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Student Writing Skills Workshop

A Pen and A Plan: A Writing Workshop for the Middle School Student

Led by Ms. Sherry Parnell: Independent Professional Writer & Editor, Master of Arts in
Middle school age students can lose as much as 30% of their school year
learning over the summer. 1 This includes a loss of critical writing skills your child
needs to succeed. For the student seeking to keep up and get ahead, spending
as little as 2-3 hours per week during the summer can make a big difference.
Above Grade Level understands that as a parent you want to put your child in
the best position for success each new school year. That’s why we created the
Writing Skills Workshop for middle school students. This unique writing
program focuses on analytical and creative writing techniques. Students learn
to think critically and organize their thoughts into clear, cohesive ideas. They
will also learn some of the secrets professional writers use make their writing a
pleasure to read: writing with elements of style. The writing skills learned in this
course will be valuable throughout their middle school, high school, and college
Put your child in the best position to succeed. Above Grade Level is offering a
4-day writing workshop for middle school students to improve their creative and
academic writing skills.
Register early—workshop size will be limited to ensure individual attention.
When : July 23-26, 2018
August 6-9, 2018
Time : 9:00 – 11:00am each day
Where :
Henrietta Hankin Library // 215 Windgate Drive // Chester Springs, PA
Contact: (484) 467-9608 // kdavis@abovegradelevel.com
Cost : $189 for all 4 days // Bring-a-Friend for 5% off each
1 Atteberry, A., & McEachin, A. (2016). School’s out: Summer learning loss across grade levels and school contexts in the United States today. In
Alexander, K., Pitcock, S., & Boulay, M. (Eds). Summer learning and summer learning loss, pp35-54 . New York: Teachers College Press.



Prevent Summer Skill Plunge

Prevent Summer Skill Plunge


Most every parent recognizes the scene: “Yaayyy! It’s summertime!” inevitably morphs into, “I’m sooo bored…there’s nothing to do.” It’s mind-numbing for parents to attempt to plan entertaining, meaningful activities for a nearly three-month stretch. When those dull summer moments eventually arise, they beckon even the most resourceful kids to turn to electronic gadgets to fill the boredom. The result? Summer skill plunge.


In multiple studies, research has demonstrated that our children lose up to 30% of their learning from the previous school year over the long summer break. Admittedly, students in other countries continue their schooling through the summer, giving them a distinct academic edge over many of our graduates.


Well those are disheartening statistics, you may be thinking. But they don’t have to be. There is a solution to the summer skill plunge.


When parents partner with teachers, we can keep a child’s mind active with learning activities that are low-stress, fun, and productive. Chester County offers myriad summer workshops and programs for youth. We are home to several published authors and professional writers who are dedicated to inspiring young people with a love of reading and writing. Our county hosts several summer workshops led by professional writers. Whether it’s math, reading, writing, or a foreign language, a quality tutoring program can also make summer learning an exceptionally effective way to target and fill skill gaps.


Lest you think your child may mutiny at the thought of doing schoolwork in the summer, I find that many students actually appreciate having a structured learning activity in their day. Not only that, but the boost of confidence that comes with starting a new school year on top of their game trumps any momentary grumblings. Inspiring a lifelong love of learning will reap rewards for a lifetime.


Practical tips:


  • Reading: Encourage your child to select and read books on topics that interest them. I’m surprised by the number of students whose idea of reading is “I only read what the teacher assigns.” Trips to the library for children of all ages open up whole new worlds to them. Designate a “Reading Hour” each day. (Tailor the time so it’s age appropriate.) Talk to your child about what they’re reading. Draw them out with leading questions. Master the parental art of being an active listener. Show your child you value his or her “thinkings” and feelings.


  • Writing: Group writing workshops and literature discussion clubs for kids can be both challenging and inspiring. I’ve had students who would rather clean a bathroom as write a paragraph. But put ‘em in a collaborative group setting with their friends, and writing becomes dynamic!


  • Math: Studies show that one-to-one attention with a qualified instructor is the most effective way to boost math skills. Small group skill-builders can also be a ton o’ fun.


  • Cell phones are “Public Enemy #1” to meaningful learning. Don’t be afraid to establish your home as a “Cell Phone-Free Zone” for periods of time. After the initial shock and withdrawal tremors, I’ve found that many students actually LIKE ditching the constant distraction and drama of their cell phones. The trick is to suggest meaningful activities to replace the time spent on phones. Brainstorm alternate activities with them. There are always projects around the house with which to help a parent. Or neighbors—including Seniors and single moms—who could use a willing helper around the house or yard. My personal favorite summer activity? Send the kids outside with a bucket of water and paintbrushes—and have them “paint“ the house, the garage, the deck, the mailbox with water. The best part is, an hour later, the house will need to be “painted” again! And you’ll have the cleanest house on the block!



          Whether your child is a reticent learner or an enthusiastic, accelerated learner, summer is the perfect time to exchange the summer skill plunge with a lifelong love of learning!



Karen Davis, Director 

Above Grade Level – Delaware Valley 


ACT Tutoring in Downingtown PA


In-Home Tutoring Programs that work! Guaranteed!


  • K-12th Grade / 1-to-1, in your own home
  • Testing & Curriculum that target skill gaps
  • Gifted/Accelerated Programs
  • Math Skills
  • English Language Arts/Reading Comprehension/Writing
  • Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  • Spanish
  • College Prep
  • PSAT/SAT/ACT/AP Exam Prep
  • Study Skills


Above Grade Level – the Delaware Valley is the most remarkable tutoring service you will find anywhere. From our free comprehensive skill evaluation, to our $1.5 million proprietary curriculum, to our highly qualified tutors, your child will receive the best academic support that education has to offer. You will be amazed watching your child grow in confidence as he or she achieves skills they never dreamed possible. All this is provided in the comfort and convenience of your own home. No more driving your child to one more after school activity. Your child will receive 100% one-to-one attention, free from the distractions and pressures of classroom learning.


Above Grade Level is a comprehensive tutoring service that comes right to your own doorstep! What could be more comfortable, convenient, or secure? Our tutoring program is so effective that we can guarantee results!


Attention Homeschoolers!!!


Perhaps you are one of many homeschooling families in the Delaware Valley area and are concerned that your child may have gaps in his or her academic skills. Perhaps you feel insecure about your ability to teach challenging subjects such as math, sciences, or college prep writing. You need not feel uncertain about how your child is performing. Our comprehensive academic skill evaluation will show you accurately exactly the level at which your student is performing. Our outstanding tutors are available to provide assistance in Math, English, Writing, SAT/PSAT/ACT prep, and more. Let Above Grade Level pay attention to the details of your child’s education and assist you as you undertake the challenging responsibility of educating your child.



Above Grade Level’s program begins with the very same skill evaluation used by hundreds of schools and over 4 million students worldwide—so you know you are getting trusted, independently verified results. This skill evaluation is extremely detailed and accurately identifies skill gaps, as well as strengths. We offer this to our students absolutely free. From the results of the evaluation, we create an individualized lesson plan using a $1.5 million curriculum that is second-to-none in the education profession. Our curriculum is multi-sensory, enjoyable, and geared to mastery learning. No more “just getting by”—our students achieve subject mastery, and the confidence that goes along with it!

Above Grade Level provides skill remediation and support to students who are struggling with their schoolwork or are performing below grade level, or simply are not reaching their full potential. In addition we offer challenging enrichment tutoring to gifted or accelerated students. If you or your child is growing anxious over looming SAT’s, PSAT’s, ACT’s, or AP exams, Above Grade Level is here to help with our outstanding college exam prep curriculum and authentic practice exams from the College Board. We identify and target specific skill gaps your student may have and re-mediate them with our mastery learning approach. When your student works with an Above Grade Level tutor, they will know that they are well prepared to take their college entrance exams. Call today and schedule your student for a skill evaluation at absolutely no charge to you.

We’re proud of the service we provide to the greater Delaware Valley. Call us today and schedule your student for a skill evaluation and initial conference at no charge to you. We are so confident in the successful results of our tutoring program that we can guarantee your student will improve one entire grade level or 10 percentage points after 35 hours of tutoring, when he or she follows our recommended program.

New School Year: Fresh Start Homework Solutions

-by Karen Davis and Susan Kruger




Say the word to a student, and it’s synonymous with torture.

Say the word to a parent, and it often spells b-a-t-t-l-e-g-r-o-u-n-d.

As a parent, you know just how much energy homework can drain from your child (to put it lightly) and from you!

But is there a helpful way to get homework accomplished?


[pull-out quote:] The start of a new year is the perfect time to establish new routines to improve the process of doing homework.

Ask yourself this question: “If I could improve one thing about homework, what would it be?” Got your answer?

The first answer that comes to mind is probably, “Get rid of it!” Honestly, as a teacher that might be my first response, too. However, well thought-out homework assignments actually do serve beneficial purposes. So let’s try again…

After working with students for many years, some common complaints I hear include:

  • “It takes so long to do my homework assignments!”
  • “I keep losing assignments.”
  • “My parents get on me for procrastinating till the last minute.”
  • “Homework causes so much conflict at my house!”

Now that we recognize some problems, let’s create solutions!

Ironically, one of the most valuable purposes of homework is to learn to solve problems…and problems are inherent to homework. In almost every situation, a “recurring problem” can be solved by creating a system. The best solutions are simple, easy-to-follow homework systems. A homework system is simply a routine that helps you develop effective study habits that really work.

Here are some quick examples of effective “homework systems”:

  1. Distractions are the #1 reason homework takes a long time. The solution is obvious—take away distractions, e.g. the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Don’t want to be the bad guy? Believe it or not, students often share with me how much they appreciate when their parents do this. Oh, they may mutiny at first, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize how much more they get accomplished. Secondly, have your student set a timer for the amount of time they think an assignment should take, then challenge themselves to beat the timer. Not only does this help to focus on their work, but it also turns homework time into a competitive game!
  2. If losing assignments is your issue, reduce the number of notebooks and folders your child has to manage. I have students streamline all folders into one, 1” binder. Then, “Take 10” every time they sit down to do homework—2 minutes to put all loose papers into their correct folders, plus 8 minutes to review handouts or notes from the day.
  3. If your child is a victim of “Last Minute Panic Attack,” start having weekly family meetings (Sunday dinnertime often works well). Everyone discusses their schedules for the upcoming week (including parents): activity schedules, upcoming tests/projects, etc. This system works wonders because it encourages everyone to be proactive and cooperative in planning ahead together.
  4. To help eliminate conflicts, follow steps 1-3. They will eliminate at least 80% of your homework blues.

These suggestions are only examples, but they illustrate the concept of developing systems to help solve common homework problems.

Tip for Parents: Whenever possible, involve your children in brainstorming solutions. Children of all ages usually have honest and insightful ideas, especially when they feel like their input is taken seriously. The more input they have in identifying reasonable solutions, the more willing they will be to participate.

Finally, test your system. Be patient. It may take 2-4 weeks for a new homework system to settle into a routine. Be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

May Homework Hour become Happy Hour in your home this new year!


Karen Davis is the Director of Above Grade Level In-Home Tutoring service of Delaware Valley


STEM tops Pennsylvania schools in SPP

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education released its School Performance Profile (SPP) scores for the last time on Friday, with the Downingtown STEM Academy in the Downingtown Area School District topping the list of all Pennsylvania schools with a score of 104.   Although the SPPs are based on a 0 – 100 score, the Downingtown STEM Academy earned extra credit for the high number of students scoring advanced on the Math, Literature and Science Keystone Exams and on scoring 4 or higher on any IB Exam.


Six other Downingtown schools scored in the 90 – 100 range with DHS East scoring 94.2, Shamona Creek 92.1 Bradford Heights Elementary 91.6, Lionville Elementary 91.1, Pickering Valley 90.4, and DHS West 90.2.


Downingtown STEM Academy principal Art Campbell praised his students and staff.  “Our students, teachers, and staff work extremely hard everyday.  We are very pleased that the PA School Performance Profile has recognized the hard work and effort put forth by everyone.”  


“Our principals and teachers are extremely focused on student achievement and growth,” said Downingtown’s Superintendent Emilie M. Lonardi. “They have done an excellent job of preparing our students for rigorous assessments. As our leader, I am very proud of our success this year.  We will continue to strive for advancement across all levels.


The SPP system is a school accountability score, which replaced the previous Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurement used under the No Child Left Behind federal law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002.  That law required schools to steadily increase the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced with a goal of 100 percent success by 2014.   As 2014 approached, President Barack Obama began to allow states to devise their own alternatives to the AYP model.  Pennsylvania adopted the SPP system which looks at standardized test results and other indicators of academic achievement and growth.  


In 2015, the government passed the Every Student Succeeds Act which gave states greater flexibility to measure school accountability.   Under that law, Pennsylvania plans to introduce the “Future Ready PA Index” in 2018.   The state’s new school rating system will have less emphasis on the PSSA and Keystone exams and include heavier weighting for schools offering advanced placement; dual enrollment classes; offering career awareness at elementary, middle, and high school levels; gauging progress among non-English speakers in learning English; and factoring in other reading and math assessments.





Downingtown Area School District held a School Safety Summit

The Downingtown Area School District held its 5th Annual School Safety Summit on August 9, 2017.   Joining district administrators, principals and custodians were law enforcement officials representing our district’s 8 municipalities as well as Chester County DA Tom Hogan.  DASD’s Chief Security Officer Tim Hubbard was the presenter.  Mr. Hubbard spoke on a variety of topics including the responsibilities of the district’s school resource officers, holding emergency drills for 2017-2018 school year, pipeline safety measures and information on opioid and drug safety awareness.  He also gave an update on the district’s new video surveillance system that was approved by the board in 2014.

The district now has 1350 cameras in place throughout its 16 schools and administrative offices.  The intent of the cameras is to maintain the safety and protection of students and staff and to help law enforcement officials in the event of a criminal event.  Mr. Hubbard noted that once the first cameras were in place and turned on, authorities were able to find and arrest vandals who had drawn grafitti on the outside walls of DHS West and on several Downingtown Borough buildings.  

“We noticed a positive change right away in some student behavior”, said Mr. Hubbard.  “Some of the he said/she said issues that used to come before principals has stopped.   It is pretty hard to say that Johnny has done something when the video shows that Johnny hadn’t even been in the room when the incident happened.”

Stefani Dunne, a Downingtown Borough Police Officer is also the school resource officer for DHS West.  A school resource officer serves as counelor, enforcer and mentor in a school building.  Officer Dunne spoke about how pleased she is to be part of the DHS West family.  She joked that she never thought she’d be going to Prom again, but go she did at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year. Officer Dunne has a degree in education which has greatly benefited both her and the students she meets in the course of her day.   

“I think the kids feel really comfortable coming in to talk with me and I’ve even had some come up to my car this summer to say hi. I’m looking forward to returning to my duties at West.”

With the pipeline being in the news, Mr. Hubbard presented some dos and don’ts to those present.   He also described some of the danger signals to be aware of when in the vacinity of a pipline, such as a hissing sound, bubbling on the ground, discolored or dead vegetation or dry soil. He urged the principals present to conduct all-event drills that would include the opportunity for students and staff to practice some of the things they would need to do during a pipeline emergency.  

Chester County Emergency Services now offers residents the opportunity to sign up for alerts through readychesco.org.   This is Chester County’s official source for emergency information and government notifications.   





Downingtown Area School Board reorganizes with two new members

Four members of the Downingtown Area School Board were sworn in on December 6, 2017 by Judge Michael Cabry. The four were elected to serve a four year term in the November election.  Two new members include LeeAnn Wisdom representing the residents of Region 6 and Rebecca Britton, the new Region 4 Director.   Judge Cabry also swore in Barbara Albright (Region 8) and David Kring (Region 2) who will continue to serve on the board for another term.  

The Board unanimously elected Jane Bertone to serve as President of the Board for the 2017 – 2018 year.  Mrs. Bertone replaces outgoing president Colleen Cranney.   Carl Croft was unanimously elected to serve as vice president.   

David Kring is the owner of Conestoga Wealth Management, he is a financial planner. LeeAnn Wisdom is a graduate of Downingtown schools and is a former preschool teacher, child care provider and assistant coach. Rebecca Britton has worked in the technology industry and earned a degree in Business Management as well as a Paralegal Certificate.  Barbara Albright is a realtor and lives in West Bradford. 






Principal Ross spends night on school roof Lionville Middle School

Principal Jon Ross spent a cold night on the roof of Lionville Middle School to thank students for exceeding their fundraising goal for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.   The students raised $100 more than the $7500 goal they had set for themselves.  

Mr. Ross pitched a tent on the roof and encouraged students to check in with him from time to time on social media.   His exploits were livestreamed and those watching had the opportunity to catch him watching Netflix, reading a book and enjoying some of the snacks the students had sent up to him.   


Although many in the school suggested he wait for warmer weather, Ross felt challenged by the opportunity to spend the night in frigid temperatures.   The Daily Local News, NBC 10 and 6ABC came to cover the event.  




Secret Santa pays off negative meal balances for Downingtown Area School District

A Secret Santa walked into two Downingtown Area School District schools on Monday and paid off the outstanding meal accounts for dozens of students.   What he didn’t know at the time was that six other donors would follow his lead and pay off the negative balances at several other district schools.  The total donated by the seven anonymous donors now totals over $3,600.  


The first donor showed up at both Lionville Elementary School and Uwchlan Hills Elementary School and asked to settle all unpaid cafeteria bills.  The negative balances at both schools totaled over $300.  


Shelda Perry, principal of Lionville Elementary, said the gentleman had heard of another Secret Santa doing a similar good deed in another Pennsylvania school district and thought this would be a great way to give back to his community this holiday season.   “His two sons had graduated from our school several years ago and he remembered Lionville as a very special place. We are truly grateful.  This one act of kindness has impacted the lives of many families here at Lionville.”


Not content to help just one school, Santa then moved down the road to Uwchlan Hills, another DASD school, and paid off the negative balances of a few more families.  


“Although Chester County is one Pennsylvania’s thriving areas, there are still many families struggling to make ends meet” said the district’s superintendent, Dr. Emilie Lonardi.   “To have this gentleman “pay it forward” in such a thoughtful way will not only be remembered by the families he helped, but by our entire Downingtown family.”


In a thank you posted on the district’s website Richard Fazio, Chief Financial Officer of DASD, made mention of the fact that anyone else wishing to help could contact a district school. Six other Santas accepted that invitation and stepped forward to pay off the negative accounts at Beaver Creek Elementary, Uwchlan Hills Elementary, Springton Manor, Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center, Brandywine Wallace and DHS West High School.  DHS West received a check for $2400 from their annonymous donor.   Another $100 was donated to help out where needed most at the other 9 district schools.   The grand total of these generous gifts is now over $3600. 


“There are a lot of smiling people in the district this week”, said Fazio. 



article from:


Take Ten!

“Take Ten” is a daily, ten-minute routine that improves on the two key elements of improving grades: organization and learning. 

How It Works

When students sit down to do their homework each evening, they should take the first ten minutes to organize papers and review notes from all their classes:

  • TWO minutes to clean out the book bag and organize papers in folders or a binder.
  • EIGHT minutes to review all the notes and handouts that were distributed throughout the day.

This daily review helps the brain process information much faster, dramatically reduces study time for tests, helps students work through their homework faster, and will ensure that assignments get turned in!

Why Does It Work?

This process is very brain-friendly. It caters to the way the brain works on several levels:

  • Reviewing information within 24 hours helps the brain transfer information from short-term to long-term memory.
  • A review allows the brain to make new connections with information, making long-term recall easier. The brain works best when it has time to let new information “simmer” and be processed by the unconscious mind.
  • Students more easily shift into higher levels of thinkingWhen reviewing new information at a different time and/or in a different setting, the brain develops a new perspective on information. This new perspective allows the brain to channel the information at higher levels, moving beyond rote recall.
  • “Take Ten” makes higher level thinking and organization familiar processes for the brain! Habits get hard-coded into the brain; when neuron pathways are used several times, the brain takes note and coats those neuron pathways with a substance called myelin to preserve them. Take Ten is a simple habit to develop. It won’t take long before high-gear learning and organization become permanent for your students.


Susan Kruger, M.Ed. 
Former Struggling Student


QUICK RE-CAP: How to  Motivate Students for Success

 “Take Ten.” Students save hours of homework and study time by taking ten minutes every day to organize their papers and review notes: 2 minutes to clean out their bags and sort papers in their binder, and 8 minutes to review notes from all classes that day.