New Writing Program Showcased

Helen Morgan School fourth grade teacher Dave Gorecki tells the Sparta Township Board of Education how enthusiastic his students are about the new "writing buddies" program. Watching are Cheri Shifferman, gifted and talented teacher at the elementary school and Michael Gregory, Helen Morgan principal. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Sparta Township Board of Education President Frank Favichia makes a point at the board meeting. Credits: By Jane Primerano

SPARTA TOWNSHIP, NJ – Using tools youngsters are familiar with is a great way to teach them writing.

This was the philosophy behind a program developed by Helen Morgan School gifted and talented teacher Cheri Shifferman. She developed “writing buddies,” pairing up fourth graders with Centenary College education students.

The pilot program is in Dave Gorecki’s fourth grade. After a class in internet safety, the 24 children paired up with students of Professor Fran Comgdon. The students developed online classes to teach the children creative and subject area writing skills.

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Shifferman said she developed the program to provide the fourth graders with added instruction “in a way that suits their world,” meaning technology.

The college and elementary school students were paired up randomly, although the strongest college students, those who work in Centenary’s peer-tutoring center, were given children who needed some extra help.

Two classes may be involved next year. Shifferman said. Rather than a year-long course, it may be a semester course, to parallel the way the college year is structured. If so, it can actually serve four fourth grades.

Helen Morgan School Principal Michael Gregory said the school may extend the program to fifth grade, “We prefer to get it right in a small group,” he said.

Shifferman received no negative response to the experimental program. Gorecki said even students who didn’t look forward to a writing program were happy with it in the end.

After the program’s presentation to the township board of education, the board discussed routine business.

Budget items were a concern of members of the audience.

Leonor DiStefano asked if an awning or other roof over the walkway to modular classrooms at Alpine School was a priority.  “I know you can’t fix everything,” she told the board.

Superintendent Dennis Tobin said “I can say an Alpine walkway overhand is a priority.”

Board President Frank Favichia said the board has looked at different configurations for covering the walkway. “Just an awning is fine except for during driving rains or high winds.”

Resident Keith Smith urged the board to consider repairing the high school track. Favichia said the board still doesn’t know what the state aid to the district is going to be. He said the board doesn’t have a “plan B” for paying for a new track.

Board secretary Linda Alvarez said she doesn’t anticipate knowing the state aid numbers before the end of February.

The board moved its next workshop session to Thursday, Feb. 14. The regular meeting will be Monday, Feb. 25. Tobin pointed out the deadline for submitting the proposed budget to the county education office is Thursday, March 7, so the board could call a special meeting for Monday, March 4, if necessary.

Residents are also pushing for full-day kindergaren. Favichia said education is the top priority of the board  The board authorized a demographic study of the township which will help in a decision about full-day kindergarten. Tobin said there is enough room at Mohawk Avenue School for the added kindergarten classes.

School security was discussed at a joint meeting with township officials, Favichia said. He said the school and township officials considered reinstating school resource officers.

"We’re looking for grants,” he said. "There is a new federal program for school security.”



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