The following is from the Somers School District:

Savannah Baloy is reading aloud from a slip of white paper, stumbling over the quirky grammar: “I like to watch comedy show and sports TV. I am very happy to know about you. I want to you to come to my country in Tkibuli.” 

Baloy and her fellow grade nine Humanities classmates have just received their second letters from pen pals in Georgia, a country at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. English teacher Katherine DeLandri organized the exchange with fellow Somers High School graduate Kendra Burpee, who is in the Peace Corps teaching English in the small town of Tkibuli. 

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“So far I’ve learned they have similar interests as me, even though they are far away,” said Robbie Conti. “My pen pal, Dato, and I have the same favorite actor–Adam Sandler.” 

Humanities 9 is a hybrid English and Social Studies course in its inaugural year at the high school, co-taught by DeLandri and history teacher Tara Kearns. Students spend a double period every day in the class and will continue the course with the same teachers in grade 10. In addition to satisfying the state English and Social Studies requirements, this course is piloting an embedded honors program. 

Embedded honors is a format that allows students to choose Regents-level assessments or honors-level assessments at the end of each unit of study. In this class, all final unit assessments are in the form of tiered projects. In order to achieve an honors distinction at the end of the year, the student must have taken at least five of the seven unit assessments at the honors level, and both the English and history finals at the honors level. So far, almost every one of the 35 students in the class has taken at least one assessment at the honors level. 

“The diverse group of learners created by the embedded honors model fosters a growth mindset,” said Kearns. “Kids are being challenged and pushed by the other students around them and they’re succeeding at a higher level of thinking and learning.” 

The recent graphic novel project is a good example of the combined English/history course work. It also illustrates the difference between Regents-level and honors-level work.

In writing their graphic novels, students had two options. If they chose Regents-level work, their novel needed to show symbols for one belief system, evidence of information, and two graphic novel techniques. If the students chose honors-level work, their novel needed to compare and contrast two belief systems, show multiple stages of the hero’s journey, and exhibit four graphic novel techniques. 

Feedback from the students on the embedded honors format has been overwhelmingly positive. They say they enjoy the challenge, but feel less stressed because they can choose when and how to challenge themselves. 

“I evaluate criteria more and I have to understand the option to decide if I can do well with it,” said one student. 

“This format gives us time to process what we’re learning,” said another student. “Teachers have to hear our voices to know what we’re thinking.” 

Given the success of the Humanities 9 embedded honors, the district is looking into expanding the pilot program.