Don’t Be Afraid to Embrace the Change

November 14, 2016 by

We live in a constantly changing world. The pace of change is more rapid than it has ever been. New products and processes are continually available and the rate at which we are exposed to new information is continually increasing. This can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes we are able to shelter our children from so much change, but often not. If it is overwhelming to us, how does it feel to our children? And that is just “normal” everyday change. What about the big unexpected changes?

Less than one week ago, we elected a new president which resulted in many of us contemplating the changes ahead.  Whether it is the start of a new presidency, a new school year or simply a new day, the mere thought of some sort of change, especially a major one, can bring on a flood of emotions:  fear, apprehension and anxiety?  How about changing those into excitement, eagerness and enthusiasm?

According to a growing body of research, children best learn how to cope with change and the ups & downs of life by developing resilience. Along with compassion, resilience is one of the most important qualities parents can teach their children.

And how do children learn resilience? Apparently by watching us adults. Children copy the coping, stress-management and thinking styles of the adults around them. They can sense if adults are anxious or worried and will tend to mimic that.

 “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~Socrates

There are some major benefits to change. Think about how much you grow and learn every time something changes. You discover new insights about different aspects of your life. You learn lessons even from changes that did not lead you to where you wanted to be.

Without change, there would be no improvements.  Changes trigger progress.  Things move forward and develop because of them. One never knows what each change may bring. When you turn from your usual path there will be plenty of different opportunities waiting for you. Changes can bring new choices for happiness and fulfillment.

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? The main character is forced to live the same day over and over. He leads a completely dull, extremely predictable, and uninteresting life. That is how your life would be without changes.

So think of each change as turning a page.  It is about closing one chapter and opening another one.  Changes can bring new beginnings and excitement to your life.

Sometimes, change is exactly what we need…

And remember—if there were no change, there would be no butterflies!

Why Water?

October 25, 2016 by

This edition of the MCPS blog is from guest blogger, Stephanie Reeves. Stephanie is mom to two 6th graders at St. Clare Walker Middle School.  Stephanie is currently self-employed, but previously was a behavior specialist for 5 years.

Why Water?? Well, thanks for asking. This is a topic about which I am very passionate!

It was brought to my attention at the beginning of the school year that at some facilities in our school division, our children are not allowed to regularly have bottled water at their disposal unless there is a doctor note provided. Water is absolutely essential for our bodies to properly function and should not be limited to our children during the school day.

Our brains are made up of 80-85% water, our bodies 70% water. Dehydration in school students is detrimental to their cognitive performance.  Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain function, to include thought and memory processing.  According to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, brain cells need two times more energy than other cells in the body and water provides this more effectively than any other substance.  When fully hydrated you are able to think faster, be more focused, and have a greater capacity for learning.  The brain is unable to store water, therefore all day access is most important for proper functioning.  Proper hydration requires that we drink half our weight in ounces per day.  A 100 pound student would struggle with drinking 50 ounces a day if it were limited to before school, lunch time, and after school to evening.

Dehydration causes your brain to shut down and not run at full speed – symptoms including brain fog, afternoon fatigue, focus issues, depression, anger, emotional instability, exhaustion, headaches, sleep issues, stress, and lack of mental clarity and acuity… all decreasing the students ability to be fully acute and aware within the school environment. Teaching our children about proper hydration and the overall positive health effects is one of the most valuable life-long lessons we can offer them.

When I was a counselor in one of our local high schools, the first thing I offered my students when they were agitated was a bottle of water and a healthy snack, because often they were not eating properly either. Within moments of giving them the water and snack, their mood would begin to shift and their overall disposition would change, allowing them to better function through their day.  As a massage therapist, I get to see the dangerous negative effects of dehydration on our physical bodies.  I would like to see all schools in our division have a generous water policy allowing our children to have unlimited water during their day.   Please note that during the first few weeks, there will be more frequent bathroom breaks! It will have the same effect as heavy rain on dry soil… excessive run off (Smile!) But within a short time, our tissues start to absorb the water, and assimilate it better resulting in happier, healthier, more productive students.

So remember, Keep Calm & Drink More Water!

New Coordinator of Gifted Named in Middlesex

October 10, 2016 by

Middlesex County Public Schools is pleased to announce the appointment of Ms. Katie Brockel as Coordinator for Gifted Education. Ms. Brockel replaces Mrs. Kim Waite who left the position in late August for a job in the private education sector. “We are thrilled with this appointment,” commented MCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Gretz. “Ms. Brockel has the experience and perspective to really enhance our team’s pursuit of deeper learning for all students.”

A native of Hanover County, Ms. Brockel earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from James Madison University before completing the Teacher Licensure Program at University of Richmond. While teaching elementary education in Mechanicsville, Ms. Brockel earned her Gifted and Talented Endorsement from the University of Virginia. Ms. Brockel taught in Hanover County Public Schools for twelve years, and she was serving as Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher at Mechanicsville Elementary School before accepting the position with Middlesex County Public Schools.


When asked about her vision for the future of gifted education in Middlesex County, Ms. Brockel said, “I am thrilled to be a part of such and amazing and distinguished team of educators in Middlesex County. I intend to continue to provide and support the teachers and students in our school with quality differentiated instruction. I believe it is our responsibility as educators to meet the needs of all students, and challenge is something to be embraced because through our challenges, we are able to grow.”

A Certified Google Educator with extensive knowledge in Google Apps for Education and SMARTboard technologies, Ms. Brockel currently resides in Northumberland County on the Great Wicomico River. She enjoys paddle boarding, surfing and relaxing on the beach with family, friends and her two rescue dogs, Maddie and Lincoln

The Social Media 411

October 10, 2016 by

Several weeks ago the MHS Varsity Charger football game against neighboring Lancaster High School was postponed due to safety reasons as the result of some disconcerting social media postings:  a huge dose of reality about the importance of the responsible use of social media for the relatively sheltered community of Middlesex County.

The sad truth is that no-one with a cell phone, tablet or computer is immune to the pitfalls of social media. This is even more so for teens where social media is an essential part of their lives, much in the same way that telephones were thirty years ago.

Sure there are good things about social media — staying connected with family & friends, sharing ideas & interacting with others who have similar interests, and stimulating creativity & imagination, but the flipside is that social media can be a hub for things like cyber bullying and questionable activities.  An active presence on social media presents many potential dangers that we want our children to avoid. Remember, children don’t always make the smartest choices when they post something to a site like Instagram or Snapchat, so it is really important for parents to teach their children how to use social media wisely.

Spending too much time on social media can be counterproductive and quite frankly depressing, too. Seeing how many “friends” others have and viewing pictures of them having fun or showing off their possessions, can make all of us feel worse about ourselves or feel we don’t measure up to our peers. If adults can get caught up these feelings of inferiority, imagine the toll they can take on a teenager’s fragile psyche.

Statistics show about 90% of teens have used some form of social media and 75% have a profile on a social networking site.  More than half of all American teens visit social networking sites every day. These numbers are way up from just a few years ago, and there’s almost no chance of them ever coming down again.

Take the time to teach your child that mean behavior is just as unacceptable in the virtual world as it is in the real world.  If a child sends a mean-spirited tweet as a joke, it could be very hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.  Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect and courtesy, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages about others.  Ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others may post.

Tell children to think twice before hitting ‘enter’ and remind them that “once it’s out there, you can’t get it back”.  Photos, videos, and comments made online usually can’t be taken back once they’re posted. Even after you think something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the Internet.  Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a child’s reputation in ways that may cause problems years later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does a background check. They shouldn’t share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their teachers, college admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, even grandmom — to see.

So, how can you drive these messages home?

As a parent, it’s important to be aware of what your children are doing online.  The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your children understand that you respect their privacy but want to make sure they are safe and using good judgment.

…And try setting a good example through your own virtual behavior!  This can go a long way toward helping your children use social media wisely.

MHS Named Blue Star School

September 26, 2016 by

Please join us in congratulating Middlesex High School on once again being named a Blue Star School by the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Program. This honor is the result of at least 80% of the school’s financial literacy students achieving at least an 85% pass rate on the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Test.

In a statement W!SE officials expressed their appreciation to the exemplary teachers at MHS, and other exceptional teachers across the Commonwealth: “We at W!SE are both grateful for and impressed at the accomplishments of Virginia’s educators as they relate to teaching personal finance.”

Well done MHS!

Make a Difference. Volunteer!

September 26, 2016 by

Looking for something to do to fill your day?  Why not be a volunteer?

Yeah, I know volunteering takes time and energy, and it can be hard work.  You might find yourself doing and learning new things which can be challenging and even a little scary.  So why does anyone even want to go there?

Well, here’s a reason:

Volunteering is good for OTHERS!

The world is far from perfect, and many children, schools, and places in the community need help.  In our school system, administrators, teachers & staff try to meet every child’s needs, but it is impossible for them to do it all.

Volunteers can make a difference when someone or something needs help.  When we volunteer our time, money, or talents, we help make our school system or community a better, more productive environment where people work together to make life easier for all.

Need another reason to volunteer?  How about this one:

Volunteering is good for YOU!!

I know you’re thinking, “Right, what’s in it for me?” The answer is, plenty!

By volunteering for an ongoing program, volunteers can see growth and change.  Whether working with children who are learning to read or mastering a new math skill, volunteers can actually see progress and achievement first hand. This reinforces the volunteer’s own sense of worthiness and validity of our school system.

Here are some other things you receive in return for volunteering:

  • Make new friends
  • Gain important skills & experience that may benefit you in another aspect of your life
  • Make connections that can lead to a job or career
  • See more of your community
  • Build confidence & self-esteem
  • Feel needed & important
  • Gain satisfaction at getting things done & helping others
  • Tap into your creative side
  • Get active & healthier
  • Relieve stress
  • Fight boredom
  • Spend time doing something that makes a difference
  • Feel like you are part of the community
  • Have fun!

There’s nothing more fulfilling than realizing how much of an impact a volunteer can make. Volunteers working together to organize the purchase of school supplies or feed the children of our community can follow-up and see for themselves how the project has enriched the students’ lives.  Just a few hours of helping can turn into a lifetime of opportunity which is one of the greatest benefits of volunteering.

Hmmm…It looks like being a volunteer gives as much good stuff to you as it does to those you are trying to help! That, my friends, is the secret of volunteering. People who become volunteers usually lead richer, happier, and more satisfying lives than those who don’t volunteer.

Organizations all over the world depend on the giving nature of volunteers. But volunteers reap satisfaction and numerous benefits from volunteering too.  By just giving a little bit of your time, you can make a huge difference in the life of a student, teacher or organization.

Ready to get involved at MCPS? Check out how to be a volunteer at

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go To School!

September 6, 2016 by

I’m not going to sugar-coat it; getting your children up and out the door for school is a royal pain, especially when the parent also has to be at work in the morning and can’t do the “drop-off in the pj pants, sweatshirt, coffee cup in the non-driving hand” routine.

The cast of characters in my house are in eleventh, ninth and seventh grades, so I’ve been herding kids to school for a long time. Take it from a seasoned pro, there are a couple of tricks of the trade that can streamline the morning chaos.

The Night Before
1)  Pack lunches and fill water bottles.  Doing it when it’s late and you or the kids are tired beats racing to do it when it’s early and you or the kids are tired.  Hot lunch fanatics?  Put notes on your calendar to check the balance of your lunch account in a couple of times a month to make sure you are not approaching the maximum $5 charge limit.  Better yet, set up an automatic payment plan which replenishes your account whenever it dips below $5.  If you pay for lunch with cash, make sure you have the correct amount in a baggie or wallet ready for your child.
2)  Pick out tomorrow’s outfit.  It also never hurts to have a backup in case your child wakes up in a mood and changes their mind when it’s time to get dressed.  That way, the potential ten-minute, “But I don’t want to wear THAT today!” discussion can hopefully be tackled in two seconds with an, “Okay, here you go, then!” at-hand solution.
3)  Check for any due library books, permission slips, homework to turn in, etc. and be sure they are all filed in the right kid’s backpack.
4)  Put the backpacks by the front door.  You’d think they’re too big to lose.  You’d be wrong.
5)  Have each kid put their shoes on top of their backpack.  Put a sock in each shoe.

The Morning of
6)  No electronics!.  One kid gets ready early and turns on YouTube or a video game, and you can forget about it.  Children who are ready early may read.
7)  Avoid open-ended dialogue at all costs:  NOT “What do you want for breakfast?”  Try, “Oatmeal or Waffles?”  Going through all the possibilities wastes lots of time and can make you cranky.  It’s important to have a default breakfast that they know they’ll always get if they don’t like the choices.  At our house, it is cereal.
8)  Stick to the either/or rule: “Blue jacket or red?”  “Pigtails or ponytails?” rather than, “Which jacket do you want?” or “How should we do your hair?”
9)  If your child takes any medication, make sure it is put out on the table so it can be taken with breakfast.  If you sometimes have to serve toast in the car while you drive to school because you missed that window for a sit-down breakfast, keep a bottle or two of water in the car to wash down any meds.  You do have back-up breakfast or energy bars stashed in your glove box, right?
10)  Monitor your child’s overall progress and help them stay focused on the tasks at hand.  Give everyone a ten- AND a five-minute warning before it’s time to go.
11)  Set the mood.  Be mellow even if you aren’t feeling it!  Discourage competitive racing in the morning, especially at the breakfast table.  Try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible, which hopefully will prevent upsetting and time-consuming blow-ups.  It is even more important to remain calm if you are running late.  Things take far longer when everyone is stressed out!

Bonus Tips!
12)  Check your watch, cell phone, or timepiece of choice against the school bell to see if it rings when your clock says it should.
13)  Before it’s time to get the kids up, get up and get yourself 100% ready to walk out the door.  This is the same principle as when you fly and the flight attendant stresses the value of placing your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.

Every family is different, so of course your morning may vary slightly…or drastically, but everyone can commiserate with the complexity of the morning routine.

Got excellent time and sanity saving tips?  Please share them in the comments below!


It’s That Time of Year Again

May 20, 2016 by

That’s right, it’s that time of year again!

Most of the students in grades 3-12 are taking or are preparing to take the Virginia Standards of Learning tests; otherwise known as the SOLs.

SOL tests measure the progress of students from 3rd grade to 8th grade, as well as certain high school classes. Virginia SOL test results provide actionable data that help parents, teachers, and students improve academic performance in reading, math, writing, science, and history/social studies. SOLs are also used in evaluating each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

SOL assessments are criterion-referenced tests aligned with and based on the challenging Virginia Standards of Learning. These Virginia state standards define what Virginia students should learn in every grade. VA SOL scores measure how well students have mastered grade-specific skills and report achievement in each subject using the following three levels:

  1. Pass/Advanced
  2. Pass/Proficient
  3. Fail

Achieving proficient or advanced levels is considered passing the SOL tests.

The best preparation for SOL testing is to steadily build skills. Children who master math and reading fundamentals, such as phonics, reading comprehension strategies, and facts and formulas, will be prepared for more complex questions and concepts, and will ultimately perform better on tests.

But even a well-prepared student can feel pre-test anxiety. Encourage your child to relax and to view the test as a chance to show what they have learned. Reassure them that it is natural to feel a little nervous and that the important thing is to try their best.

Still anxious about SOL testing?  Here are some tried and true test taking strategies that may help in the testing clinch!

  1. The Day Before:  Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. Test scores can be greatly affected when a child hasn’t gotten enough rest.
  2. Test Day:  A good breakfast the morning of the test is a terrific brain booster. Nutrients help to stimulate the brain.
  3. Remind your student to pay close attention to directions, and emphasize that they can highlight or underline any words that may assist them in answering questions.
  4. When taking the reading comprehension test, which can be very lengthy, it may help your student to start by previewing the questions prior to reading the assigned passage so they know what they are looking for when they read the text.
  5. In multiple-choice questions, if stumped, remind your student to first rule out answers they know are incorrect. It will then be easier to figure out the correct answer.

In parting, if you want to change your child’s performance on standardized tests, don’t over-focus on short-term test prep, as it only builds pressure which is generally counter-productive. The best on-going strategy is to stay involved in your child’s education, and to keep in mind that standardized tests, while giving insight, are not the final say on how much your child is learning or how well they will do in life or even in future academics. Remember, it takes months and years to build skills and knowledge, and many factors can impact test performance on any given day.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, focus on the fact that summer break is right around the corner!

We Don’t Allow That Here!

May 6, 2016 by


Imagine you are allowed only one bag for all of your possessions.  A soldier holding a rifle orders you to quickly board a cattle car.  The door locks and the train pulls out slowly.  You have no idea where you are going or when the train will stop.

Earlier this week, MHS students had the opportunity to listen to motivational speaker and Holocaust Refugee, Captain Alex Keisch.  Captain Keisch filters through his personal perspective of the Holocaust to teach a simple, but not simplistic approach to systematically stop the epidemic of bullying.

Captain Keisch, the son of Jewish Partisans, was born in the waning days of WWII on the site of the Nazi work camp Plaszov, near the city of Krakow, Poland.  Through his very personal commentary, Captain Keisch detailed his family’s experiences during that traumatic time bringing authenticity and raw emotion to the atrocities of the Holocaust unachieveable through normal textbook study.

The facts of the Holocaust are staggering:  6 million Jews murdered for the crime of being born a Jew; the largest murder of a people in the entire history of mankind; an estimated 1.1 million children murdered during the Holocaust.

A number of social agencies and organizations are beginning to teach the Holocaust as a means of demonstrating what can happen if bullying is allowed to escalate into stereotyping, prejudice, racism or worse. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new and especially alarming phenomenon. Through social media such as Instagram, Snapchat and MySpace, kids can now bully other kids anonymously and even recruit their friends to help. Teen suicides as the result of cyber-bullying are on the rise.

Bullying is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It is a person or group with more ‘social status’ attempting to lord over another person, over and over again, to make him or her miserable.  The single greatest strategy to reduce bullying is through the power of peer pressure and peer advocates. In the middle of the struggle between bully and victim there are dozens of bystanders who might be able to make a difference if they had the insight, strategies and courage to intervene.  We cannot fully protect any child from hurt feelings and upsetting experiences, but we can teach our children to notice when someone else is feeling left out, to reach out in kindness when a classmate is being taunted, and to use their power to speak up on behalf of others.

That is the core of the Holocaust Center’s UpStanders: Stand Up To Bullying initiative. It is a central lesson of the Holocaust, where a few brave rescuers were willing to save the lives of Jews in spite of the risk to their own safety and comfort. It’s the Golden Rule. It is what we want our kids to learn young and carry into adulthood. Whether you call it bullying or just plain unkindness, we want our kids to know that it is wrong, and that people who perpetuate these acts of unkindness should be answerable for their actions.

The mantras of ‘We Don’t Allow That Here!’ and ‘Do Your Little Bit of Good’ reinforce Captain Keisch’s message that, in many ways, the Holocaust embodies the characteristics of school bullying. Just as many kids stand by while others are victimized, groups of people and even countries stood by and watched as millions of people were killed by the Nazis. Having an anti-bullying program tied to an event about the Holocaust teaches students that the choices they make and the actions they carry out every day can make a huge difference.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”   -Elie Wiesel

Hello, 911?? We Need Help!

April 27, 2016 by

There is nothing like it…

The crack of the bat, the swoosh of the net, the amazing catch in the end zone, the roar of the crowd!

The torn ACL, the dislocated shoulder, the shin splints, the concussion!

Yep, that’s right!  The reality is high school athletics, or any athletics for that matter, can bring both exhilarating joy and…excruciating pain!

Playing high school sports exposes our children to increased risk of injury.  Middlesex High School does not currently staff an athletic trainer although one was requested in next year’s budget.  Whether or not it makes the cut has yet to be determined; however, the importance of a qualified individual certified to establish preventative measures to decrease sports-related injuries who is readily available to accurately assess those that do occur is without a doubt a crucial element that we can no longer ignore.

Athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association as health professionals who evaluate and monitor athletes and help them maintain peak physical fitness as well as prevent and treat injuries. They are often one of the first health care providers on the scene when an injury occurs; and therefore, they must be able to recognize, evaluate and assess injuries and provide immediate care when necessary. They know how to prevent an injury from occurring initially, prevent further injury from occurring and prevent the recurrence of an injury.

Athletic trainers educate athletes on how to avoid placing themselves at risk for injury. Quite simply, they help make sports safer. In addition, athletic trainers advise athletes as to the proper use of athletic equipment and protective products such as tape, bandages, ice and braces which help manage an injury.

One cannot pick up a newspaper during football season without seeing a headline on the dangers of concussions.  The disastrous long-term health consequences of concussions including ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or severe cognitive impairment are frightening and should not to be taken lightly by parents, coaches or athletes.  Certified athletic trainers play a key role in the identification and initial sideline screening for concussions in high school sports, as well as the critical “return to play” decision.  They are on the front lines in the concussion safety battle.  The presence of an athletic trainer can dramatically increase the chance that a concussion will be correctly diagnosed and in a timely fashion, both of which are necessary to avoid not only a more lengthy recovery but the risk of permanent brain damage.

At a recent MHS sporting event, an athlete laid injured on the playing field for over ½ hour waiting for the volunteer rescue squad to arrive…coaches and adults on the scene afraid to move the athlete for fear of causing additional injury.  What if this athlete’s injuries were life-threatening and immediate assessment and action were necessary? Thankfully this was not the case; however, one never knows when an emergency situation will occur, and an athlete’s life will hang in the balance.

Some states have introduced legislation requiring a licensed athletic trainer be on staff at every high school.  Perhaps Virginia will follow that lead and appropriate funding for the hiring of athletic trainers.  Better yet, let’s hope that MCPS is given the necessary funds for next year’s school budget to hire a certified athletic trainer, reaffirming that the safety of our high school athletes is a priority…before one of those athletes becomes another statistic in an alarmingly growing list of athletic-related fatalities.

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