Mr. Kelly’s Coffee

Earlier in November I hosted an informal coffee for Ben-Hem parents and families. These coffees are planned monthly for the remainder of the school year (You can find our schedule using this link) and are informal get togethers for parents, families and community members. There is no formal agenda as the purpose is to provide opportunities for folks to talk with Mr. Kelly, ask questions, and share concerns.

The first coffee was a great success. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with about ten parents for just over an hour. Through this conversation, class size, budget, long term strategic planning, and a few other issues were discussed. These were great conversations as they allowed me to better understand the perspective of parents and the community on issues impacting the school while providing me with an occasion to dive deeply into the laws, regulations, and contexts that are often the reasons for the issues and concerns raised by the community.

Building this common understanding of ongoing school improvement efforts, the contexts in which they exist, and their perceptions within the community is critically important to our community as Ben-Hem seeks to provide educational opportunities for students that maximize opportunities to learn in a manner that is consistent with the values and goals of the parent and family community. I look forward to the remainder of these meetings and hope that you will take the opportunity to join us!

Classroom Appstravaganza #3

This year we are taking time in the Classroom Appstravaganza series to hi-light the applications that your students are accessing during the school day here at Ben-Hem. This week the Appstravaganza is all about Book Creator.

mzl.xrehjemtWhat really stands out about Book Creator is that it represents a fun but productive way to engage kids with technology. In an age where parents struggle to find productive uses of the screen time that their children demand, Book Creator and applications like it are a welcome addition to the mobile device rotation.

Book Creator does not mince words, it does just what its title would lead you to believe. This is an application that allows children to create, publish, and share books with friends and the world if they like. Book creator is robust enough to allow for multi-media integration yet streamlined and intuitive so that kids can pick up and go with little support from adults.

There are so many ways that this app can be used to engage all children in writing and creative expression. Imaginative stories, writing about their last play date, or documenting their last field trip or vacation are all simple and easy to do. They can publish their tales to the iBooks store for others to read. Knowing that there is an audience who will read their work and listen to their ideas is a powerful motivator for young writers.

Book Creator is available for both Android and iOS devices. There is a free edition that provides all basic functionality and there is a full version that is $4.99 that provides all access to the bells and whistles of Book Creator. The developer’s website has a great blog with all kinds of creative ideas for you and your kids to play with at home.

Overview and Tutorial Video

Parent-Teacher Conferences


This is a post that I wrote last year focusing on parent-teacher conferences. Please take a look and gear up to get the most out of your upcoming conference.

Strong communication between home and school is critical to the success of our students and children. Parent-teacher conferences are one formal mechanism we use to support and enhance the home-school connection. Parent-teacher conferences take place formally twice per year; in November and April. This year’s dates are November 7th and 13th and April 8th and 16th. These are important times for teachers and families to review progress, address concerns, and plan strategically for the coming months. It goes without saying that these conferences are very important to the education of our students. Teachers spend many hours preparing for conferences and there are many things parents can do to ensure efficient and effective conferences.

  1. Come Prepared
    • Take time in the days preceeding the conference to gather your thoughts. What questions do you have for the teacher? What concerns do you have? What is it you would like your child to focus on in the coming weeks and months?
  2. Stay Positive and Focused
    • Productive, goal oriented conversations are critical. Discussions about our children aren’t always easy. We have all kinds of hopes, dreams, expectations, and feelings for and about our children. Both you and your child’s teacher are there to discuss and carry out actions that are in the best interests of your child. Keeping this fact in mind will help maintain focus on what’s most important.
  3. Talk to Your Child Before and After the Conference
    • We often overlook the fact that children are very important members of our team. Involving students in the decisions that impact their lives is critical for two primary reasons. First it provides a sense of agency. Children need to understand that they play a key role in determining the course and outcome of their lives. Second, it builds ownership and accountability. When children are involved in the processes and decisions that impact their lives, they are more likely to engage in the plans and hold themselves accountable to goals and outcomes.
    • Talk to your children before the conference. Ask them questions. What do they think they need to work on? What are their strengths? What questions do they have?
    • After the conference, let your children know what you discussed during the conference. Answer the questions they posed and clearly lay out goals and expectations for the coming weeks and months.

If you would like other tips and more reading on Parent-Teacher conferences, check out the following links:

Family Education


National Education Association



We want to hear from you!

BenHemLogoStrong family and community engagement is an essential element of any high performing school. Ben-Hem is fortunate to serve a community that is dedicated to the education of its young people. Year after year Ben-Hem families invest the time and energy it takes to support their children and the community at large. The Ben-Hem PTO is a driving force in focusing the efforts of parents by providing meaningful opportunities for parents to engage in and support the work of the school. Through fundraising, volunteer opportunities, enrichment programming, and community building events the PTO works tirelessly to enhance learning and opportunities for our children.

The amazing work of the PTO is one piece of the family and community engagement puzzle. Parent and community feedback is another. Ben-Hem has always valued the input of parents as we have worked to improve overall school function. Through informal interactions, meetings with parents, parent-teacher conferences and many other avenues, we gain a great deal of information as to the perceived function and quality of our programs and practices. While these sources of data are very helpful, we want to expand opportunities for families to provide us with feedback.

This year Mr. Kelly will host monthly parent coffees to provide parents and family members with an opportunity to come in to school and discuss how things are going, share ideas, and ask questions. The schedule for “Mr. Kelly’s Coffee” follows:

  • November 12th at 8:30 a.m.
  • December 11th at 4:00 p.m.
  • January 13th at 7:00 p.m.
  • February 10th at 8:30 a.m.
  • March 12th at 7:00 p.m.
  • April 14th at 4:30 p.m.
  • May 19th at 8:30 a.m.

In addition to these listening opportunities, Mr. Kelly has also posted a quick feedback form on Ben-Hem’s web-site. This form is intended to provide parents and community members with a quick and easy opportunity to provide the school with thoughts, comments, or questions. Please take time periodically to let us know how we are doing and what we can do to improve our service to this community.

School Improvement Planning at Ben-Hem

full_redhawksIn our last post we discussed the legislative origins and function of school councils. One of the primary responsibilities of the school council is to support the principal in developing an annual School Improvement Plan (SIP). The 2014 – 2015 SIP is a document that captures the current performance of the school, identifies the needs of the school, and sets goals to address those needs.

In Natick, principals work as a team to develop goals and programming that provide Natick students with equitable access to learning opportunities.  In coordinating these efforts, elementary principals develop an annual school improvement plan that takes into account district needs as well as needs at the building level.  As such,

What We’re Working on This Year

The Elementary School Improvement Plan reflects our efforts towards educating the “whole” child.  We recognize that developing social, emotional, and behavioral competency is equally as important as developing academic skills.  Students who attend schools that support universal instruction in these areas experience higher achievement.

District Goal: Student Growth

This year will mark the first time that all of the Natick Elementary Schools will take the PARCC assessment.  The PARCC is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and will measure whether students are on track towards being college and career ready.  The PARCC assessment presents many new challenges in both content and administration. Across the district, our work will focus on ensuring that our curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices are aligned to these new assessments and support student growth and success.

District Goal: Technology Implementation

Over the past few years, Natick elementary schools have piloted mobile technologies to assess and understand their place in the elementary learning environment. These pilots have demonstrated great success and we are prepared to build on these successes during the 2014-2015 school year.  Each elementary classroom (K-4) has been equipped with 5 mobile devices to support student engagement and learning.  Through the pilot programs, Natick has developed teacher leaders who are prepared to lead and support their colleagues in bringing these technologies into their practice.

District Goal: Wellness

Academics is only one part of a child’s education. It is important that out teachers focus on social, physical, and emotional development as well. This is sometimes referred to as educating the “whole child.” This year elementary faculty and staff will research mindfulness awareness practices (or MAPs) in classrooms. The goal of this research is to better understand how we can support the intrapersonal skill development that supports effective learning and development.  MAPs have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression as well as help children develop critical executive functioning skills such as emotional regulation, behavioral regulation, attentional control and mental flexibility.

Ben-Hem Goal: Professional Capital

The Ben-Hem faculty and staff are dedicated and incredibly skilled professionals. Within these individuals Natick holds a tremendous accumulation of human capital. These individuals are eager to engage in lifelong growth and to support one another in that cycle of continuous improvement. Unfortunately, the rapid increase of state/federal mandates and test driven accountability mechanisms creates a situation in which these individuals work and learn under greater stress and isolation. As such, there is little opportunity to grow the teamwork and collaborative decision making that supports the continued enhancement of Natick’s human capital investment. This year Ben-Hem will focus on enhancing the overall efficacy of the school by leveraging the skills, interests, and needs of staff to foster professional learning, growth, and team work.

Ben-Hem Goal: Data Teams

Ben-Hem is now in its fifth year of implementing Data Teams. Data teams are one of the foundational elements of successful educational programming. Over the years, universal screening, data team, and intervention programming systems and structures have grown and evolved. These structures have been successful, however, Ben-Hem can do better in supporting faculty to make informed diagnostic and instructional decisions for students. To that end, the Ben-Hem team will continue to refine data team systems and structures to enhance learning opportunities for our students.

 Elementary Presentation to the School Committee on October 6th, 2014.

Ben-Hem’s School Council

Public schools are complex organizations focused on ensuring equal access and opportunity to learn for all students. Our public school systems are governed by a complicated web of federal law, state law, and local school committee policies and procedures. The day to day operation of schools can seem overwhelming and confusing if you don’t know the ins and outs of how schools work. This piece is the first in an ongoing series that will provide parents and families with more information about how Ben-Hem (and public schools in general) function.

In 1993 the Massachusetts legislature passed the Education Reform Act. This piece of legislation represented a monumental shift in structure and practice for public schools across the Commonwelath. Amongst other changes, the Ed Reform Act of 1993 established the requirements for statewide learning standards, a comprehensive standardized testing system and the establishment of school councils at every public school.

The legislative intent behind the school council provisions was to provide school principals with support in running and managing schools as the state was providing greater decision making authority to building level administrators. The school council is a elected group of parent and faculty representatives who advise the principal on the needs of the school, school improvement planning, and school budget.

Ben-Hem’s school council meets once per month between September and May. The meetings are an hour long and focus on current issues as they relate to Ben-Hem. While you have to be elected to be a participating member of the school council, all are welcome to attend and hear more about the bigger picture issues that drive our continued efforts. You can find the council’s meeting schedule, agendas, and meeting minutes on our website.

School Council Members:

Ian P. Kelly, Principal

Mary Gavin, Special Education Teacher

Kim Marzullo, Grade 1 Teacher

Caroline Kruszewska, Kindergarten Teacher

Kate Wraight, Grade 2 Teacher

Hayley Sonnenborn, Parent

Florina Uyar, Parent

Susan Harvey, Parent

Amanda Wasecki-Wislocki, Parent

Ben Gatto, Vice Principal (Member Ex-Officio)


Cold and Flu Season is Coming…. Never Fear Ben-Hem’s Nurses are Here!

Post by Barbara Singer and Denise Twiss, Ben-Hem School Nurses

Happy fall!  As you know, Enterovirus has been in the news recently.  There have been no confirmed cases in the area, but we are seeing students who have respiratory viruses, GI viruses, and a few cases of Strep Throat in the health clinic.   The best prevention for all of these illnesses is HAND WASHING.   In addition, please remind your children to cover their mouths/noses with their elbows or a tissue when they have to cough and/or sneeze, and please send your children into school each day with their own individual water bottle.  If your child is coughing and/or sneezing due to seasonal allergies, check with his/her health care provider to see if allergy medication may help, and remind your child to wash his/her hands and face after coming in from playing outside.

Please review the NPS Absence Policy below and keep your child home if he/she has:

  • Temperature over 99.6 degrees, without the use of fever reducing medications

  • Colds, coughs and runny nose

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

  • Undiagnosed rashes

  • Impetigo

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

  • Untreated Pediculosis (head lice)

  • Scabies

  • Ringworm

Please remember to call the absence line by 8:30 am EACH DAY that your child will be absent or tardy.  The number is:  (508)647-6581 and it is a recorded line so you can leave a message 24 hours a day.

Pupils returning to school after an absence of more than five (5) days should present evidence for absence (a physician’s note).

Feel free to contact us with any questions and stay well!!

Classroom Appstravaganza #2

Dragon Dictation is a free application that allows students to dictate directly into the iPad.  It turns speech into text allowing users to copy and paste text into just about any document!  Students can use this to dictate their writing, experiment with syntax, and build oral fluency.  Parents also might be interested Dragon’s text messaging features for smartphones!  This application is free on iTunes and you can learn more about it on Nuance Mobile’s website.


Classroom Appstravaganza!

This year the Natick elementary schools are scaling up the classroom deployment of mobile devices. Over the past five years schools have implemented these devices to explore how they might enhance learning opportunities for students. Through these small scale classroom applications our faculty and staff have learned a great deal about how to successfully use mobile technologies in the classroom. As a results, every classroom will be equipped with five iPads to enhance and supplement the learning environment. Over the summer these iPads were outfitted with a common set of applications that really work for kids. This series of posts will highlight different applications that are in use in Natick classrooms and provide parents with useful information about how they can use these applications at home.

ScreenChompThis week we are going to start with a basic but powerful application called ScreenChomp. ScreenChomp turns the iPad into a tool that students and teachers can use to show what they know and support one another through the learning process. Check out the following videos to get an overview and a how to.



How to

The First Weeks of School

classroom_communitySchool is back in session and all of our students are here and having a great time with their teachers and all of our support staff. Classrooms are getting up and running and this is a subject that parents often ask a lot of questions about. What happens during the first few weeks of school? It would be easy to just say “Magic!” But that is surely an oversimplification of what is an incredibly complex process.

Community Building

 Community building is arguably one of the most critical tasks that teachers undertake during the first six weeks of school. The extent to which students engage in teaching and learning is a function of the healthy learning environment that teachers and students create together in the first few days and weeks of the school year.

Effective learning communities are founded on a few basic principles. These include:

  1. Shared Vision: A common and shared vision of why we are here, what we are here to do and how the classroom will operate in order to achieve those ends.

  2. Rules and Routines: A common and shared understanding of the rules and routines that will govern classroom operation. These rules and routines are developed collaboratively. Teachers lead the process and students participate in their development.

  3. Strong Relationships: Teachers and students develop strong individual relationships founded on mutual understanding and respect.

  4. Ownership: In coming to respect the classroom environment and understand the people they share the classroom with, children develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the learning environment.

 It is important for parents and families to understand that this is an incredibly important time of year and the focus is on building a classroom climate that is highly conducive to learning and growth. To do so teachers focus the majority of their time during the first few weeks on community building, routine setting, and expectations. Over time this creates a situation in which teachers spend less and less time on management of the classroom and more and more time on teaching and learning.


Expectations and routines are the tools that teachers use to operationalize the community described above.Behavioral expectations are what we think of as rules. These positive statements govern how we interact with the other members of our classroom and school community.

Behavioral expectations in classrooms are meant to provide students with general operating procedures that give guidance in the many settings and interactions students encounter throughout the day. This is why many classroom behavioral expectations include some formulation of the golden rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” These types of open ended behavioral expectations are most beneficial to children because they require consideration, choice, and reflection on the part of the child.

Consideration, choice, and reflection operate in the cycle of developing and refining human behavior. The open ended behavioral expectations that we described above provide the opportunities that children need to continue the process of internalizing this orientation to their behavior.

 When making choices, the child must consider how they would want to be treated before acting (most of our youngsters are just in the beginning stages of developing this skill). The consideration of self in thinking about others is key to developing empathy and a sense of responsibility. As we have all seen with young children, the ability to control impulses is a skill that takes thousands of hours of practice (and an ocean of parent’s patience) to develop. Consideration is one of the underlying skills that supports the child’s ability to inhibit their impulses and make positive choices.

The notion of choice is key. Children (and adults) make thousands of choices every day and they are responsible for those choices. The concept of choice is often a difficult one for children to begin to grasp early on in their lives. You will often hear pre-school and primary age students say things like, “She made me do it.” Obviously this is not the case and supporting children in developing internal responsibility for the choices they make is an exercise that takes many years. Broad, open ended behavioral expectations provide opportunities for practice and learning.

Reflection is an integral element of the behavioral development and learning process. Helping children to reflect upon and consider the impact rather than the behavior is where the real learning lives. Asking a child to reflect on a poor choice is so important. Instead of demanding that a child share a toy, ask them “How would you feel if ______ chose not to share with you? How do you think you are making ______ feel when you choose not to share with them?”  Few children will intentionally choose to continue a behavior that is hurting another person. Having these discussions on the good side of the behavioral continuum is equally important as this builds confidence and engenders future success. “You chose to share your toy today! How does that make you feel? How do you think ________ feels because you shared?”


Establishing routines takes time, practice, and skill. For children to feel safe and secure, it is important that they experience a certain level of “order” and structure in their routine. It is equally important that these routines are consistent so that children know what to expect.  Many of our children already have some routines established at home; from brushing their teeth before bed or going to sleep at a set time, routines help our children develop important executive functioning skills that foster independence.

Developing independence builds confidence in children, and when children are confident in themselves, they are highly motivated to learn.  Teachers often involve children in the development of these routines and spend a significant portion of the early school days, helping children learn the routines for these reasons.

From learning how to enter school, going from their classroom to Specials, entering the cafeteria, exiting the cafeteria, going out to recess, discovering how to ask for the nurse or the bathroom, to learning silent signals and how to participate in class, or how to exit the building, children have so many routines to learn during the first few weeks of school!  Just think of how difficult it was to adjust to the new morning routine, to waking up early, getting ready and having breakfast.  Now they have more adjustments and more routines to learn!

During these first few weeks of school, these adjustments can be tiring for children.  The good news, however, is that when practiced over time, they benefit our children immensely.