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.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Science Coordinator Displays Artistic Side

An attendee admiring Garza's artwork.
As art enthusiasts toured the Mansfield High School library viewing an amazing 35-piece exhibit of paintings, one of the patrons turned to her friend and said, "And to think, this was all painted by some science guy!"

That was the sentiment of several people who attended Tuesday's debut of "Shadows and Reflections" by Dr. Fred Garza, which featured paintings of literary novels brought to life or kitchen tools through the eyes of a cooking aficionado.

Dr. Garza is Mansfield ISD's science curriculum coordinator who has been with the district for more than 20 years.

Science and art aren't typically used in the same sentence. However, for Dr. Garza, those two words sum up his greatest passions.

"It's all about creating to me. In chemistry, you're creating a new product. In art, you're creating a new piece," said Garza.

Garza always had a knack for the arts because both of his parents were artists. He said he would always critique his mother's artwork, which led her to tell him to take art classes and make his own creations. And that's exactly what he did.

Dr. Fred Garza and Suzanne Moncuse enjoying the exhibit.
Although this is the second year the former science teacher displayed his artwork at Mansfield High School for the public to see, he said he wasn't always comfortable showing off his creative side to outsiders. It took some nudging from his friends.

"Once Suzanne Moncuse [Mansfield High School's librarian] found out that I was an artist, she pushed to have me showcase my work in the library," said Garza. "Now, I wouldn't have it any other way. She shows a true appreciation and care for the artwork."

Moncuse said the honor is all hers to be able to host such a local artist in the library.

"With the level of talent he has, he could easily be showing his pieces in art galleries. I'm glad to support him, and even happier that our district also supports the arts." said Moncuse.

Garza hopes his story will encourage others to not be afraid to tap into their own passions.

"Everyone has potential," he said. "They just need to dive in."

Garza's work will be on display at the Mansfield High School library until March 1.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fourth Graders Run School News Network

Anchorwomen Allie Jarrett and Tina Tran preparing for the news.
Seconds away from making T.V. magic, the cameraman shouts, “Lights, camera, action!”

That’s a typical day for the people who run CNN. No, not the Cable News Network—the Cabaniss News Network is a news program that is broadcasted every morning through screens in the hallways and classrooms of Cabaniss Elementary School.

The morning bell rings at 8 a.m., and the newscast starts promptly at 8:03 a.m. to allow time for students to settle down and teachers to tune into the network via their classroom smart board.

Everything from the on-air talent to the information gathering and camera work is done solely by a select group of fourth graders. The students audition as third graders the prior year, so that they are all set for the first day of school. Occasionally, other students get featured on the news program as special guests to read news stories that they contributed.

For Tina Tran, positioned as the T.V. anchorwoman for the day, the choice to audition to be a part of CNN was easy.

“I like being in the spotlight. I always pretended to be a newsperson at home, so I decided to do it here, too,” said Tran.

Weatherman Adam Reynolds giving the day's forecast.
Adam Reynolds, the day’s weatherman, also enjoys the limelight; but to him, it’s also a way to give back to the school.

“We’re giving information that the students and teachers need, so I like being able to help,” said Reynolds.

Counselor David Dye oversees CNN. He started the network four years ago. He said he was thinking of producing a student-run news show when Principal Kisha McDonald came up to him wanting to start one also. Dye wrote a grant for the program to buy all the necessary equipment, and the rest is history.

Dye is very hands-on for the first two weeks of production, but he said after that, he starts handing over the reins to the students.

Cabaniss counselor David Dye after a successful newscast.
“It teaches the students to be self-sufficient,” Dye said. “It makes them have pride in their school and learn life skills. My favorite part is having the kids being able to independently produce quality work.”

And that quality work is surely being noticed. Some of the people on the on-air news team said they get treated like little local celebrities.

“A first grader came up to me and said that she wanted to be like me when she grows up,” said Allie Jarrett, the other anchorwoman on set.

Don’t think the fame is getting to their heads, though. Counselor Dye said he picks students that are very humble and know how to handle the attention.