Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A New Year’s Gifts

Helen Schell
ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Contact Mrs. Schell at

The first several weeks of school, while often epic and discombobulating for my new-to-Hand sixth grade students, are days that I treasure. There’s electricity in the hallways that follows the students into my room, crackling and snapping from their heels as they locate their seats and smile at their neighbors. In a way, it’s like I am waking up each morning to some grand holiday or my birthday, and the presents I am receiving are the students.  On Monday I unwrap seven or eight, on Tuesday another eleven, on Wednesday six more, until I’ve unwrapped every single child and am left to marvel at his and her talents.  The same is true for my students; they are busy unwrapping one another, finding out about each amazing person who is sitting beside them or is grouped with them for certain activities. There are so many smiles and laughs as we celebrate the new community we are building.

Toward this goal, I recently had my students grouped into “neighborhoods” for an activity in which they wrote answers to four questions and then took their time sharing responses. As a result, my young people learned about each other’s embarrassing moments, favorite technologies, good habits, and kind memories they harbored of former teachers. At the end of class I collected their response cards and took them home to read after dinner. I was transported. Their reflections were both humorous and powerful, and I found myself being especially moved by their memories of former teachers.

In this category, loving acts were recorded that painted a picture of daily life with all its trials and triumphs. One student appreciated a teacher reimbursing him a coin from her purse when the pencil machine ate his quarter. Another received photos at her fifth grade graduation that the teacher had saved since kindergarten. A different student was told to climb the jungle gym knowing he would be caught if he fell. On and on my students wrote: I was taught how to create the art that I love; I was given the job of taking care of the class pets; I was defended when my classmates bullied me for being short; I was seen for being musically talented and encouraged to become a singer; I was given a second chance; I was pulled aside and comforted when I had a really bad day; I was so good at history that my notes were used to create the class study guide; I was called smart; I was given a tie-dye shirt made by my classmates when I moved to SC; I was understood and forgiven.

When I set the cards down I felt humbled, humbled that they would share these treasures with me and humbled by the role of teacher. In the twenty-first century, data plays a starring role in a teacher’s life. August is when we analyze data on end-of-year testing to get a snapshot of our incoming students. This allows us to shore up a class’s strengths and weaknesses and set goals for the year ahead. Each one of us wants to build on the strong foundation laid by previous teachers and propel our students into new realms of thought and comprehension. We are intimately aware that our efforts feed future successes in high school, college, the job market, and our students’ waiting adult lives. But for just a moment I want to push all of those expectations and numeric data aside and simply inhale the sweet fragrance of my students’ heart-felt note cards. I want to sit still and absorb the gift that each child is. And if there is one prayer on my lips, it is that I, too, will come to hold a sacred spot in their hearts. 

A Little Taste of Oxford

Ashlynn Wittchow
ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Follow Ms. Wittchow 
on Twitter @AshlynnWittchow

This summer I embarked on the Professional Development experience of a lifetime: six-weeks of studying English Literature with fellow English teachers at Oxford University. Each summer, the program enrolls approximately 85 international students, mostly teachers, to study and learn at Lincoln College, one of Oxford’s smallest and most beautiful colleges. At the end of June, I packed my bags and boarded a plane to London Heathrow, ready to hit the ground running. Oxford was calling.

The summer was overflowing with valuable learning experiences. As a visiting student, I had access to the Bodleian Library of Oxford, one of the finest research libraries in the world. The Bodleian Library is over four hundred years old and houses manuscripts significantly older. As one might imagine, they take security pretty seriously. All students and visiting researchers have to recite an ancient vow not to bring any open flames into the library. It was hard not to feel as though I had stepped back in time wandering its oldest wing, Duke Humphrey’s Library. 

In front of Shakespeare's home

As a cohort, we embarked on various learning excursions. We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon and watched the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello. We attended lectures delivered by many of Oxford’s world-renowned professors. We traveled to Bath to visit the ancient Roman temples, explored restoration theater, and wander the footsteps of Jane Austen. We sponsored poetry readings, pedagogy workshops, lesson planning sessions, and a graduate conference covering topics that ranged from Shakespeare to Jaws. And of course, we visited London at every available opportunity. Its museums and libraries are among the finest in the world.

The opportunities for hands-on learning were unparalleled. I cannot wait to bring everything that I learned this summer back into my own classroom this year at Hand Middle School. However, one of the greatest assets of the program was its people. It was a privilege to learn and grow with passionate and intelligent educators from across the globe. I hope to maintain these connections this year in a professional learning community that extends beyond the walls of Hand Middle School. Indeed, through the latest developments in one-to-one computing through Hand’s Digital Learning Environment, I hope to give my students a little taste of Oxford, connecting students with classrooms across the globe. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Urban Leaders Must Seek Student Assistance

Charles Seamans
Assistant Principal
Hand Middle School
Follow Mr. Seamans on 
Twitter @charles_seamans

It is time for the youth of Columbia to think critically, build for the future, and speak their minds! If nothing else, recent events have shown us that the choices of a small few can overwhelm the work of so many. It is for this reason, and because of the untapped potential in Columbia, that our students must take advantage of the opportunities in front of them. As citizens of this great city, it is our duty to assist in devising long-term ways to systematically create a community of the people for the people! As teachers, we know that we are working with the future leaders of our city, and we must entrust to our students a real sense of civic duty. Here is one way that schools and students can get involved in making Columbia a city for all cities to follow:

Columbia 2.0 (based upon the Atlanta 2.0 model- thank you Lovett School and the Westminster Schools!)

Columbia 2. 0 is a semester-long cohort of 15 seniors in Richland One Schools who wish to take an active role in improving the quality of life in Columbia. Specifically, students will explore the relationship between the community and its public spaces. Through engagement with the city's leaders and citizens, a variety of readings, and expeditions to a broad spectrum of Columbia neighborhoods, students will examine a range of models for the renewal and revival of community centers and public spaces.  Students will then design a public space initiative and/or a request for proposal that addresses the needs of a local Columbia neighborhood, collaborating both with his/her group members and neighborhood residents. At the end of the course, they will present their ideas to residents as well as some of Columbia’s established urban renewal leaders. The course design assumes our students learn best through experience, expedition, problem solving, the integration of studies, and a commitment to public service. For 2016, students will explore “Association, Collaboration, and Urban Renewal” in a range of Columbia neighborhoods. It is our hope that the city of Columbia will adopt and initiate at least one student proposal each semester!

Proposed Assisting civic organizations included but are not limited to:
City Hall: Office of the Mayor                Columbia City Planner/Architect
Columbia Parks and Recreation              Columbia City Center Partnership
Columbia CVB                                        Columbia Metropolitan Airport
One Columbia Arts and History              Historic Columbia Foundation

Proposed Neighborhood Councils included but are not limited to:
Shandon                            Rosewood                  Melrose Heights          
Washington Park              Garners Ferry/VA      Earlewood
LR/SE Columbia              Eau Claire                  Lyon Street
Waverly                            Pinehurst                    Mills Historic

We're Bulding for the Future!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Start of a New Year

Jennifer Wise
Richland One District Teacher of the Year
Hand Middle School Algebra & Geometry Teacher
Follow Mrs. Wise on Twitter @awiselearner

Each school year meets me with a flurry of emotions.  To say I get a touch of butterflies is an understatement.  Like many of my students, I lay out my first day outfit well in advance; I pack my book bag, and I anxiously await the coming August days.  This year has begun no differently.  As I begin my eighth year at Hand Middle School, I find myself reflecting on the previous seven.

I came to Hand fresh from the University of South Carolina.  With ideas I knew would revolutionize the teaching profession, I boldly began my next chapter.  I say with pride some of those ideas have been everything I thought they would be, and I say with honesty that some did not exactly go as planned.  For seven years, I have worked to perfect the craft that I will resume in just a few short days.  Just as in the fall of 2008, I have some plans sure to knock your socks off.  That’s the great thing about teaching, each year, each week, each day, we refine ourselves and our practices.  We strive to make ourselves better so we can inspire the futures of those in our care.  I want my students to be as successful as possible, and I expect the best from them.  In the same way, I want them to receive the best from me.  My best preparation, my best attitude, my best EVERYTHING.  You see in my seven years one fact has remained abundantly clear, I get what I give.  When I am excited, my kids are excited.  Enthusiasm for learning is like a wildfire, it spreads quickly and takes over everything in its path.

I wish each of you could be in my room when my students derive a formula.  They could not care less that someone else discovered it 200 years earlier.  What matters to them is that on that day they made their own personal math history.  That realization and the sense of pride that comes with it has power I cannot begin to explain.  I am sure you know this moment from experiences with your own students.  While for me it’s numbers, maybe it’s grammar or unlimited government or a jump shot for you.  No matter the source, as a teacher you know that moment.  And it is that moment that gets me up each day and has me trying on first day dresses the second week in June.  It is who we are, and so as the first day draws near I begin to channel my inner Katniss and encourage others to do the same.  This year, be a “Girl (or boy) on Fire!”