General Info

General Information and Policies

[updated 8/27/16]

Educational Philosophy and Methods:
I once saw a commercial on TV for an electronic gizmo that claimed to make learning math “easy.” Children are learners by nature but real learning is not easy. It requires hard thinking, questioning assumptions, a willingness to try new and uncertain things, and perseverance. Fortunately, if a student is excited about a project or curious about a question then he or she will be motivated to learn. That is why my students work collaboratively on projects. That is why I present them with real world problems to solve. That is why I foster a classroom environment where students are praised for taking risks, supporting one another, and sharing their questions. In other words, to help your children get the most out of this year, I will try to make school an adventure and intellectually stimulating for them.

My approach is strongly influenced by constructivist learning theory along with some more traditional ideas. As regards math, I have found that students often can discover most of the rules of math without ever being told what they are–as long as they are given the right sequence of problems to solve and reflect on them. This kind of self-discovered knowledge tends to stick better and it is an empowering way to learn. However, I try to adjust my methods to whatever is working well for the students. With ELA I typically customize the curriculum to integrate the learning of language skills with historical and scientific content–rather than keeping all of the subjects artificially separated. Using the history of our own neighborhood as a case study, the students will delve deeply into the political, cultural, and economic history of New York. They will discuss, debate, and write about the wisdom and ethics of decisions made by our predecessors in their essays and fiction writing. By studying the area around the school, the learning will spill out of the classroom as we explore the neighborhood with a historical and scientific lens. Why study geology inside if there are 1-billion-year-old rocks right across the street? There will be many field trips!
I strive to help your children discover new interests that become passions. I hope to develop their capability to pursue those passions independently. I want them to become more knowledgeable, more curious, and more confident about their ability to make a positive impact on the world.

Please come to the “meet the teacher” event to learn more about how learning happens in this classroom. I will post the time and date of the event above when I get the information from the administration.

Practical Stuff

Notes and Notices:
All notes and notices from the school will be sent home in your child’s red homework folder. Please check this folder every night, read the notes, and return requested forms in a timely manner. If you wish to contact me, please send a note in the homework folder or send an email. Please keep in mind that I am not always able to check email during the school day but I will check it daily before school starts.  Also, email is best for if you are looking for a short answer to a question.  For more complicated questions (such as “How is my child doing in school?”) it is better to meet face to face.  I simply do not have time to craft intelligible responses to questions like that.

It is important that you inform me (in writing) of any changes in the transportation that your child will be using to get home. Also please let me know if someone other than the designated person will be picking them up at school.

Snack and Lunch:
We will have a short snack (about 10 min.) at around 10:00 and lunch at 12:30. Snacks should be small and nutritious. I may occasionally take the children to the schoolyard for snack if I feel they need to stretch their legs and get some fresh air.

Homework is assigned every night, including weekends. The assignment sheet will be posted on the class website and be handed out to anyone that needs a hard copy. Please look over your child’s notebook or assignment sheets each night to make sure that they have completed their homework. Please give me feedback as to how the homework assignments are going at home. The children will be thinking and working very hard at school so the homework is not meant to be too arduous.  Please feel free to help your child with homework. If your child finds a math problem very difficult, please circle it so I know to go over it with them in class.

Lateness and Absences:
When the children first enter the classroom, they unpack and start an activity. The first lesson begins at 8:10. Students that frequently come in late will be at a serious disadvantage in their studies. Please keep in mind that selective middle schools pay attention to the number of absences and lateness. Zero latenesses looks really look on middle school applications! It is school policy that, following an absence, your child bring in a note indicating the reason for the absence. Please remember to include your child’s name and date of the absence.

Class Trips:
In social studies fourth graders study the history and development of New York State and New York City. In Science they study plants, animals, the water cycle, and earth science. All of these subjects relate to the world outside the classroom so we will take many trips to invigorate these subjects. I take trips seriously. They will always correspond to the work we are doing. They are never just for fun (although everyone does seem to enjoy them!) Some of the trips will be local walking trips in the vicinity of the school (mostly to local parks). Please sign the walking trip permission slip when it comes home, which will serve as permission for your child to go on all of the local walking trips. I will let you know at least one day in advance before we go for one of these walks in the neighborhood. Other trips will be more distant and I will need help from parents to chaperone so please try to volunteer for as many as you can.

Birthday Parties

If your child would like to celebrate a birthday in school, please send in a note in advance. We have birthday parties in the afternoon, around 1 PM. Please send in treats in individual portions–cupcakes, brownies, ice pops, ice cream sandwiches, and juice boxes all work well. Please do not send in a cake.

Scholastic Book Order:
If you wish to order books through scholastic I highly encourage you to do so through their online ordering system for three reasons. First of all, you get lots of free books if you order online. Secondly, scholastic pays for books for the classroom with every online order. Finally, the online system is easier for me and takes less time. If you are unable to use the online system, I will also send the catalogues home for mail order. You can make an order online by visiting:

Fall Schedule:
Every day your child will receive instruction from one of our cluster teachers. The fall schedule has not been finalized at this time but it should be posted on the class website before the end of the first day of school.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Nick Dembowski