NOLA 2014

NOLA 2014

Monday, July 27, 2015

What to do with all of these peaches?

Thank you, Fredericksburg! 

Seriously. If you haven't eaten a peach from Fredericksburg, Texas, you are missing out. My husband and I took a last minute trip to Austin this past weekend and visited the Barton Creek Farmers Market before leaving town. Great idea. We were able to find some of our favorites--Buddha's Brew Kombucha on tap, Hello! Grass-fed Texas beef. And Fredericksburg Peaches.  

We always do a lot of eating when we're in Austin, so we try to stay active as well.  This weekend was a bit hot to climb Mt.Bonnell, but we did kayak on Town Lake. Lots of fun. 

It was my first time, so we went to EpicSUP on Lakeshore Drive. They're a bit further away from everyone playing around on the lake downtown. I was able to practice a bit with steering and syncing up with my husband before we hit traffic near the South Congress Bridge. And it made me feel less guilty for that avocado margarita from Curra's.

Anyhow, back to the peaches. We came home with a box of peaches. I have been eating them like they're going out of style, but don't want them to go bad. I sliced some up and paired them with our organic mint to do a second fermentation on a couple bottles of my homemade kombucha. Can't wait for that to be ready. I've also done a peach/jalapeno salsa to go on fish tacos tonight. 

And I'm making peach ice cream. Yes it has dairy. And sugar. But I'm going to splurge. Only the best for these peaches. 

To make me feel a little less guilty for eating this REAL ice cream, I drank Bulletproof coffee from Picknik Austin the whole time I was there, which was delicious. Just dairy-free. I'd say this just balances things out. Isn't that what life's about afterall? 

This is my first time using the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker. Here's my recipe, thanks to Doug all the way from Negril. 

1 cup Organic Whole Milk
1/2 cup Organic Cane Sugar
1 Fredericksburg Peach, peeled and pureed
1 Fredericksburg Peach, peeled and chopped, place in fridge until the very end
1 tsp Vanilla Extract 
2 cups Cream (I used Organic Valley's Heavy Whipping Cream)

1. Add the Peach puree to milk and sugar and blend. Then refridgerate to chill.
2. After about 30 minutes, add vanilla and cream to the mixture and pour in Ice Cream Maker.
3. After approximately 25-30 minutes, when the consistency is just what you expect out of fabulous homemade ice cream, add in the chopped peaches.
4. Freeze in Rubbermaid 5 cup dish, and eat within a week. (Yeah right, this will never last a week.)

Now, just because I know you're singing it in your head too...Millions of Peaches


Friday, June 5, 2015

School's Out for Summer!

This is always a bitter-sweet day for me. I will miss my students greatly, especially those moving on to Middle School. I still remember my first group of 5th graders and the tears we shed on the last day of school.

I held it together today. But I will miss them just as much. I can't wait to see the wonderful things they will accomplish! Amazing young ladies.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I have foresaken all my pride...

Growing up in Flint,  termed “the toughest city in America” in the New York Times, and born to parents who barely finished high school, my future could have
been drastically different. I was fortunate to have parents, family, and teachers committed to my education, constantly telling me to “Work hard and go to college.” 

I was convinced that my future depended on it. Upon graduation, I returned to my roots and once again called Flint home. Bright-eyed and fresh from college, ready to give back to students like me, I accepted a teaching position with the same district I attended. I loved my students and truly felt I was doing what I was meant to do. But as time went on, I became increasingly frustrated. 

Many students didn’t have parents like mine, pushing for college, but that was out of my control. So who do these kids have to encourage them? To motivate them? To get them to college? 

Teaching isn’t the end for me. I want to be a voice for students, teachers, and school systems. As I continue to evolve as an educator, I have discovered that the greatest gift I can give students and teachers is the high expectations I hold for them. I want to ensure that the teachers in my school bring great pedagogical skill and knowledge of their content to the classroom, but more importantly, dispositions of genuine care, concern and love for their students. I appreciate directly how important schools that are organized around High Expectations and a culture of “No Excuses” are. 

I have seen the difference made in educational settings that integrate the family connection. We need to put the community back into schools. The more support centered around the success of our students, the better. 

This is my ideology and my passion, and probably one shared by many teachers. But then who is left to look out for us--the teachers surviving on a minimum salary with student loan debt? There is all sorts of talk about incentives to become a teacher and Loan forgiveness. Apparently, that does not apply to my situation.  I attended the University of Michigan from 1994 to 1999. Did you know that if you took out a loan BEFORE 1997, you don't qualify for loan forgiveness programs? Not even if ALL of your teaching has been done in Title I, Hard to Staff schools.  I have been teaching for 14 years and still have student loans in excess of my yearly salary.  I can't help but become frustrated. If I'd have pursued engineering like my high school counselor suggested or business, I may have been able to pay them back already.  

It's heartbreaking to know that in order to maintain my Teaching Certificate, I need to continue earning credits. I took out another loan to help pay for my Masters Degree.  I returned to Flint to teach--and the housing market crashed. I attempted to sell my home and was offered a short sale, but the mortgage company refused. When I began working in Flint, there were 31 elementary schools. Today there are 12. I was laid-off every year.  I moved to Texas to teach. 

I had a daughter that needed multiple surgeries as a child. She was born with a chromosome deletion called 22Q. She is amazing! We struggled. My income was too high for her to qualify for SSI and receive financial assistance. Too high? I fall into the too high to qualify and too low to succeed financial category every time.  Is there any wonder why there is a teacher shortage?  I've been too proud to ask for help or even admit needing it, but paying $490 a month and not having it paid off for another TEN years is horrific. 

I am proud to be a Michigan Wolverine and am extremely fortunate to have received the education I did, but I need help paying for it. I have created a crowd-funding campaign and appreciate any and all assistance.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hello Animoto!

As I continue my journey towards Google Educator Certification, I've begun to explore Google Sites. How cool is Sites and why didn't I know about it last year when I bought

I decided to play around with designing a class site before taking my Google Sites Exam.  I passed my first two and don't want to press my luck. I've had way more experience with Gmail and Calender.  Before creating my site, I wanted to check out other classroom sites and kept coming across teachers using Animoto. Another program I have never used. Yes, I must be living under a rock. I created a short video showing off my most recent trip to Jamaica, just for fun. It was super easy to use. I mean, it took me a whole 5 minutes, maybe. Easy to upload your pictures-right from facebook or instagram. I just used a ready-to-go template and song.

Just from this brief experience playing around with the program, I can really see how much fun my students could have with this! I'm going to have them create an Animoto video as a culminating project for the book we're currently reading The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis. I'll post a link when they've finished it.  The possibilities are endless though. Imagine a math class creating a video on angles, where they have to take pictures of angles and share. Or a unit in science on habitats. I can already see that I will be using more of Animoto.

If you want to check out my Animoto, just click the link below.

*Hey, and you can change the music... Jamaica 2.0

Monday, March 23, 2015

Google Educator...In Training

I have decided to pursue the prestigious Google Educator Certification. I began this mission with an ulterior motive...I want to apply for the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) program and learn from all of the innovative educators out there.  I first found out about the program when my school was selected for Apple's ConnectEd Grant, which will provide every student in my building with an ipad! Talk about exciting. But once that initial adrenaline subsided, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to make the most of it. My school is being given the tool of technology to help level the playing field for our students, I need to maximize this amazing opportunity.  As I began searching for what other 1:1 districts are doing--what's working, programs being implemented, I discovered one thing many of these leading educators had in common. Most of them are ADEs and Google Certified. I had never even heard the term. I guess, I'm probably considered prehistoric for not knowing. I use gmail. I "Google" everything. I'm on twitter. After reading and learning and connecting with some of these ADEs, I am even more determined to become part of this network of innovators in education.

I am still in the beginning phase. I have completed the Gmail and Calendar Exams and am currently going through the Sites Training. It's crazy what all these programs can do that I was completely unaware of! Can't wait to learn more.

I welcome any and all advice! Also, if you are currently a 1:1 school or classroom, what are you using? What's working? I'm especially interested in programs being used to help students struggling in reading and math.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Donors Choose: Building HEROES

Building Heroes 

Talented. Inquisitive. Sensitive. Tough. Complex. Eager. Confident. Timid. Challenging.These are my students.  They are not your typical kids. They are low performing (according to standardized tests).  Yet they love coming to school. It's safe. It's welcoming. I need to meet my students where they are and use what I can to inspire them.  My "Building Heroes" project will give them the tools of technology, and trust, to dive into literacy through blogging, reflection, and sharing our lives with one another.

Real World Application...Hello! The GoPro camera system will allow us to video our real lives, not just our school lives.  We will be utilizing all of the higher order thinking skills to contribute to our blog--from deciding what to use, evaluating its importance, reflecting on others experiences, asking relevant questions to better understand one another and learn. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Refocus and Re-Energize

Results are In
I feel like I'm at a turning point in my career again. Constant change is my only consistency and I need to change this. I am finding this out in my years serving as the Reading Interventionist on a high-need campus.

Working with students performing two or more grade levels below grade level expectations, watching them fail mandated district and state tests, and continuing to motivate them to not give up is often exhausting. Giving everything I have to my students and getting failing test results back crushes me to my core.  Hearing my principal tell me to look at the growth column, “All of your students received a 1 or a 2 in growth,” meaning they either met their expected growth or exceeded it by our state’s standard is supposed to make me feel better. I frantically go through the list of 116 fifth grade students and highlight all of my Tier 2 and Tier 3 students, physically and mentally falling lower and lower with every “No” I read.

And just when I feel crushed to the point of tears, I see a “Yes.” A “Yes” next to Dashanae’s name. That “Yes.” Dashanae passed her STAAR test. A part of me despises that test. Another part protests the excessive amount of standardized testing our public schools endure. How can a four-hour test determine your achievement? Your success? Your future?

For my fifth graders of poverty, taking a test may be the last thing they care about on that day. They face so many battles outside of school.  I have no idea how they cope.  

I mean, I can talk to my parents. I am not on medications one day and off the next. I know that I will eat dinner. I know I will sleep in my bed, in my home.

I have worked with Dashanae for two years. She was in fourth grade reading on second grade level. According to the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark reading assessments I gave her, she was at a Level L, which correlates to just below a third grade reading level.  She struggled with writing conventions, spelling, and grammar. She didn’t like reading. Or teachers.  She certainly didn’t trust teachers. She was constantly disrupting the classroom, no big infractions, but silly distractions that annoyed all. She was assigned to my Response to Intervention reading group. Her teachers were relieved to have a break from her for that 45 minutes each day.

I instantly liked her. It’s easy to like students in a small group setting. I find that often, they really just need someone to talk to or a minute, someone to listen to them. I took an interest in her life, in her person, and worked to get her back on the reading track. I’m not sure which happened first, her silliness prevented her from learning, or her struggles increased the silliness. We had our work cut out for us.  

As teachers, we read article after article on better teaching practices, classroom management, student engagement.  My key is building  a relationship with Dashanae, of caring and support. She learned to trust me, the  teacher who grew up in a different neighborhood with different circumstances and different experiences. I shared stories with her about growing up. I actively listened to her stories, and problems, and concerns. What I discovered was Dashanae was an amazing young lady, full of creativity and brilliant ideas. She was very artistic and her peers recognized her abilities and humor.

When she read with me, she naturally made connections to her life (a TEK that many students struggle with). She needed to share her thoughts as they came to her head.  I watched Dashanae make gains in comprehension and fluency. She began to love discovering new words. She took great pride in her ongoing list of vocabulary acquisitions she measured on an anchor chart in my classroom. Although she was making these gains, and learning to love reading and learning, she was still at third grade level at the end of fourth grade.  

Fifth Grade
When fifth grade began, I brought her to my room in September to assess her, and all of those gains we had made seemed to have vanished.  She was still just as creative, but her fluency drop greatly impacted her reading comprehension.  She hadn’t read a book over the summer. This  “Summer Slide,” was devastating to her progress -- and for me.

Two positions to take: Why bother? or Let’s get to work.

We started reading. I pulled out my childhood favorite Boxcar Children. She started out reading the words very choppy, but we began a new vocabulary chart. She related to the characters -- begging me to stay longer to read another chapter.  We moved onto another book. She could not put Sideways Stories from Wayside School down. Thank you Louis Sachar!  This book accelerated Dashanae’s growth spurt --  from learning to read to reading to learn. The entire reading group began talking about the book so much that other fifth graders were asking me for it. We laughed --  not just chuckled, but belly-laughed with tears --  and couldn’t wait to meet the next character in the book.  

I looked forward to working with her group. We began to feel like a real family. They asked if they could come read with me during lunch, we  formed “The Lunch Bunch”, eating and reading every Friday.  It was one of those books that none of us wanted to end.  When we finished, Dashanae proposed writing our own version starring each of us as characters.  They had just as much fun writing their chapter as reading Sachar’s.  Struggling fifth grade students loving reading and writing. It was amazing.  We went on to  Shiloh and Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus.  They were unstoppable.

Relationships Above All Else
It made me realize that it wasn’t the reading strategies I taught or the mini-lessons I delivered. It was the relationship I built with Dashanae.  Dashanae was often the scapegoat in her classes. It seemed as if even when other students were also talking, her classroom teachers singled her out. They grew tired of writing her up and began sending her to me. She liked coming, so her behavior continued.  A female Holden Caulfield at age 10. It’s difficult to find a connection with every student, but that is what an effective teacher must do.  Think in terms of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. It wasn’t a miracle worker,, it was a dedicated teacher, with the same affliction, giving Keller tools to pull herself out of her blindness.

If  classroom teachers would have made the time to really get to know Dashanae, and accept her humor, they could capitalize on it within their classrooms, like  our reading group did. We would listen to her crazy connections to her life, which evolved to connections to other books we had read, and eventually to world events and theme. Her thinking helped her entire group grow as readers and thinkers. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

As teachers begin the new school year, building relationships with students must be their biggest priority. Not just the students that are easy to connect with, every student. There is a Dashanae sitting in every classroom, waiting for a teacher to take a genuine interest in her, to awaken the brilliance within. The classroom is the only constant in many of their lives. Make it genuine, caring, and fun.

New Perspective, New Job
Dashanae’s success motivated me to create a summer program, STARR Austin, to combat the Summer Slide.  She’s  inspired me to do more.  I’d love to help teachers grow to further their growth in students exponentially.

I have envisioned what a school I helped lead would look like for a long time.  All of the great teaching strategies and programs and curriculum will get you nowhere without an environment of family, mutual respect, and high expectations.  Genuine, positive relationships will help every child succeed, every time. It’s worth the effort and needs to be given priority over all else. Thinking of Dashanae gives me strength when I feel I am getting nowhere.  I will remind myself of her when I’m in that final stretch to STAAR. I will continue to stay focused on my students and not tests. I will teach my students, not my subject matter.  Students are where educators find their true successes, not scores.