Ephrata School Board: Problem solving skills on display

By on January 31, 2018
First  grade  teacher  Marilyn  Molchany proudly  watches  DJ  Gibbs show Phil Eby how to use a “work mat” to solve math problems. Photo by Sarah McBee

First grade teacher Marilyn Molchany proudly watches DJ Gibbs show Phil Eby how to use a “work mat” to solve math problems. Photo by Sarah McBee

School directors were treated to a presentation of problem-solving skills by six-year-olds when the Ephrata School Board met in Fulton Elementary School on Jan. 29.

Fulton Principal Josh McCracken introduced the “Reflection Team Planning” concept to the board and school administrators, as the first-graders displayed problem solving skills they learned through the efforts of their teachers, who participate in the reflection teams.

The reflection teams are groups of teachers throughout the district who work together, researching and brainstorming unique teaching methods for the betterment of their students.

The teaching teams are constantly on the lookout for tools and techniques that can improve their students’ understanding, the principal said.

“It’s been great to see the teachers work together,” McCracken said.

His explanation of the concept was followed by a demonstration by the first grade students of Rachel Engleman, who showed the board members new ways in which the children learned to solve math problems.

Research by the reflection teams found that math reading problems are considered to be some of the more difficult math problems to solve.

The teams researched “problem solving,” and found enough information to fill two binders, Engleman said.

One of the best ideas gleaned from their research was the “problem solving mat,” a paper with step-by-step instructions for solving a math reading problem, as a help for very young students.

At the meeting, first-graders took their problem-solving mats to the school board directors, to show them how they could solve a math problem by doing pieces at a time.

The kids have really taken to the idea of a problem solving mat, Engleman said, and their ability to solve math reading problems has greatly improved.

“The first graders are doing things that we didn’t think they were capable of,” Engleman said. “We’re proud of all the growth they’ve made.”

In the elementary grades, teacher groups are specified by grade, such as all first-grade teachers being part of a team. In the higher grades, teams are comprised of teachers of the same discipline, such as math teachers becoming a team.

After researching ideas for better learning, the teams meet bi-weekly to share what they’ve found.

“They learn best practices from each other,” McCracken said of the teacher groups. “Their findings are based on the research of effective professional learning communities.”

The teams post notes in a shared document so that other teachers may benefit from their findings.

Before the meeting began, the school board and visitors were entertained by the Ephrata High School String Quartet, comprised of Jamie Chon, Jacob Gordon, Sarah Pereverzoff, and Olivia Schmid.

The school board members were all recognized and given a gift in honor of “National School Board Appreciation Month.”

In another matter, school board member Judy Beiler told the Board about an innovative program being used by the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, called the “All-In-One Vocational, Employability, and Independent Living Skills Program.”

Beiler is the district’s representative to the LCCTC.

“The “All-In-One” program takes students who may have a challenge transitioning from school to work and helps them get a job while still in high school,” Beiler said.

The program is offered through a partnership among the LCCTC, Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13, and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

A special education teacher, general education CTC instructor, and job trainer work together to provide both education and hands-on training for the students.

Jobs for these students are with the “J Group,” a warehouse facility in Landisville, where the students earn $8 an hour for their employment, performing such jobs as filling orders.

Job placement upon graduation is a goal for each student, Beiler said.

“It’s a really neat opportunity for students,” Beiler said.

The program is aimed at students already in a technical education course of study, but who may need added structure and a different pace of instruction.

Students learn a variety of vocational skills, and they also learn “employability skills,” Beiler said, like social skills for the workplace, decision making, effective communication skills, and time management.

“These kids are gaining confidence,” Beiler said. “Some of the kids from IU 13 are even getting better employee reviews than the regular employees.”

The living skills portion focuses on needs like learning personal finance skills, learning CPR and First Aid, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

In another CTC matter, the school is in the process of finding and hiring a new executive administrator, Beiler said.

Superintendent Brian Troop updated the Board about the Attollo program, aimed at helping students achieve their dreams of attending college.

“Attollo changes the trajectory for those students who maybe don’t have a college role model in their life,” Troop said.

High school juniors are eligible for the program, which is offered and facilitated by “Children Deserve a Chance,” a non-profit organization in Lancaster.

The program paves the way for students who may be prospective first generation college students, the first of their family to consider postsecondary education.

The students in Attollo continue their regular classes, but also arrive at the school at 5 a.m., three days a week, to work on concepts like the six pillars of character traits.

“The Attollo pillars are so closely aligned to the characteristics we have associated with the Ephrata Mountaineer, we knew this program was something we should offer our students,” Troop said.

One of their assignments is to be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle by unlocking its alga rhythm before graduating from the program.

When they learn to do something difficult, they realize they can do something different with their lives, Troop explained.

The program is for students who don’t have anyone in their immediate family who went to college and helps to “unlock their potential” Troop said.

“It’s amazing to see how the students respond to that support and assistance,” said Board President Timothy Stayer. “It speaks to the quality of the graduates and the quality of our teachers.”

Before graduating from the program, the students must pass an interview that, in part, focuses on the character traits they have studied. The program helps students to work on leadership skills for their school and their community.

This year, 16 Juniors graduated from the Attollo program. They are Dylan Blackwell, Olamide Fatusin, Aleah Johnson, Francisco Maldonado, Ashley McGill, Jessica Moua, Alexander Nelson, Arturo Ramirez, Tyler Regitz, Colin Robson, Devin Robson, Alex Santiago-Montalvo, Madison Tihanky, Stephanie Wenrich, Angel Wratto, and Skylar Zandy.

Board member Ted Kachel told the Board that four Ephrata FFA students received the FFA Keystone Degree at the Pa. Farm Show in January. They are Seth Bollinger, Lauren Kachel, Taylor Kozlowski, and Cheyenne Marnoch.

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