It Takes a Village

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by Aiyshen Padilla and Llew Brown

Today was a good day. I witnessed an event at Bowie High School that reminded me of all the good that happens when we work together. I was reminded that although we don’t literally live in villages, we still need the support of the village community, especially for our young people.

My village is comprised of both rich and poor. Parents who can afford the best for their children and don’t need help, and parents who desperately need help so their children can grow up healthy with the opportunity to reach their full potential. A community of people who send their kids to private school, and a growing contingent of committed parents who are investing in their local public school. That is where I fall. I believe in public schools and the children who attend them. I am committed to helping change schools for the better.

As parents, we all want the best for our children, but so often we don’t know what is needed or how to get it done. So we came together. It was during a conversation after a Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) meeting this past February when the idea blossomed to create the 9th grade Grade Point Average (GPA) Challenge at Bowie High School. This initiative was a great opportunity to show how we can all come together as a village – parents, administrators, the school board and local businesses.

The Challenge:  The concept was simple: Challenge the 9th graders at Bowie High School to improve their GPA by 10% between the 2nd and 3rd quarters (the third quarter ended March 24, 2017). Make it open to all 9th graders, not just the usual suspects — the high achievers. Invite them to a celebration event at the end of the challenge. Provide certificates of achievement to the students that met the goal and enter them into a raffle for a chance to win gift cards from local establishments. One goal of the program was to inspire other busy parents to get involved in a highly visible way with the school and their student, during future initiatives. Another was to demonstrate a true collaboration across stakeholders in our community.

The Village:  Several parents joined forces to implement the challenge. Collaborating mostly through conference calls and email, extra tutoring was arranged, a menu for the party was developed, and strategies for securing additional support were executed. For example, businesses and a school board representative provided much-needed funds for supplies and food. Additional families donated to the cause. School administrators promoted the GPA challenge by including mention of the challenge during the school’s morning announcements. Administrators also crunched the data and created the space for the celebration to occur.

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Destination Imagination Program Brings Rewards and Challenges

by Jane McDougal IMG_2650

Destination Imagination (DI) is an international competition for students of all ages that promotes independence, leadership, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork. Teams compete at regional tournaments, and qualifying teams move on to States and Globals.

My husband has enjoyed managing our oldest son’s DI team for four years at the TAG elementary school. This year I took on the challenge of managing a team for our middle child, a third grader at the neighborhood school. His school did not have a DI program in place, so I reached out to our new principal and the regional DI coordinator for help in getting a team started. This year, we started small with a team of five: four boys and one girl. As a mom of three boys, I felt I could handle it.

Destination Imagination is completely led by the students on the team. Teams choose one of seven challenges (Fine Arts, Engineering, Scientific, Improv, Service/learning, Technical, and Early Learning) and present their solution at a regional tournament in February, March, or April. The team also chooses their team name and decides how they will divide the work and solve the challenge.

My team chose the Fine Arts Challenge: Vanished! They were tasked with presenting a story about the disappearance of a color and how it affected a world. Additionally, they had to create a colorful character that was either involved in or affected by the disappearance of the color. And finally, they had to use a theatrical method to create a vanishing act. This was to be an eight-minute presentation. It’s a tall order for two third graders, two fourth graders, and one fifth grader.

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Journey to Kindergarten: We’ve Arrived!

This is the sixth part of a series documenting the steps one family is taking to prepare for their son’s entrance into kindergarten next year. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here

by Gail Z.

20160406_080252 (1)We’re nearing the end of 2016 already, and are moving into the second part of the school year. It’s flown by so fast, but we are enjoying — and surviving — kindergarten!

Our son has adjusted well. He loves his teacher (she really is great), he has some favorite classes (computer and P.E.), and he is doing really well. We are just as pleased today as we were when we visited the school back in the spring. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It’s run like a well-oiled machine. From weekly parent communication folders used to send home everything from important calendar dates to information about community happenings, the school’s superstar staff has not missed a beat. And speaking of staff…
  • Every encounter with staff has been positive. I have called and visited the front office, emailed my son’s teacher, walked into the building unsure where to go and have always received a pleasant response/answer.
  • They host wonderful events. My husband ranted and raved about Danishes for Dads, a program held one morning in October to honor the men in the student’s lives. Our boy surprised my hubby by reading a few sweet sentences he’d written about him.
  • An Active PTA. So far, there have been two dances, a book fair, a holiday gift shop, a fundraiser, and Chick-Fil-A and Chuck E. Cheese night. I love that there are parents like me who are so actively involved.

We are so happy and blessed to be having such a wonderful experience thus far. We look forward to watching our boy grow and mature in his time at his new school and will be looking forward to his brother joining him there in just a couple of years.

Our Transition from Private to Public School

by Llew B.

file_000Make no mistake, parents are having tough conversations about school choices this time of year. It was no different for my family last fall when discussing options for my daughter, who at the time was in 8th grade and beginning her 6th and final year at a parochial school in Bowie. Fast forward to 2016, and we’re a couple of months into her transition to Bowie High School (BHS). I’m writing to share my own thoughts on my daughter’s transition and suggestions for middle school parents and Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS) officials.

Why We Chose Public

Financial considerations were a primary factor in our decision to transition from private to public high school. Yearly tuition for private high school tends to be substantially higher than it is for the middle grades. A family could easily spend $60K for high school over four years, compared to $30K or more in middle school, over the same time period. Furthermore, our second child would enter high school in my daughter’s junior year, and we assumed there would again be a period of overlap in college.

We engaged in a number of information gathering activities to help us make a more informed decision. To better understand public school options, we investigated specialty programs for highly motivated students (ex. Summit at Bowie High), toured the facility for 9th grade students at BHS, and met with several BHS students and their parents. Our key findings were not surprising. We did not discover a treasure trove of gleaming facilities, but we didmeet staff and parents with similar goals. The students we spoke with described experiences that were fair to positive, and we heard no anecdotes that were cause for alarm.

Last but certainly not least, there was an element of hope for potential improvement in our public schools, over time. Through Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Public Schools (PGCABS) and other venues, I began meeting people interested in public school advocacy, and I interacted with various levels of PGCPS administrators who seemed to welcome outreach from people in the community.

The Transition

We’re only two months into the high school journey, but my daughter is doing fine. Below I provide comments ranging from the social environment to academics.

Social environment

High on the list of factors that impact the adjustment to high school is the ease at which a student makes new friends. While the majority of 9th grade students appear to come from the public middle schools that feed into BHS, it appears that a sizeable number of students are new to the area and my daughter has made a number of friends from this pool. Also, school spirit seems to be fairly high from what I gathered while volunteering during homecoming week.

Transportation

I’m pleased to report that we have had no significant issues with transportation. I’m aware that transportation issues are a major concern for students county-wide.

Safety

The environment seems to be safe and orderly. My daughter has stated that in most of her classes, students actively participate and there is minimal disruption to the daily routine.

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What Went Right on the First Day of School

Several Prince George’s County parents have shared with us what made their child’s first day of school successful.

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  • I appreciate how organized things were the first day — from the kindergarten teacher explaining exactly how things should go, via her letter to parents, to the school sending home everything we needed to know for those first couple of weeks. I was really impressed at how clearly things were laid out for us as a new family at the school.
  • My kids were so nervous returning to school. What made their day was seeing their teachers from last year, who made a point of smiling, waving, and asking about their summers. It was a simple thing, but it really made them feel at home and welcome!
  • Our son started high school this year. The summer “bridge program” offered by his high school provided an excellent orientation to the new school and made the transition from middle school much easier.
  • My son enjoyed the get-to-know-you activity that his third grade teacher organized for the class on the first day.
  • It was lovely to see so many teachers outside the school helping to direct traffic and welcome the children as we arrived on the first morning. And as soon as I walked into my second-grader’s new classroom I could see how well-prepared and well-organized her teacher was because of all the lovely personalized touches for each student. They really made the kids feel as if they belonged, and filled me with confidence for a great year ahead.
  • We have been working to get a more appropriate schedule for our middle school daughter. Even though the situation has been stressful, I’ve been really grateful for the caring response and advocacy from the TAG coordinator at the school. Way to not be dismissive!

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Prince George’s Schools Team up with the Clean Water Partnership on Green Stormwater Retrofit Projects

by Carmel Jones

CWP Partners Nardi Construction and Soltesz reviewing design plans for L...

Eighteen schools in Prince George’s County were evaluated this year to receive green stormwater retrofits as part of the county’s Clean Water Partnership (CWP), a $100M public-private partnership with private company Corvias Solutions, to retrofit 2,000 impervious acres with green infrastructure in order to achieve regulatory compliance.

The CWP Schools program, designed to assist Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) with treating and managing stormwater runoff through the application of Best Management Practices (BMPs), will guarantee that PGC’s federal stormwater standards are met, while also providing an educational legacy for future generations committed to improving the water quality in our communities.

Courtyard Demolition at Capital Heights Elem. School

The program includes an educational component, and select schools will receive instructive signage, educating students about the benefits of managing stormwater runoff and displaying how installed BMPs will perform at each site. At the end of the summer, students and faculty from the schools will also have an opportunity to participate in a volunteer tree planting session that will support the installed BMP devices. These educational learning sessions will take place during school hours and will give students a hands-on experience in preserving our environment.

The initial eighteen schools identified to participate in the program include elementary, middle, and high schools in Prince George’s County. These schools include:

  • Bond Mill Elementary School
  • Calverton Elementary School
  • Capital Heights Elementary School
  • District Heights Elementary School
  • Frances Scott Key Elementary School
  • Friendly High School
  • Gwynn Park High School
  • High Point High School
  • John Hanson Montessori
  • Laurel Elementary School
  • Magnolia Elementary School
  • Oxon Hill Middle School
  • Parkdale High School
  •  Potomac High School
  • Rosa L. Parks Elementary School
  • Scotchtown Hills Elementary School
  • Templeton Elementary School
  • Walker Mill Middle School

Completed Retrofit at Rosa Parks Elem. SchoolIn the initial phase of the program, each school was given an individual plan, which included a customized package with pictures and concept designs, as well as a dialogue to help each school understand the purpose of the BMP devices. The retrofit needs for each school were pre-identified by the school’s students, faculty and maintenance staff, and customized to fit the unique needs of each facility. Since then, various types of BMPs, including bio-retention cells, sand filters and swales, to name a few, are now being installed by local workforce on the outdoor grounds of each location to capture and treat previously untreated stormwater runoff from the sites impervious surfaces.

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A Teacher’s Perspective on the Junior Achievement Finance Park

by Natalie Barnes

IMG_7453When I first heard that all eighth graders would be participating in the Junior Achievement Finance Park curriculum, I was not looking forward to the experience. I assumed that it would be just one more thing to try to fit into the already jam-packed school year. However, in the end, I was delighted by the experience and look forward to participating in the future.

I attended a training at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that shared highlights of the curriculum and took us on a tour of the location. I was still a bit confused, but the coordinators promised that once we looked at our curriculum guides, it would make much more sense. And they were right. The curriculum guide was well put-together, with color-coded organization, clear instructions, and detailed explanations. It also provided teaching suggestions, extension activities, and probing questions. The county required that we only cover a few lessons (shared between social studies and math class), which were mandatory material for the experience. However, there was a plethora of additional material for students who needed differentiation or teachers who had more time to further explore the content. Overall, the curriculum took approximately a week in math class and a week in social studies, although teachers were free to customize this for their classes as long as they met the minimum lesson requirements.

Each student had his or her own workbook.  These were consumable workbooks that were designed to be engaging to students with various graphics as well as plenty of activities and space to work—all in full color.

The fourteen required lessons covered four main topics:

  • Income
  • Saving, Investing, and Risk Management
  • Debit and Credit
  • Budget

Income and Budget were covered in math classes while the remaining topics were taught in social studies classes. While many situations were geared to future careers and salaries, students also spent a great deal of time analyzing situations and jobs that are common for middle and high school students. Many of my students were engaged as they examined current and future potential situations, applying the principles of financial literacy to their own lives. This became even more true as we prepared to attend the Financial Park.

The entire field trip was free of charge to students, ensuring that every student could come. The buses were prompt and because they were not school buses, students were excited to attend, and they felt like this was a special experience. When we arrived, they were ushered into the Financial Park auditorium to receive a brief overview of the day’s activities. But after only a few moments, they were split into groups and assigned a volunteer who would serve as their group leader for the day. Many of the volunteers were teachers, parents, student teachers, or community members. The students were often pleased to be working with an adult they knew. It was particularly advantageous to some of our students with learning disabilities or other special needs as they were able to be placed with supportive chaperones who allowed them to participate fully. We had a group who spoke very little English, which was assigned to a chaperone who also spoke Spanish, allowing the day to be conducted bilingually, truly allowing all the students to engage with the activities.

As they were assigned groups, each student received an iPad and a fictional scenario about their job, salary, marital status, and family situation. From there, they determined their monthly gross income and monthly net income, using the iPad. On the iPad, they then set a budget, allotting money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. During the budgeting time, they explored the Finance Park, which has various stations devoted to each of these categories, allowing students to research costs before making a final decision. After lunch, students then revisited each of these stations and actually “purchased” items. They had to first decide on renting an apartment or buying a house and then owning a car or using public transportation. Many times they had frustrating realizations that they simply could not afford the home or car of their dreams and had to settle for less expensive options. Once they had determined their housing and transportation options, students were then given a “debit card” linked to their iPad and account. They went shopping to the various stations around the Finance Park, buying different products and quickly realizing that their money supply was not endless. After their purchasing time was up, they worked through reflection activities with their chaperone and made any final changes to their monthly spending. One aspect of the reflection included a random event that caused them to spend money (e.g. the car needed repairs, the refrigerator stopped working, a child broke her arm).

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