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A Day with KIPP Special Educators: Part 2 – Middle School

True or false? Our K-8 students who receive special education services passed the ELA and math state exams at more than twice the rate of similar students across the state. True! At KIPP NYC, we are dedicated to ensuring 100% of our students are on a college pathway, and this includes providing high quality special education to our 19% of students with IEPs.

Last week we shared KIPP’s vision for special education at our five elementary schools. This week, we reveal a day in the life of two incredible middle school special education teachers.

Middle School Special Education
In our middle schools, the special education supports and structures are continually evolving so we cater more effectively to our diverse communities and the specific needs of each incoming class. We utilize a robust Integrated Co-teaching (ICT) model paired with individualized supports that we adapt as students transition from 5th to 8th grade.

Alaria Pizzo (right) with KIPP STAR students

Alaria Pizzo

KIPP STAR Middle School, Fifth Grade Team Lead & Special Education Teacher

Alaria Pizzo has been teaching for five years and is in her second year at KIPP STAR Middle School in Harlem. She believes it is imperative that all students feel safe in their learning environment. Moreover, all students should be given the tools to be successful, regardless of their starting point. Each day, Alaria teaches students that we all learn differently, and that’s okay!

What do you feel makes special education at KIPP unique?

Our students with learning differences benefit from a variety of supports that set them up for a positive school experience. Teachers work with students and their families to ensure every student receives the best academic and social development. If you walk into our ICT classes, you will see a number of different strategic teaching models and outstanding individualized planning. Teachers set a high academic bar while also providing instruction tailored to each student’s level.

What supports help you serve your at-risk students?

Since day one, I have been provided with the resources needed to help support our students with learning differences. A small group table, white boards for multiple learning strategies, relevant and high-interest books for all reading levels… the list goes on! These resources have allowed me to make learning accessible and engaging for students at all academic levels.

How does KIPP promote your growth as a professional?

I am supported by a variety of coaches in a multitude of ways. I am pushed to develop in my content area through one-on-one coaching sessions and school-wide workshops. I also learn through observation and informal conversations with my peers. From the network to the school level, I feel supported at KIPP.

Alaria’s Day

7:25-7:45 - Morning Announcements

Start each morning together as an entire campus. Our Principal shares important announcements as well as relevant “what’s-happening-in-the-world” video clips.

7:45-8:45am - Reading Intervention

Teach a SETSS reading intervention class for students who struggle with decoding and fluency.

8:45–9:15am - Prep /Looking At Student Work

Review student work for my ICT writing class, identifying both individual student needs and class trends.

9:15–10:15am - Reading Intervention

Teach a SETSS reading intervention class for students who struggle with reading comprehension.

10:30–12:00pm - ICT Writing

Co-teach a writing class where I focus on lesson differentiation, making class materials accessible for all students. Given the nature of writing instruction, individualized conferencing is key.

12:00–1:30pm - Prep: Lunch & Planning

Eat lunch with my students while they either read or receive extra help from me.

1:30–3:00pm - ICT Writing

Co-teach a writing class where I focus on lesson differentiation, making class materials accessible for all students. Given the nature of writing instruction, individualized conferencing is key.

3:00–3:30pm - Tutoring

A few students are significantly below grade level in reading so I work with them one-on-one.

3:30-4:00pm - Co-Planning Meeting

Meet with my co-teacher to review how the day went, exchange observation notes, and reconfigure plans for upcoming lessons.

4:00–5:30pm After-School Activities and Planning

Cover Homework Academy once per week. Homework Academy is for students who struggle to complete their work on time. Other days, I tutor students and prep for upcoming lessons.

Christian Veliz

KIPP Infinity Middle School, Fifth Grade Special Education Teacher

Christian Veliz joined KIPP Infinity Middle School as a Teach for America Corp member in 2014. He first learned about KIPP in his college education classes and knew that KIPP was where he ultimately wanted to teach. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Christian is now in his third year at KIPP NYC as a 5th grade learning specialist.

What do you feel makes special education at KIPP unique?

Everyone at KIPP Infinity believes kids come first. We bend over backwards (think: find a way or make one) to meet student needs whether or not they have IEPs. Folks are knowledgeable about what student IEPs contain and are collaborative about finding solutions when the current plan isn’t working.

What supports help you serve your at-risk students?

Every teacher has a coach who observes them at minimum once a week. This constant feedback loop is crucial to becoming a better teacher. Similarly, we have professional development a couple of times per month whether it be Data Days, whole-school PD, or content team meetings. Our coaches are veteran content specialists who promote growth in everything from organizing an Outlook calendar to classroom management. They help me identify where student understanding might break down when teaching a concept and support me to differentiate my instruction for a variety of learning needs.

How does KIPP promote your growth as a professional?

No teacher is complacent here. Every teacher is seeking to tweak or improve their craft. The passion that my co-workers bring to the table is inspiring. There is so much to be learned from Big KIPPsters. Our leadership team greatly prioritizes staff culture and our voices and opinions are valued. We are able to serve our students as our best selves each day and continually grow as educators.

Christian’s Day

7:30-8:00am - Arrival and Breakfast

Staff members take turns supporting with arrival and breakfast duty each morning.

8:00-8:20am - Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting sets the foundation for the day, establishing the climate and highlighting any academic or social skills students will need throughout their classes.

8:20-8:55am - Reading Mastery

Lead a small group of 6-10 KIPPsters, teaching them phonics and decoding skills.

9:00-10:00am - Guided Reading

Lead a small group of 6 students, focusing on word solving and comprehension skills. These groups are formed based on students’ STEP reading assessments and IEP goals.

10:00-10:40am - Story Problems

Co-teach a whole class math lesson, teaching students how to solve story problems using manipulatives.

10:45-11:05am - Lunch

Teachers take turns supporting with lunch duty.

11:10am-12:00pm - Eureka Math

Co-teach a second math lesson, teaching grade level math skills through the use of problem solving and manipulatives.

12:05-1:35pm - Excellence Block

Each day, students go to physical education, dance, music, science, or theater classes. Homeroom teachers use this time for co-planning and prep.

1:35-2:00pm - Choice Time

This is an opportunity for our KIPPsters to develop social skills through dramatic play.

2:00-2:20pm - Nap/Snack

We give our students a moment to relax and refresh for the afternoon.

2:20-3:10pm - Wheatley

Wheatley is our main ELA block. During this time, students read above level texts. My co-teacher and I scaffold our questioning to support students in answering text specific comprehension questions.

3:10-3:40pm - Writing Workshop

My co-teacher and I facilitate writing, where our KIPPsters go through the process of brainstorming, drafting, and revising a story.

3:40-4:00pm - Closing Circle

During Closing Circle, we revisit the day and review any academic or social skill progress or challenges.