Saturday, September 30, 2017

An Interview with Christina Pasnick, Champlain’s New School Social Worker

The 2017-18 Burlington School budget included a half-time School Social Worker (SSW) in every elementary school. Here Ms. Pasnick explains her background and the opportunities she offers.

DD: How did you decide to become a school social worker, and what led you to Champlain?

CP: I enjoyed working with adolescents in both residential and group therapy settings for years when I lived in New Jersey before moving to Vermont three years ago and coming to work in schools. I got my Masters in Social Work at New York University in 2013 and, earlier this year, earned my Clinical License in Social Work (LICSW). I've always had fun working with kids and I enjoyed the structure of doing group work, so I thought schools might be a good fit for me. Turns out- it's a great fit! This is now my third year working with elementary students in the Burlington School District and I love it!
I am employed by the Howard Center and contracted to work by the school district. There has not been a clinician at Champlain for the past few years, and, starting this year, the district decided to place a clinician here on a part-time basis for 20 hours per week. I'm here at Champlain on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons.

DD: What does a social worker do when working at a public elementary school?

CP: I will carry a caseload of about 7 or 8 students with whom I will meet individually once per week. Kids get referred to me for a variety of reasons. Most often, I see kids that need some support around regulating their emotions, practicing appropriate self-expression, building confidence and self-esteem, coping with anxiety, improving social skills, and building positive peer relationships. I offer individual counseling and skill building support to students here, but I also can help parents with things like transportation, filling out paperwork, or getting referrals to other services. I help families get connected with resources in the community related to mental health, parenting training, housing needs, financial support, or recreational activities for kids. I'm hoping to do some group skill-building work with kids this year too. Skills such as building self-esteem, tolerating frustration, positive peer interaction and how to make friends, things all kids need.

DD: How does having a school social worker enhance school climate?

CP: Questions often pop up related to topics of mental health or various community resources that are available for families, and a social worker can provide some insight in these areas. Social workers, like other support staff in schools, are able to jump in and assist in times of crisis and help problem-solve when there are behavioral or social and emotional concerns about students. One big part of my role is to help keep parents and school connected and communicating effectively. There are times that parents might need help communicating their child's needs to the school or times that parents and school staff don't see eye to eye. I can help with navigating any conflicts or differences of opinion that arise. I help to maintain positive relationships whenever there’s a disagreement.

DD: How do you work with teachers or other school staff members?

CP: In this respect, a school social worker role will vary from school to school. I am available to teachers and staff for consultation regarding behavioral or social/emotional questions. I can participate in team meetings for my clients, and offer suggestions about relationship building and addressing behavior in the classroom. My office (112E) is between the Kindergarten and first grade, so people can see me on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons.

DD: What are the range of services provided by The Howard Center? Who can access these services?

CP: Howard Center offers all kind of services ranging from the most basic interventions to more intensive services or crisis intervention, like First Call. I have packets that list all of our services and can provide these for anyone that wants a copy. Our website also lists our range of services. We do individual, family, and group counseling for kids and adults. There are a range of services for kids and adults with developmental delays, substance abuse, or mental health needs. We have a few different programs that help build family relationships including things like Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Intensive Family Based Services, and Family and Community Based Services. I'm happy to discuss any programs with individuals that have questions. I can also make referrals to private therapists outside of Howard and for mentor programs in the community. Staff and parents can reach me at 864-8477 or

DD: In your opinion as a social worker, what are some of the most important things in a child's life?

CP: Most important in a child's life, in my opinion, is, in technical terms, having a secure attachment with a caregiver. This means having a safe, responsible adult that can meet a child's basic needs consistently and also provide them with unconditional love. Kids need to know that they are always loved, even when they've made some poor choices and get "in trouble."

DD: How can family members improve their children's wellbeing?

CP: Responding versus reacting to a child’s behavior is very important and goes a long way in building that secure attachment. The parent may not like what a child has done, but it’s important for the parent to separate the behavior from the child. Responding looks like the parent keeping their own emotions regulated, addressing their children with a calm body and voice, validating the child’s feelings, and teaching them in the moment. Reacting is giving consequences without a connection to the misbehavior, without supporting the child, and without teaching the child the behavior that you expect them to show. Children will only learn, “I’m bad” or “I’m good,” instead of learning why they feel or act the way they do, and what they can do instead.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Moving Forward as a Community and Peer Mediation Training

So many questions. So many views. So many worries. So many feelings. Grappling with the conflict in the Burlington School District, I wrote these words. I wanted my school family back, filling each day with smiling and problem solving. After receiving the news of a final agreement, I wrote to Champlain teachers about a plan for moving forward. My suggestion was to:

Breathe. Take a moment to gather your energies. Breathe. Think about what's most important to you. Breathe. Think about your students, many of whom you have just started getting to know. Breathe again.

Slow down. On Wednesday we have no special plans for our school. No assembly, no special announcement from the principal. Right now our students are still fresh from summer vacation combined with an unexpected fall break. They are wondering about their "home" class, their specials classes, the big lunchtime. They are even still wondering about the new windows and library. Their sense of time is much different than adults, and for many, school may feel all new again.

Let's keep our routines on Wednesday, perhaps with a little pizzazz, like an extra storytime or visit to the outdoor classroom or woods for a team-building activity. Some of our students will need a refresher on class expectations and routines, and some will need to learn again as if from scratch. Depending on students' developmental levels, they may need to process what happened over the last few days during Morning Meeting. Or they might be ready to jump into the day and not look back. Every faculty and staff member at Champlain has our students' best interests in our hearts and minds. Listening, paraphrasing, guiding, laughing, and sharing can be close at hand while teaching.

Champlain enjoyed a wonderful return to school. Everyone was joyous. Teachers shared with me that Morning Meetings were thoughtful, productive, and pretty short; kids were ready to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Their resilience serves as a model for adults to move forward together. Teachers also expressed their deep gratitude for the support and care of our Champlain community throughout this challenging time. Thank you so much!

Peer Mediation Begins Its Second Year at Champlain
The response to Champlain’s morning announcements mentioning new peer mediation (PM) training was immediate. Perhaps this is due to last year, when mediators demonstrated the facilitation and problem-solving process during assemblies. Or maybe they heard students got out of class, sometimes for over an hour for a tough conflict. I’d prefer to believe that Champlain students want to be Champs for their friends, for our school, and for our families.

On the very second day of school in August, students came to the office asking for space to solve a problem. Joining them was Karlie Gunderson, Champlain’s new B’Kids After-school Program director, who watched students ask questions from the PM script and successfully arrive at a resolution. B’Kids will partner again in PM training to support our students all day long. Training for first-year peer mediators takes place on three Thursdays, Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 12. Second-year mediators can attend a refresher training on Nov. 2, which will focus on conflict reduction and intervention. Typically peer mediation takes place after the fact, once the conflict has boiled over. Champlain’s second-year students, who can sew a special ribbon on their sashes to symbolize their prior training, will be encouraged to increase their awareness of school climate, and to offer thoughtful questions and solutions before a full conflict ensues. This may include reporting to an adult and offering alternative possibilities, such as, “Why don’t we all take turns?”

Parents/Guardians are welcome to volunteer at peer mediation trainings. Please let me know if you’d like to join us. Thank you, Champlain families, for all your support of student leadership!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

An Interview with Christine Hertz, Author and Guest Teacher at Champlain

Last year Christine Hertz, a literacy interventionist in Worcester, VT, published A Mindset for Learning with Heinemann Press. She and co-author Kristi Mraz have completed a second book on elementary education and will produce videos in conjunction with its publication in two classes at Champlain Elementary School. Participating classes include Ms. King’s first graders and Ms. Malik’s fourth and fifth graders. In this interview, Ms. Hertz explains this new work.

DD: Tell us about your project about Champlain and beyond.

CH: We have a new book coming out in February 2018 and one of its primary goals is to help teachers create classroom communities of caring, engaged citizens. We believe that, in addition to fostering students' academic growth, schools and classrooms can foster students’ social and emotional growth. For years, we have been developing strategies to cultivate students’ empathy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. We believe in teaching the whole child – academic, social, emotional and physical – and we believe that there are joyful, engaging ways to teach skills such as self-regulation and resilience while also developing more traditional academic skills like reading, writing and mathematics.

DD: You have already published a book with Heinemann, A Mindset for Learning. At the same time, you are a classroom teacher and a literacy specialist. Why did you write this book? What would you like every teacher and parent to know?

CH: Carol Dweck is a researcher, currently at Stanford University, who has pioneered a great deal of work around the idea of growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that we can learn anything with support, hard work, and thoughtful strategic instruction. We found that theory to be powerful in our own lives and even more powerful in our classrooms. In fact, Dweck has found that children with a growth mindset outperform children who do not think of themselves and their learning this way. We wrote A Mindset for Learning to give teachers and student specific stances (optimism, flexibility, resilience, persistence, and empathy) to use when they are faced with a setback. We would love every parent and every teacher to model their own learning journey – their own journey of growth – for their children. We're never perfect, but we can always be making progress.

DD: How did you decide to choose Champlain for the video?

CH: Champlain has a wonderful reputation for being a welcoming, inclusive community that values developing students both as learners and as citizens. We have heard many glowing things about your students, families, and faculty and we are thrilled to have an opportunity to visit.

DD: What will students learn in the lessons taught at school?

CH: Students will learn about big concepts such as perspective taking, flexible problem solving, and risk-taking. We will also be teaching strategies such as self-talk, storytelling, and reflection. At the same time, we will weave grade-appropriate literacy skills into the lessons. For example, during a read aloud, students might learn about empathy while simultaneously deepening their understanding of character development. These lessons will be interactive, engaging and student-driven.

DD: You believe strongly in project-based learning, yet literacy is your specialization. What does one have to do with the other?

CH: We believe that teaching and learning should be rooted in what is authentic and important to students. Project-based learning allows students to engaged with a problem or an inquiry that stirs their curiosity and their drive for learning. Literacy is a vital tool for both conducting that project, but also for communicating its outcomes to the world. Project-based learning allows students to use the literacy skills they are acquiring in an authentic, purposeful way. For our youngest students, that might look like raising money for hurricane relief as a class. For our older students, it might look like more individualized, longer-term projects.

DD: What do you look for in an elementary classroom? What would be going on that tells you that children are receiving an excellent education?

CH: First and foremost, we look for strong relationships between teachers and students. Relationships are at the heart of teaching. We look for teachers who are compassionate, responsive, playful, and constantly trying to outgrow themselves and what they know. We look for students who are not afraid to make mistakes, to challenge themselves with what we call “just right risks,” and to dive into the messy process of learning. We look for collaboration, critical thinking, and that certain hum that exists when students are learning and happy.

Champlain Adopts New Master Schedule and Lunchtimes for 2017-18 School Year
Starting on Tuesday, September 5, the daily schedule of each class at Champlain has changed. Every student is with the same teacher and participates in the same activities, though the latter may be different times of the day or week. Lunchtimes have been extended to thirty minutes, using the entire gymnasium. Students in grades 1, 2, and 3 have lunch at 11:15-11:45am. Students in grades K, 4, and 5 have lunch at 11:55am-12:25. As always, parents/guardians are welcome to join their children at lunch. Lunchroom volunteers first complete a training with the principal - for more info, call 864-8477.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Special Events for Champlain Children and Parents/Guardians

Champlain Elementary School starts off the 2017-18 with new surprises and old favorites. After two summers of renovations, new banks of windows adorn nearly every classroom. Our redesigned library shines with maple shelves, outlined by soothing blue carpet. Our new student support classrooms provide space, style, and privacy, allowing a team of learning specialists to collaborate in close proximity.

Every year classes can learn in Champlain’s outdoor classroom or working in our school garden. This summer Champlain’s Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) purchased four picnic tables for additional learning and dining space, placed between the plants and playground. Our PTO has also funded twelve teacher-led projects to enhance student learning, such as technology, books, and cooking supplies for our mobile kitchen. PTO support helps launch a new weaving program with artist-in-residence Carol Macy. Last spring, students loved the creative process and colorful product of this ancient art form. This year a dozen students will master weaving skills and keep portable looms. Thank you so much, Champlain PTO, for your generosity!

Another surprise will be held on Wednesday, September 13 at 6:00-7:00PM, when Champlain hosts Curriculum Night. Families learn all about the school year ahead: science and social studies units, literature, mathematical concepts, writing, and more. Teachers will give two presentations, at 6:00 and 6:30, allowing parents with two children to attend both.

An old favorite is the annual Community Harvest Fest, taking place on Friday, September 15 at 5:00-7:00PM. Hosted by Champlain’s PTO, families can enjoy outdoor games, learn about gardening, and enjoy favorite foods. Students participate in an exploration hunt, rewarded with a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream treasure. Once again in the gym, people of all ages participate musical cakes to win delicious prizes. Hope our whole Champlain community joins us!

Big Changes at Champlain Elementary School

What’s happening at Champlain? Workers on the roof, big trucks in the driveway, and even the Burlington City Fire Department made an appearance (everything was fine). The second floor makeover includes big new windows for every classroom, matching those installed on the first floor in 2016. The first floor renovation will create several new learning spaces for educational support services, in which nearly half of Champlain students participate. Tiny spaces accommodating only a few will be replaced with new classrooms sized for up to ten children. Special educators, interventionists, and support staff can increase multiple-intelligence and other hand-on activities to increase student learning.

Anyone new on board? Yes, five new teachers will join Champlain’s faculty this fall. They include two longtime Burlington teachers new to Champlain, Ms. Alice Patalano (first grade) and Mr. Gavin Wallace (second grade). Ms. Taylor (Silvestro) Warner will teach first grade. Former B’Kids after-school program director Ms. Jessica Villani will teach second grade while Ms. Ashley Francke is on maternity leave. Ms. Lisa Goetz will teach fourth grade. We warmly welcome our new teachers, all of whom bring a breadth of experience and a passion for student learning.

What can we expect next fall? The Burlington School District has begun implementation of restorative practices K-12. This summer approximately thirty elementary teachers and principals attended training with the South Burlington Community Justice Center. As an alternative to traditional school discipline, restorative practices focus on sharing, listening, solving problems, and repairing relationships. Champlain will expand peer mediation to include more students and expand their responsibilities to help solve conflict in class, at lunch, and on the playground. Restorative practices build upon the Responsive Classroom, which features class meetings and community building, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, which includes directly teaching students appropriate behavior and celebrates kindness, collaboration, and service.