The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 30, 2001


Carlisle School Committee takes up backpacks, beaches and blubber

"The student backpacks are gargantuan and are growing at an enormous rate." said Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson at the Carlisle School Committee meeting Tuesday, March 30. The school administration is so concerned that it asked sixth graders to take part in a now three-month-long experiment. Backpacks for the sixth graders can be brought to school but left in the locker.

Principal Andy Goyer said, "It has been three months now and the kids seem to be standing straighter. It is becoming a health issue. Some of the packs weigh 30-35 pounds and the children are hurting themselves. If the packs are left on the school floors, they become a real hazard and present a safety issue. Lots of schools are doing away with backpacks altogether." Goyer went on to say that textbooks are in most of the classrooms so the students do not need to transport them back and forth and can keep their copies at home.

A Boston Globe article by reporter Scott Greenberger said, "Fifty-five percent of the Massachusetts children surveyed by researchers at Simmons College typically carry loads heavier than 15 percent of their body weight....Though the researchers couldn't definitely draw a connection, one-third of the 345 children in grades five through eight surveyed reported back pain that forced them to see a doctor, miss school, or skip athletic activities."

Acting chair of the school committee Suzanne Whitney Smith suggested the school designate an acceptable school backpack for the students to use. Fox-Melanson said that was a good idea and added that the school also needs larger lockers which can hold all the student belongings. However, the school administration hopes the model of the sixth grade will extend to the other grades next year and all the students will carry less weight on their backs.

Kindergarten team proposes change of shore trip

The kindergarten team has made a proposal to the school committee to take the students on a field trip to Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire. This field trip would replace the traditional trip to Wingaersheek Beach that has enhanced the curriculum unit on oceans and tidal pools in the past. The day trip would be on May 11 for the 86 students and parent chaperones.

Odiorne Point State Park supplies four naturalist-teachers which would add a cost of $420 to the shore experience for the children. They would receive a rocky shore lesson indoors and then explore the coastline with the naturalists. At Wingaersheek Beach, the Carlisle teachers developed their own lesson plans and format and the eighth graders were asked to participate in the trip.

School committee member Nock said she hoped if the change was made that the same format would be followed. She hopes, "The experience would not turn into a lecture series or be too formal a trip." Superintendent Fox-Melanson said that the trip to Wingaersheek was "a very rich experience." Whitney Smith noted that the trip to Wingaersheek did not cost anything. She hoped the "cost would justify the significant enrichment." She had "...some questions and would like to hear more."

Principal Goyer stated that two of the teachers, Peter Darasz and Mimi Chandler, knew both experiences and locations, which would help to answer their questions. Since the two teachers were not at the meeting, Fox-Melanson said they would be invited to attend a school committee meeting to answer questions before the decision was made to change what seemingly was a very successful trip.

First-grade curriculum presentation

"The important thing about first grade," said Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, "It's a whale of a year." One night a whale hanging from the ceiling in a classroom even set off a motion detector alarm. Needless to say, whales provide the backbone of the science unit for the first grade. However, since all parts of the curriculum are integrated, the student learning is expanded in many directions.

First-grade teacher Esther Almgren spoke to the science portion of the learning experience. The children become marine biologists and think of questions to ask. What is known about whales? What information do they need to know about whales? What qualities are unique about whales? They work in groups to collect research information at the school library. Not only do they have a cooperative learning experience but also during the various stages in the learning process summarize facts or stories.

Almgren showed the school committee members a "blubber glove" which the children were able to put on their hand to place in the snow. It is a tool for learning how the blubber keeps the whale warm in the cold ocean. She spoke about a "blubber rock" which can float. The children learn about the whale's buoyancy and ability to float in the water. Other physical characteristics of whales are learned such as its size and its baleen.

The math component of learning in first grade was illustrated by teacher Daryl Greenwood. The students measure different whales with string and compare sizes to other animals and objects. By making origami models, the students learn geometric shapes and fractions.

The three other teachers, Michelle Dobrin, Shawna Horgan and Sandy Walker, completed the presentation of the curriculum for the five sections of 103 first graders. In literature the students become familiar with core selections and are exposed to a variety of readings in fiction, poetry, nonfiction and songs. Books about whales are read aloud. Each student picks out a whale fact to draw. The facts are typed out and placed in a slide show for the child to read and visualize his or her own page.

Under the guidance of technology whiz and systems mentor Alan Ticotsky, the first graders are exposed to learning about cause and effect and to the methods of rebuilding a story by developing causal loops and a story map.

Principal Goyer said that it was great to see how the first-grade curriculum is integrated with that of the other grades. Superintendent Fox-Melanson agreed and said, "The children are very fortunate to have this first-grade experience. The teachers are very instrumental in providing them with a wonderful formal start to their education."

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito