Learning in Our Schools: Community Support is Essential

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Spring is one of the busiest times of the year in our schools. Competitions abound; regional and national science fairs, Destination Imagination, National History Day, athletic teams,wahs-hd-10 and so much more. Drama students are putting final touches on performances or smiling because their the performance is a wrap. Music students are preparing for spring performances and the Fine Arts Festival at Fashion Square Mall has been viewed by thousands of community members and finally taken down after a month-long exhibition.

 

 

Our elementary schools have many spring evening activities planned involving students; Art Shows, Quest Fests, STEAM fairs to Design and Make nights. It’s a time for field trips to museums and historical sites such as Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Williamsburg. The promahe-trip-8s are over and our seniors anticipate their final walk across the stage, a day when they are still Albemarle students in one moment and graduates of our schools in the next.

All of the fine work accomplished by our young people occurs because of partnerships that result in the enriched opportunities we support in our schools. We celebrate all the positive accomplishments of our young people and value the partnerships we have with parents, community volunteers in our schools, and business community contributors who help make our schools wonderful environments for our children.

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DAR volunteers at Stone Robinson Elem

Teachers work hard every day to engage our learners in activities that challenge them to think deeply as they problem-solve, plan and conduct research, defend arguments, communicate through a variety of forms of media, learn to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, create, and develop skills of logical and analytical reasoning. This does not happen by chance. This work occurs because of our division’s focus on Lifelong Learning Competencies, skills, dispositions, and knowledge work that will be useful not just in school but well after our young people have moved into adulthood.

beeteam-4 I’ve had the recent experience of watching a group of Monticello High School students research, develop, and implement a plan to bring bee hives to the school grounds as a part of their environmental sciences studies.

 

 

3-sre-projFourth graders at Stone-Robinson Elementary demonstrated a variety of projects they constructed from cardboard illustrating potential and kinetic energy.

 

 

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Just last week, National Society of Black Engineers Junior members from Burley Middle School recently showcased for parents and staff their projects to build robots and write app programs.

 

 

2-youth-summitThe capstone project for teen representatives from all of our regional high schools occurred during the TomTom Festival when students from city, county, and private schools attended a Youth Summit planned and run by students for students to share their talents, big ideas for the future of school, and entrepreneurial pitches for projects they dream to make come true.
catec-auto-5In a visit to CATEC, automotive students shared their work under the hood and talked about their futures. I listened as one senior, a young woman, described her enlistment in the Navy with hopes of becoming an aviation mechanic. She informed me that this would be a path to a wonderful career, one that she sees as a positive step in her life after high school.

In every visit I make to our schools, I have the pleasure of talking with students and teachers as they share their work with me. I am amazed at the performances, the art work, the challenging projects, and the competitive accomplishments of our students. They are doing so much more rigorous work than occurred in high school fifty or thirty or even fifteen years ago and our students graduate in greater numbers, attend more highly competitive colleges and universities, and provide community service through social good projects in higher numbers than ever recorded in our community.

This doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because education matters in Albemarle County. And, even as our community grows more diverse, our students continue to thrive with support from volunteers, excellent teaching staff, and their parents.  Not every school in America is fortunate to be situated in a such a community. We are and I do not take that for granted.

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Beyond the Sky: Imagine That!

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Beyond the Sky … 

When kids get passionate about learning and they ask me to join them, I have to say yes. Even at 7 am on a Saturday morning.

It’s why I found myself getting up early to head off to a local park on a misty morning last June. When I arrived, the kids, a team of middle schoolers, were already there along with their teachers, the school principal, their parents, the media, and … me.

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Why? Because two eighth-grade girls at Sutherland Middle School decided they wanted to fly a high altitude balloon to the edge of the atmosphere. They’d enlisted adults, their teachers, and other interested students in their project. We were all gathered to see what would come of this year-long project.

I watched with my camera, capturing video and photos, as they worked to put all the final pieces together; the go-pro camera, an arduino-driven tracking system, and the balloon. They checked their tracker app on their cell phones and installed it on my phone, too.  Finally, after their final check, they called 4 different air traffic control centers from Charlottesville to DC.

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We adults stood back and watched the kids position the balloon and let it go.  It rose, and cheers went up. Then, in silence, it glided back to earth. Shoulders drooped a bit but the kids got to work. They figured out what parts of the apparatus could be ditched to lower the balloons weight and then they let it go again … this time it rose and rose –gliding out of sight and we all cheered.

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They checked their cell phone tracking apps over the weekend and into the early days of the week. These modern-day rocket kids began to wonder if their balloon had wandered too far afield and all their work was now lost. Then – an alert triggered. When the call came to central office that they were off to collect their balloon, we all cheered again. Our balloon chasers found it on the other side of Lake Anna , more than fifty miles away, and secured permission from a farmer to retrieve it out of a wood-lined pasture. Guess what?

Mission Accomplished!

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Who wouldn’t want this kind of learning passion for all kids? As superintendent I find my own passion in the work I do comes from helping educators create multiple pathways to learning so that all our young people find their way to pursuing hopes and dreams, to have as many choices as possible when they move into adulthood, and to gain an equity of access to rich, experiential, creative work that educates them for life, not school.

droneclubI think Julian captures this vision in his passion for making and flying drones – and through what he’s learned as he’s participated in the maker movement that brings passion alive in young people in our schools today. What started as an isolated passion in the Western Albemarle library maker space while making drones took Julian one day into the school cafeteria with his drones to see who else might be interested. As a result of Julian’s leadership, he’s now surrounded by a score of middle and high school student who share his interest.

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Bridge Building Camp (courtesy of NBC 29)

That passion also resides in Ayoade, a high school senior enrolled in the MESA academy, who believes that engineering is fun and a great career choice.  However, Ayoade believed that many young girls might not know that. So as a sophomore she took a startup idea to her engineering teacher who said, “why not?” As a result, she became a social entrepreneur, creating not just a bridge-building camp for middle school girls but one in which participants give back to our community by creating bridges that make our local walking trails accessible.

courtney1And, there’s Courtney who isn’t just a fabulous actress, choreographer, and dancer in the Monticello High drama program but also a script writer who just had her own award-winning, one-act play performed in state competition. What makes Courtney’s work unique? She believes that arts are a path to teaching communities about issues of social justice and her most recent script, Necessary Trouble (taken from a speech quote by Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis) pushes audiences to engage in discussion about what rights mean to students who find themselves on different sides of a civil rights issue.

Josh1.jpgFinally, there is Josh, a tenth-grader who speaks to his tough life experiences –foster parenting, many transitions in homes and schools, and his challenges with the greatest frankness. He has shared on the national stage how engaged, hands-on, project-based learning, along with support from his Albemarle High Team 19 peers, teachers, and his principal has changed his attitude about high school – going from a kid who thought he might not graduate when he entered high school to now dreaming of becoming a tech engineer. You might ask so how did Josh get to a White House podium? Last year, he participated in a focus group at his high school led by a member of Student Voice and Josh’s voice, filled with passion and authenticity, was noticed by the facilitator leading to an invitation to speak at the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools.

These stories don’t happen by chance. They happen when educators see the future as adjacent to the possibilities we build inside our schools today. Courtney, Ayoade, Josh, Julian, and the balloon kids represent every child inside our schools – classrooms filled with poets, engineers, artists, nurses, programmers – and yes, I hope, future teachers, principals, and maybe a superintendent or two.

We don’t find our children’s passions or talents when they sit in rows facing a dominant teaching wall, listening hour after hour, day after day, year after year, taking test after test to prove what they know –  but with little chance to show us what they can do.  Yet, when our young people get hooked on learning and take that passion into life along with a sense of personal agency, their voices will influence first their schools, and then their communities, the nation, and the world.

Unleashing the potential of our young people so they can build agency as learners and find their voices through experiences that plumb their passions means the sky is no longer the limit. Beyond the sky becomes possible.

Imagine that.

Summer 2016

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It’s only a few days until the opening of the 2016-17 school year. Despite the hustle and bustle in a school during the summer to make sure halls, classrooms, and specialty areas are clean and ready for children and teachers, a school in summer just becomes empty real estate when emptied of the community it serves. That’s why we are building out rich summer experiences for our young people so that they can take advantage of year-round learning communities, not just for ten months.

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Getting Ready to Enter School at Woodbrook Elementary

This summer our programs ran in almost every school;  visual and performing arts, STEM, Maker Education summer school, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Academies, readiness programming for rising ninth graders  and children entering kindergarten, blended learning courses for summer high school, and both face-to-face and online physical education and personal finance courses.

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Rock and Rappers at AHS

In our second annual Rock and Rap Academy, students from county high schools formed music groups and bands to write, perform, and record their own music. They had the chance to work with music educators from our schools but also local musicians from across the region. Our young contemporary music performers put on a show at the Ix Building for parents and friends as a culminating concert.

Young citizen leaders from our high schools gathered at the annual Leadership Academy to practice the competencies of leaders, to hear the stories of leaders across our community, and to take on a project that represents citizen leadership action.

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Student agency and voice matters. This year a group of our young women from Albemarle High again sponsored a regional bridge-building camp so middle school girls could experience the power of engineering to make community improvements while learning the principles of math, science, and tech embedded in engineering. But, as founder Ayoade Balogun shared this with me last spring in an interview,  “I also want young girls to see engineering as fun.”

In the Entrepreneurship Academy offered to high school students with an interest in designing, making, and launching projects they’ve created from scratch, students worked with our high school mechatronics teachers – staff who combine traditional shop, programming, and engineering design in one class – to create their own products from innovative baseball bats with specialized grips to a couch desk for a classroom, bedroom, or office. They each gained career and technical education course credits as they created their projects.

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Coder Dojo kids working on Scratch – an MIT coding language

Most adults find computer science, programming or coding, to be a mystery. That’s not true of over 600 learners, ages 5-18, from our diverse school communities who participated in our fifth annual Cville Coder Dojo. The multiage coder dojo camp originated in Ireland as a way of engaging young people in coding. While most kids who learn to code will not pursue computer programming, they still learn to apply mathematical reasoning, logical thinking, and creative processes as they use code to program arduinos, raspberry Pi, and 3-D printers, build games in scratch, construct websites using HTML code, and make music with sonic Pi.

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Citizen scientists

Our children also participated in summer school programs where they spent time making all kinds of projects as a path to learning. Students at Woodbrook Elementary participated in activities to find the joy in inquiry learning as citizen scientists – and learned about worms, insects, gardening, and geology on the school grounds. They ended school with a showcase of their work from student-made podcasts to teach guests about science to student-constructed worm farms for sale.

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M-cubed learners at work

Math competency is a gateway for kids to pursue dreams. Without it, so much is not available or limited in reach. The nationally recognized M-cubed program brings middle school African-American males together to gain algebra readiness together as a community. The program goes far beyond just math, however, as the young men engage in dialogue with local mentors and leaders. If we want to mind learning gaps, opportunities such as M-cubed represent our commitment to diverse experiences for all children.

We don’t live on an agrarian calendar in our homes and communities anymore.

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Jazz Camp band performs in the Pavilion

Offering high quality learning experiences during the summer allows our parents and staff flexibility in family choices about work schedules and vacations while also offering a variety of enriching experiences for all children often at no cost, low-cost, or with scholarship support. Our enriched opportunities engage young people in applying literacy and mathematical reasoning competencies as well as in building academic background knowledge, key to avoiding the summer social and academic slides that can occur for at-risk learners.

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Kids from several elementary schools play the World Peace Game at Agnor-Hurt Elementary

When our schools fill with children and staff during the summer, it’s a return on community investment in educational facilities that remain in use rather than close for learning business. Using our schools year-round does create a challenge for our building services staff but I believe that it fulfills our mission to fully engage our full community of learners in learning, regardless of the calendar date.

Our summer programs support working families with options for high quality care with a learning focus. And, our summer programs allows us to engage staff in learning new instructional techniques and tools to take back with them into their regular year teaching. We see many benefits to our learners and families. Equity of access to top-notch summer programming is a design principle of our offerings. It’s an essential, not just nice to do.

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“Maker Me” project at Stone-Robinson Elementary

 

 

 

 

2016: Congratulations Graduates

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Graduation Days:

It’s always inspiring to watch our young people graduate and we grad1have graduated over 1000 graduates in recent days. I ended the past week with the last of 5 graduation ceremonies. Most people know little about our shared regional services provider for special needs learners but a week ago I began graduations with a ceremony honoring 2 graduates at the Ivy Creek School. From that small but important gathering, I was privileged to watch our three comprehensive high schools – Albemarle, Monticello, and Western Albemarle – graduate their seniors. Murray High, our small public charter, graduated 24 honored seniors. My takeaway? Every child counts and all means all when it comes to our educators’ work. When I spoke with teachers, parents, and principals across every school they described this graduating class of millennials: leaders, doers, community-service minded, close-knit, almost like family. Educators also had this to say about the classes of 2016:

grad3“I’m going to miss them terribly. They’ve made me a better teacher, coach, and man.”

“These students inspired me to be a better human being. They have worked hard. Some will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. Others will be the first to go to college. They are first class in every way.”

“This class in terms of leadership is as good as it gets. They are socially conscious with a real sense of goals, short and long-term. They have phenomenal energy.”

grad5“They are creative, kindhearted, with a great sense of humor.”

Our young people will serve their communities, state, and nation well because of all the adults – parents, teachers, mentors, and family – who have helped guide them to adulthood.

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They will go to college, the military, work, or gap years in their next phase of life. I am so proud of the thousands and thousands of community volunteer and service hours they’ve provided to organizations and individuals in need of support. They’ve been accepted to colleges all over the US and the globe, including the most highly competitive public and privates in the US. They are leaders, doers, and dreamers – all of which we need as a nation, state and community.Grad2

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Teachers Matter Most

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December is a busy month in our schools from wonderful holiday programs to routine activities that engage children in deep learning. I am fortunate to visit our schools and see the amazing work accomplished by our young people and the teachers who create opportunities to involve learners. Learning planned by our teachers challenges children’s imaginations, supports them to solve complex problems, engages them to seek and use deep knowledge of content and make interdisciplinary connections, and encourages them to sustain curiosity and pursue learning that is of intrinsic interest.

dec blog 2On a Sunday afternoon, I recently watched Scottsville fifth graders perform The Little Prince at Victory Hall, a community arts center in downtown Scottsville. The children enchanted the audience as they shared the story, with a parent-constructed set that was just perfect for the show. The sophisticated concepts in The Little Prince were beautifully interpreted by the children. I loved the introduction by Principal Sharon Amato- Wilcox who reminded us of one of many important lessons in this children’s story:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

Drama teachers Fay Cunningham, Madeline Michel, and Caitlin Pitts recently hosted student drama teams from our four high schools (AHS, MoHS, WAHS, and Murray High) to participatIMG_2110e in a fast-paced “script to performance” master class, Wired, in which students began the morning writing a script from scratch and performing that evening. I had the chance to watch student teams participate in a feedback session with the teachers and afterwards we chatted with the students about how coaching and guiding drama students gives them immediate, actionable feedback on their progress which they love about drama. One student commented that he wished school could be drama class all day long every day.

dec blog 8A visit with a Sutherland Middle School science teacher, Bryan Anderson, also provided insight into the interesting work that he does with students in an outdoor environmental garden area. It’s amazing to see that some typical garden plants such as broccoli  are still producing due to the unseasonably warm weather. His recycled soda bottle irrigation system seems to work well – and the rabbits who live in a hutch nearby and are a great source of fertilizer. It’s not every day you see kids inspecting cotton in a school garden with the intention of sharing it with their social studies teacher as an artifact from early agricultural days- but Brian and his kids are willing to try out all kinds of experiments in their schoolyard garden.

This past Saturday, Stone-Robinson Elementary staff hosted a #girlsgeekday program. I visited and saw around 60 elementary-aged girls working with volunteer staff, mostly women, including a number of teachers. The girls were figuring out how to program Lego robots, use basic code, design and build structures to withstand high winds, create animation videos, and program with visual patterns to control Ozobots. Watching our elementary girls work with great delight on STEM projects all Saturday morning reinforced how important it is to support all of our young people to see themselves as capable designers, builders, engineers, programmers, mathematicians, and creators. A takeaway? when children find learning interesting, they are intrinsically motivated to keep going.

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I also found out this past weekend about an AHS jazz band accomplishment. After completing and submitting a jazz tape made with support from the A3 House music studio in the Albemarle High Learning Commons, our jazz musicians were notified that they had been selected as one of twelve high school jazz bands across the nation to attend the prestigious Savannah Jazz Festival this coming April. Our AHS jazz musicians are some of the very best in the nation under the direction of Greg Thomas and this video shows why they are considered as such.

Finally, I’m proud that Albemarle County Public Schools was recently notified of its #5 school division Niche ranking in Virginia. Notably, our teaching staff received the highest rating possible which corroborates my belief that our teachers advance learning in powerful ways and that’s recognized by parents and students alike. While I want all of our young people to have excellent, modern facilities and top-notch learning tools, I also know that teaching quality makes the real difference in a child’s success in school. Commitment to learning quality must supersede other investments. Recruiting, selecting and developing the best educators we can find has led to our recognition of our young people and those who serve them well.

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

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To Over 1000 Graduates: A Graduation Note of Reflection

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“You make a living by what you get,

but you make a life by what you give.”                                                                            William Churchill

To the Class of 2015:

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Just over a week ago you were still high school students but when you walked off the graduation stage you became alumni of your schools. It was an honor to be there with you and with six generations who as a community surrounded you to celebrate your accomplishments – whether face-to-face or through our tech team’s live streaming.

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Mustang grad
Cale volunteer

 

Those in the audience represented the Greatest Generation, your great-great grandparents, on down to the Boomlets, your youngest siblings. We were together to see you graduate from your high schools. 1000+ in number – you were the largest graduating high school classes in the history of Albemarle County Public Schools: Western Albemarle High, Murray High, Monticello High, Albemarle High.

For nine years, I have asked seniors and teachers what makes the graduating classes unique. This year was no exception.

  Here’s what I heard about you:

grad1510Western Albemarle High: You are passionate, loyal, eager to get things done, motivated, intellectual, ambitious – extroverted, humorous and a bit rowdy in a good way. And a teacher’s lovely comment – you have been a class of leaders who value each other.

 

grad155Monticello High: Unpredictably deep in talent and ecstatic about life, you like each other and are fun-loving, fabulous, well-educated, humorous and outgoing. Everybody is viewed as having their own interests but you come together as a group. A favorite comment from a teacher? You are kind!

 

grad156jAlbemarle High: You see your class as “spirited x3”, but are supportive of each other, goal-oriented and very diverse with many talents. You are, as more than one teacher said, creative, gregarious, close-knit .. and distinguished in your accomplishments.

 

grad157Murray High: You are valued for your creativity and commitment to working until your performance represents quality. You care about the planet and about helping others. More than one of your teachers described you as capable of accomplishing whatever you set out to do in life.

 

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Patriots’ selfie stick
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As the Class of 2015, you’re members of the Millennial Generation, but I wonder if you might eventually become known as the Smart Generation. Most of you have Smart phones. Some even wear Smart watches. In the not too distant future, you will likely ride in Smart “driverless” cars. Many of you are going to colleges with Smart washers and driers that will text you when your laundry is dry or a washer is ready for use.

Smart technologies are everywhere.

As Millennials, you don’t just live the experience, you value sharing it with others and your devices are in your hands almost 24/7. You lit up the world with your texts, photos, and vids as you went through the rite of passage we call graduation. It was no surprise to find you actively using twitter to narrate your graduation stories – 140 characters at a time.

No doubt we can agree that contemporary technologies connect today’s world and redefine our work .. our homes .. and our schools as never in human history. Some even think that historians will one day identify this time in which we live today as the beginning of The Age of Smart Machines (in whatever format that history books of the future exist.)

You will shape that history through your own actions.

I am convinced that you can and will define the future of our communities, nation, and world as you bend new technologies for good through your creative, innovative thinking – and by using your emotional intelligence together as collaborative solution-finders. It will not always be easy, but I have confidence you will accomplish great work regardless of the paths you pursue.

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Good Friends     Always Warriors

 

As you transition from your current to future communities,

consider what’s  most important to living your adult lives well 

First, sustain your caring relationships with people – family, friends, neighbors. Your teachers have described you as young people who are close-knit, kind and loyal. Remember as you enter the world of adulthood to continue to give of yourself to those around you.

Second, continue to give back to your community as volunteers. You’ve tutored younger students, raised funds to donate to the needy and important causes, engaged as political and social activists, and worked for local non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity. That’s the important work of creating quality communities for all of us now and into the future.

Third, remain engaged and involved in making this great nation of ours an even better nation as you move towards the 22nd century. You are lifelong learners and our world will need that from you. Imagine this. With the extended lives we humans are leading some of you will be around to ring in the new year in 2100. You have a lot of years to give to improve the quality of life in the United States and find solutions to big problems facing the world. The planet will need your best thinking and actions.

Finally, since you walked off our various stages over a week ago no longer a student but now an alum, you probably have already forgotten most of anyone’s speeches during your graduation ceremonies. I’d like to think you heard this.

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Murray Graduation
Relationships Matter

Contemporary, smart technologies shape our world. We experience that every day. But, the devices you carry with you aren’t what’s most important to shaping the future. Rather, it’s the integrity, decency, and empathy that have defined you as friends, family and community here in your high schools.

Technologies will come and go. However, as Churchill once said, “you make a life by what you give.”

 

Best wishes, Class of 2015, as you step forward into the rest of your lives.

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(A few notes from the class of 2015 graduation)

“Before I sit down, I have one last word of advice. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, who challenge you, who you can be yourself around, and who will eat a 20 piece chicken McNugget meal with you at McDonalds because they are your best friends.” Tim in his speech to fellow WAHS Warriors.

“In 2005 the first YouTube video was uploaded.” Sasha and Mrs. Kindler together shared changes in our world that our Murray grads have experienced.

To paraphrase a line from the Monticello’s Mustang duo Zander and Wills iTunes song Fighters: “You are moving forward – no setbacks today.”

“I don’t have the power to change the world but I’ve got the power to spark the mind of a person who does ..” Kolion quoting the rap poet Tupac for AHS Patriots.

And from Jack, student meteorologist @MHSweather94 and school closing advisor, who agreed with me last week: “Today’s a great day to graduate, sunny – with no chance of snow!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

May: A Month for Creativity

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Robot Builders at Broadus Wood Elementary

“A new study from Michigan State University found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. The researchers found that people who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.” (C. Bergland in “Creativity in Childhood Leads to Innovation in Adulthood”, Psychology Today.)

Why should we make sure that our young people have deep opportunities to exercise creativity in learning activities in every way? In Psychology Today, author Christopher Bergland spells out recent research detailing why sustaining creativity matters and how creative experiences prior to age 14 impact students in college and in their future financial opportunities in the workforce. It’s worth a read.

When children are afforded the opportunity of experiencing creativity through learning, they explore and discover new ideas, different solutions, alternative paths of designing and making, and a variety of media applications through which they can share their creativity. The chance to create allows children to integrate thinking driven by their own curiosity and interest with the opportunity to design, build, make, engineer, and compose – the ultimate hands-on learning experience. For example, when teens were given the challenge to demonstrate physics concepts in a high school class recently, one student decided to build a PVC pipe keyboard to explore sound.

Western Albemarle Physics

 

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Young art designers build in Meriwether Lewis Elementary

In our schools this month is a time in which our students demonstrate lifelong learning competencies in performances, culminating projects, competitions such as Destination Imagination, school-wide and community exhibitions, and portfolio compilations. It’s a time to celebrate the talents and capabilities of our students as they show achievement in a variety of ways and explore possibilities in their learning.

 

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Where Should NBA teams be located?
AHS GIS project

Despite standardized testing in May, our musicals, concerts, and plays show off our students’ creativity. Learners bring creativity to bear through project-based learning and in products they’ve made as they share their accomplishments in class presentations and school-wide festivals and fairs. They even post to YouTube and on websites where their creativity projects are broadcast to the world.

Our students create across all the disciplines they study in school from math to writing. We know it’s not possible to measure the quality of their 3-D printed sculptures, GIS projects, self-portraits, Minecraft historical sites, slam poetry, choreographed dances, documentary films or simple machine inventions through multiple choice tests so we provide opportunities for students to show not just their teachers but the whole community what they can do. We know creative learning opportunities engage and empower our youth through contemporary learning. However, now we know the pay off is much bigger than just for today.

Why create? Because it matters for a lifetime.

Monticello Drama’s West Side Story

Top Performance Doesn’t Happen By Chance

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IMG_4639 I am always proud of the accomplishments of our students and staff in Albemarle County Public Schools. It seems as if each week brings an example of their top performance across arts, academics, athletics, community service and leadership.  Top performance doesn’t happen by chance. It comes from the hard work and dedication of staff to provide opportunities for young people that sustain their curiosity, persistence, enthusiasm and willingness to rise to challenges as young learners.

  • Five of the top six spellers at the central Virginia regional Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee were from Albemarle County and fourth, third, and second place were earned by elementary students from our schools.

  • Young musicians from all three of our comprehensive high schools have been admitted into the elite Commonwealth of Virginia orchestra, band, and choral programs based upon their stellar performance tryouts.

  • Teams from elementary, middle and high schools will compete in the regional Destination Imagination Tournament held at Western Albemarle High School.

  • Crozet Elementary has been selected as one of four schools in Virginia who are finalists for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient schools.

  • Robotics Teams from all three high comprehensive schools and Henley Middle School have competed at the state level and both Team Vertigo from AHS and the Nerd Herd from Henley will advance to the super regional in Pennsylvania.

  • Maeve Winter, WAHS student, is a distinguished state finalist in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

  • Both the Western Albemarle (five-time state winner) and Albemarle Girls Swim Teams won 2015 state championships in their respective group classification.

  • Albemarle High again has received the prestigious National Music Education and Virginia Music Education Associations’ Blue Ribbon Award for its performing arts achievements and programming.

  • 2014 Albemarle County Schools graduates again exceeded state and national SAT and Advanced Placement scores, placing the division among top performing school divisions nationally.

Please join me in congratulating our staff and students on these accomplishments – just a few of many that represent the quality of educational performance exhibited by members of our school communities.

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Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

 

 

3-D Printing: a Contemporary Learning Tool in #ACPS

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I like to feature educators and students from across Albemarle County Public Schools to illustrate the innovative work in which our teachers and learners engage. 3-D printing is becoming a workforce tool in ways that I would never have envisioned four years ago. From printing “one-hour” crowns for teeth in dental offices to orthopedic implants, this tool of advanced manufacturing is changing the world of work, medicine, and even homes. Just google 3-D printing!Our middle and high schools all have 3-D printers that teachers are using with students for a variety of design purposes in STEM+ activities. Students with access to 3-D printers use math, engineering, tech, and science skills but also content and competencies from the arts, history, and language arts. I’ve seen mouthpieces for band instruments, a working telegraph, parts for a Sailbot, pulleys, and geometric equations printed in 3-D. Young people use 3-D printers in our schools as tools for learning how to design, engineer, create, and build. As children and teens use these tools, they practicing and develop contemporary workforce competencies of collaboration, creative problem-solving, critical reasoning and communication, not just learning content. They are becoming more capable because of excellent teachers who support them as learners. And, we know this learning can’t be captured on a multiple choice test. Instead, the work our learners produce in 3-D fits well with both traditional projects and performance assessments.

Chris Shedd, Burley sixth grade teacher, represents the cutting edge of STEM + social studies work that’s possible because of access to a 3-D printer. Here’s a post Mr. Shedd wrote to share his sixth graders’ projects.

3D Printing in Social Studies by Chris Shedd, Burley Middle

photo6photo7 photo8 Burley students are mastering 3D printing technology. They are researching and creating 3D models to enhance their learning, collaborate with another local middle school, and even to help a group of college students. The 3D printer offers a great opportunity for students to develop new technology skills and to use their creativity.

Last semester students began using a 3D printer in my social studies class. Students researched and created 3D models of structures including Jamestown, Monticello, the Rotunda, the Mayflower, and Burley. One student created an almost exact replica of a specific Civil War bullet. Nine Burley students attended the Tom Tom festival to show off their work to the public. Many students made 3D models for their Creative Projects and researched their historical significance.

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This semester we have an exciting partnership with an 8th grade class at Sutherland Middle School. Burley students are going to research and recreate spy gear from the American Revolution. Sutherland students are going to look at modern spy gear and some of the science behind it. We are hoping to have our classes Skype with each other, share what we have learned, and discuss how spy gear has changed over time.

Burley students are also creating models from natural history for Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. Randolph’s Natural History Collection is considering buying a 3D printer and scanner. They want to scan items from their collection and paint them. They have asked Burley students to create 3D examples to test their paints. So far students have created a snail, a trilobite, fossilized dragonfly, a crab, and a lobster. Three copies of the snail have already made it to Randolph College, and they liked it so much they have requested more copies. Mrs. Schoppa, Burley design and engineering class teacher, has been helping us keep up with the printing of objects. I am hoping some of her students will create models for Randolph as well.

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All students have modeling software on their computers. I encourage students who are interested to download Autodesk 123 D. It is a free, basic CAD program. Give it a try!