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Elmsford AHS Mixes English, History, All in Color

ELMSFORD, N.Y. — Harcourt Tynes and his daughter Joy, 13, looked like classmates, sitting next to each other in the classroom and listening attentively to English teacher Richard Vergara, 38.

“We are so lucky to have another English teacher helping out,” Vergara said, pointing to Bettina Spargo, who stood next to the wall.

During Wednesday’s back-to-school night at Alexander Hamilton High School, Tynes, just as all the other parents did with their children, moved from one classroom to another with Joy, receiving from different teachers a brief on the classes’ curriculum and methodology. When it came the English’s turn, Vergara explained to him what’s new this year.

The biggest change, Vergara said, is that for the first time English and history classes will be coupled, with English reading and writing activities complementing what students learn in history. For example, after studying the Civil War, they will read Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.”

“We are losing some literature, but we gain on non-fiction, and we gain on history thinking and documents,” Vergara said, adding that students can still read the fiction books dropped from the curriculum.

Vergara also said that he will keep applying the color code in essays, an innovation introduced last year that he believes had good results. Using highlighters of different colors, students have to mark the different components of their essays. Vergara displayed the list of colors on the classroom’s screen — green for thesis, blue for details, yellow for transitions, pink for analysis and orange for conclusion.

“If I don’t see blue, they go back and create details,” he said.

He mentioned that students could identify the essay parts by other means, but that the color code, copied from a Massachusetts school that became a case study, makes it easier for them to spot what they are missing.

“For some reason, the colors are sticking,” he said.

Already on the way to another classroom, Tynes said that, when he attended the Alexander Hamilton back in 1979, there was no second teacher or essay color code.

“All this is new to me, but I think it will make things more effective,” he said.

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