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Family Communication & Engagement

Conferences

We offer formal conferences three times during the academic-year, in September, December and May, to exchange information and discuss children's learning and development. The classroom teacher posts a sign-up sheet two weeks prior to conferences. We arrange substitutes for the supervising teacher to conduct conferences; if you are unable to conference on the alloted time, the teacher must make arrangements to conference on his or her personal time, therefore we ask families to make every effort to meet at the scheduled time.

In September we hold Initial Parent Conversations, during which teachers and parents exchange information about children's transition to the school-year and goals for the year. Prior to the December and May conferences teachers provide written documentation of children's development. The conferences focus on children's development during the time period. 

Teachers or parents may also initiate conversations at any time of the year; teachers are always willing to meet with parents at their request. We also value informal communication by telephone, e-mail, or in person. We encourage parents to share their questions, concerns, and suggestions as they arise. The best time for communicating with supervising teachers is between 3–4 p.m., as they are not responsible for children during this time. Please understand that if you arrive close to departure times, it will be difficult for teachers to engage in lengthy discussions - it is difficult for teachers to attend to and participate in important conversations when they are responsible for a group of children and it is best to refrain from talking about children when they are nearby.


Reports and Portfolios

Teachers conduct observational assessments and systematically document children's skills, knowledge, behavior, and academic accomplishments in the cognitive, language, fine and gross motor, social/emotional and life skills domains. Toddler and preschool teachers prepare narrative reports in December and portfolios in May. Teachers prepare narrative reports every three months for children younger than fifteen months of age and children who have special needs.

Preschool
The preschool program uses the research-based Work Sampling System to guide the development of individual portfolios for each child. Work Sampling is a curriculum-embedded, authentic performance assessment and aligns with our philosophy and practice in the ways that it honors children's active construction of knowledge and conceives as observation, documentation, assessment and curriculum development as interacting and reciprocal. The portfolio is a puposeful collection of a child's work and reflects her social, emotional, physical and academic development. 

Teachers' observations, documentation and assessments are ongoing and inform the experiences they plan for children. The portfolio includes "Core" domains of Personal and Social Development, Language and Literacy, Mathematical Thinking, Scientific Thinking, Social Studies, The Arts, and Physical Development, as well as "Individualized Items," which portray a child's unique characteristics and the classroom curriculum.

Teachers develop the portfolios electronically and distribute them by e-mail to families the day before conferences in December and May. We maintain a hard copy of the portfolio in a notebook in the classroom, which remains at Fort Hill for the time a child is enrolled at Fort Hill. When a child leaves the school, we give the portfolio to the family.

Infant/Toddler
The infant/toddler assessment reports are adapted from a similar observational assessment, developed by the same team as Work Sampling. The teachers write narrative reports, which include development in the cognitive, language, fine and gross motor, social/emotional and life skills domains. Families with children younger than fifteen months receive these reports every three months; families of older toddlers receive the reports in December and May.


Screening

Screening is a quick look at a child's development to determine if further evaluation is warranted. We use the Ages and Stages Questionnaires ASQ-3 and ASQSE-2 to conduct developmental screenings in October. Teachers communicate the results of the screenings during the December conferences.

We publish two forms of electronic documentation on a regular basis: Friday Documentation and Blogs. Each is intended to serve a different goal. All children are not represented in a documentation each week; teachers maintain records to be sure that every child is represented at some time during the year, and to maintain equitable representation. The goals of these documentations are broad: to share the community experience and to engage families in dialogue about curriculum. Children’s individual portfolios and reports are intended to document and share individual experiences.


Documentation

At the end of the day on Fridays we prepare a multi-page pdf "documentation," which includes a page from each of the classrooms and studios. Families and Fort Hill staff receive an e-mail with the link to a webpage late Friday afternoon. The link allows the reader to open the page directly from the e-mail message. The webpage is secure and can only be accessed with the same username and password as the blogs. 

One of our goals is to create a strong, connected community at Fort Hill. The purpose of the multi-page Friday documentation is to give families and educators a glimpse into each of the classrooms. Children and educators have many opportunities to interact with people throughout the school. For example, the building was designed to encourage interaction with full-light doors, classrooms that connect to one another, common spaces and shared playgrounds. Children often visit other classrooms or common spaces, for example, a group of preschoolers may visit a child's sibling in the infant/toddler wing, some young preschoolers may visit an older preschool group, children in different classrooms may work on an extended project together, or a group of toddlers and a group of preschoolers may be together on the playground, the studios, or in the commons. We hope that by presenting a weekly "snapshot" of all the classrooms, families and educators will be able to see the community as a whole.

The primary goal of the Friday documentation is to offer all members of the Fort Hill community a “glimpse” into the life of the community. We hope that everyone will read each of the pages of the documentation – children are often featured in the documentation of classrooms other than their own, and we hope that the documentation will help everyone know all members of the community and gain a sense of the philosophy and spirit of the school. Teachers design the Friday documentation so that it is simple and easy to read, with few words and engaging photographs so that it can be read quickly while conveying a clear message about your child’s community.


Blogs

The blogs are intended to show curriculum development in the classroom and to encourage, and provide a format for, parents to participate in curriculum development. Our goal is to make the children's learning visible and to engage parents, and the teachers at Fort Hill, in discussion that leads to extending and deepening the curriculum. 

Teachers publish a blog post at a minimum of two per month. The blogs have a “Comment” feature and we hope that everyone in the community comments on blog posts.

The annual calendar is published in August and is available on the Fort Hill website. A draft of the calendar is distributed to enrolled families, along with other enrollment information, in July. The calendar with the annual closing dates is published as a PDF file and a calendar with more detailed information about classroom events and events that are planned during the year is published online.


Inclement Weather Closings

Fort Hill follows the schedule of the Smith College administrative offices. For information about delayed openings, early closings, or weather emergency information, call the Smith Information Line at 585-INFO, the college’s only official weather source. An updated announcement of storm delays or closings will be available beginning approximately at 6:30 a.m. on the affected workday. If possible, an announcement will also be posted on the Smith website. For news on delayed openings or cancellations, tune in to: WHMP (Northampton) 1400 AM/99.3FM; WFCR (Amherst) 88.5; WHYN (Springfield) 93.1; WWLP-TV Channel 22; or WGGB-TV Channel 40. Fort Hill is considered an "administrative office" at the college and all announcements pertaining to the administrative offices, or to the college as a whole, pertain to Fort Hill.

All families and staff at CECE are included in a mass notification system, RAVE. The mass notification system is used to notify families of emergency situations, including early closings due to inclement weather. The system is not used to notify families and staff of delays and closings due to inclement weather announced prior to 8 a.m.

Please also see the Emergency Response Plan for further information about closings due to emergency events.


Holidays, Professional Days, and Vacation Days

Please see the annual calendar above with closing dates.

Holidays
Fort Hill follows the calendar of the administrative offices of Smith College and closes for holidays according to the following schedule:

  • Labor Day;
  • the Wednesday (half Professional Day and half Holiday) and Thursday of Thanksgiving week;
  • Winter Break for approximately one week between Christmas and New Year's Day;
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day;
  • Memorial Day; and,
  • a day near the 4th of July, determined in April

Professional Days
Fort Hill closes monthly, except for September, for Professional Days. The dates of the closings are selected to align as closely as possible with Smith College closings, public holidays, and/or public school closings. The dates typically include:

  • Five says in August prior to the opening of the academic-year program;
  • Columbus Day;
  • Wednesday morning of Thanksgiving week (the afternoon of that Wednesday is typically a Smith College holiday;)
  • the day prior to the closing for Winter Break;
  • Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday closing;
  • Monday of public school February vacation week;
  • Monday of Spring Recess;
  • Friday of public school April vacation week;
  • the afternoon of Grandparent/Special Friend Day;
  • the afternoon of the last day of the academic-year program;
  • the day between the end of the academic-year program and the start of the summer program;
  • a half day in July to practice evacuating to a host location (families pick up children at the host facility at noon)
  • the Friday of the last week of the summer program

Professional days are integral to the Fort Hill program and allow teachers the time necessary to develop the community and knowledge base to plan a cohesive program, based on current research in the field of early childhood education, that meets individual children's needs. During these days teachers:

  • meet together in various configurations;
  • participate in shared learning professional development activities;
  • assess, maintain and enhance the classroom and school environments; and,
  • engage in community building activities and celebrations.

Vacation Days
Fort Hill is closed for vacation for one week after the close of the Summer Program. This closing allows time for the Facilities Management department of Smith College to throroughly clean and maintain the building.

The program also closes for vacation during the college's scheduled Spring Recess. We offer a separate March Program on some of the days of this week and hold professional development activities on other days of Spring Recess week. Enrollment forms are distributed in January.

Children benefit significantly when teachers and parents regularly and openly communicate and, in the process, develop positive relationships. Building relationships among parents and teachers helps to provide a strong foundation for children’s positive experiences at school. Parents are encouraged to talk openly with teachers to establish these relationships.
Parents are welcomed and encouraged to visit and to observe in their child’s classroom. When parents visit, they communicate to children that they value the school. As parents build relationships with staff, other children, and each other, we can provide continuity between home and school, and the entire program is enriched. We welcome your comments and suggestions and encourage families to e-mail or contact the director with suggestions. The Director has an open door policy-please feel free to stop in any time to share your thoughts on the program.

We ask parents to keep us informed of family events and circumstances that may affect their child. Changes that may seem routine or ordinary to an adult may affect a young child differently. It is also important that you notify the office staff of any changes of address, phone numbers (at home and at work), caregivers, or persons designated for pick-up in a timely way. It is especially important to remember to sign in and out each day, and to list accurate contact information. If your contact information changes during the day, please call the office to update the information.

Parent Meetings
We hold an initial parent meeting in September. The community of parents and teachers meet and whole-school topics are discussed. Parents and teachers then adjourn to individual classrooms where parents have an opportunity to tour classrooms and teachers share information about the program and respond to parents’ questions and suggestions.

Throughout the year, we plan parent evenings on a variety of topics of interest to families. Please click to see examples of previous Parent Evenings. These might be classroom meetings to discuss curricula, presentations by teachers of their Collaborative Research Projects (CRPs) (CRPs are annual research projects prepared collaboratively by supervising teachers to present to colleagues and parents. The research may focus on an aspect of development or other educationally relevant topic. Parents are welcome to suggest topics for school meetings and/or plan a group gathering even if simply to enjoy one another’s company.

Website
Our website is an important mode of communication. We encourage families to visit the website often as it is updated frequently. The Fort Hill calendar and snack menu are online and are updated regularly. There is a link to classroom blogs and to documentations on the “Families and Educators” page. The username and password to the secure sites are distributed by e-mail each year.

Communication Logs
Parents complete a short daily log when bringing a child to the infant and toddler classrooms. The log documents information about a child’s prior evening, night and morning at home. This information is essential for teachers to understand and care for very young children. We encourage you to speak with the teachers each day as well, especially about any special instructions or unusual events. Infant teachers record information about eating, sleeping, and diapering in the log as well.

In the preschool classrooms, teachers record information about napping in the daily log.

Conferences
Conferences are a time to exchange information, discuss children’s development and set goals. Teachers or parents may initiate additional conferences as needed. We also schedule specific times during the year in September, January, and May for parents and teachers to conference. These dates are noted on the online calendar. Sign-up sheets for specific times to meet will be available in the classrooms two weeks prior to the conference. We plan substitutes during the conference period so that the children’s routine will be minimally disrupted. Please plan for a half-hour meeting with your child’s teacher during this period. If you are unable to meet on one of the scheduled days, the teachers must use their personal time to conference. Please see the Assessment and Reporting page for more information about conferences.

Potluck Dinners
Classroom potluck dinners are a fun Fort Hill tradition that allows families and teachers to communicate in a relaxed social setting. Teachers initiate classroom potluck suppers in the fall and spring by asking if a parent is interested in hosting a potluck dinner at their home. The potlucks are typically held on a Friday evening at 5:00.

Electronic Communication – Blogs and Documentation

Please see the Blogs and Documentation page for more information about this electronic communication.

School calendar
A school-wide calendar is another source of communication between the school and families. The online calendar is updated whenever new events are scheduled.

E-mail
We communicate non-confidential information through e-mail to facilitate communication with families and to support a college-wide effort to reduce the amount of paper used on the campus. If you do not regularly check e-mail, please inform the administrative assistant and s/he will distribute paper copies in your family’s classroom mail pocket.

Bulletin Boards
We also share information about the program and children’s experiences in less formal ways. Please check the bulletin boards located in the hallway outside classrooms for information about school activities, daily schedules, lesson plans, and other information for parents. Displays of photographs or children’s work in the halls and classrooms throughout the building also document in great detail children’s experiences and learning and can be a good starting point for conversations about school.

There is a Parent Bulletin board in the front entry. Please feel free to post information of interest to families on the board.

Program Evaluation and Surveys
Electronic surveys are an important communication tool at Fort Hill. We frequently offer families opportunities to provide input and feedback on the program through online surveys.

The philosophy of the CECE is to provide early intervention strategies to support children’s individual development. The following flow chart illustrates the procedure followed when children are identified as having special needs.

When a staff member has concerns about a child, the following procedure will be used. Any written reports are confidential and are only available to the child’s parents and school staff. Parents must sign a written release before any information can be shared with consultants or other agencies.

  • Teachers document observations of the child.
  • The teacher asks the director or consulting school psychologist to observe the child and meet with the child’s teachers.
  • The team will develop classroom strategies to support the child. This discussion will be documented and a copy placed in the child’s file.
  • If concerns persist, the teacher will arrange a conference with parents. The director may attend this meeting. The meeting will be documented and a copy placed in the child’s file.
  • During the conference the team may make a recommendation to the director to schedule a meeting or screening with a consulting psychologist or other school staff. The consultant will then observe the child in school.
  • After the consultant observes the child, s/he will meet with staff to discuss the observation and make recommendations. These recommendations may include referring the child to the special education department of the public schools (children 3+ years) or REACH (an early intervention agency for children under 3 years).
  • This meeting will also be documented and a copy placed in the child’s file.
  • A plan of intervention will be developed in consultation with the consultant, teachers and parents and will be documented by the consultant or by the teacher.
  • The initial observation and conference with the consultant will be funded by the CECE. Any further evaluation and/or treatment is the responsibility of the parents.
  • If a referral is made to the public schools, outside agency or specialist, the teachers and director will communicate regularly with specialists and will attend evaluation meetings. If a child receives services such as physical or occupational therapy, we welcome service delivery at school.
  • If the parents choose not to participate in the evaluation or treatment plan, the director reserves the right to deny the family further participation in the school’s programs. (See Termination Process Policy)

The Fort Hill PTO is an active group and sponsors many social, educational and fund-raising events. All families enrolled in the Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) at Fort Hill are members of the PTO and we welcome active participation from any interested parents. Volunteers can help in many small ways to make a big difference for the school and community. The mission of the PTO is to:

  • support the educational initiatives of the program;
  • offer social events to celebrate the school community; and,
  • to provide service to the broader community.

PTO Blog

The PTO maintains a blog on a secure website.

The Center for Early Childhood Education supports Smith College students and facult. Students frequently conduct observations and research in the classrooms.  Signed permission is obtained from families before children participate in research projects and children may choose not to participate. 

As a model early childhood program, we frequently host colleagues from other programs as observers. These visits provide and opportunity for professional development for Fort Hill teachers and the fees paid by the visitors support our visiting musicians program.

Smith College students also assist teachers and participate as student workers and interns.