Monday, January 8, 2018

Snow, Ice, and Cold... Oh My!

Yes, there is snow!
Yes, it is icy!
and oh those temps!

Thank you to all our Shining Stars families for your understanding and patience as we work through this New England weather together.  I'm writing to share a few items with you as we continue in this wintery-weather stretch.  Due to our high traffic volumes today we delayed attendance, and nobody was marked tardy due to the weather-based arrival.

The sidewalks and grounds around our school have shared responsibilities with the DPW and our RPS facilities department.  They work together collaboratively to address the snow needs around the entire town and the school departments.  This is a massive job and one that requires them to be in many places at once.  We appreciate all of their efforts to keep us safe and cleared-out.

As we all know, our school has the best sledding hill in town!  Because of this, we often have more vehicle and foot traffic around our facilities.  With this increased traffic, our school often has compacted ice on the stairway coming up the hill, as well as blacktop clean-up being impacted due to lack of accessibility. If you are utilizing the hill during fun sledding hours, please encourage your children to walk up the hill rather than the staircase.

Also - please note that the  DPW does not treat town walkways or sidewalks with salt or ice, so the sidewalks beyond those in front of the school would not be treated with salt or sand.  (This includes the path through the field by the hill.)

I am meeting with the director of facilities to consider if there are other ways we can collaborative to help ensure our grounds our safe.

In the meantime;

  • Take it slow!  If you're driving down Edgemont or our side streets please slow your speed.  Our youngest learners are hard to see behind the larger snowdrifts
  • Remind your students it can be slippery - and encourage walking feet rather than running on sidewalks
  • Please reach out to me should you have any concerns or questions

Thank you for all you do - stay warm and stay safe out there!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Coding at Barrows School

During a meeting with Technology Integration Specialist Kathy Santilli we were discussing the challenges with getting in to get more coding opportunities to our students.  Especially for our younger learners first starting out, getting started requires time, exposure, coaching, and a chance to “play” with code.  We finally decided that rather than trying to find a time we’d make time!

This is how our AM Drop-In coding sessions came to exist.  We have enjoyed 3 sessions so far and (as the adults) are learning from each experience.  Our first day had a significantly larger turn out than we were expecting (see ~50 as compared to our expected 15!) causing us to think on our feet while dealing with some wifi glitches. Each time Kathy and I have met to revise, reconsider, and plan how we are going to continue to engage the community in this work.  What originated as a chance to participate in #HourofCode has turned into an ongoing offering for all our Barrows students.

I have found joy in watching the process of discovery – a written code, a mistake, trial & error, and then success!  The whoops of excitement that come from groups that figure it out are contagious, leading others to inquire about what they did.  This process has fostered communication, flexible thinking, collaboration, applying skills to an unknown context, learning from mistakes, organization, and planning strategies.  Those skills are some of the many bonuses we’re observing, in addition to the learning gained from the growing coding skills our students are developing. 

Teachers and staff do an awesome job every day ensuring they are meeting the state standards, teaching key skills and content, while fostering the well-being of every child through social emotional learning.  Students often get a chance to try coding during their library/media time or during special events (like #HourofCode day), but it hasn’t yet made its way fully into daily instruction.  I suspect that opportunities to code will continue to grow as we see more and more of our future careers and college experiences requiring this skill.

I hope more of our Shining Stars will join us!  Watch in our Starburst Newsletter and our Twitter page (@BarrowsSchool) for dates.  We plan to offer more drop-in sessions Monday mornings at 7:45am!

Want to read more?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Supporting your reader (child) at home

Over the last few weeks I have shared information about how families can support their students to grow their love of reading.  I have compiled all of the entries below for easier access.  Enjoy!

Value of Reading At Home

As we continue to grow in our learning over the year - an important skill that is applied across all content areas is Reading. Our staff do an amazing job of selecting a variety of genres to read with students, encouraging students to find interesting titles for independent reading time, coaching students through areas of challenge, and engaging students in literacy through individual, small group, and whole class text. As a parent/guardian you are an important part of this team effort, reading at home has a significant impact on student learning and growth. We all know how difficult it is to find time, but I would suggest to you that reading together with your child at home should be on the same level of importance to brushing their teeth.

Reading expert and author Donalyn Miller shared this thought; "Simply put, children who read the most at home surpass the educational success of their peers who do not read at home--even those who are hard-working, capable students....The children who read the most, both inside and outside of school, are the best at the school game. They are the best readers, of course, but they are also the best writers, spellers, possess the best vocabulary, and perform better in content-heavy areas like science and social studies. Clearly, reading is important, and the students who read the most possess the highest academic potential...I cannot make your children read at home in any reasonable way. The only people who can carve out reading time for your children at home are you, their parents. This is hard, but it matters more than any other academic support you could provide." (D. Miller, EdWeekly)

Wordless Picture Books
It is important to think of reading at home in many different ways, it is not exclusively a student reading independently to themselves. Fostering reading includes engaging students in many behaviors around language, stories, and art. Consider utilizing wordless picture books as a strategy to support readers, especially those that are currently non-readers. These texts provide a great way to engage family members of all ages around a common book. Wordless picture books tell a story, but also allow the reader to make their own story. They provide the components of any book; setting, characters, events, conflict, action, and more. Some favorites in my household are the "Journey" trilogy by Aaron Becker. We will take turns 'reading' the book through the pictures, take turns on each page, or will all add to each other's ideas as we explore the details of the pictures. This time of year "The Snowman" is also a great selection! This strategy can be expanded through looking at photographs, paintings, or other pieces of art to tell the "story" around the piece. Continuing this theme can be fun, challenge your child to make a picture that includes enough detail to create a story. To see more titles, check out this list on Reading Rockets website.

Looking for some good titles to check-out at the library or purchase for your child? Check out recommendations directly from children; You can find recommendations from kids a at the International Literacy Association Children's Choices site.

Listening to Books
Listening to books is a great way to practice many reading skills including comprehension, making connections, considering theme and characters, visualizing, and more. Sometimes there is a false assumption that because a child isn't reading a print text by themselves that it isn't "really" reading or that it is "cheating." The opportunity to listen to books can engage and strengthen readers of all ages 0-adult! Listening to books could happen in a few different ways;

  • ·   listening to a parent, guardian, sibling, or others read a book aloud,
  • ·   listening to audiobooks, books on CD, podcasts,
  • ·   reading an e-book with audio (text-to-speech) support.

Reading to your child provides a fantastic opportunity to bond over books, have great discussions, and create a shared experience around a common book. This doesn't have to take a lot of time, it could be a few minutes before bed, while waiting for a practice or activity to start, or in the morning before heading off to school. Reading aloud to your child can happen at any age, and can allow younger students or students that may struggle to decode text access to richer stories. Check out some great recommendations for read aloud books here.

There are various places you can access audiobooks for your child:

    Image result for playaway
  • Barrows Library has an "All Access Collection" which includes audio books
  • Reading Public Library has a collection of audio books as well as "PlayAways" which are portable media books that children may check out.
  • You can purchase/download audio books from many smart devices
  • Some websites have subscription based access to audiobook collections (including: and

Want to learn more? Check out the resources listed here:

Build reading into your routine
At the start of this discussion I shared that the behavior of reading should be as normalized as brushing your teeth.  We brush our teeth twice a day and don’t think anything of it.  I challenge you to build that reading normalcy into your home.  Check out some of these tips and tricks to bringing in the love of reading through routines and behaviors at home.
  • Make it clear you are a reading family – when you are reading the newspaper, an article or blog post online, a cookbook, or an instructional manual – you are reading!  Acknowledge and label the behavior and invite your children to join you!
  •  Have to go somewhere you may need to wait (getting an inspection sticker? Doctor’s office? Plane flight?) grab a stack of books and magazines instead of a device.
  •  Let your children see you reading for pleasure – and invite them to grab a book of their own and snuggle up for some quiet reading time
  • Pick a book that is also a movie, read the book together then watch the movie after – compare the two and pick your favorite
  • Pick a word of the day – challenge everybody in the family to use it at least once throughout their day.  The more interesting and rich the word, the better!  Share the experience with each other at dinner
  • Have a rhyming “duel” – pick a word and go back and forth trying to rhyme the word with real words! Last one standing wins
  • Go to the library together and pick out books across genres – try them out together and discover some new favorites.
  • Play with letters, words and sounds.  Magnetic letters and words can create a fun way to build sentences.
  • Leave messages on the mirror in the bathroom when it is foggy – when the next family member takes a shower your message will appear!
You may have many more ideas to add to this list – if you have a great way your family builds reading into your family routines, please email me to share [].  I would love to continue to grow our Barrows Community as a community of readers!

Happy Reading!
Love, Mrs. Leonard

Friday, September 29, 2017

Barrows Safety Drill

Dear Barrows Families;

I am writing to inform you that we participated in a safety drill this morning.  The purposes of these drills are similar to a fire drill, it allows staff and students to practice a routine that we hope to never have to use.  It allows us to examine our protocols and facilities to ensure we are addressing any needs that arise.  Today our Barrows students and staff did an excellent job.  The Reading Police Department worked with us and found many positives about the safety in our building.  We also went around and visited each Kindergarten and 1st grade classroom following the drill to celebrate their efforts.  I am proud of our Shining Star students today!

As always, if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me. 

Thank you,

Heather Leonard

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Red Flag" Days

We have enjoyed such beautiful fall weather that I haven’t had the opportunity to remind our community about our “Red Flag” weather days.  With the rains projected for the next few days, it seems timely to share these reminders now.

“Red Flag” days are applicable to morning drop off only (sorry, we cannot allow parents/guardians to wait inside at pick-up times.) When the weather is determined to be inappropriate for outside drop-off, a red flag is posted outside on the front of the building (right by the Kiss & Go lane.) I also do my best to post on our Twitter Page when we put the flag out (

On these "Red Flag" days students may begin to enter the building at 8:05a.m. Prior to this time doors will remain locked. At 8:05 a.m. students may enter the building through the following doors: Door #1 (Main office), Door #19 (cafeteria front entrance), Door #12 (blacktop entrance by cafeteria), and Door #16 (front of building by the gym.)

Especially on these foul weather days please observe our traffic safety laws (one-way on Edgemont, no idling, no parking on the school-side of Edgemont Ave, active drop-off in the kiss & go lane only, etc.) to help ensure the safety of all our students.

If you would like additional information about our “Red Flag” day determinations, read a previous blog post here:

Thank you for observing our safety procedures!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Why were our teachers out?

I love this question, because it invites a sharing of important information for our school community.  Often the question is coming from a place of frustration or confusion, as it is always challenging to have the classroom teacher out – even more so at the start of the school year.  Thank you to those parents that have reached out to ask this important question.  Your question helps us to share the important work that is happening for our adults in the building on behalf of our students.

Image result for professional development images

Image result for talking drawing writingOver the course of this month many different teachers will be out for a few days. Most recently, our Kindergarten teachers were out this past Thursday and Friday.  Our teachers were participating in a training designed specifically for Kindergarten teachers around the teaching of writing.  Developing students as writers is a big focus for our elementary schools this year.  Our staff was lucky enough to work with the person who literally wrote the book on early childhood writing development; Martha Horne.  Talking, Drawing, Writing( focuses on developing our youngest learners as storytellers and the guided shift towards becoming authors of rich stories.  We are lucky to have Martha, an expert in the field, working with our staff.

Image result for teacher quotesI acknowledge that having our teachers out at this early point in the year is a challenge.  I apologize for any difficulties it has created for your child as they are newly navigating the classroom routines, expectations, and relationship building.  I will note that the benefit of this professional learning happening now is that it will allow our teachers to implement these instructional strategies throughout the year with ongoing coaching from Ms. Horne starting right away.  Additionally – we must work within the availability of the professional trainers, consider scheduling across all grades, all schools and all district, while ensuring our teachers get timely training to improve their craft on behalf of our students.

Another challenge we encountered at Barrows this past week was a lack of substitute coverage.  Our amazing staff worked hard to step up and lend a hand in the classrooms, but this is a challenge that we do face.  If you (or a neighbor or a friend) have ever considered substitute teaching, I encourage you to reach out to Reading Public Schools HR department to learn more! (if not here at Barrows, then at least at another school in district!)  We have opportunities for teacher substitutes, paraeducator substitutes, and more!

I encourage you to revisit a blog post from last year about teacher professional development here:
Image result for parent school partnership 
Please reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns.  Of course, we always want our staff in their classrooms with students. We also want our teachers to be the best equipped professionals with the most current knowledge and pedagogy possible.  In the end, this is the best way for us to continue to meet the needs of all our children!

Thank you for your support,

Heather Leonard

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

More (more) new staff join Barrows

Dear Barrows Community;

We are excited to continue to welcome new staff to our Barrows Campus.  Today I am introducing you to our newest staff member, Joan Duffy.  She is joining our team as a 3rd teacher in our special education learning center.  Please check out her introduction video below;
Please join me in welcoming Ms. Duffy to our Barrows Shining Stars community!

Love, Mrs. Leonard

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MORE New Staff at Barrows!

Dear Barrows Community;

We are excited to continue to welcome new staff to our Barrows Campus.  Today I will showcase 2 more of our newest staff members.  Please check out their introduction videos below;

We are excited to welcome both Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Dittman to our Barrows Shining Stars community!

Love, Mrs. Leonard

Friday, August 11, 2017

Barrows Summer Reading Challenge

Barrows’ Summer Reading Challenge

Please select a book from the Reading in Reading booklist for elementary school students prepared by librarians at the Reading Public Library

 After you have read the book visit to answer the questions and submit your entries into the Barrows’ Summer Reading raffle! All entries are due by September 1, 2017 and winners (one per grade) will be announced at the September assembly. Prizes will include a pizza lunch or a book.

Reading Public Library

The Summer Reading Program began on Friday, June 16, 2017.   On Friday, June 2nd Ms. Fischer and Ms. Wettergreen, children’s librarians from the Reading Public Library, visited Barrows and spoke to the children about the summer reading program.  Please stop by the library to register for the program.  More information can be found at

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program


Step 2: Bring the completed Summer Reading Journal  to your local B&N store before September 5, 2017.
Step 3: Choose a FREE BOOK from a featured list (found on the Summer Reading Journal).
Please visit the website for more information.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Program


Barrows’ 4th and 5th grade students are eligible to participate in the 2018 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Program (MCBA).  Students currently in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade were given a book mark listing the 2018 nominees.  We have three copies of each of the 25 titles thanks to the generosity and support of the Barrows’ PTO. Additionally, the Reading Public Library has print and electronic copies of each of the 25 titles.  For more information about the program and for a Master List please visit

Family Book Talk

Are you looking for a fun way to connect around literacy this summer? Check out this great challenge - a Family Book Talk. Make a family video about some of your favorite books, then post it to our Barrows social media (Facebook or Twitter) with the hashtags #BarrowsShiningStars #FamilyBookTalk
Check out more information about Family Book Talks (along with some hints!) here:

Have fun reading!

New Staff at Barrows!

Dear Barrows Community;

We are excited to be welcoming new staff to our Barrows Campus.  Today I will showcase 2 of our newest staff members.  Please check out their introduction videos below;

* Vittoria Penna, 2nd grade
* Katie Jones, 5th grade

These candidates both rose to the top of rigorous interview processes that included many qualified candidates.  Please join me in giving them a warm welcome to our Barrows Shining Stars community!

Love, Mrs. Leonard

Heather Leonard, Principal
Barrows Elementary School
16 Edgemont Ave, Reading

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