Learning Partners Program
Mary Cannone Scott teaches Grade 7 ICT at I.S. 5 in Elmhurst Queens. She is one of the teachers involved in Chancellor Farina’s Learning Partners Program Pilot this year, which will be expanded next year. Below is a first-person account of the program.
Listen to our interview with Mary here!
Years ago, I remember watching a video of a math lesson. The teacher was showing students how there are multiple methods to find the same answer. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” she kept saying and the kids chimed back, gleeful at the idea that there was more than one “right” way.
This reminds me of Chancellor Farina’s idea that the answer is already in the room.
Maybe the way to prepare students for the 21st century isn’t in relentless testing or prepackaged curriculum modules purchased from giant education companies. Maybe the answers we seek to strengthen education are right in front of us.
A New Idea – The Learning Partners Program
At the beginning of May our principal, Kelly Nepogoda (a CITE / St. Rose graduate herself), informed the grade 6, 7, and 8 ICT teams that IS 5 had been selected to engage in a new program. During Chancellor Farina’s visit to IS 5 in February, Mrs. Nepogoda had talked about her desire to make learning more meaningful for our students.
Chancellor Farina decided to include us in her Learning Partners Program Pilot that she had set up so that schools across the city can share best practices and support rich student learning through professional development, teamwork, and school visits.
Taking what works
We were then partnered with MS 88 in Brooklyn and IS 34 in Staten Island. When Mrs. Nepogoda made her first visit to MS 88, our host school, she learned about Independent Project Week (IPW) which is a major part of their school’s culture. It is a time for creativity, interdisciplinary student projects and presentations. Mrs. Nepogoda was eager to bring this concept to IS 5 and discuss how we adapt it for our students.
We were introduced to Project Based Learning (PBL) which is exactly what is sounds like – learning that is embedded in a real-world project. Later that week, a few ICT teachers met with teachers and administration from our Learning Partners Program to discuss how IPW/PBL works at their schools. By the end of that week, my grade 7 ICT team was already brainstorming ideas for PBL topics.
From that point, we started down the path to becoming a true, collaborative team – two teachers each from English, Math, Social Studies, and Science plus our ELL teacher and our paraprofessional. We decided on the topic of “Our Elmhurst” where our students would explore their very own neighborhood. What better way to kick off something new than by starting right in your own backyard and connecting to your own community?
The Students and Their Reactions
All three ICT classes came together for a kick-off event where we introduced the topic and the idea of PBL. The kids were interested but wary because it was something they had never heard of before. We began by studying the history of Elmhurst and arranged a tour of a church that has been part of our community since before the American Revolution.
On our visit there to learn how our neighborhood has changed and evolved in 300 years, we incorporated a walking tour and a scavenger hunt that led our students to view the streets they walk every day through a very different lens.
We arranged for a local community leader and an international business leader to speak with our students about community pride and the importance of team building and collaboration.
It was inspiring to see the spark in our students as they became more motivated about pioneering PBL. A sense of pride and purpose was building among our students and our team as our idea began to take shape.
By the end of May we were rockin’ and rollin’! Our team met whenever we could: during lunches, preps, extended day, after school. We texted and emailed all day long – arranging, sharing, tweaking our plans. We covered for each other and traded periods to work with our kids on their final presentation project – an Elmhurst Welcome Center that focused on the rich diversity that makes our community so unique. We were in constant contact with our administration, updating them on our progress and reaching out for help.
The Celebration and a Surprise
We were excited to find out that Mrs. Nepogoda had arranged for our team to accompany her and our assistant principals to the Learning Partners Program Pilot Celebration where schools from across the city met to share experiences with each other as well as Chancellor Farina and Michael Mulgrew. We were honored further when we learned that we would be part of the main presentation and speak on our experiences with PBL/IPW and the Learning Partners.
We talked about the challenges of taking on a new idea and how we were seeing the remarkable achievements in our students and in ourselves as educators. We also got to network with schools from all across New York City and hear about what they’ve learned from their Learning Partner triads. It was eye-opening to compare notes on all these different ideas.
After our students presented their PBL/IPW projects to our school community (a resounding success!), the grade 7 ICT team visited MS 88’s PBL/IPW presentation day. We walked the school and talked with teachers and students, asked tons of questions, took copious notes, and brainstormed how we could push the IPW envelope even further next year.
We debriefed over pizza with Principal Ailene Altman-Mitchell and her staff on ways we could collaborate further: Summer workshops! A retreat! Teacher teams! Our partnership was strengthening and growing as we spoke; it was galvanizing.
Sharing Ideas Works
See, there’s more than one way to skin a cat! After years of scripted curriculum, we’re seeing that there are all kinds of creative ways to learn, both for our students and our teachers. Sometimes all it takes is to get motivated people in a room to bounce ideas and share what works. After 15 years in the New York City public school system, this is one of the most promising ideas I’ve seen in a long time. I am grateful to be a part of it and can’t wait to see where it will lead!
-Mary Cannone Scott
Listen to our interview with Mary here!
Mary Cannone Scott, a graduate of Queens College, is currently teaching grade 7 ICT at I.S. 5 – The Walter Crowley School of Leadership in Elmhurst, Queens and has been teaching middle school English since 1998. Mary has completed her SBL coursework through CITE/St. Rose and will be continuing with her internship and starting her SDL coursework this summer.