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Friday, February 15, 2019

Students Partner with Those with Special Needs for Elective Class

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Mansfield ISD students are helping their classmates who have special needs through a program that is proving to be mutually beneficial.

The district’s Partners Program gives special needs students a general education companion for their art or P.E. elective class. MISD’s director of special education, Lesa Shocklee, said the focus of the program is to offer an interactive and inclusive environment.

“This program provides access to the general education setting for students with the most significant disabilities in a positive way,” Shocklee explained. “It’s also a great experience for the non-disabled students because it allows them an opportunity to mentor and partner with students.”

The Partners Program was implemented in MISD more than 10 years ago. Although it helps special needs students engage in the different art and physical activities, many participants find themselves bonding with their partner as well.

The students with special needs get assistance to complete their assignment.
“The partnerships, the friendships, last a lifetime really,” said Shane Skinner, Legacy High School art teacher. “I have some college students now who were in the program for a few years. They have actually come back. And every year, we share a little meal, and they hang out with the kids because they form these relationships with these kids.”

Sierra Skidmore, a junior at Legacy High School, has been a partner for two years. She believes that this program has helped her become a better person.

“You really learn who you are and who they are by talking to them and learning from them. You become more open minded,” she said.

The Partners Program class counts as one elective credit and is usually run by the general education students. Each six weeks, the general education students switch partners.

“It’s really fun from the beginning of the semester to see the growth of some of the students and also for my general education students—to see the excitement as they’ve helped the student and see them grow, even in something as simple as touching their toes,” said Lacy Beckler, head track coach at Legacy High.

The classes meet throughout the week. Beckler noted that most of the students who become partners go on to pursue a career helping people with special needs.

To become a partner, interested high school students fill out an application form and are selected by the teacher. For more information about MISD’s Partners Program, contact the Special Education Department.

Friday, February 8, 2019

MISD Names 2019 District Spelling Bee Champion

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After two hours of meticulously spelling out a list of vocabulary words, the word “cordial,” followed by the sound of an elimination bell, left only one student standing.

Tiffany Lam, a seventh-grader at T.A. Howard Middle School, stepped forward to the microphone. Her heart started to beat rapidly when she knew she was only one word away from being the Mansfield ISD spelling bee champion.

“When he first said ‘amputation,’ I thought it was really easy, but I went slower just in case,” Lam recalled.

She spelled the word correctly, and the crowd cheered with excitement to welcome the new districtwide winner.

MISD hosted its annual spelling bee on Feb. 8 at the Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts. The contestants are students from third grade through eighth grade throughout the district who have won at their campus.

“Last year, I think we went 17 rounds. This year, we went 53 rounds. That’s the longest, I believe, in our history,” said Kristi Gonzales, MISD coordinator of elementary language arts. “So it’s pretty incredible to see the growth, and I think that’s attributed a lot to some of our explicit phonics instruction in the classroom.”
Beekman says she was more nervous than Lam during the bee.

Lam knew the feeling of being in the final round all too well. She was a runner-up in the district spelling bee last year; but this year, she felt confident that the trophy would be hers. She said her strategy for remembering the correct spelling was to write the word with her finger on her hand.

“It felt amazing because I’ve been going to the district spelling bee since fourth grade,” said Lam. “Now, that’s all paid off.”

Event organizers noted that being part of the competition is about more than simply spelling. Participants are able to increase their social skills as well.

“We’re asking them to get up on stage and spell publicly, which is helping them with their communication, and their public speaking skills and their building their self-confidence,” Gonzales continued.

This is the second consecutive year a student from T.A. Howard Middle School has placed first in the district spelling bee. Her teacher said it is a very proud moment.

“She’s absolutely a phenomenal kid,” said English teacher Lisa Beekman. “We just have some phenomenal spellers. They’re just phenomenal spellers out there. We’ve been blessed for two years in a row to collect those kids.”

Lam will participate in the 2019 Scripps Regional Spelling Bee on Thursday, March 7 at 8 a.m. The event will take place at Texas Christian University.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Elementary Students Give Back Through Soup-er Bowl Drive

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Although second-grade teacher Cheryl Wisch won’t be watching the Super Bowl, she has some other traditions that make this time of year special to her. For about 20 years, she has led a Super Bowl-themed canned food drive at her campus.

During the Soup-er Bowl Soup Drive, teachers and students of J.L. Boren Elementary School collect cans to give to those in need. The drive is part of a service project for Bears Care, the school’s student council.

“I knew that food pantries after Christmas start running low because they’re depleted during Christmas,” said Wisch. “I’m trying to connect what’s happening in the world with ways to help others, so I came up with soup and Super Bowl because I know most of the kids do watch the Super Bowl.”

The Soup-er Bowl Soup Drive occurs annually the week before and after the Super Bowl. Boren Elementary usually donates about 15 boxes of canned goods to the Mansfield Mission Center.

Students also wear their favorite jersey to keep with the theme. 
“When we receive donations to our Mission Market, it gives families in our community another way to put food on the table if they're having financial difficulties,” said Carmin MacMillian, executive director of Mansfield Mission Center. “It's a way to show them love and let them know their community cares about them. We couldn't do what we do without the generosity of MISD.”

Wisch said she enjoys doing the canned food drive because the students get to experience giving to others with no reward.

“We try very hard to teach our kids service for others, and I think the parents appreciate we are trying to teach our students that,” she said.

Students who participated said they feel they are making a difference by bringing the cans.

“I think it’s important to help others because some people don’t have food, and then they can have food to stay alive and be healthy,” said Landry Slinkard, second-grader at Boren Elementary.

Their team may not win the big game on Sunday, but Soup-er Bowl Soup Drive organizers said the drive is still a touchdown for the community. The Mansfield Mission Center is open to donations from anyone. Its hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Mansfield ISD Offers Free Parenting Classes

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With a silent room awaiting the start of class, former Mansfield ISD counselor Vicki Evans Williams starts by asking the parents in attendance three questions:
  1. Would it be worth your time today to learn how to have fewer power struggles with your kids?
  2. Would it be worth your time to have it so that your kids do more of the thinking, and you do less of the worrying?  
  3. And would it be worth your time to raise the odds that your kids learn from your mistakes? 
Williams, who now works as a volunteer with The Parenting Center, worked as an MISD counselor for about 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s.

She decided to teach Love and Logic classes because she is passionate about training educators and parents to raise and teach children in reassuring ways. The technique uses humor, hope and empathy to teach consequences and healthy decision-making.

“The results are such amazing results,” said Williams. “You see kids do things that you don’t see them do without it.”

Williams wants parents to get their children to see how to make choices so that they can become responsible, prosperous adults.

“Parenting is a tough job,” she continued. “I would recommend this class to parents because it makes that job a lot easier and a whole lot more fun.”

Using Love and Logic techniques has made Williams change the outlook she has on her own life.

“It gives me chances to make better choices myself,” said Williams. “It causes me to stop and think about the different kinds of things that I could do and choose the one that works best for me.”

Parents that attended the class were very appreciative for what they learned.

“I decided to attend the class to get different techniques with different types of children,” said Yazmin Ponce, a parent of two students at Alice Ponder Elementary School. “I hope that they continue to grow the program.”

MISD offers Love and Logic classes at different elementary campuses at least once a month. The sessions are free of charge to parents.

“It’s a great resource I’m able to provide to parents,” said Nicole Brody, counselor at Ponder Elementary. “It gives parents some skills to put in their toolbox.”

Williams’ upcoming class on dealing with day-to-day parenting issues using Love and Logic will be held at Annette Perry Elementary School on Feb. 8 at 8:30 a.m. For more information, visit the district calendar.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Visual Guide Dog Gives MISD Student More Freedom

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When Mady Walker was in the eighth grade, she began losing her vision. Doctors diagnosed her with optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve that causes blurred or dimmed vision.

“With my vision, I can’t see any of my peripheral vision, which means I can’t see anything to the sides of me. It’s black,” Walker explained.

Despite her visual impairment, Walker was determined to stay active as a student. She transitioned to Legacy High School and joined the band and student council, eventually becoming the student body president in her senior year.

With special accommodations and her cane, she is able to keep up with her peers. However, Walker wanted to gain even more freedom in her final year of high school by applying for a guide dog.

The 18-year-old went to a Leader Dogs for the Blind camp in the summer for training. Within five months, she received her new companion.

When Keeper is in his harness, he knows he's on duty.
“She went to go get the guide dog in December, which was phenomenal that it happened that fast,” said Shay Utley, certified orientation and mobility specialist. “She’s the first student that I know of in Mansfield ISD that has ever had a guide dog.”

The guide dog’s name is Keeper. He’s a 20-month-old black Labrador. Walker said she is already able to do more in the short amount of time that she has had him.

“I travel a lot faster. For the most part, he is able to take me places and make me more independent as a person,” said Walker.

She said staff members and classmates have been helpful to her and are getting used to having a canine walking through the hallways.

“They’ve been super accepting. They love to learn more about him,” she said. “Both students and teachers and administration alike have been very welcoming and helpful with this process.”

Walker said although her journey has not been easy, she has finally learned that she can do just as much as someone who has perfect vision.

The senior added that caring for Keeper can be tedious, but she and her dog have been inseparable since they first met.

Friday, January 11, 2019

MISD Schools Team Up to Empower Adolescent Girls

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With the growing emphasis on social media likes and the changing standards of beauty, there’s a lot of pressure put on teenage girls in today’s society.

Two Mansfield ISD counselors heard firsthand the various stories of low self-confidence, so they set out to let young women know their own worth.

“The young ladies who come into my office are often talking about their low self-esteem, doing things in regards to them wanting attention from young men, and things of that nature,” said Candace Chism, seventh-grade counselor at T.A. Howard Middle School. “Or they’re coming in and just saying, ‘I don’t think I’m beautiful. I don’t think anybody likes me.’”

Chism collaborated with Marcie Thomas, a counselor at neighboring Cross Timbers Intermediate School, to inspire girls to become positive women through a half-day conference. Approximately 100 teenage girls from both campuses attended the Level Up Girls Empowerment Conference on Jan. 10 at the Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts.

There were four breakout sessions covering the topics of self-image, mental health, hygiene and career goals. The keynote speaker was former Miss Black USA, Ocielia Gibson.

Organizers and students wore "flawsome" shirts to remind
each other that everyone is flawed yet equally awesome.
“I had an amazing time with the girls. What we did is talk to them about being pretty ‘L.I.T.,’” Gibson said after her presentation. “My philosophy and my recipe for being L.I.T. is loving yourself, ignoring distractions and turning towards your dreams and destiny.”

The girls who attended said they were able to learn something new and open up about relevant topics to adults who have been through the same thing.

“I think it’s a really good thing to have for kids my age and a little older because it’s something that we don’t really like to talk about a lot,” said Rebekkah Gorman, sixth-grader at Cross Timbers Intermediate School. “And I feel like if we have people who have come from that and can really explain it to us, that’d be good for us.”

Thomas said she plans to continue the conference in the years to come. In the meantime, she hopes to see some immediate improvements in the attitude and behavior of the newly empowered teenagers.

“Success to me would be me seeing these girls in the hallway exuding what they’ve been taught,” the counselor explained. “I’d love to see the girls affirming each other after this and staying away from the unnecessary drama.”

The conference was for girls in grades 6 through 8. The counselors said those who attended were chosen directly by them, referred by other staff members or showed great interest in the topics being discussed.