Student achievement is the crux of all educational programs. At Unity Charter School, the bar for student achievement has been raised each year. As noted on their website, “Unity Charter School exemplifies educational excellence, infusing Education for Sustainability throughout their culture. Student agency drives critical thinking and inspires advocacy through a constructivist learning approach. Unity fosters global understanding and graduates students ready to change the world for the better.”
Teaching students for 21st-century learning requires a blend of experience and best practices. The recent attuning of four staff member’s roles and leadership responsibilities will continue the forward momentum of providing Unity’s students with vigorous and inspiring programming both in synchronous and asynchronous environments.
Unity Charter School recognizes the need for growth and thus created two new positions for the 2020-21 school year. With 10 years of experience at Unity, both as the 1/2 multiage teacher and the K-8 technology teacher. Amy Mercado will be taking on the new role of Technology Integration Specialist. She takes on this new role with a surplus of experience in virtual education. Amy actively works with preservice teachers on the college level on integrating technology into their future classrooms. At the graduate level, she has recently developed a virtual education certification course for current practicing teachers to better understand student engagement in the virtual classroom. Amy also had the opportunity to sit on New Jersey’s committee in exploring the revision of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Technology. As the Democratic Governance Coordinator and an educator with experience in grades K-8, Amy will be focused on working with the commUnity to meaningfully integrate technology into everyday curricula.
Lower School Teacher, Megan Cahill is in her eleventh year of teaching at Unity Charter School. As Lower School team leader, she has worked with and led the K-4 teachers with implementing various best practices and curricula like Orton Gillingham Reading, Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop, and using the workshop model with mathematics. She is skilled at infusing Education for Sustainability Standards and Social Emotional Learning within all subject areas and will prove valuable in helping our teachers to achieve the balance of academic instruction with concepts paramount to a sustainable future. Additionally, Megan has overseen and coordinated schoolwide professional development for Unity’s K-8 teachers. As an original member of the school Instructional Leadership Team, Megan has helped Unity’s instructional evolution and adoption of their mathematics workshop model, Orton Gillingham practice, and her continued excellence in mentoring new staff.
Middle school math teacher, Kristopher Scotto, has been part of the Unity Charter School team for four years. He has created a middle school athletic program where none existed before and taught math in grades 6 through 8. With his new role of Assessment and Evaluations Coach, he will be aggregating student data to help teachers identify trends within the school’s programming and in their own classes.
Scotto states, “This new role of Assessments Coordinator and Mathematics Coach is something I am looking forward to greatly. I have been the state testing coordinator for the past four years at the school as well as leading in-house assessments and assisting teachers with mathematics curriculum, scope and sequence, and teaching strategies. With the COVID-19 outbreak and a dramatic switch to full-time virtual learning, I took it as an excellent learning experience for myself and other teachers, as well as a time to teach our community how to use a multitude of online tools that not only allowed us to assess our students on different platforms but painted a better picture of the whole child than one standardized test would. These different assessments and strategies also taught students how to be adaptable, reflective, knowledgeable about their talents and interests, and technologically well rounded - all skills needed to be a successful 21st Century learner.”
Jennifer Carcich has been part of Unity’s team for the past eight years. She has been following Unity Charter School since its inception. In the late 1990s, as a new teacher and learning about the whole child approach the school was working towards, she knew that it was a place where she wanted to teach. The outdoor learning, constructivist approach, and infusion of the Education for Sustainability standards into every lesson was something she was trying to do within the district she was teaching in. When the time was right, she applied to be a special education teacher at Unity Charter School. After her demonstration lesson, the teachers and administrators said to her, "We want you with as many students as possible," and offered her a job. She became the 2/3 learning group teacher. This role in the school showed her what could be accomplished in a K-8 school when all teachers and students have a voice and work towards the benefit of the school as a whole. Interest groups, recess duties, group physical education, and more allowed her to become well versed in teaching children, not just one subject matter or one grade. She wrote the Science and Social Studies curriculum for grades K-8 and helped weave the 21st Century skills component into all student's personal learning plans.
The Sustainability Coordinator role was created as students and staff populations expanded. This was an additional role Jennifer took on. In this role, she created the Green Team, reworked the entire learning garden, created a bicycle wheel dome classroom, wrote grants and had students participate in numerous contests not only to help them learn but also to aid them in understanding the role of advocacy and agency. In 2015, she was awarded WDHA's "Teachers Who Rock" award for her work in the lower school. As the middle school science teacher she implemented the rigorous, constructivist Next Generation Science Standards in her classes.
During distance learning, Jennifer was able to work with teachers to create programming that allowed all children to continue ascending in their learning. As she took on the new role, Jen said, “I could not have been more proud when I was told that I would become the school's Supervisor of Curriculum. It is within this role that I plan to continue community relationship building, create a curriculum that advances all students' learning, while maintaining a high level of educational experiences in all classes. Education for Sustainability will remain in the forefront of all that we do. The constructivist approach is alive and well, and it was evident during distance learning. In this new role, I plan to help staff identify and utilize new techniques and tools to raise and elevate their instructional practice while creating a practice that is as effective in the traditional classroom as it is in the virtual classroom. I look at this role as a continuation of all the work I have done with Unity while being able to expand upon the reason why I was hired at Unity in the first place, to work with as many students, teachers, staff, and parents, as possible."
With over 30 years of experience at the school, Mercado, Cahill, Scotto, and Carcich have been collaborating and creating researched best practice curricula and activities in real-time during the past school year’s virtual learning. Their new roles will allow them to continue to move Unity students to be more prepared for the 21st-century world. As a team, all four of these educators lived through virtual teaching and their knowledge of these events and content will help Unity shape the curricula for the new school year.