Friday, April 29, 2016

The Windsor 5K: It's not about where you finish

I had a great time last Friday at the Annual Windsor 5K, an event started 13 years ago by Georgie D. Tyler Middle School PE teacher Jeff Hampton. Students from Westside Elementary, Smithfield Middle, Georgie Tyler, and even a small group from Windsor High participated in the event.  This event has evolved quite a bit from the first year when only 40 runners from then Windsor Middle ran the race on the school grounds.  Six or seven years ago, other schools began participating as the race moved to the roads around Windsor High and Middle. The students spend at least six weeks training during their Physical Education class or through before and after school running clubs.

My wife and I have been runners for many years, so I was extremely excited to see a teacher inspire young people to set goals, keep their focus, and compete in a sport in which everyone can be successful and get healthy at the same time.  Most every parent would be thrilled if their child was a superstar athlete or high school valedictorian.  Encouraging students to be competitive can help them develop discipline and commitment.  However, there can be negative consequences if the only benefit the student or adult sees with competing is to always win.   Many of the successful people I’ve met have several things in common. They have a pure love for the activities they are involved in, and have unconditional supporters, such as coaches, parents, siblings, peers and other positive role models. It was clear on Friday that Coach Hampton is one of these unconditional supporters.

I had the privilege of observing one of his classes a few weeks before the 5K. I witnessed young people at all levels pushing themselves and training for the event. Coach Hampton encouraged each student to work hard in order to reach the goal they set for themselves.  I saw all children, regardless of their athletic ability, excited about participating with their peers.  I also saw students supporting each other with words of motivation or even by running together in a buddy system. It is obvious that Mr. Hampton has created an inclusive, positive, learning environment in which all students can reach their potential. 

All of this work definitely paid off on Friday.  The smiling faces, the encouraging cheers, and the relationships built during this special event will not soon be forgotten.  To some, it may have been just a race.  To me, it was the culminating event to a great learning experience that, for some, will inspire a love for running that will last a lifetime.  Thank you to all of the people who assisted with this great event.  A special thank you to the PE teachers in the participating schools who also served as unconditional supporters for their students:  Westside—Mrs. Bradshaw, Mr. Britt; Smithfield Middle—Mrs. Felts, Mrs. Roggie, Mr. Dockery; Georgie Tyler—Ms. Tina Shaul.  Please enjoy a video of the race by clicking on the link below.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Keep Calm and "Hands On"

Recently I had a chance to visit Mrs. Ann Rose Wright’s Pre-Kindergarten class at Hardy Elementary.  She was teaching her students about the life cycle of plants.  She could have shown them pictures of the different stages, or even had them grow seeds in cups in the classroom, but she carried the lesson a step further.  She took a class of four and five year olds outside to the raised garden beds to plant their seeds.  They actually turned this in to an experiment.  Some of the seeds they planted had been soaked in water while others had not.  Soon they will see if water has any affect on the growth of the seeds.  They can watch the seeds develop into mature plants, with leaves and flowers.  While the students were planting the seeds, they got their hands dirty and there may have been an incident of some thrown dirt.  Instead of stopping the experiment and sending everyone inside, Mrs. Wright dealt with the situation and the students continued with planting seeds.  I applaud Mrs. Wright for having the courage to provide these opportunities for her young students.  Instead of restricting the environment because a student may make a poor choice, she anticipates what might happen and handles the behavior accordingly.  She doesn’t eliminate these experiences for her students.    

I asked Mrs. Lynn Briggs, Director of Communications, to put together a video of Mrs. Wright in action with her class.  Of course, she was doing an experiment with her students related to their study of the Arctic.  Students were learning about the types of animals found in the Arctic and their adaptations for surviving in the cold weather.  They learned about blubber and how it helps to keep the animals warm.  Mrs. Wright could have just told them that blubber insulates animals and moved on to something else.  Instead, she turned the lesson into an experiment.  Each student got to place their hand into a bucket of ice water.  Then she showed them the “blubber” they were going to put their hand in before placing it back in the water.  First, she had them predict what the temperature would be when they put their hand back in the water—cold or warm.  Then each child got to place their hand in a glove surrounded by shortening in a plastic bag.  This had the potential to be a very messy activity, and there was some mess, but she knew that ahead of time.  Mrs. Wright also knew how learning this lesson through a hands-on experiment would be more meaningful than just being told the function of blubber.  

As we move forward toward project based learning, I’ve heard more questions about how this will look at the elementary level than middle and high school.  This is what it will look like.  I commend Mrs. Wright for taking a risk by introducing hands-on activities with her Pre-Kindergarten students.  I appreciate her courage for taking risks with her students and realizing that learning is more than what is found in a book.  I hope you will watch the video below that shows how our youngest students benefit from an environment that encourages them to use their brains, and their hands, for learning.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Art Appreciation

The VSBA Spring Tidewater Regional Art Forum was held April 12, 2016 at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach. Elementary, middle, and high school students from all over Superintendent’s Region 2 submit art work to be judged by local artists.  Region 2 includes twelve divisions, from the eastern shore to Southampton, Williamsburg to Virginia Beach.  The forum is a chance for School Board members and superintendents to network and enjoy an evening of fine arts.  Kellam High School students played music, sang, and had an exposition of learning on display with students standing by their work, explaining the different projects and problems that they have been collaborating on in their classrooms.  Kellam is a project based learning high school.  Virginia Beach is working on this innovative initiative and recently visited High Tech High as well.

The night did not disappoint.  The music was beautiful, the students gave great presentations, and the art was extraordinary.  Not everyone can have the winning entry, but I will say I was very proud of our students. Malina Chevere, an 8th grader at Smithfield Middle School, received a second place ribbon for her artwork, “Perspective.” Blake Vanderburg, Westside Elementary, received a third place ribbon for his entry, “Perspective Drawing with Photographic Imagery.” Sydney Bak of Windsor High entered her beautiful art, “Morgarts Beach,” in the high school category.   I also want to congratulate their teachers who provided guidance for the students as they created their artwork—Beth Gibble (WSES), Kevin Segner (SMS) and Lois West (WHS).  

The art in this competition comes from all the school divisions in our region.  Unlike a sports competition, our students compete against Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Hampton.  While all of us in IWCS know the talent we have in our schools, I’m delighted that other board members and superintendents had a chance to see for themselves on Wednesday night. 

Malina Chevere, Smithfield Middle

Blake Vanderburg, Westside Elementary
Sydney Bak, Windsor High