Hartford Elementary School Bases Curriculum On Character Building
HARTFORD’S NEW SCHOOLS: BREAKTHROUGH II
By JODIE MOZDZER | The Hartford Courant
December 15, 2008
>> This year, several Hartford schools have seen major changes under Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski's district reform plan:
Some underperforming schools were shut down; new schools were created; and other schools have been restructured.
This series looks at schools that have undergone major changes this academic year.
Luis Cruz Jr., a second-grader at Breakthrough II Elementary School, leaned across his classroom table on a recent morning, put his index finger against his mouth and made a long, quiet "shhhhh" sound.
Cruz wasn't shushing another student — rather, he was trying to help the student sound out the word "shiver." Cruz's actions embodied several of the educational methods Breakthrough II uses.
The school, a spinoff of the popular Breakthrough Magnet School on Brookfield Street, bases its curriculum on character building. Students are taught to help each other the way Cruz helped his fellow student, a first-grader. The multigrade classrooms are another trademark of Breakthrough's model.
"Students who are doing well academically thrive, and they are able to support the other children who are struggling," said Principal Tammy Kyparidis, who worked at the Breakthrough Magnet School for eight years before launching the new school this fall.
Cruz's use of his hands in sounding out a word exemplifies another of Breakthrough's teaching methods: a "sound and motion" approach to teaching literacy. As students learn sound groups, they also learn movements that relate to those words. For the "ir" sound in bird, students flap their wings. For the "sh" sound, they press their index fingers to their mouths.
The original Breakthrough Magnet School's curriculum was developed by then-teachers Norma Neumann-Johnson and Lorrie Kellogg as an in-school experiment at McDonough School. It eventually became a separate magnet school, where Neumann-Johnson is now the principal. Breakthrough II opened as a result of the popularity of the original school, for which there were more than 3,000 applicants last year.
Breakthrough II opened on Tower Avenue this year as one of several new schools developed as part of a districtwide reformation plan.
The character-building curriculum includes teaching table manners during lunchtime and guiding students through conflict resolution. If students are sent to the principal's office, Kyparidis said, she works with them to figure out how to solve the problem. The student then writes a "generous apology" to the person who was harmed, Kyparidis said.
Neumann-Johnson said the curriculum attracts parents who think that some schools focus only on cognitive development.
"I think people are looking for high-quality academics. But I think folks today are also very concerned about the fact that training the whole child is not necessarily attended to in most traditional schools," Neumann-Johnson said.
>> The concept: Breakthrough II Elementary School is a spinoff of the Breakthrough Magnet School, which focuses on "character curriculum." Students are taught problem solving, how to make responsible choices and the value of keeping agreements. The school uses the acronym BRICK to teach students five character traits: breakthroughs, responsibility, integrity, contribution and knowledge. Students are taught in multiage classrooms, with two grade levels sharing one space. >> Grades: Pre-kindergarten through second grade this year, growing each year until the school is pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. >> Hours: 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. >> Enrollment: 110 students, with full enrollment at 350 students.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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