FCPS Feature Articleshttp://www.fcps.netUmbraco / FCPS custom codeRecent articles published on the FCPS Web site featuring our kids, staff, and communityenGuidance counselors fill essential role for students’ well-beinghttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/counselors2015-01-29T15:20:07http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/counselorsNational School Counseling Week: Feb. 2-6

Guidance counselors can be a lifeline for high school students who need a listening ear when troubles erupt at home or an extra push when college seems so far out of reach. “A counselor wears lots of hats,” said Larry Waldrop of Tates Creek High School. “You’ve got to be able to connect with the kids. There’s got to be a rapport so you seem approachable.”

Tates Creek seniors Danisha Hamilton and Blake Anderson can attest to that. Both recalled drifting a bit before finding a handhold in the counseling office. “They gave me a structured place to feel safe, and that was the best thing for me. They went out of their way,” Blake said. “They keep me sane and keep me motivated,” he added. “No matter how big or how small (the issue), they’ll help you any way they can.” Danisha has also appreciated how Waldrop and ninth-grade counselor Megan Majors have provided continuous encouragement along the way. “It’s a safe haven in here – whether talking about academics or it’s personal. They’re someone who genuinely cares about you,” she said. “Freshman year I was a rolling stone, but I whipped myself back in shape pretty quick. Now I’m more focused on school and my future.”  

Blake plans to enroll at the University of Kentucky, while Danisha is set to join the U.S. Air Force, with Eastern Kentucky University as a backup. Assisting such students gives Waldrop an undeniable sense of job satisfaction. “What I enjoy the most is working with the students individually – whether it’s an issue with a class or a personal problem,” he said. “I love what I do, and the day just flies by. I never find myself looking at the clock to see when my work day ends. I often have to pull myself away.”

And a counselor’s day can be intense – juggling hundreds of students (and their parents) while coordinating with teachers and school administrators, all pulling together for the child’s best interests. At Tates Creek, each counselor’s plate is as diverse as the 1,700+ students’ needs. For instance, after shepherding seniors through the college-application process in the fall, the counselors have turned their attention to underclassmen choosing classes for next year. They also put out various small fires while reassuring students that they can succeed. “Once they finish high school, they’re looking to be independent. There’s a lot of planning that goes into that, and it’s really fun and interesting to work with them,” Waldrop said.

The staff sometimes meets with entire grades for group sessions and with individuals as often or infrequently as the student requests. Some office visits are quick; others are complicated. “You walk in having an idea of what your day will be like, but it turns into anything but that,” Waldrop said. Previously as a classroom teacher, he had more control over his routine. But when he became a guidance counselor, he accepted that the best-laid plans often must be set aside because a student’s well-being takes priority. That’s one reason he left the classroom. “Teaching English is almost like doing group counseling on a daily basis – everything begins with the student’s own life experiences,” Waldrop said. “I was always fascinated by the history and the stories of every individual student in my classroom. Often I felt limited as a teacher to be able to work with them and help guide them through whatever experience they were having.”

Counselors, serving as an overarching support system, can make a lasting impact on the many lives they touch. Waldrop mentioned one recent graduate who still texts him from college and a student’s mother who also stays in contact. He’s also aware of his influence when nominated for a FAME Award – a districtwide program in which seniors submit essays to thank a particular teacher, coach, counselor or other mentor.

As Waldrop sees it, a counselor’s role is not necessarily to give specific advice but to guide students as they refine problem-solving skills so they can find their own way in the world. “We’re encouraging students to develop their own voice and identity,” he said. “My position is to be there and be on the journey with them.”

‘Parent U’ offers tools, support for Lansdowne familieshttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/parentu2015-01-29T15:14:50http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/parentuLansdowne Elementary’s “Parent U” is designed for people like Tasleem El-Amin, a mother of three who recognizes the value of partnering with schools to benefit her children. “I’m here often, so all the teachers know me,” she said. El-Amin found the latest workshops especially helpful, noting, “I didn’t know how to deal with cyberbullying so it informed me a lot” and “I’ve always wondered what my children’s learning styles were.”

Raine Minichan, Lansdowne’s child guidance specialist, organized the Thursday evening event, which included a free dinner and activities to occupy the youngsters on hand. Staff from the school’s Family Resource Center, Title I program and technology area pitched in, along with the PTA. Lansdowne offers workshops throughout the year and at different times of day to suit families’ varying schedules. “Some parents might be intimidated, but we keep trying to reach them. We can work side by side for the betterment of our students,” Minichan said. “We want them to feel a sense of connection with the school. It’s not just a place where they drop their kids off, but it’s for them, too.”

In building the school community, Lansdowne tries to pick “Parent U” subjects that are relevant and useful. For instance, the Fifth Third Bank presentation on household budgets has been a popular workshop – suggesting how to reduce expenses, plan for emergencies and develop monthly spending guides. “This topic is important to all of our families as financial matters can be a source of great stress. By providing parents with tools to increase their control over their family’s finances, we hope that some of that stress can be reduced,” Minichan explained. “Just having that stability in the financial area hopefully makes home a more relaxing place to be.”

The two January sessions were Cyber Safety and Digging into “The Parent Backpack,” based on the book by M.L. Nichols. In the first hour, Lori Farris and Tom Bell from the state attorney general’s office talked about such areas of concern as identify theft, cyberbullying, ill-advised selfies and sexting. “Sexting is very popular now, and the kids are getting younger,” Farris said. “A lot of times it’s pressure-based, but a lot of times they’re just exploring.” She noted how students often don’t think about the consequences and their online errors in judgment can haunt them, even affecting college admissions and potential employment. Bell, an investigator in the cybercrimes unit, also urged parents to be aware of what their children are doing online and to be vigilant about protecting them. “Kids are getting more devices, and they have Internet access. When you give them a smartphone, you’re handing them a key to the rest of the world. Once you connect them to that world, you’re giving every predator on the Internet access to your kid,” he said, adding, “Don’t be afraid to take the device and look at what’s on there.”

Lansdowne’s Minichan led the second hour, which touched on everything from the importance of adequate sleep and unstructured play time to how a parent’s reading aloud enhances a child’s brain development. She also highlighted how the classroom environment has evolved, with more cooperative learning in small groups and less sitting in rows of desks while listening to lectures. Minichan noted that each child hits developmental milestones at their own pace and today’s teachers try to honor the individual student’s temperament and learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic or some combination). “The content of this workshop is important for parents to hear. They can better understand what’s going on at school and how they can better support that at home,” she said.

Minichan emphasized that a parent is a child’s first and most important teacher and that a family’s unconditional support and encouragement are crucial to a student’s success. “Your level of education doesn’t matter so much as the quality of time you spend on educational activities,” she told the group gathered in the library. “And the most important thing you can do is advocate for your child at school.”

Beaumont students sharpen teeth on science fair projectshttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/scienceprimer2015-01-26T14:25:42http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/scienceprimerFor seventh-graders at Beaumont Middle, their school science fair provided a chance to exercise their brain power and practice their presentation skills in hopes of advancing to the district-level competition. “It helps boost your confidence when you know you’ve done everything correctly and it eventually pays off,” said Mohammad Rashad, who thought his passion about his topic would bolster his cause.

Classmates Henry Blyth and Ben Cline, who teamed up to test “The Power of Milk,” hoped their unusual project would make a memorable impression. “It’ll be more interesting to the judges since they haven’t seen it before,” Henry suggested. Ben said they hit upon the idea after reading online how people in the early 1900s made jewelry from milk. In their experiment, they tested several kinds – including goat’s milk – to see which created the strongest plastic nuggets. After heating each sample and adding white vinegar, they found that 1 percent milk produced the sturdiest clumps because of its high level of the protein casein. After the students explained their findings to a pair of judges, Ben noted that nerves weren’t a problem because he has done science projects since fourth grade and enjoys sharing the results. “You get new experiences and learn something you probably never knew before,” he said.

Mohammad was also pleased with his research, in which he proposed to develop a computer program that could predict with at least 75 percent accuracy whether a patient has a severe case of breast cancer or a benign tumor. “Hopefully doctors can start using this program and it can potentially save thousands of lives,” said Mohammad, who was inspired by a grandparent’s death.

Each middle school is allowed to send 15 projects on to the Kentucky American Water Science Fair, which this year is Feb. 7 at host Tates Creek High School. After the local grading and judging, students are welcome to tweak their entries before the countywide competition. “We see some really good stuff every year,” said science teacher Patrick Goff. “I like it because they’re doing it – it’s the application of everything they’ve learned so far, and they can talk about it with a real audience.”

At Beaumont, that real audience is a group of students from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. They pair up to check out the projects as the middle schoolers mingle with older peers now in Dunbar’s Math, Science and Technology Center program. “It’s our way of giving back to the schools we came from,” said senior Sahil Nair, who has also judged science fairs at other feeder schools like Rosa Parks and Garden Springs elementaries. Sahil, who attended Beaumont in eighth grade, recalled Goff’s influence and remembered meeting older students who critiqued his own project. “This is something I look back on,” he said, having come full circle to offer feedback and advice.

Among Goff’s recommendations are for his Beaumont students to pursue unique proposals rather than cookie-cutter ideas. However, uncomplicated presentations can also be powerful if delivered well. “That can be really big,” he said. “Even if you have a simple project, if you really own it and know it inside and out, that can be huge.”  

Another useful thing students learn throughout this process is how to think critically. “They know how to attack a problem and really get into it with multiple attempts, whether it’s in science or whatever class,” Goff said. “It’s the skill set of problem-solving.”

If you go

Kentucky American Water Science Fair

TLC’s launch (and lunch) a culinary successhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/culinaryexperiment2015-01-21T16:41:12http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/culinaryexperimentA culinary experiment is taking off at The Learning Center (TLC) at Linlee, where high school students help plan the menus and cook their own meals. Their World Café & Bistro provides a tremendous and tasty variety, along with an enhanced sense of community. “It’s more like a family dinner than a lunch line,” said sophomore Katie Goforth, a leader in TLC’s emerging culinary arts program. Each day, one of these students stands up front to describe the menu and share quick facts about the source country’s food, culture and social issues, along with a word of the day in the target language. January’s menus, for example, present dishes from Mexico, Spain, Central America and the Caribbean. February will spotlight Asia, March is Europe, April is Africa and the Middle East, and in May, students will select previous favorites to revisit. Classmate Miriam Leasor agreed most enjoy the different foods and the environment, where the entire student body dines together. “It’s a big change, so it took people awhile to get used to it,” Miriam said, “but it makes them feel at home because not every student eats at the table with their family.”

The original bistro launched four years ago when students asked for a voice in their food choices, including more organic options. “They also were interested in learning about different cultures and international foods,” recalled Mojgan Martin, who coordinates the bistro and teaches Spanish. The initiative began as a lone class, with students cooking on hot plates in a corner of the cafeteria and offering samples at lunchtime, but the momentum led TLC to overhaul the way it nourishes students. “Not only do we show them how to grow the food, how to prep it and how to serve it, we want to change the way kids think about nutrition,” Martin said.

Last semester, the school board approved TLC’s proposal to drop the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and its traditional cafeteria in favor of an expanded, self-sustaining bistro operation. The in-house aquaponics garden turns out basil and cilantro, for instance. But the school-based model relies heavily on allies like Locust Trace AgriScience Center, which provides fresh produce in exchange for compost, and Glean Kentucky, where students might harvest at local farms for other community organizations in exchange for a basket of peppers. The culinary students also cater events for fellow schools and other groups. The combined efforts mean TLC’s continental breakfast is free for everyone in the building; lunch is also free for students, and employees pay $4. TLC also offers pick-up lunches for “It’s About Kids” Support Services staff.

The group of nearly 20 culinary students prepares lunch from scratch – often using recipes they have experimented with and developed under the guidance of Chef Savanna Whitaker. She typically divides the prep space for salads, entrees and sides, and puts the students to work in teams. “It keeps everybody organized and on the same page,” she said. At serving time, if someone doesn’t care for the themed dishes on the hot bar, they can opt for a sandwich from the deli express. But Whitaker encourages the teenagers to branch out from pizza and burgers. “We try to open their minds up to as many flavor combinations as there are,” she said. “There’s always something different, and we try to get the kids to try new things.”

Martin and other teachers have developed the instructional components working alongside colleagues in Sullivan University’s culinary studies program. Whitaker, a recent Sullivan graduate, demonstrates everything from proper cutting and basting techniques to kitchen maintenance. The students also compost their food waste and recycle diligently. Trash is minimalized because they wash the dishes, silverware and glasses. This program calls for logic, management skills, team-building and basic accounting to buy supplies, not to mention a customer-service mindset. While students do attend core-content classes, the new curriculum also reinforces key subjects – for instance, using recipes to practice math concepts and reading comprehension. Kate FitzGerald, TLC’s universities and community liaison, also arranges valuable sessions such as a nutrition survey through the University of Kentucky and a field trip to check out Berea College’s culinary program.

“At every single stage, there’s a learning experience. It’s an apprenticeship of sorts,” Martin said. “We want (our students) to be employable in whatever they decide to go into.”

Whitaker agreed TLC’s new program prepares students to go out into the world. “Being in a kitchen, you learn so many more skills than just learning how to cook,” she said. “You have to learn how to be organized, plan ahead and think ahead. It’s a lot of problem-solving. It helps you not just in a kitchen, but also if you’re a secretary or a doctor. Time management and organizing can help you in any job.” 

ACE mentors give Lafayette students insight into fieldhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/acementors2015-01-20T15:34:38http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/acementorsFor Lafayette High students in the ACE Mentor Program, a behind-the-scenes look at the Commonwealth Stadium renovations provided valuable information as they explore career options. The group trekked to the University of Kentucky’s campus one cold, wet December afternoon to meet up with professionals who shared a bit about the project and their roles. “It was really fascinating,” said sophomore Elizabeth Yates. “Just pouring a slab of concrete is such a process. All the construction workers and engineers have to work together for all these big decisions. Although it’s still early, you could see where they’re headed and it’s so cool.”

Through ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering), professionals volunteer to mentor teams of students as they design hypothetical projects and tour local work sites and offices. Lafayette’s after-school club meets every other Thursday. The group of about 20 includes mostly pre-engineering students, though everyone is welcome to join.

“Our program really does try to put some real-world lessons into what they’re studying, more from a professional standpoint,” said Stacey Wiseman, coordinator of ACE Mentorship of the Bluegrass, the Lexington affiliate. “The immediate benefit is to ask questions of someone in that field,” such as which classes to take in college and what it actually means to be an electrical engineer. “In the long term, it gives them exposure to companies working in this area and contacts they wouldn’t normally have.”

The students typically work alongside their mentors on projects that provide hands-on experience in solving everyday challenges. The teams can also learn how to use advanced computerized tools, such as AutoCAD, while other activities show the demand for people skilled in various disciplines. “A lot of kids here have the creative, artsy part and also the math part together, and that’s often what an engineer is,” said Gene Toth, director of Lafayette’s pre-engineering program. “Overall, it’s a great fit here.”

ACE, which is in its fourth year at Lafayette, invites students to tackle a year-long project in digestible chunks such as schematics, floor plans and HVAC systems. This stadium project, however, is very detailed. In the fall, students focused on overall concepts; this spring, each will take on a specific component and see it through. For instance, what kind of material and support is needed for cantilevered art lighting? Or, what types of displays are right for the proposed retail store?

“Essentially, they’re imagining their own renovations to Commonwealth as it happens,” Wiseman explained. Students sketched over the GoogleEarth image with their own ideas as they compared several stadium renovations across the country; the UK site visit was crucial to their understanding. “The main takeaway is seeing what goes on in a building before it’s finished (like ductwork, wiring and structure),” she said. “Walking through a site opens it up and gives them a little more perspective to take back to their project. Sometimes it opens up design possibilities, and the rest of the year they try to figure out how to make it happen.”

In previous years, ACE students designed a workout room and a school café at Lafayette. The college stadium project is on a grander scale with broader challenges, such as parking, water runoff and environmental impact. “The mentors give us insight on what we could improve, such as the flow of people and the flow of cars,” Elizabeth noted. “They’ve really been helpful in telling us changes to make to our design and all the structural aspects.” 

Nima Mahmoodi, a senior, also gathered useful insight during the field trip as the hosts covered everything from bidding and other financial implications, modern updates and expansion proposals, to the technology behind the steel beams. Students also saw preliminaries of the new suites in the upper deck. “There are so many different aspects when you look at a stadium, and you want to make sure all those things flow well together,” Nima said.

Now in his third year with ACE, Nima vouches for the club’s impact. “ACE, with the mentors they provide, helps us solidify our decisions since they show us so many aspects. It helps us grasp what field we want to go into,” he said. “With all the background and experience, it’s a great way to show us what it’s like to be an engineer on a day-to-day basis.”  

Elizabeth, who joined ACE last semester, said the program has also helped her narrow her list of possible career fields. “I’m really interested in projects and solving problems and design like architecture and drawing, so ACE seems to fit really well,” she said. “The mentors know what they’re talking about and share really insightful things.”

LTMS sets up mini lending library for neighborhoodhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/lendinglibrary2015-01-20T15:34:20http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/lendinglibraryThe Literacy Leadership Club at LTMS, backed by the Student Council, has created a small lending library to encourage reading for pleasure. The wooden box, which looks like an oversized birdhouse, is perched on a post near the front door of Lexington Traditional Magnet School, which faces North Limestone. “I live right down the street, so I can drop off a book and pick up a book,” said Dariesha Cowherd, whose son J.T. oversaw the construction phase of the club’s project. “I’m proud of him, and he really likes this reading class and the library,” she said. J.T.’s father, Johnathon Taylor Sr., also attended the opening reception, adding, “I support him in everything he does.”

LTMS invited parents, grandparents and others from the community to a morning tea to celebrate the new lending library, which is free and available to all. Students served coffee and hot chocolate in china cups and later read aloud a short play about Rosa Parks’ arrest and the bus boycott’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement.

Reading specialist Anita Bostrom, who tutors children in the literacy club, organized the lending box project. “They had not seen one and they didn’t know what to think,” she recalled. “I told them how important it was when kids are out walking with their families to feel welcome to take a book to read.” In the past couple of weeks, the sixth-graders painted the box black and gold, nailed shingles on the roof, and helped install it after Student Council members spruced up the nearby grounds. Students can keep an eye on their mini library from Bostrom’s classroom window. “I wanted it where kids could look out and see people shopping,” she said.

Club leader Emily Burgett was in charge of sorting several bags of donated books by topic and age or reading level, and of stocking the library box with a good variety. “People might read something they’ve never read if it looks interesting,” Emily said. “For little kids, it can be their own book for parents to read them at night before they go to sleep.”

The initial donations came through the school’s PTSA and neighborhood volunteers who heard about the need. The idea is that people use the outdoor box as a means of exchange – leaving a book they’ve finished reading and selecting another – but browsers are also welcome to take a book home even if they stop by empty-handed. The club isn’t worried about running short on stock; as J.T. said, “We’ll probably continue to collect books.”

As the students sorted the first batch, they realized that reading can be fun for all ages. Their goal is to get whole families involved and to encourage lifelong learning. The project was also an effective way to connect literacy and community service. “Service learning is so important for children,” Bostrom said. “When you give them an opportunity to serve others and show them how – whether sorting sandwiches to hand out or putting cookies in a bag for the hungry or vetting these books to share with all ages – they respond every time.”

Southside Tech offers ‘basic training’ in manufacturinghttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/manufacturing2015-01-16T14:52:31http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/manufacturingAt Southside Technical Center, students considering a career in manufacturing now have a more focused path through a class called Advanced Technology for Design and Production. This course enables them to stick with material directly related to manufacturing without going into the specifics of engineering or electronics, for instance. “It gives you an overview, like basic training in the military,” said Zach Millsaps, a freshman from Henry Clay High School. 

It’s the first program in the Integrated Production Technologies series produced by the Southern Regional Education Board. Southside plans to add to the advanced career curriculum if enough students are interested, according to instructor Sam Arnold. Zach and classmate Cassie Robinson certainly think it’s worthwhile. “We have a lot of machines you’d find in big warehouses and plants. We can take these skills straight into a job,” said Zach, mentioning the Toyota facility in Georgetown as an example. Cassie is also glad she chose this ninth-grade elective, saying, “This is the most fun I have all day. It challenges your mind.” 

The students use Solid Edge CAD software and a 3-D printer in the creative and analysis steps, document their designs according to industry standards, and incorporate green production and just-in-time component supply, which allow for the lowest cost and highest quality products. Those interested in architecture and drafting, like Cassie, especially benefit from making 3-D models. The freshmen will eventually use cameras and sensors to control automated systems.

The class, which is made up of about 40 students, requires six main projects such as building a working electrical motor, setting up a model assembly line, and reverse-engineering a common appliance. “My goal is to take a product like a blender and make it better,” Zach explained.

Working in groups of four, the students keep a calendar and project management log, design and document their process, fill out contracts, and handle other decisions as if they were professionals on the job. “They have to come up with all the steps and bust it apart if necessary, take measurements, and research why we chose this project and what improvements would they like to make,” said Arnold, noting the idea is to make an existing product faster, cheaper or better using different materials or their own spin.

The hope is that through such projects, students gain a rudimentary understanding of what manufacturing involves and decide whether it’s what they want to do for a living. With this new class and the potential for three more in the series, Southside could offer a continuous program of study that captures the attention of local manufacturing businesses. As Arnold said, his students could complete the Industrial Maintenance Technology (IMT) program at Toyota, continue their studies at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, pursue a four-year degree at the University of Kentucky, or apply with a company like Link-Belt Construction Equipment.

Video by Channel 13

Downtown exhibit features talent of high school art teachershttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/artteachers2015-01-15T16:30:16http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/artteachersHigh school art teachers often are perceived as educators who specialize in art, but many were professional, practicing artists before they entered the classroom. So a baker’s dozen in Fayette County readily answered the call to exhibit their own work at the Downtown Arts Center, and their efforts were rewarded. “When you’ve been away from it for several years, you get kind of flat, kind of stale,” said Mike Holdren of Tates Creek, the district’s arts and humanities content leader for middle and high schools. This semester’s exhibition reminded them of their roots. The participating teachers – many of whom attended the opening – also seemed relieved. “It was so refreshing, and they felt rejuvenated,” Holdren said. “It sparked creativity and energy in those teachers again to see their work exhibited.”

The show debuted during Lexington’s final Gallery Hop of the season, and it runs through Jan. 2 at the Main Street venue. Tates Creek’s Jan Wozniak, who helped curate and hang the show, said the most satisfaction came from public acknowledgement of her and her colleagues as artists. “We’re trying to support one another and support the arts,” she added.

Holdren came up with the idea as he planned professional development sessions. “I wanted to put teachers back in the spotlight as artists and for us to have that kind of fellowship,” he said. “The passion for creativity burns deep in these people.” He shopped the proposal around town and then pitched it to fellow teachers, and 18 months later the exhibition has surpassed his expectations. Opening night set a positive tone as more than 200 people filed through the second-floor space, which Holdren called a prime location. “It was electric, and people were very receptive,” he said. Many of the artists’ students have also checked out the show. “When students see you’re out and involved in the community, they acknowledge you’re not just teaching but you actually have these skills,” said Christopher Bryant of Lafayette.

The exhibition includes more than 50 pieces, from acrylic paint, relief sculpture, colored pencil and collages to mixed media, lithograph, ceramics and wood. “It’s a pretty broad spectrum and a variety of expression in the show, from abstract to naturalist. It’s so varied in its depth, its textures, its scale,” Holdren said. For instance, Kathleen Rehner of Paul Laurence Dunbar contributed three wall-size oil canvases of semi-nude portraits. Nearby hangs Wozniak’s American-Indian shield made of stoneware, leather, glaze and feathers. A theme unites Bryant’s mixed media series of shadow-box entries, which took about six months to complete. “Each of them has a narrative to it based on human interaction to a higher power,” he explained. Meanwhile, Eric Bolander of Henry Clay brought several older pieces based on childhood memories of fun times with his father, such as kite-flying and fishing. He thought sharing personal stories and individual talents could reach students on another level, saying, “It gives them a good connection with us outside the classroom.”

Celeste Lewis, director of the Downtown Arts Center, found it fascinating to see what the teachers experimented with and how the exhibition challenged them in interesting ways. “You don’t want your art teacher to not be an artist. A lot of art is problem-solving and using your brain, so it’s important to keep you fresh in your job,” she said. “They need to teach their students how to be creative and inspired, so it’s good to exhibit from time to time. When you’re putting your work out there for the public, it’s a brave thing to do.”

Holdren hopes the exhibition becomes an annual event; next time he plans to include middle school teachers as well. “It may spark ideas for lessons or new directions in a teacher’s work and spark energy and momentum, which transfers to the students,” he said.

Channel 13's Video on Demand

If you go

Exhibition of High School Art Instructors

  • Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St. (across from the library)
  • When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; closed Dec. 24, 25, 26 and Jan. 1; the show ends Jan. 2
  • Participants: Rebecca Banks, Dunbar; Christopher Bryant, Lafayette; Charissa Riley, Henry Clay; Amanda Christensen, Henry Clay; Eric Bolander, Henry Clay; Deborah Eller, Dunbar; Rachael Pawley, Dunbar; Kathleen Rehner, Dunbar; Lynn Schentrup, Bryan Station; Kiefer Shuler, Henry Clay; Jason Sturgill, Lafayette; Anthony Woodruff, Tates Creek; and Jan Wozniak, Tates Creek
‘Coding’ teaches logic, patience at BTW Intermediatehttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/coding2015-01-08T09:58:08http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/codingDec. 8-14: Computer Science Education Week

Amid a life-size maze and building-block puzzles, youngsters at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy displayed clear-headed concentration during the daylong “Hour of Code” activities. “It makes your mind stronger, and it helps you with math. It’s fun, too, and helps you learn new stuff,” fourth-grader Shella Ngono explained during a break.

The annual Hour of Code, which is organized by the nonprofit code.org, nurtures problem-solving skills, logic and creativity as it aims to expand participation in computer science. More than 400 Kentucky schools, businesses and organizations signed up this year. For example, a 10-week coding club at Lexington Traditional Magnet School will culminate Thursday with students presenting games they designed during after-school sessions.

The self-guided Hour of Code activities are suitable for all ages and experience levels; some work on PCs, cellphones and tablets, and others are “unplugged” – requiring no computer. “Coding is programming something to move,” as BTW fourth-grader Ramon Martinez described it, using a tangible example: “If you make a robot, you can program it.”

The children acted like robots in Monday’s main exercise, which led them through a giant snowflake assembled in the gym. Since this year’s theme was “Frozen,” teacher Katie Frances dressed in costume as the character Elsa to demonstrate the maze during the opening assembly for grades 3-5. Then, working in pairs, one student called out directions as the other carried out the instructions, such as go forward, go forward and turn left. “You’re coding to move them from one place to another where you want them to move. You really need to focus,” said fifth-grader Lorena Castellanos. The goal was to navigate through all the spokes and pick up six snowflake cards. “This is not an obstacle course to run through, but an opportunity to use your problem-solving skills to code your way through,” added STEM lab teacher Valerie Zinser.

Zinser, who coordinated the events, said students were already familiar with stretching their brains to reach solutions. “We make it, try it, fix it, and then try it again. You keep going through that loop in order to solve the problem, so they’re using the engineering process,” she said. “The younger they are, the easier they grasp the ideas because it is a different way of thinking. They’re willing to try things and not give up, so when you pair that with a website like code.org, they will try and try and try until they get the end result they’re looking for. And the best part is there are multiple ways to get there.”

In each corner of the gym, groups of students followed coding instructions to stack a dozen cardboard boxes in hopes of putting the painted scenes from “Frozen” back together correctly. At tables on either side of the snowflake maze, children manipulated blue plastic cups into a pyramid or other configuration to match a given image. Meanwhile down the hall in the lab, students practiced coding exercises on computers, and community volunteers stood by to help as needed.  

“Coding is like learning a language, only you don’t need other people to talk to – you talk to the computer,” said Lamar Wilson, a self-taught coder and father of a fourth-grader at BTW. “It’s probably the best creative outlet in today’s technical world. If you can dream it up, you can figure out how to make it work.”

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Also: BCTC program a hit with students from Bryan Station High, MLK Academy & Lansdowne

Did you know? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts one in every two science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in the country will be in computing occupations, with more than 150,000 job openings annually, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. The industries requiring computing professionals are diverse: Two-thirds of computing jobs are in sectors other than information technology, including manufacturing, defense, health care, finance and government.

‘Cool’ demos at Lansdowne show how body’s organs functionhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/lifeiscool2015-01-07T12:53:00http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/lifeiscoolFor fourth-grader Riley Speck, learning alongside classmates about the body’s organs reminded him of the generous Chattanooga family who gave him a new heart. At 15 months old, Riley was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy – his heart beat normally but did not relax properly, so he was at risk for sudden death. Three months later when that Chattanooga family lost their baby girl, Riley received a priceless gift. “Our thanks go out to donor families – that’s the only reason we have Riley with us,” said his mother, Brandi Speck.  

Riley’s school, Lansdowne Elementary, scheduled the “Life is Cool” program because of his close connection with Charlotte Wong, the public education coordinator with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA). “He’s a normal, healthy, active little boy because a donor family, in their time of loss, made the decision to share life with him,” Wong said.

Wong lined up more than two dozen volunteers to spend the day at Lansdowne, showing fourth- and fifth-graders how various organs function and reminding them to make smart choices to stay healthy. The students rotated among 10 stations led by local doctors, nurses, transplant specialists and recipients, and others from the medical field. “They can hold that heart and put their finger into the arteries or veins and feel that valve,” Wong noted. Nine-year-old Isabella Persaud described it as squishy, saying, “It was cool to look inside.” Classmate Tytus Weldon also liked the heart best, and both youngsters cited the hazards of fried and fast food. “If we eat a bunch of fat, it blocks the blood vessels to the heart,” Tytus said after seeing a test-tube sample. “If you eat wheat and salads and run and work out a lot, it makes your heart stronger.” Isabella admitted that chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers are tasty, but said it’s best to stick with apples to avoid straining the heart. “If you start now, you can be healthier and it will be easier,” she said. 

As some students watched a portable ventilator fill a set of lungs with air, others jogged in place and then listened to their own lungs and hearts with stethoscopes. Nearby stations focused on the blood, liver, bone and tissue, and cornea; and a cloth vest with detachable stuffed organs illustrated how 12 people can benefit from individual donations. The real-life heart, lungs and liver on display – kept on ice for preservation – actually came from an animal. “Pig organs are the closest-looking and the closest-functioning to human organs,” Riley explained. Some of the other props were basic but effective, such as rubber bands to represent tendons. One volunteer used a glass measuring cup, kitchen strainer and coffee filter to illustrate how salt hampers kidney function. She also referenced the movie “Finding Nemo,” comparing the human body to a fish tank and the kidneys to the tank’s filtering system. Those kinds of connections resonate with elementary students. 

Jennifer Rodabaugh, the school’s STEAM lab teacher, also overheard several children making connections between their classroom lessons and the culminating hands-on sessions in the gym. “Life is Cool” had provided material and workbooks for five lessons, which the students covered in their specials period in the preceding weeks. “The curriculum teaches the kids how different organs in the body work, how nutrition plays a role, ways to donate the organs and tissues in your body, and how physical activity affects the body,” Rodabaugh said. She was excited about the ripple effects. “They’ll realize the impact of their lifestyle choices on the way they physically feel. There’s a reason you need good nutrition, don’t smoke tobacco and exercise. It’ll connect the ideas they hear over and over and have some application they can use.”

Wong agreed the bottom line was encouraging students to make good choices, saying, “Every decision we make every day – in food, in movement, in just daily lifestyles – affects some area of our body.” 

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How to help

To join the Kentucky Donor Organ Registry, visit www.donatelifeky.org.

STEAM freshmen display literary growth at Winter’s Evehttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/winterseve2015-01-05T14:20:44http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/winterseveAt the Winter’s Eve holiday gathering, freshmen from the STEAM Academy showed their families and the judges what they have studied and how far they have progressed in Advanced English class. “It’s a really powerful experience for them on multiple levels,” said teacher Marty Vaughan, who proposed the “presentation of learning” format to cap the semester.

Winter’s Eve, held at The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, gave the ninth-graders an opportunity to put their best work on display for the community and for a grade. One group, for instance, designed a website around Edgar Allan Poe; another student demonstrated fencing with his father. Other teams offered documentaries, skits, poetry, live music, kick boxing and culinary samples. In each instance, students illustrated and explained the literary connection, such as the party when Romeo met Juliet. 

Their final exam included group-project points awarded by the outside judges as well as one-on-one interviews with Vaughan on each student’s input. “This is better than taking a paper final because it shows how we can create our own ideas and bring them to life,” said 15-year-old Tiffany Hill, whose team planned and promoted the evening event. Classmate Bailey Watkins noted that since Vaughan had prepared students with a college-like atmosphere, the communitywide presentations would not faze them. “We’ll have to think on our feet,” she said beforehand. “We’re comfortable and confident in this environment,” Tiffany added.

For others, however, putting themselves out there proved more of a challenge. Emma Barnett, who paired up with Margo Lawson on a short musical selection, was a tad nervous. “I’ve never worked in a project using my instrument, so this is a brand new experience for me,” Emma said before their violin/piano duet. Vaughan recognized that some students were outside their comfort zone, saying, “That’s where I want them. That’s where they’re going to grow.” 

Emma and Margo were one of the first teams to face the judges, which included community members and faculty from the University of Kentucky. Their presentation board contained a variety of elements such as a plot outline of “The Most Dangerous Game” and a Venn diagram comparing that short story with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a mind map (brainstorming notes) and literary analysis of the mystery novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” APA bibliography citations, and original lyrics and poetry inspired by the authors. “We tried to balance it out so we have almost the same number of things on the board,” Margo said. “I’m an independent thinker, so working together really helped me grow as a person. Now we can write better, we can think better, we can collaborate better.”

Vaughan described the fall semester as intense. For instance, his freshmen can now differentiate between flat and dynamic characters as they delve deeper into texts to understand the structure of novels and how characterization plays into narratives. “They’re more aware of literature they haven’t been exposed to," Vaughan said. "They’ve become more empathetic and more effective communicators, and that’s what I want to see.”

Did you know?

Vaughan’s students are also developing an innovative website: www.steamenglish.com

Questioning eighth-graders find relevant answers at Career Fairhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/careerfair2015-01-05T11:58:03http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/careerfairFor many 13-year-olds, settling on a definite career choice is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Is it civil engineering? No, maybe law enforcement. Still not a good fit? Perhaps a hotel manager. When flummoxed by the unending possibilities, students can find loads of valuable information at a Career Fair. That’s what eighth-graders at Southern Middle School discovered at this fall’s annual event, where more than 70 professionals volunteered their morning to share big-picture ideas such as how their job incorporates math and language arts, as well as specifics like the education required and the starting salary in their field.

“In eighth grade, you often only know the big names like ‘doctor’ and ‘lawyer.’ This opens up a lot of options,” said Sumya Elgumati, a Southern alumna in the physician assistant program at the University of Kentucky, who set up a resource table. “It’s so important to get a head start on your career path,” she added.

Southern’s Practical Living and Career Studies Department organized the fair, which included representatives from many of the 16 Kentucky career clusters. Their tables were grouped in the gym so that students could easily drift toward areas of interest, such as arts, audiovisual technology and communications, or transportation, distribution and logistics.

At each stop, students greeted the guest and asked several questions to glean details, such as “What do you dislike about your job?” and “How is technology used in your job?” Erik Fowler, an executive chef at Dudley’s downtown, mentioned the long hours and weekend work that restaurants require. “Cooking is all about science, and you have to communicate really well with fellow employees and customers,” he told students. “At times it can be very stressful, but when you love what you do, it’s not hard.”

Eighth-grader McKayla Weaver, who was drawn to the health care, communications and public safety tables, also threw in a few extra queries like “Why did you choose this cluster?” and “What’s the most peculiar aspect of your career?” “It helps me learn about jobs from people who actually work in these careers,” McKayla said. “They have hands-on experience they can tell us about.”

The guests included several alumni of Southern Middle, parents of students, family members of staff, and others from the community. Among new careers represented this year were television producer and research analyst and the hospitality/tourism cluster. “Having a multitude of careers from each cluster representing all levels of educational requirements provides our students with the best array of options for college and career readiness,” said Holly Morrow, coordinator of the school’s Youth Services Center. “The Career Fair, in combination with student ILPs and career exploration classes, help them to make the connection between education and interests.”

“Offering choices within each career cluster shows our students their current interests can be expanded into a future job choice,” added Staci Davis, Southern’s engineering technology teacher. “Our hope is that our eighth-graders will see that there are many varied options within a cluster of interest. For example, architecture and construction may also include interior design or building maintenance.  Or, law, public safety and corrections include not only police officers but also detectives, attorneys, mediators and security.”

Like McKayla, classmate Noah Lane has a wide range of interests – from engineering and film production to horse farms. Since he believes that doing something you love can trump tangibles like pay scale, he also found it beneficial to talk with professionals, such as the bomb squad specialist. “This helps me get a feel for what’s out there so I can start thinking about what classes to take for certain fields,” Noah said. “It’s really helping me figure out what I really want to do.”

Youngsters at Southern ‘Warm up to a Good Book’ or twohttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/familyliteracy2014-12-18T13:58:54http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/familyliteracyNormal bedtime routines took a hiatus as pajama-clad youngsters poured into Southern Elementary to “Warm up to a Good Book” on Family Literacy Night. Librarian Amy Smith and fifth-grade teacher Janice Duncan, who organized the first-time event, were thrilled with the turnout and the enthusiasm. Between the cookies and hot chocolate, storytelling, book giveaway and prize raffles, the children found plenty to celebrate that evening.

With temperatures brisk the week before the holiday break, Southern went with a winter theme in the decorations and selection of books. For instance, members of the school’s Art Club created snowflakes as highlights in the foyer. About a dozen teachers hosted groups of youngsters in their classrooms, reading aloud from stories like “The Three Snow Bears,” “Sneezy the Snowman” and “Llama, Llama Holiday Drama.” Meggan Conway, from the Lexington Public Library, also volunteered in a reading circle and showed kids how to make tiny sleds from construction paper and candy canes. Elsewhere, students put together marshmallow snowmen with pretzel arms and orange Tic Tac noses, and others designed their own gingerbread figures while munching on animal crackers.

Parents and other family members moved along with their students throughout the 90-minute event, often sitting quietly on the sidelines to listen in and just be a presence. “It’s important to let your children know you support what they’re doing, and it all starts at home,” said Jeff Miller, whose two boys attend Southern. “And you can always get good ideas of things to do at home,” wife Lisa added.

Every 15 or 20 minutes, all the students rotated to hear another story. Their choices included “Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo” (Mambo King) in Spanish and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in Arabic. Youngsters collected stickers along the way in order to pick out a free book later in the cafeteria. “We’re putting books in kids’ hands to take home,” as Duncan said.

Fifth-grader Alexus Kidd, who assisted younger children with the gingerbread craft, is partial to comic books and novels – especially about history. She thought Family Literacy Night could inspire kids to read more. That was the idea, along with encouraging parents to back the effort.

“We need that family involvement to increase student achievement,” Smith said. “We want to make sure parents are reading with their children and understanding the importance of literacy. Reading is the foundation of everything we do. Anyone we can get in the building and any way we can promote literacy is a win-win for everybody.”

Book tasting encourages new choices at Mary Toddhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/booktasting2014-12-17T11:49:44http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/booktastingWith the library set up like a restaurant, third-graders at Mary Todd Elementary sampled new genres and authors in a book tasting organized by media specialist Rachel Barcus. She compared it to the local Taste of the Bluegrass, where she tried a variety of dishes. “Just like food, you won’t know if you like a book until you try it,” she told the children. “Every time I go to a restaurant, I order the same thing,” she admitted. “A book tasting is a chance to sample different books.”  

Barcus staged five areas with red tablecloths and silver trays serving up stacks of books. Each table also had a reservation card listing which students were seated there. Coordinating with the classroom teachers, she had gathered armloads of books suitable for those groups of readers.

Eight-year-old Allison Olvera picked up “Polar Bears” and “Road Trip” because cover photos of animals caught her eye. But she skimmed a few pages to make sure the books were entertaining, too, and decided the reading level was “just right” for her. Classmate Zavier Bates, who is partial to adventure series like “Infinity Ring” and “The 39 Clues,” said the menu worksheets helped them make appropriate choices. The children selected three books from their tray, filled in each title, author and call number, and chose an adjective to describe the cover. (Barcus provided a long list of suggestions such as appealing, enticing and thoughtful, or boring, horrid and unpleasant.) The kids also read the description on the back or inside cover and jotted down why they would or would not enjoy the book. They thumbed through to determine whether it was too long or contained too many pictures for their age. They also read a page and noticed how many words stumped them – was this book too easy, too hard, or just right?

The book tasting aimed to broaden the youngsters’ reading experience. Too often, for instance, a child will check out “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” repeatedly because it’s familiar and popular. “But if you read the same book over and over, you don’t learn new words,” Zavier noted.

“The kids are so stuck on a specific series that they don’t branch out and see what’s available to them,” said teacher Whitney Napier. “This gets them to hone in on books at their level they might be interested in but were never exposed to before.”

The exercise prompted the third-graders to sort through picture books, nonfiction, series and chapter books of varying lengths and subjects. While they usually lean toward fiction, the book tasting encouraged them to explore alternatives. Barcus suggested they try a certain series if they liked the story line and characters, or stick with a particular author if they were drawn to her voice and style. “In kindergarten and first grade, their choices are often teacher-led. By second grade, they start reading chapter books. By third grade, it’s a good opportunity to give them some more freedom,” she said.

“Sometimes when we’re looking for a book, we need to look beyond our comfort level. But we need to think about if it interests us, whether we have the stamina to finish it, and if it’s on our reading level,” Barcus told the students. “You want to choose a book you can read from cover to cover.” The goal is to challenge oneself and become a stronger reader. “Good readers read a variety of texts,” she said. “This is like riding a bicycle. When you practice every day, you can go a little bit further and a little bit longer. You need to practice reading different things so you’ll get better.”

Cassidy fourth-grader shadows superintendent for a dayhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/supeforday2014-12-12T14:47:14http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/supefordayAfter serving as Superintendent for the Day, 8½-year-old Daksha Pillai offered a few suggestions on what Fayette County Public Schools might look for in a leader. The Cassidy Elementary fourth-grader recommended a generous spirit, a love for children and for books, and support for education around the world. She saw such generosity in action, for instance, as Superintendent Tom Shelton helped a student in the cafeteria line at Henry Clay High School. “Even though Mr. Shelton only had $2.75, he gave it all to the boy so he could have lunch,” Daksha said. “He’s very generous.”

Daksha shadowed Shelton for several hours as the prize for topping the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge at Cassidy. Last spring, a group of gifted-and-talented students invited Shelton to a schoolwide assembly to launch the program. “They had me come over and speak about my love of reading and how much I read,” recalled Shelton, whose mother was a librarian. The follow-up was to invite the overall school winner to walk in his shoes for a day. It was a coincidence that the shadowing fell close to Shelton’s last day in FCPS.

Daksha, who logged more than 7,600 minutes with Scholastic, has recognized the value of reading since her preschool days. “It exercises your mind, and if you can read things, you can do them – even math,” she said. Her mother and father (a pediatrician and an epidemiologist) encourage her to stretch. “I like history, historical fiction and realistic fiction. Most of it tells you a story about the past that often you don’t know – things you take for granted, like running water and light,” Daksha said. “It’s also fun to read about scientists’ different theories, like Charles Darwin.”

The French Revolution and Marie Antoinette are among Daksha’s favorite topics – along with dogs. She has finished H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” and a little of Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” and “Lord of the Flies” is on her to-do list. She and her dad also read a bit together from philosophers Socrates and Seneca. She aspires to be an astronaut and the first Indian woman in space, after earning a scholarship to Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford or maybe Princeton.

Obviously, Shelton’s guest was not a typical 8-year-old. He decided to get out of the office and take her on a couple of school visits, which is one of his most enjoyable duties. After a mid-morning news conference, which Daksha deemed “boring,” they dropped by Morton Middle and Henry Clay High. At lunch with Principal Greg Quenon, Daksha remarked that the sweet potatoes were a tad too sweet and proposed sugar snap peas as a healthier option.

All in all, Daksha had a busy morning. “My favorite part was going to the other schools and learning what they do,” she said. As Shelton prepared for an afternoon conference call, Daksha turned to her school backpack to entertain and inform; she’d brought along “Anne Frank – Her Life in Words and Pictures” and “I Am Malala.”

Hayes/Crawford connection puts geometry students on same pagehttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/remotegeometry2014-12-10T16:41:10http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/remotegeometryAs if comprehending advanced geometry weren’t hard enough, 10 students at Crawford Middle School are taking it on without a teacher in the classroom. Their instructor is about 7½ miles away at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School – linked via teleconference during seventh period. It’s not a new idea, but this live connection works particularly well, according to district technology resource teacher Jeff Jones.

“I’ve been riding herd over the video-linked classroom program for 15 years here, and it’s still a little off the radar and underappreciated,” Jones said. “I just want to make sure the teacher gets his props for this. He’s teaching on two sites at the same time, is physically visiting the remote site regularly, and is really making the whole thing work from an interactive instruction perspective. We’ve been doing this program for 15 years, and this is the best example I’ve ever seen.” 

The teacher at Hayes is Tim Poindexter, for whom this is a first-time experiment that equips each site with a TV, camera and microphone for interactive lessons. “I had all summer to think it through in my head,” he said. “I knew the only way it had any chance at working was to integrate those kids from Crawford into the classroom. I have to ensure that the Crawford students feel like they are part of the class.” For instance, Poindexter is intentional about calling on eighth-graders at both sites so they all stay focused. By using a document camera with the projector, everyone can see the geometry examples in his textbook or the angles he draws and labels. The split-screen television also allows Poindexter to see the remote room and vice versa. “They can stop and ask me a question immediately,” he noted.

Poindexter also spends his planning hour on Wednesdays at Crawford, which he considers key. “They have a chance to ask me questions, and I can look at their work more in-depth,” he said. “It’s a struggle to really get to know the kids on the camera, and my silly jokes break down in translation,” he added. “It’s completely different from being live in the classroom. They don’t see my real personality as much.”

Eighth-grader Sarah Poston said she and her classmates are making the most of this opportunity. “He always asks if anybody here has questions, so we have a chance if we need to. He always makes sure we answer some questions, too, so it’s not like we’re just watching them,” she said of the teleconference setup. Sarah said some technical glitches have been challenging, and it’s hard to hear their counterparts at Hayes who sit further from the microphone. “You get used to it after a while. We have to be quiet to listen anyway,” she said. “Having the teacher come every Wednesday does help a lot,” she added. “A couple of theorems some people had problems with, but he came over and got it sorted out.”

The joint class idea came from the two principals: Dave Hoskins at Hayes and Mike Jones at Crawford. With less than half the population of Hayes, Crawford had fewer students whose test scores qualified them to take advanced geometry. Hayes, meanwhile, offers three sections of the tenth-grade class. Jones and Hoskins talked about adding the 10 Crawford students into a class at Hayes, but bus transportation was an issue. The next best thing was to use technology. “We have to do something out of the box so those kids receive the services they need,” Jones said. “It was a little slow to get started, with them getting used to sitting in a room with no teacher supervising them. But after they met with (the teacher) face to face a time or two, they’ve embraced it.”

This model is typically used at the high-school level with more mature students; the Hayes/Crawford link is the district’s first attempt in middle school. While keeping a crowd of 13-year-olds on task can be difficult under any circumstances, Poindexter is making it work. For instance, he allows for the few seconds’ delay in image transmission and leaves problems up on the projector longer. “I’ve had to adjust my teaching style. In a normal class, I’m moving around. But for the kids at Crawford, I have to be right there at the camera stand,” he said. “It’s really been a huge adjustment for everybody. But as I’ve gotten more comfortable, the kids have gotten more comfortable.”  


Wellington delves deeper into culture on Japanese Dayhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/japaneseday2014-12-09T15:07:33http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/japanesedayAt Wellington Elementary, children in grades K-5 study Japanese about once a week along with music, P.E. and other “specials.” So when a handful of guests set up learning stations in the gym for Japanese Day, 10-year-old Asa Thomas was eager to check out the options. After rotating through all eight areas, he picked the sushi-rolling station as his favorite, followed closely by kendo (martial arts). “It teaches us a lot more about Japanese culture, and we can compare it to our lives and see what’s different,” Asa said after the event.

Japanese teacher Vanessa Grossl organized the schoolwide activities to supplement her lessons. “With these workshops, we emphasize the culture part that I don’t always get to in class,” she said. “We want students to be able to understand globally. I want them to investigate the culture and understand different perspectives.” In addition to culture, Grossl tries to cover communication, connections, comparisons and community. “The five C’s are a big part of language learning, and this helps us hit all those areas,” she said.

The learning stations included a chopsticks challenge where students raced to pick up as many puff balls as possible in one minute and a scavenger hunt in which they matched the written kanji characters with pictures of the objects they represent, such as colors and animals. At opposite ends of the gym, students tried out four types of Japanese toys – koma (spinning tops), daruma otoshi (wood stacking), kendama (cup and ball) and wa nage (ring toss). And in one corner, they tried on kendo protective equipment such as a chest guard and mask, on loan from the Central Kentucky Japanese School. Eimii Nishimura, outreach coordinator for the Japan/America Society of Kentucky, also played a short video of experts demonstrating the techniques and noted how kendo requires training of body and mind.

Nearby, Tim Weckman of Berea Bonsai Studio & Nursery explained how his craft of shaping trees with wire is sometimes like training a puppy: A woody plant can be difficult to guide and control at first, but gradually it becomes more compliant as it grows. “Bonsai is a way of miniaturizing or keeping trees small and shaping them in an aesthetically pleasing way,” he told the groups of children, showing a maple and a juniper as examples. “The Japanese live on a small island and are connected to nature, and bonsai is an appreciation of nature. It’s horticultural art. It’s living art.”

Across at the sushi station, chef Brandon Caudill from School Restaurant walked students through the preparation steps using a sheet of seaweed, a ball of white rice, seafood and strips of cucumber. Fifth-grader Daniel Whitaker is no fan of fish, but he said the soy sauce worked wonders as he and classmates sampled bites.

Meanwhile, presenter Lena Masterson explained the minimalist art of flower arranging called ikebana. For the five-minute sessions, she simplified it to three basic lines or points – heaven, earth and humanity – and volunteers each picked a stem to combine in an arrangement. The Japanese manufacturing plant where she works, Taica Cubic Printing Kentucky in Winchester, donated all the flowers for the day. “There’s definitely discipline, like in soccer or piano,” Master said of ikebana. “It’s also meditative and relaxing.” She mentioned how the youngsters’ creativity and initiative also come into play, saying, “Maybe they’ll go home and pick up branches from their yard and surprise their mom.”

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Volunteers ramp up to help at William Wells Brownhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/volunteers2014-12-08T16:37:24http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/volunteersMary Reed, a retiree with a lifetime of experience in the military and the medical field, is eager to volunteer at William Wells Brown Elementary. She sees her role as reinforcing the learning process. “If you befriend these students, you can get a lot done. They have so many needs – it takes communication skills and patience,” she said. “Encouragement is the main thing and motivating them to come to school. You need those two things to get kids going in the right direction.”

Reed was among the dozen community members who attended this fall’s first volunteer orientation organized by Fayette County Public Schools. The school district always welcomes supporters, and its partner United Way of the Bluegrass (UWBG) is particularly focused on recruiting for William Wells Brown (WWB), which had the lowest scores among elementary schools in Kentucky in the latest statewide test results. A service team made up of district specialists is already working with WWB staff, assisting in specific areas from math skills to behavior management. The United Way aims to ensure the 400-plus students also each have access to an adult volunteer, and the goal is to launch the influx in mid-January.

Roy Woods, director of community education for UWBG, emphasized that everyone’s participation is valued and no particular background or degree is required to make a difference. “If you give that child at least one hour and you’re consistent every week, you’ll see a large jump in how things move for that child,” he said.

FCPS volunteers are coordinated through the Family And Community Engagement office (FACE), led by liaisons Alice Nelson and Jessica Berry. At the Nov. 20 orientation, they reviewed district-level policies such as passing the criminal background check, signing in and signing out at school, keeping details about students confidential, and leaving discipline to the teachers and principal. They also highlighted the various types of assistance needed. For instance, a volunteer can work one-on-one mentoring a student after school or tutor a small group in reading during class time. WWB especially appreciates volunteers with expertise like dance or cooking, which can enrich its after-school program. Volunteers can also handle clerical duties in the school office, lend support in the library, or organize classroom materials. And schools can always use a hand with special events like book fairs and Career Day and with ongoing projects like newsletters and publicity.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve volunteered, so it’s time to get back into it. One hour a week shouldn’t be a problem, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” said Pete Bracken, an engineering manager at Lexmark, whose children are grown. “I hope to have an influence and be a positive role model.”

During the application process, the school district gathers details about each volunteer’s skills, preferences and availability. The district is also compiling specifics from teachers at William Wells Brown to match up the school’s needs with the extra support. Nelson noted that teachers will be guided in how to use the volunteers as they realize “I’ve got extra hands and abilities and skills in my classroom today, and I’m going to make the most of it.” After winter break, FCPS plans to host a meet-and-greet evening where new volunteers can tour the school and talk with the principal and staff, who will provide additional training. “We hope this becomes a model we can apply across the district,” Berry said.

Jon Parker, vice president for community investments with UWBG, said volunteers should never underestimate the impact they’ll make. “What’s key is consistency because the kids come to rely on seeing the volunteers. They remember,” he said, adding, “The community has a lot to contribute, and we need to keep building bridges so teachers can teach and the community can support.”

Get on board

The next volunteer orientation will be Wednesday Dec. 3 at William Wells Brown Elementary, 555 E. Fifth St. Choose either the 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or the 5:30 to 7 p.m. session, and please preregister at (859) 381-4176.




Group of Dixie boys ‘Making A Change’ for the betterhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/omac2014-12-03T16:40:44http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/omacSixteen boys at Dixie Magnet Elementary are bonding this year as the OMAC team (Operation Making A Change), which is gaining a certain cachet. “You are all setting an example for others and becoming leaders in this school, and others notice,” Dean of Students Cheri Presley told the group at a recent session.

These students are accustomed to garnering attention, though not always for the right reasons. Some have behavior issues; others, poor work habits. But all have the potential to turn things around. “Each of these students has positive things to offer the team as well as areas they need to grow,” Presley said. “Their teachers felt like a male mentor would be highly beneficial.”

That’s where OMAC comes in. Gerald Gibson, an employee of the Fayette County Attorney’s Office and a former gang member from the Illinois and Wisconsin areas, developed this program to help youths understand the impact and consequences of their decisions. He and former police officer Greg Howard spend a half-hour on Tuesdays at Dixie, and Gibson occasionally drops by unannounced. “It’s amazing when you go in there and they see your face and they light up,” he said.

OMAC covers a range of topics such as respect, bullying, violence prevention, asking for help, society’s expectations and the importance of education. Gibson and Howard also plan a field trip to a camp outside town for team-building and social-skills activities. Each message is tailored for fourth- and fifth-graders; sometimes it focuses on specifics for Dixie like personal responsibility. For instance, Presley assigns the boys chores and duties – whether planting mums, greeting visitors at the door or raising the flag outside. “Those jobs are teaching them to become responsible,” she said.

One recent afternoon, Gibson threw out several questions including “Who could be nicer to you?” “Who did you help today?” and “If you were the teacher, what would you teach?” As the boys raised their hands to answer, the others listened attentively (for the most part), and Gibson allowed their responses to steer the informal conversation. Though he welcomes active participation, he doesn’t allow the students to take over. A quick reminder to “Snap it up!” prompts the kids to face forward, sit up straight, make eye contact and button their lips. “We did a great job today, but we can do better,” he told them. “Every time we meet, we should be making progress.” 

The boys respect Gibson, who brings a gritty backstory. “I definitely was the first student of OMAC. I had a lot of personal issues and was on the wrong track,” he said. Drawing from his own experiences, he created OMAC in 1999 to help young people turn their lives around and pursue positive goals. “It’s teaching the kids accountability and to make good choices. It’s just having a strong presence of a male role model in there, and we get some good results from that,” he said. “I want them to know that regardless of where they grow up or live, it’s not an issue of who they can become in the future. And I just want the kids to always remember there’s hope – no matter how many mistakes you make in life.”

Dixie piloted OMAC last spring with a handful of boys, whose shift in attitude spurred Presley and social worker Jodie Carper to expand the program this year. Now, younger students recognize the OMAC team around school, and team members take pride in their efforts to work together and support one another. They’re also striving to collect compliments and 10 “Good job!” stickers so they can earn an OMAC T-shirt. “They feel a sense of family and a part of a group, which is something they need,” Presley said. “We try to keep it a mix of guidance and fun. We want it to be positive because we’re helping them grow into leaders.” She also hopes OMAC instills self-confidence in the boys, saying, “When you believe in yourself, that’s when you see success and feel it.”


Advocacy, inclusion main cogs in Disability Education Weekhttp://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/aimdisabilities2014-12-03T11:23:02http://www.fcps.net/news/features/2014-15/aimdisabilitiesStudents at Julius Marks Elementary explore their differences and celebrate their uniqueness during a pilot run of Disability Education Week, whose theme is AIM! – Advocacy and Inclusion on a Mission. “Everybody has strengths and abilities to give back,” said Annette Jett, parent liaison at the school district’s Parent-to-Parent Resource Center (PRC) and PTA president at Julius Marks. “Let’s not be afraid to say the word ‘disability.’ It’s empowering. There’s nothing wrong – it’s just different.”

The AIM! program features guest speakers at an opening assembly and themed curriculum components as students learn about disabilities through the lenses of artists, musicians, scientists, writers, athletes and others. Classroom and “specials” teachers are all on board. For instance, an instructor from the Latitude art studio coaches students to use imagination and heart to describe a cool, amazing trait and then illustrate it by shaping a small piece of clay. A third-grader who plays sports fashions his clay into a football; another molds a nimble figure performing a handstand. As classmates complete their symbolic sculptures, they put them together first in pairs and then larger groups – compromising corners and stretching the edges so multiple lumps of clay become one connected work of art. “It’s surrendering yourself for the greater cause,” said visiting instructor Mollie Rabiner. “It’s about showing the beauty of every individual and then piecing it together to see how it stands together and becomes much more creative and beautiful,” Jett added.

AIM! will also be piloted at Stonewall Elementary next week (Oct. 27-31) and at Millcreek and Cassidy in the spring. The goal is to take it districtwide within two years. Jett, other parents of students with disabilities and civic advocates developed AIM! to promote inclusion and access for all students not only in the classroom but also in the community. The program is endorsed by the FCPS Special Education Department and the LFUCG Mayor’s Commission for Citizens with Disabilities. The hope is that with districtwide coordination and brand recognition, AIM! will gain a foothold throughout Fayette County. “We want to take it beyond the doors of the school,” Jett said. “Our kids eventually grow up and become adults and need opportunities to transition into internships and jobs, and they’ll need friends, too.” 

The PRC supplies the promotional fliers and yard signs, adaptive equipment for demonstrations like wheelchair basketball and walkers for relay races, and connections with community partners like Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital. For example, the four guest speakers at Julius Marks included Micah Jackson, who has used a wheelchair since a 1999 car accident yet remains physically active. He plays basketball at Cardinal Hill, rides a crank cycle and hopes to take up sled hockey. “After I hurt my spinal cord, my legs can’t hear what my brain’s trying to tell them,” Jackson told the children. “I have to learn how to do things my own way so I can live independently.”

Principal Lynn Poe, a member of the district’s Special Education Task Force, wanted Julius Marks to be part of AIM!’s first wave. “We’re really working with the community to build awareness,” she said. “It’s bigger than just us.” And since the school already emphasizes inclusion, AIM! simply reinforces the everyday treatment of students with disabilities. “We focus on pushing them in rather than pulling them out of activities,” Poe said. “We include them in everything and adapt in order for them to feel success.”

She noted that each child received a bright green AIM! wristband to wear all week, saying, “It’s making every student aware there’s a talent and gift in everyone.”

Channel 13's Video on Demand


AIM! program: Creating natural networks and community access

Community kickoff: Oct. 22 with keynote speaker Keenan West