Since becoming Commissioner, I have traveled across New York State to meet teachers, administrators, parents, students, and school board members. During these trips, I make it a priority to go see classrooms so I can observe the great things that are happening in our schools and districts across our state.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting several school districts and BOCES in the North Country. I was very impressed by the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES. I also loved how small school districts like Long Lake can offer such amazing opportunities to its students, including sports, robotics, and courses for college credit. Everywhere I went, I was inspired by the dedication of the educators and the enthusiasm of the students.
My first stop was Lowville Academy and Central School where I received a lovely welcome performance and visited classrooms. Next, I checked in at Calcium Primary School in Indian River Central School District, where I joined third graders for a coding lesson. In the evening, I spoke with administrators and school board members in Watertown about the changes we have made to improve our learning standards and assessments and our work ahead.
On my second day in the North Country, I visited several CTE programs at Adirondack Education Center in Saranac Lake (part of Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES). Programs include Culinary Arts, New Vision Game Design and Development, Health Occupations, Building Trades, and the Natural Resource Science CTE "classroom" where students fell trees, then dry and cut the wood for projects. Much of this wood is then used in another CTE "classroom" - Building Trades students use it for their projects. This year, the Building Trades class is building a tiny house. It will be for sale soon!
Next, I stopped in at Tupper Lake and observed a ninth grade English class where students were learning how to cite sources and how to check their reliability and authenticity. This is an extremely important skill for our students to practice as more research is done online. Our students must be able to think critically and determine if the information they find online is fact or opinion and whether or not it has a bias.
In Long Lake, I watched tenth graders debate Pygmalion (the basis for the movie My Fair Lady) in a Socratic seminar; met a second grade class with only four students; visited a third and fourth grade STEM class where students used Legos to make race cars; received a demonstration of mousetrap powered cars by fifth graders; watched high school students drive an electric car that they built; and listened to a senior reading to students in grades K-2.
I also had the chance to tour Long Lake Public Library, home to Camp Readmore (a children's library), walls that are covered in beautiful murals, and even a special reading outhouse (don't worry - it's not in use!).
On my last day in the North Country, I spent time with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES staff and visited a middle school life skills class and a kindergarten class at Potsdam Central School District. The BOCES has amazing programs for exceptional students that can serve as models for other parts of our State. Then it was off to Heuvelton Central School, where I met enthusiastic kindergartners and first graders, sixth graders who practiced addition by jumping, and a robot programmed by students!
My last stop was the Northwest Tech Education Center in Ogdensburg where students are building a full-size 3 bedroom, 2 bath house! (Also for sale soon!) I also visited an impressive welding classroom and watched the Natural Resource Management students operating their new saw. It was a treat to see these CTE programs in action and talk to the talented teachers.
My trip to the North Country reminded me how diverse our state is - it is home to the country's largest public school system (New York City) and to some of the country's smallest - Long Lake Central School District has fewer than 60 students total! The other school districts I visited - Lowville, Heuvelton, Tupper Lake, Indian River, and Potsdam - were also relatively small. Lowville and Heuvelton each occupy only one building for all grades, prekindergarten through 12. On my trip, I saw a number of great things happening in small schools, like the high school students in Long Lake serving as mentors and positive role models to the elementary students in the same building.
As a lifelong educator, I relish the time I get to spend in classrooms. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and appreciated all of the wonderful things that are happening in our North Country schools. I plan to continue taking trips like this around the state. Maybe I'll visit your child's school!