Parent involvement stressed by Garcia at Literacy Week stop in Aurora

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia made Aurora’s Vaughn Elementary one of his metro area stops Monday (May 19) in kicking off a statewide Colorado Literacy Week tour.

Lt. Gov. Garcia meets Vaughn Elementary families in Aurora during Colorado Literacy Week

Lt. Gov. Garcia meets Vaughn Elementary families in Aurora during Colorado Literacy Week

Garcia met neighborhood families on a sunny afternoon on the school lawn to see parents and children play literacy games and work together on reading activities popular at the school. Vaughn is noted in Aurora Public Schools for running successful literacy academies that welcome parents into the school and provide both parent and child learning opportunities.

“There’s no teacher who is every going to be more important to your child than you are,” Garcia told the families. “You are the most important teacher, the best teacher, the most effective teacher your children will ever have, so it is key for you to be here and learn about how you can be the best possible parent and the best possible teacher.”

Instruction coach Shelli Deaguerro gives parents reading strategies for the summer

Instruction coach Shelli Deaguerro gives parents reading strategies for the summer

Aurora EA member Shelli Deaguerro, an instructional coach for reading programs at Vaughn, had the pleasure of introducing Garcia and updating families on how they can support their student’s education during the summer vacation months.

“We encourage parents to spend time talking together, to tell family stories and engage in conversations throughout the day,” Deaguerro said during her remarks. “When a student’s oral language improves, their reading fluency and comprehension also improve.”

Deaguerro encouraged families to make quality time during the summer to:

  • celebrate their home’s language and culture;
  • make reading together a special part of the day; and
  • visit the local library to check out books and explore the world around them.

“When you read, share your thoughts and reactions to the story and then ask your child to do the same,” Deaguerro added.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia asks about the books  Vaughn Elementary students are reading during Colorado Literacy Week

Garcia uses Colorado Literacy Week to engage communities in efforts to improve the state’s early literacy rates. In addition to Aurora and other metro locations, his schedule included Durango, Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Lyons. At each stop, Garcia looked at successful early childhood education programs and led community discussions on how parents, educators, supporting organizations and policy makers can come together to improve the literacy outcomes for Colorado’s youngest students.

“We know that as a state, nothing is more important in making sure that our young children get the support they need so they can be successful readers,” Garcia said, noting strong readers will go on “to make Colorado a better and stronger state.”

Garcia makes his case for literacy very personal. He shared with the Aurora families that his parents spoke only Spanish when they started school. Growing up in a bi-lingual family, he and his four siblings always had books around the home. Parents and children read to each other, working together to help each other learn.

“I want to encourage you to do to the same,” Garcia continued. “Make sure you’re not only reading to your kids, but just talking to your kids – talking to them about their day and what they’ve learned, and learning from them. Make sure they understand that they have the ability to teach you, to teach their brothers and sisters, and most importantly to be successful in school.”

story3Garcia strongly encouraged parents who didn’t themselves possess strong literary skills to become more involved in their child’s education.

“My grandfather couldn’t read, but he sure could tell stories, and I learned so much about the history of my family from him,” Garcia said. “You have so much to share with your kids. Don’t ever under-sell what you can do, what you have to offer.”

According to a release from the Lt. Gov.’s office, one-quarter of Colorado students read below grade level at 3rd grade, a major predictor of future academic and career struggles. To improve early literacy, the state created the Colorado Reads: Early Literacy Initiative, a joint effort between state agencies, community organizations and Colorado’s business community. SERVE Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper’s commission on community service, leads the community partnership efforts of Colorado Reads, including Colorado Literacy Week.

National leaders find power of teacher autonomy at MSLA

MSLA roundtable discussion with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, May 9

MSLA roundtable discussion with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, May 9

The Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy is a teacher-led school in west Denver that states as their motto, ‘Everyone in this school is a learner, a teacher and a leader.’ MSLA doesn’t have traditional school administrators like a principal. Instead, all the decisions – from the length of the school day to color of the chairs – rest with the teachers, who openly collaborate with school support staff, parents and students to drive the direction of learning.

The successes and challenges of running such a unique school model have attracted attention in the education community from Denver to Washington, D.C. During a two-day visit to Colorado, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a point to stop by MSLA, May 9, for a round-table discussion with faculty on the importance of teachers having leadership roles in their schools.

Sec. Duncan talks with MSLA staff.

Sec. Duncan talks with MSLA staff

“This school is an interesting example of Denver being way, way, way ahead of where the nation needs to be in terms of creating these hybrid roles,” Duncan told the group. “Yesterday I was with a number of teacher-leaders who are now half-time in the class, half-time in mentoring and evaluation. I heard their enthusiasm, their excitement about where this can go… I think this is where the country needs to go and you guys are probably a couple years ahead. I really want to learn from what’s working and what’s not here.”

“What I think is impressive about MSLA is that it lets you hit the trifecta of job satisfaction: autonomy, purpose and growth,” said Pamela Yawn, a bilingual teacher and member of Denver Classroom Teachers Association who was one of several teachers who spoke with Duncan. “It’s not top-down… I can change my practice that day, for that student, for any particular learning. That’s what we’re doing here. We need to know what our students are going through almost minute-by-minute and be able to adjust. My practice has improved 400% since I’ve been here.”

MSLA3

Erika Franco (near right) participates in the roundtable with Sec. Duncan (far left)

“The person who really knows what’s going on in the classroom, who really knows what’s needed for those kids is the teacher. So we are the ones who have the decisions in our hands,” added Erika Franco, bilingual teacher and DCTA member. “This is what we want to do at MSLA, have our teams work so we all have a say, so we all have an opportunity to decide on the future of our school and on the future of our students. What makes us unique is that we are in the classroom, but we are working as leaders as well. That makes a huge impact in education, a revolution in education.”

DCTA member Lynne Lopez-Crowley is one of MSLA’s co-lead teachers. With the power to make decisions, she says the faculty continually looks at practice and what they can do better.

MSLA co-lead teacher Lynne Lopez-Crowley explains school practice to Sec. Duncan, Mayor Hancock.

MSLA co-lead teacher Lynne Lopez-Crowley explains school practice to Sec. Duncan, Mayor Hancock

“Today we are looking at next steps – what is working well right now and what we need to change so we can implement that change right away to the benefit of our students. And I think that’s what makes our school different. The district has helped us take away all those layers so we can implement that change without going through this person, this person and this person, so we can always be on the cutting edge.”

Kim Ursetta, a bilingual kindergarten teacher and DCTA member of 20 years, said an important part of teaching at MSLA is holding each other accountable for results.

“We do hold each other to a higher standard, especially as a teacher-led school, because first of all we have that urgency for our students. Our parents expect that and we expect that of each other. So it really is up to us to not only look at that classroom level, but up in the airplane looking down at how do we move our school forward.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet also sat in on the MSLA roundtable with Duncan and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. When he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Bennet collaborated with Ursetta, then president of DCTA, to help launch the Academy.

Sen. Bennet lifts the importance of teacher quality in the MSLA discussion

Sen. Bennet lifts the importance of teacher quality in the MSLA discussion

“MSLA is one of those examples, and we have many others across the district, where we’re distributing our leadership, and teachers are able to find rungs on the ladder other than just being a teacher or being an administrator. There are many things in-between they’re now able to do, and I think the craft of teaching, as a result, is getting better,” Bennet observed. “We know it’s good to have a good curriculum, but that’s not what makes the difference. It’s the quality of the teaching that makes the difference. If you’ve got a lousy curriculum and a great teacher, you’re going to be fine. But you’re not going to be fine the other way around.”

Duncan, Bennet and Hancock heard many personal stories with common themes that defined how teacher freedom and empowerment gives MSLA its identity and helps the Academy reach its goals. They learned MSLA has:

  • Engaged students (attendance rate above 95%) who can voice opinions to teachers on what they want to learn;
  • Highly supportive parents who feel welcome in the school and overwhelmingly turn out for school activities;
  • Stronger mentorship practices than teachers experienced in other schools;
  • Emphasis on professional development, with many teachers starting advanced degrees and National Board Certification after arriving at MSLA.

Duncan was particularly interested in how the school arrives at decisions without a principal to make a final call. Tara Thompson, kindergarten and 1st grade teacher and DCTA member, calls the process “super-exciting because we are the ones who are getting to make that decision.” She related how the school decided upon use of the DIBELS literacy test.

Tara Thompson gives insight into MSLA's decision-making process

Tara Thompson gives insight into MSLA’s decision-making process

“There was a lot of disagreement, but man, it was amazing that we were getting to make that decision and I was able to talk to my peers about that and have my voice heard, whereas in other situations, you’re told, ‘You’re doing the DIBELS and find the time to do it.’ We were able to have that discussion, figure out how to do it, and implement it in a way that worked for all of us, not just have it placed on you. It’s very exciting,” Thomson said.

“One of the things I love most about MSLA is the teamwork and that so many of the people have very flexible thinking. It’s the flexible thinking that pushes us ahead,” added Lucinda Bowers, a school social worker and DCTA member with 37 years of education experience. “The strength of our team is in listening to each other, teamwork and collaborating. If we disagree, we talk it out and we keep talking. What comes from that is wonderful and successful.”

The teachers admitted being the only teacher-led school in the district has made it difficult to learn best practices from other schools, and they asked the leaders to encourage the creation of a network of teacher-led schools that could help one another. In doing so, the teachers reasoned more young people could be attracted to the teaching profession if they saw the potential to have greater professional freedom and autonomy in such a school.

Jose Martin tells the story of this journey from Spain to teach in Denver

Jose Martin tells the story of this journey from Spain to teach in Denver

Jose Martin, first grade teacher and DCTA member, is a good example of how schools like MSLA can attract and develop younger teachers. He came to Denver from Spain three years ago to start his teaching career. “To be perfectly honest, I came just to teach in the sense of, ‘Give me the curriculum, the books.’ But then I found here they are asking you to step up. That first year I tried to hide because I am a shy person.”

Martin soon found he wanted to step up to lead the way in preparing students and giving them the skills to succeed. “For me, it’s very important to be in MSLA, come out of my shell and to be a leader, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

For veteran teachers, MSLA has challenged them to rethink their role in the school.

“Coming here woke up my eyes to see that there is really a leader in me,” said DCTA member Belinda Villalobos, a third-grade teacher. “We know how to motivate students and there is a passion among all of us to do – not having anyone tell us what to do… We want to be able to show everyone that we shine as teachers and we want our students to shine. That’s our passion.”

“I feel like my skills have really taken root here because I’ve been given the opportunity to lead my peers and to collaborate with my peers,” Thompson added. “I have the freedom in my classroom to do what’s best for my kids who I see every day, all day. The first graders that I have – I’ve had them for two years now – and they are shining. I’m so proud of them.”

Thompson is a 14-year veteran teacher, while Villalobos has taught in the classroom for nearly 30 years. Duncan, who spoke to the national need to support great teachers and ‘keep them, not burn them out,’ was mostly surrounded by experienced teachers during the discussion. The high retention rate of teachers at MSLA was pointed out to the Secretary as proof the teacher-led school model is working for them, the students and the community.

MSLA faculty and guests gather for a picture after the roundtable discussion

MSLA faculty and guests gather for a picture after the roundtable discussion

“Have you heard anybody here say they’re burned out? No, because when you have a voice in something, you have buy-in and you don’t burn out as easily,” Lopez-Crowley said. “When we get new teachers in, they’re scared or hesitant to make a decision. They’re not used to doing it, not used to having their voice heard. After they’ve been here a couple of months, you have a totally different person.”

“This is obviously a huge amount of work, a huge amount of courage,” Duncan said at the end of the discussion. “I’ll try and find ways for other school districts in other cities to look at what is going on here to increase public confidence in public education. There’s some pretty important lessons that others could learn from what you guys are doing collectively. So thank you for your leadership and thank you for your commitment.”

Community rallies to reduce testing time, red tape in education

A community movement known as “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students” kicked off Feb. 18, with educators, parents, students, legislators, and community members gathered at the Denver Press Club to call for reductions of testing time, educational mandates and bureaucratic red tape in Colorado’s public schools.

Red tape is tying up more Colorado teachers,

Red tape is tying up more Colorado teachers,

“This is a campaign to say, ‘No more mandates.’ Let’s make sure we have all the tools to give students the best education and a solid future,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, in opening remarks. “We’re seeing actual teaching time vaporize because of increased red tape and testing mandates. That’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for our students and it’s not good for the educators.”

Dallman introduced a new video spot highlighting some of the pressing issues facing Colorado public schools, including anemic funding for a growing student population, a corporate-driven testing culture absorbing classroom time, and the loss of vital instruction time for students. Supporters were also encouraged to share their stories on a new Facebook page, also named “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students,” which had more than 350 ‘likes’ overnight.

Glass speaks at the kickoff event for "Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students."

Glass speaks at the kickoff event for “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students.”

Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools, spoke to the enormous amount of change his schools are going through while enduring massive budget cuts.

“The state schools have experienced an historic gutting of education funding while simultaneously being saddled with an unprecedented number of state government reforms,” said Glass. “The combined effect of these two forces puts our schools in a pressure and policy vice-grip that, by the accounts of those actually working in our community schools, makes the goal of becoming a high-performing education system a more elusive endeavor.”

While Glass said he supports the Colorado Academic Standards and Common Core State Standards, he said no other country subjects every student, every year to machine-scored standardized testing and hitches those results to school and educator accountability.

“Of all the international systems which purportedly outperform the United States, and whose results we so often pine after, none of them uses such an approach when it comes to student assessment. Instead, our higher performing global competitors rely on more heavily on classroom level, formative assessments…that are more squarely focused on improving instruction,” Glass said. “The heaping of accountability, and more and more blame and shame-based education policies on this still very unproven assessment system, has generated reactionary fear, and it is that fear that is the root cause of much of the resistance to these new systems.”

student0

Rossi watches her students speak to supporters of less testing, less red tape.

A February poll of 1,200 Colorado public school teachers, released yesterday by CEA, found teachers spend more than 30% of their instruction time with students preparing and administering tests, with a clear majority of teachers favoring less than 10% of instruction time devoted to testing. Several teachers and students spoke at the event who typically spend 50 days during the academic year preparing for and taking standardized tests. Jefferson County EA member Stephie Rossi brought three of her students from Wheat Ridge High School to explain that current standardized testing doesn’t generate critical thinking and isn’t aligned to the skills and knowledge learned in class.

“The test was boring. It wasn’t calibrated toward what I was learning,” said Michael Coyne, who recalled having to re-study material from a previous year just to prepare for a test. “We really need to refine our standardized tests so that they’re more focused to what we’re learning in the classroom, not toward a set standard that really doesn’t reflect the state curriculum.”

Colorado kids are losing teacher instruction time for testing of questionable value.

Colorado kids are losing teacher instruction time for testing of questionable value.

Are kids just a test score in school today? Dee Blecha, a special education teacher and Wray EA member, asked this as she reflected over the changes she’s seen over a 33-year career. Blecha said what’s missing for her in today’s classroom is the opportunity to form relationships with students.

“A test doesn’t mean anything to students. What does mean something to you is the fact that your teacher likes you, that your teacher cares about you as a human being. And that’s the part that I’ve struggled with,” said Blecha. “How do I find the time – as I muddle through the red tape, as I progress monitor, as I standardize test, as I crunch the numbers, as I look at data – how do I find time to make sure that I continually connect with kids each and every day, each and every hour?”

Rep. Young represents House District 50.

Rep. Young represents House District 50.

Rep. Dave Young of Greeley, a career junior high school teacher, said he would not choose to teach in today’s high-stakes testing environment.

“Teachers need to drive the instruction, and the sense I have now is, they’re not in control of that,” said Young. “Let’s think about how we can put teachers back in control of the instruction experience in the classroom.”

Young observed decisions on education reform and funding in the Capitol are overly invested in standardized testing and often miss the mark on what is central to the learning experience – the interaction between teachers and students.

“We’re engaged in test preparation, and that’s okay if you agree that the test is what we really want. But I’m not convinced that any test really measures the full scope of what we value, what we want people to learn. I want deeper learning, and that’s hard to measure on a standardized test.”

Teacher liaisons provide communication safety net for evaluation system

Colorado’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system began in pilot programs for some teachers in the 2012-13 school year. One realization became clear as the selected districts put the ideals of a new law into practice – educator effectiveness requires a serious amount of time for thoughtful, successful implementation.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA Theory into Practice training.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training in Durango.

“Superintendents were saying, ‘We need help with this implementation.’ Everyone in this profession is pulled in many directions, and the evaluation work wasn’t getting completed,” said Cathy Epps, a veteran teacher who left the classroom to solely devote her time to the success of the evaluation system. “My job is to focus just on educator effectiveness, and it is a full-time job to do that and to support teachers.”

Epps is one of 18 teachers across the state serving as an ‘integration liaison’ in the pilot districts. Along with Jim Parr, fellow teacher and Education Association of Cortez member, they provide information and answer queries on the evaluation system for educators in the four southwest school districts of Montezuma-Cortez, Mancos, Delores and Delores County. They talked about their role at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training for educators in Durango.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

“I like to think that we bring a little bit of sanity to the situation,” said Parr. “People get overwhelmed. There is a long laundry list of initiatives, mandates and actions that are taking place in education in Colorado right now. If it weren’t for positions like we have, evaluations would be ignored until the last minute.”

“The communication piece wasn’t happening as strongly as it needed to, communicating what’s going on down to the classroom,” said Epps. “There’s so much going on in a school system. We’re in the middle. We’re not in charge of anybody – we’re more of a safety net for real communication. We get information sometimes before administration and other people do, and we share that out.”

Integration liaisons have lessened the anxiety of teachers feeling their way through the new evaluation reality, according to Epps. Teachers can take their questions and concerns to a fellow teacher who has the time and resources to work their issues.

“We’re also seasoned teachers. We’ve been in this for a long time, so we understand. We’re a safety net for asking questions, and we have the resources to get those answers,” Epps added.

In Durango School District 9-R, Durango EA members Dave McKeever and Jeb Holt serve as the integration liaisons. They spread the understanding that administration and teachers are on the same team.

“We really need to work together to get this done and to make a change,” said McKeever. “Communication of a consistent message that we are all on the same team is huge right now.”

McKeever also tries to connect ‘overwhelmed educators’ with each other across all levels, finding they weren’t always talking to each other as the evaluation system rolled out.

“I was surprised how disconnected schools are, even within a district. It’s not because the district is dysfunctional. But the educator effectiveness system is so complicated, you need more people on the same team that can work together, share ideas and help each other out,” McKeever noted. “Communication seems such a struggle, and I have felt rewarded by helping in that.”

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

The region’s integration liaisons also finished their first cycle of a peer coaching system, an important practice critical to successful teaching evaluations. In this system, teachers step out of their classrooms to observe another teacher and reflect on teaching practice together.

“The reflections of the teachers that were involved said it was by far the best professional development they’d ever had,” Epps said. “They had never learned more than by working with a colleague in their profession to develop better practices. It’s powerful to be able to implement a peer coaching system into our classrooms.”

“For our four districts, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for professional growth in place prior to this,” observed Parr. “We didn’t have individualized professional development where teachers felt they were getting the most out of training. When we come forward and offer peer coaching, we’re bringing water to thirsty people. It’s been very well received and appreciated.”

The liaisons agree teachers have had a strong voice in developing the state’s educator effectiveness evaluation system. Teachers are leading the evaluation process in these school districts, which Epps calls an ‘exciting shift’ validating a larger ideal that teachers need to be viewed as the experts in the education field.

“The superintendents we work with really value teachers and what they’re doing. They listen to us, they trust us and say, ‘Okay, you’re speaking for all those teachers. Tell us what’s right and where to go to with this.’ I feel teachers’ voice is being heard in a really positive way more than ever before,” Epps concluded.

“For those people who will step up and participate, they do make a difference,” McKeever agreed. “The teacher voice is heard and it’s used, especially in the current administration and the culture we have now.”

The integration liaisons see their role in supporting teachers and administration continuing and growing into an embedded part of the evaluation system. They are rewarded by contributing to an overall state education system that is on the cusp of dramatic change.

“We are reshaping what education looks like, at least in our little corner of the world,” said Parr. “We put our teachers and our students first so we can have some meaningful results and outcomes, and watch our kids go onto better things when they leave us.”

Durango teachers embracing shift to higher standards

Colorado raised the bar on public education standards in 2009 to provide all students a world-class education that would prepare them to thrive in the next stage of their lives. The Colorado Academic Standards replaced previous standards that were close to 20 years old and were no longer viewed as preparing students well for the realities of today’s advanced jobs and workplaces.

CEA's "Theory into Practice" workshop

CEA’s “Theory into Practice” workshop in Durango.

At the Colorado Education Association’s latest ‘Theory into Practice’ teaching workshop in Durango, three elementary school teachers talked about the big changes these standards have brought into the classroom. Each of these Durango Education Association members has about 20 years of teaching experience, and told CEA Journal the new standards are challenging them to rethink their performance and their profession.

“I’m not sure that all teachers really looked at standards before,” admitted Karin Bowker, a first grade teacher at Florida Mesa Elementary outside Durango. “Teachers are really looking at the standards now and asking ‘Why are we teaching this?’ We’re teaching it because this is what the kids have to know.”

In the past, Bowker said a teacher might say, ‘Dinosaurs are cool, so we’re going to teach dinosaurs,’ but only because the lesson was fun, not because it supported standards. By following the new standards, she says teachers can ‘eliminate the fluffy stuff’ and still make learning fun and engaging.

“I welcome the shift,” added Bowker. “The lessons are effective and kids are learning, and I’m not just wasting my time. There is a reason we’re teaching to the standard, and I’m not just filling my time with needless work that is not beneficial. It’s changed the way I teach.”

At Sunnyside Elementary in Durango, kindergarten teacher Tina Henderson explains to parents how instruction aligns from preschool through high school. The standards set higher expectations for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, and Henderson says that creates a uniform ‘thread’ that ties one grade level to the next.

teacher group

Tina Henderson, Diana Wright and Karin Bowker talk with CEA Journal at the workshop.

“I think we’ve always had that connection, but I don’t think it’s always been as visible to parents, or sometimes even to us, on how that learning builds to the next grade level,” said Henderson. “It’s brought a little more professionalism to us, because now we can say to parents, ‘I’m teaching this lessons or these units, and it’s meeting these standards.’ Then the parents will say, ‘Oh, I see how it all fits together and I see why that’s important.’”

Henderson also shares the standards and expectations with her kids, which she didn’t do as much in the past. She says bringing that vocabulary of standards into the classroom makes student learning more solid.

“I see a lot more students creating their own goals, taking more responsibility for their learning, because they see what they need to do,” Henderson added. “Having that student-centered goal setting piece, even in kindergarten, has my kids taking ownership of their learning. It’s not just the teacher handing it to them.”

Back at Florida Mesa, Diana Wright is on special assignment as a math intervention and the acting assistant principal. She recently led a parent night at the school, explaining how Colorado Academic Standards are challenging students to evaluate concepts and make inquiries.

“We felt that parents might be seeing the bandwagons against Common Core to jump on, and we better be the ones to educate and reach out to our learning community,” said Wright. Common Core State Standards include two content areas, English language arts and mathematics, and they are embedded in the Colorado Academic Standards.

Wright connected the new standards to the 21st century skills their children will need to acquire for new jobs. She explained the coherence, rigor and focus the standards have brought to teachers and instruction. Wright said parents were appreciative for the open dialogue, which brought some balance to things they were hearing about Common Core in the news and social media.

“Parents are very much a big part of our rural schools, they love our schools, and educating them on this shift was our goal,” Wright explained. She said communication and transparency helped the school community feel valued, and believes teaching parents about the Colorado Academic Standards helps them filter a variety of opinions they may be hearing about standards.

The new standards require new assessments to measure student mastery of the updated learning expectations. These new online assessments, the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, represent the next generation of assessing student learning and will provide teachers with the critical information they need to help students succeed. Find out more about CMAS assessments at this link to the CDE website.

CEA student members treat Pueblo kids with ‘books for keeps’

Minnequa kids show their books.

Minnequa kids show their new books

The book drive could have placed the donations directly into the Minnequa Elementary School library and done a lot of good. The Title I school in Pueblo doesn’t have a great amount of funding to raise a big book collection. But there’s something special about giving a book to a child to keep that Kelly Gonzalez calls a ‘magical’ experience.

“It’s just awesome that they know, ‘This is my special gift that I got from school,’” says Gonzalez, a student preparing to become a teacher at Colorado State University – Pueblo. “The child will always remember this experience and that will be something special for them when they open up that book and look at it.”

Kelly Gonzalez helps kids make their choice

Kelly Gonzalez helps kids make their choice

Gonzalez and several other members of the Colorado Education Association’s student group at CSU-Pueblo collected more than 1,000 books for Minnequa Elementary students through community donations. They stayed in the school library for nearly four hours, meeting class after class, helping every child pick out a book to call his or her very own.

“If people are taking time to come out and give them a book, the students will see the importance of having a book,” said student member Ayana Bentley. “If this is the one book they have, maybe they’ll ask their parents for another book. Maybe it will go further down the line than this book just being their one book.”

Owning books at home is a challenge for many Pueblo families, according to Minnequa’s teacher-librarian Kathy Plath.

“The parents don’t have a lot of money to purchase books for their children,” said Plath. “An opportunity like this for them to build their home library is pretty awesome.”

Ayana Bentley offers a book to students

Ayana Bentley offers a book to students

That opportunity, however, caused a fair amount of confusion for the children. Reading a book in the school library is one thing, but taking a book home for keeps is, well, a novel concept for many kids in this community.

“They’re so shocked about it,” Bentley noticed. “They don’t understand it’s their book.”

“A few of the kids tried to put the books back on the table, because they think they’re going to look at the book, sit down and read it, then put it back,” added Gonzalez. “And we say, ‘No, no, you get to keep the book and take it home.’”

Even though Minnequa teachers wrote the student’s name inside of the book for younger ones, Plath said many kids will still have a hard time believing they get to keep the book.

book9

Plath (center) guides kids to a book table

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of these books come back in my book return slot, with our students thinking that they can’t keep them, but we’ll let them know they can keep these books.”

Plath, a member of Pueblo Education Association and herself a graduate of CSU-Pueblo, was happy to invite the college students into her school.

“When they put together a book drive like this, it’s giving back to the community in a big way and just wonderful to see. And they get hands-on experience with the students and dealing with the students on a personal basis. That’s important too.”

“It was beneficial to see the different reading levels the students were on,” said student member Morgan James as she helped students find their book. “Just because they were in the second grade didn’t mean they were reading on a second grade level, so that was an eye-opener.”

“I just want to say, ‘Oh I think this book is great for you’ and sit and read with the kids, but there’s just not enough time to spend with each individual child,” added Gonzalez. “It’s motivating me to want to come back into their media time and sit and read with the kids.”

Teaching kids is James' career choice

Teaching children is James’ chosen career

Gonzalez also noted the first and second graders were already aware of their reading proficiency and their personal interest in reading, “which lets us know that the teachers are really working with each individual student.”

For James, the experience affirmed her career choice to become a school teacher. “It gets me excited to help kids get excited about reading and learning, which is the whole reason I want to be a teacher. I love seeing them smile.”

Plath loves seeing her students build enthusiasm for reading, and this book delivery supported a larger strategy to get kids hooked on books at an early age.

Student member Elizabeth Wilson came to school as Cat in the Hat

Student member Elizabeth Wilson as Cat in the Hat

“There’s so many other things that vie for their attention – video games, television, many things – so if you can build that excitement for reading early on, it’s been proven that it will stay with them for a good, long time.”

See more photos of CSU-Pueblo student members at Minnequa Elementary in CEA’s flickr set.

Lakewood teachers describe the Katy Perry experience

Katy Perry, in Lakewood cheerleader attire, sings for Lakewood High students in a private performance, Oct. 25.

Katy Perry, in cheerleader attire, sings for Lakewood High students in a private performance, Oct. 25. (Concert photos from Lakewood H.S.)

One of the world’s top pop entertainers performed in Colorado, Oct. 25, but only the students and faculty of Lakewood High School could get in door. Which was fitting, because Katy Perry gave her concert in their high school gym.

Understanding how Lakewood High won a national concert to get a private Katy Perry concert starts with an explanation of a ‘lip-dub’ video.

“I’ll be honest, I was like, ‘What is a lip-dub?’ said Laura Zlogar, a physical education teacher at Lakewood High. “Is that like lip-sync back in the 80’s that I can remember?”

Laura and fellow teacher Tami LoSasso of the theater department now know first-hand what goes into making a lip-dub video.

“A lip-dub is a continuous shot,” Tami explained. “The camera takes a walk through whatever has been staged and the whole thing is done in one continuous shot. It does incorporate that idea of the 80’s lip-sync, but there’s no editing. It’s just all one walk-through.”

A lip-dub video came immediately to mind for Lakewood students when Katy Perry put out a national challenge on Good Morning America to find the high school that could give the best roar – Roar being the name of Katy’s latest hit single. First, Lakewood had the right mascot to showcase for the song’s chorus.

“Tiger – it was all Tiger, and it was a great song just to show spirit,” said Gwen Ahlers, drawing and painting teacher. “So we found a connection right away.”

Second, Lakewood students had made a lip-dub video a few years back to Katy’s hit Firework.

“The Good Morning America contest video didn’t need to necessarily be a lip-dub, but we figured hey, we have experience at this. It works perfectly with our school mascot. Let’s give it another shot,” said Tami.

The Bridge Club's card deck and bare-chested tiger student is one of many Roar highlights.

The Bridge Club’s card deck and bare-chested tiger student is one of many Lakewood Roar video highlights.

For three days, the school used 20 minutes of non-instructional homeroom time to plan and produce the Lakewood Roar video (watch at http://bit.ly/1gqxDWi). A planning team mapped out a course, placing nearly every athletic team, club and student group in the school along the route. Tami, Gwen and Laura, all members of JeffCo Education Association, helped students in orchestrating their few seconds in the spotlight when the camera rolled by.

“There were quick meetings – let’s plan your space, plan what you want to do, practice your portion of the song,” said Gwen, who worked with the art club.

Tami’s most difficult challenge was getting a commitment from her theater students to be in place when the camera arrived. “There are kids involved in so many different activities – ‘I want to do theater, then I want to run to choir, and after choir…’ – and so my responsibility was making sure we had enough kids for our shot.”

Laura’s ‘unified physical education’ group, an adaptive P.E. class for special needs students, appeared early in the video. Her student coaches were then off to the races to catch the camera again. “They were running across the hall, trying to get to another spot to get to the baseball team, or some of the girls with the tennis team. Almost all of the students had two or more groups, clubs, or teams that they wanted to be with in the video.”

With students on the run making multiple appearances throughout the campus, Lakewood’s Roar video gives the impression the school has double or triple the 2,000-plus students and staff who participated. “The ending shot is really the best indication of the amount of kids we have, because that’s where they all ran, from their groups into that big collaboration on the football field at the end,” said Tami.

“It was like Christmas Day, ants in their pants, couldn’t sit still,” Laura said of her adaptive P.E. class on recording day. “We didn’t want them to settle down - it was really cool, such a neat thing to be a part of. We tried to run around and do as much as we could to burn off some of that energy, but it was a really fun day. And it was okay to be excited and be a little squirrely.”

“And there was a lot of positive energy that you don’t always see in schools,” Tami added, noting the expectations and higher stakes of today’s school structure can weigh students down. “So just to have the opportunity for positive energy to fuel the building, I think the teachers welcomed that openly and tried to carry that positive vibe throughout the rest of the semester. We’re kind of coasting with that right now.”

Gwen Ahlers, Lakewood drawing & painting teacher

Gwen Ahlers, Lakewood drawing & painting teacher

“The kids here are awesome, teachers are awesome. It would not have worked without administration, the community, teachers, the entire staff, and students. They all pulled together,” said Gwen. “You can tell by the lip-dub, it’s amazing. It couldn’t have happened with just a few kids or a few people, it was the whole, entire school.”

Katy watched hundreds of videos from schools across America and Lakewood made her list of five finalists. The students packed the Lakewood gym in the early morning hours of Oct. 18 to watch Katy announce the winner live on Good Morning America. She chose Lakewood.

“Of course the gym just erupted and the kids went nuts,” said Laura.

“Oh my goodness,” said Gwen. “Kids were texting, moms were texting kids, congratulations from aunts, uncles, grandparents. In the community, businesses were just so excited for Lakewood. As a community, this is a pretty neat deal.”

Lakewood and its high school were suddenly famous. The Roar lip-dub has more than 425,000 views on YouTube. Lakewood High appeared on live national TV and in media reports across the country. And when Katy Perry tweets about you, she reaches 47 million followers.

What to do with their ’15 minutes of fame’ was a heavy question for the student body and Principal Ron Castagna. The answer: a charity campaign dubbed “One World, One Roar” in which Lakewood students challenged high schools across America to raise $1,000 for charity.

Lakewood teachers Tami LoSasso and Laura Zlogar show off the school's "One World, One Roar" t-shirts.

Lakewood teachers Tami LoSasso and Laura Zlogar show off the school’s “One World, One Roar” t-shirts.

“I think what the principal has done is used the Katy Perry experience as a springboard for a larger message, in that we as adults need to teach students to be a part of a community,” said Tami.

Lakewood trademarked the phrase “One World, One Roar” and built a website to track progress of reported charity fundraising. As of mid-November, the campaign has topped $36,000. Lakewood and other Colorado schools have given their donations to Colorado flood relief.

“I guess it’s catching on. We’re getting some feedback,” said Gwen, with calls coming in to Lakewood from school districts in other states. “The kids were very inspiring. Maybe it’s just a switch where kids are thinking beyond their school and what they can do in their own community. The kids feel really empowered to reach out and do more.”

“What I would like to see is for that sort of ideal to really permeate beyond this year, to really get students fully engaged in their communities,” said Tami, who noted her theater students donated $1,000 they had raised at an earlier event. “In a selfish world, we still need to perform selfless acts to be a community. And getting kids to understand that is what ‘One World, One Roar’ hopes to achieve.”

Katy Perry received a Lakewood jacket and tiger-themed cake for her birthday concert.

Katy Perry received a Lakewood jacket and tiger-themed cake for her birthday concert.

United in black and orange “One World, One Roar” t-shirts, the students filed back into the gym starting at 3:30 a.m., Oct. 25, for the concert. Katy, wearing a Lakewood cheerleading uniform for the occasion, just happened to be celebrating a birthday.

“I’m 29. I feel great,” Perry said to the students and staff. “I still feel like I’m 13 sometimes. Obviously you can tell by my music and my spirit. I’m so excited about this record and I just love all the participation and the unification …of all of you guys coming together and roaring!”

“Katy Perry did a great job. She was very professional, she treated the kids with respect, and they treated her with respect,” said Gwen. “It was exciting to have a concert and have her there for the kids.”

“She spoke their language, for lack of a better word,” added Tami. “And she was really respectful to the administration. She came across as a class act.”

In the days after the concert, Laura noticed a different attitude and a sense of camaraderie in everybody.

“In Lakewood, we’ve always kind of had that, but it seems even more so, kids just outgoing, looking for ways to help. Kids have that sense of, ‘What can I do to help you.’ It’s great, it’s really nice,” said Laura.

“As teachers, it’s been an interesting journey. Finding ways to channel the energy has been a new and exciting challenge,” Tami added. “To have kids who are enthusiastic, willing to take on whatever in the classroom just because they have this sense of something bigger, was a nice addition to the past couple of weeks.”

students web

Katy Perry leads a Roar! with special needs students at Lakewood High.

Laura said the sense of community is particularly high with her special needs students, who don’t always feel so appreciated.

“They’re feeling embraced a lot within the community in the school, which hasn’t happened for a while,” said Laura. “But they certainly feel a part of the experience, that they have a piece in this too.

“There’s an attitude now that this was much bigger than getting a Katy Perry concert. It’s ‘how can we do more?’ and looking at the bigger picture,” Laura continued. “The special needs kids are starting to see that too. There’s an awareness of, ‘maybe there’s some disadvantages here, but there are ways I can help somebody else.’ And it’s been a huge education piece for us to talk about something and just take it to a different level, a bigger scale with a lot of these kids. It’s been a great learning experience for them.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers