Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Skill Centers

We changed out our Skill Centers this week.  We retired a few of the Centers since the children have mastered the skills and added some new ones. 

The Center below is a sort of verbs, common and proper nouns and pronouns.

This next center is also a sort but this time the students have to read each word and decide if the -ed ending has the /t/, /d/, or /ed/ sound at the end.

The center below has been one of our most challenging.  Students have to put the unifix cubed letters in order to make compound words.  The two words in the compound word are each in a different color and most of the words are easily decodable with the phonics rules we have learned.  There is also a "challenge" group of words - although nobody has reached the challenge level...yet!

We are reviewing the sight words with partners below.  Each colored set of words represent a nine weeks of sight word - including the first nine weeks of second grade words!
And finally, each child chooses a card with five pictures and has to chose the letter magnets to make the word.  These cards represent words with short and long vowels that use the vowel combinations we have learned this year.

We spend about 15 minutes at each Center with the six children at the table doing the same Center and then rotate.  Sometimes we only get a single Center completed and other days we get three or four complete.  The next time we do Centers we just pick up where we left off.  This is an absolute favorite activity for the children.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Morning Work

We are always looking for good morning work.  The trick is to get something meaningful to the students but that takes very little prep.  Since we came back from the winter holidays, we have been using an assignment that is working very well for us.  We put one vocabulary word on the board and one spelling word.  We have been struggling with our children starting sentences with capitals and remembering to put the ending punctuation so we wrote a rubric that included writing the date correctly (the idea is that if they have to write the date every morning they are more likely to remember how to spell the months!), writing a sentence with the spelling word (caps and punctuation count) and the word must be spelled correctly, and writing a sentence and picture with one of the words.  Both the spelling words and vocabulary words are part of the Skills assessment at the end of the week.  We give the children 15 minutes after the bell rings to unpack, change out their book-in-a-bag while the school's news show, WCCE, is on.  We also pledge and sing the Star Spangled Banner during that time.  We grade the spiral bound notebooks intermittently to keep the children interested.  Some days we actually ask the students to bring their notebooks to the carpet and call on students to show the others what they have written and drawn.  All in all, it's pretty satisfying morning work!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fifth Grade Tutors

All year we have had fifth graders come in on Friday mornings to read with our children.  I don't know if the fifth graders enjoy it as much as our kids, but our kids "whoop and holler" as the fifth graders walk in.  A few weeks ago we decided to ask the fifth graders to read the comprehension passage with their first grade friends that the first graders have been practicing at home all week before they were tested on the passage.  For a few of the children, it's the only "extra" read they get because their parents don't do it at home, but for ALL of them it's a time when they try very hard because they want to impress their older friend.  Then the fifth graders make up questions they can ask the younger students, testing the younger children's comprehension.

As I watching them today, I was impressed with how hard the first graders were working and how hard the fifth graders were trying to think up questions that would be first grade worthy.  Then I started thinking about how many of my first graders had asked for writing conferences this week and how it never seemed like I could catch up.  Then I realized that I was looking at the answer.  The first graders could read their writing each Friday to their older partner!  Not only would it be good practice for the fifth graders to listen and ask the writer questions to help him revise, but it would give the first graders an audience for their work!  Why haven't I ever thought of this before!  Duh!  Can't wait for next week!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Teacher of the Year 2013

We celebrated Guidance Counselor Betsy McCall, our 2013 Chets Creek Teacher of the Year today.  No school honors a teacher the way that Chets does!  We walked into the Media Center this morning to a lavish breakfast and to the amazing life-sized painting above by our Art teacher, Jen Snead.  It celebrates Betsy's love for God, music, the beach and peace..  Each grade level did a skit - a little irreverent (think roasting) that ended with kindergarten's moving tribute.

Betsy is our friend who never outgrew being a hippie,  who has had flashy pink  and orange streaks in her hair since she beat cancer!  Betsy loves to travel -we all live vicariously through her travels on airplanes, hand gliders, blimps - next up is a hot air balloon.  Bets has visited all 50 states. She even took her mom to Italy this past summer.  Betsy lives life in the moment.  She is a reminder to us all of how to love the life you're in!

More than that Betsy is a listener.  She has such a small ego that it seems nonexistent.  She is the steady, quiet truth that has always been at our Leadership table.  It is no wonder that so many of us trust her with our secrets and fears and turn to her in times of great pain and times of great joy.  We have closed her door and cried buckets of tears over our children and their circumstances as she has listened and shared our pain. 
Betsy will retire at the end of this year.  She has always been at Chets Creek - since the day it first opened its door.  I cannot imagine days at the Creek without her.  We have all grown to count on her and trust her and depend on her strength.  She will leave a gaping hole in our armour.  But we will continue to travel with her and the she will leave behind a legacy of caring and love...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mayor's Education Summit

Spent the day at the Mayor's Education Summit hosted by Jacksonville's Mayor and the Superintendent.  I was invited to participate in a workshop about How to Increase Parental Involvement in our Schools - a topic I certainly care about.

The room included many high profile  people including the School Board, PTA, and head of many of the non-profit and faith-based groups in our county.  Our own MARC was represented by our own Liz Duncan.  The idea was to get everyone together, identify the problems and make recommendations for solutions.

A couple of things hit me at the conference: 1) With our growing Hispanic population, that minority group seemed to be grossly underrepresented.  2) There seemed to be lots of fragmented and duplicated services and there certainly is a need - and a cry for - some type of local Clearinghouse.  There is a huge lack of infrastructure for communicating what is available and how to access services. 3)  The MARC should be the prototype for the type of grassroots services that work - that combine school (Chets Creek), community (ARC), faith (BUMC, Eleven 22, Church at Chets Creek), and funding (Mckenzie Wilson Foundation) to provide holistic services on-site.  They should be the model for how to get and support services that meet a community's need!

I've lived in Jacksonville for a long time and the problems in education have always been huge, seemingly insurmountable in some areas as evidenced by our continuing failing school.  It seems like every so often the bigwigs get together and put a lot of lip service to all that is going to be done and then the results... dismal and fragmented.  It always seemed like a lot of posturing and egos to me without real community passion or support.  So, is there any reason to believe this time will be different?  We do have a new Superintendent and we do have a Mayor with passion... and I guess being an optimist, I always have hope. I have to believe that the destiny of these two men is intertwined for such a time as this.  I want the district to shine as bright from the inside out as I think my school shines.  I want the same collegial, family feel in every school that I have each and every day and I want every teacher, parent and child to know that if there is a problem, there is someone there to help.  Is that too much to ask?