Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taylor Park: Art Club Offers Students A Unique Opportunity

Taylor Park Family Resource Coordinator Marie Stott has a love for art. Outside of school, she spends her free time doing photography and creating art at home. Through her work with the students at Taylor Park Elementary, she noticed a need for an after school program. Ms. Stott came up with the idea of starting an after school art club, not only to share her love for art but also to give students an opportunity to be a part of something special and unique.

Extensive research has been done on the effectiveness and impact of after school programs. As the article “The Benefits of Participation in After School Activities” states, “Experts in child advancement suggest that participation in extracurricular activities on a regular basis is the best way to help children develop their individual personality, cut down on emotional stress, and enhance social or academic skills that could benefit them in the future. Psychologists even recommend after school activities as the preferred choice over confidence-building classes.”

Programs like the Taylor Park Art Club:
  1. Boost Academic Performance
  2. Improve Life and Social Skills
  3. Create Safer, Happier Children
  4. Promote Healthy Hobbies
  5. Encourage a Brighter Future 

I asked a few Taylor Park Art Club students what they had to say about their experience. Tegan C., a 2nd grade student in Ms. Bowers’ class, shared, “I like Art because I like to paint and color.” Hannah M., a 4th grade student in Mrs. Volk’s class, stated, “Art club is an interesting activity because you can stay after school to do Art. You can show your emotions. Staying with Ms. Marie is fun too, and you get to have a snack.” Teighan M., a 4th grader in Mrs. Pleshkewych’s class, added that her mom plans to hang her completed art pieces on the wall in her bedroom. Her favorite Art Club project so far was the button tree (pictured) because “there were so many different buttons to choose from.”

Each quarter, the Taylor Park Art club has an opportunity for new participants. Anywhere from 15-20 Kindergarten through 4th grade students with parental permission can sign up for this after school program. Ms. Stott tries to reach a different group of students each quarter by allowing new participants to sign up for the club first. If there are spots available, she then opens the club up to students who have participated before. Supplies for the program are funded through donations and fundraising. If you would like to donate supplies to the Taylor Park Art Club, please contact Ms. Marie Stott at Taylor Park Elementary at 815-232-0390.

Brian Lamm, Principal
Taylor Park Elementary School

The article referenced, “The Benefits of Participation in After School Activities”, can be accessed in its entirety at the following link:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Empire Elementary: Creating a 21st-Century Library

Freeport School District’s theme for the 2017-2018 school year is “Adapt to the Change!” Empire Elementary School is hoping to do just! Technology is by far the fastest changing element in the 21st Century. Do you recall the McFly family sitting around the dinner table wearing Virtual Reality Goggles in Back to the Future II? Well, the future is here and Empire School is on the cusp of making this futuristic situation a reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real way by a person using special electronic equipment.

VR has the potential to change multiple industries, including entertainment, design, real estate and especially education. So far, only a few students have been able to harness the power of Virtual Reality, but it is likely to be something that the children born this decade could consider standard once they reach high school.

What are the benefits of VR in education? 

Students can participate in field trips beyond imagination. One group of students was treated to an awesome excursion: a bus ride to Mars. The bus was transformed, replacing the view out the window with the landscape of the red planet. This incredible journey was easily accessible to students using VR equipment. 

Students can also find themselves transported to the plains of the Kalahari, the deepest depths of the Pacific Ocean, or the peak of Mount Everest without ever leaving the classroom. Have you ever wondered what it was like to walk among the dinosaurs or to be a part of a wagon-train traveling across the United States? Imagine learning Italian by visiting cafes in Venice. Imagine exploring career fields by walking alongside doctors, microbiologists, and world-renowned chefs and artists. Imagine watching volcanoes erupt and crossing the Delaware with George Washington. The possibilities are endless!

Virtual Reality equipment gets kids excited about the “STEM” subjects, meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is a way to open a world of interactive technology to students, making learning exciting and fun. 

According to the Virtual Reality Society, using VR in education provides benefits that include:
  • Active, rather than passive, learning
  • An immersive experience
  • Immediate engagement
  • A hands-on approach that aids retention
  • Helping students to understand complex subjects and theories

Using VR equipment has also been shown to improve user performance in tasks such as spatial understanding, memorization, comprehension, and engagement.

For those of us born in different generations, doing something as technical as this at such a young age seems impressive. However, with an increasing dependence on technical skills in the workplace, it is more important than ever that children start learning to operate various kinds of technology from their young age.

Let’s embrace the change that technology creates. Let's create experiences that shape who our young people become. Let’s allow our students to experience first-hand all that their minds can wonder.

The Empire faculty and students are raising funds to purchase such equipment for the school library. Every student will have access to the experiences afforded through Virtual Reality. If you are interested in donating to one of our projects, please contact Empire Elementary School at 815-232-0380. We would be proud to offer our students learning that is only limited by their imaginations.

Chris Truckenmiller, 2nd Grade Teacher
Empire Elementary School

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lincoln-Douglas: What Is Project Based Learning Really About?

As an educator for 30 years, I am continually amazed at how education has changed. When I started, education wasn’t much more than the teacher presenting a lesson, and students sitting and receiving the knowledge that was offered. Much of the learning was done through texts or notes, and very little authentic learning was taking place. It was, in many aspects, the same educational offerings that were available to students in the 19th and 20th centuries. The age old practices of spelling lists, fact tables, and handwriting were the expected outcomes. There were students who excelled at this type of learning, but more often than not, students were put into above average, average, and poor categories. Those who excelled were considered gifted, and those that were at the other end were, more often than not, forgotten. 

In today’s dynamic learning environments, educators are challenged with helping all students find educational success. We are charged with teaching students to be creative, to be critical thinkers, to collaborate, and to learn to communicate. These 21st century skills are the basis for all occupations, and are discussed and reinforced throughout all curricular areas and grade levels. Teachers and systems are expected to show growth on high stakes tests, to involve the community, and to develop our children to think and problem-solve. This is a much different focus than when I was a student in public education. Now, education is expected to be globally competent and competitive. In addition, our global community has become more focused on solving some of our greatest challenges: famine, poverty, and more.

How is Lincoln-Douglas tackling these many and varied needs our students are facing? With driven teachers, focused and purposeful lessons, three new and excellent curricula, and a philosophy of learning with purpose. In other words, one of our focuses is learning through Project Based Learning (PBL).

Unlike the projects of old, such as putting leaves on a board and sticking it up on the wall, for instance, the new project based learning process focuses on thinking and the purpose behind instructional learning. PBL starts with a meaningful, intentional question that drives further inquiry for students. From this starting point, students create and explore ways to find answers to not only that focused question, but other questions that it creates. Next, students look at ways to put together their research and then present their new knowledge to their peers, parents, teachers, or whomever their audience will be.

How does PBL look at Lincoln-Douglas? We are at the very start of this process, and we are dedicated to continually improving our instructional skills.

At Lincoln-Douglas, our preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are finding creative ways to use PBL for our students. In preschool, for example, Mrs. Rittmeyer is working on how to create delicious pizzas. She is having students answer the critical question, “What makes a great pizza?” From there, the students are thinking of ingredients, making drawings, constructing model pizzas, and explaining their thinking about why their ideas make a great pizza. There is no right or wrong. There are only possibilities and excitement for learning. From there, our preschool students will be going to a local pizza establishment to create pizzas of their very own.

Earlier this fall, our kindergarten students asked the critical question, “What makes a butterfly?” They observed Monarch caterpillars eating and growing on milkweed. From there they watched caterpillars pupate and become chrysalises. Finally, once the beautiful Monarch butterflies emerged from their encasements, the students walked to an open area and released them to their journeys and adventures. Throughout this process, students wrote stories, kept detailed notes, and prepared presentations to give to other students throughout the school. Even 4th graders were an audience, and our kindergartners blossomed. You could see the pride in their work and the ownership in their knowledge. They even taught the adults a thing or two about the life-cycle of these amazing Monarch Butterflies. 

Starting in November, the first grade children will be exploring natural habitats and looking at a variety of critical questions: “What is a habitat? What adaptations are needed to survive in that habitat? Have there ever been exceptions in the animal kingdom to these adaptations?” The first grade students will be creating a number of sub-presentations looking at animals' regional temperatures, body coverings, diets, and more. So much of what they will learn requires asking questions they have yet to create. Their questions will drive their presentations and permit them to own their learning at whole new levels. We are all anxiously awaiting the outstanding learning that will be taking place in our first grade classrooms through this project.

As I hope you can see, I am very passionate about Project Based Learning. At 
Lincoln-Douglas, our teachers are equally, if not more, passionate about taking risks with learning and asking critical questions to drive inquiry. Education has moved from the age of sitting and getting to become an enriching educational process for all students to succeed and achieve. Lincoln-Douglas is leading the way in this area, and I cannot be more proud of the efforts being made every day to improve instruction so students can create their successes. Lincoln-Douglas is driven to offer powerful, purposeful learning opportunities for all of our students to become the professionals and craftsmen and women of the future. We are dedicated to our students and their future successes. Well done, Lincoln-Douglas!

Matthew Bohrer, Principal
Lincoln-Douglas Elementary

In Cooperation With: Lincoln-Douglas PBL Task Force members Jackie Rittmeyer, Stephanie Webster, Katherine Lutz, Kim Confer, & Jenice Jacobs, as well as FSD 21st Century Learning Coordinator Sandra Ehrat.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Jones-Farrar: What does it mean to be an International Baccalaureate School?

The IB programme is prestigious and recognized worldwide for its rigorous standards of teaching, pedagogical leadership, and student achievement. Jones-Farrar earned the accreditation of an International Baccalaureate World School in 2013, which is another achievement we need to celebrate and promote for the benefit of our community.  Only 539 schools in the US offer the IB Primary Years Program (PYP), and we are one of 12 schools in Illinois. We desire to put full emphasis on the mission of IB, which is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who are motivated to succeed. IB is synonymous with 21st Century Learning, and we are proud to offer this program to the families of Freeport.

At the heart of the IB programme is the Learner Profile. The Learner Profile is 10 qualities, referred to as attributes, that serve as inspiration for the work of teachers, students, and schools and prepare our students to be “internationally minded.” Through thoughtfully designed learning experiences, students construct their own understanding of these attributes and how they can be developed in ways that empower students to be responsible global citizens.

When you walk into an IB classroom, you will often observe teachers facilitating discussions that invite students to reflect on the learning experiences of the day; for example, “I was open-minded because I didn’t think I would enjoy yoga but it was really fun!” or “I think I could be more balanced by focusing on my work in the classroom and saving my jokes for the playground.”  For the IB, developing the minds and character of our students is the curriculum. IB is unique because it puts the focus on the whole person as a life-long learner, as opposed to merely the completion of grade level standards. We make connections to the attributes across the content areas throughout our day in the books we read, as we think like mathematicians, and as we explore conceptual ideas.

At Jones-Farrar IB World School, our mission statement is: “To develop a community of lifelong learners, to respect diversity, promote service to others, and use critical thinking and problem solving skills to be responsible global citizens.” IB is a unique experience because we make values concrete, we make the skills of learning tangible, and we use inquiry to make learning accessible for all learners. IB isn’t just a program; it’s a way of life.

Now in its seventh year of operation, we hold the accredited status of Jones-Farrar IB World School. This year, we are preparing for the vigorous demands of reauthorization, a two year process that is evaluated every five years. As we work as a learning community to reflect and refine our programme, we are thankful for the district and community support and are committed to our mission. Being an IB school means we can provide a unique educational experience that will help our children define themselves and their roles in making our world a better place!

Jennifer DeJong, Principal
Carmen Madigan, Reading Teacher & PYP Coordinator
Laura Stocker, 4th Grade Teacher & PYP Coordinator
Jones-Farrar IB World School

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mr. Ben Asche Looking Forward to School Year as New Carl Sandburg Middle School Principal

It is with great excitement that I will be able to serve you as the new principal at Carl Sandburg Middle School.  As many of you may know, Carl Sandburg has been my home for the past ten years. I have served in the school as a physical education/health education teacher, dean, athletic director, and assistant principal. Over these years, I have dedicated myself to creating positive relationships with all students, staff, and parents to help promote a healthy educational experience for all.

As an administrator, I will continue to create these positive relationships, but I also believe that it is imperative to support all students, parents, and staff members to be the best they can be. Doing so will foster a climate that is challenging, supportive, and engaging to the 21st century student. We will also strive for students to be productive citizens, critical thinkers, great communicators, and creative collaborators, preparing them to be college and career ready.

Finally, I want to emphasize that being a productive member of our school community is so important to the success of our students.  Please take the time to support your child with their school work, reach out to your child’s teachers with questions or concerns, join us for family nights, volunteer at sporting events or other school activities, and encourage your child to do the best they can do!

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, concerns, or ideas to help support a positive school climate for all. My email is and my office number is 815-232-0340.

Thank you and I can’t wait to see everyone this fall. Enjoy the rest of your summer!


Ben Asche
Principal, Carl Sandburg Middle School

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summer University Wraps Up Successful 2nd Year

Freeport School District’s Summer University has grown since last year and was a huge success! Summer University is an enrichment summer learning program that is available to all students.  Carl Sandburg Middle School hosted over 500 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The students participated in a variety of 21st century teaching and learning courses including: Backpack through Europe, Brain Works, Build a Computer, CSI, Just Plane Awesome, Kids in the Kitchen, Kids that Code, Lego Robotics, Makerspace, Minecraft Mania, Operation Teamwork, Rockin in the Rainforest, Spanish Fiesta, Video Game Design, and Young Composers.

Students had the opportunity to participate in two different courses during the program. Each course offered the student a new opportunity and experience. The Brain Works course was designed to give some remediation or enrichment instruction in the areas of English and Math, as well as a DefinedSTEM Project. DefinedSTEM was used last summer and throughout the 2016-2017 school year in all FSD145 schools. The DefinedSTEM project allowed the students to use Math and English skills to investigate, problem solve, and create something to display their learning. Within the DefinedSTEM project the students would have a goal to complete, a role to take on (Architect), an audience for their work (Prospective House Buyer), a situation they need to problem solve, and a product to create. The other courses allowed students to build computers through Minecraft, bake delicious food, tinker with Makerspace objects, create/produce music, code, build robotic legos, and learn the true definition of collaboration and teamwork.  

During Summer University, all students utilized their 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity to complete a project. Students presented their authentic learning to parents and community members on July 6th during Summer Showcase 2017. We are very happy with the amazing collaborative work the students completed during their time at Summer University.

As we look forward to next summer, we will continue to reflect on our practices to determine ways to improve our program. Students, parents, and teachers had the opportunity to complete surveys to provide feedback about the program. This information will be used to continue to improve and expand Summer University. The possibilities of Summer University are endless and we look forward to seeing you next summer!

Tammy Shippert & Chris Walocha
Summer University Co-Principals

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