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Friday, December 7, 2018

MISD Teacher Reunites with Former Student Turned Author

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A teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School got the opportunity to see how a simple certificate that she handed out 25 years ago helped propel a young man to chase his dreams.

Lafayette Dennis, a 2005 graduate of Summit High School, recently published his first book. He was invited back to his old Mansfield ISD elementary school to read the book to some students.

While preparing for the presentation, he found a framed certificate that was given to him by his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Fregien. He was named “Best Story Writer” in the class.

“Remembering the certificate made me realize, ‘Oh wow. This is what I’m supposed to do,’” he said. “I have a real talent for it, I have a passion for it, and I think it inspires me a lot more now than when I was in first grade.”

Dennis wanted to show the certificate to his former teacher during his visit to show how she always believed in his writing abilities, but there was one problem—Mrs. Fregien was no longer working at that school.

Lawless and Dennis were reunited on Dec. 4. 
The 32-year-old author went on a search to see where his former teacher had gone. After some conversation and email exchanges, he found her. 

Mrs. Fregien was now Mrs. Lawless, a second-grade teacher at Willie E. Brown Elementary School. 

“I reached out to the principal and assistant principal, and they told me that they’d love to have me come out and surprise her,” Dennis explained. 

Dennis, who said he was excited and nervous at the same time, was escorted by the principal to the teacher’s room. Jill Lawless didn’t know she was about to see firsthand the impact she had on a child’s life.

“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Do you remember me?’” recalled Lawless, who initially did not recognize him. “But when he said his name, I absolutely remembered the name. He was six when I met him.” 

Dennis went on to tell Lawless that he just published his first book and showed her the old certificate she gave him.

“As a teacher, you always wonder what’s happened with your kids,” said Lawless. “You try to make a difference in everyone’s life; and a lot of times, you never know if you do. So, it’s so cool that he looked for me and found me to tell me that. It’s amazing actually.”

Lawless said she hopes her story encourages other teachers to always give their best to their students because it makes a lasting impact.

“You know, I was going through a hard time back then, so it really had me thinking that even when you have your rough days, you have to keep pushing through for the kids. You never know how your words or actions could inspire them.”

Dennis’ first book, "Gresham the Dreamer," is about a boy who followed his passion instead of obtaining a traditional job. Dennis said it is loosely based on his own personal career path.

Friday, November 30, 2018

MISD Football Coach Keeps Hope as Cancer Returns

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Fear, anger and everything in between describe the feelings Daniel Maberry experienced during the past several months.

The emotional journey began in January when the Mansfield High School head football coach went to the doctor after experiencing a burning sensation in his legs and arms. He said he figured the doctor would simply prescribe him something for the pain but was stunned at the diagnosis.

“They did all sorts of tests. They did a bone marrow biopsy, and that’s when they discovered cancer,” he explained.

Maberry said it was difficult telling his family and his football team about his late-stage lymphoma, but he wanted his message to be that he will keep strong and keep on fighting.

After rounds of chemotherapy and before the start of the football season, the doctors told him that his cancer was in remission. He said the cancer was no longer in his marrow and was not visible in tests, but something didn’t feel right.

His uneasy feeling was confirmed five weeks into the football season. The coach noticed a lump on his side and checked into the emergency room. Through a CT scan, doctors found a two-inch cancer mass.

“Cancer a lot of times takes so much away from you,” he recalled about the cancer returning. “I wasn’t able to be at football games. I wasn’t able to be around the kids at school. I’m not able, necessarily, to play with my girls like I want to. So from that aspect, anger was probably the emotion that I dealt with the most; but at the same time, I’ve had a peace about it.”

Lime green and "Maberry Strong" gear popped up throughout
the community after news of Maberry's diagnosis.
The treatment for Maberry’s cancer is more aggressive this time around because doctors want to ensure that the cancer cells die. During his scheduled treatments, he carries around a backpack filled with chemotherapy medication that feeds steady doses of the medicine into his body.

The husband and father of two explained that he has good days and bad days. On the harder days, he said he tries to keep the right perspective on life and finds strength through his faith and the overwhelming community support.

“Seeing the community pep rallies, seeing the kids here and how they’ve responded—the green outs, the video that they made for me—was unbelievable,” he expressed as he fought back tears. “I’ve cried so many tears through this entire time, and it’s not for sadness. It’s for extreme joy of what these people have done for me.”

Maberry also noted that the district’s Colors for Caring initiative, in which the community is encouraged to wear cancer awareness colors to support a loved one, has also impacted his life because it lifts his spirit to see his school saturated with lime green to bring awareness to lymphoma.

The hashtag #MaberryStrong is also used on social media to highlight the different community support efforts.

“One of the biggest struggles that I had through this journey is, ‘How do I thank everybody for what they’ve done for me?’ I don’t think I can. I don’t think I could ever thank the community for what they’ve done for me mentally, spiritually, just being there for me and my family—I know I’m deeply blessed because of this community. And I’m very grateful for them.”

The coach said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but he is optimistic and continues to take life one day at a time.

“I know what I have is very serious. I know what I have is life-threatening, but I can’t live my life in fear every day.”

Friday, November 16, 2018

Harlem Globetrotter Returns to Former High School

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Lili Thompson went from being a Lady Wolf to being on the world-famous Globetrotters, and she returned to where it started to encourage students to follow their dreams.

Thompson graduated from Timberview High School in 2013. During her tenure, she was the leading point guard on a winning team, member of the debate team and member of the student council. She went on to have a standout college basketball career at Notre Dame and Stanford University.

All the while, her eyes were set on something bigger—going pro. She accomplished that when she was draft by the Harlem Globetrotters in November as one of only two female players to be selected.

“I always wanted to be a professional basketball player, and I always wanted to use basketball as a vehicle to take me places in life both physically and in terms of opportunities, and it’s done that,” said Thompson. “The Globetrotters have an amazing legacy, and I’m really proud to step in and be part of it.”

Thompson, also known as Champ, made her way back to her former high school to motivate them to aspire for something greater and never give up. She said she also wanted to show her support of the Timberview girls basketball team for being top-ranked and undefeated in its district.

"Champ" shows students her basketball spin trick.
“I had so much fun at Timberview,” she explained. “It’s a great place, it’s a great school district and a great place to be in Texas. I’m really, really proud of them for how they’re doing, and it’s just great to be back.”

The rookie Globetrotter noted that her time at Timberview High School shaped a lot of habits that propelled her to success, such as working hard, being disciplined, having time management skills and utilizing good communication skills.

Head girls basketball coach Kit Martin was in attendance at the assembly. She said she wanted students to take Thompson’s story and apply it in their lives.

“You hope that they can see that there is going to be a future, regardless of what it is, once they walk out these doors and they’re done,” said Martin. “It should be limitless. It should be without a ceiling to dream for whatever they want. Lili is a perfect example of that, and coming back gives them that tangible goal that they can look out and say, ‘Hey, if she can come from here and do that, then I can do whatever it is that I set out to do.’”

Globetrotter teammate Zeus McClurkin accompanied Thompson to the assembly, where they both showed off their ball handling skills. The Harlem Globetrotters are in town through Nov. 25 as part of its Fan Powered World Tour.

Friday, November 9, 2018

MISD School Mixes It Up to Cross Social Boundaries

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Lunchtime can be a scary moment for students. As they walk into the cafeteria, they have many quick decisions to make. Where do I sit? With whom? Will they like me? Will I fit in?

To help ease the possible anxiety and create a campus atmosphere of togetherness, staff at Danny Jones Middle School decided to break up the usual groups and change things up a bit.

It was part of Mix It Up at Lunch Day, an international campaign that encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries. Jones Middle School students walked into the cafeteria on Wednesday and had to sit at table with kids who shared the first letter of their first name.

“They mix up your seat organization so that you sit with people that you don’t normally sit with and make new friends and enjoy your time with other people that you don’t normally spend time with,” said eighth-grader Aaron Newman.

Tonya Willis, the school counselor, said she brought the idea to Jones Middle School because she wanted to spread kindness and connectivity.

New friends captured the moment at a decorated area on the stage.
“We try to talk about this because most times when you read about things that happened in school, the person who committed a crime when asked says, ‘I went to school and no one ever said hi to me. No one spoke to me in the school day,’” Willis explained. “We like to have Mix It Up Day so that all kids get to meet someone else, and they feel they’re a part of something.”

During the mixed up seating arrangement, games are played to help the students feel more comfortable to talk with one another. When students made a new friend, they had the chance to take a picture together at the Mix It Up photo area.

Plenty of students went outside of their usual social bubble on Mix It Up Day. Willis said the effects of the connections will last well beyond lunchtime.

“These kids are going to see the people they met all throughout the school year and built deeper relationships,” she added. “Some even exchanged information so that they can talk even outside of the school day.”

The counselor explained that the day was successful because she saw plenty of smiles and students were able to meet new people.

Teaching Tolerance launched the Mix It Up program in 2001 to promote inclusion. Schools can organize a Mix It Up at Lunch Day any time during the school year. Registration is free, and schools that register are eligible for special contests and giveaways.

This is the second year Danny Jones Middle School has held a Mix It Up at Lunch Day.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Therapy Dogs Help Students Build Reading Skills

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Some Mansfield ISD students who need a little extra help with reading are visited by some four-legged friends every week to provide additional support.

Glenn Harmon Elementary School launched its Rover Reader program this school year. It’s designed to encourage struggling readers to build confidence in reading aloud and building reading fluency.

Trenell Scott, assistant principal at Harmon Elementary School, started the initiative at her campus because she has seen the program work in other schools to address a student’s academic and emotional needs.

Each child reads aloud to a dog for approximately 15 minutes.
“The benefits for the children is to build self-confidence,” said Scott. “Because the trainers are retired teachers and retired school counselors, there’s a mentoring component to it as well.”

Rover Reader gives students the ability to read aloud in an unstressful setting. The children in the program said the canines also help brighten up their day.

“I love this program because it helped me, and it helped me be special,” said third-grader Kemarreon Carter. “It makes me feel happy and better from reading to the dog.”

The therapy dogs, provided by a local chapter of Pet Partners, visit the school every Wednesday morning. Staff members have received a lot of positive feedback from participants and their parents.

“Our first time that we had the dogs come, the kids came to school with bags of treats because they were excited to see their dogs,” Scott continued.

Program organizers said they enjoy seeing the students bond with the animals while achieving their literacy goals. They hope the program will be a staple at the school for years to come.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Elementary Students Becoming Bilingual Learners

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Through immersion and collaboration, Mansfield ISD elementary school students in the Two-Way Dual Language Program are learning a second language.

English and Spanish native speakers are grouped together for classes that are taught 50 percent in English and 50 percent in Spanish. The result is a room full of students who are able to understand another language and learn other cultures.

“The benefit is just them accepting other cultures and being able to look at other people and find value,” said Tiffanie King, principal of Erma Nash Elementary School. “Eventually, they’ll be able to apply for jobs that they may not have been able to apply for and pursue because they have two languages, and they are bilingual and biliterate.”

Two-way dual language began in Mansfield ISD last school year at the kindergarten level at Erma Nash Elementary and D.P. Morris Elementary School.

Students listen intently as their science is taught in Spanish.
In the initial year, students learned the basics of their second language. Students who have entered into the second year are now able to integrate other languages into their everyday conversations.

“When they’re speaking to me, they’ll substitute some of the English words for a Spanish word or two and vice versa,” said Crystal Flores, a two-way dual language teacher at Nash Elementary School. “At this point, a realistic goal may be to communicate a thought to one another.”

Students in the program said the program is fun because they are constantly learning something new--even when they don’t realize it.

Drew Kindred, a second-year student in the program said he likes having a skill that others do not and plans to use his second language of Spanish wherever he can.

“My favorite thing about this class is learning because I like to learn English and Spanish,” the first-grader continued with excitement. “All about about timers...all about everything!”

Principal King said she gets chills to see how the students have progressed within the two-way dual language program. The program will continue to expand to the fourth-grade level with hopes of having a similar program at an intermediate school.

For more information about MISD’s Two-Way Dual Language Program or any other Power of Choice program, visit the district’s webpage.