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Small Things and Great LovePosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 6/5/2020 10:30:00 AM
By Logan Laszczyk
COVID-19 shut many doors these past three months, but it could not shut out the love and the immeasurable impact of Mrs. Anna Aguilera and Mrs. Carrie Young. Aguilera and Young spearheaded a 10-week long effort that assisted families, students, and the community around Rogers Elementary School.
Mother Theresa said, “We can do small things with great love.”
What started off as small acts of kindness turned into a greater labor of love for both Aguilera and Young. They soon realized they would have to go above and beyond what Colorado Springs School District 11’s sack lunch program could provide. They wanted to serve all who needed.
“All means all,” said Young, a 2nd-grade teacher who just finished up her 20th year at Rogers. When she spoke of serving everyone, she referenced a message she heard by District 11’s superintendent, Dr. Michael Thomas in the summer of 2019. That message emphasized a commitment for District 11 to be an inclusive community and serve all students regardless of needs and circumstance, a message that resonated with Young.
Doors opened as Aguilera and Young reached out to community resources. Masks were sown and given to families and businesses. Businesses began to donate boxes of food. A local restaurant owner and District 11 volunteer donated more than 500lbs of fruits and vegetables.
Rogers staff and members of the community anonymously donated money. That money went to purchasing basic food supplies like milk, bread, pasta, and hotdogs. A Facebook message even led to larger donations. Several large donations were received from Hanover, Colorado, including a donation that was three full carloads. Personal toiletries and even craft supplies found their way into the capable and caring hands of Aguilera and Young.
Volunteers and Rogers staff members responded too! Teachers, teacher aides, and school volunteers would divvy food into boxes for pick-up under Aguilera’s direction. Families drove into Rogers’ parking lot and were greeted by a masked volunteer with a box of food and a smile. Those families who did not have access to transportation had a box of food delivered directly to their doorstep.
Aguilera was and is the heart of Rogers ‘efforts to meet the basic needs of families. She serves as Roger’s Community Liaison. Her in-depth knowledge of community resources and her ability to speak Spanish is a huge asset. She runs an extensive food and clothing pantry that has given help and hope to dozens of families over the years.
Aguilera noted the increasing generosity and ability to meet more needs. She noted that the first few weeks about 25 boxes were prepared. “We eventually increased to 35 baskets and were doing 42 baskets over the last three weeks,” Aguilera said.
Rogers Elementary is community and family to both Aguilera and Young. They live near the school. The families and students of the school are an extension of their individual families. Although there were and are many needs in our Colorado Springs community, Aguilera and Young are optimistic. Whether it has been individual donations, churches, community agencies, or the community-at-large, people always have supported others in times of need.
“My philosophy is if we can alleviate some basic needs and lessen stressors, our families have more time to read to their child or attend a school function,” Aguilera shared.
Young added that her physical and emotional wellness is only stronger when those she serves are healthier as she held a sign toward cars driving by that said, “Honk if you have hope.”
We all hope for better days ahead. Those days will come when people like Aguilera and Young open doors of hope and help with small but great acts of love to all in their community.
Odyssey Senior Georgiana Aweanung Overcomes Odds to Make Dreams Come TruePosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 12/11/2019 9:30:00 AM
Seventeen-year-old Georgiana Aweanung isn't letting anything stand in her way as she pursues her dreams of becoming a top cyber security analyst. Originally from Cameroon, West Africa, when Georgiana was just two years old, her father escaped from Cameroon in 2004 because he was wanted by the government for fighting for human rights. Georgiana remembers her life in Cameroon, stating, "When my dad left we lived in our village (Tinechung) hiding in fear of being killed too. We depended on farm work for food."
In 2009, Georgiana's dad started the legal process to file for her mother, Georgiana and her five siblings to come to the U.S. However, when they arrived, Georgiana soon learned that life would be different for her. "When we all came, we lived in a two bedroom apartment. There was eight of us. Don't ask how we did it!" As Georgiana learned, school in her new country would be much different than in Cameroon. "First my mom dropped me off at school and I started crying 'cause I didn't know what to do. I didn't know my classes, I didn't know anything. I didn't even understand how to speak English the way people here do." After overcoming the language barrier, Georgiana soon became more familiar with school and started to impress her teachers and principal. "I was selected to share my story at my 8th grade graduation in front of all of the students, parents, and staff."
As Georgiana continued to pursue her education goals, she started to ask more questions about her options for high schools. She asked about how concurrent enrollment worked and if there was a high school she could attend where she could earn college credits because money was tight for her family and she knew college was expensive. "By the time I finished 8th grade, I had found the Wasson Campus."
Today, Georgiana is a senior at Odyssey Early College and Career Options (ECCO). Her goal? She wants to be the world's top cyber security analyst. Georgiana is now pursuing a prestigeous full-ride scholarship called the Daniels Fund Scholarship. "When I started my application for the Daniels Fund Scholarship, at first I thought, 'They're not going to want me! I don't deserve a scholarship. I'm not as smart as other kids.'" Georgiana continues to get support from a counselor who sends her encouraging notes and motivates her to apply for the scholarship. "It's like a dream come true, for someone like me, who has come a long way to be where I am today.
This spring, Georgiana will be graduating, not one time, but two. She will have earned her high school diploma and a college associate's degree. "I'm looking forward to graduation!"
Watch the full interview with Georgiana here.
West Middle School Finds New "Sources of Strength"Posted by Adapted from a story by Gazette freelance writer, Patty Tomsky on 11/15/2019 10:30:00 AM
People across the country have been deeply impacted by the fact that youth suicide rates have been on the rise. At West Middle School, the students and counselors are working together to address this issue.
Sources of Strength (SoS) is a nationwide suicide awareness program. D11 uses this program as we recognize the need to address mental health due to the increase in suicide rates. West Middle School is one of many D11 schools to integrate this program. West Middle School students are clamoring to get involved with this program. Why?
Eighth grader Cambria Zelonis-Stewart thinks that it’s because it makes students feel more connected to their community. “I’m in my third year working on Sources of Strength. It helps you realize that even though we all have our own friend groups, we’re all the same—wanting to feel a part of something.” Second-year Sources of Strength volunteer Erik Harris concurs: “My favorite thing about the Sources of Strength experience is that it lets me interact with people I might not automatically have a reason to talk to—it also makes it okay to ask for help,” Harris said.
The building blocks of belonging
The program also works with kids on issues such as substance abuse and violence. The middle school students who have volunteered to work as peer leaders run the program for their classmates and the entire school. This model is called, “relational connectedness” and builds bonds among students to enhance their knowledge of these issues as a group, as well as encourage students to seek help if needed and/or identify ways to develop inner resilience and strength to avoid being caught up in negative situations and mind-states.
“It’s all about positivity,” said Levi Rago. “We can be the people that kids can go to if they’re feeling bad when it’s harder to go to an adult.”
SoS Adult Advisor and West Middle School Counseling Secretary & Registrar Kelly Brakefield, said, “In a peer-adult connected community, kids will be able to have the tough conversations they need to have. Whether it’s through reaching out with messages, video, texts or in one-on-one conversations, Sources of Strength builds skills among the kids to ensure they know what to do if confronted with these tough issues.”
Such programs have been shown to improve coping behaviors and problems such as “self-harm, drug use, or unhealthy sexual practices.” According to the website, after being exposed to Sources of Strength, students can be said to possess: “eight critical protective factors that are linked to overall psychological wellness and reduced suicide risk."
“The conversations around these issues are so crucial: we work to help our students gain the knowledge and skills they need to reach out to others and form a sense of belonging that becomes a ripple effect of positive change and improved coping behaviors,” said Counselor and SoS Advisor Sarah Clapham.
At West Middle School, students are sharing what makes them special and displaying each of these contributions as a “vital part of the larger whole.” By writing or stating how “I Belong,” on a puzzle piece and then fitting that paper into a large poster in the hallway outside the counseling center for everyone to see. Students can cultivate a sense that “We Belong” by reading, “I play soccer and I belong” or “I am Latino and I belong,” or “I am an extrovert and I belong.”
SoS student member Annie Wruble said, “It was so cool for me to read other soccer players up there on the wall and make new connections with people I didn’t even know played soccer.”
Important Pieces of the Puzzle
“This campaign is visually represented by a puzzle with no end pieces, with the goal of filling up the entire wall, extending far past the bulletin board, to highlight our individuality while demonstrating we are all part of the bigger picture,” Brakefield said. The wider community will be involved as Sources of Strength students are extending the puzzle piece project to include district administrators and others in the community.
On November 11, SoS students presented to other classes why the program was happening. They enthusiastically visited classrooms, carrying puzzle pieces they had made for their classmates in 7th grade Math and Science teacher Tena Logan’s class. The students were articulate as they explained to a classroom of their peers why the campaign was so important to them and to the school community at large.
“We want everyone to know they are a part of our family,” Zelonis-Stewart said. “You have someone to talk to if you ever need help.”
See the video excerpts here.
A Behind the Scenes Peek: Teaching in D11Posted by DEVRA ASHBY on 11/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
What does it take to be a teacher in D11? Not only do our amazing classroom educators obtain degrees (many have advanced degrees) and teaching licences, but they also go through a process called, "induction." This process is a coaching process that allows veteran educators to mentor those who are newer to the classroom environment. "In District 11, induction is an exciting thing for our new teachers. They are assigned a coach. This coach builds a relationship with you, goes into your classroom, watches you instruct, and provides you just-in-time feedback," says Lisa Wolf, D11 Induction Coordinator.
Induction seeks to increase student achievement by developing teacher efficacy through confidential coaching, collaboration, consultation, and continuous, job-embedded Professional Development. For teachers new to the profession, an induction coach is just the type of mentor needed to build confidence and learn how to be succussful in the classroom and beyond. "We have the energy and we want to try new things, but it's good to know what works so we're not reinventing the wheel all the time," says Renee Chaves, second grade teacher at Keller Elementary School.
For veteran teachers who want to teach what they've learned throughout their careers, being an induction coach is very rewarding. "I just wanted to have the opportunity as I was finishing my career to have that chance to work with the next generation of teachers, helping them achieve that same level of fullfillment that I was so lucky to have in District 11," says Julie Overtuf. Julie taught in D11 for more than 25 years and now she is helping to coach new teachers.
We are thankful to all of our educators who have so much passion for educating our D11 students!
Watch the Induction video here.
Freedom 4th Grader Wins Big Award in the Midst of Fighting CancerPosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 9/27/2019 9:00:00 AM
"I want to find a cure for cancer," says 4th grade Freedom Elementary student, Jalen Thompson. This desire is not so surprising considering what he is going through. For over a year, Jalen has battled leukemia. Jalen’s work as an ambassador for Children’s Hospital, his courageous journey, and his hopeful, positive attitude which inspires others, demonstrate the best qualities in our youth. His teachers are proud to share the incredibly positive impact he makes in the classroom each and every day.
Today, that positive attitude and desire to help others was rewarded when Jalen received the Junior Division of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT) Youth Impact Award for 2019. This award, formerly known as the Distinguished Student Award, is designed to recognize children ages 7-18, who have made a positive, meaningful, and beneficial impact on others in their classroom, school and community.
Jalen’s teachers agree, his outlook on life shines through in both his words and actions. “If someone is hurt, he will be the one to help them.” Someday, Jalen would like to find a cure for cancer, but his explanation behind this wish says so much about who he is. “Because of my chemo treatments, I will be OK. But there are a lot of people out there who won’t live very long because of the type of cancer they have. I am the lucky one.” Jalen's dad, Chad Thompson, is so proud of his son and says, "When other people recognize how special your kid is and how hard that he's worked, there's just no words to express what that means."
Congratulations to Jalen Thompson! He is an inspiration to us all.
Two D11 Students Place First in Mayor's Cyber Cup PSA Video CompetitionPosted by DONNA HINES on 9/23/2019 10:00:00 AM
Alex Umana, Odyssey ECCO, and Kyle Donahoo, The Bijou School, were awarded first place in the Colorado Springs Mayor’s Cyber Cup PSA Video Competition. Students from high schools across El Paso County participated in the inaugural video competition. For the competition, students created 30-second, Cybersecurity Public Service Announcement videos explaining why cyber safety is important in one of three topics: online safety, cyberbullying, or social media safety. Six teams from our sudoCYBER CTSO organization participated in the competition. All students participating in the competition and their parents/guardians were invited to a luncheon at the Broadmoor International Conference Center during the National Cybersecurity Center Symposium to celebrate the program and recognize the winners.
Mitchell Honors One of their Own on Patriot DayPosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 9/13/2019 9:00:00 AM
As the country reflects on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, most of our students hadn't been born yet or were babies on that tragic day. Now, many years later, we teach our students the meaning behind Patriot Day and what it means to #neverforget. Many schools honored first responders by hosting special ceremonies or guest speakers. For Mitchell High School, every year they honor one of their very own, who perished in the 9/11 attacks. Watch this video to hear from the Mitchell High School Air Force JROTC students for their perspective on 9/11.
Jeff Peckham - Vocal Music Director at Palmer HSPosted by DEVRA ASHBY on 8/29/2019
How much of an impact does a teacher have on their students? Ask Mike Bauer that question. Mike is a former D11 student who, at a very impressionable age, met a vocal music teacher by the name of Mr. Jeff Peckham.
Through tough times and trials, Mike came to trust Mr. Peckham and both bonded over music. Mr. Peckham helped teach Mike a life lesson: you have a choice to take the tough times in life and either use them to make you stronger and more positive, or let them break you.
Recently, Mike, who is now a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney AND a LA-based independent singer/songwriter, paid it forward, visiting Palmer and conducting master’s music classes alongside of some of his professional music industry colleagues. Watch the full story in the video below of Mr. Peckham and Mike’s heartfelt bond between a student and his teacher/mentor.