Monday, March 31, 2014

S.E.M. - The Week in Review 3/28/14

Click on the the link below for an overview of The Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary this week.  Brown Bag Lunches, garden construction, visitors, and more.  Don't miss out!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Transformation - It's About the Kids

I love Saturdays...don't you?  I get to sleep in late, read in bed, maybe go shopping or take in a movie.  No responsibility.  Isn't it great?!  That's what I was thinking this past Saturday as I slowly woke up, stretched and yawned in my bed, and welcomed in the new day through my open window.   But then I was the day!  It was time to put our money...or at least our muscle...where our mouth was.  The construction of the reading garden was about to begin!

When I arrived at school, the construction materials were just being delivered.  Lumber, screws, soil, trash bins, tools, watering cans...the list goes on and on.  Stuff!  A lot of it!  I stood there, alone with one other teacher, and lots and lots of...stuff...and I wondered, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?"  How was this huge pile of...stuff...going to be transformed into...well...anything?  Much less a garden!
                                                                         Soon enough, help began to arrive.  It came in all forms.  Parents, administrators, husbands, PTO members, friends, teachers...and kids...lots of kids!  I watched as they arrived.  I, I felt...their excitement...and suddenly, everything was okay.  We didn't really know
what we were doing.  We didn't have the right tools...or enough of the ones we did have.  We didn't really have a plan, and we certainly didn't know how this little adventure was going to work out.  But, we had something more important...something that no amount of frustration or confusion or exhaustion can take away.

We had the kids!  We had their hope...their optimism...their energy...their sense of wonder.  We had the joy that comes from knowing that they are the reason we are here. 
One look into the eyes of those kids, and I knew that I was right where I needed to be.  All the stresses and pressures of the week melted away as I became absorbed in the purpose...the real purpose...for this day.  You see, it wasn't about a garden.  It wasn't about me or Mrs. Cook.  It wasn't about "doing it right."  It wasn't even really about "going green."  It was about the kids!  It was about making a dream come true. 

And so it began!  Step by step, piece by piece, things began to fall into place.  A group of volunteers worked together to create a design for the raised beds.  Others ran home to gather more tools and supplies.  Still others began the process of transforming that pile of "stuff" into a garden. 
We drilled, we pushed.  We lifted, we measured. We placed the beds in the perfect spot...and then moved  them to a place that was better.  We blocked the weeds, we poured the soil.  We laughed, we cried...well, not really, but sometimes we wanted to...we built a garden!  We built a garden! Or at least, the beginnings of one.

You might be thinking, "So what!  It's just a garden!  What's the big deal?"  Well, okay, I get that...but here's the big deal.  This wasn't just any garden.  This was a garden born out of the dreams and passions of 2nd and 3rd grade learners who wanted to make a difference. This was a garden that came to be because of the dedication of an inspired educator and the generosity of an amazing PTO.  This was a garden that was built because, as Mr. Hilton put it, a "village" came together to make it happen.  This garden was the fruition of a dream that began a year ago in the hearts and minds of the learners in the Book Blooms Enrichment Cluster...and culminated with another group of children who came together with parents, educators, friends, and family to make the dream come true!

Remember my question?

How was this huge pile of...stuff...going to be transformed into...well...anything?

I found my answer!  Transformation doesn't always come in the form of plans or tools or materials.  Those things are important...I get that.  But taken alone, those things are just "stuff."  The magic happens...the transformation takes place, when you add a little something more.  Transformation happens when you add passion...and hope...and dreams.  Transformation occurs when "a village comes together to make it happen."  Transformation happens when we's all about the kids!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Community Garden Day

One of the goals of enrichment clusters is to give our learners opportunities to use their interests and passions to make an impact on their world.  The 2nd and 3rd grade learners in the Book Blooms Cluster did just that last Fall when they designed a reading garden for Austin Elementary.  After much work behind the scenes, the time has finally arrived to make their dream a reality, but these young learners need your help!

We are looking for volunteers to join us on Saturday, March 29th, for a Community Garden Day. Our goals that day include:
  • building two raised flower beds
  • building two raised vegetable beds
  • creating planting barrels for science investigations
Please see the flyer below for more information.

This will be a tremendous opportunity for parents and children to work side by side as together, we help these young learners make their dreams come true!  If you are interested in participating in this unique event, please use the link below to let us know you are coming.  No special skills are required...just a willingness to work hard and a desire to make a difference in the lives of kids.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Many Faces of E-Time

I've always been a people watcher.  I absolutely love sitting on a bench in the middle of a busy park, standing silently in a crowded mall, or moving quietly down a bustling city street...and watching...watching as the world rolls on, fast and furious around me.  As I watch, I find myself contemplating the faces of the people who pass me by...staring into the depths of their eyes...and wondering.  What's that smile about?  Why those tears?  What's the mischief behind the young boy's impish grin?  What wisdom is hidden behind the wrinkled, rheumy eyes of the elderly couple walking hand in hand through the park?  The excitement...the fear...the joy...the sorrow...where did it all come from?  Where have they been?  Where are they going?  And why are they here...right this time and place?  What's their story?

For you see, everyone has a story.  And one of the most humbling aspects of my life as an educator is the absolute privilege of helping kids write theirs.   So, I thought, what better way to look at E-Time...what better way to tell the story of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary...than through the faces, young and old, of those who live it everyday?  So sit back, relax, take a deep breath...and enjoy the story...

It's a magical story, and we would love for you to be a part.  If you are interested in becoming involved as a volunteer, contact Liz Malone through her email,  If you are interested in just learning more about what this SEM story is all about, click on the link below to secure a spot on an E-Time tour.

Click Here to Sign Up for an E-Time Tour

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SEM: Is It Really Worth It?

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: E-Time, enrichment clusters, strength based learning, student driven, interest based experiences.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that SEM is something I am quite passionate about.  And why not?  It's all about kids!  It's all about figuring out who they are, what they love, and what they want to do with the passion that lies within them.   More importantly, it's about helping them figure out those things for themselves...and understanding why it matters.

At Austin Elementary, we are becoming pretty well known for asking our learners some interesting questions:
  • What are you interested in?  
  • What do you love to do?  
  • What are you good at?  
  • What are you passionate about? 
  • How can you use that passion to make a difference?
Pretty cool questions, don't you think?  I mean an educator, I can't think of many things more valuable to the success of my learners than my willingness...and get to know them.  To see them as unique and valuable.  To see them as individuals who have as much to offer me as I do to offer them. 

So, if that's the case, why don't we ask these questions more often?  Why isn't EVERYONE asking these questions?  Why isn't SEM an integral part of every school in the country?  Why are we one of only six elementary schools in Texas actively participating in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model?  Well, one possible answer is simply's hard...and scary...and well...a little bit different. 

 Oh c'mon!  How hard can it be?

Well, let's see...
  • E-Time requires every educator to design student driven, interest based learning addition to his/her regular lesson planning...every Friday.
  • And not only's expected that the tenets of SEM are embedded not only into E-Time every Friday morning, but also into every aspect of campus life.
  • Preparing for E-Time  requires materials and skills that are very often, not found in a traditional classroom.
  • The learners get so excited...calming them down when E-Time is over can sometimes be...well...a challenge.
  • Implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin has been expensive.  Confratute, E-Time and enrichment cluster supplies, professional learning expenses...all these things cost money...lots of money.
  • The Schoolwide Enrichment Model requires educators...and learners...and yes, think differently about what education, and more importantly, what learning is all about.

And scary...seriously?  What's so scary about a bunch of kids getting super excited about learning?  

Well let's see...
  • No lesson plans for E-Time?  Nope!
  • I may not be an expert in the E-Time topic I am facilitating?  Nope!
  • The learners drive the learning?  Yep! Imagine that!
  • Learners become educators?  Yep! (...and they're pretty good at it too!)
  • I will have visitors in my classroom...again?  Yep!

And different?  So what?  Different is good!  Right?

Well, let's see...
  • Did you hear me say no lesson plans...whaaaattt???
  • Strength based instruction...seriously?   What about remediation?  We need to find out what these kids can't do...and make them do it!  Over...and over...and over...again!
  • Student driven?  Are you kidding me?  What about the standards?  What about the TEKS?  What about The Test?
  • And really...some might question the value of "losing" an hour of instruction every Friday so that learners can "explore their interests."
So...when you consider all the obstacles...when you look at the challenges and yes, the it all worth it?  The time, the money, the frustrations, the tears...are they worth it?   The endless effort, the late nights, the tough conversations...are they worth it?

Well, let's see...

Last week...

Kindergarten learners began "mini-clusters," a 4 week journey of exploration based on their own unique interests, passions, and strengths. 

A  group of 3rd graders had the opportunity to explore
the world of coding!

A fifth grade learner discovered the finer points of stop motion animation.

Click here to see his final creation...

5th Grader - Stop Motion Creation

Fifth grade learners designed a plan for mentoring some younger learners.

Another group of fifth graders worked with a local police officer to create a plan to raise awareness of bullying.

A young learner discovered the joy of creating her own unique piece of art!

The work of C.O.P. Academy, one of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade enrichment clusters was featured on the cable broadcast of Coppell Police Department's "Coppell Blue."


Coming This Week:

1st and 2nd grade learners will be starting their enrichment cluster journey.  The facilitators (including two community members!) are ready to go and the kiddos are oh so excited!  They will be exploring an incredible variety of topics over the next nine weeks, and I can't wait to see where this journey leads them!  Click on the link below to get a preview of what's to come.

Our very first "Brown Bag Lunch" event will be happening on Thursday morning for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners!  Thirty learners who are interested in learning more about alternative energy solutions will be gathering in the library to enjoy their lunch and hear from Alicia Berdan from "Be-Wind'" an organization that manufactures wind turbines for urban areas.  The presentation will also be live streamed and recorded for future use.

Fifth grade learners will be selected to act as facilitator assistants for their younger peers in the 1st and 2nd grade enrichment clusters. 

So, back to my original question...the impetus behind this  long...maybe too post.

SEM: Is it really worth it?  

Well, let's see...

Is it hard...yes, sometimes.

Can it be scary...yes, sometimes.  Change is always scary.

Is it different?  Definitely! (But sometimes, that's a good thing...) 

But really, is it worth it?

Kids are working with community members, exploring their interests, learning about careers, discovering their talents...all while having a great time and learning that they have the power to do amazing things!

So, I guess the real question is..."Kids: Are They Really Worth It?"  You bet they are!

Works for me!  How about you???