Check Out the November Spotlight on Mahopac
Check out the latest Spotlight on Mahopac.
Susan Chrisman’s fourth grade class filled with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at the mention of the word ‘magnets.’
The invisible forces that govern the universe can be challenging to understand, even for college students and adults. But Dan Novak, coordinator of the Center for Environmental Education at PNW BOCES, made it look easy.
“When you’re standing on the floor, is the floor pushing on your feet?” Novak asked the class. The answer: “It is!”
The Fulmar Road fourth graders were quick studies, and when Novak showed Chrisman’s class how he could magically stick a piece of paper to his shirt, a perceptive student named Siena was not fooled.
“Ok, so when you dropped it,” Siena said, “we could see the magnet on the back of the paper.”
Novak revealed the magnet that he was wearing on a necklace and pointed out that the magnets could exert force on one another despite the fact that there was a layer of fabric in between.
For the next part of the lesson, students had the chance to think creatively and problem-solve. Novak gave each table a plastic bin containing sand and some metal nails. It would be up to the students to use the tools provided to them to clean their ‘beach’.
Novak explained that beaches covered in refuse like nails were not good for wildlife like sea turtles that rely on beaches to lay their eggs.
When asked how they could make the beach safe for the turtles, several students spoke at once, saying, “We have to clean it up!”
Students cleaned the beach twice: once, using plastic forks; and a second time using magnets on strings. The students quickly discovered that the magnets were a more efficient way to collect the metal nails than the forks were.
“I think we’re done.” a student named Jordan called out.
But some students weren’t satisfied and as soon as they finished their second round, they began brainstorming about how they could clean the beach even more quickly.
“We had to drag the magnets over the sand,” fourth grader Siena said, “With the forks we could scratch the sand. Maybe we could combine the fork and the magnet!”
A flurry of yellow and red leaves fell around the students from Mahopac’s three elementary schools as they waited for the event that they had spent weeks preparing for to begin. Students were wearing their elementary school colors: green T-shirts for Fulmar Road, black for Austin Road and yellow for Lakeview.
The 145 second, third, fourth, and fifth-grade students sat on the grass at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park listening as physical education teacher Bill Huestis prepared them for the run.
“When can we go?” one Austin Road student called out.
The students were about to run 3.1 miles in two laps around a paved, flat, circular route. Some of the students were nervous, while those who had run the 5K before were excited. After some final words of encouragement from Superintendent Christine Tona, students took to the starting line.
The shrill sound of a whistle carried across the park. The runners were off. They began in a pack but stretched out as the race progressed. Parents and teachers waited by the finish line.
After less than half an hour, students began to cross the finish line, beginning with Isaiah Mitchell who said that “the race was only a little hard.”
Mitchell and his classmates had been training for the run in the weeks leading up to the event and had participated in the run at Lakeview Elementary School the prior week.
Parents and teachers congratulated students as they poured across the finish line, handing out ribbons and medals.
When asked how he was feeling after the race, Fulmar Road student Jonathan said that he felt good about his performance, but that “I kept looking back for other runners.”
That was when another Lakeview fourth grader chimed in, saying, “I’m happy and I’m hungry.”
On a crisp Autumn morning kindergartens from Fulmar Road Elementary School arrived at Outhouse Orchards and were greeted by their parents.
The itinerary included apple picking, a hayride, pumpkin picking, and a walk through the corn maze. The students couldn’t wait to get started. They were split up by class into groups led by their teachers, Fran Shea, Megan Shea, Nicole Petrone, Katheryn Jesselli, and Lisa Barletta.
At the apple trees, students were encouraged to help one another find and reach apples that they could take home after the trip.
At the hayride, parents and students piled onto a wagon pulled by a tractor around the orchard.
“The corn maze!” one of the students yelled in anticipation as the tractor drove past a field of corn.
After their ride around the orchard, students, teachers, and parents alike trekked up a hill toward the corn field. When they arrived, they met their guide, Jeff Aquilino, who handed out laminated maps of the maze. When she saw the map, kindergartener Zofia’s eyes went wide.
“Frankenstein!” she yelled, recognizing the shape of the titular doctor’s monster on the map.
As they prepared to venture into the maze, the students received one last warning from their guide.
“Watch your step,” Aquilino said, “and don’t eat the corn.”
As the class strung out into a line following their guide and teachers, one student named Oliver strode up to the front of his classmates.
“I know where we’re going!” he declared.
Students worked together to try and identify their location on the map using clues in the maze. Eventually, they all made it back out with their parents and teachers.
The kindergarteners concluded their trip around the orchard with a stop at the pumpkin patch. After that, the whole grade got back together to enjoy some freshly baked donuts before climbing back onto their bus and heading back to class.
By 3:10 pm on Tuesday, three groups of Mahopac students had collected on the grassy hill outside of Lakeview Elementary.
Each group wore T Shirts corresponding to their elementary school, green for Lakeview, Black for Austin Road, and Yellow for Fulmar Road. All three crowds cheered and looked on in anticipation at the grass field and array of cones below. It was a day that they had been training for, the day of the Lakeview Run, which had been organized by all of the Mahopac elementary physical education teachers.
“I want to go first!” one Lakeview student called out.
That was when the first heat was called up, the oldest of the elementary school runners, the 10 to 11-year-olds. Once all of the students were corralled behind the starting line, Donn Tobin held his flag up and signaled for the first run to begin.
The oldest group ran a 1-mile-long course, while the two younger groups ran three quarters of a mile and half of a mile respectively. There was a healthy sense of competition as each of the races began and the runners spread out.
Some students slowed down, encouraging their winded classmates who were struggling to keep up and pushing them to make it to the end.
By the end the runners were exhausted. Students collected their award certificates and then made their way back to their spots on the hill to rest.
“Waiting was really nerve wracking!” fourth grader Fiona said after the race.
While many students were challenged by the distance, others were looking forward to next week’s run, the FDR Park 5k.
“I was tired,” fourth grader Scarlet said, “but I was ready for it to be harder!”
It is never too early to learn how to use a computer. With that belief in mind, the Mahopac Central School District has made it a priority to provide students with the technological edge needed to succeed.
Thanks to the district’s Technology Department, the students in Megan Shea’s kindergarten class at Fulmar Road Elementary School are expanding their learning by using Chromebooks.
Chromebooks offer students a way to learn how to use computers but also augment lessons in everything from reading to mathematics.
In a recent class, Shea used Chromebooks for a reading lesson that allowed students to advance at their own pace. The lesson did not need to stop every time a student had a question. Instead, each student worked through the lesson, slowing down or speeding up as necessary, leaving Shea free to address students’ individual needs as she moved around the classroom.
Students who finished early could move onto a math lesson, while those who were still working on the reading lesson did not feel rushed. Chromebook lessons are just another tool that teachers use to help prepare Mahopac students to succeed in the digital age.
With a new school year underway, students and teachers are beginning to settle into their routines. An important aspect of this time of year is students beginning to forge relationships with one another and their teachers. Meeting new people is challenging, even for adults, so Fulmar Road Elementary sought to help their students over this social hurdle with a simple solution.
“What’s your name?” It’s a simple question, but sometimes hard to ask. This is why Fulmar Road Elementary provided all of their students with name tags on Tuesday and asked them to write down their names. Every student then had one fewer question to ask to get to know their future friends. Teachers and staff even got in on the introductory fun, wearing their own name tags and going out of their way to greet students.
While students got to know each other’s names through their name tags, teachers also tried to facilitate the students’ budding relationships. When third-grade students from Susan Chrisman and Stacey DiLullo’s classes went to Physical Education with Jamie Davenport and Ross Fumusa in the afternoon, their teachers took them outside. The students were told that they would be playing a game called “Dinosaur Tag.” Given that the game had both the words “Dinosaur” and “Tag” in its name, the students were immediately interested.
The students were divided up into six teams and were told that they needed to run across the field, one at a time, collect a bean bag, or “dinosaur egg,” and bring it back to their team. The task would have been easy if there weren’t two students in the way, brandishing pool noodles with which to tag runners. If a runner got tagged, they had to return to their team empty handed.
The competition got fierce when one student was chased by their pool noodle-wielding peer all the way from the left side of the field to the right, only to turned around and see that they would need to make the entire return journey in order to score. Each team triumphantly cheered their teammates’ names and consoled those who were tagged.
The game served as a good way to get some energy out, but also as an opportunity for the third graders to use the names of their classmates and begin to build new relationships for the school year and beyond.
When a man in a blue bodysuit burst into Margaret Bartholomew’s kindergarten class at Fulmar Road Elementary School this week and started waving a shield featuring the letters A, E, I, O and U, it wasn’t quite the normal start to a reading lesson.
The students started chattering, pointing and laughing.
“I’m Vowel Man,” the masked hero said. “I’m here to make sure you know your vowels, because vowels can help you form words and help your reading come alive.”
To help the kindergartners remember their vowels, Vowel Man gave each child a paper "shield" featuring – what else – vowels.
“Let’s say them together,” said Vowel Man, who declined to give his proper name but resembled a certain Mahopac school administrator who oversees the district’s reading curriculum.
The class started chanting as one – “A, E, I, O, U.”
“Will you study them for me?” he asked. “They will help you become better readers. Your writing needs to have vowels in it, so people know what you’re trying to say. There’s only one way to solve this problem, it’s to learn our vowels.”
As he handed out the shields, Vowel Man asked each child to say their name and tell him which vowels it included.
Madison, who just turned six, was proud to realize that she had all five vowels in her name – A, I and O in her first name and E and U in her last.
“I’ve got them all,” she said, beaming.
It was probably inevitable, but soon the children started asking about the man behind the costume.
“Take off your mask,” one boy demanded.
But Vowel Man held firm.
As he dashed out on the way to the next kindergarten classroom, he turned and said: “This is not a costume, it’s a lifestyle.”
The children laughed and debated among themselves as he left.
“Vowel man was awesome, but I think he was wearing a costume,” said five-year-old Chad. “He looked like Captain America, with stickers on his shield and mask.”
David, who just turned six, disagreed.
“I don’t think he was wearing a costume,” David said. “He said he wasn’t.”
“When it’s not a costume, it doesn’t come off,” Avery said, disagreeing. “I think that one actually comes off.”
Principal Gary Chadwick marched across the snowy school yard, holding the Olympic torch high as a line of second graders, dressed in snow gear and waving paper flags, marched closely behind.
These were the opening ceremonies of the Fulmar Road Elementary School Olympics, where every second grader got a chance at being an Olympian.
“It’s a great way to teach them about current events and the world,” said Andrea Jones, the second grade teacher who organized the event along with her colleagues Stacey Biagini, Bernadette Krohomer, Jim Lieto, Dona Martirano and Dayna Westcott.
For weeks, the students researched 35 of the countries participating in this year’s Olympics and wrote paragraphs about each. Then they made 35 flags to carry in the opening parade. Throughout the Olympics, keeping track of the medal count will be part of the second grade math unit.
“Now they’ll pay attention to the Olympics,” Jones said. “They’ll watch the opening parade and know something about the countries and their flags. They’ll be aware of the bobsled race and the luge, and it will all mean something to them.”
But being in the Fulmar Road Olympics wasn’t all work and no play. The students competed in bobsled, luge and skeleton races. They played hockey and built snowmen. And, of course, they got medals.
Though the second grade teachers arrange an Olympics every four years, this year they got especially lucky. The weekend nor’easter blanketed the school grounds in snow and the weather on opening day, Tuesday Feb. 1, was warm and sunny.
“We couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions,” Jones said.
In a week when many families might tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Carole Garcia donned a festive turkey headband and read a book about the history of the parade to a class of fifth graders.
“Balloons over Broadway” by Melissa Sweet tells the story of the early years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the puppeteer who created its iconic helium balloons.
“How many of you know what a marionette is?” Garcia, the Library Aide at Fulmar Road Elementary School, asked the students from Thomas Jordan’s class.
Almost all of the students raised their hands.
“And you know how they move, right?” Garcia asked.
“Yes,” the children answered. “By strings.”
There’s no surprising fifth graders these days. Still, the children sat quietly, completely taken in by the story they were hearing and the idea of character balloons flying higher and higher above the streets of New York City.
After the book was done, the class discussed the assignment their classroom teachers had given them -- to write a story from the perspective of one of the balloons in the parade.
Some said they would write about SpongeBob SquarePants and what he would see when he looked down from the sky. Others said they would write from Smokey The Bear’s point of view.
Delilah, whose favorite subject is science, picked Aida Twist, Scientist.
“I’m writing a story and saying how it felt to her to be up that high looking down at the world and all that she saw,” Delilah said. “I’m drawing pictures too.”
For some of the students, the exercise quickly turned into science fiction. Jake didn’t want to write about just one character. He said he would write about a mix of Baby Yoda, Boss Baby and Ronald MacDonald.
“I’d like to combine them,” Jake said. “I’d love to make that abomination. He’d fly high. Then he’d look down and see a hundred million tiny humans.”
It may not be a classic Thanksgiving tale of Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating a feast before winter, but the creative balloon combo gave the 10-year-olds something new to think about as they prepared to celebrate the traditional American holiday.
If you want to know who the main character is in the book “Because of Winn-Dixie,” just ask Victoria, a third grader at Fulmar Road Elementary School.
“It’s Winn-Dixie, the dog,” Victoria said.
“No,” her reading partner, Layla said. “It’s Opal, the girl. She’s nice.”
The 8-year-olds were discussing the finer points of Winn-Dixie, one the hundreds of books -- picture books, chapter books, young adult novels and non-fiction books -- that line the shelves in their classroom.
A classroom library stocked with high-interest books in a range of reading levels is the bedrock of the The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which was launched in kindergarten and first grades in the Mahopac schools in 2019. The workshop-style program was added to second and third grades last year and introduced in the fourth and fifth grades this fall. It is now the reading curriculum for all elementary grades in the district.
“It was important to align the reading curriculum in all three elementary schools,” said Michael Tromblee, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning.
“Mahopac has made a commitment to the Reading and Writing Project. We’ve brought in a literacy coach to work with teachers, given teachers extra time to learn and purchased hundreds of books for each classroom so all students will have access to books that interest and engage them.”
Fulmar Road third-grade teacher Nicole DiMeglio said the program is inspiring her students to read more.
“The students like that they get to pick their own books,” DiMeglio said. “I help them pick books that are at their level and that they will enjoy. This is completely different from the reading program we used to use.”
Instead of using a textbook that contains passages of books that are chosen to illustrate a literary concept, the children read whole books. That doesn’t mean they don’t get instruction.
Reading time starts with a lesson on a topic such as character development or finding the main idea. Then the students read independently -- 20 minutes a day in class and 20 minutes a day at home. Students write about what they have read and teachers conference with students one-on-one to ensure they understand what they are reading. At the end of each book, there is a celebration where the children discuss the books they have read.
At the heart of it all, however, is the freedom to choose their own books.
“We are teaching them to love reading,” DiMeglio said.
First, the Lakeview Elementary School runners camped on the hill started chanting “Let’s go Lakeview, Let’s go!” Not to be outdone, rivals Austin Road and Fulmar Road elementary schools got loud with cheers of their own.
The Annual All-Elementary Cross Country race at Lakeview Elementary School is the biggest good-time, healthy sporting event in Mahopac for the second-to-fifth-grade crowd. More than 300 students competed and it drew families, friends and neighbors from all over the district. Some lined up along the field waving signs, others had cameras outfitted with long zoom lenses; one spectator even launched a drone that followed the racers around the course.
“It’s great to see you all out here,” school Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo said before the races began. “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s just about having a good time.”
Tell that to Dylan, a 10-year-old in Mary Moriarty’s class at Lakeview who was the fastest boy in the fifth grade. Dylan trained every Friday afternoon with his mother, Angela O’Keefe, and it paid off when he came in first in his race.
“I heard the cheering and I got so excited,” Dylan said. “I looked one time and I got very distracted, so I tried not to look again. I just concentrated on running.”
For Kaitlin, a fifth grader in Vanessa Stavisky’s class, the race was all about school spirit. If the green t-shirt didn’t give away Kaitlin’s school allegiance, the Fulmar name in erasable marker on each of her arms might have.
“I came in as number 31,” Kaitlin said. “I count that as good. I don’t compare myself to others.”
The race, planned by the elementary school physical education teachers, is a long tradition in Mahopac.
“This event has been going on for well over 26 years,” Lauren Kittredge, a physical education teacher at Austin Road Elementary School, said. “Children in grades two to five competed in a race according to their age.”
Those ages 10 and older ran a mile. Those eight and nine years old ran three-quarters of a mile and the youngest runners, six and seven-year-olds, ran a half mile.
Alexa, a Lakewview second grader whose father stood at the sidelines with a brightly colored sign, came in fourth.
She mock-collapsed on the ground as if the race had taken all the energy she had.
Still, she will be back for more. Students from Austin, Fulmar & Lakeview schools will compete at The Mahopac Elementary 5K Run at FDR Park in Yorktown on Wednesday, Oct. 27.
The minute the kindergartners stepped off the buses at Outhouse Orchards in North Salem the excitement began.
It was the children’s first field trip and there was so much to see -- a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, a hay-filled tractor. The first thing that caught their eyes, however, were their parents, many of whom had driven to meet the buses and enjoy the field trip with their children.
“Mom, Mom, Dad,” some of the children shouted, eager to run for a hug.
The kindergarten teachers from Fulmar Road Elementary School -- Kathryn Jesselli, Lisa Barletta, Margaret Bartholomew, Patricia LaPeruta and Fran Shea and Megan Shea, who are known to the students as Mrs. Shea and Ms. Shea, respectively -- kept the students in line until they could all calmly join up.
“This is going to be fun,” said Nash, as his mom, Tiffany Ward, smiled.
Wearing matching shirts that read “Mahopac High School Class of 2034” the kindergartners broke up into class groups with their teachers and went to explore the orchard.
Robert L. Treadway, Outhouse’s tour guide/storyteller started Mrs. Shay’s class off with some tales.
“Who knows who Johnny Appleseed is?” he asked, pointing to the fields of apple trees beyond.
Nash’s hand went up: “He cut down the apple tree.”
“Um, not exactly,” Treadway said. “That was George Washington.”
Later, after talking about the corn maze as a little hint, Treadway asked “What’s another name for corn?”
“Corn on the cob,” some children shouted..
“That’s true,” Treadway said. “But I was thinking ‘maize.’”
Soon the children set out to pick their pumpkins, bounce around in a hayride, find their way through the corn maze and color at a picnic table.
“A great time was had by all,” Mrs. Shea said. “The children enjoyed apple cider donuts, apples and water provided by their teachers.”