Field Trip to Watch Open Heart Surgery Leaves Students In Awe

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Education, Middle School, Uncategorized

by Marie Collinson

Have you ever wondered what a surgeon sees when he or she is performing open-heart surgery? On a recent field trip, the seventh and eighth graders from Unity found out. They had the chance to watch open-heart surgery from the surgeon’s vantage point.

The adventure began when Sherry Cicero, a recovery room nurse at MMH and mother of a seventh grader at Unity, approached Unity’s science teacher, Marie Collinson, with an idea for a field trip. Liberty Science Center has an amazing program called “Live From.” Students are able to watch a live feed of a surgical procedure from an operating room at MMH. There are several camera placements in the room, including one that is positioned directly above the operating table. And the learning doesn’t stop there: the operating room staff can see and hear the students in the theater at LSC and are able to take questions during the procedure (yes, the patient signed off on having students watch remotely).

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Sherry came to class to explain to the students what they would be seeing and to offer ideas for the types of questions they might ask (questions about salaries, for example, are frowned upon). On the day of the surgery, she was gowned up and in the operating room. She didn’t say “Hello” to her daughter, but the surgeon did! Before the procedure, an aortic valve replacement, began, he asked if Sherry’s daughter was there and had her wave her hand so he could see her.

The Unity students were wonderful: polite, respectful, clearly interested. Their questions displayed their interest: “How many of these procedures have you performed?” (about 100 per year, a few thousand altogether), “How much blood is in a person’s body?” (about 5 liters), “What made you want to go into the medical field?” (classes in high school).

For me, the most incredible part was when tubes were inserted into the heart, the profusion machine was turned on, and the heart stopped beating. Right there before our eyes, a person’s heart stopped beating. About an hour and a half later, the team started the heart up again, allowed the rhythm to stabilize, and closed the incision. So cool. Some students closed their eyes or turned away during certain portions of the surgery, but no one asked to leave the theater because of queasiness (leaving was an option).

All of us, students and adults alike, left with a sense of awe that such a thing is even possible.

About the Author

Marie Collinson was raised by a research physicist who often answered my questions with questions. That was the start of her life-long love of investigation and exploration. She has a BA in writing (with a minor in literature) and an MA in basic skills instruction and have taught college English for 26 years. She spent 10 years teaching environmental education at Fairview Lake YMCA in Sussex County before heading into the classroom to teach science: 7 years in a private school in Montclair and now 3 years at Unity. Marie is certified K-12 English, K-5 elementary education, and 6-8 science.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Unity Students Learn to Code

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Education, Middle School, Technology

by Ellen Fishter Avery Cropped

Unity joined thousands of schools last week in celebrating National Computer Science Education week. In K, K/1, and 1/2, students were introduced to coding using Bee-Bots. Students followed command cards to program the Bee-Bots then pushed go to watch their bumble bee “dance.” We also programmed a flash mob of Bee-Bots.


For grades 3-8, classrooms were set up with Tynker – Hour of Code. Students signed in using their school account so their progress can be continued. In Tynker, coding is achieved by sequencing a series of blocks. We started off with the beginner game, Puppy Adventure, then moved on from there. Many students asked for a copy of the logon information so they can continue at home. There will be follow up lessons in coding in the lower school using Scratch and the middle school using HTML.

About the Author

Ellen Fishter came to Unity Charter School as the technology teacher last March. Prior to that she taught in Clark for 4 years and before that, Livingston for 15. When not working, she enjoys watching her children play collegiate lacrosse, photography, biking, and sewing.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Unity Students Come Together to Give Back

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Health and Nutrition, Middle School, Uncategorized

by Marie Collinson IMG_4494

Two days before Thanksgiving, one of Unity’s learning groups, the 7/8 Jaguars, took twenty-four boxes of food to the Interfaith Food Pantry. For several weeks leading up to the delivery, students from all the learning groups brought in canned and boxed goods to donate: 263 cans, 44 boxes of things like macaroni, and 32 miscellaneous items such as jars of spices in all. These items were placed in decorated cardboard boxes by the front door.


The boxes were decorated during an extended morning meeting time when the learning groups got together with their buddy classes. Children cut autumn leaves and “hand” turkeys from construction paper, made origami shapes, drew colored patterns directly on the boxes, and generally made the boxes look festive. This was a great bonding time for the different ages as older students helped little ones create the decorations.

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On delivery day, the Jaguars carried the loaded boxes onto a school bus for the short ride to the pantry. Once there, the food was taken into the center, and one of the volunteers gave the Jaguars a tour of the facility, which includes a room with shelves stacked with non-perishable food and refrigerators for perishable goods, a kitchen where clients may receive cooking lessons, and a large garden in the back. The garden coordinator spoke about the work she does there.

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The Jaguars asked thoughtful questions. One student wanted to know if there are restrictions governing who is allowed to come to the pantry, and as a group, the students were interested to find out that anyone in need can come, that even someone with what seems like a good salary might not have enough money for food if the family’s budget is overwhelmed by paying for cancer treatments or something of that nature. Another student asked how often the cooking classes are held. Still another asked about the big pieces of equipment and what they are used for.

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Overall, the food drive was a success as Unity families were able to offer a little comfort and hope to the community at large.

Unity Students Engage In First Democratic Governance Meeting of the Year

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Education, Middle School, Uncategorized

by Joeleen Corrales-Lee


Unity Charter School held its first democratic governance (DG) meeting for the year on Wednesday, November 5th! We had about 30 students eager to get to work. During the meeting, we discussed having 2 representatives from each learning group in grades K-4 attend a DG session. The students will rotate to allow all students the opportunity to attend. In the middle school, 2 representatives from each learning group will attend meetings.

Afterwards, the group split up into four groups and brainstormed ideas for our school. The ideas ranged from a whole school clean-up service project to students being teachers for a day. When all the ideas were shared, students worked together to create idea boxes for each learning group. Students will be encouraged to write down their thoughts and ideas about their school community. We are looking to finish creating the boxes at our next session, so look for them in the classrooms. Overall, the first session was a success! We look forward to the next meeting.

Project Based Learning in the Middle School

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Education, Middle School

by Jillianne Steelman

This year, the Middle School transitioned from a Personalized Learning Plans to Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a content driven guided inquiry leading to a culminating project. Personalized Learning Plans/Project Based Learning is outlined in the Unity Charter School Charter, meets the core standards for 21st century skills, and addresses standards in the content areas.

Teachers of Language Arts, Science and Social Studies each used their Core Content Standards to develop an overarching question around which they based their inquiry process. Each learning group has been afforded two periods a week to focus on Project Based Learning. In those ninety minutes a week, teachers have the opportunity to teach skill based mini lessons and content driven lessons as well as provide students with time to engage in individualized and group work which will eventually result in a culminating project.

The New Jersey Department of Education defines Project Based Learning as “a teacher-guided learning activity designed to assist students in understanding self as the curriculum/lesson relates to the following:

(1) Applying self as a learner to the situation;
(2) Framing questions;
(3) Tackling a project;
(4) Working as part of a team;
(5) Monitoring individual programs;
(6) Selecting a career; and
(7) Developing his/her skills and knowledge in order to be successful in a career choice.” (

This year, students will work with their learning group teachers to explore questions developed around content area. Students will have the opportunity to explore the following questions over the course of the year:

1. How can we communicate the greatness of our school community to our local community? (Teresa, Language Arts)
2. If you could choose to be a child in any historical period (that we are studying), which period would you choose and why? (Karen, Social Studies)
3. How can we market a healthy snack? (Marie, Science)
4. What impact does an invasive species have on an ecosystem? (Chris, Fifth Grade)

It is through the lens of the inquiry question that teachers create the skill based mini-lessons which create a framework of study students use to navigate the project. Nearly two months into school, projects are beginning to develop around the content-based inquiry questions. We are seeing amazing thinking beginning to develop such as:

-Developing a class blog highlighting the unique aspects of our school
-Imaging life as a 12 -year old in ancient Greece
-Creation of a healthy snack for Unity students and how to market it to them
-Determine how can we humanely build a trap and relocate an invasive species back to their natural environment

We hope you will join us at the celebrations of learning where we will present our culminating projects at the end of each trimester.