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District News

Byram Hills Announces Jackson Deitelzweig as Valedictorian, Stella Li as Salutatorian

Mr. Deitelzweig will attend Princeton University in the fall, and Ms. Li is headed to Brown University. Both plan to study computer science.

“On behalf of the entire faculty and staff, I want to congratulate Stella Li and Jackson Deitelzweig on being named salutatorian and valedictorian for the Class of 2018,” Mr. Walsh said. “Both of these students have continually impressed their teachers during their four years at Byram Hills. Their thirst for knowledge and passion for learning are the qualities that stand out most. They are true role models for the students who will follow in their footsteps. We are incredibly proud of their achievements.”

BHHS Principal Christopher Walsh with salutatorian, Stella Li, and valedictorian, Jackson_Deitelzweig

BHHS Principal Christopher Walsh with salutatorian, Stella Li, and valedictorian, Jackson Deitelzweig

Mr. Deitelzweig, 17, was a part of Mock Trial, the Academic Challenge Team, the Tech Club, he ran spring track and was a student in the three-year Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program. He won the Byram Hills outstanding achievement award in math this year and last year, and won the Harvard Prize Book as a junior.

“I was really happy about learning that I was valedictorian, especially after working so hard over the past four years,” he said.

He said Byram Hills had prepared him well for life after high school.

“Byram Hills definitely has great facilities for everything I was studying,” he said. “I want to go into computer science or a math or science field and the fact that we have a science research program where you can focus on anything and learn everything about it, that just prepares you so much for what’s going to be happening in the real world.”

“On top of that, the internship program showed me what it’s actually going to be like if I want to work in engineering or computer science,” he said. “So all the different programs at Byram Hills and all the facilities have really prepared you for what you’re going to be doing every day at a job.”

He cited Lisa Pellegrino, the Byram Hills math Chairperson, as a teacher who made a difference in his academic career.

“She worked in computer science so she’s been like a role model and mentor to me in the kinds of things I should be learning and the kind of things I should be curious about,” Mr. Deitelzweig said. “And the way she taught her class was kind of different from all other teachers. It was more of a problem-solving class than a math class. She wouldn’t just stand up there and lecture, but she’d have us figure things out on our own, so I kind of changed my perspective of how a math class should be taught and it made me appreciate the subject more.”

Ms. Li, 18, was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, a Regeneron scholar and a student in the Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program. A violinist, she won the National School Orchestra Award and also won an award for outstanding senior English student.

On being named salutatorian, she said: “It really solidifies for me that what I did in high school kind of accumulated to this and it makes it feel like all the effort I put in counted for something.”

Her academic success was due in part to her love of learning.

“I really like learning, even for things that maybe weren’t my best subjects, and I’m very enthusiastic to learn new things,” she said. “I think that encouraged me to seek harder forms of study and really be engaged in what I was learning.”

She urged students coming up at Byram Hills to follow their passions.

“Pursue whatever interests you and the most challenging material you can, and don’t worry about failing because sometimes you can accomplish a lot more than you maybe thought you could, especially when placed in a demanding environment like a harder course,” she said.

Ms. Li also highlighted Ms. Pellegrino as a teacher who made a difference. “She has an interesting way of teaching math that helped set me up for success in higher math courses and rekindled my interest in math, especially when it was getting a little dense,” she said.

The board approved tenure for Mary Brady, a special education and reading teacher at Wampus Elementary School, and Jessica Shaw, an English teacher at Byram Hills High School; and for administrators Robert Castagna, the District’s director of health, physical education and athletics, and Deepak Marwah, the District’s director of fine arts. Jill Boynton, the District’s director of special services, was tenured earlier this year and recognized with her tenure class Tuesday night.

“Tenure means a commitment,” Superintendent Jen Lamia said. “Through extensive observations and extensive collaborations, the District feels confident not only in what you’ve done, but what we think you will continue to do for the children of Byram Hills. Each one of you has exemplified, for me, how collaboration with colleagues supports our kids.”

Byram Hills 2018 Tenure Class


The Byram Hills Board of Education has granted tenure to five educators this year who were recognized at a meeting on June 5, 2018. They are, from left in the back row, Robert Castagna, the District’s director of health education, physical education and athletics; Jessica Shaw, English language arts teacher at Byram Hills High School; and Jill Boynton, the District’s director of special services. In front from left, Mary Brady, special education teacher at Wampus Elementary School; and Deepak Marwah, the District’s director of fine arts.

Mrs. Brady began her Byram Hills career as a reading teacher and now teaches in a special education class. She’s the primary English language arts and math teacher for one group of students and supports two general education classes for science and social studies.

“You had to work closely with so many teachers and you’ve really done well,” Ms. Lamia said.

Ms. Shaw started as a high school teacher, was transferred to H.C. Crittenden Middle School and then returned to Byram Hills High School.

“Each time, not only have you collaborated with colleagues, but you have been that teacher that students seek out,” Ms. Lamia said. “They tell us time and time again that they want you. Having observed your classes, I know what they are thinking. I know it’s because you can reach students at all different levels and with all different passions, and that’s very special.”

Mr. Marwah was hailed for his deep collaboration with colleagues throughout the District in the areas of art and music. “Collaboration for you has really meant listening to your teachers and responding to them in an effort to support a really cohesive department of professionals,” Ms. Lamia said. “Each time, your results are just outstanding and Byram Hills has become a school to watch and model because of Fine Arts.”

For this year alone, Mr. Castagna has made great changes to the physical education, health and athletics for students, Ms. Lamia said, citing a few new sports programs. “You had a vision and you understood that you needed partnerships for that vision and that has been the focal point for your success,” she said.

Addressing the newest tenure recipients, Ms. Lamia said that every successful teacher and administrator in the Byram Hills School District practices reflection, refinement and revision.

“I see you reflecting, refining and revising as you move forward, and that’s going to be the hallmark to your success here and benefiting our children for a long time,” she said. “I’m glad to see you here at the beginning of a long journey for all of us.”

HCC Middle School Teaching ‘Dream Team’ Wins Prestigious Social Studies Award
Armonk, New York — Deborah DeFrancesco and Sheila St. Onge, veteran social studies teachers at H.C. Crittenden Middle School, were named co-winners of the Westchester Lower Hudson Council for the Social Studies’ Outstanding Middle School Social Studies Classroom Teacher Award.

The teachers, who began working together 26 years ago, collaborate on curriculum, assessment and instruction for the sixth grade, and each teach half of the grade. Mrs. DeFrancesco and Mrs. St. Onge were lauded by Byram Hills officials as a “dream team” that cares deeply about their students and never stops trying to improve their work.

“I am so proud of Deb and Sheila,” H.C. Crittenden Principal Kim Lapple said. “They both put their students first, striving to ensure that each student is motivated and engaged to learn more about others and the world around them. They have been relentless in their pursuit to reflect and refine their craft. They are passionate about challenging their students to be upstanders, to think beyond themselves and consider how to help others.”

They were nominated by Byram Hills Social Studies Chairperson Jennifer Laden, who hailed them as a “dream team.”

“This well-deserved award is a recognition of their careers focused on always putting their students first while challenging each other professionally to continually improve their practice,” Ms. Laden said.

Mrs. DeFrancesco and Mrs. St. Onge have incredibly strong relationships with their students.

“Their work is laser-like focused on continually improving their practice to advance student learning,” Ms. Laden wrote in her nomination. “As new initiatives and educational research emerges, they both engage in a critical review of the work and carefully analyze how it will work for their students and apply it accordingly.”

Recently, the pair have transformed their classrooms into student-centered learning environments where students direct their own learning, she said.

The teachers are not just focused on sixth-grade learning but “on what their students will need to be able to do at each step on their journey toward graduation and beyond and they expertly craft instruction and assessments that give students the skills and knowledge to ensure that future success,” Ms. Laden said.

The teachers were hailed as role models.

“For Sheila and Deb, last year's work is never good enough,” Ms. Laden said. “They work together every day to review their curriculum, instruction, and assessments and reflect on what worked and how it can be better the next time, and they love this part of the work, because it is a continual challenge to always be better.”

The awards were presented on May 23 at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers.

With everything that high schoolers are facing today, like challenging academic course loads, a slew of extracurricular activities and pressure to gain acceptance to a top university, it may be hard to imagine students finding a relaxing and tranquil haven at school.

But that’s just what’s coming to Byram Hills High School by way of a Wellness Den. With comfortable seating, calming, pale green walls and serene artwork, this separate space being constructed in the library this spring gives students a quiet place to just be, free from the rest of hectic high school life and the world at large.

There are no desks or computers here, and cellphones can be safely stored before entering. This is a place designed for purposeful lounging and unplugging from technology. It’s a spot just for students where they can recharge their bodies, re-center their minds and practice mindfulness, the art of being aware of the present moment and calmly accepting and observing one’s thoughts and feelings.

“It’s not for hanging out or chatting with friends or doing homework or schoolwork,” Principal Christopher Walsh said. “This space is specifically designed for our students who want to incorporate mindfulness techniques into their day. Research shows that practicing mindfulness for as little as three minutes a day can reduce stress and anxiety. If students are operating with a high level of stress and anxiety, we know that will have a negative impact on their learning.”

The den arrives as part of the wellness wave sweeping the nation, and the separate, quiet spaces that have been created in workplaces, universities and some schools as well. “We’re one of the first high schools in our area to have a space specifically designed for mindfulness,” Mr. Walsh said.

It also comes as our students, like many nationwide, are feeling stress and competitive pressure. Earlier this year, Byram Hills High School students participated in Stanford University’s Challenge Success Student Survey, an anonymous online survey that asked students about things like homework, academic engagement, extracurricular activities and sleep.

Preliminary results indicate that Byram Hills students would greatly benefit from more sleep, greater balance and more purposeful engagement, according to Mr. Walsh. The den is a step in helping students find balance.

“The survey has given us the opportunity to see life at Byram Hills from our students' perspective,” Mr. Walsh said. “What we are seeing is that they need a place like the Wellness Den to utilize different strategies to ‘get back to neutral.’”

The creation of the Wellness Den reflects a change in how educators view students.

“As recently as 20 years ago, educators focused solely on academics,” Mr. Walsh said. “Now, we see that we’re not doing our job unless we are attending to the whole student. The Wellness Den gives students the opportunity to quiet the background noise and re-center themselves, so they can go into classes ready to maximize their potential.”

A steering committee of parents, teachers, administrators and students is assessing the survey data and will be working to determine additional ways to improve the overall student Experience.

“The work we are doing with Challenge Success coupled with the new Wellness Den will give our students a better overall learning experience,” Mr. Walsh said. “Over the next few years, our hope is that the survey and the Wellness Den will help us redefine what success is for our students.”

Challenge Success and the Wellness Den were generously funded by the Byram Hills Education Foundation.

Through the thoughtful generosity of the Byram Hills Education Foundation, four projects on the forefront of health and wellness are coming to the Byram Hills School District in 2018.

The Foundation’s signature grants have funded the K-12 Wellness Initiative, which features a unique installation at each school that reflects the District’s commitment to the social and emotional learning and wellness of all students in a developmentally appropriate way.

“I am so grateful to the BHEF for supporting these extraordinary projects,” Superintendent Jen Lamia said. “They create a unique learning and growing experience for every single child in the District.”

The comprehensive K-12 wellness approach will help students be prepared to succeed in the classroom.

“The idea for the Wellness Initiative came about as the result of discussions with teachers, administrators, students and then the BHEF about creating a balance between the rigor expected in the District and student wellness and quality of life,” Ms. Lamia said. “Our students are achieving at a high level academically and in extracurricular endeavors, and we need to be sure to support them.”“When we help students reach their potential regarding wellness, we’re fortifying them to be the leaders of the next generation,” she added.

The initiative includes a Wellness Den at Byram Hills High School, renovations to the H.C. Crittenden fitness center, an obstacle course at Wampus Elementary School and an educational play space at Coman Hill Elementary School. It also includes the Stanford University Challenge Success Student Survey, which was given to students in grades six through 12.

Shari Fruhling, president of the Foundation, said the BHEF loved the idea of the K-12 Wellness Initiative.

“We’re thrilled we were presented with a District-wide grant that benefits our entire student body, yet is specific to the demographic in each school,” she said. “The Wellness Initiative is amazing because it focuses on the mind-body-and-soul wellness of every student.”