MAHOPAC, N.Y. - When Mahopac students return to school next Wednesday, Sept. 4, there will be a host of changes ready to greet them, from the classroom to the athletic field and, in some cases, inside the buildings themselves.
Mahopac News sat down with Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo and high school principal Dr. Matthew Lawrence to discuss what the students will discover when they return this fall for the 2019-20 school year.
“One of the big things happening this year is we are starting our Readers Workshop for grades K and 1,” DiCarlo said. “Our goal is to have a uniform curriculum. This is the first year of the rollout and we will introduce the workshop model in grades K and 1. The following year will be grades 2 and 3, and then grades 4 and 5. Over the next three years, we will have a complete Readers Workshop model for all our elementary schools.
“What is really important is that we are really establishing a solid framework in our elementary schools because all the research shows you is if you can get students to be on grade level for reading by the end of the third grade they will be successful in middle school and high school. There is continuity of instruction, which is very important.
DiCarlo said the district is also continuing to do a lot with its math programs at the elementary level.
“We dedicate an hour of math time each day—congruency and benchmarks,” he said.
The middle school is finally establishing a full foreign language program for seventh and eighth graders in which students can take classes in German, Italian and Spanish.
“We have been really behind the eight ball on that,” DiCarlo said. “We are probably the last middle school to do that, so we are really excited about it. We did a pilot, but now it’s full-time.
The high school might be the place where some of the most significant changes have taken place, both physically and academically.
The most obvious change will greet students when they first roll up in front of the building. A giant sign sporting the blue and gold Mahopac Indians logo now adorns the front façade of the building. But inside, more changes await.
Room 111 has been retrofitted to make way for Project Lead the Way, which focuses on engineering, math and technology and prepares students for the challenges of a global community.
“Project Lead the Way is a brand. It’s the premier engineering program in the nation,” Lawrence said. “When you enter into a partnership with them, the teachers go through a certification program for two weeks up at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). It’s a really rigorous program for the teachers.”
Lawrence said the course will be entry-level—intro to engineering design with no prerequisite. Upon completion, students could have the opportunity to earn three college credits from RIT.
“This is typically for freshmen, but I opened it up to everyone, giving freshmen priority,” Lawrence said. “We rolled it out at freshman orientation and then met with every grade level and had 75 registering for it last spring. It was very well received.”
Lawrence gestured around the new space.
“This room will be the birthplace for it,” he said. “Engineering design calls for an open and flexible learning environment so the kids can work with production teams. It also requires a high level of technology integration. Our tech department has been very busy. They installed four monitors that are wireless for teaching stations so that teachers will be able to work with kids in certain groups and wirelessly demo things to them, which is really cool.”
Lawrence noted that all the desks and chairs are on casters.
“Everything is movable,” he said.
A small side room next to Room 111 was gutted and revamped for the engineering class. It will be used to store some of the new equipment the students will use.
“We purchased a state-of-the-art laser cutter,” Lawrence said. “And we have a 3-D printer and table saws and a bandsaw with the idea that the teachers will instruct the kids through the design process and eventually get to the production phase where they will use engineering programming to design things and actually produce things on the laser cutters or the 3-D printer. It’s very cool. I’m very excited about it.”
The principal also noted the school now has 25 high-powered laptops specifically built with the programs to support the engineering class.
“Our teachers are really excited about this and to roll it out,” Lawrence added. “The idea is to grow it from here. Other courses they will integrate down the road: computer programming, biochemical engineering courses.”
Lawrence said the engineering program helps assimilate other subject matter such as math, English and art.
“It gets the kids excited because now they see the importance of science and math, which were standalone classes,” he explained. “It brings context to your learning—‘Oh, now I know why I am doing this.’”
Also new for this school year at both the high school and middle school will be classes called MMS Success (for sixth graders) and MHS Life (for ninth graders).
“Both classes focus on getting ready for the challenge of middle school and for high school,” DiCarlo said. “It’s about how to academically prepare yourself from a studies-skill point of view, social and emotional, digital citizenship, and social media. It allows us to get kids when they first come into that experience in middle and high school to understand what it’s going to take to be successful and give them the skills and strategies to do it. It allows us to have outside agencies come in and go into the classroom instead of taking kids out of class and having assembly programs. We are very excited about it. It is our first year and our goal is to have this as a yearly course as the kids come into the middle and high school.”
Students in the high school will also find some major changes in the nurse’s suite. It’s received a complete makeover.
“It was all redone; all new air conditioning and it’s airier, brighter, and has new flooring,” he said. “It was all done by our own carpenters, plumbers, HVAC people. The space that was here before was old and archaic.
The district has hired a new director of buildings and grounds, Michael Shore, who will begin work this week. It is also in the middle of a search for a new assistant superintendent of business to take the place of Harvey Sotland, who left to return to his home school district in Cortlandt.
Frank Miele has been brought back to serve as the athletic director.
“I think it is going to be a great sports school year,” DiCarlo said. “We are excited; the kids are excited.”
Prompting some of that excitement is the fact that the district has brought back an array of modified sports, something that was cut from the budget several years ago when the country was in the recession.
“We have modified sports back in, giving kids more opportunity to play,” DiCarlo said. “In the fall, we added boys soccer; in the winter, boys and girls basketball; in the spring, girls softball and boys baseball. We have added back a number of sports that were taken away when the economy was bad, and we had to cut money. We are trying to put them back in and get even more kids involved in our sports programs.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY
DiCarlo said that the district will have a zero-tolerance this year when it comes to vaping—an epidemic with dire health consequences that have impacted teenagers.
“This district has addressed vaping and I’m proud of the work we’ve done here,” DiCarlo said. “We talk about the health consequences. There was a protest in the city outside one of these [vape] shops because people are realizing how companies are marketing like the cigarette companies used to years ago (targeting teens).
“I can’t stress enough that kids are coming to school to get the best quality education in a smoke- and drug-free environment. In Mahopac schools, it’s not going to be tolerated. If you come in and are caught vaping or using any type of drugs within that vaping process, it’s taken seriously and there are serious consequences.”
DiCarlo also noted that the district—and law enforcement—will monitor social media closely and any threats made via those platforms will be taken seriously.
“You have heard about red flag laws (a gun control law that permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger). Well, we have it. It’s important for parents to understand that if their son or daughter posts a threat to somebody or the school, we will be going to the police and the police will be coming to your home. We don’t fool around with stuff like this. Parents will say, ‘My son or daughter was kidding.’ But those days are gone. You can’t do it. We have a code of conduct and you need to follow it. This is the playing field and you need to know what the expectations are.”
Last year, the school district took on a new bus schedule in the wake of an expanded school day at the high school. The first few weeks were fraught with glitches. DiCarlo said there shouldn’t be a repeat.
“We had a rough start, but right after that we stabilized it and had a great school year,” he said.
To avoid any potential bullying, DiCarlo said, they changed the times for the high school and middle school so sixth graders and 12th graders wouldn’t be on the same buses together.
“All of last year, there was not one email or phone call about issues between high schoolers and middle schoolers on the bus,” he said. “For many years we had issues. We had 18-year-olds on the bus with 12-year-olds and that was a potential bully problem. Last year, we didn’t have one issue. The majority of the parents, staff, and kids themselves loved it. They were with their peers. It worked out very well.”
This year, DiCarlo said, bus drivers are performing dry runs of the routes to make sure they’re feasible.”
“There were some unrealistic time schedules to begin with for many years,” he said. “Fulmar Road and Austin Road get out at 3:25 p.m. We had routes that said you were getting home at 3:30. Elementary school students take at least 15 minutes to load the buses. So, for Austin and Fulmar, no drop-off should be before 3:45.”
This year, the district will have a system in place in case something happens that means the kids will be getting home late.
“In place for this year is something we developed called the school bus messenger,” DiCarlo said. “We have all the names of the students on the buses, and if something happens, like there is a tree down or a road closure and we are not going to be in that five-minute window, we will call up and say we had to reroute the bus, your son or daughter may be home 10 or 20 minutes late today. We found out that as long as parents are notified, it takes the anxiety away.”
Also, the transportation department will make sure there is someone on hand to take calls should parents have questions—something that was an issue last year.
“We are also going to make sure that in the morning and in the afternoon, when buses are picking up and dropping off, that we have a number of people down at [the transportation department] so if there is an issue someone will be there to answer the phone,” the superintendent said. “We know that was problematic last year, so we are trying every which way to make it as smooth as possible. We are optimistic we are going to have a good run.”