The Evolution of a New 2e School

Lynne Henwood, Opening Head of School

FlexSchool Bronxville

As I reflect on my third week at FlexSchool and gear up for Week 4, I’m noticing an evolution of sorts. 

During Week 1, we at FlexSchool worked hard to create a community in which children could feel safe and accepted just as they are. We nurtured relationships and established trust. Of course, this is an ongoing process.  

Week 2 brought with it the opportunity for teachers and staff to learn about each child and discover strategies with which to help them learn and grow. This week involved a lot of trial and error while finding effective ways to motivate and encourage the students. Boundaries were tested, and everyone at FlexSchool began to find their ‘groove’. Again, this will be ongoing.

In Week 3, we were ready to begin tightening up the structure and routine of FlexSchool. We know that humans crave order and structure and that children feel ‘safer’ when there is predictability.  Some students cleverly argued that this isn’t very ‘FLEX’ible, but we explained that flexibility comes from structure. We are flexible within the methods by which students engage in and with content, in the level or depth of the content, and in the way students can show mastery of the content. We are flexible when they need a quick break, or need to talk to someone. They will learn via their strengths while managing their challenges.

We are still working to uncover and nurture the strengths of each child, and finding ways to allow them to use those strengths to learn at the appropriate pace and depth. Ultimately, our goal is to help students develop a growth mindset.  We want students to use their resiliency tools to tackle content that is just out of their reach, content that requires an element of struggle. We want them to fail just enough to realize that it is in failing that we learn and grow. We want them to become lifelong learners. 

So what will Week 4 bring? Challenge. We will start raising the bar for our students so they can develop a sense of self-efficacy. Of course, they will be scaffolded and supported through it all. But we want them to grapple with interesting, thought-provoking content and go home feeling fulfilled and inspired.

Stay tuned!

Unique Students Require a New Learning Environment

Lynne Henwood, Opening Head of School

FlexSchool Bronxville

Over the past 8 years of teaching, one of the most incredible things I have learned is that a child can be both gifted and learning disabled, also known as twice-exceptional (2e). I, like many others in education, did not truly understand this concept. Sure, I had seen movies like Rain Man and was amazed at the special abilities portrayed by characters who were on the ASD spectrum.  After teaching gifted and talented for a few years, I discovered that savant syndrome is rare, while 2e is more common than people realize. These children are education’s metaphorical unicorns. Do they really exist? Could they be languishing or struggling in our classrooms?  How can we spot them? How can we help them succeed?  

The drive to understand these learners and the passion to create an environment that nurtures their strengths has led me to FlexSchool. I am honored and excited to start this role as Opening Head of School at FlexSchool’s newest campus in beautiful Bronxville, New York!  We are excited to be able to offer an exceptional learning environment where gifted and 2e students are accepted, valued, and supported.  FlexSchool enables students to embrace and celebrate the unique and incredible people that they truly are, and to make lasting friendships with peers who can relate to and appreciate them.  Our teachers are compassionate and knowledgeable, and students are able to learn in a way that best fits their strengths. FlexSchool allows students to experience the joy of authentic learning in a way that’s just right for them.  I welcome anyone who is interested to come by for a visit to see FlexSchool in action.

Week One- here we go!

Wilder – A FlexSchool Student Magazine

The first edition of Wilder – A FlexSchool Student Magazine is here! You may download the PDF here. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this magazine happen! Our students never cease to amaze us!

Wilder - A FlexSchool Student Magazine
Some of the students involved in making the magazine.

Jacqui Byrne’s Tilt Parenting Interview

Recently, Jacqui sat down with our friend Debbie Reber, host of the wonderful Tilt Parenting podcast and author of Differently Wired both of which are phenomenal resources for parents of twice-exceptional children. In this podcast, you will hear Jacqui speak about why she began FlexSchool, why it is designed as a network of small schools, how our schools meet the unique needs of 2e learners, as well as how parents and communities can bring a FlexSchool campus to their area.

“I mean, I just have to say when I came down to check out the school and I walked in and I just loved every student immediately. It was like these are the cool, differently wired, awesome creative kids! It was just such a great vibe.” – Debbie Reber

Want to have better focus? Wake up and be active!

Ever since I was a kid, I tried to start my day with some sort of physical activity. That is, until three years ago, when I finished Grad School and became a Dad. I suddenly found myself with a different schedule and different priorities. Since then, I have found that I have far less energy than I used to, and it impacted virtually every aspect of my life.  Sure, it could be that I’m getting older, getting a LOT less sleep, but, what if this change to my daily routine had something to do with it? So, as any good scientist would, I decided to test this hypothesis.  I decided that I would force myself to do what I’ve always done, even if it meant getting EVEN less sleep.  So, with my alarm set for 4:45 a.m., I began my experiment.

The first week was tough, I am not going to lie. My body ached, I was cranky, and I was ready to hit the pillow the second I walked in the door from work. The second week was easier, I found myself gaining more energy and generally feeling more positive. By the third week, I found myself waking up a few minutes before the alarm and having more energy than I could remember in a long time. But, the most profound change I noticed was how focused and productive I was at work. As an Exercise Physiologist, I know the research, exercise has positive effects on mood… exercise impacts cognitive function…. blah, blah, blah. But, it wasn’t until I experienced the impact first-hand that it hit me. What a difference starting your day with a physical activity makes!

Then I started thinking why is it that schools don’t have physical education first thing in the morning?  Wouldn’t it be great for all students to start their day full of energy and ready to concentrate? As a good Scientist, here is where I give you the “facts and figures” in Geek Speak. There is well-established research demonstrating the positive effects of exercise and physical activity in the general population with regards to overall health and disease states. However, the research on the impact of exercise in the preadolescent and adolescent population and how it affects cognitive function is in its infancy. A review of current literature suggests that improvements in cardiorespiratory function have positive effects on mood and self-esteem and is positively associated with higher academic performance.1,2 A study specifically evaluating preadolescent students suggested that aerobic capacity was positively associated with academic performance; including total academic achievement, mathematic achievement and reading achievement.3 Several studies have delved further, examining effects of physical activity in the classroom setting with evidence supporting that single acute-bouts of moderately-intense aerobic exercise (e.g. walking) increases attention and academic performance.4,5 The benefits of exercise go beyond those seen in the general population when we look at the 2e population.  Recent studies have shown that students that have ADD/ADHD perform better in the classroom throughout the day due to the release of dopamine during exercise.6 Furthermore, research has shown that a single bout of moderate exercise can increase executive functioning immediately afterwards, and with continued stimulation can have a long last effect.7 Pretty cool, huh?

So, what does that mean?  It means that motion stimulates creativity, improves student well-being, and fosters academic stamina.  To me, those results sound like the frame work of a good Mission Statement for any up and coming school, no? That’s why I firmly believe that starting every day at FlexSchool with physical activity is important to my students’ health and academic performance. I devote the first period of the day to Wellness, to allow each of my students to “rev up” or “supercharge” their brains for the day.  Whether or not everyone of my students will experience the benefits observed in the “research” is arguable. However, do I care enough about my students to give them every opportunity to thrive? ABSOLUTELY.

Jesse teaches science and physical education for FlexSchool New Haven.

References

  1. Ortega, F., Ruiz, J., Castillo, M., Sjostrom, M., Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence: a powerful marker of health. International Journal of Obesity, 2008; v32: 1–11.
  2. Singh, A., Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J., van Mechelen, W., Chinapaw, M., Physical Activity and Performance at School.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49-55
  3. Castelli, D., Hillman, C., Buck, S., Erwin, H., Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement in Third- and Fifth-Grade Students. JSEP, 2007; V29(2): 239-252.
  4. Hillman, C.,Pontifex, M., Raine,L., Castelli, D., Hall, E.,Kramer, A., The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience, 2009; v159(3),1044-1054.
  5. Donnelly, J., Lambourne, K., Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Prev Med. 2011; v2:S36-S42
  6. Guiney, H., Machado, L., Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations. Psychon Bull Rev, 2013; v20:73-86.
  7. Xiang, Q., Yih Xian Ho, C., Wuen Chan, H., Zheng Jie Yong, B.,Wee-Song, W. Managing childhood and adolescent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with exercise: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine,2017; v20:123-128.

Terrific Teacher Tuesday at FlexSchool

Today we meet Margaret Sport, an adventurer, a learner, as well as a teacher of Bioethics, Chemistry, Algebra, Geometry, Anatomy & Physiology, and Earth Science. Margaret blazed her own trail in while studying at Colorado College and designed her major in Bioethics with a minor in music. Did you know she began playing piano at Wharton School of Music, the same music school our Berkeley Heights campus housed with while our new school was completed? Sometimes takes you full circle.

What is your favorite part of teaching at FlexSchool?
My favorite part about teaching at FlexSchool is definitely the people. I am surrounded by amazing individuals each and every day. The staff and faculty have taught me so much in the months I have been working here. The kids make me laugh and smile till my cheeks hurt. It has been a joy to see them grow and to see myself grow with them.

What are you reading and/or learning right now?
I just finished reading both The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller. My favorite class in college was a five-week course abroad in Greece entitled The World of Odysseus: History and Myth. We sailed the Greek islands, retracing Odysseus’s path home from the Trojan War. At the time, I couldn’t believe it was a real class, but I learned so much! Miller’s books tell the story of the Iliad and Odyssey from the perspectives of minor characters, Patroclus and Circe respectively. It was so fun to revisit the characters and myths from a new angle and learn more information about them. Circe, for example, was not only involved in the Odyssey but also experienced the tales of Jason and the Argonauts, King Minos and the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus. I would recommend them to anyone. The depth of research and rich storytelling combine to pull you in page after page, whether you’ve read the Homeric epics or not.

I love hiking, biking, skiing, surfing, backpacking, or anything to do outside. I just got back from a three-week trip traveling through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. I also play classical piano – I continued my music studies during my undergraduate studies.

Another large part of my life is volunteering. I have been a volunteer EMT on the Mountainside Rescue Squad for six years. I also was a founding member of my college’s student-run Emergency Medical Service. I love being able to give back to my community and am glad to be able to help people in their times of need.

My final passion is travel. I have been very fortunate to study abroad three times – in Greece, Spain, and Thailand. I am trying to keep my country count up to my age, but am currently behind with only 21 countries. I am planning a trip to China, Taiwan, and Vietnam over winter break to see a friend who works for the State Department, so hopefully, I will catch up for my 24th birthday. I truly believe exposure to a variety of peoples, cultures, languages, and beliefs promotes tolerance, understanding, and peace.

 

 

Inaugural William Morse Scholarship Makes Student’s Education Dreams a Reality

Dr. William Morse and Ms. Samantha Berrios celebrate the inaugural William Morse Scholarship award.

Dr. William Morse and Ms. Samantha Berrios celebrate the inaugural William Morse Scholarship award.

Samantha Berrios of East Haven, CT has been announced as the inaugural recipient of the William Morse Scholarship. The scholarship will pay for half of Ms. Berrios’ tuition for all of her high school years. This scholarship has made Sammie’s dream of attending FlexSchool come true. FlexSchool New Haven is a private school for gifted and twice-exceptional learners located in the heart of the Yale community.

The William Morse Scholarship is named in honor of Dr. William Morse who has been an advisor, mentor, and inspiration to Jacqui Byrne, Founder of FlexSchool, since he reviewed her application as an admissions officer at Yale in 1980. Dr. Morse is an advocate for small schools and personalized education. He believes FlexSchool will have a “Decisively positive impact on Sammie and the uniquely gifted students around her.” Jacqui Byrne said,”Dr. Bill Morse embodies the love of lifelong learning that we hope to inspire in all FlexSchool students. Sammie’s curiosity reminded us of Dr. Morse and we look forward to welcoming her into our community of gifted and twice-exceptional students. She is terrific and we are thrilled she will join us.”

Dr. William Morse, Ms. Samantha Berrios, Samantha's parents, and Heidi Molbak

Dr. William Morse, Ms. Samantha Berrios, Samantha’s parents, and Heidi Molbak

Sammie impressed the scholarship selection panel with her natural leadership ability, her infectious zest for life, her demonstrated passion for science and her desire to attend a school where she can take deep academic dives into her areas of interest. Sammie has always loved school and she has been active in both academic and extracurricular activities, including band and even founding a Glee Club in her school. Sammie stated,”I’ve always wanted to learn more exciting material, such as engineering, chemistry, and humanities. I am honestly beside myself, knowing that I received a scholarship to FlexSchool.” Heidi Molbak, Co-Founder of FlexSchool and Head of School for FlexSchool New Haven, believes Sammie will be a fantastic fit for FlexSchool. Heidi stated,”Sammie goes after what she wants with a big heart and a lot of energy. I can’t wait to connect Sammie to women in STEM programs and help support her drive to make her dreams come true.”

Dr. Morse says he feels honored that Sammie Berrios has been the inaugural recipient as he believes she is a natural leader, passionate, creative and gifted. His advice to Berrios is,”Sammie, I want you to take inspiration from women, particularly women in science. Look around. Find your own role models; see what other women have done or are doing. You have the potential, the gifts, strength and the courage to be anything you choose to be. We don’t know exactly what, when or how, but it all begins with your own dreams. In time, given your passion and determination, they will come true.”

FlexSchool New Haven Visits The Studio at Firehouse 12

Our New Haven students recently toured The Studio at Firehouse 12. They learned about all of the equipment, physics, and engineering of recording music and they had the opportunity to watch a sound engineer mix music!

Firehouse 12 is one of Connecticut’s premiere high-fidelity recording studios. Their annual Fall Jazz Series is a 13-week program of performances by some of the most active, innovative and respected musicians in creative improvised music will run from September 14th through December 14th.

We appreciate Firehouse 12 for the tour and a special “Thank you!” to our tour guide, Greg Dicrosta for an interesting and informative tour.

 

 

FlexFridays – Learning Commodity Trading and Building Ukuleles

Wall Street, Wits & Wagers – Commodity Trading for the Thinking Crowd wits-wagers-1wits-wagers-2

This week our students had the pleasure of learning and participating in the game, Wits and Wagers.

Our instructor and new Science teacher, Michael Steiner (former Wall Street Trader), led the student through Session 1, fundamentals of trading.

The game is available through Board Game Geek. Wits & Wagers is a trivia game that lets you bet on anyone’s answer. So you can win by making educated guesses, by playing the odds, or by knowing the interests of your friends. It can be taught in 2 minutes, played in 25 minutes, and accommodates up to 20 people in teams.

 

ukulele-building-1Building Our Own Ukuleles

Last Friday the students began to build their own Ukuleles with our Music Teacher, Dr. Karen Pinoci. The students enjoy working with their hands and creating something of their own!

Dr. Karen Pinoci is the Music Director and Conductor for the New Sussex Symphony, the Essex County Summer Players Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of New Jersey, and the NJIT String Ensemble.

 

 

FlexFriday trip to the Lower East Side Tenements

Our FlexSchoolers recently took a food tour of the Lower East Side tenements offered by the Tenement Museum.

What is a tenement? noun Also called tenement house. a run-down and often overcrowded apartment house, especially in a poor section of a large city.

In the 19th century, as more people began moving to America’s cities, buildings that had been single-family dwellings began to be divided into multi-family housing to accommodate the burgeoning population of New York City. The Lower East Side tenements were largely populated by immigrant families fleeing countries such as Ireland and Germany in the early 1900s. Conditions of the tenements were dire and a cholera outbreak occurred in 1849, taking over 5,000 lives.

For more information on tours, please visit the Tenement Museum and for more information on the history of the Lower East Side, History.com offers videos and lessons.

FlexSchool would like to thank our guide, Elena, for an informative tour of the Lower East Side.

Tasting a variety of foods from the Lower East SideElena shows our FlexSchoolers how the building originally looked.20170217_121445