Friday, May 19, 2017

News and Notes 3.25

The Best School in the Country
It was during the second day of a four-day visit from a group of teachers from China when one of them told me, "Your schools are the best we've seen in this country!"  I, honestly, sometimes think that very thought, but it's a bold proclamation and hard to quantify.  So, I asked the teacher why?  Why do you think our schools are the best?  "Your schools look like and act like a family." She said. Adding, "Everybody works together and works with the kids.  It is how education should be, and this is the first place we've seen [it] so pronounced."  
I admit, that statement endeared me to our ten guests. But beyond that, it was their willingness to "jump right in and help" as 3rd-grade teacher, Carolyn Otterman put it that earned my respect.  Also, I found their insatiable curiosity about all aspects of our educational processes really uplifting. They care about the entire education of a child, yet, they got really excited when they got to talk "shop" with content-specific teachers--very much like us.
So, why were they here? WLPS is adding a Chinese language program in our Early Childhood Center and Elementary School next year.  We will introduce the language and the culture to our students. As such, I wanted to better understand it. I also wanted the individuals who will work with our students and our staff to better understand the community of Whitmore Lake. Thus, a partnership was formed. Our district arranged to provide mentor teachers. I told my staff, the mentorship could be as easy as simply letting the guests from China watch you work.  Or, it could be as complex as the friendships you form with your peers at WLPS. Turned out to be the latter.
The visit ended on Thursday evening; they were my guests at our band concert.  Our students from grades 5 through 12 put on a great show. The guest teachers kept commenting to me how instrumental band is not taught in schools in China and how talented our teachers and staff were. Then, when Alaina DiDio sang "Moon River" with our WLHS band accompanying her, they were beside themselves. She performed a wonderful version, and it was a fitting end to time well spent.
I started my visit with these teachers telling them how proud I was to be a "Trojan."  After that performance they were telling me I hit the nail on the head (one of several idioms they learned from my staff.)
I'm looking forward to continuing this partnership and would love to introduce more of our students to a new culture--especially one that is so respectful of the needs of children. 
Indeed, it is another great day to be a Trojan.
You can enjoy more photos from the visit HERE.

Friday, May 12, 2017

News and Notes 3.24

Red & White at the Maize & Blue
Spring sports are great - when the sun shines and the temperature rises above 50 degrees that is.  This season has seen it's share of foul weather, but our Trojans are making the best of it.  We have a competitive Track and Field team at both the middle and high school level.  Our Lacrosse team is also competitive, despite being bumped up to Division 1 this year.  Golf is pushing the other teams in the area and is currently in 2nd place in our conference (Tri-County Conference).  

This past Monday our baseball and softball teams played games, as usual.  However, the venue hosting the games was unique.  Both teams were invited to play at the University of Michigan fields.  This was a great opportunity for our athletes to get some exposure at one of the nation's premiere sports complexes.  It was especially nice because both teams have seen success this season.  Softball's Alaina DiDio is coming off a no-hitter at Sand Creek and is leading our young team to a bright future.  Our baseball team is 10-4 and would love a post season run like they had in 2015.  So, getting a chance to display their collective talents at UM Softball's Alumni Field and UM Baseball's Fisher Stadium the words of WLHS Varisty Softball Coach, Patti Kobeck, "Pretty awesome!"  (Coach Kobeck did mention the experience would have been better if was at MSU.)

Our athletic department recognizes that sports play a significant role in the lives of many of our students.  Taking advantage of our proximity to these venues is important as it broadens the experiences of our students and gives them a chance to do things they may never do a again, or, as our district's vision statement professes, " individuals the inspiration to dream..."  WLHS student-athletes enjoyed the opportunity so much, we are trying to make it an annual event.  
Head to the album on Facebook HERE to enjoy pictures from the event.
What a great day to be a Trojan.

Representative Donna Lasinski Visits WLHS
This past Monday we had the pleasure of welcoming Michigan Representative Donna Lasinski at the high school. Ms. Ward’s first ever Advanced Placement Government class and Ms. Henry’s last Advanced Placement Government class met together to hear from Rep. Lasinski about her experiences in state public service.

Mrs. Lasinski began her work in government out of a deep interest in her own kids’ education. After serving on the Ann Arbor Public Schools School Board, Lasinski gained valuable experience and bipartisan support that led her to win a seat for her first term in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Since the AP Government class focuses more on the federal level of government, Rep. Lasinski's knowledge was a nice new perspective. She discussed how taxes are collected and spent, crunching some numbers regarding how Michigan public schools are now funded under the current state budget.

In response to student questions, Lasinski discussed her two main goals for education. First, to gain $1,200 more per student. Lasinski explained how, according to an evaluation of the state public education system, the Michigan state government is spending $1,200 less per student than is needed to adequately educate our kids. In fact, special education and "at-risk" students are in need of 30% more funding on top of that.
The Michigan Education Finance Study, conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates of Colorado found that 90% of Michigan school districts are not adequately funded to be "notably successful."
Secondly, Lasinski expressed her desire for more consistency in state mandated testing. "Pick one and stick with it," she said. At the mention of the recent switch from the mandatory ACT to the SAT, students across the room nodded their heads in agreement, as they are the ones who have experienced that change firsthand.

We appreciate Rep. Lasinski coming to speak with our students, taking the time to connect with her future constituents.  
Project Based Learning Little Free Library
You might hear a term used a lot, particularly in our elementary grades, called Project Based Learning or PBL. Essentially PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. . Students do this by identifying a local or global real-world problem researching that issue, developing a solution using evidence to support their claim and then presenting and executing a solution through multimedia, and 21st-century tools.
When you think of a project, you might think about those old state reports many of us remember doing. You know, finding a profile of a state in the almanac, writing all those facts on the poster board highlighting imports, exports, population, terrain, etc. PBL projects are nothing like that.
To give you a perfect example of how a PBL project evolves, we look to last year's WLES 2nd graders.
While studying communities in social studies, they learned about their own community and those around them. This was taking place during the start of the Flint water crisis, which resonated with the students. Through their research on the subject, they learned how being read to can help curb a lot of the negative effects lead poisoning has on younger children. This lead to the students running a book drive for the children of Flint in partnership with United Way. They donated 2,016 books.
The discussion then became localized to their own community. Knowing through their research how important reading in early childhood is, students considered what their own community does to help encourage reading and how they could contribute.
The students began making posters promoting reading to young children, put out book collection boxes and brainstormed ways to take it even further.
Their answer? Bringing a library closer to where a lot of the students live. Becoming familiar with the Little Free Library project and identifying that their Elementary school was surrounded by neighborhoods, they determined the school was a perfect location.
The students coordinated a letter writing campaign, with help from Ms. Bakker,  mailing a letter soliciting donations for their project to local businesses. They received donations from 11 local businesses, and before they knew it their project was fully funded.
With a plan in hand, they commissioned a student's grandfather, Robert Alexander, to build their library. Using a little creative freedom, he built a beautiful structure. WLES teacher Ms. Roy-Borland then used her artistic skills, donating her time to transform the raw wood into what is pictured below--Little Free Library #52379.
The little library was installed a little over a week ago. The now third grade class are deemed the caretakers of the library. In conjunction with their teachers, they have planned a ribbon cutting ceremony for next Friday, 2:30 p.m. Members of the community, our school board and the businesses who donated have been invited to join. Attendees are in store for lots of fun surprises, as I hear both Ms. Schneider and Ms. Baitinger are putting their baking skills to the test for some fun book-themed desserts  to make the ceremony extra special.
We can use our "teacher speak" to communicate the approaches we take to providing your students with exceptional, personalized education all day long (well at least until your eyes glaze over.) But being able to share a specific example of Project Based Learning like this fully demonstrates the innovation, team building, problem solving and empowerment that is happening in our classrooms every day.
Congratulations to the staff involved and the successful completion of their project, start to finish. And thanks to Mr. Alexander and Ms. Roy-Borland for lending their artistic skills to the project. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for pictures of the ceremony next Friday. 
Thanks also to the business who donated:
Polly's Market
Diversified Docks
AlDente Pasta
Best Western
Little Friends
Van's Archery
National Staffing and Home Care
Val's Service
SLM Trailers LLC

Friday, April 28, 2017

News and Notes 3.23

You know the role teachers play in the lives of your children, right? I ask that as a question rather than making my own statement declaring their critical importance to set the stage for a "shout out." Next week, is Teacher Appreciation Week. Several years ago, a day was set aside in the calendar to honor those in the professionals dedicated to the mission of educating this nation's youth. Teacher Day, as it was called, was usually the first Tuesday in May and was celebrated across the country.  It evolved into an entire week of appreciation in large part because of the impact teachers have on ...well, all of us.  
On behalf of the WLPS Board of Education and myself, I am extending a thank you to all our classroom teachers and para-educators for making every day a great to be a Trojan!
Facebook Live Friday Zumba Style
Mark next Friday, May 5, 12:30 p.m. on your calendar for our May Facebook Live Friday. On the first Friday of every month, in lieu of News and Notes, I invite a special guest to join me on a school bus to discuss an issue, event or topic important to Whitmore Lake Public Schools. Next Friday I will be joined on the school bus with WLPS Community Relations and Recreation Director, Maria Carter-Ewald, who is also Whitmore Lake Community Recreation's certified Zumba instructor and Vice President of WLFEE, the Whitmore Lake Foundation for Educational Excellence. Not only will we be discussing the upcoming Zumbathon Charity Event for WLFEE, but you will also enjoy a LIVE mini Zumba class at the end when Maria will be joined by community members, fellow Zumba instructors and WLHS students to do some Zumba. For those looking for a better idea of what Zumba is, you can learn more here I hope you'll join me live next Friday.
Small School: Big Heart
While we are always blown away by the generosity of our community, the Jump Rope for Heart campaign at our Elementary is one that stands out year after year. This year, with the leadership of our physical education teacher, Aimee Taylor, our school raised $16,650 putting our small school 15th place in the state. Impressive.
But what really stood out this year was the efforts of one of our students and her family who, unfortunately, have a personal connection to Jump Rope for Heart (JRFH).
Mackenzie Williams has been raised by her aunt and uncle until she lost her uncle in February 2015 when he had a massive heart attack in his sleep.  He passed away at the age of 47. He had no previous medical problems.
Since his death, JRFH has been extremely important to their family, as Mackenzie's aunt, Vicki, put it, it is something small they can do in Dave's name to keep his memory alive.
But I would hesitate to call what they accomplish "small". This year alone, Mackenzie set a goal of raising $3,000 and ended up raising $3,635 putting her in second place in the entire state of Michigan.
"I was a little nervous [about the $3,000 goal] but I wasn't about to let her know. I knew I had to come up with some new ideas to raise that kind of money in 6 weeks," said Vicki.
They held bake sales and walked door-to-door asking for donations as Mackenzie explained why she was collecting the money and the impact of each dollar donated. They also collected donations online, posting on Facebook a video Mackenzie made about the cause and what it means to her. They held an open gym fundraiser at Infinity Gymnastics and even set up an online auction. They auctioned off haircuts, birthday parties at roller rinks, LuLaroe leggings, cleaning supplies, handmade shirts and even had a friend donate a three-story Chalet in Harbor Springs for a weekend getaway for the auction.
As a prize for her efforts, Mackenzie was invited to a Detroit Pistons game where she got to meet and high-five the Piston players and run down the tunnel. By far, this was a much-deserved reward for her incredible job.
Mackenzie was joined by other students who worked hard to secure donations for the cause. Alex Kurth raised over $1,000 followed by Julia Zolenski who raised over $500. Ryan Riel, Michael Corrie, Joey Kritzman, Emerzon Matovski, Erin Carr, Molly Meza, Abigail Watenpool and Aiden Bare all raised over $300. Jacob Vibbart, Liam Smith, Abby Schmaus, Renato Ianni, Ruby Even, Holly Bendardi, Olivia Kurtz, Bailey Bare and Nolan Collins all raised over $200!
Because our school reached our goal, surpassing it by $1,500, students will enjoy an inflatable obstacle course at the school on May 25. In addition, they have earned $1,150 in gift certificates for physical education equipment.
"Each year my students continue to amaze me.  I am so proud of all of their efforts and dedication.  So many students have a personal story about someone in their life that has been affected by heart disease.  Our students really care about helping others, this make me SO proud!  They really understand the reason why we raise money for the American Heart Association. It's not for the thank you gifts, but to help save lives and honor those who are no longer here," said Ms. Aimee Taylor.
Talk about #TrojanPride.
Stock Market Challenge
Tenth place out of 1607. That is how Austin Tanner, WLHS senior, finished his stock market simulation challenge in Ms. Jen Taylor's Financial Management class. At one point during the competition he was even as high as second place.
In this contest coordinated by SIFMA Foundation's Stock Market Game each participant or group is given $100k in virtual (fake) cash to invest in the stock market. Participants then must research and decide what stocks would do well and make their investments, judged on the success of those investments.
Having shown an interest in the stock market previously, the contest tapped into and built upon Tanner's previous knowledge. After researching the companies, noticing their trends, determining what sector they are in and what their estimated earnings per share (EPS) were supposed to be, Tanner started his project.
"The best decision I made, where I made the most, was shorting Snapchat, meaning I sold it, hoped it would go down in price, and then rebought it. I read two months ago that all the millennials would love the stock because it was the biggest IPO; they all thought it would be the next Facebook. But if you looked at the stats, they showed it would be a terrible investment because it wouldn't turn a profit until 2021," Tanner explained.
Tanner made $8,000 from his 2000 Snapchat shares.
Blackberry was another successful move. He bought 3500 shares at $7 and held them until the challenge was over when they went up to $9, making $7,000 on that investment.
Because of his success, Tanner has a chance to win a prize from the contest. Along with his tenth-place finish, they will evaluate the essay he wrote on value-based and socially responsible investing regarding energy-based stocks that treat the environment well. He chose to write about Low Carbon ETF.
Tanner plans on attending Michigan State University in the fall to study mechanical engineering.
In addition to Tanner's success with the project, five groups from the Financial Management class finished in the top 25%.
Congrats on a job well done.
Week of the Young Child
We celebrated the Week of the Young Child this week at WLPS, an annual event celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families. The week's highlights include a concert for the Board of Education this past Monday and a visit from the Spirit of Alexandria Nature Bus yesterday. They brought with them the Birds of Prey exhibit from the Howell Nature Center. This great opportunity was provided by a grant from the Spirit of Alexandria Foundation applied for by Early Childhood Center staff member Hillary Hawkes.
"Programs like these give the children the opportunity to learn in different ways, outside of the classroom, and learn more about the world around them. We are always finding new and creative ways to provide these types of programs for our children. Last month, we were awarded a grant from the Detroit Zoological Society, and the entire ECC went to the Detroit Zoo for free," said Charlie Basham, Family Service Worker for the Whitmore Lake Head Start and GSRP who also serves at the McKinney-Vento and Foster Youth Liason for WLPS.
The Spirit of Alexandria Foundation was created to carry on the legacy of Alexandria Bennett, a little girl whose passion for nature and generosity was evident to everyone around her. Now they use that foundation to help children experience nature. You can learn more about Alexandria here.
We are grateful to benefit from the Foundation's work and thank Ms. Hawkes for securing the grant to provide this program for our students.
To learn more about programs our Early Childhood Center has to offer, visit their website here. And to check out pictures from this week's events, click here.