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Future looks brighter in high school

The Depew Union Free School District Board of Education on Tuesday got an outline of "Moving Into the Future" from high school Principal Carol Townsend.

In an hourlong Power Point presentation, Townsend and assistant principal Lynn Girdlestone touched on initiatives in improving the school climate for students, participation in community projects and new academic programs and equipment.

Among the latter are three "Smart Boards" acquired this school year. The computerized blackboard with a touchable screen, according to its demonstrators -- freshmen teachers Jennifer Blasczak and Ellen Beltz -- is designed to be more efficient, flexible and entertaining so that students are more motivated and have a heightened interest in learning.

They noted that many textbooks are now interactive so students regularly use the Internet for their studies.

School Board President Susan Wagner later commented, "Technology has come a long way since the last demonstration, which I think was on how calculators worked."

Townsend also noted that because of some new strategies, the high school has seen an increase in the number of students passing Regents exams, from about 55 percent in 2003 to 93 percent in 2006.

One of those new strategies is "brain-based instruction," which has included in-service training for teachers on how parts of the brain respond to stimuli. For example, "The brain likes yellow so we use yellow hi-lighters," she said.

Another new academic initiative is the Freshman Academy, in which teachers of the high school's first-year students have developed some common procedures in all classrooms to ease students' transition from middle to high school.

Nationally, more students fail ninth grade than any other year of high school, so the Freshman Academy particularly has strategies for at-risk students, Girdlestone said. Each freshman classroom now has a homework center where students can find materials necessary to make up work they might have missed.

Special events are also included throughout the school year, like the Greek Fest, held Dec. 22, which included games and special foods and encouraged Freshman Academy students to wear Greek garb for the day along with the teachers.

There's also a program called "Credit Recovery" in which students who did not pass ninth-grade English, for example, can simultaneously get credit for ninth and 10th grade English in the sophomore year.

Townsend said there have been additions to course offerings, including archery, scuba diving and kayaking; anatomy and physiology; and Leadership in Action, which teaches students how to be civic leaders.

Among the community initiatives Townsend mentioned was a partnership with the village in which students helped with cleanup from the Oct. 12-13 snowstorm. "Students cleared some 34 yards," she said. "We got great feedback" from the community, with many people saying "how respectful the kids were."

A Parent-Teacher-Student Organization is also being set up and has 102 paid memberships, Townsend said.

A new program of the Student Senate this year is Winter Wishes, scheduled for February, in which students will pay a nominal fee to submit wishes for things like a car wash or a special lunch. The fees will be donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The Senate will select some of the Winter Wishes to be granted.

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