Spotlight on Grit and Growth Mindset
A SERIES FOCUSING ON STUDENTS and staff
- ACADEMICS: MEET CHOYA TALUKDER
- SERVICE: MEET RAY MELE
- ATHLETICS: MEET BRETT BARBER
- Academics: Meet Varya Makhalova
- Athletics: Meet Scarlett DiGrazio
- Athletics: Meet Thomas Murphy
- Service: Meet Macy Gougler
It's not very difficult to come away impressed with Choya Talukder's stalwart academic résumé.
She's always been a standout student at Springfield, and her class list this year fits in well with that track record of excellence. Talukder is enrolled in all AP classes except for one honors class, that one in physics. She's taking three science classes, something that she's always gravitated to, and she also doubles as a role model for her younger sister Asha, a freshman.
Talukder would be a fantastic poster child for Springfield's rigorous academics as is, but her academic dominance is even more remarkable considering her family background. A native of Bangladesh, Talukder came to the United States when she was around five years old after her parents won a green card lottery.
Back home in Bangladesh, she had already started learning English after her parents hired private tutors to teach her. English was her first spoken language, but her parents couldn't speak it, which was an adjustment in itself when they moved.
"It was a lot harder for them than it was for me when we came here," Talukder said. "My mom was pretty young and my dad was in his 30s, and it was a big adjustment for both of them. They had to work their way up and basically re-establish their credibility. My dad is a tax accountant, and he had to go to school all over again when we moved."
The family first started out in a nearby school district, but the allure of challenging Choya and pushing her out of her comfort zone led her family to explore a move to Springfield. In sixth grade, they made the move, and Talukder thrived under the more daunting, structured academic courseload.
"My parents were looking for a better opportunity for me and they thought that I'd be able to thrive more here," Talukder said. "I started in the gifted program at my other school, and I've always thought that I have more of an aptitude toward science and math. I've always struggled more with reading, but I feel like I don't have to try as much in math."
While Talukder downplayed the impact of the move, there's little doubt that uprooting your life and moving across the world at such a young age is no easy feat. She had mastered the basics of the English language, so there wasn't as significant of a language barrier, but having to acclimate to everyday life was a tougher task.
"The hardest transition for me to make was socializing," Talukder said. "I wasn't really in classes back in Bangladesh because I was 1-on-1 with a tutor all the time. Once I started taking regular classes here, I found it that it was hard to start socializing with people and it put everything to the test for me."
Any signs of past difficulties are long gone now. Talukder's work in the classroom makes her an appealing candidate for any college, and she's going through the admissions process at a handful of schools. She's already been accepted to one, and true to form, the schools that she's applied to are far away from home. If she inevitably ends up far away from her family, though, she'll still be a trailblazer.
"I think it was a lot harder for me than it was for my sister because I was a lot older than she was when I went the change," Talukder said. "The younger you are, the less you have to struggle with that, but I do think I influenced her with how hard I work. She knows she's lucky to be where she is, too."
She's far from the only one.
Ray Mele knew that his father, Pete Mele Sr., had been battling cancer for the better part of a decade, but he didn't fully understand the gravity of the situation.
It's hard to fault Ray for that, because he was in sixth grade when he found out that his dad was going to have to undergo chemotherapy treatments for skin cancer, blood cancer and thyroid cancer.
"He would go to the hospital, but not overnight, and I didn't really know what it was," Mele said. "It didn't really hit me until the day that he died."
Pete Mele Sr. passed away on April 3, 2014. It wasn't long before that that Ray had gotten involved with the Steve Stefani Dance Marathon, and as a result, the Brunner Bash, held annually to honor the memory of former Sabold Elementary School teacher Glen Brunner.
As it turned out, the Brunner Bash was a day after Pete Mele Sr.'s passing, and Ray watched the live stream of the event from his house. At the end, there was a slide show with photos of his father, something that gave him pause and made him realize how special everything was.
"It made me realize how close the community was," Mele said.
His father's passing helped drive Mele's involvement with the Steve Stefani Dance Marathon, which is a mini-THON that helps alleviate hardships that pediatric cancer causes families. The event partners with Four Diamonds out of Penn State, whose mission is to conquer childhood cancer. He eventually landed on the finance committee as a sophomore, which led him to meet people he otherwise wouldn't have crossed paths with.
"I met people from all over and made a lot of friends through that," Mele said. "Last May, I found out that I would be the overall chairperson, and I was asked to apply to be on the Mini-Thon Student Leadership Council. Over the summer, I drove to Hershey for it, and I was in a room with 20 people from all over the state that I didn't know, and that wasn't something that I would have done before. It made me realize just how big of an event the SSDM is, and THON isn't just local to our school. There are around 300 schools from across the state that have a Mini-Thon."
None, though, can say that they've raised the type of money that Springfield has. In its 17 years, SSDM has raised more than $2.2 million, an amount that stands out amongst its peers. It's a point of pride for Mele, and he knows that even when he graduates and heads off to college, he'll make it a point to come back and check in. This year's SSDM takes place Friday, March 29, and more information can be found at ssdmftk.org.
"I'll definitely come back to see how everything is going," said Mele, who has independent study every day for about an hour with SSDM advisor Mr. John Gildea-Walker. "I went to the summit with other schools, and they gave us name tags and little ribbons with different schools, and it said $2.2 million. People were definitely impressed."
How could you not be?
It wasn't the first time that Brett Barber had cast his eye on something totally different than he already knew and was comfortable with, but that didn't mean the change would be any easier.
Barber, a Springfield junior, had once been a promising hockey player who'd earned an all-star spot in the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League before deciding to move on to soccer the night before tryouts in his freshman year. By the end of that year, he was a starter on defense for the Cougars' team.
Fast forward two years later, a friend on the football team casually asked him if he wanted to try to kick field goals, in large part because he knew that he had a powerful leg.
"The football team was still in the playoffs and using their field, so I started by kicking field goals over a field hockey net," Barber said. "I measured the distance for an extra point, and I just kicked hundreds of those before I started backing up. Two days after the football season ended, I went on the field with Brad Lord, a family friend, to kick."
Brad Lord, a former standout kicker for Springfield, had tons of experience and saw enormous potential in Brett. "Brett is a great listener. He wants to learn and puts the work in to get better," said Lord. When asked about Lord's assistance, Brett was quick to point out that "Brad is the perfect mentor because he not only understands kicking, but also the mental aspect to it."
Soon, both mentor and mentee started to see positive results of that effort. "My extra points were good, so I kept backing up more and more, and I eventually hit a 40-yarder. That's when we thought I might actually have a shot at this." said Barber.
"This," in question, meant possibly joining the football team as a kicker while still playing soccer. Barber hadn't broached the subject with the football coaches yet, but the more he thought about it, the more he knew he needed to focus on just football in order to have a successful start. But that premise was not an easy one to make.
"I was very nervous about the social aspect of it, especially since the majority of my friends were on the soccer team," Barber said. "At first, I really wanted to do both and then I was kind of worried about leaving the soccer team. But, I got a lot of support from both teams, and my friends on the soccer team said they'd come support me at the football games, which they did."
So with his friends' blessings, Barber set out to become a new weapon in Coach Chris Britton's arsenal... and bombed his first audition.
"For me, the initial jitters happened in preseason. We were doing 7v7 and some special teams, and I did not do well that day," Barber explained. "I thought too much about it and tried to kick too hard, but the coaches supported me so much, especially (wide receivers coach) Coach Mike Guille."
"I just remember that it drove me crazy the next day," Barber continued. "I was on the field for hours. I didn't like to miss."
A good kicker's value in high school football is almost immeasurable. Most can handle extra points with regularity, but a kicker who can stretch his range out becomes a wild card. Those who can also add a little bit of versatility to their game and be good at that are rare. Barber quickly fixed his kicking issues, and then emerged as a standout for Britton's team.
"It's one thing to kick around when you're just messing around and there's no pressure or anything," Britton said. "It took Brett a while to get the timing, and most kids that kick have done it throughout their life. We figured we'd throw him to the wolves, and he hit a 46-yarder in practice. We told him, 'you're a month into this. Wait until you actually learn,' and then we threw kickoffs at him. He did really well with that, and it's like a dream to have him do all of that. He's going to be a problem next year for other teams."
Barber connected on a half-dozen or so field goals this year, made three kicks in each overtime to help the team defeat their rival Ridley 17-16, and drilled a career-best 38-yarder against Harriton. "He knows he's got the leg to go even further, but he doesn't try to think too much about the distance. He just wants to do his job." Said Britton.
"I was nervous watching the kick go up, but it hit the upright and went in," Barber said. "You just have to treat everything like an extra point. For me, it's better if I don't know what the distance is, because it's more of a mental game. If I think about the distance and it's further than I'm used to, I'll try to kick it harder, and I'll miss."
Brett also realizes that his efforts are not made in isolation. "Hockey, soccer and football are team sports, and I had a lot of help in each. This past year, I had a great holder in Andrew Johnson, an awesome long snapper in Pat Clemens, a tremendous offensive line, and Coaches Britton and (special teams coach Phil) Plank helped me out so much." Perhaps just as much as Barber helped the team.
When asked, "What's next?" Brett just smiled and stated, "Work hard. Get better."
Varya came to E.T.Richardson Middle School in the middle of 6th grade from Russia. When Varya first arrived, she knew very little English. She had to use a translator to communicate with her teachers and friends. Her first few months were difficult, but she always kept a positive attitude. Varya describes her experiences in her first year and how she persistently studied English. Varya describes her first summer break; “Over the summer break, I read 2 books at a time and set a goal of learning ten new words a day. I made flashcards of words I didn’t know. By the end of my first summer, I could talk.”
By 7th grade, Varya felt confident in her English speaking proficiency, and she was able to make new friends, whom she is still close with today. Each year she has become more confident in not only her English proficiency, but in her overall achievements as well. Now, as an 8th grader, Varya is getting more involved. She was a part of the Brunner Bash leadership team and also was on the field hockey team.
Anyone who knows Varya knows how hard she works each and every day. She comes to school with a smile on her face and eager to learn. She has a genuine interest in school and doing her best. Varya is driven and enjoys her success. Her mindset about learning is to be a role model to others. She has taken responsibility for learning and accepting American school norms. She is motivated to grow and learn from others. All of her teachers describe her commitment each day. She shows tremendous effort and resilience.
Carol Latessa says of Varya, “I have been working with Varya closely this year and have been totally inspired by her. I met her when she was in 6th grade and saw then how dedicated she was, even though she was not totally able to speak or understand English. Since then she has really grown as a student and a good person. Varya is always willing to help her peers even though she faces many obstacles herself. She goes above and beyond in her classwork and helping others.”
Varya is truly an example of grit and growth mindset.
Not every 5th grade student can say they play soccer with the best of the best. But that is one of the achievements Scarlett DiGrazio, student at Sabold Elementary School, is most proud of. Scarlett has been selected to play for the Olympic Development Program Soccer Team, for players ranging from 5th to 7th grade. “It’s not all about winning.” Scarlett says. “We are more focused on getting better instead of winning games.”
Scarlett’s love for soccer started with playing for her hometown team, The Springfield Storm Chasers, who finished their 2018 season undefeated! For the past few years, Scarlett’s parents would drop her off at different soccer camps and teams, where everyone was a stranger. Scarlett’s mom says, “While the car ride there may be silent and I see her nerves trying to get the best of her, she always gets on the field determined and focused to be the best she can be at the sport she loves.”
The ODP (Olympic Development Program) that Scarlett was chosen for, is a U13 team, which means players are 13 and under. While Scarlett normally plays for a U12, she made it through multiple tryouts to secure one of the only 24 spots on the team. Scarlett had to compete with over 80 other athletes, all a year older than she is.
“We were so proud when we heard she made ODP,” Scarlett’s mom says. “It is always great to see your child’s hard work pay off. I love her hard-working, positive attitude and her grit.” It’s no surprise that Scarlett hopes to one day be on her favorite show, Survivor, outlast everyone, and bring home the million dollar prize!
Scarlett is a wonderful example of the grit and hard work it takes to reach your goals. With her determined and positive attitude, we know Scarlett will continue to have fun and accomplish whatever she puts her efforts toward!
Humble, hardworking and determined are just a few of the words that Ms. O'Neill uses to describe her student, Thomas Murphy, at Sabold Elementary. Like most 4th graders, Thomas loves to read, play outside and listen to music. But this year, Thomas' passion was geared toward swimming and the desire to make the Junior Olympic Swim Team.
It was the beginning of the swim season, when one of Thomas' teammates on the Ridley Rays brought up the idea of the teammates working hard to qualify for the Junior Olympics. He told Thomas what the qualifying time for the 50 yard breaststroke was, and Thomas knew that with practice, he could beat it.
The qualifying time for that particular event for Junior Olympics is 42.09 seconds. By the 2nd dual meet in November Thomas achieved (and beat) the qualifying time with a 41.53! However, the qualifying time must be earned at a "USA Swimming Approved" swim meet, which does not include the team's dual meets held throughout the season. Thomas had to wait until Championships in early February to officially qualify.
Thomas wasn't nervous the day of the big meet. He had made the qualifying time many times, he just now had to do it at an approved swim meet. When the race started, Thomas was confident and promised himself he wouldn't look at the clock during the race; he would just do his best. When the race finished, Thomas looked at the Board to check his time, then needed to double check with the timer. When it was confirmed he had made his time, Thomas took off his swimming cap, breathed a sigh of relief and simply said, "Finally!"
Thomas continued to better his time and was able to swim a 38.96 in the event at Junior Olympics in early March. He then finished off the season at YMCA States held at Penn State University with a season best time of 38.48 finishing 6th in the state! Since qualifying initially in November, Thomas's time improved by over 3 seconds!
Thomas still plans to works hard even though has made the Junior Olympic time cut, but he does feel that a weight has been lifted off of him and really enjoys practicing. Now that the winter season has officially come to a close, he looks forward to the start of the summer season. He has already begun his training, and continues to put forth maximum effort. Thomas now has his sights set on his next goal -- breaking a record!
Thomas proved that with hard work and grit, goals can be crushed, and in his case, blown out of the water.
Like most 5th graders, Macy Gougler likes to spend her weekends playing sports, playing outside or spending time with her family and friends. What makes Macy stand out from the crowd, is her philanthropic values and the ways in which she gives back to her community.
Macy is a firm believer in helping others. Macy loves lacrosse and had a wonderful experience learning how to play. She wants to make sure that young girls, just learning the game, have a great experience, just like she did. Due to that, Macy spends most of her Saturdays on the lacrosse field, helping to coach the players and spread the love of the game.
Macy also believes in helping those less fortunate than she is. When Macy isn’t on the lacrosse field, she can be found selling lemonade to raise money for a few of her favorite charities, such as the Providence Animal Shelter or CHOP. Macy says, “It is important to give back to individuals that are less fortunate than I am. I have fun raising money for them.”
When Macy’s 4th grade teacher decided to begin a Kindness Club, Macy was the first to join. She encouraged her friends to join and they got started right away on making a difference. The Kindness Club brings smiles to the students at Scenic Hills Elementary School. The members of the Club pick a day and decide how they can do something kind for another student. Their goal is to help make someone’s day a little brighter; and they always meet their goal.
Macy’s grit comes with her focus and determination on the basketball court and lacrosse field. She works extremely hard in basketball and field hockey and is determined to improve herself and her team. She is known to do whatever the coaches need her to do for the team. On her Springfield lacrosse team, Macy helped lead her team to an undefeated season. She also helped her summer tournament team win the “Crab Cake Tournament” in Maryland.
Macy is also a Student Leader at Scenic where she helps to sell pretzels and raise money for charity. Macy loves to give back and help others. Dr. O’Dowd [Principal at Scenic Hills Elementary School] says, “Macy is an excellent student, a strong athlete, but most importantly, she is a super nice person! She always gives 100% on her school work, and makes a special effort to ensure everyone is included in classroom activities and at recess. I am proud of her, and will miss her next year when she heads to ETR!”
- Meet Trey Reynolds
- Meet Denise Mroz
- Meet Rob Hermann
- Meet Meg Meyers
- Meet Lauren Manners
- Meet Jennifer Archie
- Meet Lottie Bunzel
- Meet Nicole Rosko
With 28 years of experience teaching Language Arts to middle school students, one could understand if Trey Reynolds felt he was in a perennial comfort zone. That notion is dispelled quickly, even in a relatively short interview.
"I've never come into a job thinking I've learned it all. I always look for new ways to teach," said Reynolds in his E. T. Richardson Middle School classroom.
That perspective informed his approach as Reynolds taught 5th graders (which ETR included for a time) and 6th graders. It did not wane during his decade with 7th graders, especially considering "new ways to teach" became essential with the advent of more technology. However, two years ago ETR Principal Dan Tracy asked Reynolds for a more significant change—agreeing to teach the same subject to 8th graders.
"With 10 years at 7th grade I'd been inside the same comfort level for some time. I had great colleagues in Stephanie Pierce, Amanda Smith, and Nicole Schaaf which gave me even more comfort," said Reynolds. "But movement does occur. I did not go grudgingly, and was not afraid of it at all."
What Reynolds found were new and exciting challenges and two new teachers in Monica Mancini and Lauren Wiseley who he continues to characterize as "being blessed with the Language Arts folks." Reynolds said the subject area is a collaborative effort with most decisions made by a team. It is a synthesis he enjoys.
Obviously the curriculum differs for this grade level. All forms of writing are explored, produced for assignments, and contributed to the ETR "writing hub" effort. He noted a particular enthusiasm about the novels chosen for the course.
"Literature is the backdrop for everything we do. We are trying to give kids a degree of rigor in the curriculum. We are reading 'Night' by Elie Weisel. Whether purposeful or not, it coordinates with the Holocaust Project 8th grade does in Social Studies. We are also reading Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' which has always been a favorite of mine."
The novels have been vetted by the administration, but if their themes seem somewhat adult, it ties into how Reynolds sees his students.
"Present in middle school is the kids' enthusiasm. They are so dynamic. Every day you don't know what you are going to walk in to. There is great energy and a desire to learn. But I also see a different maturity at this level. They are in discovery mode about where they want to go and who they want to be. I'm glad if I play a little role in that," he said, noting a few of his own mentors during school years.
Reynolds, who grew up in Norristown, brings to this position very relevant experience which might seem in the distance past.
"I started as a journalist. One of my high school teachers connected me with the 'Times Herald.' I'd always played and been interested in sports. I called coaches and wrote short pieces. By that time, I'd already started writing an awful lot."
At Temple University, Reynolds majored in journalism. He had thought, however, that he wanted to teach. He returned to studies and first earned an elementary school teaching certificate, then continued for a master's degree in instructional design and technology. Facility with technology has proven valuable.
"In the early days of my teaching there were worksheets and ditto machines. The technology boon in the 90s seemed new and cutting edge, but the big thing then was Power Point. Now it is embedded in what we do. I'm thankful to be in this building and this district when it comes to how technology is used. It's necessary to keep up. I admit, sometimes I get help from kids on how to make something work."
In Language Arts technology may be less a matter of content than Science or Social Studies, Reynolds suggested, but it plays an important role, "It is more the practicality of how I do what I do. I can pull up 30 essays (on the computer) and watch them being written in real time. It's also much more freeing in the way we write—I really see that with students."
While he does not have a 24/7 mindset when it comes to access, he welcomes the opportunity for students and parents to reach out regarding homework or other matters.
In terms of ancillary technology issues, Reynolds said he thinks the deterioration of writing due to texting might be exaggerated.
"Most of my students are used to writing (formally), and I don't encounter problems in the pieces I get." About the work submitted, Reynolds has embraced the school-wide "second chance" learning approach whereby students are offered a "do over" opportunity to demonstrate learning and improve their grades.
Rightly or wrongly, middle school students are often seen as the most challenging age due to the remarkable changes they experience in all areas of their lives. Reynolds said his own experiences as a "dad" has made him sensitive to those challenges, and informs the way he handles issues aside from the academics. He and his wife Leisha have a daughter who is a senior at Bucknell University and son who is a senior at Spring-Ford High School. Reynolds said, in general terms, he has learned good counseling is often a matter of "taking a step back."
For Reynolds, there is only moving forward, although almost certainly in the same school, grade and subject.
But, even after all these years, Reynolds says his home is in the classroom. "I enjoy working with students to show them that learning never ends. That's what the growth mindset and second chance learning are all about." And every day at ETR, you'll find Reynolds and his students doing just that.
A riddle: what is age-old common sense, but new thinking; something demonstrated by Sabold Elementary School art teacher Denise Mroz as well as her young students?
Before the answer, consider these buzz words which have become popular in educational circles. The phrase "growth mindset" is attributed to Dr. Carol Dweck who has been associated with several top ranked universities and now at Stanford University. Research, studies, and data, analysis of Dweck and others lead to insights valuable to learning success.
Simply put, growth mindset is defined as the "understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed." No logical person, let alone an educator, would likely argue with that concept. And it must be noted that in the last several decades groundbreaking neuroscience research has yielded valuable and critical supporting information as to how the brain works, including how growth take place as neurons connect and change with experience.
However, as an addition to Dr. Dweck's learned research, consider this far simpler explanation for the link between mindset and achievement. It is probably known to Denise Mroz, her students and--let's say-- almost everybody. It comes from a classic 1930's book by Watty Piper, "The Little Engine that Could." "I think I can" turned into "I thought I could" by the end of this short tale. That mindset is a key feature of Mroz's life and approach to her work.
Mroz is now in her second year at Sabold after 16 years teaching Language Arts and Creative Writing at Springfield High School. Her transition might seem startling to some who start and complete a career in generally the same subject area and/or student population. Mroz had a strong sense of growth mindset in acknowledging her abilities as both teacher and artist, and overall intelligence. But she also recognized they could be enhanced and further developed for this considerable change in assignment.
"I'm a person who accepts change, takes risks and being confident in what I do. I have always loved art and included it in my high school teaching," said Mroz. "Years ago I was in a program at the University of the Arts (in Philadelphia), during which there was an opportunity to study in Italy. Once I had the (art) certification in my pocket I was waiting for this opportunity," she said of a vacancy which includes all of Sabold classes and first-graders at the Springfield Literacy Center. "I loved teaching at the high school, but my dream is using all types of creativity and especially to foster that in children."
Mroz uses phrases that are fundamental for growth mindset thinking, such as "step forward," "can't stay in the same place," "be a risk taker."
"Not everyone would uproot the way I did. I think change is good, to be flexible, adapt and able to transition. It's a good lesson for children. My high school students were upset when I left, but I was ready to keep learning. Students this age were what I needed," she said. The way children glowed in the classroom made it obvious she was what they needed as well.
Art is an ideal platform for growth mindset. Mroz gives a great example how to foster children to be risk takers. When a project went slightly awry for one of her students, she encouraged seeing it in a new way and creating something not planned.
"The other students thought it was so terrific, they thought of doing something similar. It's wonderful that one little student took a risk and can influence others."
In another example, she recounted a student working diligently on a drawing of a superhero inspired by a teaching book in her classroom library. Not only did that youngster produce a great project, but a classmate was equally inspired to tackle a similar undertaking. Mroz's enthusiasm about children "teaching" each other was evident.
As with virtually any subject, the range of talent differs in a classroom full of youngsters. "Not everyone has great artistic talent, but they can be successful and confident in this classroom. Have fun and grow."
One review of the growth mindset literature discusses brain plasticity this way: "The connectivity between neurons can change with experience." In what are essentially common sense suggestions, the literature states neural growth is enhanced by good strategies, asking questions, practicing good nutrition and getting adequate sleep.
In the case of Mroz's classroom, add some child-centered attitudes. All around the room are posters and reminders to make "Happy Art" and that "Art Rocks." The art experience goes beyond traditional materials and techniques.
"I was always artistic as a child," said Mroz, who grew up in Springfield. "I saw things in an artistic way...a leaf or bug. Nature is art, and I have art oddities all around my room. I teach that we have to look, always observing, and the garden outside this room is wonderful."
The art room has direct access to the outdoor space which was created by retired art teacher Jeanne Cammarota as a sculpture garden. While it is not manicured, a lot is going on with art and nature combined. For the children, the outside and inside, Mroz emphasized, is "their place to be free. They go outside, stop and notice things."
The sharp transition from high school Language Arts to elementary level art seems to have had what could be termed unanticipated growth mindset components. Mroz said she's "learned to be myself around the children," although there is nothing about her that seems inauthentic. She talked candidly about the type of life challenges that change perspective.
"All a person goes through makes them who they are. It's part of the journey, and something else to learn from. Whenever you take a risk and it works, you go further."
Growth mindset has been embraced by the district in theory. Mroz is an ideal example of how it works in practice.
A teacher's role consists of many parts, perhaps the greatest of which is inspiring students to "reach for the stars." Work hard and have serious goals.
In Springfield High School science teacher Rob Hermann's case, it is much more literal.
This school year, Hermann has been able to reach a goal of his own by bringing students an opportunity to study astronomy and earn college credit at the same time. The stars, planets, galaxies and all matters cosmic are all within the scope of this first-time class offering.
Although Hermann is anxious to get right to the course, some background is relevant. As a Springfield High School alumnus, he mused his current classroom is the one in which he took chemistry. After graduation, he went on to three different universities in the greater Philadelphia area. Majors changed from graphic design to psychology to education.
While at West Chester University pursuing a graduate degree, he found his passion for science. Nearly two decades later, that enthusiasm has only increased. He returned to the district and taught at E. T. Richardson Middle School. When the high school had a sudden vacancy for a Physics teacher, Hermann was asked to take the position and is in his seventh year. In addition to teaching, he coaches HI-Q and Science Olympiad teams.
"This is a great district to work in. Every step I have taken has made my job better," said Hermann, married and the father of three school-aged children.
Those steps included becoming the Science Department Curriculum Coordinator and the quest to develop the astronomy course.
"It's something I've wanted to do and began with a half-credit course. There was a broad interest, and I got good feedback from students. The course always filled up, and I felt there were students who wanted more."
Hermann seized the chance to work with Delaware County Community College which has a collaborative relationship with the district. Eligible students can take courses at DCCC, but the program also enables qualified SSD instructors—such as Hermann-- to teach in the high school and offer DCCC credits to students meeting achievement standards. At both DCCC and SHS the astronomy class includes a lab component.
After a year's delay from the DCCC side, the course was set into motion—a perfect segue for the celestial bodies. In addition to a hefty text called "The Cosmic Perspective," (a title not to be taken lightly), Hermann takes full advantage of technology. He can access the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and the Skynet Robotic Telescope. He was trained and is part of the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), funded by the National Science Foundation.
"The telescope allows us to pick up radio signals of pulsars. The mission of the PSC is to get people to search and spot for a dead star."
During his seven weeks of training, Hermann studied with world renowned West Virginia University radio astronomers Dr. Maura McLaughlin and Dr. Duncan Lorimer and learned how to operate the 20 meter telescope at the observatory, collect astronomical data on pulsar candidates, and evaluate the data. Hermann's astronomy students will also culminate their training exercises by analyzing radio signals; attempting to find a new pulsar.
Hermann explained some of the finer points on the subject. "Pulsars are remnants of dead stars. If Earth is in the line of sight of that star's beam, we see the star's remnant pulse like a lighthouse, ergo the name pulsar. That pulse is collected as a radio signal and observed in unique patterns of data. Computers are used to 'develop' the data, but only the discerning human eye can interpret the data as a pulsar or background radio-noise. That is where we come in. My students will culminate their training exercises by analyzing radio signals; attempting to find a new pulsar candidate."
This DCCC Astronomy course provides the opportunity for SHS students to conduct authentic scientific research and to interact with scientists, researchers and other students. The entire scope is possible through the technology made available to the SHS program.
"Everyone is naturally curious about our world. Space is far away and mysterious. That's why I love teaching this. Physics—the laws of nature—doesn't change. But astronomy changes all the time," Hermann said, underscored by constant advancements in technology.
Hermann referred to his own experience in graduate school of astronomy being an "intellectual playground."
"I want this subject and excitement to be the reasons students are coming into class. I want their dinner conversations to be about 'what I learned in class today.' For some kids the interest comes from science fiction. Others like physics and chemistry. But with astronomy, the cosmos is your laboratory."
"That curiosity makes kids come back tomorrow. What I want is to give kids a sense of wonder, and know that we are able to figure out things like distance between stars," he said. "It's more than a body of knowledge. Today you can look anything up. I want them to have the desire to do so. I want them to spend time marveling at the cosmos and have at least a small sense of awe. You can't Google inspiration."
Hermann closed his interview by taking note of a coincidence. A former student has painted a mural of Albert Einstein for whom Hermann has great admiration. It includes the quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." The quote continues, "For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."
As a PROUD Cougar alumni, Meg Meyers was thrilled to accept a teaching position in the Springfield School District after graduating from Temple University with a degree in Elementary and Special Education. With the thought of working as a teacher in regular education, Meyers felt compelled to change direction and accept the position as the Social Skills instructor at Sabold Elementary School. It wasn’t long before Meyers knew she had made the right decision and fell in love with Special Education. “Special Education is rewarding,” says Meyers. “It has given me many opportunities to think outside the box and grow as a teacher.”
Growing, learning, and thriving are the most important mindsets in Meyers’ classroom. Meyers believes in growth for herself, as well. Meyers just completed her second Masters degree and is currently working toward becoming board certified as a Behavior Analyst. “My first Masters in Education was completed with other teachers from the School District,” Meyers explains. “It was wonderful collaborating with my colleagues and using real life examples. My second Masters [Masters of Science in Behavioral Analysis] was through an online master’s program, so I really enjoyed getting to learn what works and what doesn’t in school districts across the county.”
Meyers is a firm believer in collaboration. What her students learn while in her class translates into the rest of their school day and will carry on through life. While the students are working on conversation skills and friendship-making skills in her classroom, Meyers is working with her peers to help implement strategies in their own classrooms so each student has the consistency and support that is needed. Being able to carry these skills into another setting, in and out of school, is what will help her students have the most success.
One of the things Meyers loves most is seeing the students grow over the four years they are at Sabold. Meyers is proud to be a part of the Springfield community. She has a fondness for her students and feels the support from the community is amazing. “Springfield School District has fostered a safe and caring environment, which helps my students transition what they are learning in my classroom to the rest of their school day. Dr Brigg [Principal at Sabold Elementary] has helped me grow as a teacher. He puts his faith in his staff to allow us to create what we feel is necessary and best for the students,” Meyers says. It is because of that trust, Meyers worked as a TOAA for a year and helped to develop the social skills program that is in place today. Meyers was able to take what she learned her first few years teaching and spend the year developing a program that would work best for her students. As her colleague Thomas DiNatale tells us, “When working with her students, Meg puts Growth Mindset at the center of her lessons. As the social skills instructor at Sabold Elementary, Meg teaches her students to use Growth Mindset in real world situations as they develop their peer relationships and self-confidence.”
Meyers continues to support 35 students throughout the school week on life skills and mastering each student’s social and emotional needs. She supports students through guided reading groups, lunch bunches and in other social settings. Each child is an individual and is treated as such.
Laughter, smiles & learning go hand in hand in Room 5. When you enter Lauren Manners’ 2nd grade classroom at Scenic Hills Elementary School, you will hear purposeful chatter, feel welcome, see children working cooperatively and get a sense of comfort and relaxation.
Manners’ classroom is as exciting and bright as her personality. Before entering the classroom, students are encouraged to take a peek in the large mirror and say or think something positive about themselves. This “positive thinking mirror” is a way for the students to start the day with a smile.
Manners, a Springfield High School Alumni, has been a teacher at Scenic Hills Elementary for the past eleven years. She is loved by her co-workers for her helpful, upbeat, positive personality. Manners is currently the second grade team leader and enjoys collaborating with her team members to create lessons and activities that enhance the curriculum to meet each student’s individual needs. She believes that her leadership qualities have been enhanced, because she is supported by knowledgeable, passionate, and committed teachers, learning support staff and Scenic Hill’s Principal, Dr. O’Dowd.
It is extremely important in Manners’ classroom, that every child understands the power of growth mindset. Manners encourages her students to take risks, put in their best effort and never give up. She teaches her students that failure and mistakes are a part of life and will happen – and that is okay. By making a mistake, you are teaching your brain to persevere and learn something new. She gives every student the gift of confidence and the love of learning. This approach creates a beautiful environment for her students to grow and not be afraid to try.
Manners believes that the process of learning is just as important as the product. She relies on positive reinforcement and acknowledges effort and the grit used to increase motivation. She creates an excitement regarding the challenges we face, so students won’t back down when they are faced with an obstacle, but instead, will rise up and face each challenge as they come. Manners says, “I want my students to leave me with a positive work ethic, love of learning and belief that with hard work and determination, they can achieve great things.”
Meg Rizzio, a teacher at ETR, wrote a letter to express her gratitude about her son’s year with Manners. Mrs. Rizzio described Manners as “a tireless worker who spends hours on planning and preparation and makes sure her programs, activities, daily lessons and projects are fun, interesting and spark the enthusiasm and creative spirit of her students. Her classroom is filled with spirit, emotion and comes with a feeling that they can do anything. She made learning an adventure and was the kind of teacher that has made Anthony want to be the very best that he could be.”
Once you experience learning in Manners room, you will leave with a positive mindset, a belief you can do anything you put effort into and you will never forget to say please and thank you…after you had a full year of MANNERS!
If a word had to be chosen to describe Jennifer Archie and her 4th grade classroom at Sabold Elementary, that word would be “positivity”. With the encouraging posters hanging on the walls and the positive affirmations coming from Jennifer, all students are trying hard and doing their best.
Coming from a large family, Jennifer always loved to be around children. She began babysitting when she was 12 years old and enthusiastically created games and art projects to help engage the children. Archie knew the importance of being present in each child’s life… something she continues today as a teacher.
Jennifer is continuously helping her students focus on their own personal growth. When report cards come out, Jennifer makes it a point to address the students about how their grades reflect where they are right now in their learning. She understands the importance of effort and trying and relies heavily on the power of ‘yet’. She continually tells her students “you may not have learned this yet, or you haven’t accomplished it yet… but we will get there”. Jennifer believes students need to see the bigger picture, realize how much growth they have had since the start of the school year, and understand they might not be where they want to be . . .yet.
Jennifer stresses to her students the importance of making mistakes. She offers many challenges in her classroom and enjoys the moments when she hears a child exclaim, “OHHHH, that’s so easy!” after they work through and figure out a problem. She wants them to understand that effort and trying are as important as the success itself.
Jennifer not only believes in growth for her students, but for herself as well. Principal Dr. Brigg says, “Jennifer works hard on mastering her craft. She takes classes, attends professional development opportunities, and collaborates with colleagues to develop instructional techniques and activities with the goal of ensuring that her students have every opportunity to be successful.”
Jennifer recognizes the importance of staying positive when a child is struggling when learning something new. She knows that one negative statement could push a child away from their desire to learn. She wants her students to have a love of learning and explains to them that learning doesn’t stop just because school ends. She encourages her students to always be learning, growing and trying new things.
Jennifer sets a wonderful example of showing the importance of grit and growth mindset in herself and her students.
Challenges are met with enthusiasm and excitement in Lottie Bunzel’s first grade classroom at the Springfield Literacy Center. Before every test and assessment, Lottie asks her students, “Are you ready to accept the challenge?” A resounding “YES!” comes from her students as they prepare to take their exam. Lottie instructs her students to never fear a challenge. She helps them understand that challenges build their confidence and motivates them to do their best.
Lottie recognizes the importance of establishing a love for learning in first grade. It is an important year, as students are developing rigor and stamina for a full day of school and learning to follow routines and schedules. The expectations for first grade students are very high in reading, writing, math, listening and speaking. Lottie says, “If a six year old likes coming to school, then the learning comes much easier. The growth mindset of learning to their full potential, increases in them every day.”
Lottie says, “We are fortunate in our Literacy Center to have so many great resources. We have a ‘Go Blue’ hour of reading that groups our students into reading on their level. Three Reading Specialists in the building work with my intensive students, other teachers on my team work with strategic groups and there are benchmark groups. I have high expectations for them to increase their grit in reading, vocabulary, comprehension and writing.”
Having taught kindergarten for ten years, Lottie knows exactly where her first grade students are coming from. She enjoys the full day and adjusts her lessons as her students grow. Lottie says, “You really never know what a first grader is thinking until they share their thoughts with you. Sometimes our conversations take another direction because of those thoughts and ideas.”
The growth mindset in Lottie’s classroom, is that the work should be hard. If the students think the work is too easy, then the work moves up to another level. Lottie loves to see developing readers emerge and watch as once shy kindergarteners strive towards independence.
Lottie showed strength, grit and courage when she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2007. Her treatments began in 2009 and with thanks to the phenomenal support of her family, friends, fellow teachers, administration and Springfield families, she was able to return to teaching in the fall of 2010. She not only returned but began the next chapter in her career at the brand new building that was dedicated to literacy.
The teamwork and collaboration at the SLC is what sets the bar for success. The team of teachers at the main level coordinate activities and plan for students on a weekly basis. Students are made to feel comfortable and confident when they contribute to class discussion and know that it is important for their voices to be heard.
Lottie enjoyed developing a new growth mind-set for first graders. She feels that teaching is a challenging yet rewarding career, and is pleased every day to bring new learning to her group. The expectations for the end of a school year can be daunting for her 6 year olds – and she is always proud of how her students meet those expectations.
Nicole Rosko has always felt that teaching was her passion. Her patience, growth-mindset, and positivity make that passion evident to all that enter her classroom.
Nicole’s 4th grade Learning Support Classroom is run with the perfect blend of encouragement, kindness, compassion, and stick-with-it-ness. The latter being a word that has become part of her students’ everyday vocabulary. Nicole defines “Stick-with-it-ness” as the decision to keep trying, when things get hard. Nicole is always sure to stress that it isn’t if things get hard, but when things get hard. She wants her students to understand that it will get hard, but with effort, patience, and time, anything is possible.
Nicole tells her students, “If you think you can, you can”. She teaches the meaning behind that phrase, but also embeds the concept by making it a daily practice in her own personal life, which she shares with her students. Nicole believes it’s important for educators to put themselves back in the learner’s shoes to remember how difficult the learning process can be. She shares her process of setting goals and how to take small, but actionable steps to achieve them. Over the past few years, Nicole has shared her personal experiences of becoming a student again, relearning the piano, training for a half marathon, creative writing, and learning the ukulele with her students. She believes that modeling goal setting and sharing the process of how to achieve goals will motivate her students to do the same.
Nicole first began teaching in the Springfield School District as the K/1 Autism Support Teacher. She was inspired by her students’ ability to overcome the diverse challenges they were facing with determination and persistence. Nicole loved working in collaboration with her students’ families, therapists, and team teachers to support her students socially, behaviorally, and academically at home and at school.
Nicole has continued to grow as she moved on from the Springfield Literacy Center to Sabold and has taught in both 2nd and 3rd grade as a Learning Support Teacher. Sabold Principal, Dr. Brigg, says, “Nicole models positivity and hard work in all aspects of her position. Our students recognize her genuine care and support, and they put forth their best efforts as a result. Nicole is also a lifelong learner, focusing on her doctoral program outside of the school day.”
Nicole wants her students to view reading, writing, speaking and listening as integrated processes in her classroom. She wants her students to know and understand the power our words have to influence, to clarify, and to improve our own personal circumstances. One way Nicole incorporates this integration is through Reader’s Theater. She encourages students to stretch themselves and to go outside their comfort zone to integrate language and literacy in a creative way. Readers Theater, though difficult for most students at first, ends up being one of the most memorable activities they do together all year. During book discussions, Nicole teaches students how to engage in “Accountable Talk.” Students use phrases like “I heard what you said about… and I agree/disagree with you because…” Nicole believes that practicing speaking and listening skills will serve her students now in the classroom and in their lives ahead. Nicole gives her students a lot of autonomy to express themselves freely in the safe, kind, and respectful environment they create together.
Learning and growing go hand in hand in Nicole’s classroom. Her students amaze her as they rise to accept any challenge that comes their way. All thanks to the feeling of safety and encouragement from their teacher.