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Forget the three Rs – you'll find STEM, ELLs and AI in today's classrooms

Some children have already started school, and by Wednesday, more than 150,000 students in Erie and Niagara counties will be hitting the books, tablets and computers.

Chances are your child's classroom will have a whiteboard instead of a blackboard, and you might find the three Rs have changed as well. Today it's STEM, ESSA and things like mindfulness.

Education buzz words and acronyms can sound familiar and like a foreign language at the same time. It's been a long summer, and sometimes it's parents who need a primer.

Here's a refresher on some words you might hear from your children and their teachers this year:

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, an initiative to ready students for high-tech fields, particularly in light of the global economy. It led to STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, which recognizes the importance of the arts in learning. And then another acronym popped up: STREAM: In Buffalo Catholic Diocese schools, the "R" in STREAM stands for religion: Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math. For others, the "R" stands for reading: Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math, to mark the continued importance of language arts in learning.

ESSA: Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education policy that replaced the old one, No Child Left Behind. Signed into law by President Obama in 2015, it ushered in the controversial Common Core, made schools more accountable for student performance and placed a bigger emphasis on testing.

The new policy still mandates high standards and accountability, but is supposed to give states more flexibility to decide how best to rate schools and fix those struggling the most.

States do not have to stick with Common Core — the set of national standards that establishes what students should learn in each grade — but still must provide assurances they’ve adopted challenging academic standards in math, English language arts (ELA) and science. New York has been working on its draft plan that is expected to be voted upon in September by the state Board of Regents and sent to the U.S. Department of Education for approval.

Children and parents tour Kaegebein Elementary School's library on Grand Island during an orientation for new students on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

ELL: English language learner, or those students who are typically from non-English speaking backgrounds, do not speak English fluently and need specialized instruction at school.

To address the growing number of immigrant and refugee students in districts around New York, the state Education Department in 2014 made a number of changes to help these students succeed.

ENL: English as a New Language. While the students themselves are referred to as English language learners or ELLs, for short, the actual programming or instruction that serves them is called English as a New Language, or ENL. It was previously known as ESL, English as a second language. There's also MLL: Multilingual learner, and LEP: Limited English proficient.

AI and AIS: Academic intervention and academic intervention services, which are extra instruction and support services mandated by federal and state law to help struggling students.

RTI: Response to intervention: A system devised to determine if students are progressing as expected, and if not, provide different levels of support for students who need it.

Community schools: Designated schools open after hours and on weekends to provide a wide range of services and programming to students and their families, including enrichment classes, training, health care, meals and more.

Funded by the state to help poor districts, they have quickly become a centerpiece in efforts by Buffalo Public Schools to assist its neediest students. Buffalo last year had 13 schools designated as community schools and brought in more than 22,000 visitors. It hopes to double that number this year with an additional two schools.

Differentiated instruction: Recognizes that not every child learns in the same way and at the same pace. Teachers may introduce concepts in different ways for children in the same class, giving children different tasks based on their abilities and understanding so that every child is able to learn.

Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching: Refers to teachers using strategies and practices that take into account a student's culture and language to help him or her succeed academically.

Classrooms are becoming more and more diverse, so there's more emphasis on teachers and curricula to draw from a student's personal experiences, culture and background to help him or her relate to the material and learn in the classroom. It also allows the teacher to incorporate cultural awareness into the lesson, and gives classmates the opportunity to learn about other cultures in the classroom.

Social emotional learning: The way people acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to manage their emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. The goal is to increase social skills, improve behavior and academic performance by developing five core skills.

Mindfulness: An important part of social emotional learning, it is being aware of yourself and your surroundings, what others think and how they perceive things, and is a practice that can be taught. Being aware leads to self-regulation of behavior and increases attention and emotional regulation. It helps children learn to think before acting.

Restorative justice: The alternative to the traditional punitive model used in schools, restorative justice focuses on using dialogue, problem-solving, restitution and mediation to resolve a problem between the victim, offender and school community, as opposed to suspension, which has been found to disproportionately punish minorities. The aim is to address the underlying causes of student behavior by offering support rather than punishment.

Trauma-informed care: Speaks to schools recognizing and responding to the variety of traumatic experiences students may encounter in their lives, either at school, home or in their neighborhoods.

A growing body of research into the traumatic effect of exposure to violence shows that stress can stifle how the brain develops, ultimately affecting personality, behavior and how a child responds to future negative situations.

Exposure to violence also has a direct impact on how students perform in school. Administrators, teachers and staff can help reduce the impact of trauma on children by recognizing trauma responses, accommodating and responding to traumatized students within the classroom setting, and referring children to outside professionals when necessary.

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