District News

District News

Grade 8 Moving Up

On a hot day in June, bobcat spirit filled the air, as administrators, faculty, and staff stood along the front of H.C Crittenden Middle School and eighth-graders and their families drove by in a procession designed to honor the students. Cars were covered with balloons, banners, and messages of thanks for the HCC teachers.  Teachers cheered saying good-bye and good luck to the students as the line of cars drove by - a touching tribute to the class of 2024.

Later that evening, a more formal virtual Moving-Up Ceremony was held via live-stream.  It was here that Ms. Kim Lapple, Principal of H.C. Crittenden, addressed the graduates from the grade eight hallway and spoke of how this class built a community through “voice and choice.”  “We asked for honest feedback and respectful dialogue and you guys did just that. You had a genuine interest in bettering HCC and your actions have set a high bar for future classes.”

“We all know how important 20/20 vision is for the eyes to see clearly but know that this concept of 2020 vision applies to the lessons we have all learned during the 2020 school year,” said Ms. Lapple. “Never stop pursuing community building, creativity, or empathy. If you hold these life lessons close to your heart, your 2020 vision will be more clear and more powerful than ever.” 

Mr. Christopher Walsh, Byram Hills High School Principal, said “We were fortunate to have this class join us at the high school for orientation on March 10th, the last day the schools were open.  Now we have 175 days until you all become 9th graders and we can’t wait to have you with us.”  To conclude the ceremony, Mr. Walsh officially and happily accepted the class of 2024. 

Congress in Session for Grade 7

The Model Congress Unit included the entire seventh grade at H.C.Crittenden and incorporated one of the District’s goals of integrating project-based learning into the curriculum. “We saw a great opportunity for students to take more ownership of their learning as they developed their own laws,” said Mr. Andrew Benowich, H.C. Crittenden Special Education teacher.  

The unique hands-on learning experience involved every seventh-grader, as well as high school seniors enrolled in the AP Government class.  At the beginning of the unit, students were tasked with creating bills and going through the process of ushering the bills into law.

The students took on current issues in American culture and politics, such as equal rights, animal testing, veteran rights, and the environment. They researched the problems and offered solutions in the form of proposed legislation. 

49 high school seniors served as mentors, traveling to HCC several times during the project, helping students research, produce, and shepherd their bills through committees.

While the seventh graders’ study government, law, and politics, this was the first year in which students from Mr. Andriello’s high school AP Government class were in their roles as mentors.

“It was nice to go back to the middle school and guide the students in a way that would make a difference,” said Sophia Giamartino, a Byram Hills senior.

Owen Jacobs, a seventh-grader, said, “I loved working with the high school students because they influenced me to think more in-depth and put more detail into my bill.” 

Students evaluated the bills as lobbyists and advocated for or against a variety of issues ranging from the environment and climate change to gun control.  The high school students researched, prepared, and presented testimony.
Mr. Andriello added, “It was interesting to empower the seniors to be leaders. The seniors worked well with the seventh graders answering questions, guiding internet searches, keeping them on task, and completely engaged for the limited time they shared.”

According to Mrs. Iskovitz, seventh-graders learned how to work together, compromise, hear other opinions, and respond to people who might be against their idea.  “These are real-world skills.” 

In the end, eight bills made it to the House of Representatives for a vote. In a formal session of Congress, there was a live vote, and students heard the results in real-time.

Student, Owen Jacobs, introduced a law that would institute armed security guards at main school entrances. Owen said, “Out of 52 bills, mine was one out of four that passed into law, it felt great!”

The students’ excitement when they saw which bills passed, regardless if they wrote it, showed how much they were invested in the project.

In recent years we have seen a surge in the importance of emotional well-being in society, especially in schools.  Through research, we continue to expand our knowledge of the developmental phases of adolescence and how to better support our students as they encounter complex pressures in their lives.  As middle schoolers, students typically seek to be the manager of their own academic and social growth. “As they are striving to be independent thinkers and achievers, H.C.Crittenden must find a balance to honor each student’s autonomy while providing the support and ‘safety net’ to ensure their emotional wellness,” explains Ms. Kim Lapple, H.C.Crittenden Principal.

Keeping that in mind, HCC has integrated relevant and thoughtful new initiatives to assist in the overall wellness of students.  These initiatives utilize the team approach that drives the work in middle school and they also capitalize on the strong sense of community.

This work began during the 2017-18 school year through a survey conducted in partnership with Stanford University’s Challenge Success program.  “Challenge Success was a critical impetus for our work with wellness,” said Ms. Lapple.   “The data provided to us served as a launching point for our work and a lens into our students’ perspectives about their lives.”  The H.C.Crittenden Wellness Steering Committee, comprised of school stakeholders, analyzed and processed the data to identify areas to support student wellness in their learning community.

Since then, the work has grown tremendously and many programs have been put into effect based on the new learning.

 An immediate result was the implementation of team emotional wellness goals.  Each grade level and discipline team developed a goal that would focus on student wellness.  The special education team supports the goal of helping students build an awareness of their current and future educational programs through a better understanding of “self.”  “Team Wellness goals are one of our secret supports in helping our students,” said Ms. Lapple. “Teachers don’t necessarily formally announce how they are collaborating to ensure students’ wellness, but it is happening every day.  It’s part of our daily conversations as professionals.”

Another purposeful change at HCC was to incorporate a wellness theme.  The school used a conference day to implement ‘student choice’ activities. “Students could select workshops which had a focus on wellness,” said H.C.Crittenden Assistant Principal, Angelo Ancona.  “The workshops allowed students to explore their talents with faculty and guests.” They were designed to let students be uninhibited in a non-competitive environment and included groups such as, Ambidextrous Art in which students drew with both hands at the same time, creating symmetrical designs, Inside the Music, Inside Yourself, in which students channeled their emotions into art, and Yoga which challenged students to try different poses and games that promote physical fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance.

This past January, H.C. Crittenden continued the important work of encouraging kindness in its community.  This was the seventh year of #Kindness, created and inspired by the Guidance Department. “#Kindness is a week-long celebration that challenges the HCC student body to grow together based on respect and kindness towards one another,” said Heather Graham, H.C. Crittenden GuidanceCounselor.  “The dedicated full week began with a keynote speaker, Mr. John Halligan who lost his son to suicide in 2013.  His presentation, "Ryan's Story" covered how to deal with bullying, cyberbullying and teen depression. He spoke about how to reach out for help when needed and the significance of being kind to others.”  Another kindness related event included "Be the I in KIND" photo board, where students could take a positive picture to post on social media.

Finally, a new initiative for this school year is a student-based year-long project called Project Me, where self-reflection is paramount.  Project Me has strong connections to Challenge Success and wellness. “It was driven by the idea that we want our students to value self-growth over grades earned,”  said Ms. Lapple. “Student choice is important in determining their personal goals to support active learning.”  

This year-long reflection will lead to a presentation and celebration at the end of their journey. As a result, students will be more present in their own learning, make their own decisions and then reflect upon those decisions.

By definition, wellness is an active process of striving towards a healthy and fulfilling life.  Based on the collaborative efforts between Challenge Success and HCC, steps are continuously being taken to help students feel comfortable and confident in and out of the classroom while promoting and maintaining wellness.

Project ME at HCC


“Project ME grew out of the idea that we wanted to celebrate the accomplishments and growth of all students at the end of the school year,” said H.C. Crittenden Middle School Principal, Ms. Kim Lapple.  “We were striving to acknowledge students’ individual growth in addition to the traditional achievement-based model.”

This plan was centered on the collaboration with Challenge Success, an organization that works to help foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and better prepared for adult life.  Ms. Lapple and her staff knew they aspired to integrate the concept of ‘growth over grades’ and honor all students.  

The year-long search of how to define student success was set in motion.  There were many discussions with the HCC faculty who looked at various prototypes before determining the most beneficial one for their student community.  Project ME  transpired after thoughtful research and consideration from stakeholders.  The project’s goal is to build and foster a community where personal growth and self-reflection are foundational values.

“Project ME benefited from a vision that came from professional development that some of our HCC teachers were engaged in,” said Ms. Lapple.  “Members of our faculty participated in a year-long workshop experience that centered on the work learned at High Tech High (HTH).  The HTH concept began in a single high school in California and has grown to include a network of schools where students pursue their passions through project-based learning.”  

As teachers were developing their own units, they were inspired by the impact of HTH and wanted their students to have an empowering middle school experience.  Their vision propelled Project ME to be an innovative way to culminate the year.  They felt the components of this project would go hand in hand with their mission while complimenting the District initiative of emotional wellness.

Project ME focuses on the idea of becoming an active learner.  The goal is to allow students to explore what active learning means to them. As a result, students will be more present in their own learning, make their own decisions and then reflect upon their decisions. 

The process will begin with each student identifying a behavior, disposition or mindset that they feel is necessary to become a more active learner.  To aid in this work, there will be monthly meetings where students will be placed in squads, consisting of small student groups of mixed grade levels, and a faculty facilitator who will share and support each other through their work.

“Last year, in our Voice Circles, students expressed a desire for more opportunities to interact with other grades.  Project ME honors this feedback, said ” Mr. Angelo Ancona, H.C.Crittenden Middle School’s Assistant Principal.

Students will track their personal progress throughout the year and document their advancements in a digital portfolio.   They will also collect and retain artifacts as evidence during the process.  “At the end of the year, Project ME will be shared through the student’s digital portfolio and the ‘Presentation of Learning’ about their growth through time,” Ms. Lapple said.  Students will present to their squad and other audience members which helps to build confidence and strong communication skills.

“Students will reflect on their successes and struggles and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.  They will also be asked to consider other ways they can grow into the next school year,” said Ms. Lapple. Through the exploration of Project ME, HCC students will have a better understanding of themselves both personally and academically.  This is a very positive way to end the school year.

Grade 8 Moves Up

The HCC Moving Up Ceremony brought excitement to students and their families on June 24th, 2019.  Students received their diplomas and kind words from H.C. Crittenden Principal, Ms. Kim Lapple.

“As a grade, you’ve excelled both as individuals and as a collective group,” said Ms. Lapple.  “This class has become such a positive force.” She then proudly handed the grade over to Mr. Christopher Walsh, Principal of Byram Hills High School.

“Your class will be the 55th in our school’s history and I look forward to seeing the distinct identity that you create,” said Mr. Walsh. 

"September 3rd is in 71 days and we can’t wait to have you all at the high school. Congratulations to the class of 2023.”

H. C. Crittenden eighth graders shine on stage during their Moving Up Ceremony.