Back to School: Mohawk Trail seeks to revamp school with combined courses, co-teaching

  • Diane Zamer was hired as Mohawk Trail Regional School’s assistant principal this school year along with nine other new employees. Staff Photo/Grace Bird

Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2019 6:30:50 PM

BUCKLAND — Mohawk Trail Regional School has a couple of changes on the horizon — such as a new combined class, the return of a health course and a push to implement co-teaching — thanks to a $150,000 state grant called Mass IDEAS.

This school year, the grant will fund the “early adoption” of its new ideas, according to Principal Marisa Mendonsa. Mohawk Trail intends to apply for a second, larger “implementation grant” of between $300,000 and $400,000 to support more of its plans.

Mohawk Trail also has 10 new staff members. Among them is the new Assistant Principal Diane Zamer, who taught elementary and middle school students in Northampton and Springfield for more than a decade. Enrollment also fell slightly from last year, with 348 students as of Tuesday afternoon.

Health course reinstated

Health, which was discontinued three years ago when its teacher retired, is being reinstated as a stand-alone course. In the interim, the class was taught as part of physical education, Mendonsa said.

Tamara Brown has been hired to teach middle and high school health classes. She will also teach yoga.

The course was reinstated in response to student interest, Mendonsa said.

“Because our students were asking for more, we thought we’d go back to pulling it completely out,” Mendonsa said.

Classes will cover physical, mental, emotional and sexual health. The course will focus on mental health, helping teenagers “be aware of stressors in their life,” she said.

‘Bio-ethics’ and ‘Artglish’

More than 20 students have signed up for a new upper-class bio-ethics course, Mendonsa said, conceived by science teacher Nicole Rhodes and English teacher Erik Sussbauer.

“For us, that’s on the larger side,” Mendonsa said. “I think there’s genuine interest in the course.”

This course is a combination of biology and ethics, and will be co-taught by Rhodes and Sussbauer using case studies, focusing on “debatable topics” in science.

“Why do they have to live in silos?” Mendonsa asked. “Why does it have to be an English class or a history class? Why can’t those worlds come together?”

Mohawk Trail teachers are encouraged to pitch new courses like bio-ethics, Mendonsa said. The combined course seeks to meld multiple disciplines, she said, adding that “subjects don’t live in isolation.”

Another combined course, ‘Artglish,’ has run for three years, with students splitting their time between English and art classrooms.

This fall, Artglish, renamed ‘Integrated Arts 9,’ and is now the required English course for ninth-graders, and is being co-taught by two teachers.

Co-teaching

While traditionally, Mohawk Trail has had both a main teacher and a special education teacher in the classroom, this year the school is encouraging instructors to form pairs and co-teach. About 10 courses are being co-taught this year for the first time, with both teachers considered to be equal partners.

“There have always been special education teachers who have supported classrooms, but not in the way where they are seen as an equal leader of the classroom,” Mendonsa said. “They were there with a lens on students … this is where they have a lens on the entire classroom and are equal partners.”

Co-teaching can offer students more support in the classroom, she said.

“It starts to create this nice partnership where you have two leaders of a classroom with, let’s say, 15 students, all being heavily supported,” Mendonsa said.

She said having two teachers in a classroom gives students of different levels more attention.

“If students need to be challenged in some way and need to have extensions, there’s people there who can support that,” Mendonsa said. “If students need to be supported and lifted more, there’s enough adults to make that happen.”

Mendonsa said collaborating would encourage teachers to continue reimagining their courses.

“You can get stale in teaching, and this is a way where you can become more energized with it,” she said.

10 new hires

The Mohawk Trail Regional School District has hired 10 new staff members. One new employee, Amy Chang, will serve the entire district as a mathematics coach.

In addition, aside from Vice Principal Zamer, the following employees have been hired to work at Mohawk Trail Regional School: Tamara Brown, health teacher; Zachary Charette, math teacher; Philip Cote, seventh grade science, technology, engineering and math teacher; Taylor Dadmun, eighth grade social studies teacher; Kayla Driscoll, speech pathologist; Caitlin Mans, para-professional; Barbara Page, middle and high school English as a Second Language teacher; and Chad Warren, high school special education teacher.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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