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Archive for November, 2009

A nice article from the 11/28/09 Projo showing how new techniques are being used by the Principal and staff at Nathan Bishop to create a positive school culture:

Nathan Bishop Middle School uses lunchtime to break down barriers
By Linda Borg

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Lugging books half the size of their bodies, sixth graders swept into the cafeteria at Nathan Bishop Middle School shouting, “Meatloaf day!”

The students rushed up to the cafeteria counter, where the lunch ladies doled out big helpings of meat and potatoes, “just like mom makes it,” as one cafeteria worker said.

When Nathan Bishop re-opened this fall after a $35-million renovation, one of the first things that Principal Michael Lazzareschi asked was, “How do we break down the barriers that exist between children who come from very different social and economic circumstances?”

The first place he tackled was the lunchroom. If middle school is a cauldron of adolescent insecurity, then the cafeteria is where those anxieties get played out every day.

But at Bishop these days, rather than eat with their friends, students are assigned to sit with different groups of students. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, students are assigned to a table based on their next class period. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they eat with their homeroom teacher.

“Lunch time is difficult enough for kids who are unpopular,” Lazzareschi said. “We didn’t want anyone sitting alone. The goal, as the sixth grade moves forward, is that kids feel comfortable with one another and that they don’t self-select.”

On a recent visit, sixth-graders seemed to approve of the assigned lunch program, saying that it helped them make new friends and get to know their homeroom teachers.

“At St. Mary’s, the cliques were very visible,” said Cameron Wessel, president of the student council. “I see a lot less of that here. This gives us a chance to meet new people.”

One of the most coveted invitations is lunch with the school’s guidance counselor, Amy Battisti, who eats lunch with two separate groups of children each day. In high school, she said she didn’t meet her guidance counselor until her senior year and he didn’t know her name.

The situation couldn’t be more different at Nathan Bishop, where Battisti already knows every child by name, and, in some cases, she knows a lot more than that.

“These kids know who I am and what my role is in the building,” she said. “I don’t grade them. I don’t discipline them. I’m here for them 100 percent.”

Meanwhile, her students are enthralled at the prospect of sharing lunch with such a high-ranking personage. What they like the most, students said, was the personal attention. Some said they enjoyed the exclusivity (four students join Battisti in her office for lunch), while others said they liked being far from the madding crowd.

“It’s really private,” said Zmira Stouber, who used to attend the Jewish Community Day School. “Mrs. Battisti is really good about keeping secrets.”

“When you come here, there is nothing you have to hold back,” said Destiny Hughes-Barnes, who attended Times{+2}, a city charter school. “I’ve never had a guidance counselor before.”

Envisioned as a model middle school that will attract East Side families back to the public schools, Nathan Bishop re-opened this fall amid high expectations from every quarter: students, parents, teachers and school leaders.

Everything about Nathan Bishop is new, from its two-story media center to its 350-seat auditorium. More importantly, all of the participants are new — the teachers, students, even the principal.

Lazzareschi has the chance to do what most principals only dream of doing — create a school culture from scratch. Despite what some people think, the school is diverse, with 250 sixth-graders from elementary schools all over the city, including a fair number of private schools.

A new national study by a professor at Ohio State University shows that teenagers choose same-race friends, even when the opportunity to choose friends from different races exists. The odds of a teen naming someone of the same race as a friend were about twice the odds of naming a friend from a different race.

To combat that trend, the Southern Poverty Law Center has created an annual event called “Mix it up at Lunch Day,” where students are encouraged to cross boundaries and sit with someone new in the cafeteria. The center says that this is powerful way to combat bullying and harassment.

“It’s a first step in breaking down social barriers,” said Lecia Brooks, who oversees the “Mix it Up” program. “Schools and cafeterias are places where we have segregation. We all sit with those who we believe are most like us. Why not create a program that presents an opportunity to break out of your comfort zone?”

Back in Battisti’s office, students chat about their plans for the holiday.

Battisti said lunch has now become her favorite hour of the day because it offers a rare window into how her students are feeling and what’s on their minds. Matthew Warshay, another sixth-grader, lives right next to Nathan Bishop, which draws children from Camp Street and Mount Hope, as well as Wayland Square.

Whatever the faculty are doing to create school spirit, it seems to be working.

“At night,” Warshay said, “when I’m driving by the school, I see the purple lights [at the top of school] and I say, ‘That’s my school.’ ”

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The Nathan Bishop Middle School is seeking to reach out to all alumni of the school.

Our amazing art teacher is currently working on an audio/video oral and visual history project with our students. We hope that students will be able to interview alumni, possibly examine or document artifacts from the past (yearbooks, photos, awards, etc.), and create a presentation or even theatrical piece later in the year.

The Nathan Bishop PTO also hopes to host an Alumni event, possibly tied into the oral/visual history project, in the Spring.

Information about the PTO can be found at http://nathanbishoppto.org

The website contains a link for Alumni who wish to participate in the upcoming activities.

A direct link is http://www.nathanbishoppto.org/pb/wp_2e9f6752/wp_2e9f6752.html

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On Tuesday, November 17, the Providence School Department will sponsor an Open House at the New Nathan Bishop. The public is welcome to come beginning at 4:00 p.m. to tour the new school. The School Department will hold a dedication ceremony at 4:30 p.m., and there will be a reception afterwards. The event will conclude at 7:00 p.m.

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