Friday, March 27, 2015

Fourth Graders Prep for STAAR Test with Prom

The girls had on their prettiest dresses, the boys were dressed to the nines, and it was all in preparation for prom.

But it wasn’t your usual high school prom.

Fourth graders at Annette Perry Elementary School attended DIVAS EXPENSIVE PROM on Friday. The event allows students to have fun before next week’s STAAR writing test while culminating what they’ve been learning throughout the year.

Teacher Brook Campbell and her students dancing at the prom.
DIVAS EXPENSIVE PROM stands for dialogue, idioms, vivid verbs, alliteration, sentence structure, million dollar words, personifications, referents, onomatopoeias, metaphors, and similes.

“It helps the kids remember what they need to include in their writing assignments,” said writing teacher Brook Campbell. “That acronym just came to me one day, and I’ve been using it ever since.”

This is the fourth year the English Language Arts department has hosted DIVAS EXPENSIVE PROM. Campbell said each year, the event gets even more extravagant.

“Our kids have been so excited for this prom. We dance, sing, eat, and review for the test in-between,” said Campbell.

As each child walked into the pink and green decorated classroom, they were in awe.

“I had no clue what to think when I first walked in. I was speechless,” said Omar PiƱa, fourth grader at Annette Perry.

Fourth grader Raiya Villarreal walking into prom.
Students got their prom picture taken before the inaugural karaoke and dance session began—all with the focus of providing encouragement for the upcoming test.

“I didn’t want to do a test review boot camp; I wanted the kids to relax,” said Campbell.

The fourth graders said they're not worried about taking the STAAR test next week.

“I’m very excited because I’m ready for writing. We’ve practiced all year,” said fourth grader Raiya Villarreal.

And it’s because of the practice that Campbell said she’s certain the students will ace the exam.

“They’ve learned everything they need to know. All they have to do now is show it,” said Campbell.

STAAR testing will be held on March 30, March 31, and April 1. View the District calendar for more details.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Elementary Coach Still Making Big Strides After Heart Surgery

It’s no surprise to see dozens of students running laps at Annette Perry Elementary School after school on Mondays.

When Deidra Zschiesche started Annette Perry’s running club three years ago, she didn’t know what to expect. All she knew is that she loved running, and wanted to spread that love to her elementary school students.
Deidra Zschiesche coaching her running club.

The enthusiasm certainly caught on. The club has nearly 100 students who participate every week. That’s more than 25 percent of the total school population!

The P.E. teacher had been running all of her life, so it came as a big surprise when Zschiesche had a medical episode in 2013 and discovered, on Thanksgiving Day, that she had a tumor attached to her heart.

“It was something that the doctors said I probably had since birth,” said Zschiesche. “The tumor was making my heart work very hard just to breathe.”

A month later, the coach underwent surgery to remove the cardiac tumor. After eight weeks of recovery, Zschiesche laced up her running shoes and continued doing what she loved most. The surgery was so successful that Zschiesche ran the fastest half marathon of her life about nine weeks after her surgery.
Coach Zschiesche talking about her passion for running.

“It felt great,” said Zschiesche. “It was like I had a load off my chest.”

The students in the running club were happy to have their coach back. With her motivation, many of the kids also participate in local races.

“I love her as a coach,” said Mason Foreman, fourth grader at Annette Perry. “She’s helped me through a lot of things.”

“I’ve been running since I was in kindergarten here,” said Brianna Fosnaugh, second grader. “She’s the best P.E. teacher I’ve ever had.”

Zschiesche now has a different take on life and she hopes her story will inspire others to not waste a single second of life.

“Live life to the fullest,” said Zschiesche. “Do things that make you happy because life’s too short.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

AEC Student Goes from Gangs to Student Mentor

Tiffani Miller showing off her contagious smile.
It’s no coincidence that the mascot of Mansfield ISD’s Alternative Education Center is the phoenix.

In Greek mythology, a phoenix was a bird that could be reborn or regenerated. And just like the phoenix, students at AEC are getting a second chance at life—like Tiffani Miller.

The 18 year old was initiated into a gang at the age of nine years old in Detroit, Michigan. She was involved with the gang until the age of 14 when she and her family moved to Texas to focus on her basketball career.

Miller’s transition didn’t go so smoothly, though. She started getting into fights and got transferred to AEC in September 2014. That’s when her life began to take a turn for the better.

“It provided me with a lot of focus,” said Miller. “I thought AEC was going to be a place where you’re rejected by the teachers, but they really do try to help you in the classroom and in the real world with the resources they provide.”

The 11th grader was able to tap into her people skills and help start AEC’s mentorship program. Every Wednesday, she talks to a group of girls to encourage them and remind them that they can still determine their own destiny.

“I know how hard it is when people aren’t there to push you into the right direction. I just want to show them love,” said Miller.

Miller has big plans for her future. She said she is getting basketball scholarships, and wants to enlist into the military’s police division after she graduates. After that, she plans to start her own inner-city youth program.

“For kids in similar situations, I want them to know that life happens; but it’s what you do about it that matters. It’s never too late to change—just put in the work to do it,” said Miller.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lesson to All MISD 3rd Graders: "Think. Don't Sink."

The second-most common accidental death for kids under the age of 10 is drowning. That's why Mansfield ISD makes sure every third grader in the district takes a water safety class.

Since 2006, the date the MISD Natatorium opened, water safety classes have been offered to teach children what to do when they are around water.

The safety class lasts for about three hours. The first section consists of an instructor teaching the children the main rules of staying safe around water:
  1. Think. Don't sink.
  2. Look before you leap
  3. Reach or throw. Don't Go. 
The second half of the class is when students put what they learned to the test. They get inside of the water and, depending on their swimming skills, pretend to rescue a coach and learn other safety tips.

Jerry Smith, diving coach and lead instructor, said he helped start the program to get a very important message across to children.

"Never get in the water with a drowning person," said Smith. "If we taught them that, then we just saved somebody's life."

Jerry Smith teaching water safety tips.
The classes start in third grade because most of the students are tall enough to touch the bottom of the shallowest part of the pool, which is 3-and-a-half feet. That is also the grade instructors say the students can comprehend most of the information.

Smith hopes that after each class, the students tell their parents and friends what they've learned so that the lessons of water safety spreads. Find out more information about the MISD Natatorium.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Principal and Student Swap for a Day

 Senior Karla Camacho and Timberview principal Derrell Douglas
on a normal school day
They say if you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you’ll understand their perspective better. That adage became a stark reality to Timberview High School principal Derrell Douglas and senior Karla Camacho.

The two made the principal-student swap as part of “Douglas Switch Day”—just one of the many fundraising events during Timberview’s “Helping Others Thru Giving” (H.O.G.) week.

Camacho paid to have her ticket in the raffle to become the school’s top administrator for one day and won the big prize. In return, Principal Douglas spent the day attending all the classes in Camacho’s packed schedule.

The experience can be summed up by one word: enlightening.

Douglas, who dressed in full "student" gear for the occasion, said he has a better understanding of how much students go through every day—educationally and socially.

“It was a lot of fun, but still challenging,“ said Douglas. “Karla is an involved student, and I had no idea how hard it was to get from one class to the other on time. I also had to figure out where I was going to sit in the cafeteria for lunch and who would talk to me.”

Camacho and Douglas on "Douglas Switch Day"
Camacho noted that she didn’t realize how much administrators have to manage on a daily basis.

“I observed classrooms, but I also noticed how much happens in the office every day,” said Camacho. “They have to deal with budgets, phone calls, and various requests, and they handle it so smoothly. I have a lot of respect for them after seeing that.”

She added that she is now considering becoming an administrator in education after she graduates college.

This is the fifth year Timberview has held its “Douglas Switch Day.” Principal Douglas said he likes it because it helps break barriers in stereotypes.

“A lot of the students think administrators are just trying to find ways to punish them. We don’t want to do that at all. And as an administrator, I see how much we expect out of our students. They work hard,” said Douglas.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Student Athlete Loses Vision, But Not Her Great Attitude

Jobe eighth grader Mady Walker
In the span of nine months, Jobe Middle School student Madelyn Walker went from being a volleyball player and competitive dancer to losing her vision and using a wheelchair for assistance.

“I couldn’t see peripherally in my right eye, and then it just started getting worse,” said the 14-year-old who goes by Mady.

“In August of 2013, she woke up one day and told me, ‘Momma, I can’t see,’” said Mady’s mother Kati Walker, the principal’s secretary at Jobe. “I said, ‘What do you mean you can’t see?’ and she said, ‘My vision’s really blurry.’”

After an MRI, doctors discovered that Mady had optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve that causes blurred or dimmed vision.

Later that month, Mady started losing feeling in her right leg. She now uses a brace to help her walk and utilizes a wheelchair for longer distances because she gets easily fatigued.

Doctors think she suffers from mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes—better known as MELAS syndrome. The disease affects many of the body’s systems, particularly the brain and nervous system.

The eighth grader has been given a life expectancy of mid-30s. Although the news shocked the Walker family, they said they try to always keep a positive outlook about it.
(L-R) Jobe girl's athletic coordinator Stephanie Upshaw,
Mady Walker, and mother Kati Walker
“I’m still in denial about the whole thing,” said Kati Walker. “Sometimes, I wake up and think she’ll be all better. But you just have to do what you have to do and take life one day at a time.”

Mady’s diagnosis hasn’t stopped her from staying active in school. She is student council president, bassoon player in the Honors Band, and member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Even with all of her activities, Mady said she misses being in sports.

“I was only able to play in one volleyball game last school year before my vision started getting worse, and I couldn’t even try out for basketball,” said Mady. “I never really got a chance to say goodbye to sports.”

That is, until Thursday night.

Jobe girl’s athletics coordinator Stephanie Upshaw wanted to give Mady one last chance to play on the court again. She coordinated with the coach at T.A. Howard Middle School to allow Mady to shoot the basketball one more time in a competitive game.

“Mady is an outstanding student and person with an outstanding attitude,” said Upshaw. “She might not have this opportunity again, so we wanted to make it happen for her.”

Mady Walker scoring two points for her team.
The play went as planned, and Mady made the shot—a move that finally brought her closure.

Mady still has big plans for the future. She wants to be a neonatal nurse and continue living life as usual. She hopes that her story can help people learn to always be grateful.

“Never take anything in life for granted because you could wake up one day, and it could be taken away from you.”