Broadening the New Year Horizon at Fishers Island School

January 2020

By Jack M., Ellanora L., Samuel W.

Art Department: Ms. Carrie Sawyer

The 8th graders’ color design swatches

With the start of the new semester, many of Mrs. Sawyer’s art classes are changing. In 8th grade art, the students are working on learning about art-related careers. She said they like to “think outside of the box” and learn about careers that people might not typically associate with art. One career they learned about recently was Color Design in which they created new colors for paints or crayons and then named their colors. They are also working on marketing and fiber arts such as screen-printing t-shirts and making batik. 

Step challenge poster of race track on yellow paper

One of her older students Jade R., who is currently enrolled in College Drawing, designed and drew the poster to track steps for the school’s second Fishers Island Gets Fit step challenge. This competition divided interested students and staff into teams, each with a student leader. Participants tracked their steps every day and sent them to the team leader. Then, daily steps were tracked on the poster.  Mrs. Sawyer was a team member in this competition. She said she enjoyed participating and organizing walks for her team. 

Along with her teaching responsibilities, Mrs. Sawyer is on the staff Sunshine Committee. Recently they threw a midyear party for staff and ran a Secret Santa. She said that it was a good decision to have staff Secret Santa and it ended up being super fun. It gave all of the staff a chance to socialize, which is normally difficult because of busy schedules and varied commuting schedules. 

Moving into the new year, Mrs. Sawyer says she has a “getting stuff done mindset.”

Guidance Department: Mrs. Julie Arcelus

Four students on a panel at the admissions open house, along with School Principal Mr. Arsenault

This time of year Mrs. Arcelus is focused on bringing new students in through the admission process. On January 29th the school hosted its annual Open House. During this event, prospective parents and students spend the morning at the school. Parents go to a presentation and Q&A session with the administration and ferry, attend a panel of current students, tour the school, and sit in on classes. Prospective students join current grades for morning classes. Leading up to the program, Mrs. Arcelus said there was a lot of interest, especially because of the new school commercial and a story on local news about the school. She predicted that it would be a “busy morning.” 

Along with the open house, Mrs. Arcelus goes to school fairs at local employers and schools. At these, she hopes to spread information to families and students who might be interested in attending the school. In previous years she has gone to Pfizer, ISAAC, and Electric Boat. This year she is going to RMMS and the subbase in Groton which is a new event for the school. 

Separately, Mrs. Arcelus has also been working on the school’s guidance curriculum. This is the first year that New York requires a K-12 school counselor. This means that Mrs. Arcelus needs to expand her work with the elementary. She developed a new curriculum to accomplish this. The new state policy also requires a Counseling Advisory Board. This board is made up of students, alumni, teachers, parents, community members, Mr. Arsenault, and herself. The committee will meet twice a year to review the program and submit an annual report to the Board of Education. The administration chose the members to represent a broad range of everyone affected by the new program.

Elementary Spanish: Ms. Yaritza Gello
Reflecting on the year so far, Ms. Gello said she “really, really loves” teaching elementary Spanish. At the 3rd and 4th grade level she is working on teaching vocab and the basics of grammar. She also focuses on bringing in new tastes and sights to help teach the students Spanish and about Hispanic cultures. To accomplish this the class “cooks a lot,” listens to music, and watches TV shows in Spanish. 

The 5th and 6th grade curriculum parallels what students learn in 7th grade Spanish. The students do online vocabulary exercises, as well as learning spelling and grammar. They write paragraphs and create projects. Right now they are learning about transportation vocabulary, places in the city, and prepositions. The students are building a three-dimensional city and then writing about the places in the city. 

Ms. Gello hopes that through her classes the students fall in love with Spanish and that they are prepared for 7th grade Spanish. Her work with the Spanish classes builds on the afterschool cultural class that she ran last year for the elementary school. In that club, she did activities about different Spanish-speaking countries. 

In addition to elementary Spanish, Ms. Gello is helping out at the high school level by tutoring 7th and 8th grade students in Spanish. 

Ms. Gello has also taken on the challenge of teaching Library. She had never done this before and was “terrified at first,” especially because she doesn’t like reading in English in public. However, it is “going really well” and she likes that she is fulfilling a need that the school has. Similarly to her work in the Spanish classes, a goal of her library classes is to help her students fall in love with international culture and how other people live and think. 

The students read, study, and discuss new books. They are also working on a Reader’s Theater right now which she says the kids love. Reader’s Theater is an activity where students practice acting out a play to better understand the text, but don’t need to memorize their lines. Library classes build on skills learned in other classes, but the curriculum has more flexibility so there can be more discussion. 

Ms. Gello originally studied Christian education and is now studying for her master’s degree in ministry. She loves learning and working with youth. Since both of her classes are every other day, she sees all of her students every day. She loves getting to know them and says they challenge her every day which she loves because “a person should never stop learning something new.”

Music Department: Mr. Christopher Dollar
The Fishers Island Music Department is starting off the new year by preparing for the annual Music in the Parks competition. The band and chorus have just started rehearsing the music they will perform for this competition and for the spring concert. Music teacher Mr. Dollar says it will be interesting to see how these pieces turn out and which ones we will select to perform for competition. 

In addition, a small group of students were selected to perform in the Eastern Region Choir in March. They are currently preparing music for that event as well. 

Mr. Dollar commented on the high-school band, stating that “it is difficult when we have our ensembles as grades 7-12, that is a wide range of abilities. What is easy for most seniors can be very challenging for a 7th grader. We try to modify the music for each level by rewriting some parts into other sections or by simplifying a more complex song so that it is attainable for a less experienced player”. On the flip side, sometimes Mr. Dollar rewrites some of the other section’s music so that the more advanced players can play a little bit more and fill out the sound of the ensembles. 

For chorus, he uses our more advanced vocalists to help our less experienced students along. “Everyone has the ability to perform vocally but for more complex passages it is important to have a more experienced peer that they can use as a role model and give a less experienced vocalist the confidence to perform their part correctly.” 

Mr. Dollar is also teaching a Music Theory class this semester. He always gets excited about teaching music theory as it gives his students the chance to dive deeper into the structure of music, why music sounds the way it does, and to see the creative components of the individual students as they compose and arrange their own music guided by the tonal and rhythmic principles of music theory.

Mr. Arsenault
Fishers Island School kicked off the new year with our annual open house on January 29th. Prospective students and their families came to the school in the morning to attend an informational session with RJ Burns from the Fishers Island Ferry and school counselor Mrs. Arcelus. This program gives prospective students a chance to come spend time with current students. Afterwards, if they are interested, they can apply and are looked at by our tuition selection committee. Mr. Arsenault loves to share his school and show other families how great the staff and students are. When prospective students and parents leave the school, he hopes they walk away with a positive feeling and are excited about their potential acceptance.

 To attract more students, the school has recently put out social media ads. They also made a school recruitment video which is being shown at the Mystic movie theater. Mr. Arsenault hopes that these initiatives will be reflected in the number of students who apply. The Board of Education’s current goal is to have 10 students per class in grades 7-12.

Mr. Arsenault is also very excited to be traveling to Panama with the seniors on their senior trip this spring. He has been working with a travel agent to help set-up the trip. The agent is attentive to what the class needs and has helped fine tune our day to day plans with excursions and activities. Mr. Arsenault also plans to meet with parents and chaperones to review safety for the trip. 

In regard to school spirit, he said that it’s been very positive. It starts at the top with the seniors who are great examples to look up to. He said “Our staff does an unbelievable job every day to bring their A-game to the table. That’s what drives our school, we have really high expectations and provide experiences that we deserve for the better.”

Mrs. Mesite
Mrs. Mesite is a special education teacher at Fishers Island School. This year, she is working with math teacher Ms. Sue to help the Sophomore class better understand their content. To help the students, she is re-learning algebra. This has been one of her greatest challenges this year. Mrs. Mesite believes that it is of utmost importance to help students understand curriculum better. This allows them to be more well-rounded in their classes instead of just focusing on work in a class they struggle in.

The start of the new semester allows for students to start the return to school with a clean slate, ready to work hard in the second half of the year. Every quarter, Mrs. Mesite reflects on what worked for students, and what didn’t, and looks to help students learn in whichever way works best for them. 

Mr. Murray
January has been a busy month for the technology department of Fishers Island School. To start out the new year, Mr. Murray had the second grade use velcro and paper towel tubes to create tracks for racing ping-pong balls.

[Second grade students create ping pong racing tracks]

In their technology class, the third and fourth graders built solar-powered boats. Through this, Mr. Murray is looking to teach the students more about the effectiveness of renewable energy and its many applications. The fifth and sixth graders are currently learning to use hand and power tools to build birdhouses for the schools’ various courtyards.

Outside of the classroom, Mr. Murray is also looking forward to the upcoming golf season and is excited to get out on the course as much as possible.

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