Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Members of the business community, City officials and Coppell ISD administrators welcomed the district’s incoming teachers at the New Teacher Breakfast hosted by the Coppell Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 14.
“We feel this is a good way to get the business community active with the educational programs in Coppell,” said Chamber President Tony Moline. “These teachers are teaching tomorrow’s business community. You need to have well educated people to run businesses, and we want well educated employees for the future. So it is important for business to make those connections and support education for that workforce. We truly appreciate what these teachers do.”
Like many of the incoming teachers, Sarah Yancey who will be teaching first grade for the dual language institute at Wilson Elementary, is eager for school to begin.
“I had been teaching in Dallas for a while, and I was looking for a change,” Yancey said. “Coppell is an awesome district, and I can’t wait to start working here. The people are amazing, and everyone I’ve met has been so nice. Coppell ISD offers the family atmosphere that I was looking for. I am so excited to start the new school year. I can’t wait.”
A calculus at New Tech High School, Aviel Porzio, actually began working for the district last spring and has been impressed by his experiences within the district.
“The students have been wonderful to work with, and they are very inspiring,” Porzio said. “I have had amazing administrative support. I’ve only been involved with Coppell ISD a short amount of time, but I’ve been very impressed with everything.
“I can’t wait for school to begin. I wish it had started a month ago.”
Speaking to the teachers during the breakfast, City Manager Clay Phillips cautioned that the community has high expectations for them and their students.
“The bar is unbelievable high in this community,” Phillips said. “The expectations for you as teachers and for this district are sometimes hard to even explain.
“Where better to work than in a place that wants to see great things happen? Where better to work than a place that expects success? Where better to work than a place that will support you and virtually meet your every need to help you be successful?
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t shy away from the challenge you are going to face. Just understand this is a great place and excellence is expected. With your help, we will not only jump that bar, we will clear it with ease.”
Mayor Karen Hunt spoke about the community’s support of its teachers.
“You guys are going to be overwhelmed with the support you get from the parents and students. Be careful what you ask for, because you will get it,” Hunt said. “We are in a very unique community. We get along. We help each other. We do what is necessary to get the job done, because education is very important to the citizens.
“Welcome; and I hope you have the best year, until next year.”
The new teachers are coming into Coppell ISD as the district is changing from a traditional school system to a more responsive system, according to Superintendent Dr. Jeff Turner.
“We have 140 new employees in our school district this year. That is twice as many as last year,” Turner said. “We only choose the best to come work in Coppell.
“We in the state of Texas and in Coppell specifically are on the cusp of a transformation in public education. We are going from being a traditional system – and by the way a dad-gum good traditional system. Now society is demanding something different from our graduates. Not that 15 or 20 or 50 percent of them be prepared to go on to college and career, society is demanding that 100 percent of our graduates are prepared to go on to college and career. We are transitioning as a school district, and we are making some exciting gains.
“We are hoping for you 140 new faces to be a tipping point in moving us from being a winner in the old game to being a first place winner in the Olympic game of preparing kids globally. We are excited about your input into that process and the passion you bring to us.”
District Teacher of the Year – Secondary, Charles Perryman, encouraged his new colleagues to channel their passion into the classroom.
“Teaching here has been the validation of creativity,” Perryman said. “You put your passion into your work here, and it will be repaid. You take risks, and you will receive reward. This is the type of district that likes to not just raise the standard, but challenge everything about that standard. This is the type of district that likes to push the status quo, challenge what is possible in the classroom and would like to push the limits of who we can be as teachers. I want to encourage you to keep pushing.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 19 August 2012 17:16
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
“I love ‘Keep Irving Beautiful’,” said Cathy Whiteman, preparing to take the podium as emcee for the organization’s recent Partner Awards. The respected host of ICTN’s popular ‘About Towne’ segment grew more animated as she warmed to her topic.
“A town is held together by more than its streets,” Whiteman said. “It’s the people who live on those streets that work to make the community a place where people want to gather.
“If the streets are not clean, who wants to gather?”
She got no argument from the 80 guests who had gathered at First Baptist Church of Irving on Aug. 6 to pay tribute to the organization’s honorees. KIB Coordinator Rick Hose and Board Secretary Margie Stipes circulated among the displays showing the organization’s various recycling and ‘Keep Green’ activities, greeting everyone as though they were all honored guests.
Two of the movement’s foot soldiers were Velma White and Kary Verg who serve as ad hoc street cleaners in the Barton Estates neighborhood.
“We’ve been picking up trash around our neighborhood for at least ten years,” said White. “There are about four streets. We usually go about once a week, and we probably pick up about a bagful of trash each time.
“We saw a need and we stepped up.”
Irving Mayor Pro Tem Gerald Farris said efforts from people like White and Verg are a huge benefit to the city.
“They supplement the city so much with recycling and litter abatement,” Farris said. “That collectively adds value to our city with the quality of life. There’s a lot of education behind this to remind people that we do create a lot of trash.
“If a business is thinking about relocating to Irving, we want their employees to live nearby. It’s paramount, the visual impression you get of a city. We want them to drive down our corridors and get a favorable impression. We have to give them a quality of life to look forward to.”
One of the highlights in the program was the award given for Youth Leadership, as Vaishnavi Singh, Tanvi Biyani and Bhagyashri Pandey were recognized for establishing ‘Kids Mission’ in 2011. The three Irving teens brought their friends together for cleanups at Mustang Park and T.W. Richardson Grove Park, and also organized fund raising walkathons and readathons.
Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ruben and Sandy Franco received a standing ovation, singled out for their support of KIB since its inception. The couple devoted countless hours to the task of coordinating the Irving-based 2008 Conference for ‘Keep Texas Beautiful’, but they also made it memorable.
“Ruben stepped up to ensure that attendees had transportation from the hotel to the KIB hosted barbecue,” said Whiteman, “where the highlight of that event was the hostesses. Sandy, Margie Stipes and the late Barbara Cardwell were all dressed in matching Lone Star shirts and cowgirl hats.”
Two ‘Hometown Award’ recipients were also honored. One, Maria Parra, turned her church carnival at St. Luke’s Catholic Church into a litter-free event, organizing fellow students as volunteers and even arranging team shirts. The group collected seven bags of litter after the carnival.
The other, Monica Atwell, is a biologist and a professor at North Lake Community College whose father was the late Jonathan Halsey, a past award recipient. In her role with the Science Learning Lab, Atwell sponsors the campus Green Club and uses the community garden to teach sustainability.
“She’s also an expert in vermiculture,” Whiteman continued, “and will gladly bring her worm bins to any educational events.”
The program concluded with the announcement that three local nominees for the 2012 Keep Texas Beautiful Awards, First Baptist Church of Irving, the City of Irving Public Works Department and Nissan North America all earned Citations of Merit.
Eleven awards were given in ten different categories. Honorees for Keep Irving Beautiful included:
Youth Leadership Awards: Kids Mission
Educator Award: North Lake College Student Life Department
Faith Group Award: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Business and Industry Award: Googly Eyes and Craft Supplies
Media Award: The Irving Rambler
Civic Organization Award: Lynn Diaz, Irving Family YMCA
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ruben and Sandy Franco
Civil Servant Award: Irving Fire Department’s Swiftwater Rescue Team
Green Government Award: City of Irving Public Works Department
KIB Hometown Award: Maria Parra
KIB Hometown Award: Monica Atwell.
Last Updated on Sunday, 19 August 2012 17:15
Written by Phil Cerroni
Autistic children experience a summer tradition at Woodall Kids Summer Camp
By Sissy Courtney
Summer camp is all about having fun, learning new skills and growing as a person. Summer camp for children with autism and developmental challenges fit those criteria.
Autistic children struggle in varying degrees with cognitive, social, and communication skills. Studies show that one in every 88 children is autistic, and autism is four times more common in boys than girls. It does not discriminate based on a child’s racial, ethnic or social circumstances.
For most autistic children, summer camp is out of the question, but Woodall Kids Summer Camp in Irving offered six camps with campers ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years old. All of their camps were filled to capacity.
“Beach Camp was for the youngest children age 18 months to just over 3 years old, and Survivor Camp was for 10 to 12 year olds,” said Bethany Covington, Assistant Director of Outreach for the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children. A preschool readiness camp served children ages three to six years old.
“We had a fantastic summer,” Covington said.“All of our camps were extremely successful. We put a lot of work into developing the curriculum but also in decorating the rooms in really fun ways. Every camp had a theme.”
“Our camp that focused on coping skills for children with anxiety had the Garden theme incorporating flower and trees and outdoor things that are relaxing,” Covington said. “We had music playing with birds chirping.
“Beach Camp for the youngest children focused on peer interaction, developing communication skills, and following simple directions.
“Preschool camp focused on school related goals such as knowing when to raise your hand, waiting to be called on, and taking turns.
“Survivor Camp focused on developing social goals for kids 10 to 12 like what to do when you’re feeling left out or how to respond to a friend when you’re not sure what to say,” she said. “We did it all with an island theme. When they walked in, there was a huge hut in the room with grass all over it. They had a tribal meeting each afternoon. We tried really hard to make it much more than just a social group. It was actually camp for them.
“Not all of our children are going to have the opportunity to go to ordinary camp, so we want to make sure that when they come here it is different and exciting. Most of them are really tired when they go home, but they’re really excited to come back the next day.”
Carley Waltenburg, a board certified behavioral analyst, oversees programming and said the older campers sometimes balk at coming.
“Most of our older kids think that social skills camp is really dorky and lame, so we have to do an extra good job of making sure it’s really fun and cool, so they don’t say next year, ‘Mom, I don’t want to go,’” Waltenburg said. “The decorations help make it look more like camp and less like a therapy session.”
“We incorporate a lot of games, and all of the camps had some sort of outdoor activity that included the sprinklers,” Waltenburg said. "They got into their swimsuits and played in water or sandboxes and other things that were really fun, but at the same time, they were working on their goals. Maybe they had to share the shovel while in the sand, or they had to take turns running through the sprinklers. These are all goals that we work on but in a fun and exciting environment.”
“It is always our goal to make therapy fun, and in a week long camp we can do that to a much greater degree than we can in a three-hour session,” she said. “We’re able to incorporate the entire group in this grand activity as opposed to one child going outside and playing in the water hose. It becomes more of a social focus.”
“We try to find a balance between working on developing difficult social skills and going outside and doing more sensory type things while incorporating fine motor and gross motor skills,” Covington said.
“We especially emphasize sensory activity for the younger children. Some of them are very hesitant to participate, so it can become a goal. At Beach Camp for the youngest group, their island time was a sand table. We also had a time they would play with shaving cream on a table.
“Day one, only two of my kids would even touch the shaving cream. By day four, all of them did it,” she said. “They had boats in it, and it became a really fun activity. The goal was not to make sure they touched shaving cream today.”
Playing with shaving cream and other activities had a purpose beyond fun and games.
“We had generalized goals but also individualized goals for each child,” Covington said.“One child might be fine touching the shaving cream, but they needed to focus on their play skills. The goal for that child was to pick up the boat, make noises, and recognize that this is to be played with. The child next to him might need to focus on that sensory aspect, being willing to touch new things or to communicate that they do not want to do that.
“The next child might be focusing more on the social aspect of it by being willing to stand next to their peers or to pick up some shaving cream and to share it with another child in the group. Giving back and forth is a skill. Another child might be focusing on learning to ask for the boat so that they can have a turn and hand it back and forth. These are things that our children struggle with. Beyond having a language barrier, they have trouble reciprocating physically.”
Teachers recorded data on skills the campers learned including eye contact with peers, eye contact in response to their name, and response when someone handed them an item. Teachers took notes on whether students understood simple directions such as ‘Here you go’ and ‘Give that to me.’ They took data based on a child’s response to adults and their response to peers.
Finding a voice
“Three of our camps had children who were completely non-verbal and did not speak at all,” Covington said.“At beach camp, we only had two children who did speak, and they were both the typically developing campers. The other children in the room did not have any verbal language that was functionally communicated.
“Four could make verbal sounds and did consistently, but the other three weren’t making any sounds. We used a lot of pictures, a lot of icons, and incorporated our speech in a way that they could respond to us in an appropriate way that involved their friends. One of the great times that we got to practice that was during Show and Tell. Since we were preparing for school types of things, we had Show and Tell every day.
“For the children who were non-verbal, we had pictures available,” she said. “One day, the children brought animals for zoo day. The teachers had pictures and colors available able to help the non-verbal children say, ‘Today I brought a red bird.’ We helped them by saying, “Hi, friends. I brought a red bird’ and helped them by being their voice. It’s been extremely successful because they’re participating in all the fun activities, but they’re also participating very actively in the curriculum.
“All of the camps involved typically developing peer models,” Covington said. “Beach Camp had three peer models. One of them had Downs Syndrome, and the other two were typically developing children.”
“It’s really helpful to have some typically developing peers to model skills,” Covington said. “When we went outside, we would split into two groups, each with a peer model, who showed the other kids how to play with sand or whatever activity we did. The peer models would be told to interact with each other. Even the very young peer models were good at the skills being taught such as giving items and taking items on command.
“Sometimes the campers are able to imitate their peer models independently or other times with prompts from the teachers,” Covington said. “Some children need to learn to put their hand out when somebody says, ‘Here you go.’
“Sometimes, the children don’t show us what they know or are learning, perhaps because of the size of the group or other dynamics, but when they go home, they show they actually did learn something,” Waltenburg said.
“In Beach Camp, we worked on ‘Put it away’ and ‘Give it to me,’ and another thing we did every day was to have each student hold up a poster of the sun and sing ‘Oh, Mr. Sun-Sun, Mr. Sun-Sun!’” Covington said. “Many of those children didn’t sing with me, but they would hold up their sun and shake it around. One of the moms emailed me that Friday after camp.
“Cleaning up the table was something we worked on at camp. She said since her son had learned the instructions of ‘Put that away,’ he had every day taken his plate and put it on the sink. After putting his plate away on Friday, he held up his placemat and started singing ‘Oh, Mr. Sun -Sun, Oh, Mr. Sun-Sun!’
“His mother was elated that he had learned both of those skills, to put things away and to give things to her when she asked,” Covington said.“It was so encouraging to me because when I looked around and nobody was singing, I started to wonder if the activity was beneficial to them. But for this child who never participated in that song during camp, to go home and feel comfortable to share that with his mom, was very encouraging.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 19 August 2012 17:35
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The alcove in the rear is stuffed with tables, dressers, picture frames, stools and a myriad of other pieces of furniture that are scattered around the floor and lining the walls in Big Lots. The small crowd that had squeezed itself in among these household goods on Aug. 11 was kibitzing and waiting for a large, cardboard check to exchange hands.
The presentation was to award Lamar Middle School's LIFE (Living In a Functional Environment) skills class, which won one of two 1st place prizes in Lots2Give, a video contest sponsored by Big Lots through which students explained why their school needed money. LIFE is a special education class, and the program that needs money is their Special Olympics track team, the Irving Stars.
Rick Komimski, the district manager for Big Lots in the Dallas market, was very helpful in explaining the particulars of the contest.
“The schools make a video about why the school needs money, which they send to Big Lots,” Komimski said. “The videos are then voted on by the general population.”
This year there were 468,000 votes cast in determining which schools around the nation would receive the thirty-seven cash prizes.
Kominski began the awards ceremony by telling the crowd about Big Lots’ involvement with Lots2Give
“Big Lots started the program about four years ago,” he said. “The idea is about giving back to the community, and there's not a better way to give back to the community except to the schools and our future leaders. It's the most important part – our kids.”
After Komimski spoke, Michelle Holman, Lamar's LIFE skills teacher, said a few words about how far this video had reached.
“I was actually in Nebraska last week and met a coffee barista who was voting for us, and her whole coffee place was voting for us, which was completely random and amazing and really showed support,” Holman said.
Soon after, the $10,159 check was passed off, the crowd started picking through the assorted sweets that Big Lots had provided as refreshments.
No one would guess Holman was the woman responsible for the day. Dressed like a suburban mom in black slacks and a reserved purple top, she was one of the few faculty or staff of Irving ISD who was not wearing a name badge. There was nothing to point out that her hard work was one of the reasons this event was even happening.
But she was more than happy to point out how much the Irving Stars need this money. Although the kids attend Irving ISD schools and play for a school team, they receive absolutely no funding from the school system.
“It costs $1,200 for three track meets a year, and we have to raise every penny,” Holman said. “We're not funded through regular ed athletics. We borrow uniforms from the track team; and the PTA donated money to get equipment. We wanted to find a way to insure for several years that our kids would be able to compete.”
Nimitz High School offers LIFE basketball and volleyball as well as track, but Holman says that at the moment, it is too expensive for either Lamar or Bowie.
“We want to insure that our kids are able to go to enough track meets to work.”
Vallorie Montgomery, a LIFE skills teacher at Bowie Middle School went into further detail about the difficulties facing the Stars.
“Transportation is definitely the most expensive thing because we have to hire the buses for that part of the day,” Montgomery said. “But it's not just the necessary things that the school is lacking, but important spirit boosting elements as well.
“Every school's that's really involved and has lots of money has matching uniforms and a big banner when we have an opening parade,” she continued. “We're usually carrying posters.”
Patty and Miguel Martinez' daughter, Zeta, runs the fifty meter and also plays on the softball team. Patty expressed how happy they both were about the potential of this award.
“This $10,000 gives them their first budget ever, and it's going to allow them to purchase some of the inconsequential things that people take for granted when teams are put together,” Martinez said.
Debbie Elizondo is very happy that the Stars has enabled her daughter, Emma, to become an athlete.
“My daughter does two sports that are totally perfect for her because she can't walk very well. So she does a 50 meter walk because she couldn't do a 100 meter run or something like that.” Elizondo said. Emma also competes in the tennis ball throw.
This year, South Africa's Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. We are in a day and age when barriers between people are being overcome at a breathtaking rate and with an exhilarating energy. These students are doing their part to represent their city and to become true competitors.
Last Updated on Sunday, 19 August 2012 17:13
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
For some youngsters, the constraints of a traditional school day just do not work. That’s why Robin and Chris Harlan attended a recent information session to learn more about the free virtual public school education offered through Texas Connections Academy. The full-time accredited program is offered statewide for students in grades 3 – 11 in partnership with the Houston Independent School District.
“Our son is an athlete in motocross, and next year will be big for him,” explained Robin.” He’s in Keller ISD, and they have a great program. We know education is key, but they are so strict about their attendance – we’d get in trouble if we held him out for his competitions.”
“How can he practice in the winter when he has to stay in school until 3 p.m. and it gets dark at 5 p.m?” asked Chris. “With a program like TCA, he could do some work in the morning, take the time he needs for his practicing, and finish up his schoolwork later, when it’s dark outside.
“The flexibility is very appealing to us.”
About 15 parents and a few of their children gathered at Residence Inn DFW in Irving on July 23 to hear from one of the program’s teachers, Sallie Benazzouz, who conducted a PowerPoint Q&A to introduce the TCA program.
”This is open to children who have been enrolled in a Texas public school during the previous school year,” Benazzouz told the group. “Our parent company has partnerships nationwide, and we have schools in 25 states. Each year we add an average of two virtual schools.
“We do plan to grow this program so that we’ll have a graduating class for Texas by 2014.”
She described the process through which 3,000 students statewide are engaged, evaluated and advanced. Class content is shared online, and the TCA program provides all curriculum materials at no cost. Each TCA student has a professional teacher whose job it is to oversee learning and progress.
So-called learning coaches are heavily involved in interacting with elementary school students, but older students are encouraged to take on more responsibilities for themselves, once they’ve shown they’re capable.
“Their responsibilities grow with their abilities,” said Benazzouz. “Our goal is always to get you to college.
“In other states where we have been in existence long enough to have a graduating class, we’ve garnered $2.5 million in scholarships for our students.
“We are also the first virtual schools to have National Honor Society, which is a feather in our cap.”
Benazzouz fielded a question about standardized testing by pointing out that they comply with or even exceed the state’s objectives and requirements, as well as national standards.
“The way we develop the curriculum is different because we start backwards,” she explained. “We start by asking where do we want the student to be at the end of the year, and then we look at the state and national objectives, and then we develop the lessons and the content, adding in all the technology and materials and so forth, and we build out the curriculum accordingly.”
Socialization is another concern, as virtual learners face the same challenges shared by those who are home-schooled: how to learn to share and play with others?
Benazzouz pointed out that the TCA format offers countless opportunities for clubs and activities which are shared virtually, and quite a few that are real-time, live interactions. Field trips are organized by community coordinators, some sanctioned by the presence of the class teacher and others more social in nature. Often, TCA families will just have a play day at a nearby park.
Still, there are fewer times when a TCA student is in a group setting with peers.
Chris Harlan said he thought that was a valid concern, one that he raised with his son.
“I asked him, don’t you think you’ll miss your school and friends? He said no, he was good – he wanted to ride.”
“I like that he can do his school work when we’re traveling,” Robin added. “He can get a good education and still live his dream.
“If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to public school.”
Those interested in learning more about Texas Connections Academy classes (which begin Aug. 27) are encouraged to act quickly – there is a cap on enrollment statewide. Log onto www.ConnectionsAcademy.com for more information, or call 800-382-6010.
Some information provided by Texas Connections Academy and by Michele Voelkening, Vice President, Purdue Marion & Associates.
Last Updated on Sunday, 19 August 2012 17:12