Monday, December 18, 2017

It’s The Most Wonderful (& Busiest) Time Of The Year

Whatever your ‘to-do’ list is filled with this time of year I’m sure it’s pretty extensive. Whether tied to home or work, this time of year can be incredibly busy; shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, closing out one year and preparing for the next, and a thousand other things filling up your plate. In all of the ‘noise’ and ‘frenziness’ of the season it is easy to lose sight of what matters most; other people. When it’s all said and done, and the Holidays are in our rearview mirror several weeks from now, it will be the time we spent with our family and friends, as well as all the things we did to bring some brightness into other people’s world that matter most.

So slow down. Make some time for yourself and for those around you and enjoy the moments of the season without stressing about that ‘to-do’ list. Turn the Holiday music up just a little louder, leave it on the Hallmark channel all day and don’t apologize, have an extra cookie, put your phone away, let people know how much you love them, and go out of your way to lift someone up who needs a helping hand. We all have the incredible power to change the world one day at a time, one person at a time, and one action at a time.It starts with us.

With that said, we have a lot of great things happening in our building around our students and staff stepping up and doing their part in changing the world:

Last week our 6th grade choir and Jazzkatz brought some Holiday cheer and lots of smiles to the faces of the residents of the Camillus Senior Center.

Our Technology and DDP students have been mass manufacturing wooden paw print ornaments for the holiday season with all money being donated to WG families in need. Made with their own hands and lots of love, our middle school students are trying to bring some Holiday cheer to our Wildcat community.

We continue to have students, who through their actions and character, help to create a positive school environment. This isn’t about grades and athletic or musical prowess, it’s about demonstrating all of the qualities that we value and celebrate - exemplary work ethic, citizenship, character, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility, optimism and/or leadership in creating a positive school environment. Last week we recognized our November Students of the Month; 6th graders Nicole Vasilev, Vivian Raposo, Riley McGiveron and James Mungro, 7th graders Tyler Tabaczyk, Mia Pinker, Kevin Bailey and Katelyn Hagadorn, 8th graders Anthony Paini, Jacob Adams, Emily Kurz and Alana Eastman. Well deserved and congratulation!

May you enjoy all that matters most this Holiday Season and all throughout the year! Merry Christmas!!

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @sdunhamwgms

Monday, November 13, 2017

November Flurry

The last four weeks have been incredibly busy and have absolutely flown by at the middle school. We’ve jumped from fall sports to winter, we moved the clocks back, and we just came to the end of the first quarter. It seems like we just started and yet we are two weeks away from Thanksgiving. In that blur of a month we have had some outstanding things happening and a lot to be proud of.

Halloween Spooktacular
On Friday, October 27th we held our 2nd Annual WGMS PTA Halloween Spooktacular. Over 325 students (over half of our building) showed up to dance, play BINGO, shoot hoops, sing karaoke, and eat a lot of foods not found on the 'whole-30 diet'. It was a really terrific evening of fun! To pull off this type of event off you need great planning and you need people willing to step up and volunteer their time. We had both, and our parent & staff volunteers are simply awesome! I received several emails from parents thanking us for putting this on for our kids and many of our students were vocally appreciative as they thanked us heading out of the building Friday night. 

District Spelling Bee
This past week was the District Spelling Bee at Camillus Middle school. WGMS was very well represented with six of the final twelve spellers including 6th graders Joe Paoli & Cooper Corcoran, 7th grader Sophia Van Horn, and 8th graders Connor Dunham, Cameron Hovater & Emily Pattermann. Our 6th graders Joe and Cooper were the two finalists with Joe Paoli ultimately being crowned Spelling Bee Champ.
District Finalists: Cooper & Joe

Students of the Month
In an effort to be more consistent at recognizing our students at each grade level we created a building-wide ‘Student of the Month’ award recognizing two girls and two boys at each grade level. This recognition is presented to students for demonstrating exemplary work ethic, citizenship, character, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility, optimism and/or leadership in creating a positive school environment. This isn’t about grades and athletic or musical prowess, it’s about demonstrating all of the qualities associated with great character that we value and celebrate. Last week we recognized our October Students of the Month; 6th graders Sarah Adams, Karolina Lata, Gabriel Farino and Joseph Paoli, 7th graders Kate Kuppinger, Emilie Shoults, Gabe June and Daniel McManus, 8th graders Jessica Femano, Julia Klazco, Matthew Murdock and Brad Smith.  

Career Fair
On Friday, November 3rd we had our annual Career Fair for our 8th grade students. We had 41 participants representing 30 different careers. This was a terrific opportunity for our students to get a better understanding of what some potential careers are, but also what types of skills they will need to be successful regardless of the career that they pursue. The Career Fair is a great connection to Career and Financial Management which is a high school elective brought down to the middle school for the first time this year.  A big thank you to School Counselor Cindy Kurz and our entire Counseling Department for pulling this together.

Camillus Optimist Teacher/Students of Year
Each year we have the opportunity to recognize two 8th grade students who embody everything that we value in our young adults. It’s about being a wonderful person who exudes excellence and great character in all that they do through leadership, citizenship and service to our school community. Last week I had the honor of recognizing Julia Biggs and Connor Dunham with the 2017 David Kenna Outstanding Student Award. It has been an incredible experience watching these two young people grow over the years.

In addition to the students of the year I had the honor of recognizing Toni Abdo who received the 2017 Joseph A. Witowski Outstanding Teacher Award. What is most unique about the teacher award is that individuals are nominated by their peers for being sensitive to the needs of their students; for creating an exciting and challenging classroom atmosphere; and contributing to the quality of instruction at West Genesee. Mrs. Abdo is a champion for kids who makes a personal connection with each and every student, where she demands their best and where she never ever gives up on anybody. It is an honor working with her each and every day.

This next month will be just as exciting and equally as busy as the last. We kick it off this week with our school musical, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ with show times of 7:00 PM on Thursday and Friday evening, and Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM.

Thank you for your continued support of our students and staff. As always, please email or call me if you have any questions or concerns.

Continued Success,

Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Importance of Feedback

Every year, the West Genesee Strategic Planning Team asks all stakeholders (students, staff, parents, and the community at-large) to provide feedback on areas of strength and areas for potential growth.  This year, Dr. Brown has partnered with Thought Exchange - a web-based organization that will help us reach more of the community to maximize your direct input.

Using the email you have shared with us already for SchoolTool, you will be given a link to take part in the first stage of this survey, the Share Stage. You can tell us what we are doing well and what can we improve. This step will take approximately 5 - 10 minutes. A few weeks after that, you will be asked to take part in the Star phase where you will see others’ responses.  You have the opportunity to “rate” the comments that resonate with you. The final stage, Discover, is where you will have a chance to see what concepts are most important to all participants.

Please know that your submissions are confidential, but not anonymous to Thought Exchange. Thought Exchange will not share the authors of comments with the District. Your name will not appear on your submissions. This allows you to answer fairly and honestly. However, responses that are demeaning to any individuals will be removed by Thought Exchange.  

The members of the Strategic Planning Team will use this information in evaluating our successes as well as our areas in need of improvement when we begin planning for 2018 - 2019 school year.

Please take the time to complete the survey when it is sent to you. Although the link can not be forwarded, there are directions on how to get other community members on the list if they don’t receive an invitation. We truly want to hear from as many people connected to West Genesee as possible.

We do terrific things for our students and community at-large, but there is always room to improve. Your feedback, regardless of your role or connection to the district, is an important part of that continuous improvement process. Thank you!

Continued Success,

Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Friday, September 29, 2017

Open House 2017 Re-cap

One of my favorite nights of the school year has always been Open House. This is an opportunity for parents to "check us out" and “kick the tires” so to speak. As a school it is our opportunity to show off and promote our brand. Last night was my third year as being both a parent of a student in the building (actually two of them this year: an 8th grader and 6th grader) while also wearing my administrator hat.  

I couldn't be more impressed with what I saw from our staff throughout the evening and I couldn't be more proud to say that my kids go to school here. Over the two hours I shook a lot of hands and had many conversations throughout the night that included countless positive comments about what we do and how we do it.

Hallways and classrooms were packed and I joked that we were shuttling people in from Fairmount Fair. After talking to a few people that parked a good distance off campus, providing some type of shuttle from the high school in the near future might not be so farfetched. Crowded hallways and traffic congestion are good problems to have. It speaks to the involvement of our families and the priority they put on their children’s education.

We know that not all of our families are able to make it to Open House so a few years ago I started posting my comments that I made to kick the evening off so you get a feel for the tone of the night. Below is the welcome message that I gave everyone at the start of our Open House: 

“First of all, thank you for being here this evening. For those of you that are new to our building welcome to the WGMS family. We are excited to have you here! For those of you that are returning, welcome back. We have an incredible community here at West Genesee Middle School made up of a dedicated and talented faculty and staff as well as involved and supportive parents. Your presence this evening and your ongoing involvement with your child’s education is a testament to the commitment you have made to make education a priority. And it needs to be. We thank you for that. The journey from a young child in elementary school to a young adult in high school is not an easy one and we certainly need your support in helping us to maximize the potential in all of our students as they make that challenging journey through the middle years.

Throughout the evening you should get an overview of the curriculum and expectations in the different classes that your children are in, but you should also get a feel for the amazing, caring and talented people that work with our kids each day, who are going to do whatever it takes to help them to be as successful as possible.

I encourage you to stop by our library. It is open and has been a very busy place already this year. To date, just over 1,000 books and magazines have been checked out which is awesome so please help us continue to encourage our students to get into the library, to read, and to take advantage of its many resources. In all three grades reading is a significant component of our English classes and such a critical component of building knowledge. So please help support us by encouraging and hounding if needed to get our kids to read! We have over 2,400 items in our digital library, and over 450 titles of audiobooks available for our students to download. Please stop in and talk with our librarian about how you can utilize audio resources to foster even more success in your child’s reading. While in the library this evening you can also pick up a list of the different databases with logins and passwords that we use so you can assist your children with research and you can also pick up a list of books with reading levels that are new to our collection. The library….it’s much more than just books and a woman saying “shhhh”.

We also have our PTA and Special Education PTA located in the main lobby on the first floor. We have a tremendous PTA at West Genesee Middle School that is incredibly supportive of our students and staff. Please consider joining and/or volunteering your time. Your membership and involvement in the PTA allows them to better support our students and staff.

Again thank you for being here tonight. We are passionate about what we do here at WGMS, we care about your children, and we all want this to be the best year that they have ever had in school. A focus of ours is continuous improvement; trying to get better at everything that we do, constantly reflecting on our practices, listening to feedback and having a willingness to evolve and grow.  We ask the same of our students. We continually talk with students about the role that they play in doing the things necessary to be as successful as possible and we try to build a capacity in them to have a willingness to try new things, strive to get better and continue to work hard especially when things get difficult. Together we need to continue to encourage them to get involved with sports, music, clubs, and other activities and to stay connected with other events like our dances, 3 on 3 Basketball tournaments, and everything else that we have to offer. 

We talk to them about the importance of doing these four things each day: Be Nice, Work Hard, Think Big and Be Present. What you do and say to people matters – so Be Nice, things are not always easy & things don’t always go as you planned, sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do, but we need to step up and do it anyway…life is about continuing to grind in the face of adversity– that’s Work Hard, you can be anything you want to be in life IF you work for it – So Think Big – anything is possible, and lastly, you have to show up and be on time for things in life – school is no exception. Be PresentSimple, but effective. Each day: Be Nice, Work Hard, Think Big, Be Present. That’s what we expect. That’s who we are. That’s the message we all need to be consistently communicating to our middle school students.

You can expect us to support them, but also to push them to be their best; to not accept the minimum, to challenge them and encourage them to be extraordinary. Your role as parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and older brothers and sisters is vitally important. Your involvement and commitment to making your child’s education a priority is crucial. We can’t do this alone, we have to do it together. We look forward to working and getting to know all of you throughout this school year. It’s going to be a great year, a wonderful evening, and it’s always a great day to be a Wildcat!! Thank you and enjoy your night.”

Thank you again for the incredible turnout and continued support of our students and staff at WGMS. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. 

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Opportunities

People outside of education will often comment to me on how routine it must be to start the new school year. After you’ve done it for a few years they think it’s like hitting cruise control and off we go. The reality of it is that it isn’t routine at all. Really, nothing in education, especially middle school, is routine. There are certainly aspects of opening a building for a new school year that are fairly consistent, but each year we bring in new students, new staff and typically something else new related to the schedule, curriculum, and/or  technology. This year we actually have some pretty significant changes and it has been anything but routine. (and that’s a good thing!)

Going back to a blog post in 2015 ( we had started to plant seeds about thinking differently about how we do things. The “things” referred to include the master schedule, use of time, the use of resources, the courses that we offer, staying focused on what kids need, and both how and what we teach. Since then the transformation of the Middle Level has brought about some significant change over time that we can see in practice now in the fall of 2017.

Here are a few of the new opportunities for our students:

1. Our 6th grade students are experiencing an extended Math and ELA period. Both of these courses are now sixty-two minutes in length from what used to be a forty-two minute period. Much of that additional time was repurposed from what was originally a separate stand-alone reading class. Taking the time from that reading class and dividing it up between Math and ELA (now one course targeting those essential literacy standards just as we do in 7th grade and up) is allowing our students and teachers to dig in a little bit deeper into their work, get more practice and extend the learning much more than they were able to do with less time. As with everything else we do we will monitor the change, get feedback from everyone involved and adjust as needed. So far so good!

2. As the how and what we teach has evolved, we have worked on increasing student access to devices with Chromebooks to foster collaboration via the Google platform, link students to real time information and the most current resources, extend the learning experience beyond the classroom and promote a more interactive experience for students in the classroom. At this point we have just over 350 Chromebooks throughout the building being used across all content areas and grade levels.

3. The full year high school Design & Drawing for Production (DDP) course has been brought down to the middle school as an 8th grade elective for students who have shown a proficiency in technology and engineering. In DDP students learn manual drafting and CAD using industry standard software such as Autodesk, AutoCAD and Inventor. A strong emphasis in DDP is placed on the design process and developing critical thinking skills. This course is going to really get our students involved with and thinking about pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

4. Career & Financial Management is a semester long high school course that all 8th graders will now be taking. CFM emphasizes the “skills” needed for success in the workplace. Topics such as time management, goal setting, preparing for work (resumes/interviews), workplace habits/rights, and career exploration are covered.

Along with earning High School credit, DDP and CFM will open up opportunities for students to possibly earn a Career and Technical Education (CTE) endorsement in Business Computer Applications, Computer Technology, Finance, or Engineering Technology.

There is a lot of excitement from our students, parents and staff around these new opportunities and we are excited to experience them as the school year unfolds. You have an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on at the Middle Level firsthand by joining us for our Open House this evening from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Open House is designed to give you an overview of the curriculum, procedures and expectations, but more importantly it’s about making a connection with the amazing, caring and talented people that work with our kids each day. We look forward to seeing you this evening!

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Let's Roll!

Going into a new school year is always an exciting time. Just like the start of a sports season everyone is undefeated and filled with great optimism for what lies ahead. Anything is truly possible. With the new year we always have specific goals as a building with a focus on continuous improvement. As well as we are doing in certain areas we know that we can always improve. Sometimes our goals are tied to instructional practices, sometimes it is targeting student achievement, or working to strengthen our student support services. Regardless of the year or the goals, it has always been important work.

As we prepare for this school year I can’t seem to shake some of the images and rhetoric that we have witnessed over the last several months in our country. There has been a significant amount of divisiveness, sometimes rearing it's ugly head in the form of prejudice, hatred and racism. What we are observing isn’t happening in another country or at another time in our history, it’s happening right now, it’s happening here and our kids are watching. Our kids are not just watching the events themselves, but also our reaction to these events. It is important that we make the time to have ongoing and open dialogue with our kids both at home and in school about prejudice, hatred and racism - what it looks like, what it sounds like and why it is intolerable.

These events have me less focused on just our specific goals and more focused on developing our kids as people. Clearly our number one priority as a school continues to be preparing our students for their future, but to do that well and with conviction, helping them to develop great character is essential. The greatest gift that we can give to our children and the world is to develop  informed, compassionate, tolerant, loving, caring citizens. Remember: our kids are watching us, listening to us and learning from us. What we model is what we get. We can’t lose sight of how important that is.

The 2017-2018 school year is going to be our best year yet and it is an exciting time to be in the middle school. We are introducing two new high school courses to our 8th grade students, we have adjusted our 6th grade schedule to create one-hour blocks of mathematics and ELA, and we are rolling out a significant number of new devices to enhance our instructional practices and provide additional technology access for students. Great things are happening!

We are looking forward to seeing students at “Locker Night” this evening from 3 to 6 PM and we are excited to welcome them back for their first day of school on Wednesday, September 6th.

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer. Reading.

Summer. Reading.

Those two words can sometimes provoke a feeling of dread in our students. They aren’t as exciting as other words of summer like “swimming” and “ice cream”. Summer reading somehow gets translated by some to mean a dreadful task that needs to be completed, in as little time as possible, just check the box and be done! In some cases, the box gets checked just prior to the buses pulling up to the stop in September. We SO need to and want to change that feeling! We want those two words, summer reading, to conjure the sense of an opportunity to read in a way that might be a little more relaxed, and a little more extended, than during the regular school year. Maybe even on a hammock or somewhere on a beach.

 By now you have received our Summer Reading Lists. Families often ask us how many of the books a child should read. One? Two? Our answer is simple; all of them and then some! Becoming an independent and engaged reader is one of the single largest influencers impacting a child’s academic growth. There just isn’t any substitute for it. Vocabulary, new knowledge, points of view, and ideas are presented in books in a manner that can’t be replicated any other way. There are 3 key ideas to keep in mind in supporting students who read:

1.       Variety: The Narnia Chronicles and Harry Potter series are often the hook in getting students engaged and motivated to read. We love a good series! It is important to remember that a broad exposure to different genres helps to build an open mind. It is true what they say, You can’t judge a book by its cover. Pick up a book of poems, or a non-fiction title over fiction. And if your child gets one or two chapters in and doesn’t like the book…close it and move on.
2.       Rigor: Don’t be intimidated by a book that might seem to present a little challenge. Reading ability gets stronger when books cause a student to focus, re-read and maybe even have to look up a word now and then. Experts recommend looking at 5 random pages in a book to test out the readability. It won’t be long before students find that sweet spot.
3.       Amount: A little bit of reading, every day, goes a long way. The daily habit of reading can be instilled at any age – it’s not too late! Newspapers and magazines are a great source for short bursts of reading. We always recommend a hard copy of the New York Times because of its high-interest articles. Each day of the week has a unique section, but students might have particular interest in these: Monday (Sports), Tuesday (Science), Wednesday (Food) and Thursday (Arts). Grab a copy next time you are out and just take a look. We get ten copies a day delivered here at school so that your child can always get their hands on a newspaper.    

To help you keep a steady supply of books readily available, check out one of our terrific local libraries - there’s one near YOU!

They will be setting up the midway at the New York State Fair before we know it and it will be back to school. In the meantime, slap on some sunscreen and have yourself a wonderful and relaxing summer full of good books!

Continued Success,

Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Friday, May 26, 2017

Here Comes June

While the weather doesn’t necessarily make it feel like the end of the school year, we are quickly heading towards putting another school year in the books. With that, we are looking forward to celebrating with our 8th graders as they move onto the High School and welcoming our incoming 5th graders as they begin their journey through Middle School. Before we make it official there is still a lot of work to do and a laundry list of events taking place throughout June.

The ‘end-of-the-year’ festivities officially started last night as our building got together to celebrate the retirement of four of our WGMS staff members, Sandy Caldwell, Jennifer Dee, Laurie Gallager and Beth Stewart. Collectively they have 106 years in education helping to shape and guide our students through one of the most challenging times in their lives, middle school. That’s a lot of expertise! I can’t possibly capture how much they have meant to our building, our school community and our students in a blog. In fact, our retirees will never truly know themselves just how much influence they have had on the hearts and minds of the thousands of students and colleagues that they have worked with over the years. I do know this; all of us who have worked with them and all of the students that they have connected with are better off because they were in our lives. We will miss them and we wish them all of the happiness in the world in their retirement.

Many of our 8th graders still have some heavy lifting to do as they prepare for the Science 8 Written Assessment on Monday, June 5th, Foreign Language Speaking Exam on Tuesday, June 6th through Thursday, June 8th, the Algebra I Regents Exam on Tuesday, June 13th, the Foreign Language Proficiency Exam on Monday, June 19th and a handful of other end-of-the-course assessments. Our students are well prepared and they will do a terrific job on the end of the year assessments.

Here are some other highlights of events coming up at WGMS:
Friday, June 2nd - 6th Grade Greek Olympics
Wednesday, June 7th - Battle of the Books Final, 6:00-8:00 PM
Thursday, June 8th - 7th & 8th Grade Fine Arts Field Trip to SeaBreeze
Tuesday, June 13th - 6th Grade Band, Orchestra & Chorus Concert, 7:00 PM
Wednesday, June 14th - 7th & 8th Grade Band, Orchestra & Chorus Concert, 7:00 PM
Wednesday, June 21st and Thursday, June 22nd - ½ Day with students
Thursday, June 22nd - 8th Grade Celebration, 6:00-8:00 PM 

As we head into the Memorial Day Weekend we shared part of the Memorial Day Presidential Proclamation with our students to start our day today to remind them what the holiday is all about:

“Memorial Day is our Nation’s solemn reminder that freedom is never free. It is a moment of collective reflection on the noble sacrifices of those who gave the last measure of devotion in service of our ideals and in the defense of our nation. On this ceremonious day, we remember the fallen, we pray for a lasting peace among nations, and we honor these guardians of our inalienable rights.”

So on Monday as we take part in the Memorial Day parade, eat hot dogs, or take part in a Kan-Jam tournament with family and friends, we should all pause to remember those brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for our enduring freedom.  

Have a wonderful weekend!
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Friday, May 12, 2017

Raising Awareness

One of the things that I have learned as a parent of a middle school student and as someone who has worked with middle school students for nearly 20 years is that as much as I think I am “in the know”, I am not. Regardless of how hard we, as parents, try to stay connected and stay informed, we are often a step behind our kids. We don’t necessarily listen to all of the music that they listen to, we are not part of their social media circles and we are not part of the many conversations that they have with their peers throughout a given day. Given that, any time we can share information and raise awareness about things we are seeing we will.

Recently there has been a resurgence with middle school and high school students in the area making and consuming a drink called “lean”. It is also commonly referred to as “sizzurp”, “purple drank”, “dirty sprite” or “syrup”. While the drink has been around for nearly a decade, it has gained increased popularity recently as it has been glamorized in some songs, videos and social media postings. I knew very little about this last week, but I have learned a great deal as use of “lean” by some of our students has started to show up on my radar.

“Lean” is a combination of prescription strength or over-the-counter cough medicine, citrus-flavored soda (typically Sprite) and a piece of hard, fruit-flavored candy like a Jolly-Rancher. The drink is extremely alarming for several reasons: #1 The sweetness of the drink masks the dangerous drugs in it and can lead one to consume more because of the taste and as a result, individuals can quickly lose track of how much they have actually consumed. #2 “Lean” is made out of very easy to obtain ingredients, making it easy to access for adolescents. #3 An uninformed adult or parent might not necessarily keep track of or monitor the cough syrup in their home. So much attention has been given to the abuse and misuse of prescription medication, cough syrup has not been in that conversation. It needs to be, as does all medication.

This dangerous drink can contain a potentially fatal combination of codeine, a powerful opioid drug, and promethazine, an antihistamine that causes sedative effects and can impair motor functioning. In large doses, there can be extremely harmful side effects including dizziness and blurred vision, as well as a slowing of the central nervous and respiratory systems, impact heart rate and cause seizures. Combined with other medication that students may be taking, the consumption of “lean” could be, and has been in some cases, fatal.

Even though we may be out of the loop with some things, we need to continue to talk with our kids, listen to them and be present in the moment with them each and every day. Having on-going conversations about drug and alcohol use, decision making, and how to handle peer pressure is critical. We also need to be vigilant about storing and keeping track of all prescription and over-the-counter medication in our homes. All of our kids are susceptible to making bad decisions or being influenced in negative ways by their peers. It can happen to any of them.

As always, if you have any questions or if I can be of any help please do not hesitate to email or call.

Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Being Built For Others

One of the most important concepts we can teach our children and students is being built for others. Being built for others is about having concern for the welfare of others, for caring about them, loving them and giving of yourself in an effort to help and benefit other people – whether you know them or not. Of all the many concepts and skills we teach our children today, being built for others should be above all else. It can be as simple as shoveling someone’s driveway or as significant as stepping up and getting involved in a transcendent cause, a cause larger than yourself. Whatever it is you can do, it’s about giving your time, your effort, and your attention to something bigger than yourself that benefits others.

This past Friday we had the opportunity for our entire school community to get involved in a transcendent cause. We were able to host our fourth consecutive St. Baldrick’s event at West Genesee Middle School. Our St. Baldrick's event took off in 2014 as a result of some students looking for a way to support and stand with fellow students and members of our community who have been impacted by childhood cancer. The students that I spoke to were well informed, passionate and determined to make a difference. They were clearly built for others as this was not about them, but about how they could support and help others. Needless to say they were incredibly inspiring. What I learned from them then is that in the United States, more children die of childhood cancer than any other disease. And yet, all types of childhood cancer receive only 4% of the U.S. federal funding for cancer research. The conversation that took place in 2014 quickly evolved into an opportunity of impact – to create an event. Through our efforts as a school community we have been raising awareness, raising some money and having a lot of fun all in an effort to help fight childhood cancer. We are making a difference in the lives of children across the country.

Sophie's Giving Tree
This year was extra special for us as we honor Sophie Kawejsza who should be with us as an 8th grade student this year at WGMS, but we lost her to cancer when she was 8 years old. You can learn more about Sophie’s story and the amazing efforts of her parents to provide support for children and their families during medical crisis in Central New York by checking out their webpage:  Sophie continues to inspire all of us today.

This year is also special because our friend, colleague and school nurse Chris Savage stepped up to ‘brave the shave’ in honor and memory of her son Patrick who was lost to cancer at age 6 thirty years ago. Chris is a hero among us bringing hope to other families who are battling cancer and an optimistic attitude that others will one day not have to experience losing a child to cancer.

WGMS students stepping up for others
For our St. Baldrick’s event this year we had 21 individuals step up to ‘brave the shave’ as part of #TeamWildcat, including 8 WGMS students. We also had former West Genesee graduates from Saving Face Barber Shop volunteer their time to be a part of our St. Baldrick’s event. All in all, a lot of people giving of themselves for a transcendent cause.

When we talk to students about being ‘built for others’ this event is exactly the type of thing we are talking about; to take part in something bigger than yourself and to work for a transcendent cause. It is energizing, inspiring, moving and incredibly powerful. The entire WGMS community has been a part of this whether you shaved your head, made a donation, promoted the event, forwarded our link or supported and cheered on colleagues, students and friends who braved the shave. I can’t thank everyone enough for their involvement, encouragement, generosity and support. We have passed the $15,000 raised mark this year! Unbelievable! We are making a difference.

The world would be a much better place if everyone stepped up for transcendent causes, thought about others first and lived their lives to be truly built for others.

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham
Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Social Media: Time For Adults to Get In The Game

Rarely does a week go by that I don’t get a phone call or an email from a parent of one of our students explaining an “issue” or “drama” or potential “bullying” that their child is experiencing via social media. If it isn’t a parent calling it is a student approaching me with an issue that they are having in the virtual world. The fact that students and parents are coming forward and looking for help and support is a good thing. It’s actually a really good thing. My concern is that the problem of inappropriate use of social media seems to be growing and occurring at earlier ages than what we saw even a few years ago.

Inappropriate behavior on social media is prevalent across the country, especially by adolescents who more frequently seem to be handed a device of some sort and let loose without any restrictions or limits or expectations.  At the middle level we often refer to Mondays as “Cyber Mondays” as we are almost certain to have to deal with the fallout of something that happened over the weekend – totally unrelated to school, but being brought into school because it involves our students. The result is that as a school we spend a considerable amount of time investigating it; talking with our students, talking with parents and trying to effectively educate both on proper use of social media. Our key message is if there aren’t any restrictions, limits or more involvement on the home front then it isn’t going to get any better. The cycle will, and does, repeat itself.

This year I find myself spending more time than ever before talking to parents about how to get more engaged with their kid’s online life. A large percentage of parents that I talk to say that they don’t have the time, the energy or the expertise to stay on top of what their children are doing online. My main point is this: as parents we can’t afford NOT to stay on top of what our children are doing online. As an educator that has spent nearly twenty years at the middle level, it is clear that our middle school kids are NOT ready to be unchecked on social media. Parents MUST get in the game, monitor their kids and set limits. This isn’t exclusively a school issue and it isn’t exclusively a home issue. This is everyone’s issue that ALL adults need to be engaged with and take ownership of if we want our students to grow into productive, caring, responsible citizens of the world.

Even with all of the potential negatives, social media with its ability to connect with people throughout the world in real time is a powerful and important tool. Our primary charge is to prepare students for their future. So the answer isn’t to eliminate the use of technology for our adolescents or to ban them from social media, but we do have to more slowly and intentionally give them their online freedom. And we do need to stay educated on the latest and greatest of what is happening in the online lives of adolescents.

Here are some suggested DO’s and DON’T’s for parents and kids at the middle level that I have come across over the years from a variety of places:

  • Don’t allow kids to use devices in their rooms or in other private areas of the house.
  • Don’t connect with or 'friend' people that you don’t know.
  • Don’t use your full name for any accounts or in posts
  • Don’t give personal information to people such as phone number, address or the school you attend
  • Don’t meet anyone in person that you connect with online
  • Don’t reply to messages that harass you or make you feel uncomfortable 
  • Don’t share passwords with anyone but your parents
  • Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your parents, grandparents, teachers or a coach to see

  • Do block bullies or inappropriate people
  • Do report people that harass or bully others to your parents and/or school
  • Do use privacy settings that different APPs offer – keep your accounts private, not public
  • Do tell your children that you will monitor their posts and activity on social media
  • Do limit technology use = set a specific time limit for kids
  • Do put devices away at 9 PM and go to bed
  • Do charge devices in a common area of the house (not in the bedroom!)
  • Do have ‘device-free’ times such as during meals or right before bed
  • Do take the device away from your child if they are engaged in inappropriate behavior
  • Do keep an open dialogue with your kids about social media – you’re not harassing them, you’re being a parent!  
Some of these suggestions will be hard for parents and kids to deal with. Some of these won’t go over very well in some homes. But the time to start putting some clear expectations into place in order to promote a safer and more positive online experience has to start now. This is just too important in the short and long term for our kid’s social and emotional development and well-being not to take action right away.

In addition to those DO’s and DON’T’s, the links below are to two very good articles that parents and guardians of middle school students should absolutely take the time to read.

How to Prepare Your Child for Online Networking

Social Media 101: Five Things Parents Need To Do Right Now

Both middle schools are currently working on putting together an informational presentation for parents and guardians of our middle school students this spring to help provide you with tools and strategies to help get you more involved in your child’s online lives. As soon as we get the logistics worked out we will get the date and time out to everyone. We really hope that we get a large turnout and that we can help more parents and guardians 'get in the game'.

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Investing In Others

Yesterday we celebrated the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. His powerful messages of nonviolence, tolerance and love that he shared with the world in inspirational speeches and brilliant writings defined the American civil rights movement. His words are just as important today and perhaps needed now more than ever. Later this week we prepare for the swearing in of our 45th President of the United States, and there has possibly never been a time in recent history where the nation has seemed so divided, so uncertain, and so apprehensive about our future.

So the timing of this annual celebration of Dr. King couldn’t have been any better. It reminds us that the power for great change lies within each of us in how we live our lives; with selflessness, humility, courage, empathy and tolerance. We have the obligation to ensure that the message of Dr. King isn’t simply celebrated one day a year, but rather his work becomes ingrained in how we live and how we shape the future in each of our communities.

 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The most powerful and important work that each of us can do in our lives is to invest in others. And the most powerful and important lesson that our children and our students can learn from us is that we all have the incredible ability to lift others up; through our words and our actions. We are all built to help others. We are all built to live a life of service. In simple gestures like holding a door for someone; smiling and saying hello; inviting someone to sit with us who was eating alone; shoveling someone’s driveway; talking to others respectfully even when we disagree; forgiving others when they make a mistake; volunteering your time; listening to other people – not to form a response, but to actually listen to what they are saying and feeling – all of those little things, that is how we change the world. Those are the essential lessons that we should be modeling for our children and expecting to see from them at home, at school and in the community. All the time. And then call them on it when we don't.  

We must embrace the simple concept that other people matter. All people matter. If we live our lives in a way that has each of us asking ourselves each day, “what am I doing for others?,”  the world will be a much better place. From the President-elect and each of us to our children and students alike, our words and actions matter. Through simple selfless acts of investing in others, we are all perpetuating Dr. King’s powerful messages of sacrifice, tolerance and love that can define this generation and become the foundation for great change. Not just one day a year, but each and every day. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

January Update

It is hard to believe that we are quickly approaching the second semester of the school year. While we focus on finishing this year strong, it is also time to begin planning for the 2017-2018 school year. Scheduling letters were just sent home to our families of students in all three grades to provide an overview of the different course requirements and possible electives that they can take as they begin to think about the next school year.

In addition to the letters, school counselors have been connecting directly with our 8th grade students to discuss the scheduling process and the opportunities that students have as they prepare to make the move to the High School. An important component in the scheduling process and transition to the High School for our 8th grade students is our 8th Grade Parent Night which will take place on Tuesday, January 24th at the West Genesee High School Auditorium at 7:00 PM.

All Students Can Achieve Great Things
At the start of the school year you may remember me discussing our entire staff engaging in a summer reading of the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. in one of my blogs. During our faculty meetings this school year we have been diving into the book and learning a great deal about the science of motivation, the value of meaningful feedback and the power of our words when we speak to our children in a school setting, at home and on the athletic fields. With effort, motivation, perseverance and a variety of strategies and approaches, all of our students can achieve great things in school and in their other pursuits.

While working closely with Mrs. Lozier, Camillus Middle School Principal, on this staff professional development, we thought that it would be extremely valuable and worthwhile to put together a middle level workshop for parents to share some of the really powerful things that we have discovered. With that, please mark your calendar for the Got Growth Mindset! Presentation on January 31st at 6:30 PM at West Genesee Middle School in the cafeteria. In one hour we will share with you strategies, tips and examples of how to help build a growth mindset with your child at home and what we can do as adults to build more resilient children. Working with nearly 700 young adolescent student-athletes, student-musicians, and their parents on a daily basis, I can assure you that we need to build more resiliency in our kids. We hope you will join us on January 31st.

Continued Success,
Steve Dunham

Twitter: @Sdunhamwgms