Friday, October 9, 2015

Army Amputee Challenges MISD Students to Push the Limits

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith explains how he became an amputee.
“How would you feel if a person with one arm beat you in Ping-Pong? But guess what? I bet I will.”

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith’s candor and confidence is what captivated his audience of students and staff at The Phoenix Academy. He kept the crowd smiling with his anecdotes, but there was a period in his life that wasn’t very bright. In fact, Smith said he didn’t know if he would live to see the next day.

In 2011, Smith said he was riding his motorcycle when a woman who was texting while driving hit him from behind. The 35-year-old was thrown off of his motorcycle over the road barrier and was hit by another oncoming vehicle.

The accident caused him to lose his arm, but not his fighting spirit. The Texas native has a heart of a soldier. He served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and was determined to continue to protect and serve his country. After months of rigorous rehabilitation, Sgt. 1st Class Smith became the first above-the-elbow amputee to be deemed fit for duty in the army.

“No matter what your injury is—physical, mental, emotional—do not allow that to stop you from doing what you want,” Smith told the students.

With that mindset, he has won many medals in the army and for athletic competitions. He said he is even trying out for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith and Principal Regenia Crane.
Junior Zyrinka Maclam said Smith’s words were inspiring. She said she came from a similar background as Smith, and it was good to hear how far he had come.

“I didn’t have a lot of support growing up, so this allowed me to see that anything is possible,” said Maclam.

Smith ended his visit by encouraging students to get out of their comfort zone and use the doubt people may have in them as motivation to go beyond expectations.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Making Small Changes to Save MISD Millions

Dwayne Tampkins and Kelly Campbell checking the boiler
temperature at Legacy High School.
When the more than 50 Mansfield ISD buildings are empty in the wee hours of the night, two MISD employees are busy walking through each hallway and room with one mission in mind—saving the district money.

Energy education specialists Kelly Campbell and Dwayne Tampkins have helped save the district more than $4.5 million since the MISD energy program started in 2012. The total cost reduction averages to about 17 percent per year.

“We partner with ENERGY STAR, and they give us great resources and tips to help us see where else we can cut energy costs,” said Campbell. “The district has been named ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for two years in a row. We’re shooting for a three-peat this year.”

Campbell and Tampkins go around to each campus and office building ensuring heating, cooling, and watering systems are off when no one is in the building. The team said they are able to reduce costs through these types of mechanical checks and by promoting behavioral changes.

Initiatives like Turn it off, Shut it off, Close the door are what the duo teaches at MISD schools and facilities to help spread the importance of conservation and sustainability. Tampkins said through building these relationships, everyone starts to invest in the mission.

“It’s the power of one,” said Tampkins, “If one person starts tweaking their behavior, it ignites the fire in others to do it, and those savings add up.”

Some campuses, such as Elizabeth Smith Elementary School, have gotten students involved in the effort. In-school suspension aide Suzanne Stevens started Watt Watchers, a club consisting of about 40 third and fourth graders in which students learn about energy conservation, environment preservation, and leadership.

A group of Watt Watchers after making their rounds in
the Elizabeth Smith hallways.
“These students walk all through the hallways and look into classrooms making sure lights are off, computers are shut down, and doors are closed,” said Stevens. “Our teachers have really bought into the program because they know if they are in violation, the Watt Watchers are going to give them a red ticket, and then we talk about why they got the ticket.”

Stevens added that the good habits children learn in the program trickle out into the community. Parents have told her that their children started practicing energy conservation at home, and some of Stevens’ past students have started similar programs at their new schools.

Hearing about programs like Watt Watchers and other schools that implement campus-wide eco-friendly incentives is what keeps the MISD energy team motivated.

“I love being able to contribute to the district. Money is going back to MISD, and it directly benefits our students. It doesn't get much better than that,” said Tampkins.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tarver-Rendon Staff Dream Big for New Discovery Park

The open field behind Tarver-Rendon Elementary School.
You can call it a field of dreams. After all, that’s what it is right now—a partially-mowed vast area of land near the back entrance of Tarver-Rendon Elementary School.

However, staff members envision that space as a getaway for children to explore the math, arts, sciences, and technological world.

They call it the Tarver-Rendon Discovery Park. The entrance of it will house a sensory garden. Then, the path will continue to lead students to different areas of the park. There will be an area for live theatre performances, butterflies gardens, plant assortments, QR codes, Legos, chess or checkers, animals from the nearby agricultural barn—the possibilities are endless.

“We’re all about outside-the-box thinking,” said Allison Adkison, the kindergarten teacher at Tarver-Rendon who came up with the idea. “The discovery park is not a normal way to teach, but that’s why we’re doing it. We look for different ways to keep kids engaged.”

Adkison said after she thought of the idea, librarian Susan Buckles and technology teacher LaDena Drake became part of her support team.

“Anywhere you go in the park, it will be a learning experience,” said Drake. “It’ll help them see that you can play outside and still have fun learning.”

(View a diagram of the park here and a video of the concept here.)

Adkison, Buckles, and Drake take a visit to the proposed park.
The visionaries hope to turn the dream into a reality through community involvement and a grant from the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation. However, they say even if they don’t win the grant, it’s still going to happen.

“We're so determined. Our community is already pulling together for it,” said Adkison. “We have a group of dads and husbands coming out to help landscape the area some more. Our Tarver-Rendon parents are going to be a big resource to us, and we want local scouts and organizations to be a part of this too.”

The ideas for the park keep evolving, and it only reiterated what these educators teach their students: dream big.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Phoenix Academy Graduate Shares Success Story

Phoenix Academy graduate Amber Fewell returns to the campus
to visit the staff that helped her.
When Amber Fewell became pregnant as a high school junior at age 17, she said a lot of people told her she would not be able to earn her diploma. She missed an entire semester of her senior year after having her baby, but was determined to still graduate on time.

“Everyone I talked to would say, ‘You can’t do that! You missed too much school, and you have a daughter to take care of now,’” Fewell recalls. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I needed help.”

Her help came in the form of Mansfield ISD’s Phoenix Academy. She finished a year’s worth of credit in one semester.

“The Phoenix Academy offered a lot of resources that kept me motivated. I had one-on-one attention, and a mentor mother came in to talk to me about school-life balance. Being able to talk about my situation was very helpful,” said Fewell.

Just as planned, Fewell received her diploma with her peers. She described crying in disbelief and being proud that she was able to reach her goal no matter how many doubters there were.

“That was the moment I realized there was no stopping me,” said the recent graduate.

Fewell currently works in the healthcare industry and has dreams to become a trauma nurse, and later a CareFlite nurse. She said she’s been taking care of others as early as 10 years old—when her grandfather was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. And when he later passed away, she began looking after her grandmother who was severely diabetic.

With her foot in the right direction, Fewell wants others to remember two simple words that saved her at her lowest moments.

“You can. No matter how many people say you can’t, you can. Keep telling yourself that all the time."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Never Forget – A Mansfield ISD Tribute to 9/11

Where were you on September 11, 2001 when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center? Many of us can remember it like it was yesterday; but there’s a growing number of people (like a majority of today’s students) who were not born or were too young to understand what this day really means.

It’s important that we never forget—not only to commemorate the lives lost and affect by the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, but to make sure future generations don’t lose the meaning of a dark day in history that grew the country’s bond stronger.

Campuses across MISD started school with a moment of silence, followed by a spotlight of 9/11 in the morning announcements. Some schools took it upon themselves to invite the community to memorialize what is now called Patriot Day.  

A Step in Their Shoes
Legacy High School’s JROTC started the ceremonies bright and early by raising the flags before the start of school. Student Resource Officer Daryle Ryan took it upon himself to physically remember what the first responders at Ground Zero experienced. He climbed the stairs up and down at Legacy more than 30 times in honor of those who climbed the flights of stairs at the World Trade Center to rescue 9/11 victims.

A Tradition of Remembrance
Hundreds of people packed the front of Willie Brown Elementary school, where students held an assembly to remember 9/11. It’s a tradition the school has upheld since 2002. Many local law enforcement were present to be honored in the ceremony. The assembly began with the boy scouts raising the flag. Students also sang songs of unity and strength for those in attendance.

A Heart of Gratitude
Students and staff at Roberta Tipps Elementary School used Patriot Day to thank those in public safety positions. Students gave out cookies, thank you cards, letters, and Gatorades as a token of appreciation for the men and women in uniform who come to our “ade.” Mansfield ISD police, Mansfield police, Arlington police, and Mansfield fire crews attended the event, which is in its third year. Members of the police and fire units even signed autographs because the kids were very excited to see them all.

Whether campuses held events, or wore patriotic colors with hallways adorned with flags, today was a day of remembrance throughout the district for 9/11. And the message was very clear no matter which activity you took part in—our community will never forget.

View full photo gallery of Patriot Day events

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mansfield ISD Students and Staff Come Together to Back the Blue

Boren student welcome local public safety officers.
There was a sea of blue at many Mansfield ISD schools in support for public safety officers. Communities nationwide joined together on September 4 and wore blue for “Back the Blue” day.

Several MISD officers were invited to different campuses so that students and staff can personally show their gratitude.

First graders at J.L. Boren Elementary School even wore paper police hats and welcomed officers with a sign that read “You’re Our Hero.”

Jobe Middle School students gather before school
to support the blue.
Linda Jobe Middle School held a gathering before the start of school at the flag pole to present their officers with a special token of appreciation through cards and recognition.

“We just felt like we needed to do something for our officers because they give back so much,” said Blane Elliot, teacher and student council sponsor at Jobe Middle School. “We want them to know that we respect them for the sacrifices they make every day.”

Sgt. Eric Roberson said he definitely felt the love and does not take it for granted.

“It touches my heart knowing we have a supportive community. We are so very fortunate to serve them,” said Sgt. Robertson.

Officer Nelson and Sgt. Robertson at Jobe Middle School.
Officer Rexanne Nelson, Jobe’s student resource officer, said she was holding back tears as she was presented with the thoughtful notes and letters that the students wrote.

“The kids are why I do this,” said Officer Nelson. “It means a lot to me that they would organize something special just for me and my fellow officers.”