We are well into the second semester of the 2021-2022 school year and though we continue to adapt to changes due to the pandemic, the one constant of both the young people and staff in the district is their strong resilience exhibited throughout the last two years. I am very honored to work with such a dedicated staff and proud of the young people for doing their best to learn and grow week in and week out while at school. Thankfully, we are starting to turn some corners as we begin to see and feel some pre-pandemic normalcy return to the classrooms.
As our COVID numbers improve we continue to look for more opportunities to allow young people to collaborate as we believe learning is social and should be thought of as a process rather than final product. What hasn’t changed both before and during the pandemic is our focus on nurturing the roots of young people on a daily basis. You might recall from previous messages that we refer to the “roots” of students as the six competencies of resilience, empathy, balance, collaboration, innovation, and critical thinking found within our strategic vision. We are committed to focusing on nurturing the “roots” of young people and when these essential skills, or “roots”, are nurtured, a natural byproduct will be strong quantitative outputs of data. Ultimately the success of any school should be measured by how healthy, how strong, and how “deeply rooted” the individuals are when they leave the school rather than by only their test scores or grades. Those young people that leave the schools bearing strong roots, which allow them to anchor into new environments and contribute to the benefit of all outside of the school, will find success no matter if they choose to set down their roots through enrolling in college, enlisting in the military, or finding employment straight out of high school. In short, they will be Aurora Learners who are Future Ready.
In order to continue to nurture these competencies within our strategic vision, our PK-5 classrooms utilize both Math and English Language Arts (ELA) Frameworks developed by the ACSD staff. Within our Math Framework we have moved from a teacher centered answer driven environment to a learner centered process and thinking driven environment. There is no singular math expert in the room delivering content (knowledge) directly to students for them to see and practice indiscriminately. Instead, teachers are trained experts, dedicated to putting young people in situations where learners look for patterns and relationships between the things they already know and the things they are trying to know. This approach is known as Cognitively Guided Instruction, and through this framework focused on fluency, building number sense, and purposeful application, young mathematicians develop conceptual understanding as opposed to getting answers based on rules. A similar, learner centered approach can also be seen in our ELA Framework.
Our PK-5 ELA Framework, again developed by our staff, provides time for teachers to confer with young people through interactive read alouds which promotes opportunities for exposure and discussion of new vocabulary, nurtures comprehension strategies, and engages young people in the practice of phonics. During the reading workshop, part of our ELA framework provides time for young people to work with their teacher in small groups for instruction and to confer through authentic texts. Young people then have the opportunity to grow as writers during the writer’s workshop portion of the framework. During this time young people write about what they are reading, teachers model writing skills and conference with the students, and then these young writers share their final products. One belief in all of our classrooms is that the more young people read and write the better they get at both. As an example, I recently was invited to come to a writing celebration with our kindergartners where they read to me from the books they wrote. I personally learned more about making a snowman, brushing my teeth, how to feed the dog, and making a peanut butter sandwich, to name just a few of the many stories created. It was the highlight of my day.
Young people in grades 6-12 are experiencing similar learning opportunities relative to their grade level, but I also wanted to share that February is especially busy for them as it is the scheduling season. Believe it or not, our school counselors are already having one-on-one meetings with each high school and middle school student to discuss what they believe would be the best learning opportunities for them in the 2022-2023 school year. These meetings are preceded by a teacher conference in which recommendations are made for each student through a short one-on-one meeting. The students can then take home the recommendations to their parents to discuss the big picture before heading into the conferences with the school counselors who will help young people create a balanced schedule that is appropriate for each individual. This process, and the personal connections it entails, is not done like this in every school district. We are fortunate to have school counselors and teachers who take the time and have the ability to set young people up for future success. It is just one more example of helping Aurora Learners to be Future Ready.
Mike Roberto, Superintendent