With one of the largest populations of immigrants in New Jersey, Paterson is considered the most racially diverse community in a state that’s ranked as the most racially diverse in the country. The number of languages spoken by families of students attending Paterson Public Schools has increased to over 37 — and continues to grow.
“We have, what I would say, is a melting pot,” said Joanna Tsimpedes, the district’s assistant superintendent of Academic Services/Special Programs. “It’s what makes Paterson unique. We are accepting of everyone that comes into our buildings regardless of where they come from and what they come with.”
And even though Paterson has done a lot of work to create a culture of acceptance for these students over the years, including inclusivity and equity training for teachers, administrators, and parents, one of its biggest challenges continues to be finding educational materials that are accessible to each student.
“Even finding Spanish resources becomes a challenge at times,” said Associate Chief Academic Officer Nicole Brown. “And we don’t want to really deviate and give students who are bilingual speaking a different resource. We want them to have the same resources as their English-speaking counterparts.”
In the 2020-21 school year, Paterson was ready to adopt a new math curriculum, and they knew that whatever they chose needed to be accessible to each and every student, especially its growing non-English-speaking and special-education population. In order to find those just-right resources, they formed a committee who could help them discover what they needed to ensure that each student who walks into its schools feels safe and accepted.
Partnering with the School Community to Find the Just-Right Resources
Joanna and her colleagues in the Paterson Division of Academic Services/Special Programs believed that the decision on what resources to adopt couldn’t be made by just one or two people. They needed the input of a variety of members from the school community who would look at the materials from diverse perspectives. To accomplish this, they assembled the Math Textbook Adoption Committee that included building supervisors, district administrators, teachers, and parents who are bilingual speaking or have a child who is designated as special education.
“One of the things that we've always done in the last textbook adoptions is to ensure that there are materials provided for our ELLs and our special-ed population when it comes to scaffolding and differentiating,” said Joanna. “Because anything we purchase and (the Paterson Board of Education) approves has to be in the best interest of all our students.”
The committee was asked to look at a variety of educational resources from different companies and make sure that the materials included certain essential elements, such as instruction that is aligned to New Jersey state standards, embedded support for English language learners, and opportunities for differentiated instruction to help meet the needs of the students who may be struggling or for those who are excelling and may need advanced work.
“We had presentations from several different vendors,” said Paterson 5th-grade math teacher and committee member Rosemary Chichester. “It was interesting to see the different products that are available and to see which one would best match our needs. I was fortunate to be a part of it.”
After several weeks of research and listening to presentations, the 25-member committee for grades K-5 and the 15-member committee for grades 6-8 submitted their recommendation for Savvas Learning Company’s enVision Mathematics, which is now being used across the district in grades K through 8.
Why enVision Mathematics?
There were many factors in the committee’s decision to choose enVision Mathematics. It checked all the boxes that the committee was looking for, including that it offers both print and digital material in both English and Spanish, as well as embedded teaching suggestions and strategies for differentiated instruction.
“That's one of the things that I enjoy the most. It's easy to differentiate,” said 3rd-grade teacher, Cecilia Olivera. “I can differentiate based on the language and also based on their academic needs. You may have a whole class of English speakers, and still they are at different academic levels. I know my kids, so I know if they're not ready for certain questions I can remove those questions and save them for later.”
Another benefit that enVision Mathematics offers is its learning management system, Savvas Realize®, which includes digital access to resources anytime, anywhere. With this feature, students and family members can log on and use tools, such as tutorials, to help them with homework whenever they need it, which makes that home-school connection much more successful.
The district also provides hot spots to students who do not have reliable Wi-Fi connections at home. “It is important to equity,” Joanna said, noting that internet accessibility is a critical part of equity as is the program itself being accessible to students of different learning needs and styles. “Having Savvas digitally means you can have your different groups working on different elements of a lesson because it’s right available to you. It’s less work on the teacher not having to print out papers. They just assign it right through Realize. It has really helped our students with having resources at their fingertips in a matter of just a minute.”
Taking Customer Support to the Next Level
Savvas was also instrumental in providing professional learning to both teachers and school-based supervisors, according to Nicole.
“If there are questions or concerns that result from a training, or if somebody has an inquiry, we always get an answer and we’re able to provide that answer to the larger audience,” she said.
Paterson is also part of the Digital Partnership Program, where representatives from Savvas are in constant communication with the district about how to interpret data generated from the program. In this partnership, Savvas helps the schools or districts look at data generated from enVision across grade levels, within individual schools, and even at the classroom level. This allows districts to see what the implementation looks like through the data and determine whether or not the resources are best supporting the students and the teachers.
“That’s always helpful and eye opening,” said Nicole. “It allows us to have that constant follow up with our teachers to make sure our resources are being used in the best possible manner to support the learning.”
The outlook for the future among educators at Paterson is positive. Now that the teachers and students have grown accustomed to the Realize platform and the lesson formats of enVision, they are all more confident using it, which is reflected in the growth they’re seeing among the students.
“I think this is going to be the magic year,” said Rosemary. “I think this is the year that we're really going to see the students grow because we have more behind us now. We have this opportunity now to really work on their strengths and to hone in on where they need the most help.”
Nicole and her team are seeing a slow but steady increase in student academic growth with this new math program. She attributes that success to Paterson’s strategic plan for professional learning that went in conjunction with the adoption, as well as its continuous reinforcement of its mission to create and maintain a culture of acceptance.
“I think that as we continue to utilize the resources we will see that progression continue to advance,” said Nicole. “And that we’ll see even greater mastery of skills as they graduate from Paterson Public Schools and become those enlightened citizens that make change in their own communities as they get older.”
Grade 5 Math Teacher
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Rosemary Chichester discovered that her fifth-grade math class loved riddles. So, every day before they signed off, students would present any “corny” math riddle they could find to her and the rest of the class. Not only did it get everyone laughing, but it got them thinking about math.
“I've incorporated that now into everyday teaching,” said Rosemary. “You see the different ways math is used and misused. So, (the daily riddle activity) engages them. It makes it something fun to look forward to.”
The students can either make up riddles on their own or look them up and adapt them to the math they’re working on. Here’s an example: Why did the obtuse angle jump into the pool? Because it was over 90 degrees!
Grade 3 Teacher
When pairing her third-grade students up for partner practice, Cecilia Olivera is very purposeful in how she chooses which students would work best together. She pairs a student who is comfortable with a lesson the class is working on with a student who is still working on understanding. Not only does it give the student who is still struggling the opportunity to learn from a peer rather than a teacher, which can be very effective, it gives the other student an opportunity to articulate what they know, which can be very powerful.
“Being able to pass knowledge on to another person is really helpful,” said Cecilia. “When you're able to teach something, you know that you have learned it.”
Once the pair is comfortable with an idea, they present it to the class with a lesson they create on their own using posters or other visuals to show their work.