Monday, January 2, 2017

Ashlynn Wittchow
8th Grade ELA/Creative Writing

Learning the Legal System: A Look into the Mock Trial Program at Hand Middle School 

The Middle School Mock Trial Program, sponsored by the South Carolina Bar Association, is a hands-on extracurricular learning experience designed to teach students about due process and the American judicial system. Students work together as a team for countless hours after school each week as they prepare as both attorneys and witnesses for both sides of a fictional case that is being tried in court. Teams present that fictional case against teams from other schools at regional competitions across South Carolina each year. The top three teams from each regional competition advance to the state championship competition at the Lexington County Courthouse in December.

After spending a year as assistant coach of Hand Middle School’s mock trial team, I had the thrilling opportunity this year to take the helm leading our mock trial team along with our attorney coach, Greg Collins. It was an exciting (and long) season. Students began preparing their cases in late August, reading lengthy witness affidavits, demystifying legal jargon, and memorizing pages of legal rules. In addition to reading and writing extensively, students also had to hone their problem solving and public speaking skills. Mock trial students can’t simply memorize a script. Regurgitating a case doesn’t cut it when faced with an unfriendly opposing council. Students needed to know their characters and arguments inside-and-out. As our season progressed, students began getting into character, walking-and-talking as attorney and witness duos. Students even had the opportunity to practice in a “real” courtroom when we took over a lab classroom at USC’s Law School for a Saturday practice prior to state competition.

Ultimately, we had a very successful season. At the Columbia Regional Competition, several students placed as the most effective attorney or witness in their respective rounds. We managed to advance to state competition at the Lexington County Courthouse as a wild card team. Will Rambo, Gabriella Cruz, and Sophia Austermiller were recognized as being most effective in their rounds by the attorney judges at state competition. Although we didn’t make it to the final championship round, the team represented Hand Middle School very well through their civility and professionalism.

Below, you can read more about what the students had to say about their experience this season as a member of the Hand Middle School Mock Trial Team:

What do you enjoy most about Mock Trial?

“I love being part of a team, in which we all look out for each other and work together to reach a common goal. I also really enjoy the competition of playing the opposing teams, and the satisfaction it brings to work hard and it pay off. Lastly, I love the challenge of mock trial in general and everything it has helped me learn.” –Will Rambo, 6th Grade

“I enjoy being able to be part of a team with the same goal: winning state. I also love that the amount of work you put in during practice is shown during competition.”  –Catie Willm, 8th Grade
“I enjoy being able to be a part of a team and using critical analysis to support an argument.” –Bryson Stakely, 8th Grade

 “I enjoy meeting new people and learning to fine tune speech development and what to say in different situations. Collaborating with others is also something that I love about Mock Trial. You get to know other people and work with each other to make the best possible outcome for the benefit of the team.” –Maggie Smith, 8th Grade

What have you learned from participating in Mock Trial? 

“I've learned, obviously, more about the US legal system and how it operates, as well as how to think on your feet and listen to details. I've also learned how to turn a situation around, no matter how bad it seems.” –Bryson Stakely, 8th Grade  

I learned about persuasive writing, and how to really captivate a listener. I also learned how to get information out of a witness efficiently. My public speaking skills also benefited greatly from doing mock trial. –Catie Willm, 8th Grade

I have obviously learned that being a lawyer/witness is not easy stuff, but it is satisfying when you beat some other school's butt at it!!!! –Eli Crissan, 7th Grade

During my year doing mock trial, I have learned a lot about the US judicial system, how it works and what it takes to be a lawyer. But more importantly, I have learned about being part of a team, how to think on your feet, and how to be observant and pay attention to detail. Lastly, I learned how to be confident and cool under pressure. –Will Rambo, 6th Grade 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Comfort Zones

                                                                           Comfort Zones
Comfort zones…we all love them.  It’s where we feel confident…where we feel we can be most productive…where we know what’s going to happen and won’t have to face many challenges.  While comfort zones are where we feel our best, there are times when we need to step out of our comfort zones in an effort to dig deeper within ourselves and reach our full potential.  Often times, as teachers we want to challenge our students to help them reach their fullest potential.   We as teachers try daily to move our students out of their comfort zones, but what about us?  We too need to step out on a limb and accept risks and challenges.
I have had my own personal experience with comfort zones and this has challenged me greatly. When I began my teaching career, I was given one 8th Grade Algebra 1 and three 8th Grade Pre-Algebra classes.  While all students took a standardized test, I was very concerned about my 8th Grade Algebra class because they had to take an End of Course Test and it counted as 20% of their final grade.  I knew that these results were going to reflect how much my students learned and how well I taught them.  With butterflies in my stomach, the day came for my students to be tested and they all passed! I was thrilled!  I felt as if all of my hard work and dedication paid off.  100% passing rate!
The next school year I was given two 8th Grade Algebra 1 classes.  I already struggled with doubting my abilities as a teacher and now I would be given another class that would have to take the End of Course Test. Whew!  Someone believed in me and I am grateful, but to whom much is given, much is required.  With reservation, I accepted the challenge.  Someone saw much more in me than I saw in myself.   Once I began to believe in myself, I saw a few more years of 100% passing rate by my students.
 I am now teaching three Algebra 1 classes which includes two 7th Grade classes.  I have never taught 7th grade, so I naturally had a fear of the unknown.  Many people painted a negative picture of Seventh Graders to me and it discouraged me.  I prayed about the move and was reminded that no growth can take place within comfort zones, it is not until we are challenged that we find out what we are capable of.  After being questioned by others, I realized that I was doing exactly what I should be. 
My leap of faith paid off because I love what I am now doing.  I love my 7th graders just as much as I love my 8th graders.  I love seeing their glowing faces when they come into my room and have “aha!” moments while I’m teaching.  Although we have only been in school for about a month, I have learned that I do not want to just sit in my comfort zone, but I would rather accept a challenge and fail knowing that I gave it my best shot than to live knowing that I never tried to be better.  After all, you can never fail outside of your comfort zone, it is simply a new learning experience that promotes growth.
Outside of our comfort zones is the knowledge of who we are and what we can become.   Our potential is never realized in times of comfort and ease, rather only in difficulty, change and challenge.   Although you may love your comfort zone, if you want to grow personally and professionally, step outside of it, feel the thrill, enjoy the moment, and continue to grow. 

Ms. Starlings
7th & 8th Grade Math
Hand Middle School

Monday, September 26, 2016

Manage with the Right Mindset

Manage with the Right Mindset

We spend so much time planning and being proactive, thinking about how we assess our students, and what we will do if they don't show mastery or if they do show mastery. Behavior and classroom management must follow the same continual improvement process. Teachers and administrators must plan and practice management scenarios, “expect” students to ask for materials at inopportune times, to arrive to class without a pass or with food in their mouths, to be playing a game on their laptops, to shout back when redirected in front of a whole group, and to even simply refuse to complete work. These aren’t instances that should create visual frustration, verbal shock, and a heated staff-student interaction. This “type” of encounter is more than what it appears, and it represents the realization that schools must differentiate for management.

We (schools and staff) must teach kids how to live in our world because, sadly, so much of theirs does not involve the need to recognize and take responsibility. 16 hours a day outside of classroom walls, students can post, snap, text, and tweet responses without having to explain themselves, and rarely are they held accountable. Adult-student relationships are no longer cemented in the minds of our kids- teachers have become partners and likes, and followers, out of touch observers, and often mirror images of reactive officials. Knowing all of this, and interacting with the youth of today doesn't change our expectations- instead it ignites our approach to create social emotional systems that focus on the goals and rights of each child.

Interventions and actions can't simply be a warning, a phone call, a lunch detention, a referral, and a “rinse and repeat stance.” We don't teach by saying, “here is what you will learn, you will learn it, your parents now know you will learn it, and if you don't learn it, I'm telling the principal.” We must incorporate mindfulness, intentional thought, peer mediation, restorative justice, and community conversation into our new social-emotional approach. It is not about saying, “you must follow these rules because I said so and your future job requires you to do this”…it is all about saying, “ we have created this together so we can learn how to live well in each moment and with each choice in our lives.” As all teachers know, behavior is a response to instruction, yet we cannot achieve success until we all celebrate a growth mindset for each of our kids. We are all responsible for what our students learn, we are all responsible for how they behave, and we owe it to everyone to manage with the right mindset.

Charlie Seamans
Assistant Principal
6 Grade Academy Leader

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.