PTA General Meeting Minutes 9-30-2015

PTA General Meeting Minutes 9-30-2015
By Kathy Sandler, secretary@hunterpta.org

Highlights from the Sept. 30th PTA meeting, including presentations by Hunter department chairs and remarks from Principal Dr. Tony Fisher. Click here to read Dr. Fisher's remarks.

Curious about curriculum? You’ve come to the right place! Dr. Fisher and the department chairs answered all our questions about what our children are learning in school.

First, Michele Weisman, PTA Co-President, welcomed the crowd to the first PTA meeting of the school year. And introduced the panel, moderated by PTA Co-President Paul Radvany.

When will the courtyard renovation be done? Dr. Fisher said it would be done “soon,” and then followed with — “no, really!” He said they are almost done — the work is in the last stage. But there is not a date for completion yet.

How Does Hunter Help Students Grow? 
•    Dr. Philip Jeffery, Science: “We hope students realize that they have more questions than answers at the end of their high school experience.” 
•    Claire Mazzola, Foreign Languages: Students have an in-depth study of one language, with a 4-year language requirement at Hunter. “But we want students to continue in AP classes,” she enthused, “because that’s where language study gets truly interesting.” 
•    Julie Reifer, Art and Music: “Our goal is for students to develop skills and technique, the ability to interpret, question and analyze, as well as to create with confidence. Our hope is that they can use these tools to explore an idea, express an emotion or follow a passion. And last, we aim to create a safe environment where they can be brave and take chances.”
•    Lyubomir Detchkov, Mathmatics: “We want students to start loving math. They should be thinking and be curious — we don’t teach them to just memorize formulas.”
•    Irving Kagan, Social Studies: “We teach students about the history, politics, and philosophical and religious traditions of different parts of the world. We teach them about American history and politics, preparing them for civic participation. They learn to read documents very carefully for language. They also learn how read to between the lines. Students learn to debate and discuss important ideas. We have a strong research and writing program.” 
•    Lois Refkin, English/Communication & Theater: “We focus on reading and writing analytically and creatively, and developing skills in public speaking.”
•    Robert Gaudenzi, Health/Physical Education: ‘We teach students how to be healthy and be active for a lifetime,’ he said. In Health class, ‘we create a sensitive and safe environment.’ 

What new or exciting programs are you offering?
•    English/Communication & Theater: The Writing Center is open, Ms. Refkin announced, where a student can work with a student mentor or teacher during Activities and lunch periods most days, as well as one day during 9th period. Our Shakespeare play this November is “Much Ado About Nothing.” Our musical in February will be “Kiss me Kate” — auditions will be in mid-October. Students can sign up to write articles for “What’s What” or “The Observer” — please encourage your kids to sign up and try it. They can also write for the humor magazine, “Chapter 11,” as well as many other publications. Information about when to audition for shows and sign up for publications is posted on the website. 
•    Math: There are math teams in every grade, said Mr. Detchkov, the coaches teach problem solving and the students win competitions. The math journal helps them write. There are extracurricular computer classes to help get them ready for AP Computer Science. 
•    Health/Physical Education: There is a lot of stress on our students, per Mr. Gaudenzi. ‘We’ve done workshops and professional development on meditation to learn de-stressing techniques.’ 
•    Julie Reifer, Art and Music: Ms. Reifer said ‘our elective offerings have been in transition over the past 2 years. We have been challenged to re-imagine our program with the loss of darkroom photography. The long anticipated renovation of this room is finally becoming a reality, allowing greater flexibility in the scheduling core art courses as well as a true home for printmaking. Adjoining the Mac lab will be an area dedicated to all types of animation. 
We were able to purchase a grand piano thanks to the generosity of the parents at the auction paddle raise.’ The school also got a grant from the alumnae/I association for a visiting artist series in music, for example a choral festival with a visiting clinician working with all singers grades 7-12 and we hope to also host an instrumental artist or group to perform and give a master class.

How are you integrating this year’s theme of curiosity in the curriculum?
•    Science: Dr. Jeffery thanked the parents for the “opportunity to teach your kids.” He said, “We don't tell them what to think — they should tell us what they think. We teach them to look for evidence behind claims. Students can read a book about the moon, but they should go out and look at the moon and ask themselves, how did it change, how will it change tomorrow?”
•    English/Communication & Theater: Ms. Refkin said, “curious is what we do at this school — it infuses what happens everyday throughout the school.”
•    Art and Music: Ms. Reifer there is a senior elective called 3D problem solving (beyond sculpture), where the seniors are partnering w 5th graders and students are learning how to make connections with each other. 
•    Math: Recently we looked at the geometry of the eclipse, said Mr. Detchkov, and compared the way it looked in New York vs. the way it looked in Bulgaria seven hours before. We noticed that the lunar eclipse happens at same time, but the solar does not, and we asked “why not?”
•    Social Studies: Mr. Kagan said their classes often begin with a puzzle – students take a story or photograph, and then learn by trying to figure it out. 

What is your philosophy for cross-department curriculum?
•    Art and Music: Ms Reifer said, “Our entire curriculum integrates the practical – making art, making music – with the theoretical — investigating historical periods and analyzing the style.  We sometimes overlap with other departments depending upon semester and ability to coordinate.”
•    Social Studies: Mr. Kagan said, “We always try.” The English and Social Studies department have a co-taught elective in African American Studies. English and Social Studies have also worked on coordinating writing instruction together. 
•    Science: Dr. Jeffery asked, “Why wouldn't we want to get these smart, curious students involved in all areas?” 

What kind of involvement and support should parents should give students?
•    Science: “Please ask your kids about science in the grocery store, drug store,” implored Dr. Jeffery. “Ask them, ‘How did your understanding change from last year?’ Read for enjoyment and talk about it with them,”
•    Foreign Languages: Ms. Mazzola suggested that we let our kids teach us about the language, because they learn best by teaching. (However, if you know the language, don't give them the answer! They need to learn themselves.) 
•    Art and Music: “Let them guide you around a museum or concert,” was Ms. Reifer’s advice.
•    Math: Mr. Detchkov urged, “Don't ever tell the kid you were not good in math, or any subject, because then they won't try.”
•    Social Studies: Mr. Kagan’s advice: “Encourage kids to read the newspaper. They need to be put next to things they are not familiar with. Encourage your kids to ask the teacher if any questions — they will give them the help that they need.”
•    English/Communication & Theater: “Read the books they're reading and discuss them with them,” said Ms. Refkin. “Do not edit their papers — they need to learn how to do it.” Encourage them to speak with their teacher or go to the Writing Center for editing advice.
•    Health/Physical Education: Mr. Gaudenzi said to appeal to your children to stay active — it will help their cognition, social wellbeing, and overall health. Hunter has over 50 teams, but they only have PE once a week.

Can the Internet compliment the student’s work or do you have words of caution about Internet use? 
•    Foreign Languages: There are great resources on the web, such as foreign radio stations, per Ms. Mazzola. But do not let your child use Google Translate — that’s why teachers need them to write in-class essays to demonstrate their understanding of the material. 
•    Art and Music: Ms. Reifer agreed. She said that there are positives to the web: Students can see images from art, hear clips from music, and teachers can post every document from class. But there are also negatives: We are working hard to help our students understand the difference between reference materials or skill practice and the appropriation of images or music of another. Students have to learn that they can’t copy images or riff from music. 
•    Math: The Internet is a great resource for research, said Mr. Detchkov. But a student can find an answer for any question. In order to understand math, a student must work through the problem.
•    Science: Dr. Jeffery pointed out that homework is usually to practice what they did in class, or write their own thoughts. There is no research required for homework. Also, he lamented, “I wish kids would tell us they don't understand — that’s a clue that they should look in their notes, or bring up in class. But few students ever do.”
•    Social Studies: Mr. Kagan pointed out that there is technology that helps teachers and students, and the department is experimenting with it. For example, teachers are using Google Docs to have students work collaboratively and debate online. But he cautioned that students should get off Facebook and sometimes turn off their computer. He recommended that there be an Internet Sabbath, where students can turn off the devices and just use their brains to think, without distraction. 

Paul Radvany thanked the panel and pointed out that the PTA supports all these of programs and more! He asked for your continued support: The annual fund is starting soon, and we want full participation. The suggested amount is $1,400 per child, but please give any amount you can. We also need parent volunteers for the auction, programming, annual fund, and communications. 

Parent and member of the Hunter College Administration, Francesca Bacon, spoke about TEDxHunterCCS, which she has produced since 2011. It will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at Hunter College High School. It’s based on the TED conference. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.) Students, alumni, parents, and faculty will be participating. It celebrates the intellectual capital of the schools. And it will enlighten and entertain you!