This has been a week of very conflicting emotions for all of us. On one hand, we celebrated and honored almost 300 Hershey High School graduates. On the other hand, we mourned the loss of one of our high school students. As I noted prior to leading a moment of silence at commencement, it is an odd, and somewhat confusing juxtaposition of very different feelings.
In times of loss, it is natural for all of us to question “why?” and to look for reasons or places to place blame. It is natural to think things like, “It’s not fair”, “What could I have done?” “What could have others done?” and “This doesn’t make sense.” These reactions and questions are all normal and part of the grieving process. As I walked the halls these past couple days I can assure you that our teachers, administrators and staff members are struggling with all of the same feelings and emotions as the community at large. We see these students as “our kids” and love them dearly. Our hearts soar when they find joy in life; they break when they do not.
Now, of course, we are not parents; nor do we want to ever over-step our role as educators. But, please know we do truly care about all children and do all we can to create and ensure a safe, nurturing, caring, and enriching environment. That is why we established our COCOA principles and teach them to our students. That is why we teach students about empathy and impulse control through Second Step. That is why we teach digital citizenship and ethical use of technology.
As a community and district, we have many supports in place for our students who are struggling - both personally and academically. In February, we partnered with a community group to bring LeAnn Hull to Hershey to speak on youth mental health/youth suicide. Out of that, a community task force has been established to work collaboratively with all members of the community (parents, business leaders, church leaders, school leaders and community advocates) to look for ways to collectively better help and support our community’s young people. We have been focusing on the importance of relationships and helping everyone know, believe and realize that, “You Matter.”
Our vision is to help everyone discover and use his/her passions and talents to make positive contributions to the global community and to find excitement in learning and joy in life. Out of that focus, several new student clubs were started this year. For example, the RAK club focuses on ways to promote and model Random Acts of Kindness. The staff and administration instituted a “You Matter” campaign in the spring to write a personal note to each student in the high school to show them in a tangible way that they are known and are cared about.
This year, we also established a partnership to provide school-based counseling to students in need. We have our student assistance teams (HIP) in each building to support students and families. Our social worker connects with families to help in times of need
We are passionate in our commitment to our students and we are always looking for ways to enhance and improve our services and supports to our students. Can we do this alone? No. The school is a central hub in our community and for that we are thankful. Which is why we need to ensure that we continue to come together as a community. We can’t allow emotion to guide us. We must continue to work together, have dialogue and problem-solve solutions to continue to enhance our systems and supports for our students (both inside and outside the schools).
Our theme for this year has been one of Opportunity and being “Opportunity Makers.” As a staff at our end-of-year meeting last Thursday, we celebrated the many ways all staff took advantage of being ‘Opportunity Makers.’” Today, I ask us all to reflect and ask ourselves how can we take tragic events like we have recently experienced and turn them into positive opportunities for growth. We can only do that by working together, listening deeply to one another, not acting or reacting on perception or hearsay and by caring for and trusting one another.
I urge us to come together. We are the models for our kids. They watch us and see how we act and react. May they see that we seek understanding and common goals and that we can dialogue and communicate even when we don’t understand or agree with one another. It is imperative that we model what we expect from our students.
I’d like to end with a quote that I shared with the entire staff last Thursday. It is by Stephen Grellet, a Quaker missionary. He stated, “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good that I can do, or any kindness that I can show any human being, let me do it now and not defer it. For I shall not pass this way again.” We all want the best for our students and we will continue to work to ensure that we, as an entire community, are working together for all students.
I want to call your attention to concerns being raised by a series running on Netflix entitled “13 Reasons Why.” Although fictional, the show is drawing criticism as potentially glamourizing teen suicide. Mental health experts, including the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), are pointing to research indicating that exposure to another person’s suicide can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.
Due to the graphic and heavy emotional content of the series, as a school district we will not be formally addressing the show in our classrooms. However, we do know that district students are watching the show and that the series and/or the topic of teen suicide may come up during informal discussions. To that end, we have taken steps to reinforce with our staff the many resources available in the district and the community.
We also want to share two resources with you. NASP has created a blog post dedicated to considerations raised by the series. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the JED Foundation have also created talking points for conversations with youth specific to the "13 Reasons Why" series. We encourage families to engage in safe messaging, including reinforcing that Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. There is help, including talking to a trusted adult at home or school, calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or texting “START” to 741741.
By now, you’ve probably heard me talk a lot about the COCOA Principles, the district-wide culture of Community, Opportunity, Citizenship, Ownership and Academics. A perfect example of the COCOA Principles at work is The Trojan Foundation.
Derry Township School District and students are blessed to have a Foundation that exists to support innovative ideas and initiatives in the areas of academics, athletics and the arts. The Trojan Foundation is a 501(c) (3) organization made up of a Board of eleven volunteers who seek out grant requests from district staff who are looking for financial assistance to try new, innovative ideas to enhance the learning opportunities for students. The Trojan Foundation helps pay for projects and equipment that cannot be funded as a part of the district’s operating budget. You may be wondering how they raise funds to support these great ideas and that is a wonderful question.
First, the Trojan Foundation is always accepting financial contributions which are tax-deductible. Additionally, if you shop online, you can use Amazon’s “Amazon Smiles” feature to have a portion of your total purchase amount is automatically donated to the Foundation. Perhaps the best known foundation fundraiser is the Taste of Hershey.
This year, the event will be held on Sunday, March 19 from 1-3:30pm at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center. This family event, now in its tenth year, traditionally attracts about 1,000 attendees and has been described as “a community block party” featuring delicious bites and beverages from over twenty local restaurants and establishments.
The event also highlights various student art displays and musical performances as well as showcasing several initiatives that were funded by Foundation grants. For example, at this year’s event, participants will have the opportunity to witness STEM education in process as students demonstrate their knowledge and skill using a 3D printer. The printer was funded through a generous grant. Since 2006, the Foundation has awarded more than $300,000 in educational grants.
The Foundation and District is incredibly thankful for and grateful to the many sponsors who generously donate to this event! This year, our current list of sponsors includes: Autun Contractors, Fulton Financial Advisors, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, Love Trumps Hate, M&T Bank, Highmark Blue Shield, Cleanteam Building Services, Inc., John Abel, Grunden LLC CPA, Hershey Termite and Pest Control, Colleen Kadel, Dr. Gregory H. Kadel, Klick Lewis Cheverolet, Miller Oral Surgery, Public Financial Management Inc., RBC Capital Markets Corporation, G.R. Sponaugle & Sons Inc., Diana Caine-Helwig State Farm Agent, Susan Graham Consulting, State Street Advisors and Elaine Wickersham.
Restaurants who have committed to provide samples include The Mill, Hershey Chocolate World, Duck Donuts, Hershey Biergarten, Tattered Flag Brewery and Still Works, Fuddrucker's, One Cup Joe, Komi Pan Asian, D.T.S.D Food Service, Isaac's Deli, Mangia Mangia Italian Grill, Penn Hotel Sports & Raw Bar, What If.....Hershey. Fennici's, Babe's Grill House, Cafe on Cocoa, Passage to India, Texas Road House, Sweet Dawgs and Human Kind Water. We expect to add a few additional food and beverage provides to this growing list.
We also sincerely thank Hershey Entertainment and Resorts for providing the incredible staff and facility to host this charity event. It couldn’t be done without the incredible support of these and many other companies and individuals.
Tickets for the Taste of Hershey are $30 for Adults, $10 for Students and Free for Pre-K children. Tickets can be purchased online in advance at or at the door the day of the event. Plan now to attend this year event! Come out and enjoy the delectable food and beverage samplings! You won’t want to miss it.
Pardon the pun, but I always have weather on my radar and not just so I wear the right coat or grab an umbrella on the way out the door. The fact is that weather impacts the operations of our schools on a daily basis - everything from the number of students on our buses, to how we conduct recess, field trips and sporting events. We pay especially close attention to storm systems that have the potential to significantly impact travel. In case you missed it on your calendar, the blast of artic air we’re now experiencing is a reminder that winter is here. And with winter comes the increased potential of weather effecting our school schedule.
Weather-related delays and cancellations OR the decision to proceed as normal are some of the most difficult decisions school administrators make. They are certainly the most second guessed. So you may wonder what goes in to these decisions.
The safety of our students is always our first consideration. We are also keenly aware of the impact schedule changes can have on child care, parent/guardian work schedules and even state mandated education requirements. We do our best to “make the right call” based on what we know and what we can reasonably expect at the time. Usually we get it right. Sometimes, with the luxury of hindsight, we come to realize we should have made different choices. Often, when we end up second-guessing ourselves, it is when the forecast does not materialize as projected.
At DTSD, we make decisions by relying on forecast models, recommendations from emergency management personnel, reports from our Transportation Department staff and the township road crews and we consult with other local school districts. After careful and thoughtful review of all that, the district then makes what we believe to be the best decision based on the information it has available at the time.
We often have to make decisions BEFORE a weather system arrives. Any change to the usual schedule involves an inherent operational time lag. Buses need drivers and drivers need time to report to the bus garage, prepare their vehicles and then travel out to the first stop on their routes. And then, of course, there’s the time it takes for buses to complete the route. As a practical matter, “go/no go” decisions” must be made 2-2:30 hours PRIOR to the normal opening bell. Even with the best predictors, however, conditions can change quickly and in ways not forecast or foreseen. So we are in constant communication so that, if need be, we can change our original plans in the best interest of safety.
Our hope is that we don't have a repeat of last year's winter weather. I like snow, but I don’t need three feet of it in a single storm! No matter what Mother Nature throws our way, however, I want to thank you for your continued and on-going support of our students, staff and programs in Derry Township. We are so fortunate to be part of a wonderful community that truly supports education!
As we approach this Thanksgiving season, it is appropriate to reflect upon the year and note the many reasons we have to be thankful. As a nation and society, we are blessed in so many ways! We have freedom to express our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and traditions without fear of government oppression. However, with those freedoms comes great responsibility. We have the responsibility to respect those who differ from us. We have the responsibility to disagree in safe, respectful, civil ways that honor each individual as a human being.
Unfortunately, in our current political climate and what is being portrayed via the news and social media, our students are being inundated with messages that tear at the fabric of our society; regardless of which side of the political aisle an individual is on. As a school and community, we have a fantastic opportunity to model and teach our students that there is another way. We can, and will, show our students how to navigate discord and disagreement in respectful, gracious, and peaceful ways. We will teach them how to stand for their beliefs without resorting to name calling and dehumanizing individuals or groups.
But, we can’t do it alone. We need every member of our community to join us in that endeavor. We must remember that our children are watching us and they are modeling us (even when we don’t think they are). They are bombarded daily by media sensationalism; whether that is through news outlets or social media feeds. But that doesn’t mean we can’t impact them and teach them a better way to interact with those with whom they disagree. The key message is that each one of us; each one of our students MATTERS! Each individual has unique gifts, talents and passions. And our responsibility as adults is to help each one realize those talents and passions and develop them so that each individual can make positive contributions to the global community and find excitement in learning and joy in life. Let’s commit to fulfilling this vision together…as a Hershey community!
In order to help families and community members, I have attached a resource from the National Association of School Psychologists entitled, “NASP Guidance for Reinforcing Safe, Supportive and Positive School Environments for All Students.” These guidelines can help open up dialogue and help individuals manage the emotions that come with disagreement in safe, respectful, healthy ways.
In closing, I just want to take the opportunity to thank all of you in our Hershey Community for the support, encouragement and example you provide for our students. We truly have so much to be thankful for and may we all pause this holiday season to express our gratitude and thanks to those with whom we are blessed to have in our lives.
What would you say should be the profile of a graduate of Derry Township School District so that they are adequately prepared to achieve their greatest potential and be productive citizens in a globally connected world? What characteristics and skills do we want all students who graduate from our school to possess? Should the terms “content mastery, critical thinker, effective communicator, effective collaborator, creator and innovator” be part of that profile?
At this point, you may be asking yourself why a profile is important in the first place. The answer is that if we are to meet our charge of preparing students for success, we first need to develop consensus on what characteristics we want our graduates to possess. Developing the characteristics in that profile can then, in turn, guide our decision-making. A profile helps us focus on nurturing the traits we most value. With all the many and varied expectations and demands placed on students and schools today, it is easy to get distracted from our goals without a clear guide.
In 2009, our high school developed a Profile of Graduates and noted that our graduates would exemplify the traits of individual awareness, community awareness and global awareness. Each of these traits was further developed to outline what those awareness traits looked like in action. For example, a graduate modeling individual awareness is an independent thinker, a critical thinker, resilient and ethical. A graduate demonstrates community awareness by being willing to help others, to question themselves and others and to acknowledge other perspectives. Finally, examples of global awareness are shown as being aware of and sensitive to other cultures, being information literate, being a catalyst for productive change and being respectful digital citizens. These traits and goals have led us since 2009. Now it is time to review this profile and determine if it is still relevant or is in need of any modification.
The timing is perfect as we are in the fourth year of our six-year Strategic Plan. Gathering input and ideas from constituents on what a Profile of a Derry Township Graduate looks like will help guide us as a community as we soon begin the process of developing our next Strategic Plan. To that end, I invite you to attend the first Java with Joe on Friday, September 23, 2016 which will be held at 9:00AM in the elementary multi-purpose room. At that time, I will be sharing several examples of other schools’ graduate profiles and would love to hear your thoughts on what you see as important characteristics, qualities and traits for all graduates of Derry Township School District. If you can’t attend, don’t worry. There will be other upcoming opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas around this topic.
Fostering a sense of COMMUNITY. Taking advantage of OPPORTUNITY. Demonstrating CITIZENSHIP. Assuming OWNERSHIP. Doing what it takes to be successful in ACADEMICS. These are the principles upon which we in Derry Township School District operate and commit to each day. As we launch into another fantastic year, we are excited to partner together with all of our students, colleagues, parents, guardians, grandparents, neighbors, community members, business leaders, and board members to seize every opportunity to help each of our students discover and use his/her talents and passions so that they can make positive contributions to the global community and find excitement in learning and joy in life.
This is my 29th year in education and I have never been more excited to start the year and for what lies ahead of us! We have an incredibly dedicated, caring staff who are committed to doing what it takes (seizing every opportunity!) to help each student succeed. But, we can’t do it alone! It requires all of us working together; communicating and collaborating, to ensure we provide the best learning environment for every student.
Our commitment to our students and families is that we will work together and build strong working relationships for the benefit of our students. While we may have times where we disagree or have differing perspectives, know that we will do everything we can to work through those challenges. Relationship and communication are key! These are at the heart of living out our COCOA Principles. I think Bill Richardson stated it best when he said, “We cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together.”
We, the larger community of Derry Township, are truly blessed! We have a wonderful community, an awesome school district and truly outstanding students! On behalf of the entire administrative team, faculty, staff and Board of School Directors we welcome our students back on Monday, August 29, for a great 2016-2017 school year as we partner together, seize every opportunity and live out our COCOA principles!
R-E-S-P-E-C-T…Those aren’t just the catchy lyrics to an Aretha Franklin song; respect is one of the foundational components of all relationships and the building blocks of a healthy community, society and world. I’ve always believed this and had it become even more evident on a recent trip that my wife and I had the opportunity to be a part of where we went to serve on the mission field with our youngest daughter who is serving for a year with Adventures in Missions. Our experience took us to Angeles City in the Philippines where we partnered with an agency called Wipe Every Tear. The focus of our time was to build relationships with the young girls who are caught in the human trafficking trade.
We knew things like this occurred (even very close to our own home in South Central Pennsylvania), but to actually see it first-hand and build relationships with these young ladies brought it to a personal level that has changed us forever. What impacted, and bothered us, the most was the objectifying of these young ladies. Those who were there to take advantage of them saw them as objects to satisfy their personal agendas and desires; not the beautiful human beings that they are.
So, how does this relate to Derry Township School District you may ask? Well, our primary vision is to help all individuals discover his/her talents and passions to make positive contributions to the global community and to find excitement in learning and joy in life. To do that effectively, we must begin with respect. We must value each individual and treat each person with the respect they deserve. We must make a conscious choice to honor others and not get caught up in behaviors that degrade or minimize the importance of any individual. We must model and teach appropriate respect and behavior; both in person and on social media.
We must not condone or minimize inappropriate behavior because “everyone does it” or “it’s harmless fun.” No - anytime we infer or overtly objectify or humiliate another person; whether “in fun” or intentionally, we are chipping away at the foundation of our society and human dignity. Remember, it IS all about relationships. Let us (students, staff, teachers, administrators, community members, board members, business partners) commit together to build upon that important foundation.
Authentic Engagement is an academic buzzword that sounds great in theory but is sometimes an elusive concept in practice given the traditional constrains of a typical school schedule and structure. However, in Derry Township School District, we have been focusing on ways to “turn up the H.E.A.T (Higher-order thinking, Engaged Learning, Authentic Connections and Strategic Use of Technology) and exciting things are happening to bring real-world scenarios and opportunities to our students.
One area to highlight is in the area of STEM education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. One of our community members, Jesse Engle, has partnered with a group of students in conjunction with High School Teacher, Colette Silvestri, to help a group of students realize their passions and talents in the area of technology innovation. Mr. Engle, a local entrepreneur, has been sharing his expertise in software development, coding and marketing and has helped the students launch Tsunami Technologies. This group has developed an app called “Roster” which allows conference attendees to connect with other conference attendees to expand their professional learning networks.
In addition to this incredible opportunity for learning from Mr. Engle, this group of students also presented to area business owners at the Fall Business Owner’s Breakfast. At that time, Mr. Bill Simpson, CEO of Hershey Entertainment and Resorts was there and was very impressed with the innovation, presentation and delivery shown by these students. He arranged for the Tsunami group to meet with several of his conference and marketing staff at the Hershey Lodge to learn even more about marketing this innovative product.
To that end, at the annual PETE-C conference (Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference) held in Hershey in late February, Tsunami Technologies presented and marketed their app to all attendees of the conference.
While we have many opportunities for students to experience authentic learning and engagement both inside and outside of our school walls, the model used for the Tsunami Technologies project brought an expert in the field into the school for the “internship.” We can’t thank Mr. Engle enough for the many hours he has given to our students and our school! It is another example of our C.O.C.O.A principles in action and we are very grateful. We are always looking for new opportunities for our students to gain valuable, real-world experience to make their learning applicable and rich.
This example of STEM education is just one small glimpse into the ever evolving world of education. We are excited for what lies ahead for our students and our community as we continue to partner with our local businesses and community to provide amazing learning opportunities for our students!
January is always a time to reflect upon the year past and look forward to the year ahead. Often that look ahead is filled with resolutions and goals; many of which by this time in the month are quickly waning! So, this post has nothing to do with those quickly fading resolutions and goals, but is one of reflective thankfulness and a look ahead as we continue to strive toward our vision of helping each and every individual discover his/her talents and passions to make positive contributions to the global community and to find excitement in learning and joy in life.
First, I want to sincerely thank our Board of School Directors (both current and past)! They are a talented, passionate, dedicated group of individuals who give (gave) countless hours of their time to help govern our district. Beyond the two meetings per month, these individuals serve on numerous monthly committees and delegate assignments along with modeling on-going, job-embedded professional learning several times per year. They are dedicated volunteers who help to make difficult decisions for the betterment of our students. Please join me in thanking our board members when you see them in the community!
As we continue to work toward helping every individual (adults included!) realize his/her talents and passions through the learning process, it is good to look at what has been accomplished! Thankfully, we have an incredibly professional, motivated staff and Board of School Directors who truly have students’ best interests at heart and show that through a continual desire to learn and grow. Our teachers and staff have embraced this vision and are seeking ways to better reach every student in their class and ignite the passions that are in each student. Through activities such as “Talks with Teachers,” class meetings, the C.O.C.O.A course, the Trojan Beanery and many others, teachers and administrators are seeking ways to learn from students about how they learn and in what they have interest. Our board has committed to on-going professional learning workshops focusing on board leadership, team development and what makes exceptional school boards. Additionally, our new board members spent three full days learning about the roles and responsibilities of board members as well as visiting each department and building in our district to get an overview of every area within the district. These are just a few examples of how every person in the district is modeling a life-long learner attitude and seeking to embody the vision of our district.
Have we “arrived”? No. In fact, we will never “arrive.” However, we know our goal and vision and we will continue to strive to learn and grow alongside our students so that we continue to provide the best, most meaningful, relevant and engaging learning environment possible for our students. We are all incredibly blessed to live in a community like Hershey and to be part of such an excellent school system like DTSD! I look forward to 2016 and what lies ahead for all of us as we continue to learn and grow together.