You are always a student, never a master.
You have to keep moving forward.
- Conrad Hall
Viola L. Sickles School
Approximately 430 children from preschool to third grade attend the Viola L. Sickles School, in the small northern Monmouth County community of Fair Haven. Our mission is to educate children and foster life-long learning by recognizing individual needs, developing academic, physical, social and emotional well-being, and promoting artistic expression. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and caring teachers ensure that this mission is evident in our students’ learning experiences. In addition, active and involved parents play a vital role in supporting the mission of our school by contributing valuable time, resources, and ideas.
Our curriculum, in all subject-areas, is based on well-researched and well-established philosophies that help all students in Pre-K through 3rd grade achieve academic success. The following is a brief summary about how we approach teaching in some of the major subject areas.
We implement a workshop approach in our language arts-literacy teaching utilizing the materials from Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University. Our classrooms are filled with brand new TCRWP classroom libraries with a variety of books organized by genre, reading levels, and units of study. Children eagerly curl up and read each day as teachers use this time to individually confer with them or instruct small groups. Daily lessons are taught about various reading strategies to improve decoding and comprehension skills. Teachers monitor student selection of “just right” books as children grow in their ability to sustain independent reading for longer and longer periods of time. Research in the field of reading instruction is very clear on this matter. Sheer volume of reading was found to be a distinguishing feature of high achievement in classrooms. In other words, kids get better at reading by reading!
Our students are learning to be powerful writers by using their observations of the world around them and personal experiences in their writing. Focused writing in certain genres throughout the year, which is oftentimes connected to what the students are reading, also occurs. Regular entries are made in writers’ notebooks or folders. Students select entries they wish to take to publication by drafting, revising, and editing. Age-appropriate spelling and grammar are connected to student writing throughout this process. Students celebrate their accomplishments in a variety of ways, often with parents and other invited guests.
Knowing how to spell age-appropriate words is much the same and just as important as knowing basic math facts. So, in language arts we have “need to know” spelling words for students in grades 1-3. In addition to these high-frequency words, students also learn to spell through a differentiated, developmental word study program called Fundations in grades K-1 and Words Their Way in grades 2- 3. Students are held accountable for correctly spelling words already taught in their everyday writing. To further support conventions in grammar and learn more about close reading, students in grades 2-3 utilize the NJ Progress ELA from Sadlier.
With the recent legislation regarding mandatory screenings for dyslexia, Sickles School uses DIBELS to help identify students who might be in need of extra support. Sickles School had the added benefit of a full-academic interventionist, as well as a speech language pathologist, to provide Tier I assistance in the classrooms and targeted lessons for those students requiring Tier II interventions.
Our mathematics programs include Investigations 3 (grades K-1) and enVisions 2.0 (grades 2-3). Both are research-based and support developmentally appropriate practices as well as alignment to rigorous standards.The classroom activities engage children in games, thinking, exploring, discovering, and completing mathematics exercises that strengthen their mathematical knowledge and understanding. Teachers fully implement Standards for Mathematical Practice as part of instruction and continuously develop center-based and project-based learning experiences during mathematics to integrate multiple operations and mathematical concepts, as well as other content areas.
As technology has become the pen and paper of our time, our district has made great strides in providing access to all our students and teachers. All students in grades K-3 are assigned individual Gmail accounts and use these accounts to login to Chromebooks for various explorations, research, publishing, gaming and collaborative learning experiences. Students work together on Google Drive to create projects and teachers collaborate to create unit plans aligned to the standards. Our school provides 1:1 Chromebooks for students in grades 2-3 and all students use Chromebooks during media instruction. All K-1 classes have access to iPads and students work with the apps to support learning in all content areas. Students have access to RAZ Kids, Connect ED, Newsela, Spelling City, WeVideo, and other online subscriptions to enhance instruction and learning.
A social media revolution is in full swing at our school. Teachers tweet class happenings and leverage their Twitter accounts to increase family engagement. Website design continues to evolve through Weebly and Google Classroom in order to enhance student motivation, family connectedness, and public awareness of our school community’s accomplishments. Students can be seen actively learning with QR codes, digital photography, iMovie and Aurasma to create augmented reality learning environments.
Every day students participate in the Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting to help foster community and respect. Our teachers are well versed in cultivating student agency in resolving conflicts and establishing pro-social behaviors. In addition, each month, we celebrate a different character virtue (respect, self-control, loyalty, generosity, etc.) and match a book with each virtue as a classroom read-aloud. Parents often visit our school to read these books with our students.
Teaching respect, compassion and empathy in elementary schools is an essential priority. We have partnered with our PTA to implement the “It’s OK to be Different” workshops at all grade levels. In PreK and K we utilize “Be A Buddy not a Bully” to build values and social skills around friendship and tolerance. In first grade we study “Understanding Disabilities” to cultivate deeper appreciation for people with visual, auditory and ambulatory differences. In second grade students participate in “Respect for Different Learners” to examine Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, Developmental Disabilities and Autism. In third grade students investigate the concepts of diversity through the “Celebrating Cultures” unit which also corresponds to our social studies curriculum.
We feel very privileged to be part of The Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program. Joining with the Count Basie Theatre and Red Bank Borough Schools, we have created comprehensive programming to integrate the arts in all subject areas. Teachers are invited to attend different professional development workshops and teaching artists visit our school to showcase and model best practices in artistic techniques, as well as connections to literacy, mathematics and social studies.
Most recently we worked with local organizations to create books and tiles for students in Rwanda. Over 1,000 students in Rwanda received their first published book written our third grade students! Our arts integration efforts continue to explode through Sickles Studios which is comprised of our makerspace, art studio, music studio, and virtual spaces! Our specialists and classroom teachers collaboratively plan experiences to benefit students in all content areas.
We are very proud of Sickles School and know our developmentally practice is a model of instruction. Students are happy, engaged and relaxed at Sickles and we realize this is due to our friendly Fair Haven community, supportive parent network, and the masterful faculty and staff all working together to ensure a rigorous and meaningful learning environment for our young students.
Cheryl Cuddihy, Principal