By Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

This Wednesday the students enjoyed a noon dismissal – which no doubt made for some happy campers! I’m sure they don’t give much thought as to why they are leaving early, and perhaps parents don’t dwell on it either, so I thought I’d share what the faculty did this week on their half-day of professional development.

The High School faculty joined us here in Goshen and, after lunch, we sat down for four hours of joint meetings. We ledoff with a presentation from HS history teacher Trent Apple and Goshen librarian Lindsy Serrano on their trip to India last summer courtesy of the Henrion Grant, which is awarded to a member of the SFS faculty (who applies) every year. They shared a beautiful PowerPoint presentation on their travels and how they will use information and texts gathered during their time in India in their classroom and library in the future.

The second part of the day was a two-hour session wherein the departments from JK – 12th grade gathered to discuss and examine how diversity is represented in the SFS curriculum across the spectrum. Part of this self-examination comes from an ISACS recommendation from our recent self-study, and part of this is just us wanting to live up to our Progressive mission and be the best school we possibly can. Teachers discussed their own realization of identity and diversity recognition growing up, and then tackled our school curriculum and culture in terms of cultural awareness. We are comparing our classes and curriculum versus some questions and standards from Teaching Tolerance that Director of Diversity Kisha Watts provided for us, and will continue to do so on our January professional development day, too.

Lastly, we listened to a presentation from Langsford Center Founder Stephen McCrocklin titled “Five Building Blocks to Reading Success.” (If you attended one of our Back-to-School Nights last month, you heard a short version of this talk by Claudia McCrocklin.) Stephen’s presentations are always fascinating and applicable to teachers (and parents) of all grade levels. Here a few nuggets I jotted down during his talk:

  • 20% of students have severe reading difficulties.
  • When students fall behind at the 1st grade level, only one in eight ever have a chance of catching up to their peers (that is why early identification and action as we do at St. Francis is so critical).
  • The 80s/90s whole language vs. phonics debate belongs in the rearview mirror these days. Both components are critical to reading success and phonics help to unlock the reading “code.” (Stephen likened it to trying to learn Morse Code without learning the individual codes for letters!)
  • Silent reading is not effective in increasing a student’s literacy.
  • Vocabulary size is a predictor of reading comprehension.
  • And here’s one that really gets my attention: While there are approximately 283 million words in the English language, there are 2,800 core words that make up 90% of our written texts. So imagine how just knowing these words inside and out can help a student’s comprehension! Toss in 960 “academic” words, and that percentage rises even higher.

As you can see, this is a fascinating topic and at the very heart of education. It is wonderful for us to gather as educators from the teachers of five-year-olds to the teachers of seniors making college decisions to share these presentations and simply spend time together as colleagues. And that is what we do when the kids go home early!