Posts Tagged ‘reading’

School’s ALMOST Out for Summer

June 4, 2013


Although the end of SOL testing is near, school continues until June 14th. This presents a challenge to teachers because many students “check out” after testing is over, but each member of the innovative MCPS faculty is using his or her creative genius to keep the students engaged. Here are just a few of the activities planned for the last days of school:

Next week, Eileen O’Brien’s students will visit the second grade to read books they are creating in class. O’Brien asked her students what they would like to learn about that hadn’t been covered this year. Students researched their chosen topics to create shape books, which included at least three paragraphs of five sentences each. After they illustrate the books, O’Brien plans to laminate the covers and bind the books. The books will include an ‘About the Author’ page featuring the student’s picture.

In Robyn Stein’s Algebra I classes, students are designing games based around one topic they learned this year.  They are using familiar board games and card games, such as Monopoly and Go Fish, as examples. Students will create a game board or playing cards and write a rules manual. Players of the game must use algebra skills to compete. After the projects are graded, students will have a competition day in class to play the games.

Elizabeth Blackwell’s eighth grade art students are searching for pictures or phrases that describe their goals and dreams for the coming years. After collecting them, the students create and decorate a box in which to keep their pictures and phrases. Some students choose to seal their boxes until later in the future and some keep them open. The project encourages focus on goals for the future and emphasizes individual creativity.

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A variety of activities will keep students engaged in Kim Aliff’s second grade classroom. Her students will be learning stitchery, writing stories, and beginning to learn cursive writing. They are also participating in a math fact competition called Gumball Math.

Janice Parker’s high school English students will be busy with two activities. The “Around the Room Short Story” project involves multiple students writing one short story. Each student contributes one literary element, such as setting, characters, dialogue, conflict, or resolution. Each phase of the writing is timed, and then the story is passed to the next writer to complete their part. The story eventually returns to the original writer who develops a title and completes any revisions necessary for the finished story. Parker is also challenging her students to teach a 10-minute lesson. Students can teach a dance step, a magic trick, how to braid hair, how to make bird calls, or another school-appropriate topic of their choice.

Students in Annie Somerville’s civics classes will view the reality entrepreneurial show, Shark Tank¸ and design a good or service to enhance the economy. In teams, students will create a prototype of their good or service and explain their target group based on age and gender. Students will also determine in which types of economy they would sell their good or service, what business type they would organize with, and any kind of advertising or promotions they would utilize. Teams will earn incentives for creativity, organization, and resourcefulness.

Each middle school grade level in Matt Short’s technology classes will have a specific project. Sixth grade students will work with LEGO Robotics. Seventh grade students will create bottle rockets and have the opportunity to launch them outside, while eighth grade students design wood plaques and carve them using the CNC router.

photoStudents in Linden Barrick’s language arts classes are honoring those who inspire them by creating a booklet featuring ten people who inspire them the most. Each page in the booklet includes the name of the inspirational individual, a drawing of the person or of something that symbolizes him or her, and a short paragraph briefly explaining how the person influences the student’s life. Barrick’s students will also be researching fifteen idioms and creating a presentation. Each slide of the presentation will feature one idiom, a brief explanation of its origin, and an illustration depicting the figurative meaning of the phrase.

Staying engaged is difficult this time of year for students, but the dedicated teachers of MCPS are diligently working to make the last few days of school fun AND educational.  Encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to learn in the stress-free atmosphere, and if you’re interested in educational summertime activities, please visit the Virginia Department of Education website at:


Teacher Feature – Elizabeth Sanders

April 30, 2013

Encouragement – Elizabeth Sanders states this to be the most important thing she can offer her students. “Every child is capable of being successful; they just need to find the success in themselves and believe in themselves.”


Elizabeth Sanders in her classroom on Hat Day which raises money for the SCW Relay For Life team.

Sanders teaches seventh grade students language arts and history at St. Clare Walker. Before coming to SCW 3 years ago, she taught language arts at Peasley Middle School in Gloucester. A native of Lancaster, Virginia, and graduate of Lancaster High, Sanders still resides there with her husband of almost one year.

After high school graduation, Sanders earned a Bachelor’s of Science and a Master’s of Art in Education from James Madison University. She declares, “I bleed purple!” concerning her JMU alumni status. Currently, Sanders is working toward her Master’s in Educational Leadership from William and Mary.

In her classroom, the focus is on reading. Sanders loves teaching novel units. She explains, “I enjoy sharing my love for reading, and I am always looking to spark an interest in my students.  When my students start talking about the novel we’re reading without me asking questions first, I know they’re connecting with the book. What’s even better is when a student asks, ‘Is there are sequel?’ or ‘Are there anymore books by this author?’” Every year, Sanders feels her main goal is to keep students engaged in school, and one way she accomplishes this is by helping students deepen or discover their love for reading.

Student role-play is another activity Sanders uses to enrich her students’ reading experience. This year she collaborated with Judy Murray, the SCW media specialist, on a Jerry Spinelli study. After reading Spinelli’s autobiography, Knots in My Yo-Yo String, students read another of the author’s works on their own and completed further research on Spinelli. Following their research, students were grouped together to do Spinelli interviews. Each group had someone play the role of Spinelli, and the rest of the students in the group were either interviewers or cameramen. Through this activity, students were exposed to an author and were able to show their acting skills during the interviews. Sanders states, “The creativity was amazing to watch. I feel that any activity that gets students thinking outside of the box is great!”

In addition to her time in the classroom, Sanders touches the lives of all SCW students through her work as sponsor of SCW’s Student Council Association. Each year, Sanders hosts the SOL pep rally, the variety show, and many other activities for the entertainment and enjoyment of the entire staff and student body of the school. She also sponsors the SCW Relay For Life team, and encourages all students to be community-minded and serve others.

With all that Sanders does for the students of SCW, it’s hard to imagine that she has any free time to herself. In addition to reading when she does manage to carve out a few moments, she enjoys scrapbooking, spending time with friends, and going to the beach, and she is a fan of the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins.

The dedication Elizabeth Sanders has to the students of SCW makes her an asset to Middlesex Schools, and her nomination as SCW Teacher of the Year by her colleagues shows that others recognize her remarkable performance. She is a true asset to the MCPS family.

Teacher Feature – Judy Murray

April 23, 2013

As a 35-year veteran of Middlesex County Public Schools, Judy Murray has touched the lives of hundreds, maybe even a thousand children in our community. Currently the media center specialist at St. Clare Walker, Murray has also filled the roles of first grade teacher, technology specialist, and instructional technology resource teacher during her years as an educator.


As the media center specialist, Murray strives to help students learn to use the media center effectively because in today’s information-driven world, the use of technology is necessary for the future success of the students. Murray also collaborates with teachers to help reinforce skills the students are learning in the classroom to ensure their understanding of required concepts. In addition to the technology and information focus of her lessons, Murray also enjoys the traditional tasks of helping students find a book or genre that will increase their love of reading.

Murray believes the most important thing she can offer her students is “exposure to many uses of the library from research skills and exploring websites to media and how it is used.” She also openly shares her love of reading and thirst for knowledge with her students so they realize “you’re never too old to learn.”

When asked about her favorite lessons, Murray answered, “I like lessons that actively involve the students.” One such lesson for her sixth grade students includes learning the Dewey Decimal System through an activity in which students hunt the library shelves to fill in missing information from a story. Another lesson, one for her seventh grade students, requires online research and the creation of a display describing a reading series in the media center to pique the interest of other students.


Murray’s vast experience and knowledge in education have been recognized in many ways. She is a former Region 3 Technology Teacher of the Year, and she was also the first teacher to earn the “Making It Happen” award for integrating technology in the classroom. Murray has also earned the title of Master Teacher from Intel Education and has trained other educators in the use of Intel’s technology resources for the classroom.


When not at school, Murray plays clarinet in the Peninsula Concert Band and enjoys sewing, reading, knitting and crocheting, music, and computers. Murray lives in Gloucester with her husband, Bill, who retired from Middlesex County Public Schools last year after a distinguished teaching career. They have two daughters, one who is married and recently gave them a brand new grandson. The Murrays also have a dog and two cats.

Murray’s love of children, technology, and reading has helped many students discover interests and achieve success throughout her years of teaching. Middlesex County is fortunate to have educators such as Murray who dedicate their careers to our community.

Two MES Events Emphasize the Importance of Reading

March 4, 2013

One School, One Book

Throughout the month of February, students at MES read A Cricket in Times Square. The Parent Outreach Committee sponsored this initiative to promote family reading time. Every night, Monday through Thursday, families read one chapter in the book. The following morning, both 99.1 radio and the MES morning announcements posed a question from the previous night’s chapter. All correct student responses were placed in a drawing for prizes.

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On February 28, the culminating event for the activity consisted of a PTA Fundraiser in the MES cafeteria. Families feasted on Chick-fil-a while being entertained with the violin music of fifth grade student Macy Taylor. MCPS superintendent Dr. Thomas Taylor also addressed the crowd. A large backdrop depicting a scene from the book decorated the cafeteria for the evening.

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After dinner, attendees watched the movie version of the story. Mrs. Stamm, MES principal, discussed the differences between the movie and the book. Mrs. Patty Larson, MES teacher, led the group in a craft project in which students designed crickets made of clothespins and pipe cleaners.

MES parent Jamie Wynberry shared her thoughts on the initiative. “The event was a great way to wrap up the program. It was well attended, and it seemed everyone really enjoyed the book. It was refreshing to see so many families who read the book together. There was a lot of discussion about the book and who liked which parts. My favorite part of the program was listening for the question on the radio in the mornings. It made us all get a little excited to get out of bed to see if we could get the question right.”

Dr. Taylor later said, “The One School, One Book program provided an opportunity for all students at MES to engage in reading at different levels, in a way that was unifying for the school community and fun for the students and teachers. The culminating event on Thursday evening allowed families to share in a cross-disciplinary approach to student learning. The student craft variations of clothespin Chester Crickets helped bring the story of A Cricket in Time Square to life for the families who attended. My kudos to Mrs. Stamm, Mrs. Swift, and the rest of the MES staff for hosting a successful family event which focused on student learning.”

Celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Read Across America

Friday, March 1, marked the annual National Education Association celebration of reading, Read Across America, and Dr. Seuss’s 109th birthday. For this special event, MES students and staff dressed in red and white or their favorite Dr. Seuss apparel. In honor of Read Across America, MES recognized the importance of reading by having every teacher share their favorite Dr. Seuss book with their students at 9:00 a.m. The morning announcements also included famous Dr. Seuss quotes to celebrate these events.


Mrs. Stamm stated, “Reading to children and with children is one the most important things to do to help with literacy development. We wanted to open the forum and encourage reading by fostering the relationship between school and home in a fun and inspiring way through our One School, One Book event and our celebration of Dr. Seuss’ Birthday and Read Across America. Reading is the gateway to understanding, comprehending, and being successful in all areas of school and in life.  It is so rewarding to have such a high participation rate in something that is so beneficial, yet fun, for each and every student at our school.  We truly appreciate the parental support and participation with our initiatives in uniting our school and its families through reading.”

The National Education Association goal is to build a nation of readers through this signature program. Now in its 16th year, this year-round program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources.

For more information about the NEA, visit their website. In addition, always remember the inspiring words of Dr. Seuss. “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

SCW Builders Club Serves the Community

November 15, 2012

Builders Club is a student-led service organization for middle school students dedicated to school and community service. The St. Clare Walker Builders Club includes fifty students from all three middle school grades. Any student interested in service and of good character is eligible to join.

Kiwanis International, a worldwide service organization whose clubs serve children and develop youth leadership, sponsors the Builders Club. Its purpose is to develop leadership through service.

Laura Norris, faculty sponsor of the club, states, “It’s important that students are given opportunities to work together in service for their school and community. It is rewarding to work with such a great group of middle schoolers who are excited to make a difference.”

The students at SCW participate in a variety of service activities. One of the most popular is Book Buddies. Twice a month, students walk from SCW to MES to read to the elementary school students. This takes place during the LASER period from 8:30-9:00 during the school day.

Patty Larson, teacher at MES, says, “My kindergarteners love when our middle school book buddies come to read to them. The middle schoolers do a great job reading and asking questions about the story. I love watching the little ones’ faces when they listen to their book buddies read!”

Another MES teacher, Kris Brizendine, agrees. “I would say that Book Buddies is great because our Kindergarten students look forward to the older students coming to spend time and share the love of reading with them. It is time that they can sit in a small group and listen to stories and get inspired to learn to read. After the middle schoolers leave, my students want to share their story and show me what part they loved. It is a wonderful program!”

Another project involves the Kiwanis Club and the Oyster Festival. Students volunteer their time to serve customers at the Kiwanis food tent during the event. Although it is a long day and hard work, it is a fun time for the students. By handling part of the workload, the students allow the Kiwanis members to further enjoy the festival as well.

Within school, the Builders Club sponsors many events to raise money for charitable causes. Hat Day allows students to wear a hat during the school day when they donate $2 to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Movie night and other activities raise money for Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society. Candy sales and other events also add to the club’s charitable giving.

Builders Club fosters an attitude of service and leadership skills within its members. These students are being prepared for life beyond middle school as caring citizens and strong leaders for our community.

Teacher Feature – Renee Edwards

November 8, 2012

Renee Edwards, a second grade teacher at Middlesex Elementary School, strives to keep her students excited about what they are learning. She states, “My son started school this year and it was a real eye-opener for me.  This made me want to be the type of teacher I hoped he would have.”

Edwards uses group and partner activities in her classroom for most of her instruction. She feels this is an excellent way to keep things exciting while still ensuring her students have a good understanding of the material being covered. She says the following quote by Benjamin Franklin explains, “Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.”

During her language arts block, she uses the Istation reading program. This program contains vibrant animation with engaging characters in interesting stories. Every Istation lesson pulls kids in, boosts comprehension and retention, and makes learning fun.

During math, Edwards uses IXL, an online program that allows daily practice of skills, and math games. When students learn while having fun, their comprehension of the subject matter and their retention soar.

Edwards also uses a lot of music in her classroom.  She believes music can be a very positive thing when used to calm the students or to uplift them.  She explains, “I enjoy listening to music and find that most children do as well.” While some people would think music would be a distraction, Edwards has found that the addition of music to her classroom boosts her children’s moods and their motivation.

When her students are engaged in writing activities, Edwards incorporates many hands-on activities, such as making crafts, that relate to the subject matter that they are working on. This allows students to consider and analyze aspects of the subject from different viewpoints, which increases their knowledge and understanding.

Renee Edwards exceptional instruction and her creativity in her teaching helps her students succeed in her classroom. She, like William Butler Yates, believes “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Her efforts truly represent the dedication of the teachers of MCPS.

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