Friday, April 24, 2015

Put It Down, Save a Life

A reenactment of a fatal car crash.
Distracted driving and drunk driving are among the leading causes of deaths for teenagers in the U.S. Because of this, the entire Mansfield ISD community came together this week spreading one message—put it down, save a life.

The two-day event challenges juniors and seniors to think about the consequences of driving while distracted or impaired. It helps turn the “what ifs” into a stark reality.

Each campus exposed students to graphic reminders of the dangers of unsafe driving—ranging from “grim reapers” reading a students’ obituaries and taking them out of class, a flat line heart beat playing over the intercom throughout the day, multiple crosses placed outside of a campus to represent the lives that could be taken, or a wrecked car on display to provide students a glimpse of what could happen.

One of the most haunting moments of the event is when the scene of a fatal alcohol-related and distracted-driving car crash was reenacted. About 300 students, 50 from each campus, experienced what it was like to be—or see their peers—seriously injured, taken to jail, or dead.

A student acting as if he died in an impaired/distracted
driver accident.
“We had the involvement of Mansfield police, Mansfield ISD police, Mansfield Methodist hospital, coroners, parents, teachers, administration, and so many more,” said Lynn Wilkie, MISD Center sales and marketing coordinator, who helped organize the event. “It was neat to see so many people working together to help these kids make the right decision.”

Students also heard from speakers whose lives were unexpectedly changed forever because of a drunk or distracted driver. Later in the evening, the students wrote a “last chance” letter to their parents explaining what they want to say if they passed away.

“It was definitely emotional. We were all just bawling,” said Evelyn Stewart, a senior at Summit High school. “Even though it was fake, it was so real because you never know when your last chance is.”

As prom, graduation, and summer are fast approaching, the program was a powerful way to communicate the dangers of getting behind the wheel distracted or under the influence. You never know the harm in which you could be putting yourself and others.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Grit, Potential, and Ambition: the GPA of Dell Scholars

Timberview seniors Peyton Sennet and Sabrina Gonzales
Sabrina Gonzales and Peyton Sennet had way more to worry about than their grades in school.

The Timberview High School seniors were dealing with a lot of difficulties in their personal lives, but they never let that stop their vision of going to college.

Gonzales just suffered the loss of her 15-year-old brother in December 2014 from a stroke; and months before that, her parents filed for divorce. While she was going through that grief, she knew she had to keep her education as a priority.

“I had to grow up and become mature at an earlier age,” said Gonzales. “I taught myself how to study and to be more responsible.”

Sennet also had some hardships to overcome. She said while she was dealing with family issues, she followed the wrong path. The 18-year was even put in a mental health facility because of her behavior. It was the birth of her little brother that made her realize that she had to turn her life around.

“He looked up to me,” said Sennet. “I needed to start being a better example because he was going to follow in my footsteps.”

The two students had their mind set on higher education, but there was one road block in the way—the money to pay for it.

As a requirement for their AVID class, which focuses on college and career readiness, Gonzales and Sennet applied to become Dell Scholars. The Dell Scholars Program places greater emphasis on a student’s determination to succeed than just academic record and test scores. The winners receive $20,000, a laptop, textbook credits, a mentor, and other support services.

Gonzales and Sennet applied for the scholarship in January. Three months later, they received the news they had been hoping for.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was crying and speechless,” said Gonzales.

“I was just worrying about finances for college the night before, so when I heard I got the scholarship, I was screaming,” said Sennet.

The seniors are two out of 300 students in the nation who received the Dell scholarship, and this is only the beginning for the big plans they have for their careers.

Both have a heart for helping others. Gonzales plans to attend Abilene Christian University and become a nurse. Sennet wants to attend the University of North Texas and become a psychologist for the often-forgotten people in jail.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Teacher Gains Fame by Telling Story of Home Through Lens of iPhone

For first-year teacher Temi Coker, photography teacher at Ben Barber Career Tech Academy, taking pictures is therapeutic.

“I was just going through a lot when I was in college, so taking pictures was just a way of me allowing the world to see it the way I saw it,” said Coker.

Temi Coker's family in Nigeria
Courtesy: Instagram (@temi.coker)
But he never imagined the visual story he told through social media about a trip to his childhood home would go viral and bring him some unexpected attention.

Coker traveled to Nigeria in December 2014 to celebrate his grandmother’s 70th birthday. His birthday happens to be the day after; so on his birthday, he decided to walk around Lagos, Nigeria and document the city in a new way.

“I wanted people to see Nigeria in a way that the media didn’t show it,” said the Nigerian native. “I wasn’t expecting anything from this. I just wanted to show the people—at least the people who were following me [on Instagram]—my trip and how beautiful Nigeria really is.”

Using the hashtag #TemixNigeria, Coker shared his story, and his artistic photos were noticed by the Instagram community manager. Soon after, Coker’s photos were featured on the Instagram blog.
Self-portrait of Coker
Courtesy: Instagram (@temi.coker)

Since then, Coker’s artwork has been shown on the local news and noticed by several art enthusiasts around the world.

“I was like, ‘Man, are you serious?’ I was almost crying because I didn’t do this for the fame. I did it because I just wanted to document Nigeria in a special way."

He noted that he’s extremely thankful for all the support and recognition he’s been getting.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Smooth Transition for Students New to the Country

We’ve all had the first-day-of-school jitters before. But just imagine how nerve racking it would be to have those first-day-of-school jitters... in a new country.

Worley Middle School’s Newcomers Class helps make that transition smoother for students who are in their first year of being in America. The class allows students from all over Mansfield ISD to get an education while adapting to the English language.

Teacher Samantha Ash teaching about U.S. history.
"The goal of the class is English language acquisition through content knowledge," said teacher Samantha Ash. "It's about using content-specific vocabulary for history, for math, and getting them to understand the English vocabulary of it."

The students come to the class knowing little-to-no English, but usually leave with the ability to understand the basics of the language.

That was the case for eighth grader Enrique Romo.

“I didn’t know English when I started,” said Romo. “People would come up to me and ask questions, but I didn’t know what they were saying. Now, I’m pretty good.”

The students also gain new friends in the process.

Eighth grader Karina Garcia after explaining why she loves the class.
“We’re all learning, so we talk and help each other understand,” said eighth grader Karina Garcia.

The students first learn vocabulary, like directions and common classroom items, and keep expanding upon their vocabulary doing various lesson plans.

“When you go to any country, you have to immerse yourself into the language; and that’s exactly what these kids do,” said Ash.

The class has seen as many as 23 students who speak 17 different languages at a time; and for Ash, that’s the beauty of it.

“I love seeing the kids participate. I want them to be proud of their language and have the ability to translate it into English."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Eighth Grader Picked to Perform at House of Blues

At the start of the school day, you can find Damoyee Janai Neroes walking through the halls of Coble Middle School on her way to honors band rehearsal. She may seem a bit reserved at first, but the 14-year-old has no problem letting her voice be heard loud and clear when it comes to music.

“I started playing the piano when I was two,” said Neroes. “I discovered my passion for singing when I was eight or nine, and then I joined band to play the clarinet in the sixth grade.”

And it’s that passion for music that led her to compete in the Bringin’ Down the House contest. The program, sponsored by House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, allows artists between the ages of 13 and 19 to gain exposure and more stage experience by getting a chance to perform on the legendary House of Blues stage.

The odds were not in Neroes’ favor. Only six aspiring artists would be chosen from the Dallas area, and a total of 4,000 teens entered the contest.

But Neroes, who goes by Damoyee Janai when performing, said she thought she had a chance. She submitted one of her original songs titled Dreaming with You, and a few weeks later, she received the email she was waiting for.

“I got the email and I didn’t know what to think or what it meant, so I let my mom read it. She started screaming and said, ‘It means you won!,”’ said Neroes.

Neroes’ performance will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 6, 2015 at The House of Blues Dallas. Admission is free.

“I’m nervous, but I know I can do it,” she said.

The musician didn’t hesitate to spread the good news. She invited all of her family, friends, and even her band director— who said this is a well-served opportunity for Neroes.

“Damoyee is a leader by example,” said Stephanie Bonebrake, Coble Middle School band director, “She is the epitome of a well-rounded student who balances extra-curricular activities while still excelling in advanced academic classes.”

Neroes has big dreams for her future. She plans to attend The Julliard School in New York and be signed to a record label by the time she graduates.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Student with Special Needs Uses Talent to Illustrate Book

Cooper posing in front of his sketches.
13-year-old Cooper Soesbee was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He didn’t talk until he was about five years old, but he still found a way to express his emotions long before then—through drawing.

“I like to draw a lot,” said Cooper, a seventh grader at Danny Jones Middle School. “When I grow up, I want to open a comic book store with a coffee shop.”

Not many students can brag about being a published illustrator; but Cooper can, and it all stemmed from his love of pizza.

When Cooper was in kindergarten, he hit a phase where he only wanted to eat a specific type of frozen pizza. Although a pediatrician said it was normal behavior for autistic children, his mother decided to write a book to encourage Cooper to try new things.

Coco’s Bananas is about a monkey who only wants to eat bananas. After going on an adventure, he discovers other foods that he likes,” said Kim Soesbee, Cooper’s mother.

Because of Cooper’s gift of drawing, Kim hoped he would help bring the story to life through illustration. And nearly eight years later, those illustrations are complete.

“Autism has its own timeline. It took a while for Cooper to stay focused on this one project, but we got it done, and he did a great job,” said Kim.

The book will no longer be just a household staple—it will be available for the public to purchase.

Kim, Cooper, and David Soesbee excited for the book signing.
Coco’s Bananas was published in mid-March. With the help of Cooper’s father, who is also president of Touch Publishing, a book signing is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 18 at the Barnes & Noble at Northeast Mall in Hurst, Texas.

“Cooper’s very excited about it,” said David Soesbee, Cooper’s father. “We hope that this book can be used as a catapult to encourage parents that their child is going through a stage and understand what autism is about.”

The Soesbees have used this experience to launch Triangle & Square Books, which they said will give parents of special needs children an outlet to publish their own books.