Those who visit Jere Baxter Middle School on a summer day will find a full parking lot and a hustle-and-bustle similar to a regular school day. The school is one of many host locations across the district for MNPS summer camps and programs. Jere Baxter alone holds three different camps inside—a Teach for America Program, an English Learner (EL) camp and a Discovery STEAM camp.
Each morning all students at the location take time to eat free breakfast together in the cafeteria. Students who live in the cluster are also provided free transportation to and from the location— an important option for families. From there, students go into a block schedule similar to a regular school day. In the EL camps, students spend time in English, lunch and math. The participating students speak six different languages but they all share the common goal of learning a new language together.
“I had a student who had become afraid of coming to school, after summer school that all changed,” said Hannah Rice, EL teacher and camp leader. “Not only did the smaller class size and more personal one-on-one time help, it also made these students more comfortable because of their shared experiences.”
Along with social gains, participants are tested at the beginning of camp and at the end to measure specific academic growth. Last year Rice said the Text Level Assessment (TLA) growth was significant and they expect the same this year. Even when students test similarly at the end of the program, they are maintaining levels of improvement and are provided a chance to practice English in a more relaxed atmosphere.
MNPS partner, Teach for America (TFA), is working with elementary and middle school students in credit recovery, remediation and academic enrichment in a similar personalized learning environment.
“It is amazing to see kids getting those levels of individual support—you see a lot of joy in these classrooms,” said Megan Lemming, managing director for pre-service training at Teach for America.
The TFA program also provides pre- and post-tests which showed two months of reading growth in the four weeks of instruction last year. The elementary and middle curriculum is heavily literacy and math-focused with differentiated reading groups, a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching student characteristics to instruction and assessment and through guided reading. At the high school level, 95 percent of students received credit recovery—enabling students to recover course credits lost during the school year to get back on track for grade–level advancement or graduation. TFA and the EL camp both expect similarly impressive results this year.
No matter the subject or purpose of MNPS summer programs and camps, the goal is to help keep students engaged and prevent summer learning loss. In addition, summer programs keep students fed and away from other potentially harmful activities when presented with idle time.
Although somewhat shy and probably one of the most unassuming members of the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ team, Donetia Reid, one of four internal auditors for MNPS, has a smile that can light up any room. She serves in a key supporting role in the school district and proudly supports the Southeast Quadrant.
Before moving up the ranks, Reid took a path similar to other Central Office employees – working in schools.
“My first position was at Dalewood Elementary School as a general assistant,” Reid said. “I’m still very much in touch with the Dalewood Elementary family. We just celebrated our 17-year staff reunion.”
A few years later, Reid would progress to become the secretary/bookkeeper at Dalewood Middle, Gateway Elementary and Stratton Elementary Schools before transitioning to a training specialist position in 2008 in the internal audit department. As a training specialist, she was tasked with training a designated portion of school bookkeepers throughout the school district.
“Training bookkeepers was my original passion for coming to the Central Office,” Reid said.
Reid has been an internal auditor for the past six years and her day-to-day tasks consist of guiding school bookkeepers and principals on the proper use of student activity funds as outlined by the Tennessee Department of Education and Comptroller’s Office. In addition, Reid conducts annual student activity audits and reports any findings schools may have.
“It’s important for me to educate bookkeepers and principals on the proper use of funds that parents and taxpayers provide to support our students,” she said.
Reid is approaching her 26th year of service to the district this August and said she is grateful for the opportunities she has been given to advance her career in MNPS.
“I’ve had a lot of encouragement around me and it seems to have worked out in my favor,” she said, adding that although she can see retirement at the end of the tunnel she is not quite ready to turn in her adding machine just yet.
“I want to continue to focus on supporting bookkeepers, principals and MNPS’ top priority – our students,” Reid said.
Metro Nashville Public Schools employees work tirelessly every day to make sure students are succeeding in the classroom – but what happens when the school day is over? That’s where Jennifer Bell steps in.
Bell, director of extended learning programs, leads the charge for all programming that falls outside of the school day – from before and aftercare to summer camps. She believes these programs are just as crucial to a student’s growth and development as their classroom experience.
“Through extended learning programs, we can take a creative yet strategic approach to focus on the whole child,” Bell said. “Extended learning programs give students an opportunity to be in a safe environment during the time of day in which neighborhood crime rates are up. We can reinforce academic standards through hands-on, experiential learning, develop students’ interests and career pathways, and provide healthy resources to support the student.”
Bell joined the district in 2003 as a teacher at Glencliff High School. In her first year of teaching, she would make weekly visits to see her brother who was incarcerated at the time. During one of those visits, Bell experienced a moment she said changed her career.
“My brother is brilliant and amazing but he never connected to school, built relationships with teachers, nor discovered a path that influenced him as much as the peer pressure did,” Bell said. “[One day] while chatting, I will never forget him saying, ‘Don’t forget about the kids like me.’ It was then that I realized the importance of developing relationships, peaking students’ interests and thinking outside-of-the-box when it came to instruction. I realized that no matter a student’s academic ability or home life, I could support them in reaching their goals [and] support them in changing their circumstances.”
After teaching for a couple years, Bell decided to take a break from education and left the district. This hiatus helped shape her into the educator she is today.
“Life is about experience,” Bell said. “It’s the best way to learn from mistakes, overcome obstacles, develop new dreams and develop into your best self. I learned this about myself during that time and now have the skills to continue to explore and enjoy the adventure. In my current role, I view extended learning as an experience, and it is my hope that students will have the experiences they need to develop their best selves.”
When Bell returned to the district in 2015, she brought with her a renewed vision and sense of purpose in her career. Her time spent working in and outside of public education has led to some important advice that she shares with her fellow educators.
“Education is and should always be fun for both students and educators,” Bell said. “When we are having fun, we are creative, ambitious, collaborative and so much more. It is when we are having fun, we truly do great things.”
Hay Hay, Lacy and Hattie Pearl are not students at Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center, but they do call the school home. These three inhabitants are chickens that play an important role in interacting with the school’s Pre-K students to help the young scientists learn through nature.
The students also benefit from the expertise of Farmer Mike, a local farmer who volunteers at the center and helped the school build the chicken coop. Lessons developed around the animals have created excitement among the students with the hands-on learning experiences that the hens bring to the classrooms. Principal Jessica Hardin, who has always been an animal lover, said she never expected her career would involve caring for farm animals but she has found a new soft spot for chickens.
“The students do all types of assignments with the chickens—paint, journal and learn about caring for the animals,” Hardin said. “They have even made deviled eggs—which they surprisingly loved!”
The type of learning happening at the Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center provides basic foundations in STEAM curriculum – relating to science to writing to art – and connecting all aspects and subjects within the academic experience. In addition, the center nourishes a garden where students learn important lessons on tending to even the smallest living things. Parents also reap the rewards of the classroom garden by having access to any extra fruits and vegetables not being used in the center’s café.
Hardin said the center has seen success in not only helping students find the connection between all lessons but addressing chronic absenteeism. From 2016 to 2018, attendance increased by 23 percent, a data point now just behind the district’s average. Students are recognized monthly for perfect attendance and, a few times a year, celebrations are held in which students can enjoy an evening of fun, snacks and a movie. This also encourages parents to focus on their child’s attendance because the timing of the celebration provides the incentive of evening childcare.
“These events reward students, but also importantly rewards parents,” Hardin said. “We have had success by being really clear on expectations and celebrating when those expectations are met.”
Notable strides are also being addressed in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and training. The center’s teachers are trained in strategies that help children in times of crisis to identify and work through their emotions. Next year, Hardin hopes to train all of her teachers and support staff in prevention and mitigation of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“There has been amazing SEL work happening here to prepare our kids for kindergarten,” Hardin said. “We are working to help them better express their needs, wants, concerns and fears using their words.”
Nestled in the hallways of a bustling and hectic middle school sits a classroom focused on creating a nurturing and peaceful environment for students.
This intentional environment offers a calm space of inclusivity where the lights are dimmed and classical music wafts through the room. It is the classroom of Jeanne Rowan, an English Learner teacher at Stratford STEM Magnet High School.
Rowan has designed her classroom as a way to not only encourage teaching and learning, but to inspire students to tap into their own individuality – a practice she has employed since her first year in the classroom more than 20 years ago.
“My first job is to make my classroom peaceful,” said Rowan, also a Metro Nashville Public Schools graduate. “When students are calm and peaceful, then they can learn.”
Many teachers seek to lift the voices of their students; the same is true for Rowan. She recognizes the importance her classroom environment can make on a student’s life.
“I want to be a welcoming voice for students during their middle school experience,” she said. “I want them to have a classroom where they feel safe and at peace while they are learning each day.”
Her passion for serving English learner students was realized decades ago when she backpacked around the world for six months after graduating from college.
“I love learning about different cultures and respecting [students’] cultures,” Rowan said. “I want to help them navigate middle school.”
Just like her defining moment abroad, Rowan also experienced a defining moment in the classroom early in her career which forever shaped her educational perspective.
During her first year in the classroom Rowan struggled to provide extra support to seemingly difficult or disruptive students, until one student opened her eyes through his own unexpected talent – one discovered through a creative project. It was in that moment, after sharing a connection with a student who challenged her all year, she realized her personal guiding rule: find something to genuinely like about each student.
Rowan knew from that moment finding her own unique connection to every student was one of the keys to educational success. This simple practice is one that has led her heart to impact hundreds of middle school students.
“I have to show students that I see them, respect them and like them,” Rowan said. “It is as simple as that.”
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) recently announced its 2018-19 class of Tennessee Educator Fellows, and six Metro Schools educators were selected. Thirty-eight educators were chosen from across the state of Tennessee for the fellowship program.
“The Tennessee Educator Fellowship has brought together dynamic and talented educators who are passionate advocates for education policies and practices that can improve student achievement,” SCORE Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson said in a release. “The fellows’ diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable as they work both inside and outside the classroom and participate in state conversations on preparing all students for postsecondary and workforce success.”
The Tennessee Educator Fellowship is a yearlong program that helps teachers, school counselors, and librarians learn about education policy and equips them to advocate for their students and their profession. The educators chosen this year work in a variety of settings: traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, public Montessori schools, an alternative academy within a public school and a school dedicated to serving children with multiple disabilities.
The six MNPS educators who were selected to be 2018-19 Tennessee Educator Fellows are:
- Ada Collins teaches third grade at J.E. Moss Elementary School in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Ada has been teaching for eight years.
- Klavish Faraj teaches third-grade math and science at Paragon Mills Elementary School in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Faraj has been teaching for five years.
- Alicia Hunker teaches sixth-grade math at Valor Flagship Academy in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Hunker has been teaching for 10 years.
- Rebecca Ledebuhr teaches eighth-grade math at STEM Preparatory Academy in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Ledebuhr has been teaching for eight years.
- Dr. Paula Pendergrass teaches grades K-4 advanced academics resource at Granbery Elementary School in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Pendergrass has been teaching for 23 years.
- Amanda Smithfield is a librarian at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Smithfield has worked in education for 23 years.
Congratulations to these outstanding educators!
Most people would consider themselves lucky if they discover one career they really love. In the case of Kyle Bohle, a 7th grade science teacher at West End Middle School, he somehow doubled his luck.
Bohle became a Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher seven years ago after completing a fellowship program that certified him to teach all subjects. He chose to focus on math and science because he said, “it’s fact-oriented.”
“I like teaching a lot of fact-oriented things at the middle school level; mathematics in particular,” Bohle said. “Especially to kids who aren’t that confident and may have had some failures and struggles in the past in the subject. I like to break it down where everyone can approach it and feel some level of success.”
A dedicated school teacher by day, Bohle turns into a premier dee jay on the weekends and has earned ‘residency’ status at The BoomBap, a 10-year hip-hop party in Nashville. In the classroom, the self-taught mixing wonder applies foundational principles which helps his students better relate to basic math and science concepts. He uses this same approach as a dee jay to lure people to the dance floor – he describes it as “the hip-hop approach.”
“Regardless, of the genre you have to be in-tune with the crowd – and that’s what I’m best at,” he said. “If the crowd is not responding to you, you have to know how to switch it up, when to play things longer, when to cut things short, when to drop it out and when to let the crowd sing.”
The technique has also proven effective when engaging his students as he combines learning with having a good time. Just like playing at a party.
“You should always be reflecting constantly as you are teaching and [asking yourself] are they picking this up?,” he said, “If you are able to respond to the needs of your students quickly in the moment during a lesson. This absolutely parallels to instruction and classroom management.”
Bohle gets to read confirmation from his students during Teacher Appreciation Week. The resounding theme in letters from his students is “we learned a lot and had fun doing it,” he said. “These letters are my proudest moments during the year.”
While Bohle’s current students are too young to attend the parties he dee jays, he plans to continue merging his love for music and teaching to help them excel in the classroom. As for the adult partygoers who shout-out, “educator educate,” when he plays the most popular jams, he knows eventually that crowd will change and might and possibly include the first students he taught during the early part of his career. Only this time, he’ll be teaching a different kind of math originating from the sounds that boom off the ones and twos.
Summer. Is. Here! After a long and productive school year, we’re welcoming summer break with open arms. Students and teachers alike are grateful for much-needed time off and rest. But did you know it can be easy to focus on your child’s education during the summer?
Summer should be relaxing and fun, but it’s also a time where students can lose up to two months of progress they gained during the school year if they do not stay engaged. Does your middle schooler want to stay on track to be prepared for high school? Does your K-4 student need to catch up to his/her reading level? Here are a few ways to keep your child on track and healthy over the break.
Summer Reading Challenge
Summer academics do not have to be a rigorous task. Something fun and easy all students, and even adults can do, is to read for 20 minutes a day. The Nashville Public Library is holding its annual Summer Reading Challenge with the goal of reading 10 million minutes as a city. The library is providing Summer Challenge printouts for young children, teens and adults that require participants to color in a section of a guitar for every 20 minutes of reading done a day. Once the guitar is complete, it can be brought to your local library to earn prizes. No matter what you or your student is reading, learning is taking place and supporting literacy growth. Learn more here: http://npl.readsquared.com/
Other ways to foster a love of reading with your student this summer:
- Visit your local library.
- Attend a library event: puppet shows, workshops, read alouds and more.
- Read to your young children and engage them in discussion.
- Check out the recommended reading lists for all ages at https://library.nashville.org/.
It’s not too late to find your summer camp! Metro Schools also offers Summer Camps and Programs with a variety of subject options and locations. Many camps are full, but some options have later summer start dates and are still available. Two of those camp options are the Teach for America Summer Academy held June 11- July 6, open to all MNPS elementary and middle school students; and the MNPS Discovery STEAM Camp: June 18-22 for middle school students who are currently attending a Phase I STEAM school. Find a program for your student at www.mnps.org/summer-camps. This website also includes a list of camps hosted by our community partners like the Adventure Science Center and the Nashville Zoo.
First Summer Meals Location is now Open
While many of the district’s summer programs offer daily meals to the student participants, MNPS is also providing wraparound services through the Summer Meals Program. The Summer Meals Program addresses hunger during summer break. Through the district’s Nutrition Services Department, the Department of Extended Learning Programs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three locations in Nashville will provide meals to help fill the nutritional gap during the summer. The program is free to children ages 0 to 18, regardless of whether or not they attend Metro Schools. Adults aged 19 and over can receive meals at a reduced cost of $3.75. There are no income requirements or registration. Meals are served Monday- Friday. See the dates and locations below.
Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation recently announced Whites Creek High School as one of the winners of the 2018 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. The school is the winner for the Environmental Education and Outreach (Schools) category.
“These recipients have gone above and beyond what’s required of them, and I commend their passion and drive to make Tennessee a more sustainable and innovative state,” said Haslam in a release.
The Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards program recognizes exceptional voluntary actions that improve or protect our environment and natural resources with projects or initiatives not required by law or regulation. The winners were chosen from more than 75 entries by a panel of 18 professionals representing agricultural, conservation, forestry, environmental and academic professionals. The entries were judged based on three areas: on-the-ground achievement, innovation and public education.
Read Whites Creek’s entry below.
In 2017, the Whites Creek Community Club provided four acres of community garden
space to Whites Creek High School for the production of soybeans.
With $10,000 in grant funding from Ford Next Generation Learning and a Ford pickup truck, students utilized their soybean harvest to produce an alternative fuel source. In their biodiesel-fueled truck, they traveled to 14 different high schools and various colleges to showcase their work, demonstrating that high schoolers can be active contributors in the area of green energy and that alternatives to common fossil fuels can be implemented.
Ultimately students produced 60 gallons of soybean oil per acre. The project allowed
National Future Farmers of America (FFA) student members to be involved in Supervised
Agricultural Experience Programs for renewable energy and the promotion of
environmental advocacy to the National FFA organization at the regional, state and national level.
Whites Creek has and continues to teach others about making biodiesel. The Whites Creek Community Club has hosted student speakers to discuss biodiesel production and
students spoke at the 2017 Nashville Food Summit. Visiting teachers have also come from a number of states, including Hawaii, to see the program firsthand.
Click here to learn more about the Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.
For 21 years Clemencia Donovan has been an integral part of the Metro Nashville Public Schools family. Those who interact with her are typically greeted with a warm smile and gentle spirit filled with positive energy and compassion for others.
“When I speak with someone on the phone, and when I can help them, I feel like I have accomplished something,” Donovan said. “That mother who feels better because of my help is an important accomplishment for me.”
As a Non-English Language Background (NELB) Language Coordinator, Donovan leads a team of 57 parent outreach translators and eight translation specialists as well as two interpreters/translators for special education. The group stays busy fielding between 400-450 requests a month and providing language assistance support services for a myriad of communication and marketing pieces for the district.
Within the district there are more than 144 different languages represented in Metro Schools with the largest being English, Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Somali, Burmese, Vietnamese, Nepali and Amharic. Donovan said she finds a special connection to her work through the families she serves.
“This is one of the most diverse communities I have ever lived in,” said Donovan, adding that she has also lived in cities in Florida, and in Cincinnati and St. Louis. “Nashville has so many people from all cultures, from everywhere. I believe everyone should learn another language and find a way to have cultural appreciation for others.”
A native of the Republic of Colombia, Donovan spent the early part of her career as a speech therapist working with students with learning disabilities and those who were deaf and hard-of-hearing. Her journey to the United States of America was an unexpected one that she said brought her here “for love” nearly 40 years ago. And it is love that keeps her here today – love for her daughter, grandson and MNPS co-workers.
“It has been great,” Donovan said of her time in the United States. “I have done things I never would have done and have met so many people who have become my friends.”
Her first job with MNPS was as a tutor translator working in classrooms across the district to support student achievement. She also provided support as an interpreter at parent meetings and translation for important documents. She served in this role for 14 years before moving into the Central Office, where for the last three years she has held the position of NELB Language Coordinator.
“I love my people; I love my translators,” she said. “If it were not for them I would not be here. They are so patient with me and they help me, teach me and support me.”
While Donovan admits that she is most knowledgeable in Spanish, she dabbles “fairly well” in English and has mastered the phrase “I’ll see you tomorrow” in Somali “because of its close relation to words used in the Spanish language.”
Her contributions over the years have made a difference in the growing department where, early on she worked with organizations such as the Tennessee Foreign Language to establish English classes for parents in several schools. In the future, she said she would like to see new programs implemented in the department to help move things even further along. For example, she said the development of a request system, providing pre-translated documents for teachers to access, and providing cultural sensitivity training in schools are just a few things that could better benefit the district. Another item on her wish list is having Parent Outreach Translators to provide expanded interpretation and translation services to families.