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Book Study Group Looks at Ways to Reach All Students

Sometimes a book study group isn’t just a book study group.

That’s the case with a book study group at Unadilla Valley Central School that consists of administrators, faculty, staff and parents.

The group is reading the book, Poor Students, Rich Teaching by Eric Jensen and the end goal is to take lessons from it and apply them to the classroom in order to boost academic performance.

Unadilla Valley was recently ranked near the bottom of school districts in statewide ranking of median family income. The median family income for the district of $42,994 places the district at 388th of 451 schools surveyed under the report.

The number of students at Unadilla Valley on free and reduced lunch increased from about 50 percent in 2009 to more than 70 percent today, and this is a major concern, according to Middle/Senior High School Principal Frank Johnson.

Educators are always looking at new ways to connect with students and facilitate learning. When it comes to working with students from struggling families, there may be ways Unadilla Valley can improve, Johnson said.

“Really, the book is about why we need to take a look at the demographics of poor students, what they bring to the table or bring to school with them and how we as adults need to do something different to reach those kids,” Johnson said. “They often mask disengagement because of lack of vocabulary or lack of experience. Statistics will show that students who are socially disadvantaged come to school with one-third of the vocabulary.”

The goals after reading the book and having the book study complete is to develop initiatives that Unadilla Valley would institute at the individual classroom level, grade level and districtwide, according to Johnson.

“When a new topic is introduced, you and I would connect that new knowledge with a visual in our head to help us learn it. If we don’t have a visual in our head, the chances of us learning it just by listening to a lecture about it, are greatly diminished,” Johnson said. “Kids who don’t have the experiences that others have can’t make those mental pictures to connect what the teacher is talking about.”

Johnson said Jensen also defines “poor” as something more than free and reduced lunch numbers. It could also relate to families who have parents who are working second or third shift or single parents who aren’t always home to support students.

“Jensen even talks in the book about families who are not living paycheck to paycheck could find themselves in dire straits with a job loss or an illness,” Johnson said.

Exploring these issues will help Unadilla Valley ensure it is successful in its mission of educating all students, according to Johnson.

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