Connecting with summer learning

First session of Summer Connection enrichment classes underway

The first two-week session of Summer Connection for upcoming kindergarten through fifth grade students was off and running at Monteith Elementary School beginning July 6.

“You really see One GP at its finest,” said Lesley Graham, who is team teaching with Ferry Elementary School colleague Chloe Walker in one of the summer enrichment program’s first and second grade classrooms. “You have teachers who are representing every school and you have students representing every school and we are all coming together for the purpose of support and meaningful learning for each of the students.”

The class features an ocean theme. Each day, students arrived to something new in the classroom and learned about a different sea creature while rotating between two teacher-directed centers and two independent centers.

Beginning with a read-aloud for the morning, they explored themes, such as how the sea creature overcame its challenges, then tied this into the students’ own personal fears and challenges. They wrote and illustrated stories, explored upper and lower-case letters, and worked on reading comprehension by identifying the main ideas of their reading and writing.

After snack and recess, it was math time, with science and art also incorporated into the ocean theme. For example, one morning students made hermit crabs out of paper plates, using the plates for the shell.

Down the hall were other first and second graders, kindergarteners and “teachers doing truly spectacular things,” Graham said.

“We are all in because the students are all in,” she added. “We just want to be all in for them.”

Upstairs on the second floor, incoming third and fourth graders worked together with Ian Fleming from Pierce Middle School and Kiera Filbin, a new fourth-grade teacher at Monteith, to build a zoo. Fleming brought in two of his own critters from home — a turtle and a four-month-old corn snake, which is only six to seven inches long currently, but is expected to grow to about five feet.

The curriculum incorporates math, reading and writing skills. One morning students worked on time, creating a zookeeper schedule. They also learned about the responsibilities of a zookeeper to feed and weigh animals and organize shows for visitors.

The theme among upcoming fifth graders several doors down was survival on a deserted island and creating a civilization. During the second week, students brought in a shoebox to create a diorama.

“They’re going to create their own shelter,” said Nick Symonette, a fifth-grade teacher at Parcells Middle School who is team-teaching with Laney Fitzpatrick, a paraprofessional at Brownell Middle School. “We’ve been researching what shelters look like, how they put them together. They are going to create their own shelter they would live in if they were abandoned on a deserted island.”

Chris Daher built his shelter out of oak leaves, sticks, leaves from a bush and berries. Jacob Gilewski built his from pine needles, rocks, tiger grass and different sticks.

Students worked on the project during Genius Hour, a time devoted to allowing students to tap into their imaginations. It also created a break between the early part of the morning focused on reading and writing and math later on. Scientific exploration and research skills also were incorporated into the project-based learning.

Upcoming fifth graders in Jane Plieth’s class worked in pairs to create natural disasters, including a tornado, volcano, drought and tsunami/flood. In different survival challenges throughout the two weeks, they created boats out of duct tape and skiffs with propellers out of popsicle sticks, wrote a history of a culture they designed, and created a civilization on their individual islands. To create their civilizations, they were given choices of renewable and non-renewable foods, seeds to grow their own crops, and essentials like a flashlight, excavator, tools, or a net to catch animals.

Each student also was given a tomato plant to nurture over the two weeks and was responsible not only for creating a container to water the plant each morning, but fashioning a device with a ping pong ball and water dropper to keep the plant watered over the weekend.

The lessons incorporated math, social studies, science and weather, language arts and engineering. Students learned about insects, what their predators were and whether they were good or bad for the earth; measured interior volume and perimeter for their boats; created a rain barrel out of cardboard paper, tape and straws; and conserved sunlight using angle measurements, among other challenges.

For the culminating activity, Plieth, who teaches art at Pierce Middle School, transformed the classroom into a giant board game, with the roll of a giant die determining students’ individual fates. For example, one roll might send them forward three spaces because they took a ride on the tsunami, while with the next they might lose a turn due to a snake bite.

On Monday, a new group of students will arrive for the second session of Summer Connection to test out their own survival skills and forge ahead with new learning.

Look for a focus on middle school learning at Parcells in a future edition of School Pointes.

Meet Emily Hiser

Emily Hiser will join the Grosse Pointe Public School System as its new special education supervisor for the learning resource rooms and emotionally impaired program beginning Aug. 2. The appointment was approved at the May 24 Board of Education meeting.

Hiser first worked with students with disabilities as a volunteer in high school. At that point, she hadn’t decided what she wanted to study in college.

“The woman who ran the program said, ‘You’re pretty good at this; you should consider a special education career,’” Hiser said. “It wasn’t something I thought I wanted to do. Once I started school, I really loved it.”

Hiser attended Eastern Michigan University, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education in 2012. As soon as she started her first teaching job, she realized working with students with disabilities was the right fit.

She started as a self-contained resource teacher in Livonia Public Schools, where she planned and implemented instruction of the general education curriculum for students with emotional impairments, autism and other disabilities. While in Livonia, she collaborated with general education teachers for inclusive practices and to ensure students were educated in the least restrictive environment. She also conducted functional behavior assessments and implemented behavior intervention plans.

Beginning in 2016, Hiser worked as a self-contained resource teacher for students with cognitive impairments and autism in Novi Middle School. There she designed, planned and implemented core content and functional skills lessons using alternate content standards, managed paraprofessionals, and collaborated with the IEP team to develop goals, specifically-designed instruction, and supports for each teacher.

Hiser also started a peer-to-peer program partnering general education students with students with special needs and taught an elective to help typical learners understand different disabilities, with a focus on “how to be a peer as a friend as opposed to a helper.”

“We talked about how even though students have disabilities, they still want to be treated just like everybody else does,” Hiser said. “It is important that we treat them how we would treat our friends.”

Since January 2018, Hiser worked at Novi Middle School as a teacher consultant, managing the special education caseload and consulting with teachers, students, service providers and families, facilitating student problem-solving meetings and planning, and implementing specially designed instruction for students receiving homebound services, among other responsibilities.

She received a Master of Arts degree in specific learning disabilities from Eastern in 2017, and expects to complete an Education Specialist degree in Special Education Leadership from Wayne State University in August. She also has a long list of professional training, certifications and endorsements, including in emotional impairments, learning disabilities and cognitive impairments.

Hiser lives in Detroit in a house she has been renovating for three years. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, yoga, biking, camping and kayaking, and spending time with her boyfriend and golden doodle, Leo.

Graduate spotlight: Cate Gagnier

Cate Gagnier ended her gymnastics career at Grosse Pointe North High School on a high note, continuing her streak of being named All-State in each of her four years. She also finished seventh overall at this year’s Division 1 state meet.

Cate started gymnastics about 10 years ago and was a three-sport athlete at North, participating in cross country and track in addition to gymnastics. Her track events included the pole vault, long jump, 200-meter dash and 4x200 meter relay.

Next fall she is headed to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where she plans to focus on track. She also hopes to participate in clubs. While at North, she played the euphonium in the concert band her freshman year and in the wind ensemble her sophomore, junior and senior years. She also was a member of the National Honor Society.

The Grosse Pointe Woods resident attended Barnes Early Childhood Center for kindergarten, then went on to Mason Elementary and Parcells Middle schools before going to North. She enjoyed all the schools she attended.

“I really liked how community based everything is in Grosse Pointe,” she said.

Her favorite thing about North was the people, in particular her friends and teachers.

“I made really great friends at North who made my experience enjoyable and unforgettable,” she said.

Favorite teachers included her Spanish teacher, Tamara Shepherd, and her film literature teacher, Alyssa Sandoval, who inspired her to pursue film at Denison, although she is undecided on a major.

“I’m going to go with the flow and see what I like when I get there,” she said.

This summer Cate is working at the concession stand at Lake Front Park in the Woods, keeping up with individual workouts to prepare for participating on Denison’s track team, and hanging out with friends.

“I am very excited to go off to Denison because it will be a new environment where I can try new things and meet new people,” Cate said. “I knew a couple people who attended Denison and all of them talk about what a great school it is. I was looking for a college or university that cares about each of the students individually, which Denison does really well.”

Summer music festival

The Grosse Pointe Summer Music Festival, for upcoming fifth through eighth graders, has been in existence for the last 15 years or so, according to Grosse Pointe South and Pierce instrumental music teacher and orchestra director James Gross. He started the summer program with Dean Doss as an opportunity for students to continue playing over the summer.

Grosse Pointe North and Parcells performing arts teacher Tom Torrento came on board three years ago.

“The students have been very enthusiastic to work with and came ready to work at every practice,” Gross said. “The process and growth are what’s important and the students have definitely made great progress these two weeks.”

“The kids are making some noise and having some fun,” said Torrento, who directed the jazz band.

The two-week camp concludes on Friday, July 16.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email