while enrolling in an enrichment research course during their sophomore year. The Personal Project is the culminating task of the IB MYP.  Each part encourages students to reflect on or display a different component of the learning and research process, from identifying an inquiry question to researching the question, chronicling the information they find in the report, and somehow showcasing it in the product. The MYP PP is performance-based, authentic, and a true reflection of the the IB skills that students develop over the course of the MYP. It also prepares all students at DFHS to further access the IB Diploma Program (IB DP) starting in junior year.

The benefits of the MYP Personal Project Research Class:

When DFHS moved through authorization for the IB MYP, a great deal of consideration was given to how to best have all students complete the Personal Project while not overloading their workload and/or increasing stress in the sophomore year. The ultimate decision to enroll all students in a sophomore research course that was modeled after Science Research Year 1 proved to be a good one as students not only had time to complete the project, but also had an opportunity to learn research skills across the disciplines that moved well beyond the MYP PP.

There are additional benefits to integrating the personal project within a sophomore research class. The structure of an every other day class allowed the teacher to guide them in brainstorming, researching, and completing their projects.This class takes advantage of two current (research-based) trends in education: interdisciplinary study and student choice. The project gave our students and faculty a chance to collaborate across disciplines and grade levels as students conferred with faculty from both our middle and high school about the research questions they had formulated themselves.

Differentiation at Its Finest

Perhaps the greatest feature of the MYP PP is that it is truly differentiated based on student interest. As a result, it quickly becomes an endeavor that students care about, connect with, and ultimately “own.” Students not only work with faculty members to choose a topic, but also demonstrate their understanding by designing a product that best suits their learning style and areas of strength. In terms of topic selection, the flexibility that the MYP PP provides in terms of “choice” gives educators a great opportunity to scaffold “how to choose.” To students, bridging the gap between what they do in school and what they do at home was sometimes difficult. Lessons during the month of September were mainly exploratory, giving students an opportunity to grapple with their choice in order to create a research-based project around their interests.

The flexibility in terms of choice resulted in some truly amazing products from our students, including but not limited to: a video essay about Chance the Rapper’s impact on inner-city Chicago, a remade car engine, a live action lesson on American Sign Language, a live action dog show, and a video essay about “filler” words in the English language – all projects that attest to both the interdisciplinary and self-directed nature of the Personal Project. In May, we held our first IB Personal Project Expo for all of the members of the Dobbs Ferry community. It was a true “coming together” for our town and built even greater momentum around the amazing work that we are doing at DFHS.

Final Thoughts

The MYP PP provides a brilliant opportunity for students to choose something that interests them, grapple with informational sources, and to interact with the community to showcase their hard work. Having students design their personal project via an every other day class is an incredibly useful tool that allows a teacher to guide the research process. The skills from this project are highly transferable, from Global History 10 to everyday adult life! Students build critical thinking skills that allow them to assess information and pursue long-term logical arguments. Allowing student choice will ultimately create more independent learners, and the Expo Night during which students showcase their work is a fabulous evening to celebrate achievement. We are looking forward to sharing our story at #IBSD2018!

Recap from #IBORL2017: IB for All–A Special Educator’s Story

My name is Sarah Grosso and I am a special educator at Dobbs Ferry High School in New York. I am dual certified in Special Education and English. I co-teach both year 1 and 2 of the Standard Level Language A: Literature course. I am honored to be here and enthusiastic to share with you my amazing and unique experiences working within the IB curriculum.

I began teaching at Dobbs Ferry back in 2008. This was a time when the IB program was isolated and included only a small elite group of students. Being that my role was as a special educator, it was foreign to me. In 2010 there was an open opportunity for all teachers to become trained in the IB. Two of my close colleagues in the English Department encouraged me to go to a training with them. We traveled to Toronto for my first immersion into the world of IB. The training was eye-opening. Sitting through close-reading exercises and grappling with literature in a multitude of ways was so relevant to the non-IB classes that I taught at that time. This experience strengthened my ability to be a true co-teacher in the classroom and also showed me how to make all of my students better prepared to analyze literature.

Bringing Language A: Literature at the standard level was presented at an English department meeting in 2013 by Dr. Falino (@johnfalino1) and Ms. Halberg (@MegHalberg). The English teacher part of me was excited to have the opportunity to finally teach an IB course. The Special Education teacher part of me was apprehensive due to our model of full inclusion. Would my students be able to successfully navigate this rigorous curriculum? Would I now co-teach courses that were both fully inclusive and IB?

My co-teacher and I launched the first year of the Language A: Literature SL course in the fall of 2014. Dr. Falino granted us paid summer professional development days to work together and break down parts 1 and 4 of the course in a way that would be meaningful for all of our students. We spent time looking for common language between the 10th grade non-IB curriculum this group of students had received and the new curriculum. We created homework menus that asked students to analyze the literature through the IB guiding questions. We created mini-writing tasks that modeled the World Literature Paper, and we created templates and models using the assigned 10th grade texts to model new ways of collecting and analyzing evidence from the literature.

During the year we spent our planning periods creating differentiated activities to make the material both manageable and challenging. I spent a great deal of time building templates for students with special needs so that they could access the curriculum and successfully complete the assessments. We had the students complete mini-presentations to prepare for the Individual Oral Presentations at the end of Part 4 (Semester 2). What I came to learn so quickly in this endeavor is that IB fits with special education masterfully. At the midyear point we had 100% of our students complete the World Literature paper at the Standard Level. At the end of the year we had 100% of the students successfully complete an Individual Oral presentation. The summer planning time and common prep time for my co-teacher and me were essential ways the administration supported us in this endeavor.

My favorite moment during that year as a special educator was watching one of my students complete his Individual Oral Presentation. He chose to demonstrate his knowledge of The Great Gatsby in an analytical format. This boy had been dealing with significant speech and language deficits his entire life. He put so much effort into organizing his information and also practicing to ensure that he scored well on the presentation portion. This particular student’s presentation out-shined many of the general education students in the class. He was confident, funny, rehearsed, and knowledgeable. At the close of our first year I felt in my heart that this student truly and completely embodied the traits of an IB learner. I was ecstatic when I was scheduled to co-teach the second year and see these students through the second part of this curriculum.

Last year our IB Coordinator offered me the opportunity to attend a training on the IB Approaches to Learning. Here I gained a fresh way to go back and look at my current units and see how I could enhance them with 21st century skills.

This year I was asked to teach a section of Life Skills for students with significant cognitive needs. The Director of Special Education for the district encouraged me to include the IB style of teaching into this course in order to enhance our fully inclusive philosophy. I started the year teaching our students about the IB Learner traits. We created songs surrounding each trait and did posters of pictures that symbolized each trait. As we moved through units such as stress management, appropriate dress, and conversational skills, I asked the students to evaluate what type of trait they were currently demonstrating. My ATL training really came into play when planning lessons for this course. Thinking about these approaches as I designed a new course applied even to students with significant cognitive needs. When we started the year, no one in the class even knew what IB was. Now concluding our first year of this course, all of our students can tell you his and her strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to the IB Learner traits and are better equipped with 21st century skills due to lesson designs using Approaches to Learning.

One of my students from that class who is classified with Autism was also in my IB SL Language A: Literature Year 1 class. For his Individual Oral Presentation he chose to demonstrate his knowledge of Tennessee Williams’s playCat on a Hot Tin Roof in a creative format. He started off by singing Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way”. He then did a presentation where he compared quotations surrounding the character of Big Daddy to each stanza of Sinatra’s hit. The class cheered when he was finished and he dropped the mic.

This is our third cycle of running the fully inclusive standard level English and we still have not had one single student with special needs fail to complete any of the assessments.Taking this course as well as the IB Math studies course has given our students more confidence to embrace challenges and to feel less isolated from their peers. It has also encouraged some students with 504 plans and IEPs to demonstrate the risk-taker learner trait by enrolling in other IB courses, such as TOK. So my apprehensions in my role as special educator have quickly faded. I enjoy attending IB roundtables in my unique role and sharing my experiences to others who may be nervous about embarking on a similar journey.

Recap from #IBCHI2015: The 1:1 Chromebook Program at DFHS

I’ve written numerous posts on the 1:1 Chromebook program at Dobbs Ferry High School over the past two years while continuing to evaluate the program for the dissertation that I plan (hope!) to finally defend this fall. I am also looking forward to sharing our school’s 1:1 story at the upcoming IB Conference of the Americas (#IBCHI2015) along with @meghalberg and @careim2. In preparation for our upcoming presentation, I have combined some of the “big ideas” from my previous posts and have added some additional insight based on my recent research. Here are the highlights…

Why Chromebooks?

  1. Practical Considerations: At first glance, the Chromebook has the look of a standard laptop. It has a 12.1-inch screen, a traditional keyboard, and opens and closes in the same way. But that’s pretty much where the comparisons end. The “web-based” Chromebook is extraordinarily light due to the absence of a standard hard drive and is also sleek in nature. This is critical for high school students who are already overwhelmed with large over-sized textbooks and book bags that weigh more than they do. In addition, the Chromebook is inexpensive as compared to even the most modest laptops that are on the market.
  2. Academic Considerations: While many of our students noted the value and benefits of using iPads as a primary device, they also noted that there is a connotation of “play” that is associated with iPads due to the thousands of non-educational apps that are available. Conversely, the Chromebook provides easy access to Google Drive and the growing number of educational apps that teachers and students are now using on a daily basis. In addition, the traditional keyboard makes much better sense than a touchpad for high school students who use the device for note-taking, paper writing, and overall collaboration.
  3. Access to Google Drive: Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Chromebook is the ease in which students can access the internet and, more importantly, Google Drive. Though still in its early stages, Google Drive has already changed the way that we think about “sharing” and is now on the cusp of changing the way that we think about teaching and learning. Through the various Google Apps for Education that are available in Drive, teachers and students can collaborate in “real time” on various projects and classroom assignments. This feature not only challenges all traditional thinking of assessing student understanding, but also how we provide ongoing feedback to students beyond the “brick and mortar” classroom.
  4. “The Cloud”: This once seemingly abstract concept has now singlehandedly changed the way that we think about accessing, saving, and sharing information. In the old days, files and documents were saved to a hard drive on a local computer or a laptop. Transferring or sharing of these files would require that we email them to another person (or ourselves) or save them to an easy-to-lose flashdrive. No more. By saving all information to “the cloud,” all files can be easily accessed on any device wherever there is internet access. With this concept in mind, the Chromebook was designed to allow users to quickly and easily access the web and their important files. Essentially, the files are available wherever you go. This is a critical for students as they can now access all documents from home or in school (or anywhere) while enjoying a virtually limitless amount of storage space.
  5. The CCSS: All of the talk these days seems to be around the new CCSS and the degree to which schools across the nation have made “the shift.” Among the many “college and career readiness” targets that our outlined in the CCSS, there is a shared expectation that students will use technology to produce, publish, interact, collaborate, and evaluate different forms of digital media. To further this point, the NCTM remarked that “unless technology is woven throughout these standards, the credibility of any claim that they will better prepare students in the 21st century is diminished.” Given these demands and expectations, the Chromebook provides easy access to databases, journal abstracts/articles via the “research tool,” and a variety of additional educational apps that are designed to enhance understanding and overall capability.

What skills have students gained as a result of the 1:1 Chromebook program?

  1. Written Communication: Teachers in all disciplines noted writing as the skill that has been most directly impacted by the 1:1 Chromebook initiative. By sharing documents both with peers and their teachers, students are now able to engage in the writing process like never before. Through formal assignments like the humanities interdisciplinary research paper (@MikeMeagh) and informal assignments such as shared journal entries (@Mrs_Fahy), students collaborate with one or more co-writers in real time through each phase of the writing process. In addition, Chromebooks allow teachers to provide ongoing feedback and targeted instruction by using the revision history feature and identifying the specific strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. In that sense, Chromebooks provide teachers with a practical tool for differentiation so that they may best meet the needs of all students.
  2. Accessing and Analyzing Information: The ease at which our 1:1 initiative has enabled students to access an unlimited amount of information on any topic via the internet has completely transformed teaching and learning in all disciplines. Teachers now play the role of facilitator on a more frequent basis while students are being encouraged to take ownership of their learning as they decipher between credible and non-credible sources on the internet. As an example, @AdamoBiology regularly has his students use the “research tool” in Google Docs to compare, contrast, and analyze abstracts, journal articles, and research studies that are available in various databases. Activities of this nature are not only in-line with both the Common Core and IB Learning Standards, but also help students to develop skills in research, evaluation, critical thinking, reading, curiosity, and self-direction.
  3. Data Analysis: In addition to the analytical skills that are developed through the activities noted above, the Chromebooks have provided our students with a new way to analyze and graphically represent numerical data through applications such as Google Spreadsheet. For example, @ANewhouse6 requires that all students share their Google “Sheet” with all of the groups in the class so that they can analyze both the validity and reliability of the data collected as well as the process and procedure that the students used to conduct their investigations. Furthermore, this feature makes it possible for students to receive instant feedback on their lab results, graphs, charts, and data analysis from both the teacher and other members of the class. As an extension, students have the ability to present their data through applications such as Google Slides. Given that, additional skills that are directly connected to data analysis include communication, organization, collaboration, and critical thinking.
  4. Initiative & Self-Direction: @sarahhmstern noted that the increased level of access to the internet has shifted the mindset of some students from feelings of  “helplessness” that come as a result of the limitations of textbooks to an understanding that all information is in fact attainable if the the proper search is conducted. This realization is especially critical when students are working independently outside of school. Similarly, teachers such as @ms_sardinia, @MicheleIrvine1, and @MegHalberg provide access to a variety of apps and websites that allow students to take control of their learning based on their specific strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest. This includes websites such as Khan Academy and a library of Google Apps for Education.
  5. Digital Citizenship: While not a “skill” in the traditional sense, digital citizenship is critical for success in all academic classes as well as all “real world” endeavors. From an accountability perspective, students are responsible for taking care of their devices while having it in school with them each day. Furthermore, @addonam noted the importance of internet etiquette and digital citizenship with respect to searching for information and interacting with all people in a virtual setting. In that sense, the benefits for 9th graders go far beyond the classroom and indirectly connect to the development of other crucial skills, including organization, self-direction, and of course responsibility.

What are some of the issues that still need to be resolved?

  1. Instructional: Inconsistent use among teachers. While all teachers utilize Chromebooks, the degree to which they do so depends on the subject and the nature of the culminating final exam (state or local) that they are required to administer. In courses such as English, World Language, and ELL that do not end with a state exam, teachers feel a greater sense of freedom and take more risks with regard to integrating technology. Conversely, teachers in math emphasized that the end year NYS Regents exam requires “pen to paper skills” that cannot be developed via a Chromebook. Solution: Ongoing differentiated professional development that is subject specific needs to be provided. PD must always focus on the ways in which technology (and the 1:1) can enhance teaching and learning within the content areas while recognizing the specific obstacles that might exist.
  2. Instructional: Accommodating students who either forget their device at home or have a broken device. Solution: There is no perfect solution to this inevitable issue. The first and easiest solution is to have “extra” devices on hand for such situations (particularly students with broken devices). If this is not possible, teachers can find opportunities to either pair students or, if possible, allow students to access Google Drive via their phones.
  3. Instructional: Monitoring student use to ensure that all students are on task during class. Solution: In addition to the internal features in Google Drive that allow teachers to monitor student progress, our teachers noted that viewing student screens from afar is much easier with the HP Chromebook than it is with the Samsung device. We made the switch from Samsung to HP this year. There’s also a great deal to be said about the importance of teaching digital citizenship and responsible use. See “Why BYOD” (12/12/13).
  4. Infrastructure: As more students use their devices as a result of our one-to-one (grades 9-11) and/or BYOD (grade 12) initiatives, our WiFi has started to become overrun causing the internet (and downloading) to move much slower. Solution: Increase bandwidth and access points. In many ways this is still a work in progress for us as we determine the appropriate amount of bandwidth to support such a high level of activity. On our campus (MS/HS), we can have as many as 1300 devices connecting to the network at one time. Given that, we have moved from 40 MHz to 100 MHz and have installed 115 access points throughout the district. Despite these changes we still have instances when the internet moves slowly so it something that we continue to evaluate.
  5. Infrastructure: The battery often drains before the of the end of the day even if the devices are fully charged overnight. Solution: We are finding that some of the biggest battery “drains” occur during student “free” periods (lunch, etc.) when they access gaming and movie sites. Speaking to students about this issue is key and, if necessary, blocking sites as needed. In addition, charging stations need to be provided throughout the building and all student chargers should be labeled (name/grade level) so that students can use their chargers while at school.

For more information, we invite you to attend our session at 11:15 on Saturday, July 25 in the “Missouri” room!

117th DFHS Commencement: Finding Your Path

The following address was delivered at the 117th DFHS Commencement on June 16, 2018.

To the Board of Education, Superintendent Brady, Mr. Berry, Administration, Faculty members, Parents, Family members, Friends, Students, and Graduates: Good evening once again, and welcome to the Dobbs Ferry High School Commencement of 2018.

Tonight, we come together as a community for an event that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a member of Dobbs Ferry. The Village of Dobbs Ferry has a long and proud history dating back to the early 17th century. Named after Jeremiah Dobbs, whose family ran a ferry service along the Hudson River out of this very location, the hills that overlook this Waterfront were a site of prime strategic importance for General George Washington during the American Revolution. In 1861, at least 20 Dobbs Ferry residents enlisted to fight for the Union in the Civil War, and if you take a look at the flag pole in front of our high school, you will see the names of hundreds Dobbs Ferry residents who fought in the First World War. The residents of our village have always had great pride, and have looked to give back, just as Edwin Gould did in 1924 when he donated the land that is now Gould Park.

At the center of our amazing little village of course are our incredible schools. The first high school in Dobbs Ferry was formed in 1897, and the main campus of our current high school was built in 1934. Sitting before us today, we have the 117th graduating class of Dobbs Ferry High School. And this graduating class is now part of the long and proud history of this village. Many of the students sitting here attended all three of our schools since the age of five, and they had the opportunity to come full circle as they walked the halls of Springhurst for one last time earlier this week. In fact the grandfather Sal Giuliano, one of our graduating seniors, was a graduate of the DFHS Class of 1938, the first to attend our current school building for all four years. Our school and community have truly stood the test of time, and we are all part of a legacy of excellence that will continue long after all of us are gone.

117 classes of Dobbs Ferry graduates…and each was comprised of graduates who had hopes, dreams, and plans for a better tomorrow just as you do right now. And for some, the path that they had mapped out for themselves played out to the letter. For the majority, however, the path would ultimately need to be adjusted and modified time and again.

Your whole life you have been told that working hard, getting good grades, and getting into a good four year college will lead to success, happiness, and a fulfillment. That’s the way it was with so many past generations, and that thinking has been instilled into all of you. And while that path will certainly lead to success for some of you, the truth is that many of you will find yourselves on a path to success that is completely different from what you have in your mind right now.

A few months back I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a video by Jay Shetty.  He launched his own YouTube channel in 2016, and has since produced hundreds of short videos clips that focus on finding fulfillment, success, balance, and perspective. He is also a perfect example of a person who is under the age of 30 and has already found himself featured in Forbes because of his out-of-the-box thinking and the non-traditional path that he has taken to achieve his personal goals. If you haven’t checked out his videos I definitely encourage you to do so.

In one of his videos, called “Before You Feel Pressure,” he provides the perfect message for all people, including high school graduates, to think about and to consider. As the video opens, we see a room full of eleventh grade students who are listening to their school principal speak about the very defined and certain path that they have before them. He explains that they will take their exams, will soon graduate from high school, and will then go on to study in universities all around the world. They will attend an advanced graduate school, get a job in one of the top institutions around the world, buy a house, get married, have children, and that their path and life will be forever set. Sound familiar? When he finishes, there is a quiet tension in the air as he says these last words, with a claustrophobic feeling among the students around the pressure of that one narrow path that is being set out for them. Then Jay Shetty steps up and says the following…

I’m sorry, but let me tell you why that approach may fail you. I know people who graduated college at 21 and didn’t get a job until they were 27. I know people who graduated college at 25 and they found work immediately. I know people who never went to college but found what they loved at 18. I know people who have found a job straight out of college making decent money but hate what they do. I know people who took gap years and found their purpose. I know people who are so sure about what they were going to do at 16 and changed their mind at 26. I know people who have children but are single, and I know people who are married but have had to wait 8 to 10 years to have children. I know people in relationships who love someone else. And I know people who love each other but aren’t together. So my point is that everything in life happens according to our time, our clock.

You may look at some of your friends and think that they’re ahead of you, or maybe you feel that some of them are behind, but everything happens at their own pace… they have their own time and clock, and so do you. Be patient. At age 25 Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas. It took until the age of 32 for JK Rowling to be published for Harry Potter after being rejected by 12 publishers.  Steve Carell only got his break after 40 years old. Morgan Freeman got his big break at the age of 52.

Getting your college degree after 25 is still an achievement. Not being married at 30 but still happy is beautiful. Starting a family after 35 is still possible. And buying a house after 40 is still great. Don’t let anyone rush you with their timelines because as Einstein said not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that’s counted truly counts.

I share this with you because it is important to remember that graduation is not an end. It is a beginning, and you are all just starting to forge a path in life that works for YOU. As a graduate of the Sewanhaka High School Class of 1992, I can distinctly remember sitting among my classmates, feeling directionless, and without a clear sense of what the future held for me. I had a class rank that was at the bottom third of the class, my only goal was to have a fun summer, and my plan was to make as much money as I could by working in the local deli, before starting at Nassau Community College in the fall. It took three years for me to find my way, transfer to Boston University, and begin my career as a middle school English teacher. And at the age of 43, I am still forging my path, and in some respects the future for me at this age is as wide open as it is for you right now.

In Dobbs, we have seen many others who have pursued alternative paths, We saw it with Eric Paschall, who we honored a few weeks back for his success on the national champion Villanova Wildcats, and we see it with this year’s valedictorian, who has courageously decided to take a gap year to gain real world experience before starting at Harvard University.  And in different ways, we will see it with all of you, as you search to find the path that is right for you.

And when you find that path, my best advice is to be tireless in the pursuit of your dreams, to commit yourself to a life of growth and improvement, and always seek to contribute beyond yourself. As graduates of Dobbs Ferry High School, I promise that you have the skills that you need to accomplish all that you set your mind to…so now the rest is left up to you. Always remember that you have a community who is behind you with family and friends who will always be there to support you. So go out there, find your path, and live a happy and fulfilled life. I wish you all the very best. Thank you.

Yearbook Caption: Class of 2018

To the Graduating Class of 2018,

During a 1958 speech at Loyola College, Senator John F. Kennedy stood before a group of alumni and spoke about the importance of remaining unified as a nation in order to bring positive change for future generations of Americans. In doing so, he urged “…not to seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past—let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

As graduates of an IB World School, your voice is more important than ever, and you have been prepared with the necessary skills to flourish in an unpredictable and ever-changing world. In doing so, it is important that you think critically, thoughtfully, and consider all viewpoints with respect to each issue. The political party that you might affiliate with should not cloud your thinking, and it is my hope that you will instead strive to be true independent thinkers who are prepared to change the world.

This year our nation faced another unspeakable tragedy at Parkland High School in Florida. As true IB students, each of you joined together to have your voice heard in a way that was unified and extraordinarily powerful. Our peaceful protest, which included a student led walkout, speeches, letter writing, fundraising, and the creation of a quilt that was displayed in Washington D.C. were non-partisan efforts that served to bring our student body together as one community. It is my hope that experiences like this one will remain with you as you work to promote togetherness in a divided world while striving to achieve the IB mission of “creating a better and more peaceful world.”

It has been an honor to be your Principal for the past four years. I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous future.

Sincerely,

John J. Falino, Ed.D.

Principal