Portland Public Schools
Portland, Oregon

da Vinci Logo imageda Vinci Arts Middle School

Creative minds for
challenging times.

2508 NE Everett Street | Portland, OR 97232
Phone: (503) 916-5356 | Fax: (503) 916-2721

Welcome Letter


Greetings To All,

The purpose of this letter is to briefly introduce (or in many cases, reintroduce) you to me as well as acquaint you with my classroom schedule for language arts and social studies this year. Whether you’re a returning student or new to our community I want to welcome everyone back. I anticipate another super year ahead of us.

As many of you know I purchased my first home this last winter. And now I can say I know why my mom always told me her house was a full-time job. This summer I learned how to build a fence, why my grandmother wore wide brimmed hats while doing yard work, why drop cloths are essential when painting rooms, IKEA is great for some things and not others, how to properly compost, why it's important to water your grass and plants (mine all died), and I had a bit of time to learn how to play tennis (let me know if you play - I need a partner). It all went by too quickly, as usual, and it wasn't as sunny as I would have liked, but this summer, I think, I apppreciated it all the more because I was building a home for myself.

Our focus in the area of social studies this year will be United States history: pre-European contact through 1900. However, we rarely get beyond the Civil War because there's so much to cover. We will also have a new addition to our room this year, a M.A.T. graduate student from Lewis & Clark College. His name is Willie Adams and he will be teaching social studies with me. To learn more about Willie, please see his letter of introduction included here on my web site.

As far as our weekly class schedule, it will include daily lessons (direct instruction) focusing on reading (literal comprehension, locating information, literary elements, connections), writing (grammar, spelling, vocabulary, style, drafting, editing and much more) and social studies (discussion, research, simulations, arts integration). Please see information sheets included in this packet for detailed outlines.

Tentatively, each student will complete at least one, sometimes two, major social studies projects, read approximately three to four novels and write at least two essays per trimester (which is 12 to 13 weeks in length). Students will write two of their three district mandated “common assignments” in my classroom (the character analysis essay, an expository piece; and a persuasive piece; the third requirement is a science assignment). Each trimester I do my best to provide as much information about my expectations as possible. My goal is to keep students and families well informed.

In addition to the work listed above students are expected to read a minimum of 30 minutes nightly and free-write in a journal at home for 20 minutes (when homework is light). Students are expected to read self-selected novels as well asnovels for book groups (literature circles—groups of students reading a common novel). If you have an interest in working with students, book groups are the best way to volunteer in my class. For more information on how to volunteer, direct your attention to the Volunteer Opportunity form included in this packet.

Current Events are an additional on-going homework responsibility. Each student is expected to complete and present one current event per trimester. These presentations also give students practice in informative speeches. Please see the homework link on my web site for more details.

Regarding supplies, I would like students to have two composition notebooks—NO SPIRALS, please. I have found over the years that spiral notebooks are bothersome and entirely too disposable in nature. Students tend to rip pages from spiral notebooks and use the pages at random, contributing to a student’s disorganization. One notebook will be used for journal writing. The other will be used for grammar activities and/or social studies.

Students should also come to class with pens and/or pencils that inspire writing. I also recommend students have a water bottle that they can use daily. This will alleviate students needing to leave the classroom constantly for the water fountain. In regard to other school materials, please see my web site under—WHAT EVERY STUDENT SHOULD HAVE IN THEIR BINDER. I will also go over this the first week of school.

Another element of my curriculum, or I should say my passion, involves the importance community plays in our classroom and throughout the school. With our continued population growth this commitment will become increasingly essential. When community exists in the classroom, learning is strengthened — everyone gets smarter, more ambitious, and productive. Kids simply feel safer and they take the risks necessary for real learning to occur. Over the last several years I have found that well-formed ideas and intentions amount to little without a community to bring them to life. Believing in these ideals, I include experiential learning activities and community “games” in my curriculum whenever possible and applicable. We will also be going on our annual overnight community building core retreat (see the Core Retreat handout in this packet for more information). This year’s retreat is planned for the weekend of October 17.

Helping students find ways to get organized and to set goals is an on-going priority of mine. Organization is one of the most difficult skills a middle schooler faces, and is often a skill parents have the most questions and concerns about. In an effort to keep students and families as informed as possible about the assignments and events occurring in our core, I update my website weekly. You can also access my website through the da Vinci site under STAFF at:
http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools/davinci. In addition to my web site I write a weekly electronic newsletter to parents via e-mail. If you would like to be part of this e-mail group, it is important you complete the Parent Survey and include the e-mail address(es) you wish me to use. If you’re a returning parent and were signed up last year, you should receive the e-mail without interruption. Let me know if you aren’t receiving it ASAP.

One of the organizational tools I think is essential for students to have is a planner/calendar in their binder. Da Vinci provides a planner for students. However, I know my students, and they like choice. Therefore, my requirement is this: If your child prefers not to use the planner provided for them, they must have one of their own. I believe mastering organization is one of the major steps students take in their journey toward becoming responsible and accountable for their own learning. I believe when students are placed in positions of responsibility and control, the classroom becomes more meaningful for them and for their teachers.

Contained in the packet your child brought home, along with this letter, you will find a Homework Philosophy and Criteria brochure, a Parent Survey, a donation plea, academic expectations, volunteer opportunities, core retreat information, and a parental acknowledgement signature form (found on the insert within the Homework brochure). Please, be certain to go over all of these materials with your child and return vital information on or before the deadlines. I realize it’s a lot of information but please take the time to review each piece carefully as I have tried to be thoughtful with what I’ve included.

I believe a learning community is something that teachers, students and their families actively construct together. I know the power of a classroom that learns how to nurture tolerance, celebrate differences, stops hatred, and understands the importance of community. Community is cooperative and that’s why
your help is necessary in assuring the success of these goals. Please join me in the achievement and well-being of every child by reinforcing these goals at home.

Parents, I look forward to meeting you. Please join us for Back to School Night on September 22. In the meantime, please feel free to call me at school (503) 916-5356, at home (503) 309-5209, or e-mail me at,
swasson@pps.net. I am available Tuesday-Friday at school from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m. or from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Feel free to schedule an appointment outside of these times as well.

Students, I am available in my room before school, after school until 3:30, or at lunch (by appointment). I encourage your questions and hope you will share any concerns you have with me.

Enthusiastically yours,
Shannon Wasson
Language Arts/Social Studies, da Vinci Arts Middle School

Items to remember:

  • Complete Parent Survey— due Friday, September 17
  • Review theHomework Philosophy and Criteria brochure with your child
  • Sign and return parental acknowledgement form (found in Homework brochure)— due Friday, September 17
  • Contribute supplies from the donation plea, if able
  • Return Volunteer Opportunity form — due Friday, September 17