Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Trio That Stole Our Hearts

Last year I was called to the office. The principal informed me that we had three first grade ESE students registering at the same time! Oh my! My shock at having three from the same family enrolling in the same grade (twins and an older brother that had been retained) was immediately overtaken when I saw the three adorable, but desperately sad children. In broken Spanish and with tears, the mother told us that their teenage brother had been shot in a drive-by shooting just days before and that she had moved to our area in hopes of a safer place to raise her children. The little ones had been very close to their older brother and were heart-broken by the events. Although we decided to place all of the children in the same class, it was a difficult few weeks for them. They had to be pushed into the classroom each day and mostly stood at the back of the room. If one was having a hard time, I think they each felt like they needed to stick together and have a hard time too. I remember one day one of them tried to climb into a cubbie at the back of the room and then they all tried. There were meltdowns and tears and just the saddest eyes that I have ever seen. It was difficult, but slowly the teacher with her magic belief coaxed each of the children into the classroom. Her love and support radiated.

As the year progressed you could see the children coming out of their shells. The teacher, who is fairly fluent in Spanish began to push with an empathetic tone that they  began to trust. Our Behavior Interventionist invited the children to attend a weekly support group for children who had lost someone they loved. There were very few smiles that year, but with the help of our second language assistant and the teacher we were able to help the family in many ways outside of school. At the end of the year, the teacher recommended that the brother twin stay back and even with the mother's support and comparison information from the sister twin, the ESOL Office believed the problem was basically language and refused to let the bother twin stay behind.

As we ventured into the second year the boys looped to second grade with their same kindergarten teacher and the girl went to another first grade class with the ESE teacher. The teachers felt like she would blossom if she didn't feel like she had to take care of the boys - such a heavy load for such a young child.

The boys blossomed too. The teachers secured a counselor who saw the children weekly during the school day and the mother made sure that all three children were at the ARC (outside tutoring supplied free by the school in the children's neighborhood) every Tuesday to receive extra help. All of the children began to speak more and they all became readers! They were so proud of themselves.

Last week the teacher brought three blue balloons to the playground and invited each of the children to write a special message to their brother. It would have been his 18th birthday. After they wrote their message they stood together and released the balloons to the sky. There was a momentary hush that fell over the playground as all the children turned to watch the three balloons disappear over the building. The children smiled. There wasn't a dry eye among the adults as they watched this precious trio who had come so far. The older brother and sister twin will go on to second grade next year, both strong readers. After another meeting the brother twin will remain in first grade to strengthen his skills. Each child will be in a different class for the first time and will have the opportunity to shine on their own.

This doesn't mean that all of the problems for this family are over. They have another older brother that has had trouble with the law. They still suffer from many of the same problems that are inherent in poverty and being citizens of a second language navigating a highway of language subtleties, but I am just so proud of the way that individuals in my school responded to the needs of this family. The caring individuals - the teachers, the second language assistant, the Behavior Interventionist, and so many other people along the way who reached out their hand and said, "How can I help?" This is what "school" and "learning" are all about.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

End of the Year Certificates

We have an end-of-the-year Awards Day. The parents are invited and we like to do something a little differently than our usual nine week awards for grades and citizenship. We also like to make sure that every single child gets an award. This year we gave out a list of each of the children's names to each child and asked them to write a word by each name of something they thought the student did really well. Then we brainstormed a list of good things we could say about our friends on the board. The students were welcome to use words from the list or to think up something on their own. We then took the lists and typed them into Wordle so that each child had a list of superlatives and printed a unique certificate for each child. We are so pleased with them because they capture the child and their first grade year in a word picture! I think children and parents are really going to like the result!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ARC Birthday

Last week we celebrated the ARC's birthday. It has been a year since we opened this tutoring program in the midst of a 1000 mobile home community that is zoned for Chets Creek. I have written about this effort several times and the inspiring people, KK Cherney and Liz Duncan, who jumped into action over a year ago to make it happen. At the birthday party, a group of students from the community, chosen by the Music teacher, opened with the National anthem. Honestly, they sounded like angels. A fourth grade student who wants to be a teacher and comes on our first grade afternoon to tutor students, spoke about his experiences at the ARC. There were jumpy houses for all the children, ice cream and cupcakes and presents (books and pencils donated by Scholastic) for all the children. The school presented the Management of the Community with a framed picture that included a picture of each of the 250 students who had been serviced at the ARC that will hang in the Community Center. The children brought their families from across the community.

We have entered this project into a $1000 local competition to earn a few extra dollars for books and technology. We hope this will become the hub of activities for this community, that will not only meet their academic needs but will improve their quality of life. Please help us by going to Community First's blog to "Like" our project! What an inspiration this project could be if the idea caught on across our entire county.... It's possible... dreams really do come true... Just take a look at the ARC!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Curious Garden: Book-of-the-Month May 2011

April's Chets Creek Book-of-the-month was The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. The strategy that we worked through was asking deeper questions with medium and high cognitive complexity. We met in small groups and then came together with our grade level to write questions for each page of the book. Today Mrs. Ruark read the book to the students, asking them the more complex questions that we had discussed as a group. The idea is that children have to comprehend text by talking about the ideas before they are able to do the work independently on a comprehension assessment. This is a really great book that tells the story of a garden that grows from a railway that is no longer used. The text and illustrations challenge the children to draw inferences and think deeply about the message in the book.

After reading the delightful story and asking questions throughout the text, Tracy showed the children an article that she had read in National Geographic that is based on the real story of an abandoned rail line called the High Line in Manhattan. The city turned this abandoned rail into a walking park with chairs to sit and read, an amphitheatre, and a leisurely strolling path filled with greenery right in the middle of the city. This additional piece gave the children an opportunity to draw conclusions between the two pieces of literature and worked well with the idea that we are working with in writing - that children can use real experiences to base their fictional writing. While we could have pulled one of our laptops to the document camera to share the on-line magazine article, instead Tracy used her personal ipad to quickly pull the story up for the children to see. The site even included a video in elapsed time of someone walking the path! Using the ipad was quick and convenient. We first tried just holding the ipad and showing it like we would a book but quickly realized that the pictures and video showed very well through the document camera! How exciting it would be to have an ipad at our disposal. It was so quick - so convenient! I can see how we would use the Internet so much more often in our lessons and with such great ease! Anyone know where we can find the money for ipads?!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Douglas Wood, Children's Author

One the best traditions at Chets Creek is the Author Visit each spring. I don't know where our Media Specialist KK Cherney finds the funds and the authors, but she always manages to bring the faculty and children a most awesome adventure. How fortunate are the children at Chets Creek to be able to meet an author/ illustrator each year? Douglas Wood is an author with 40 books and also a songwriter. The day started with the faculty meeting for the Principal's Book-of-the-Month. I would think it would be a little intimidating for a principal to read a book in front of the author, but Susan Phillips is a master at reading aloud. I'm sure Douglas Wood enjoyed every moment of hearing someone else read his book! She chose the beautiful The Secret of Saying Thanks. The lyrical text and imagery are a perfect blend for appreciating our beautiful world. This is a book the children will love hearing.

Douglas Wood then entertained each grade level. He told first graders the story of The Rabbit and the Moon which is Native American (Cree) folklore. It will be such a great addition to our Kindergarten Native American collection of books. It's one thing to hear a teacher read a book, but it's something very special to hear an author tell his own story. I once heard Bill Martin, Jr. tell The Ghost-Eye Tree and I will never forget the impression that it made- much like the impression Douglas Wood left on me on Friday! Being a song writer he then taught the children two different songs and answered so many of their questions.

He also told us that he had ADHD and that it was hard for him to think of just one thing at a time. As a result he had ten new books in his mind all the time! He talked about how difficult it was for him to learn to read. Finally a second grade teacher helped him to understand that the squiggles and blots on the page really held a message. He said he didn't learn to read immediately - it took some time - but that teacher made the difference. He wrote that story in Miss Little's Gift.

Douglas Wood's first book was Old Turtle. The books has sold a million copies and won many awards. Douglas Wood told the students that they too, are authors and encouraged them to dream big. He left us with the message that it's good to have dreams, to never give up and to not be afraid to ask for help. What an inspiration!