Harford elementary students 'see themselves as writers' with new program, principal says

Harford County Public Schools have implemented a new writing program.
Harford County Public Schools have implemented a new writing program. (The Aegis file)

The Lucy Calkins Units of Study program, used to teach writing to elementary school students, has been a big success in its pilot phase during the past two years, school administrators and faculty reported to the Harford County Board of Education Monday evening.

"Students don't see themselves just as writing, instead they see themselves as writers," Audrey Vohs, principal of Churchville Elementary School, said.


The school system began the pilot phase for the program at nine elementary schools in January 2016, Kristine Scarry, supervisor of English and language arts for HCPS, said. It was approved for district-wide use in early 2017, and it kicked off in April, according to Scarry.

Vohs and Mia Diamond, a kindergarten teacher at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon, represented two of the nine schools selected for pilot programs.


Diamond said her students "believe they are writers and authors who have important stories to share with the world."

The nationwide Calkins program lines up with Maryland's Career and College-Ready Standards, as the school system needed to replace its previous system, adopted in 2007, with a program aligned with state standards, according to Scarry.

She noted that teachers can still use the writing workshop model that HCPS has used for about 20 years when applying the lessons of the Calkins program.

Students are encouraged, through the workshop method, to write based on their own ideas, revise and share their work with classmates, according to Scarry.


"[The] writing workshop is an instructional block of time for students to utilize the writing process," she said.

The program comes with units related to the informative, narrative and opinion styles of writing. Students can, with the teacher's guidance, write their pieces, get feedback from teachers, revise their work, share it with parents, classmates and school staff during celebrations, even get their work published, giving the students the experience of writing for an audience.

"You have a voice and they're trying to express something, and it's not just for a grade on a paper, but your writing is going to go out to the world," Scarry said.

Students can get published in print publications, online, or they can get their work bound up in book format and place it in the media center so other students can check it out, according to Scarry.

"One of the things for our students is, writing is no longer a task," Vohs said. "It's a process that they're doing every single day."

She said students can write about things they care about.

"Every day they're writing about things that really matter to them," Vohs said.

Scarry said, in response to a question from board Vice President Laura Runyeon, that lessons about writing fundamentals such as grammar and punctuation are built into the program.

"The lessons are built in, to cover all that you would need to learn as a writer," she said.

Board President Joseph Voskuhl asked if the program will help students present their work "in a more scholarly manner" as they get older. Scarry said it will.

She used as examples second graders learning how to write science lab reports and fourth graders learning about historical essays.

"In a few years, the high school teachers ought to be very happy," Voskuhl remarked.

Board members expressed excitement over the success of the program.

"Frankly, the ability to communicate is so crucial, and it's such a valuable tool and that sense of empowerment strikes me as a great gift," board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said.

New science standards

Andrew Renzulli, Supervisor of Science, gave an update on the implementation of the state's Next Generation Science Standards.

The standards, which the Maryland State Department of Education adopted in 2013, are designed to give students more rigorous and real-world lessons on science and engineering, according to school system officials.

They will be applied in elementary, middle and high schools.

Harford County fifth and eighth graders took a new standardized test, the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment, or MISA, in the spring of 2017 in a "no-fault field test scenario," according to Renzulli.

Students should expect to receive scores when they take the MISA during the current school year, and those scores should be available next fall, Phillip Snyder, supervisor of accountability, said.

The implementation of the curriculum, along with professional development for teachers, is expected to last through the 2018-2019 school year, according to Renzulli.

The curriculum for first through fifth-graders, as well as sixth through eight-graders, includes courses in life science, physical science and Earth science, according to Renzulli.

He told board members that all high school freshmen are enrolled in biology classes, and they will make a decision this school year about which of two paths they want for their science education through high school.

One path includes biology, chemistry and physics, as well as elective AP courses in those subjects. The second path includes integrated physics and chemistry, followed by Earth and environmental systems, as well as advanced electives, according to Renzulli.

He noted, in response to a questions from Voskhul, that the MISA will not be part of the high school graduation requirement until the year after next, the 2019-20 school year.

"So for the current freshmen, they'll need it to graduate," Voskuhl said.

Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.

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