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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Journey to Kindergarten, Part 5

This is the fifth 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, and Part 4 here

by Gail Z.

20160406_080252 (1)It’s official. Summer is here, and now that we’ve celebrated my son’s graduation from preschool, we’re starting to prepare for the school year. And now that we know where he’ll go to school, I thought that it would be a good time to share how we arrived at our decision.

In part four of this series, I wrote about our visit to the school on the other side of our neighborhood, and how impressed we were. Not long after, we finally got word that our neighborhood school was offering new kindergarten families a tour of the school. We were encouraged to bring our son along, but we opted not to because we didn’t want to get him excited about a school he might not attend.

On the day of the visit, I had an open mind and was very interested in learning about the school. The principal apologized to those of us to whom she hadn’t been responsive. I appreciated that. During the tour we later learned that her delayed responses were due to PARCC testing.

Much like the tour at the “other” school, we walked from class to class and were able to peek in at what was going on in each room. At both schools, we were told and could see all that is offered to students. But here, something was different. Maybe it was the excitement in the principal’s voice, or that there’s a poetry slam night, during which students perform. Maybe it was the retired art teacher who returned to the district and was now at this school just to ensure that students could experience art class on a bi-weekly basis, or that the students had created musical instruments for a project. Maybe it had something to do with the tone the principal took with the children she encountered in the halls, ensuring that the boys’ shirts were tucked in, thanking them for good behavior, and offering them bucks as a reward. Whatever it was, it felt like a good place for my child to be.

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Gardening at School: How We Made It Work

by Ingrid Cowan Hass
IMG_6547A few years ago parents of the PTA at our neighborhood elementary school started talking about adding some landscaping to the school grounds. The principal liked the idea of a pollinator garden in front of the school. There was also an abandoned courtyard garden that had been started with a grant by a teacher who was no longer at the school. We wondered if that could be revived.

The project began with just a few parents weeding over a period of time. Then, last spring, we created two garden beds out of the mound of grass and weeds surrounding the flagpoles in front of the school. We communicated with the school building manager about our plans. His schedule didn’t allow him to do more than mow the grass, so he was thrilled to have the extra help. We met with the principal, talked about the placement, and got approval to put up cedar edging to hold the earth and mulch. I weeded the existing raised beds in the courtyard and collaborated with a teacher about planting some lettuce and kale with her classes. We uncovered strawberries that we replanted with new compost. With the extra care, the strawberries produced a bumper crop!

IMG_8235I started taking a small bucket and gloves to school every day and weeding during drop-off and pick-up for 10 minutes. This generated conversation, awareness, and new volunteers among the other parents. We asked for parents to bring in flowering perennials from their gardens to plant in the new bed. Some dads brought mulch in their trucks. We visited a few other schools that had gardens to learn about what they were doing.

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Free University Courses Through Dual Enrollment Program

by Beth McCracken-Harness

When you are thinking about what your teenagers will do over the summer, you might consider a concurrent enrollment class at University of Maryland, College Park. This opportunity is open to talented high school seniors.

My son took courses there in history and PE over the summer, earning an A- and an A. He just got accepted to the University of Maryland, and I think that having previously taken courses there helped.

These courses were paid for by Prince George’s County Public Schools, through the Dual Enrollment Program. Tuition at any public Maryland college is fully covered by PGCPS, and fees and textbooks are also covered for those students who qualify for free and reduced meals. This month, PGCPS is hosting two information sessions for the Dual Enrollment Program.

To enroll in a UMD course, my son had to apply to the university under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students. (That was good practice for applying to colleges in his senior year.) The process was more complicated than taking a course at Prince George’s Community College, but it was well worth it.

To do this:

1) Register for the Dual Enrollment Program through PGCPS: http://www1.pgcps.org/dualenrollment/

For more information, speak with your professional school counselor, or email the PGCPS Dual Enrollment office at dual.enrollment@pgcps.org.

2) Enroll at the University of Maryland, College Park under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students:
http://admissions.umd.edu/requirements/SpecialAudiences.php

The deadline to apply for the summer session is May 1. The application is processed through the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and may take up to six weeks. For additional information, contact: um-admit@umd.edu.

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One Parent’s Efforts to Bring Salad Bars to PG Schools

by Kate McElhenny

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various corporate sponsors are working together to bring salad bars to school cafeterias across the country in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.

Several studies have shown that school children, given access to a salad bar at school, will consume more fruits and vegetables in their day and in a greater variety.

Saira Khan, a PGCPS parent (holding a PhD in nutrition), came across this broad public and private partnership and saw no reason why it could not and should not be implemented in her children’s schools, and in the Prince George’s County School District at large.

After a few weeks of discussing the matter with fellow Parkdale parents, students and teachers, Saira had inspired many of them to meet with a representative of the PGCPS Food Services Department to request sponsorship of this salad bar grant.  The application for this grant can only be submitted by the Food Services Director of a School District.

Despite over four thousand salad bars having already been donated through this program, some as near as the Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County School Districts, the initial meeting did not end with the hoped for sponsorship.  Instead, the enthusiastic group was met with questions and concerns.

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