School days to debut in Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Ligonier Valley districts
By Stacey Federoff, Greg Reinbold and Nicole Chynoweth
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
As the weather turns cooler and children climb onto buses to return to classes in the Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Ligonier Valley school districts, they may notice a few changes.
This year, Greater Latrobe and Ligonier Valley students return on Aug. 26. Derry Area classes begin on Aug. 28.
Superintendent Judith Swigart said she looks forward to the first day of each school year.
“The key is welcoming the students and making sure they have that energy and excitement about coming to school,” Swigart said. “Every year you want to make sure you do it better and can improve.”
At the junior high, each classroom now features an interactive white board, a student response system and document cameras as part of a $226,000 donation from the Greater Latrobe Partners In Education Foundation.
Teachers began training this summer and will continue to keep up-to-date on how to use the technology to enhance their lessons.
Eventually, the school district's goal is to outfit all 125 district classrooms with such technology.
Sixteen new teachers will greet students on the first day, Swigart said, as will some new administrators. Kim Hrezo is now principal at Baggaley Elementary School as a result of former principal Michael Porembka's being named district director of teaching and learning.
Students also will notice 37 new buses under the district's latest contract.
Mark Mears, transportation and athletic director, said 85 percent of the school bus drivers have returned from last year, so most students will see familiar faces in the vehicles, all from 2011 or newer.
The routes have mostly stayed the same, but a new school year always brings a few changes, Mears said.
“I'm looking for the challenge of doing it and getting it started,” he said.
On Aug. 12, Mears reported to the school board that the $9 million athletic complex is about 60 percent complete. The turf, including the center “GL” letters, has been laid.
“We're trying to work toward playing games there in September,” he said.
Lights still need to be installed and work on the bleachers and pavement on the track must be finished before events can be held there, he said.
The rest of the stadium is on course to be completed by the end of December as planned, Mears said.
Student athletes react like it's Christmas morning when they see the field for the first time, he said.
“They want to run down and tear it open,” Mears said. “It's a present, but it's not Christmas Day yet.”
At Derry Area, the Christmas present will be new tennis courts.
However, in a sign of the times, school meal prices in the district are increasing for the third straight year.
Elementary students' lunch prices rose from $2 to $2.10, and secondary students' lunches went from $2.30 to $2.35. The price of a breakfast has increased from $1.10 to $1.25, and adults' lunch prices increased from $3.50 to $3.75. The school board approved the changes on Aug. 1.
The cost for all-sports season ticket packages for the district also increased.
Adult general admission and student general admission tickets remain at $3 and $2, respectively, and reserved seats for football games are still $4 each. A five-game season-ticket package is priced at $17.50 for adults and $5 for students.
The cost for an all-sports season ticket for the district's 38 scheduled home sporting events increased by $10: from $32 to $42 for adults and from $18 to $28 for students.
A new fee to cyber/charter schools whose students wish to participate on Derry Area athletic teams will be levied.
Cyber/charter schools — not the students — will be responsible for the fees ranging from $200 to $1,150. The fee schedule varies, based on the district's average participant cost for each sport.
The district previously did not charge cyber/charter schools for allowing students to participate in Derry athletics. Board President David Krinock said students in Derry Area's cyber school program will not be subject to the fees.
Athletics in the district will have a new leader as Brett Miller was hired to fill the athletic/transportation director position with the departure of Brandon Rapp to Norwin School District.
Miller also will serve as coordinator of community recreation programs.
“We always say that you're special people to work at Derry,” Krinock said. “Brandon's been here three years, and it seemed like he'd been here 33 years. I made a good friend. ... He did a terrific job for us from Day One until now.”
Miller had been athletic director for Ligonier Valley School District for the past four years.
“Watching Mr. Miller's track record at Ligonier and seeing how their sports and everything else improved over the years since he's been involved up there and in charge up there, it makes me feel good to hire Brett on at Derry,” Krinock said.
Ligonier Valley School District will premiere several programs.
At the high school, a 1-to-1 iPad initiative, funded through a portion of a $1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, will put an iPad in the hands of every student in grades 9-12, high school Principal Tim Kantor said.
Students will be permitted to use the iPads during classes and at home throughout their years at the high school, with the exception of summer months.
The initiative includes implementing iPad usage in the classrooms of the elementary and middle schools.
Applications like Pages, Keynote and iMovie will allow students to explore technology while expanding their knowledge in mathematics, science, social studies and English.
Teachers have completed productivity-based and content-specific training sessions to acclimate them to the iPad and its capability as an educational tool.
“It's anytime, anywhere learning at their pace,” said the high school's assistant principal, Christopher Theys. “If a student needs extra time or access to the lesson, the information is there for them (on the iPad). If a student needs to expand upon the lesson, become more creative and go more in-depth, that ability is there.”
Another new program this year is the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program at R.K. Mellon and Laurel Valley elementary schools. STEAM, an education movement that started in 2006 as STEM, encourages students to apply the skills they learn in other classes to real or teacher-created situations in a hands-on, tech-savvy environment, according to principal Ed Moran.
“The neat thing about STEAM is it builds upon existing curriculum, but it presents it to students in a manner that allows them to answer a question and apply what they're doing,” Moran said. “In a good STEAM classroom, it's about problem-solving and teaching kids to think outside the box. We're going to be exposing students to reading, math and science at their instructional level, but STEAM takes that one step farther.”
Both elementary schools each have their own STEAM classroom equipped with computers, iPads, microscopes and other devices for learning. Every six days, students in grades 2-5 will have approximately one hour of instruction in the new STEAM classroom with teacher Adam Petalino. Activities will include building robots, designing bridges with Legos, and using icon-based computer programming to learn about simple machines.
Another program debuting at Laurel Valley Elementary is a before- and after-school care program formed through a partnership with the Ligonier Valley YMCA for students in grades K-5.
“There are limited opportunities in the northern part of the district for before- and after-school care,” Moran said.
The program will allow parents to drop off students at the program's designated room in the school as early as 7 a.m. YMCA and school staffers will occupy the children with activities, homework help and a pre-breakfast snack. When class dismisses for the day, students are permitted to stay at the school until 6 p.m., as staff again will offer them a snack, activities, homework help and possibly tutoring.
Moran said the program also will be open to middle school students in grades 6-8.
Cost of the care per student depends on parents' income. Parents may qualify for tuition aid opportunities through the YMCA.
For more information, parents should call Laurel Valley Elementary at 724-238-5476 or the YMCA at 724-238-7580.
Stacey Federoff, Greg Reinbold and Nicole Chynoweth are staff writers for Trib Total Media.
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