Tag Archives: Jennifer Krystopowicz

Active Bodies = Healthier Future

By Jennifer Krystopowicz June 20th, 2014 11:00 AM

It’s a Tuesday morning and 30 students, all wearing bright blue and yellow tee shirts, are running, squatting, planking, jumping, and laughing to the beat of music. The time is only 8:00 am, but these students have already done more physical activity than most adults do in a day. No, this is not their physical education class. This is a typical morning at Tyler Elementary, where students in the BOK’s program come to participate in physical exercise through fun games and activities before the start of the school day.

According to their website, BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success) is a free before-school physical activity program initiated by Reebok and the Reebok Foundation. BOKS was created by a group of moms after reading Dr. John Ratey’s book Spark, which states that, “exercise is the single most powerful tool that we have to optimize the function of our brains.” The goal of the BOKS program is to enhance academic performance and the overall health of kids through physical activity. The program, run by moms, dads, P.E. teachers and all other types of volunteers in local communities, is simple to implement. BOKS currently operates in close to 1,000 schools around the world.

I learned about the program through a friend, Ewunike, who is the regional director of BOKS for the DC area.  As soon as I heard about it, my first thought was “I need to get this program started at Tyler.”  Not only would it bring health and wellness to the school, but it would give me an opportunity to participate in something that I am a fanatic about outside of teaching: physical activity.  After Ewuinke gave a presentation to my principal, Tyler was signed up and ready to start our first session in the fall.  As the lead trainer, I attended a training day where I received the full curriculum of BOKS, including the daily schedule, skills, and activities to follow for the entire year.

Tyler now runs BOKS on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7:45-8:30am for 12 weeks in the fall and 12 weeks in the spring.  The program is open to all students, K-5. Each day begins with a warm up (locomotor movement or specific stretch), followed by a quick running game or exercise, then review of the skill of the week with practice time, followed by a fun game, and ending with a nutritional take away. Skills of the week include planks, burpees, donkey kicks, metric run, jumping jacks, and other traditional movements that are essential to healthy living.

Students who participate in BOKS not only have a blast playing fun games – they also get the recommended daily dose of exercise.  My students all love the games that BOKS has created, and they remain energized throughout the entire session. Most importantly, many teachers who work with students in the BOKS program have told me that they have noticed a difference in their students. On BOKS days, these students perform better because they are more focused and ready to learn. It has been so rewarding for me to see how bringing BOKS in my local school has made a direct impact on the students’ health, nutrition, and learning.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being recognized by BOKS as a “Champion of Change” for my commitment to creating a healthier future for children at Tyler. Along with 15 lead trainers from across the country, BOKS celebrated us for our efforts at BOKS Active Kids Day at the Reebok Headquarters in Massachusetts.

BOKS Award

For more information about BOKS and to find out how schools can get involved, visit www.bokskids.org, the BOKS Facebook page or follow BOKS on Twitter @bokskids.

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National Board Certified: To Be or Not To Be?

By Jennifer Krystopowicz May 13th, 2014 10:15 AM

National Board Certification. Perhaps you’ve thought about it, researched it on the Internet, or even thought about registering for more information. However, something held you back: money, time, requirements, etc. These feelings are absolutely normal, especially when you are thinking about embarking on any certificate or degree program in your professional career. The unknown can be scary and intimidating, so I hope that my experience will help you in your decision.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to earn my National Board Certification, I felt many of the same emotions discussed above. I had heard about the certificate, but didn’t really know much about the process or whether I wanted to commit to writing more papers after already completing my Masters degree. Not to mention, balancing life as a student and full time teacher was challenging. As a result, I was hesitant to jump back into that lifestyle to earn my Boards. I also didn’t know how much I would benefit from this process, since I planned to complete the boards on my own without the guidance and support of classmates or a professor. However, after much consideration and research, I decided to move forward and become a candidate for National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist.

The defining factor that led me to make this decision came from the mission of the National Board. According to the website, “The mission of the National Board is to advance student learning and achievement by establishing the definitive standards and systems for certifying accomplished educators, providing programs and advocating policies that support excellence in teaching and leading and engaging National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) and leaders in that process.” I loved the idea that I could be a part of a systematic process where one could honor excellent teaching though a rigorous professional certification process. For the first time in my career, I felt like I would be able to be a part of what expert teachers share in their craft and be amongst a select group of teachers who are advancing student achievement.

Perhaps you are still on the fence as to why you should become board certified. Besides becoming part of an organization that is deeply respected and valued by leading educators, the Department of Education, and our Secretary of Education, completing the national board process will give you a profound understanding of your practice, thorough time for self-reflection, and an opportunity to celebrate your success.

To become Nationally Board Certified, I had to complete four entries that comprised of data analysis, reports, analyzing artifacts, self-reflection, and a video submission. I also had to complete a computer-based exam. The road to earning my certification was not an easy one, and I had to commit one day a week to my “board work” to complete the process (much like being back in graduate school!).  If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone who is thinking of or in the process of preparing for writing their entries, I would tell you to have someone else, outside of the education field, read your work.  This person preferably has a graduate or writing degree and experience editing work, and can serve as a lens from outside of the education field. A close friend of mine read my work and gave me great insight into what I was missing in my entries. For example, she told me that I was not “selling” myself enough in my accomplishments, and as a result I was cutting myself short. I truly believe that her support in meeting with me countless times to read my paper played a huge role in my successful completion!

As a National Board Certified teacher, I walked away from this experience with a new set of skills that now defines me as an educator and helps me stand out in my profession. Most importantly, this was a time of true self-reflection and analysis of my success and challenges as a teacher. This was a time that was dedicated to my own growth, which is something that, as teachers, we don’t do enough. This process has taught me to take the time to celebrate my work and even the smallest of successes! Still thinking about the process? National Board Certification… To be!

How to Best Meet the Needs of All Students

By Jennifer Krystopowicz April 8th 2014 5:00 PM

Inclusion is a defining principle of special education: ensuring that students with special needs participate in a general education setting for 100% of the school day. However, I must admit that when I hear an educator, administrator, policy maker, or parent make the statement that all students with special needs should learn in an inclusive environment, a wave of anxiety ripples through my body.  I understand that, as a National Board certified special education teacher with experience in both a general education and self-contained classroom, I should be advocating for full inclusion since this seems to be “the way” schools are heading. However, my experience as a special educator has given me a new understanding that inclusion does not meet the needs of all special education students.

When I first learned about the idea of inclusion in 2007, and extensively studied the various models while earning my Master’s degree, I openly embraced the idea of 100% inclusion for all students with disabilities. The models that were presented seemed promising: Parallel teaching, Station Teaching, Alternative Teaching, etc. Seven years later, there have been advancements of knowledge and programs in the special education field, yet the same inclusion models remain. Classrooms are still “testing” or “figuring out” what model best works for their students. Is this fair to continue to test the same models when it is at the expense of our students with special needs?

I began questioning inclusion during my first year of teaching when I became immersed in my career as a self-contained special education teacher in a non-categorical classroom. Questions such as: Could some of my students function 100% of the day in inclusion? Would they receive as much attention and support as they were receiving in my self-contained setting? How would these supports be delivered when the teacher to student ratio is much higher in a general education setting and there is limited support from para professionals?

As these questions were buzzing in my mind, I came to one conclusion: It is nearly impossible for a general education teacher, who has the demanding responsibility of teaching over 25 students, to be expected to teach students who cannot write, speak, or express wants and needs. These students benefit from specialized programs where they will receive specialized instruction, such as self-contained classrooms.

According to The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), least restrictive environment is defined as ensuring that “…children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

As stated, if the general education classroom cannot provide the necessary means to ensure a student with special needs is having all of his or her goals, needs, and requirements met according to their Individual Education Plan (IEP), then another placement is appropriate. Another setting, such as a self-contained classroom or resource room, is considered his or her Least Restrictive Environment. Over the past seven years, I have had the opportunity work with countless students with autism, intellectual disabilities, and emotional disabilities. Some of these students were considered high functioning since they read and performed work close to grade level. However, because of their short attention span, sensitivity to stimulus, or emotional imbalances, these students required an environment that had a small teacher to student ratio. If there were no self-contained classrooms available, how will we nurture these students and their peers in the public school system?

Specialized programs, such as self-contained classrooms, can serve as a bridge between participating in a specialized and general education setting. Here at Tyler Elementary, we have classes to serve as that bridge. Our special education classrooms service a wide range of disabilities including, but not limited to, students with Intellectual Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Autism, Multiple Disabilities, and Attention Deficit Disorder. Students with IEPs who can function in the general education setting are provided support through an Inclusion Special Education Teacher that in most cases rotates to different classrooms to service the students on his or her caseload. Students who require more assistance and smaller class size are placed in self-contained classrooms. Students in these classes are with peers close to their age and academic level, a Special Education Teacher, and paraprofessional for additional support. Each classroom contains its own set of diverse learners that require the curriculum to be tailored to their needs.

Last year, I started the concept of reverse inclusion where I provided the necessary support for my two highest functioning students with disability to participate in the Literacy Block in the 5th grade general education class. In reverse, the four lowest performing students in the general class came to me in the self-contain setting for a reading intervention program. This model of inclusion was successful because of the environment of the self-contained classroom where these four students greatly benefited from specialized instruction for part of the day. As a result, reading levels increased and overall student morale improved.

The District of Columbia Public Schools is aware of these differences and has many schools that contain specialized programs to meet the needs of all students. 100% inclusion in the general education setting is ideal for many students with disabilities, but it is not a fit for all. It is our job as special educators to accept this reality and create environments that will benefit all learners.

The Common Core for our Uncommon Learners

By Jennifer Krystopowicz January 29th, 2014 1:45 PM

As a special education teacher in DCPS for the past seven years, I have learned to accommodate and modify almost everything the general education curriculum has to offer so that students with disabilities, particularly my students with autism and intellectual disabilities, can access the material.

With the common core at the forefront of our instruction, special education teachers like myself are faced with the new challenge of making the standards accessible to all learners.  Difficult? Yes! Impossible? No!

The following are three tips that led me to success in ensuring that all learners have exposure to the common core.

1.  Simplify the standard into ONE task:

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) in Tampa, Florida.  LDC is committed to equipping elementary school students with the literacy skills they need to succeed in middle and high school by providing a collection of templates that are fill-in-the-blank “shells” that allow teachers to insert text to be read, writing to be produced, and content to be addressed.

To get a better understanding of this approach, let’s look at the common core standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

The LDC task template for general education may ask: After reading_____________________, choose a character and describe their traits.  Use at least 3 examples from the text to show how their actions play a role in the events of the story.

It’s essential to simplify this task because some students with disabilities find it difficult to complete multitask questions and may get overwhelmed or discouraged during this activity. By asking students to complete only one task, teachers can eliminate that stress while still allowing students to reach their full potential and access the common core.

This is how I would simplify the question into one taskAfter reading_____________________, choose a character and describe the character by including at least 3 traits described in the text. 

Of course, teachers can modify this task template further by providing pictures, larger print, or bullets, depending on the needs of their students.  Just remember that sticking to one task is essential!

2.  Manipulatives glue the pieces together:

Every common core lesson should be supplemented with a manipulative when teaching our most difficult learners. Many teachers find this counterintuitive, thinking that manipulatives have to be fancy and complex or fearing that they cause students to get distracted.  However, manipulatives can be as simple as using a graphic organizer to generate ideas, or even using a highlighter to follow along while reading!  Manipulatives are imperative for our students with special needs to access the general education material because they give students a visual model that allows them to piece together the areas of learning that they are struggling with.

Here is an example of easy to make manipulative for workstations:

Counting money workstation

Counting money workstation 

3.  Open mindset creates open learners: 

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”  At the end of every experiment is a result, and if you don’t like the result you can always make a change.  As a special education teacher, I encourage you to experiment when you are teaching students with special needs.  Don’t be afraid to try something new to help your students access the common core.  Keeping an open mind will expose your students to new ways of learning, and one of those ways might be the answer to helping your student understand a concept that he or she had not been able to previously master.

Learning how to incorporate the common core into the curriculum of our most challenging learners takes time.  With the release of the common core only three years ago, this process is still ongoing.  However, through experimentation, I have found that these tips are a great starting point to drive student achievement.  I look forward to future discoveries about what works best for my students!

Jennifer Krystopowicz is a special education teacher at Tyler Elementary School.