Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I Support You!

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou

We have all been through a lot of changes. Sometimes I think changes are difficult and wished they didn’t happen. Even though I am an adult, I struggle with change sometimes.  Sometimes I wish I could see the future to figure out where all of this is going. However, that is not the way life is set up. Change happens no matter how much we try to fight it.

However, change can be a great thing. For example, Mrs. Wise stepped out of the classroom to travel all of South Carolina to talk with teachers, students, and administrators. I know she misses all of us, but this change allows her to experience things she would have never before dreamed. Instead of fighting the change, she embraced it and went boldly into her calling. We can use her experience as an example for our lives.

Sometimes we resist change because we are so comfortable in our routine of life. The ‘we have always done it this way’ mentality gets very comfortable, and we often miss out on some of the greatest things because we don’t want to open our eyes to other possibilities. This school year has brought about a lot of changes with the new administration, teachers, and friends. I’ve had to step into more of a leadership role this year and to be honest with you, I have avoided this previously because I was comfortable just being me. However, becoming a leader has opened up more opportunities and introduced me to some amazing people. I have learned that just being me, isn’t being the GREATEST me! Change has developed me into someone stronger and wiser.

Teaching and learning are always changing and advancing. Our lives are about changing from day to day, and no two days are ever the same. As a teacher, I get apprehensive about letting go of my previous year’s students because I am so used to their attitudes, behaviors, and personalities. With a new group, I do not know what to expect. However, every year, I get a group of kids who I really like, and they make teaching worthwhile.

I am learning just like you to become comfortable with the many changes we face in our lives. Even though change can be uncomfortable, it helps to build us into a newer version of ourselves. Do not stand in your own way. Do not block amazing opportunities. Step out there and be bold. Reinvent yourself and never apologize for being better than you were yesterday. I support you.

Danielle Odom
8th Grade English Teacher
2016 -2017 Teacher of the Year
Twitter: @OdomADanielle

Friday, May 20, 2016

A LEAP of Faith

Sivon Matthews
8th Grade LEAP Student
Hand Middle School
Mrs. Odom’s 7th period

The transition from one school to another is not easy. For some it is even harder than others. It’s a struggle adjusting to new rules, new authority, new people, and just a new place period. I had a shaky start coming to a new school but now I think I fit in pretty well. I have adjusted to everything. It wasn’t easy but I think everyone has a little trouble in the transition going to a new school.

I came from Crayton Middle School. They did things pretty different than they do at Hand. The teaching staff was different, the rules are different, and just the way things are set up is different. I adjusted in a regular manor of time in my opinion. It took me a while to get set up with the rules and what I could and could not do. Getting used to the teachers also took a while.

While learning everything I was taught a lot about what my teachers expected of me. I learned that they’re going to push me as hard as I need to meet those expectations and do whatever it takes to help me achieve my goals. By the time I finally adjusted to the rules and regulations everything was moving pretty smoothly. My teachers adjusted to the way I acted and I adjusted to the way they do things in their classrooms like what they do and do not allow. Once I got used to everything, everything was cool my teachers are nice my principal is nice and they all keep me motivated.

Now I think everything is flowing smoothly. I have settled in and I like it. I’m doing really well in most of my classes. I really like my new teaching staff. They are nice, caring, and motivational. Hand Middle School is a lot different from Crayton but during this transition I really think that a change of scenery was necessary. I really enjoy being at Hand Middle School. It’s a very nice place with a great vibe. I had a rocky beginning to my transition due to the changes in just about everything. Although I will miss everything I had to leave behind, I’m very glad that I got to move on with my life and further my education in the LEAP program. 

Ms. Odom was very good teacher for the time that I did have her. She was very nice and kind but at the same time she was strict and always on my back but the motivation kept me going which lead to me do very well in her class. She taught me a lot and a life lesson, the main one being “you’re never going to make it giving up over a little problem so whether you like it not I’m going to stay on your back and make sure you succeed.” She was a major part to me putting in effort so to her I say thank you for not giving up on me and helping me strive for success. I appreciate you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Courtroom to Classroom

Robert Lominack
Latin Teacher at Dreher High 
Co-Founder, Achieve Columbia

Contact Mr. Lominack:
Twitter: @RobertLominack

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ~Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

There's a reason I am a teacher. I spent almost 15 years investigating and trying to tell the stories of men on death row. In each case, I learned every imaginable detail about their families and their childhoods. The trauma that they endured was not always extreme or unique. In fact, it was the type of trauma that many of our students face. But the consequences were extreme and debilitating. Of course, I had the advantage of being able to look back and trace the story from the beginning to the tragic end. I quit being a lawyer, because I wanted to be a part of the story before it had been written, when there was still time to help change the trajectory of their lives.

Interestingly, attorneys who represent death row inmates have to be very knowledgeable about childhood trauma and mental health issues. In fact, our clients' childhoods were the most important part of their story, because this part of their life set the stage for what was to come. Therefore, in addition to being trained in mental health issues, in every case we worked with a full team of mental health folks (psychologist, psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, and social worker at a minimum). I am worried that we are not providing teachers the knowledge, training, and support to work with students who suffer from childhood trauma and mental illness. So we often miss opportunities to help, we are impatient when we need to be more understanding, and we give up because we just don't know what to do. 

By the time many kids reach middle school they have absorbed years of trauma. It takes patience - months, not days - to work with these kids and get them back on track. Until schools focus on this aspect of teaching, we will continue to do a mediocre job at working with the children who need us the most. Nobody should be content with that. But we will not be able to change our results until we have changed our practices.

I am hopeful that we can begin to do that.

 Achieve Columbia
Click to view website

Article on the Paper Tigers Documentary 



As principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, Jim Sporleder is credited with helping change the culture of the alternative school. Lincoln has gained national attention as a “trauma-informed” school.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Pay It Forward

Martha Shaffer 
Elizabeth Thomson

8th Grade Pay It Forward Leaders

Community service is something that has been important to the two of us since we were young, but this year, it took a special turn for us. In October, the flood devastated the Midlands. We finally understood what it was like to experience something so tragic in our communities. We also noticed the support we received from across the country. People drove to South Carolina from different states to bring supplies. LSU donated a truckload of water bottles. We were there alongside our friends and neighbors to repair and recover from what had happened. We finally knew what it meant to be proud to be a South Carolinian.

One day, in English, we had a class-wide discussion about the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the question of whether or not it was a genocide. We were both extremely passionate about the issue. The day went by, but the two of us were still just as intrigued about what was happening in Flint as we had been that day. We wanted to do something.

We discovered exactly what we wanted to do when we had a meeting with our English teacher, Ms. Odom, and our 8th grade Administrator,  Dr. Coletrain. We created a plan to partner with a school in Flint and collect the supplies they needed. We were so excited that we were actually getting to do something for Flint. We brainstormed the logistics of the drive, and we were ready to begin.

Ever since we hit the ground running, we have been busy at work on this project. We made posters, digital flyers, powerpoints, and letters to prepare. We went on the morning announcements to announce the collection. We passed out boxes to every first period class in the school. We made phone calls to numerous stores, churches, and other businesses in the community.

We continue to create ideas about ways to improve the outcome of our drive. We have to problem solve, adapt to change, work with different people, and manage the project on a daily basis. We keep ourselves updated and research the Flint crisis extensively. We have become better citizens because of the work we do.

Running this drive has been extremely hard work, but it has all been worth it, because we know we are helping others who desperately need it. We hope that all the students as well as the teachers understand how important it is to help others. We believe we all can grow from a project like this when we learn the importance of paying it forward.

The students and teachers of Flint Southwestern Classical Academy need us. Together, we can Pay It Forward.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Journey


Ms. Claire Kruger
Student Intern
University of South Carolina
Contact Ms. Kruger

Two years ago, I was completely set on not becoming a teacher. I decided I would complete the Middle Level Education Program at the University of South Carolina and then figure out what I would do next… but it definitely was not going to be teaching. I had fallen victim to the negativity and pressure of entering the education field and could not look past the challenges that clouded my vision of helping shape the minds of young adolescents. I remember sitting in one of my classes during my sophomore year and a professor telling us that we can plan amazing lessons and units now, but when we actually become teachers we will have to follow strict standards and essentially just teach whatever our school or district tells us we have to teach. This broke me down. It made me feel like a robot could do this job and I was better suited for something else.

Flash forward a year to the beginning of my senior year. I was set on just completing this year and motivated by my Bachelor’s Degree at the finish line. I was prepared to enjoy the experience given to me but certainly not prepared to fall back in love with teaching. As soon as I began teaching my own lessons, preparing my materials on my own, and building relationships with the students in the classroom, I was reminded why I originally wanted to become a teacher and had reestablished my passion for this lifestyle. I have had the opportunity to work with two incredible coaching teachers, and didn’t expect to learn as much as I did about teaching, students, education, and myself. I learned to be creative with the standards and build a unit using the standards as a guide, not a script. I learned how to motivate students by allowing them to explore and engage in the real world. I learned that waking up at 6am every morning isn’t really that bad, and a secret stash of chocolate in my desk can get me through practically any challenge or long day.

I have been given incredible opportunities during my internship at Hand Middle School and I’m thankful to every staff member who has welcomed me with open arms and provided me with opportunities to learn and grow throughout this process. The students at this school are a lively and passionate bunch, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to learn with them. Someone once told me that being a middle school teacher is not a job, it’s an adventure. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to begin my adventure at Hand Middle School and can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Heart Flooded with Gratitude

Lesley Snyder
7th Grade ELA Teacher
Contact Mrs. Snyder
Twitter: MsTeachELA


Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a planner. I practically breathe because I’ve scheduled it into my overly expensive, color-coded Erin Condren planner. Over-planning isn’t my best quality, I also tend to be stubborn and often put more on my plate than I should. These aren’t my best qualities, a phrase that has taken some time to admit. Thankfully, I had plenty of opportunity to work on these qualities the past few months. The one-in-a-thousand year flood wreaked havoc over our state and drowned all of my well-laid plans. That being said, I’ve never been more grateful for having gone through such a trying situation.

A few weeks before the flood, I was blessed to find out that my husband and I were expecting our first child. Being the planner that I am, I started to make lists, timelines, and deadlines for all of the things we needed to get done. My husband and I went to bed the night before with big plans of working on the soon-to-be nursery the next day. We had spent the evening cleaning, organizing materials, and deciding how we wanted to arrange everything…super romantic Saturday night, I know. Unfortunately, we awoke to chaos. Within thirty minutes, water was pouring into our home from every exterior wall. The floors were lifting up and breaking apart. We scrambled to pick up our pets and anything meaningful that we could. We huddled with our animals in the attic until the water receded in our house a few hours later. When the water cleared, it became evident that everything was ruined. Many of our belongings were littering neighboring yards or floating in the street. It was so much to process at once, and the only thing I felt was numb.

Immediately, the well wishes, prayers, and love poured in. My phone was almost dead, but that didn’t stop the text messages and phone calls. At the time, we truly didn’t know what we needed, but somehow everyone else knew exactly what we needed. The outpouring of hope and love really helped us get through the initial period of shock. Within hours, co-workers, family, and friends were trying to help us wash clothes, make food, and so much else. It was difficult to start accepting so much help at once. Living my life with the “I can do it by myself” attitude sure didn’t help. Thankfully, everyone was persistent and kind with their offers. I am not sure I’ve ever been more thankful for a hug, a pizza, or a box of basic necessities. My students went to Edmodo showering the timeline with posts of encouragement and love. Within days, my house was cleaned out (even this was a blessing). What few possessions we had left were boxed up, and we were left standing in an empty home trying to figure out what to do next. I’m not sure I could have ever planned to be pregnant, carless, and homeless. I wasn’t even sure I was ready to deal with this reality, but with everyone cheering us on, it didn’t seem so daunting. 

Insurance worked slowly, but eventually, they arranged a hotel for my husband and me. Hotels are great to stay in, but only on vacation. Those words taste a little bitter coming out of my mouth. It seems ungrateful to say that I hated living in a hotel, but honesty is an important quality too, right?  Two months in a hotel being sick, pregnant, irritable, and living in a one room space isn’t fun. To be honest, it quickly brought our newly wedded bliss to an end.  We often joked that it would be a miracle if we didn’t get divorced before our home was ready. Though, at times, it didn’t seem like a joke. We had good days, and we had days that seemed worse than the day of the flood.

Many people sought me out and let me vent. They offered their positivity and prayers. They reminded me that they were here for us, and that they were in our corner. For those things, I am truly grateful. I’m not sure those people will ever truly recognize the abundance they gave me with their simple presence and listening ear. You realize when living in a hotel that: cooking is impossible with just a microwave, you must wait to use the restroom (even if you really have to go), it is impossible to catch up on your graduate studies when your husband is watching football loudly, and that you have no idea how expensive washing your clothes at a laundry mat truly is. Even those small annoyances were met with solutions. Those solutions gave me the hope I needed to push through the trials.

Though the two months out of our home drug on, help came in constant, rushing waves.  Somehow, the complete destruction of how I thought my life was supposed to go over the past few months didn’t seem so disastrous with the help of so many. My fellow co-worker, Jeff Burden, probably sums it better than I ever could,

“I am so thankful for all of the support that my family has received through this experience.  My church, my friends, my co-workers, my family, small businesses around Columbia and other people from around America have been so supportive.  Not only have,folks helped me tear out walls and clean my home, but my family has received everything from quilts and food to prayers and money from wonderful helpful people.  We would not have been able to get through this had it not been for the generosity of others.”

I have learned so much about myself and the world in the past few months. Despite seeing negativity constantly on the news, my faith in humanity is truly restored. I learned that it is TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE to ask for and accept help (I wasn’t sure I was ever going to learn that). I learned that the best experiences sometimes come out of unplanned, terrible situations. Cynthia Pierce, our registrar, in all of her grace, expressed her gratitude to me after having gone through the flood. She said, “Earl and I have been amazed at the ways God is still blessing us every day.”  I have found that even when everything seems lost, there is still so much value and love that exists in the world. Sometimes we simply have to shuffle through the mud, clean ourselves off, and allow others to help build us back up. This holiday season, I am thankful for a great support system and the opportunity to grow. Now that we are starting to move back into our home, I’m ready to start creating new lists and deadlines in my planner. The first item on the agenda is to send out an abundance of gratitude; then, I’ll get back to planning that nursery. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

From Nothing to Something!

Danielle Odom
8th Grade ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Contact Mrs. Odom

When I present a problem-based learning project, all I see are wide eyes staring at me with fear, confusion, and anxiety plastered all over their faces. I can see the panic set in as we go over the rubric and requirements for the projects and slowly they begin to unwind. I tell them many times over, “Don’t worry, I will be with you every step of the way, this is a process.” No one ever believes me. They fire question after question trying to determine how big the project is and how long will it take. Their lack of confidence is evident and in a way it saddens me because I want them to believe in themselves as much as I do.

They begin this journey with an empty paper in front of them. They ask questions that I will not answer for them because this is a journey that they have to take. Once they realize that this is THEIR journey, they begin to talk, and debate about what needs to be done and where their project will go. Their questions go from how do I tackle this to how BIG can my project be?!! They begin with nothing but the requirements and the rubric and they create beautiful works of literature and art that amazes me every year.

This year we began AAP with our Utopian project. Students are responsible for building their own Utopias and in the end explaining how their world is better than the world they currently live in. They have to create a government, healthcare, educational system, employment, create a philosophy, address the citizenship of the country, a declaration of independence, economics (importing and exporting goods, money, etc.), and help to sustain life in their communities. It seems like a lot, but they started to tackle it, one step at a time. The thing I love about problem based learning is not only the cross curricular element, but the ability to incorporate new ideas and problems for them to solve along the way. Every Monday we discuss current events and propaganda. We used the propaganda to create posters inviting people to join their Utopias. After the migrant crisis in Syria and Europe, we compared and contrasted three articles from reputable news sites and discussed how our current world is handling the situation. I then gave each Utopian group 16,000 migrants to take into their Utopia. They have to figure out how to feed them, house them, educate them, and fully incorporate them into their world. Students then had to write a newsletter to their community to let them know the plans for the migrants. The problem solving skills of these students floors me sometimes. They had so many ideas on how to help the Syrian’s and yet the leaders of the world are at a loss as to what to do with them. I am wondering if they are smarter than an 8th grader.

My other classes worked tirelessly on Public Service Announcements as we read Tears of a Tiger which deals with some serious young adult issues. They had to research and discuss issues that are not usually talked about in class and create a poster project that shows their understanding of the research. Could they do it? ABSOLUTELY! They too started with a blank page and lots of questions, but when they were done, their creativity shined through. The students put their all into the projects and while many claim “they cannot draw” they are still creative in their own right.

The best part about problem-based learning for all of my classes is that I can incorporate service learning into the curriculum. The best is yet to come. Our goal is to make an impact so big that we break the cycle for so many who have been dealt a poor hand of natural talents.

In the end the students learn how to solve problems and become the true leaders they were meant to be. I am excited to see these projects all the way through, but their growth is what amazes me the most. With every problem-based project they grow more confident and more ready to turn nothing into something.