Thursday, May 4, 2017

Former Board President Encourages Community Involvement

Highly functioning school districts are magnets that attract new residents and draw business investment into the community.  Schools serve as more than a conduit for education; they are interactive partners in the lives of our children, families, and seniors.  The school district is the backbone of this community.  Today, the Freeport School District struggles with challenges such as behavior, diversity, lack of basic soft skills, and lack of parenting, among others.  Our district staff are working diligently to conquer these issues and hopefully improve the lives of our students.  However, the educators in the school district can’t do it alone. 

The traditional African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is often quoted when examining the duration of a child’s life. Marian Wright Edelman also said, “It really takes a community to raise children, no matter how much money one has.  Nobody can do it well alone.  And it’s the bedrock security of community that we and our children need.”

The Freeport community has been my home for 39 years.  I graduated in 1987 from Freeport High School.  I went on to raise my family here and my two older daughters have both graduated from Freeport High School as well.  I founded a title insurance company in Freeport and, while it has branched out to other cities, I chose to keep our corporate office here.  I felt compelled to give back to this community and have done so in many forms.  My recent task, as the President of the Freeport School Board, proved to be quite challenging.  All the reasons I thought brought me to the calling were set aside during my first of many visits to the elementary schools. My heart was broken and my soul awoken as I witnessed the challenges and disparity some of our students struggle with on a daily basis. I soon realized that once I formed that connection it was a little harder to numb myself to their suffering.  It was harder to convince myself that their struggles were not my problem, as well as this community’s problem.

Despite the hard budget cuts that the our school board made, we continued to increase spending for social-emotional support, especially for the younger children.  Today, I ask for your help as good citizens of Freeport!  There is a need for volunteers within our schools.  Our children need positive role models in their lives.  They need to know that this community, our great city, cares about them as well.  A few minutes of your day can make a difference in the lives of our students. The process will prove to be rewarding to you and will increase your knowledge of the community issues that our youth face on a daily basis.  There are many things you can do for the district, some as simple as going to a school and reading to the children.  Please consider getting involved in some way.  The district’s phone number is 815-232-0300.

Finally, I close this with saying that we are all responsible for our community.  When we see things happening in our streets, we must not turn a blind eye.  Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.  Help someone in need and pay things forward right here in Freeport.  I believe the world is changed by ordinary people doing extraordinary things!  Be the change!

Billy W. Shroyer, Jr.
Former President of the Freeport School District No. 145 Board of Education

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Empire Elementary Teachers Shares Educational Highlights from the School Year

Over the course of the school year, Empire students have had many amazing educational opportunities.  Each grade level chose to highlight one area that they thought was extra special this school year.  

Kindergarten students have been learning about the life cycle of the chick.  We have looked at our poster to compare the growth chart with the number of days our chicks have been developing. We know they will start to hatch on Monday, May 1st because it takes a total of 21 days for a chick to develop inside the egg. We have also learned that it only takes 8 weeks for them to grow into an adult.

First Grade:
Way back in October, the first grade students learned about the pumpkin life cycle. When our unit was over, we decided to fill the pumpkin with trash from snack time and see what would happen if we buried it over the winter.  We made a list of the items, which included candy corn, apples, styrofoam bowl, wrappers, a part of a granola bar, and some extra paper.  We buried our pumpkin and waited for Earth Day.  This week, we dug up the pumpkin to see what was left.  The students wrote predictions about what we would find and then we searched through the soil.  We found that the stem, seeds, wrappers, and bowl were left, but everything else was gone!  We discussed composting, recycling, and biodegradable materials!


pumpkin 2.jpg pumpkin 1.jpg

Second Grade:
Empire’s 2nd grade classrooms enjoy a unique partnership with the Freeport Park District and the University of Illinois Extension Service.  For several years, our grade has walked to Read Park for an Arbor Day Celebration that includes the boys and girls helping to plant trees, educational centers that teach our science learning standards, and an awareness of our individual environmental responsibilities.  A few highlights of our day this year included a study of seed dispersal, the needs of plants, preserving the Pecatonica watershed, and planting a Kentucky Coffee Tree.  We are grateful for our community support in teaching learning standards and in raising responsible citizens.

Third Grade:
Third grade worked hard all year preparing for the PARCC assessment through RtI and classroom instruction.  When it came time for the assessment, students were still very nervous. The third grade teachers gave them a chance to write down their fears and concerns each day. They then tore those papers up into tiny pieces of confetti, getting rid of those fears and concerns. When all 3rd grade students had completed the PARCC assessments, they were able to celebrate by throwing the confetti up in the air and cheering with excitement.  What a wonderful celebration of hard work!

Fourth Grade:
On May 2nd, our 4th graders will be heading to Dubuque, IA, to visit the National Mississippi River Museum.  This is a culminating experience that will bring the history of Illinois living and environment to life.  We are excited to connect the lessons we’ve taught about the Native Americans to actual artifacts and natural wonders of our state.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Center Elementary Students Share Their Love for School

According to the students, Center Elementary is a great place to go to school.  When asked why recently, here were some of their responses:

  • Teachers want to know what we are interested in and then make lessons around our interests. 
  • When I learn, it is like a big question every day. They keep asking us why. This makes us think more. It is impressive that we learn so much new stuff in one day. 
  • All of my teachers have been amazing and our principal is beyond amazing. They all want us to do our best every day.
  • The teachers challenge us to do our best every day. And they make us challenge ourselves.
  • Our PE teacher chooses fun games and we are expected to get stronger.
  • Everyone at school helps me achieve my goal to be successful at school.
  • Our principal is very nice. When you get into trouble, she isn’t real mad but helps you learn from your mistake. She is always very nice to everyone.
  • My teacher believes that you can do anything you put your mind to. She tells us every day and now I believe it.
  • When we make good choices, we get assemblies from people that we would never get to see. For example, we got a magic show and the Jesse White tumblers.
  • We do Fun Friday activities when we are good during the week. We do fun things like putting a cookie on our face and trying to get it into our mouth. When we couldn’t do it, we had to talk about it and figure out a better way.
  • Each quarter we get to celebrate good behavior.  Sometimes we take field trips, like to the park and pool and other times we get assemblies. We had a carnival at the beginning of the year to remind us to make good choices and this year we are going to have a giant water balloon fight at the end of the year for being good.
  • We get to do fun things in class like Break-Out-Boxes. We have to solve clues to open locks on a box and it is challenging and fun. It takes teamwork and hard thinking. They are so much fun to do.
  • I have done a lot of exciting lessons and activities this year. We even do lessons with 21st century skills. This means we have to collaborate, be creative, use our hands, and solve problems. Sometimes it is hard, but it always fun.
  • Our teachers give us choices on the things we want to do or how we like to learn. Sometimes I don’t like to write so my teacher lets me draw to explain. And I like sitting on the floor instead of my desk. She lets me do that too.
  • We have studied more than what is in a book, like Greek myths, mystery science, and holidays around the world.
  • School is very safe and bullying is not allowed.
  • We have great technology at school and that helps us learn in different ways. We get to use our computers every day in class.
  • The teachers encourage us to have good attendance. If our class comes to school 90% of 20 days, we get a popcorn party. It inspires me to come to school.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Marching Madness at Blackhawk Elementary

During the month of March Madness our thoughts normally turn to basketball, but not at Blackhawk Elementary School. March has become “marching madness” with a kickoff for an experimental "Student vs Adult" stepping competition.

Physical Education Teacher Jason Long, Family Resource Coordinator Gigi Ditzler, and School Nurse Cyndie Bouray decided to "step up" the physical fitness of their students after Mr. Long discovered 20 pedometers in storage. The group thought it would be fun for both the school's adults and students to compete for steps throughout the school day while getting fit in the process. This evolving program has gained mileage since its start during the first full week of March, with students and adults spontaneously requesting to join in the fun.

Students are randomly selected and are given a pedometer to use while at school. They are in direct competition with a volunteer staff to see how many steps they can get while at school. One motivated student, Lupita, picks up her pedometer as soon as she is allowed in the building. For her, getting an early start on the day is important and she said she “wants to get as many steps as possible." Dyvon, another student and a fierce competitor, exclaimed, "I am always excited to know how many steps I have and if I beat Ms. Kleindl."

Principle Stacey Kleindl laughed. "I can hear students marching in place trying to increase their steps," she said. Ms. Kleindl competes against students and they check in throughout the day to see who is winning steps. It has been enjoyable and beneficial for everyone at Blackhawk.

Second Grade ELL Teacher Holly Perry reports that her entire class has picked up on the get fit craze. “I had a student in my classroom participating in the pedometer challenge with me," she said. "The other students picked up on his excitement and started asking to do exercises in between our work throughout the day. That enthusiasm has carried through and we are still doing jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, etc. every day.”

Cyndie Bouray
School Nurse, Blackhawk Elementary School

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Taylor Park Principal Shares The Importance of Family Involvement

I recently read an article that stated, “Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents' confidence in their children's education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.”*

Parental involvement is an integral part of a child’s educational journey. Together, we are raising the next generation. This is not an easy task and at times it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if it is done in isolation. I firmly believe the school and household must work together in unison with one common goal in mind. The goal at Taylor Park Elementary is to raise Responsible, Organized Achievers who are Respectful. The first letter of each of those words form the acronym our students model when they follow the Taylor Park Rules to ROAR each and every day.

On March 8th, Taylor Park families got involved! That evening, Taylor Park Elementary hosted a Family Involvement Night at our school. We had over 120 people in attendance, with almost 50 of them being Taylor Park students. Attendees were treated to academic stations, an AVID Elementary station, the Scholastic Book fair, a storyteller, and a “build your own” hot dog bar. For two hours, our school modeled what a cohesive partnership looks like. All attendees came together for one common goal. Knowledge was gained, smiles were observed, and hearts were warmed.

How else can families get involved? The article “The Benefits of Parent Involvement: What Research Has to Say” lays out 3 simple ways parents can get involved in their child’s education.

  1. Create a home environment that encourages learning.
  2. Express high (but not unrealistic) expectations for your children's achievement and future careers.
  3. Become involved in your children's education at school and in the community.

Taylor Park always welcomes and greatly appreciates family support. Family members are welcome any time to read to a class, work on site words or math flash cards, sit down for lunch in the cafeteria, or stop in to play a game. Many of our most challenging students act out negatively because they are seeking adult attention. We can fulfill this need by giving our children positive attention on a daily basis. 15-30 minutes of positive attention can go a long way. Together, we can make a positive impact.

Brian Lamm
Principal, Taylor Park Elementary

*The two articles I referenced in this blog post may be found below:
- "The Enduring Importance of Parental Involvement"
- "The Benefits of Parent Involvement: What Research Has to Say"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jones-Farrar Magnet School Hosts Kindness Campaign

By: Mr. Ken Franchi, 4th grade teacher, & Ms. Brooke Cheser, 3rd grade teacher

kindness.jpgThe kindness campaign at Jones-Farrar was run in conjunction with “Kindness Month” with the hopes of spreading kindness throughout our community. The idea centralized on having Kindness Ambassadors, two third and fourth grade students per classroom, that would be taught about the kindness campaign here at Jones-Farrar and then become responsible for taking the idea down to the 2nd, 1st, and Kindergarten classrooms.

The campaign centered on identifying kind actions that every person could do; then having them look for people being kind in an attempt to “catch” acts of kindness. If a student wanted to recognize another person’s kindness, they would fill out a Kindness Card and deliver it to the person they caught being kind. The recipient of the Kindness Card could keep the card, bring it home to share it with their family, or give it to their teacher to be displayed on our “kindness” bulletin board.

The goal of the campaign was not only to spread kindness, but also to adjust the lense through which the students saw other people in the building. Rather than looking at what their classmates were doing wrong, they could now look to see what their classmates were doing correct. In this way, kindness served as a way to recognize many of the students and staff for positive reasons, instead of something negative.

Here are some thoughts from a few of the 4th-graders:

"When I got my Kindness Card I was happy. That was my first time ever getting one (I got it from a student, for having a kind conversation with a teacher). It made me want to give somebody one because I was excited." - Ja’Michael

"I think all schools should do this because it is a really nice thing to do for each other; giving compliments and positive affirmations to each other." - Aizlynn

"When you receive a compliment, it makes you feel really good, because if you are working hard to be kind, it is nice for someone to see that." - Kendall

"I like it because it gives kids a voice that wouldn’t normally choose to use it. They can express themselves on that little piece of paper where they wouldn’t normally say it." - Ms. Cece

"It is kind of nice because if you are too scared to tell someone that you saw them being nice, you can write it on a piece of paper and give it to them." - Dominik

"Sometimes students are 'up in each other’s business' and they are looking for negative things, but when you are trying to give a Kindness Card, you are not looking for the negative, you are looking for the good." - Bryce

kindness world.jpg

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

FHS Student Profiles Teacher Who Overcame Adversity

By: Katelynn McIlwain, Junior, Freeport High School
Pretzel News

Math teacher Derek Paulsen can overcome nearly any math problem you can imagine.

But believe it or not, the problems he faced prior to becoming a teacher were far more difficult than any math.

At the age of 16, Mr. Paulsen suffered from a stroke, one that left him unable to walk. Doctors said that he may not live to see his 20th birthday, as the chance of having another stroke was very high. With great determination, however, Paulsen was able to walk again, unassisted, one year later.

Now, he can teach and do what he enjoys most: making positive impacts and challenging students in difficult subjects.

“Every problem is conquerable,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Be your own advocate for greatness and success.”

Mr. Paulsen teaches AP Statistics, Trig Analytic Geometry, and Trigonometry. He’s been teaching for 13 years and has spent 12 of those years here at Freeport High School.

“I enjoy the diversity of the student population,” Paulsen said. “I like its commitment to different groups and organizations, like NJROTC, speech, and drama. It’s great for multitudes of students, and not all schools have that luxury.”

A former wrestling coach, Paulsen has continued to be very involved in student affairs; he has been a class advisor for all four classes at some point in his career. When he’s not at school, Mr. Paulsen enjoys learning unique things, playing disc golf, fishing, doing CrossFit, weightlifting, and taking his family on vacations.

His wife, Erin, is the technology facilitator for Eastland School District. He has two sons - Brock, 4, who is in preschool and Luke, 1, who just started walking. Like his father, Luke is larger than life; just 1, he’s already in clothing made for children twice his age.

Paulsen has several degrees and certifications, including a certification in administration, and has a master’s degree in mathematics with an emphasis on teaching. His dedication is apparent to his students.

“He keeps good pace, while still making sure everyone knows the topic,” said former student Dan Rials.

Whether he’s teaching math or being FHS’s resident viking, the school is lucky to have Paulsen and his courageous outlook on not only school, but life in general.