As I walk around the StMM campus, I see signs of the seasons of Advent and Christmas everywhere I look. The angel tree is in the school lobby next to the collection bins for our St. Nick Shoe Drive. Hand-made Advent symbols are hung on trees in the classrooms, reminding the children that we are in a time of prayerful waiting as we approach Christmas Day.
This week we gather together for our annual Christmas pageant, a celebration that is a renewal of our commitment to our faith. Each year, we appreciate the dedication of our staff and students as they prepare for this performance. Our band, strings and handbell students have been practicing for months! It is traditional at StMM for our second and fourth grade students to participate in the pageant and they look forward to getting the opportunity to sing Christmas carols or to portray Mary, Joseph, an angel or a king. This year we even have a hen and a rooster!
Participating in the pageant helps our children to learn the importance of the season as well as the events in Christ’s life. There is a small wall-hanging in the school that includes this verse from Matthew (10:27): ‘What you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.’ This is exactly what our students are doing in the pageant performance.
At StMM, we also gather as a school to celebrate the season of Advent. Every StMM alumni can sing the ‘Light the Advent Candle’ song – we have been singing it every year since we opened in 2000. The Advent prayer service is an opportunity for our middle school students to act as disciples of Christ and lead the rest of the school in prayer and song.
I am proud of our Advent and Christmas traditions here at St. Mary Magdalene School. They are just one way we educate our students in their faith, and they are the heart and soul of a Catholic school.
Mix It Up at Lunch Day is an international program that encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries by talking to different students in their class. Mix It Up day takes place at schools in various ways.
At StMM, I coordinated a respectful lesson with the 4th grade students. The students played a bingo type game with questions that they had to ask peers as a way to learn more about them.
The students enjoyed the time of getting to know each other and sharing more about their interests. After the activity, the students were then encouraged to sit at lunch with other students they don’t normally sit with. They were able to use the mix it up questions as a way to continue to get to know each other and find out interesting things about their classmates. The 4th grade teachers said many of them found out some new things about the people in their class. At first, the students were hesitant to talk with other people, but once they got started, they seemed to enjoy the activity.
In addition to the mix it up activity, the 4th grade classes discussed respect on their field trip to Old Salem. They learned about the Moravian culture and their communities. The students learned about similarities and differences compared with their cultures and communities.
The 4th grade students have also read the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? By Carol McCoud. Throughout the year, the students continue to “fill their buckets” with respectful comments about their peers. The activity is for students to write notes of thanks and gratitude toward their classmates.
In the front lobby, students are reminded daily about how to be respectful in how we talk to others and how we treat others. They see the bulletin board:
Before you Speak, T.H.I.N.K.
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind
StMM is a kind, respectful community that reaches beyond our classes to teach respect. The students are expected to “treat others as you would like to be treated” and put it into practice.
Study Smarter, Not Harder. This is a message I convey to students when I teach study skills lessons. In August, a Wall Street Journal article, The Smarter Ways to Study, reported on research that supports a concept known as self-regulated learning. That is, setting goals and holding oneself accountable is the difference for high achievers.
Students who take ownership of their grades, learning and asking questions are the ones who will do better, this research shows. Students who also seek out additional help, such as with online resources, and attend extra study sessions perform higher. Top students quiz themselves or others to help them remember and retell the information instead of passively re-reading notes. Some students would rather re-read their books and highlight notes, which tends to give them a false sense that they are prepared for a test.
The amount of time also matters. Research shows that studying is more productive in shorter, 45-minute timeframes than for hours at a time. Spending a few days studying in shorter increments is the recommendation. Students who plan ahead and set a specific beginning and ending time to studying seem to do better. At the end of a study period, students need to create a reward for themselves. They need to find what motivates them to do well and have that positive reward.
The Five Tips for Honing Sharper Skills, according to the Wall Street Journal article are:
- Find out what the test will cover and the kinds of questions it will include.
- Start at least a few days before the test to plan how and when you will study.
- Identify helpful resources such as practice tests or when the teacher is available to assist with material you don’t understand.
- Practice recalling facts and concepts by quizzing yourself.
- Limit study sessions to 45 minutes to increase your concentration and focus.
Last May, I blogged about all the fun, creative, innovative ways to stay busy over the summer and reduce the summer slide. Now, here we are sliding right into the new academic year. How did we get here so fast? Here are some tips from a Scholastic parenting article, www.scholastic.com, on how to make the beginning of the school year a success.
- Routines. Children thrive on routines. Bedtime and eating routines are going to set your child up for a successful foundation. Help your child get the appropriate hours of sleep and have nutritious meals.
- Household Rules. In the summer, your child may have different rules when it comes to TV or electronics. Have a family meeting to discuss the new rules when school is in session and talk about when to focus on school work and when there is time for electronics. The more screen time a child has, the harder it is for him/her to focus at school.
- De-stress dressing. Lay out clothes the night before. Uniforms are helpful, but the students have favorites and of course remembering to have the clean PE uniform.
- Talk about goals as a family. Were you late most mornings? Then talk about what you all can do to get here on time.
- Summer is a fun way to try out new hobbies and venture into camps. If your child thrived being on the swim team or the programming camp, find a way to keep that going during the school year.
- Set up a homework station for success. Help your child find an appropriate place with the adequate supplies. Many minutes can be wasted looking for the sharpened pencil!
- Get to know the teachers. Attend the Back to School events, read the lesson plans on renweb, and talk to your child first about assignments before talking with the teacher.
I hope your family will slide right into the new school year with minor bumps along the way. Please check-out other articles by Scholastic to help with reading, activities, life and learning, and parenting articles.