These characteristics of the Sheboygan Falls School District’s safety plan for emergency situations immediately impressed the district’s School Resource Officer Doug Hall when he came to Sheboygan Falls three years ago.
“They’ve been ahead of the curve in having a plan that’s very easy to work with and a process whereby we are always updating and revising it,” Hall said.
Hall and members of the district’s safety committee meet quarterly to review the plan and staff training procedures, revising when necessary. Staff are trained regularly in “table top” exercises that focus on what if scenarios that can apply to many emergency situations. They are tested on their knowledge by occasional unannounced visits by the county’s director of emergency management, Steve Steinhardt, who tries to gain access to a building through a door other than the main one. During fire drills, a building principal will sometimes “hide” a student to see if the student’s teacher realizes he or she is not there.
Hall is not the only one impressed by the plan. Steinhardt, who assists the district in other types of safety training, calls it a “stellar plan.” And he and Hall are using it as a model for other districts as they work to create countywide cooperation among public school districts on emergency and safety matters.
“We are looking at a countywide model that everyone can adopt so we’re all working off the same page,” Steinhardt explained. “We want to make sure all the schools in the county are working off the same plan.”
Officials in the Howards Grove School District took the Sheboygan Falls safety plan and adopted it with slight changes to fit their individual circumstances. Other districts are looking at adopting the plan as well.
The only district not involved in the countywide initiative is the Sheboygan Area School District, which as the county’s largest school district has different issues that the smaller districts do not.
The goal would be to create a county school safety team that would meet annually and have representatives from all the school districts. The team could discuss issues common to all the districts and collaborate on training.
One of the things that Hall likes most about the Sheboygan Falls safety plan is how simply and clearly it is written. There are no acronyms and codes red or yellow and color-coded copies of the plan protocols are within easy reach in every classroom.
He is also impressed by how committed the staff are to safety training.
“I was amazed at this district when we do drills how efficient they are,” he said. “The staff are not afraid to do drills.”
Even though Sheboygan Falls is not an urban center, it is “not immune” from emergency situations, he added.
“We’re not sticking our heads in the sand,” Hall said.
Steinhardt said he appreciates the way Sheboygan Falls officials take time to keep up with training and updating the plan in contrast to some places where a plan is created and then never looked at again.
“It’s our kids,” he said. “We need a plan that’s not just in writing but that’s practiced.”
SFSD Co-sponsors Mental Health Presentation
On Monday March 6, Christie Gause-Bemis, a Department of Public Instruction education consultant, spoke with a highly interested crowd of approximately 30 community members. She presented on a topic that she said some people find difficult to talk about: Mental Health. Her presentation was co-sponsored by the School District of Sheboygan Falls and Lakeland University in an effort to open up the conversation about mental health within the Sheboygan Falls community.
Gause-Bemis set the stage by stating that the solution to a problem is found by rooting out the source. She used the parable of the river to visualize the impact of mental health issues on children. She described a fictitious community that found many babies just floating down river. Concerned, people would pick up the babies and care for them, yet the people asked, “Where are they coming from?”
Gause-Bemis said the question must be, “What’s happening at the head of the river causing our babies to float down this river?”
Quoting a national statistic, Gause-Bemis said, “One in five people suffer from a mental illness. We know community collaboration works to create better access and supports for student to have access to services.”
“Wellness is a big piece of the initiative and reducing stigmas. It’s time to put our fingers away and have a real conversation,” she said.
Ann Roy, the School District of Sheboygan Falls director of student services, described some District initiatives regarding mental health.
“We have been trying to build capacity in our school district, helping staff understand more about mental wellness and mental health issues, in general. We are learning more and more about brain development and what happens when brain development is interrupted. But it isn’t enough until we have everybody in the conversation. Teachers, parents, businesses, everybody in our community,” Roy said.
“I am buoyed to see this many people turn out,” said Roy, describing her response to the evening. “Research tells us mental health supports equals improvement in student achievement and it is directly linked to social/emotion competency as an adult,” Roy said.
In turn, audience participants were asked why they came to the meeting.
“I want my child be successful. I want to know what to look for, I really don’t know,” said one audience member.
Another said, “How do we talk to our kids about so we don’t raise them with a stigma? I don’t know how to ask questions or what system of support is out there.”
Identifying herself as a person who works with children in her job, another participant said, “It is interesting to hear what other districts are doing. I work in different districts, and I can understand what’s out there. Schools are under local control. Every district is different.”
Roy and Gause-Bemis pointed to examples of other Wisconsin school districts and the work they are doing to address mental health, citing Hortonville and Pulaski School Districts. Gause-Bemis said that in Pulaski they trained people in youth mental health first aid, a course that can be provided locally, she said.
“The School District of Sheboygan Falls is participating in conversation with other school districts County-wide. It is on everyone’s agenda,” she said.
At the conclusion of the evening, Roy asked interested participants to leave their email addresses if they wanted to continue to be a part of more information sharing. “We don’t know our next steps yet, but we will continue this work,” she concluded.
Sheboygan Falls Addresses Mental Health
The Sheboygan Falls community is proactively addressing one of the biggest challenges affecting Wisconsin school children today – mental health.
The School District of Sheboygan Falls and Lakeland University are partnering to explore ways the district can continue to improve services to students with mental health needs.
On Monday, March 6, Christie Gause-Bemis, education consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and an expert on mental health issues, will come to Sheboygan Falls to talk with community members and educators becoming involved in what the School District of Sheboygan Falls is doing to address student mental health needs.
Her talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Sheboygan Falls Public Library.
The talk is part of a growing partnership between the Sheboygan Falls District and Lakeland’s Master of Arts in counseling program.
This event and the partnership comes at a time when mental health is becoming a broader focus. In his recent state budget proposal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed $6.5 million for mental health programs and services. According to Governor Walker’s office, an estimated one in five school-age children and youth struggle with mental health issues and of these, 80 percent of those students do not receive professional help.
“The Sheboygan Falls School District is taking a proactive approach, and instead of waiting for someone to solve the problem for them they have established a partnership with us and we’re working together to raise awareness and explore future programming,” said Deborah Bilzing, director of Lakeland’s master of arts in counseling program.
While discussions are still in the early stages, the School District and Lakeland have talked about training workshops offered through Lakeland’s counseling program, in addition to graduate coursework for district teachers and staff.
“Pupil Services staff can’t address the issues alone” Bilzing said. “We want classroom teachers and staff to be able to recognize mental health issues when they see them and the basic knowledge and skills to help and support their students’ academic, personal, social and career success.”
“Our schools are places where all students should feel welcome and are able to do their best learning” said Jean Born, superintendent of the School District of Sheboygan Falls. “We also know that all students learn and perform better in school when they have the resources to address individual needs. We are hopeful this program will provide the district with additional resources and training that can help us better help all children,” she said.
At the March 6 event, Gause-Bemis will also discuss best practices where communities have had success in addressing the mental health needs of their residents.
“Schools are part of the community. Anything we can do to be good partners in our community is also good for our students,” said Born.
An instructor in Lakeland’s counselor program, Gause-Bemis has worked across the systems in mental health for the duration of her career as a county social worker, a school social worker, a treatment foster care social worker and a psychotherapist in private practice.
She has developed and worked in School Based Mental Health, opening a satellite/branch clinic in a school. She has a unique perspective in working with and in communities to come together around discussions for supports for youth with behavioral health challenges.
She co-authored a curriculum with her husband, John, The Voyage: Phases of Change for At-Risk Youth.
PRESS RELEASE February 15, 2017
PRESS RELEASE February 15, 2017
The School District Sheboygan Falls Board of Education and administrative team met Monday, February 6 to review the status of current building plans for the new middle school. The firms of Epstein Uhen Architects and CG Schmidt are assisting the district on this project.
Robert Vajgrt, architect with Epstein Uhen Architects, and Dan Davis, construction manager from CG Schmidt, presented to the group Monday night. Vajgrt explained that the district has been working with a district visioning team to gather input into the schematic design of the building since early December.
“We used a visioning process and asked a series of questions to determine what future education will look like in Sheboygan Falls,” he said. From the visioning process, the architects gathered ideas about what the new building should accomplish, but also what the building might look like, he explained.
“One idea the group discussed was the importance of the river to this area, and the historic nature of Sheboygan Falls. Another piece that started to come through the conversations was the industrial base of the area,” said Vajgrt.
“For example, we started to think how we to incorporate a river. The river gave us an idea for the circulation pattern inside the school. This idea started to glue the building together, forming neighborhoods of grade levels along the hallways,” said Vajgrt.
Vajgrt shared several diagrams and preliminary first and second level floor plans. The two-story building will have many windows to bring in natural light, he also explained. Initial diagrams shared with the Board “are far from finished,” he said.
The Board reviewed initial designs of the exterior of the building, the site plan, and the interior floor plans. The Board reviewed ideas for the common spaces, the library, the gym spaces, and the performance stage. The district will soon be moving into the design/development stage of work, which is a “definitive” process, according to Vajgrt. “We’ll get more and more specific,” he said.
The next step after Monday’s meeting with the Board is to continue the work so that plans are ready to submit to the City’s planning commission on March 14, in preparation for a Planning Commission meeting on March 28.
Dependent upon the March 28 meeting and how quickly decisions can be reached on details of the project, current plans are to have a first set of bidding packets ready in April, followed by a second bidding packet in June.
Currently, the District is planning that groundbreaking will occur in June.
Sheboygan Falls Transforming Technical Education
Sheboygan Falls Transforming Technical Education
Gleaming floors and freshly painted walls, state of the art industrial equipment with sophisticated software to match -- this is not your father's auto shop anymore.
Instead, the Sheboygan Falls High School room once used to teach auto repair and store maintenance equipment has been transformed into the Innovation Design Center where students will learn and hone technical skills they can carry from the classroom to the workplace.
A ribbon cutting and open house event took place on Thursday, October 13. Guests included State Superintendent Tony Evers, Sheboygan County lawmakers, and members of both the Sheboygan County Chamber and Sheboygan Falls Chamber Main Street. Evers complimented the district’s efforts providing academic and career opportunities. Congressman Glenn Grothman, who serves on the Education Committee, shared that he wanted to bring all of the Congressmen to Sheboygan Falls to see what the district was offering to students.
"This is not a single faceted room," said Ed Hughes, the Sheboygan Falls High School technical education teacher who has spearheaded development of the new space. "This is a general purpose facility with highly technical equipment that students will use to build STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related projects."
The center was created in part because of a push by the district to incorporate more hands-on, project-based learning into the curriculum, not just in the technology education area but across all subject areas and grades. This deepens students' understanding of academics and develops critical thinking skills that are crucial to preparing them for post-high school education and careers that require higher technical skills than ever before no matter what the field.
The addition of the center will allow the high school to offer a Computer Aided Design and Engineering class next fall for the first time. Other engineering classes will be added later. Students taking the STEM Geometry class will also be using the equipment in the lab. And members of the county-wide robotics team, which is hosted by Sheboygan Falls, will be using state of the art robotics equipment to build their projects.
One of the highlights of the lab is a 33 ton plastic injection molding machine -- identical to ones used in industrial facilities -- that comes to the high school through a partnership between the district and Bemis Manufacturing Company. According to Milacron, which is manufacturing the machine, this is the first time this type of unit has ever been used at the high school level.
Bemis and Sheboygan Falls have worked together before including collaborating on a highly successful summer externship program for teachers where educators spend a week touring Bemis and its suppliers and learning more about the manufacturing process and the types of careers available there. The goal of such efforts is to raise awareness of the highly skilled nature of manufacturing jobs and encourage more students to consider a career in manufacturing, according to Scott Kuehn, technical talent acquisition coordinator for Bemis.
"Four year college is not for everyone," said Kuehn. "This really leverages the skill sets some of these students possess. Let's play to their strengths."
Kuehn has worked with the Sheboygan Area School District on their technical education program but that focused primarily on training students in specific skills -- like welding -- and did not include any training in plastics. So he asked Sheboygan Falls to consider adding that element to its revamped technical education lab.
By learning to use the injection molding machine, students will not only learn how to make plastic parts but will also be exposed to other skills such as material management and hydraulics. Under the arrangement between Bemis, the district and Milacron, the machine will be replaced every two years by a newer model.
"The students are always going to get the latest and greatest in technology," Kuehn said.
Hughes has successfully applied for grants to underwrite the cost of purchasing some of the software and other items needed for the equipment in the lab.
Sheboygan Falls has partnered with other county manufacturers as well including Kohler, Sargento, Vollrath, Curt Joa, Milacron, and Eesco. All of the companies need more skilled workers. Kuehn said there are currently well over 2,000 manufacturing jobs open in Sheboygan County.
High school principal Luke Goral says he is excited about the partnership with local manufacturers that the Innovation Design Center represents as well as the opportunities it creates to expose more students to a wide range of skills and possible careers.
"We definitely see the need not just in this county but in the nation for workers with these skills," he said.
The Innovation Design Center and its equipment may eventually be open not just to high school students. District officials may invite middle school students to use the space for some of their projects. And Kuehn said Bemis might consider using the space for one-on-one training of employees after school hours.
Kevin Dulmes, facilities manager for Sheboygan Falls, oversaw efforts to physically prepare the space for its new use. He notes that without the business partnerships the Innovation Design Center and the opportunities it represents would never have been realized. In addition to its other assistance, Bemis is setting up another expensive piece of equipment that the district purchased through grant money but could not afford to get up and running.
"That is a sizable investment that small school districts couldn't afford," he said. "This would not have happened without the help of the local businesses. The financial impact on the district was very low."
Keeping A Watch on Fitness
Keeping A Watch on Fitness
Student heart rates are running higher than usual in the Sheboygan Falls School District these days. And the proof is on their wrists.
To help promote fitness and teach students how to build life-long healthy habits, physical education teachers at all three district schools are using a new state-of-the-art technology that is already paying off.
“Students are starting to understand how keeping their heart rate up will be beneficial for them,” said Doug Johnson, who teaches physical education at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School.
Johnson uses the devices with all of his third and fourth grade classes. Students strap the watch-shaped units on their wrist and walk to Johnson’s iPad where they are connected to an app using Bluetooth technology. The app projects a chart showing all the devices on the wall of the gym.
As students start moving around, the units measure their heart rate and display their progress toward reaching the goal of keeping the heart rate in a “healthy zone” of over 140 beats per minute for 10 minutes per each 30 minute class.
Johnson uses the new monitors once a week during a Fitness class. During a recent class, fourth graders moved around the gym, rotating among several different stations. At each station, they did a different kind of activity such as calisthenics, running or skipping rope.
During his career, Johnson has seen physical education instruction evolve. Instead of having students play a game such as kickball where not all the students are active all the time, he writes lesson plans that ensure that all students keep active and moving throughout the entire class. The new monitors are especially helpful in meeting this goal by allowing him to monitor students’ activity level and also letting students take ownership of the lesson by monitoring their activity themselves.
His students enthusiastically agree.
“I like using them because they make me work harder,” said Marley as she stopped to take a brief break.
“I think they work because it’s something new and it’s fun to record your rate,” added Garrett, who had clearly absorbed the reason for monitoring heart rates.
“It’s important to keep your heart rate up because it makes you healthier and it keeps your blood flowing better,” he said.
All the data recorded during each session is saved in the app so individual student reports can be produced. This way, students and teachers can track progress and performance over time.
The devices replace older versions of heart rate monitors that strapped across students’ chests. They were bulky and hard to use so they didn’t get used very often. Teachers like the new units because their portability makes them easier to use and they include “more 21st century technology,” said Matt Pfister, who teaches physical education at Sheboygan Falls High School.
He has used the units in his individual and team sport classes so far and has talked with students about what type of exertion it takes to get their heart rates in the healthy zone as well as how long it takes to get their rates back to normal.
At the high school, teachers have been emphasizing to students the need to embrace fitness as a way of life. They have planned courses like Adventure Experience that teach students the importance of staying fit as well as many ways to keep fit. They take students to local fitness centers and show them ways to enroll. They also introduce them to sports like kayaking, golfing and skiing – all sports that they can continue to pursue once they leave school.
Because teachers are still learning the best ways to use the technology, they plan to talk with colleagues in other districts that have been using the same type of monitors for awhile so they can get some guidance on how to best use the technology, Pfister said.
Eventually, he says he would like to see the devices go home with students as part of a personal fitness class so they can track their daily activity levels and set goals for themselves.
At Sheboygan Falls Middle School, physical education teacher Lindsey Schreurs uses the technology daily in her classes. After each session, she talks with students about what the monitors tracked and why the data is important.
“Our goal is to increase physical literacy for our students,” Schreurs said. “We talk about why we are active and why it’s important. It’s not just gym, it’s physical education.”
One of the goals of the middle school physical education department this year is to increase students’ physical literacy by having at least 80% of fifth graders score a 3 or a 4 on a school survey. Schreurs believes the units will help her students reach that goal.
Now that personal fitness monitors like Fitbits have become so popular, the new units purchased by the district allow students to wear devices that look like the ones their parents wear. Schreurs believes if students start wearing fitness monitors in school, they are more likely to continue tracking their personal fitness as adults.
The data from the units is stored in students’ personal school accounts so they can log in and compare their activity levels over time.
“The big thing is to teach kids to look for trends,” said Schreurs, who notes that parents can also see how their students are doing by logging into their school accounts.
Middle school principal Meloney Markofski believes the units will help get students more involved in the learning process.
“The watches help students self regulate and become more engaged in their learning,” she explained.
“Students like them. You just put them on and the feedback is immediate,” she said.
Health and PE Consultant Eileen Hare, who works for the Department of Public Instruction, had encouraged the K-12 teachers to incorporate the tecnology into their classes and recently praised the district's efforts.
"Adding the technology to the curriculum framework allows students to take ownership for their learning making it more relevant and personal. The technology enhances the physical education teacher’s communications with the students, parents, administration and the community while meeting grade-level outcomes for their K-12 physical education program. I look forward to learning about their progress, Sheboygan Falls may become a district others may want to visit in the future to learn more."
Neighbors and School District leaders discuss the future of the existing Sheboygan Falls Middle School
Gathering at a community conversation with the Board of Education on Monday, January 23, approximately 35 residents learned more about how the Board of Education will make decisions about how it will dispose of the existing Sheboygan Falls Middle School.
On January 23, leaders of the School District of Sheboygan Falls hosted an open Community Conversation for residents interested in learning more about how the school district will make its future decisions about the existing middle school. The meeting was held at the Middle School Library. Community members, all seven Board members, Jean Born, district superintendent, Kevin Dulmes, facilities manager, and Steve Mech, the district’s real estate consultant. gathered to talk about the next steps.
John Mauer, School Board President, introduced the topic by reviewing that district voters had approved a November 8 referendum to build a new middle school. Mauer said the approved referendum included that the district may spend up to $1.2 million to abate and demolish the existing middle school. Mauer further referenced pre-referendum communication where the Board indicated that it would first seek to sell the property if an appropriate buyer and use for the property could be found.
Underscoring the importance of working with the community, Born stated that it was very important that she and Board members hear from community members as they decide on what to do with the property.
“We live here too,” said Born. “We know how important this decision is to our community and we will work with the City and community members as we try to make the best decision for our community,” she said.
Mech is assisting the district pursue a possible sale of the building. He stated that a nationwide search for new owners would be conducted from approximately February through August 2017, using a request for proposal (RFP) process. Mech said that qualified responses to the RFP will include details such as, but not limited to, a description of the proposed use, density of use, traffic impact, and other details about the proposed development.
“If we don’t get any acceptable RFPs after August 2017, then the Board will need to reevaluate to find the best solution,” said Mauer.
Residents asked if there were plans in the works. Born indicated that the Board does not have any current plans for the site nor does the Board intend to keep the building as an asset.
“We simply don’t have the financial resources to keep the building because of the costs associated with upkeep and maintenance,” Born said. “We will have to do something.”
Born invited comments and questions from the attendees. Attendees asked several questions about the timing of the plan. Individuals gave direct input on the type of uses that they thought would be acceptable or not acceptable. One person asked how the Board would reach a decision, and if and how neighbors and the community would be informed as the plans unfold. Many people stated that they lived in the neighborhood of the Middle School.
At one point, an attendee who identified herself as a newer resident, asked why the Board would decide on the property’s fate, rather than the community.
“The district owns the property. But remember - that’s why we are here tonight. If you have input, we want to hear it,” said Born. “Ultimately, the School Board has the legal and financial responsibility for the District. That’s what Board members are elected to do. But we want to hear from you, too,” said Born.
The meeting lasted about 1.5 hours. At its conclusion, Born invited community members to contact her or Board members directly with any other questions or feedback to inform the process. “We will find ways to reach out. If you’re not hearing from us, please reach out to us,” said Born.
Reading IS fundamental to academic success. And a new effort aimed at preschoolers in the Sheboygan Falls School District seeks to achieve that goal.
Launched by the Sheboygan Falls Memorial Library, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten is part of a national initiative designed to foster and strengthen per-literacy skills in young children. Although children generally learn to read after they start kindergarten, being exposed to books and especially having their parents or other adults read to them helps get them ready to read on their own.
“It’s huge for kids to see that pictures have meaning, that those letters have meaning,” explained Beth Anzia, a literacy specialist at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School who was one of the first to sign up for the program with her own preschooler.
Ashley Bisterfeldt, another literacy specialist at Sheboygan Falls Elementary, also signed up for the program with her son.
“My little boy is crazy about reading. We read every night,” she said. “The more vocabulary a student knows, the more ready they will be for kindergarten.”
Lynn Bub, principal of Sheboygan Falls Elementary, pointed out that the program will help the district since students enter kindergarten at various levels of readiness. Learning vocabulary and beginning literacy skills like how to hold a book the right side up and which direction to read text – left to right – will give students a head start on reading skills.
Tina Beining, children’s programming librarian at the Sheboygan Falls Memorial Library, set the program up, making it as simple as possible so children – and their parents – aren’t overwhelmed. Children sign up at the library and get a tote bag and a library card if they don’t already have one. They also receive a reading log that has room for 100 entries. Children color in a shape to record each book they have “read.”
Once the entire sheet is completed, they bring it to the library and receive a reward – a simple toy or other incentive. When they reach their goal of 1,000 books, there will be a “graduation ceremony” and the children will dress up in a cap and gown. Their photograph will be sent to the local newspaper, posted on the library’s Facebook page, and hung in a large Wall of Fame display at the library.
“We’re real excited to get this launched,” said Beining. “We can’t wait to see that first smiling face in that cap and gown.”
Although 1,000 seems like a lot of books, children can count the same book more than once. The length of the book doesn’t matter – picture books and board books count too.
Bisterfeldt noted that it takes about 30 seconds to read a board book. The program brochure also breaks down the total in achievable chunks of time. For instance, reading 20 books per week for a year adds up to a total of 1,040 books.
“It’s very doable when they break it down like that,” Bisterfeldt added.
One of the beauties of this program is its simplicity, according to Beining.
“They don’t have to spend any money,” she said. “All they need is a library card and we have thousands of books.”
Let the reading begin.
Launching A New Approach To Instruction
Launching A New Approach To Instruction
Return to class at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School was off like a rocket this year.
OK, there wasn’t a real rocket involved, but there were a lot of launches.
The school has adopted a new school-wide approach to teaching reading and writing and other subjects. The philosophy is based on the work of author and educator, Lucy Calkins.
During the first weeks of school, teachers introduced the new academic approach by “launching” readers’ and writers’ workshops and math centers. Students learned new structures and procedures and practiced them to gain confidence and proficiency. Using a formal “launch procedure” to present these new ways of learning is a key element of Calkins’ approach.
“Taking this time to teach and practice helps students gain confidence and independence in their jobs at school,” explained Sheboygan Falls Elementary School Principal Lynn Bub. “It supports each student on their learning path.”
Teachers had students apply the same approach of learning and practicing to daily non-academic tasks such as efficiently getting ready for lunch.
The Calkins approach also emphasizes building “stamina” gradually. Instruction starts in small increments of time – say two minutes – and gradually increases to longer blocks of time.
One of the keys to Calkins’ approach to teaching writing is to offer students a lot of choices. This gives them a true sense of ownership in their work.
“It’s their writing,” Bub said. “They chose that topic and they want to make it the best piece possible for their audience.”
Several teachers opted to learn more about Calkins’ approach during in-service training a couple of years ago. They were so impressed with the results that the entire staff was trained in Calkins’ philosophy during two separate workshops this summer. The school-wide training was the result of a decision to make instruction consistent across the grade levels, according to Bub.
“We've been trying to reflect towards consistency so what we are offering is a cohesive program,” she explained.
Calkins is the founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York that has supported literacy instruction around the world for more than 30 years. She is a professor of children’s literature at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York where she directs the literacy specialist graduate program.
Last year, the school piloted a small program using the Calkins approach at the first and second grades. Teachers were thrilled with the results.
“They were seeing where kids came up with some impressive writing,” Bub said.
Bub praised her staff for their dedication and commitment to improving instruction techniques.
“It benefits our students,” she said. “It’s a big deal. I’m really proud of our staff.”
When it comes to interpreting the teacher's directions, the eyes have it for some students at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School.
Because these students communicate best through visuals not words, watching a video depicting what a teacher wants them to do -- a multi-step task or even just walking from one room to another -- helps them comprehend a direction far better than listening to a verbal cue.
"They see exactly what they are supposed to do," said Sheila Kloepping, a speech therapist at the school, who says this technique of video modeling was one of the many things she learned during a three-year training program called Allies In Autism.
During the program, teams of staff members at each of the district's three schools learned new teaching strategies and techniques to help them better support and engage students with autism. During April, National Autism Awareness Month, the teams led activities to share their knowledge with other students, staff members and parents. Although the program ends this year, the teams will continue to share what they have learned with district staff, students, parents and the community to help raise awareness and better support students with autism.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that becomes apparent in childhood and affects an individual's ability to communicate and interact with others. It is a spectrum disorder, which means it affects individuals differently and to different degrees. The number of children diagnosed with autism is on the rise. In a 2014 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that autism affected 1 in 68 births, compared to 2004 when the prevalence was 1 in 125 births.
The increase in the number of students with autism was what prompted Ann Roy, director of student services for Sheboygan Falls, to bring Allies in Autism to the district three years ago. The program was developed by staff at CESA 6 and two other CESAs. Sheboygan Falls applied for and received a mini grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to pay for the program.
During the program, the Sheboygan Falls teams participated in online training, attended summer academies and met regularly as a group to discuss techniques and individual students. They also had a coach who could answer questions and give feedback and guidance.
The teaching strategies the teams learned were evidence-based, which means they had already been shown to be successful with students with autism. But the teams learned that the strategies could work with other students as well.
"When I look at what the staff has learned, it's going more broadly than autism," Roy said.
This year, the team at Sheboygan Falls High School has been focused on working with the aides or paraprofessionals who work with special education students. Next year, the high school team will focus on working with regular education teachers. Occupational therapist Jodi Wagner, a member of the high school team, predicts they will be very receptive especially "when they see it can be helpful for everyone, not just one student."
"The strategies really work with all students," she added.
Wagner has appreciated having a coach to turn to during the program.
"They give us ideas," Wagner said, adding that they also affirm the teams' efforts in the classroom.
Kloepping calls the program "amazing."
"I'm a very different therapist than I was three years ago because I learned so many strategies I didn't know before," she said.
This year, the elementary and middle school teams collaborated on a series of parent nights. They provided information about community resources, shared techniques that parents could use at home and helped problem-solve. Their last night will be a celebration of a successful year, said Kloepping, adding that the teams plan to hold the events again next year.
In addition, each building held a walk for autism on the same day with the goal being to continue to raise awareness and share information with teachers and students.
Roy is delighted to see the knowledge that started with the building teams gradually spread into the greater school community.
"This was really a dream of mine to build this kind of internal cohort," she said, praising the teams in particular for their efforts.
"It is making a difference. It is making a huge difference for those students with autism," she said.
Moving Around The Classroom
Moving Around The Classroom
Sometimes it's the simplest things that make all the difference.
Like a couple of stretches and desk push-ups during math class. Or a lap around the school nature trail. Or even running up and down the steps inside the school.
Take it from Nancy Mathieu and her third graders at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School -- adding some "movement breaks" of "energizers" during the classroom day equals a big change in student behavior.
"It was a good thing. They were more focused," Mathieu said. "They seemed to listen better. They were more attentive. They were more engaged."
Mathieu and second grade teacher Rachel Houwers added the breaks as part of an informal initiative suggested by elementary physical education teacher Paul Houwers. Paul Houwers had been following research that showed links between increased physical activity and improved achievement among students for years. After talking with the two classroom teachers, he decided to try an "experiment" this year.
"I just wanted to try it," he said. "There's more and more research out there about the connection between physical activity and student achievement."
He asked the teachers to begin each school day with some sort of cardiovascular activity for their students. In good weather, Mathieu's students took a lap around the school's nature trail or ran the bases in the baseball diamond. Houwers' students got to choose the type of activity they would do using activity dice or cards that have activities on them. They also used the nature trail and got to make some choices there as well.
"I tried to provide choices for that such as galloping, walking fast or skipping to keep the students interested and let all students participate regardless of ability levels," she said.
Houwers also asked the teachers to incorporate movement breaks throughout the class day. The number of breaks varied although Mathieu used a timer to schedule two breaks during her hour-long math class. Research suggests that the length of children's attention span is their age, plus or minus two minutes, which in the case of third graders is about 7 to 11 minutes. And math is a subject that requires a lot of focus.
"If I didn't do it, they would ask for it," Mathieu said. "I called the breaks 'energizers' and the students would say, "We need an energizer."
Houwers gave her students short breaks during transition times in the classroom. Sometimes there would be dance videos or even just 30 seconds of arm circles.
Both teachers also used physical activity to reinforce lessons they were learning in the classroom. After studying about the food chain in science, Mathieu had her students play a tag game that included components of the food chain.
Houwers used activities like having the students count by 5s or 10s, or recite the alphabet backwards while moving around to get them active and reinforce academic concepts. Her students enjoyed the breaks and would ask for one if they went too long without one.
"Even students who normally shy away from physical activity or may have sat out in the beginning of the year because it was something new, participated and could be successful ," she said.
Paul Houwers first learned of the link between physical movement and student achievement during a presentation by researcher Jean Blaydes Madigan, a proponent of action-based learning. He drew on her research as well as recent studies by the Center for Diseases Control to set up his informal project this year.
The teachers attended a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction workshop on Core4+, a set of strategies to improve students' physical activity. They also got information and suggested activities from an educational website, GoNoodle.
Paul Houwers is pleased by the experiment and hopes that other teachers will incorporate movement into theirs classrooms next year.
After what she has seen this year, Mathieu plans to continue.
"I think it's huge. I've definitely made it part of my teaching," she said. "I wouldn't do it any other way."
Rachel Houwers agreed.
"With the increased amount of time the students are expected to spend in the classroom listening or taking tests, I feel that this time for movement is necessary and very helpful for them," she said. "There are some days that I could use a 3 minute stretch or walk too. All of us need breaks during the day to continue to do our best work and stay focused."
Turning Up The Heat On Manufacturing Careers
Turning Up The Heat On Manufacturing Careers
In a bid to spark student interest in manufacturing careers, a technology education class at Sheboygan Falls High School really turns up the heat. Literally.
Project Grill teaches students about the entire manufacturing process -- from design to budgeting to fabrication -- as they create and build a fully functioning grill. The process culminates in an unveiling where students present their finished product to a panel of "celebrity" judges and compete with teams from other Sheboygan County high schools. Points are awarded for creativity, the presentation, how closely they adhered to their budget and the design process.
This year's grill -- made from a reconstructed 1953 Willys-Overland Jeepster that had been donated to the project -- earned the Sheboygan Falls team 495 out of a possible 500 points.
"We had a great year," said technology education teacher Curt Teunissen. "I never dreamed we would score that close to perfect."
The process starts in the fall when students meet to brainstorm design ideas. They also receive help from a local business sponsor, which provides technical and advisory support. This year's sponsor was Bemis Manufacturing.
Connecting students with local manufacturers is a key component of the project.
"The reason we do this is to expose kids to manufacturing, to get them out in the sponsor companies so they can see what kinds of job opportunities and career possibilities there are," Teunissen said.
Almost 40% of the jobs in Sheboygan County are manufacturing jobs and many companies have trouble finding enough workers to fill positions. Many students do not consider going into manufacturing because they are not familiar with the wide array of career possibilities that exist at local companies. Project Grill gives students direct exposure to the variety of manufacturing careers by taking them through the entire process of producing a finished product.
"Project Grill has been an excellent opportunity for our high school to engage our students in learning the soft skills and manufacturing skills our local employers are looking for in an employee," said Sheboygan Falls High School Principal Luke Goral.
"The partnerships, local support and mentors Project Grill has created and supplied for our students are priceless. The students have the opportunity to learn from and work with professionals in areas of marketing, financing and manufacturing. This is a tremendous tool in their development on the road to becoming college and career ready!", he added.
Teunissen said one of the most challenging parts of the project is having students step out of their comfort zone. One of this year's team members had a lot of experience in business education but lacked experience with tools. He couldn't wait to pick up a grinder or welding torch.
"He'd never done anything like that before," Teunissen said.
Students receive credits at Lakeshore Technical College for participating in Project Grill.
Because of the amount of time involved in the process, the Project Grill class at Sheboygan Falls will be a full year class next year instead of just a semester as it was this year.
Teunissen said his students are already looking forward to next year's challenge.
"We've got half of this year's team coming back," he said.
And they can't wait to start the grill.
Sheboygan Falls Recognized For Innovative Elementary Computer Programming
Sheboygan Falls Recognized For Innovative Elementary Computer Programming
It's never too early to learn to code. That's the philosophy in the Sheboygan Falls School District where students start lessons in computer programming beginning in the Kindergarten.
Kodable, an elementary computer programming curriculum, uses mazes to teach students in kindergarten through fifth grades how algorithms work. They also write code to make robots follow simple commands. Students work at their own pace and the lessons help hone their problem-solving skills.
This innovative approach has now earned the district national recognition. Sheboygan Falls was among 12 school districts across the country recognized for ground breaking work in digital curriculum and learning strategies by the Center for Digital Education (CDE), in collaboration with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), at the fourth-annual Digital Content and Curriculum Achievement Awards. Awards were presented to schools in three categories -- based on enrollment. Sheboygan Falls was recognized in the small school or district category. Sheboygan Falls was the top honoree in its category and the only district in Wisconsin to receive an award.
Barry Ludvik, technology coordinator at Sheboygan Falls School District, said the computer apps and lessons the district uses develop critical thinking skills in students because they are based on trial and error.
"For kids to be successful, it's really important to develop those higher-order thinking skills, but also the resiliency to get to that point — not giving up right away," Ludvik said.
"If it doesn't go right the first time, you've got the chance to figure out where things went wrong, to work with another student, so you've got collaboration built in there as well," he added. "All of those things go in there together with the main goal of, 'What makes a good thinker?' We don't want everybody to become a computer programmer. The idea is that we want you all to be good thinkers because then whatever you chose to do later on in life, you're going to be good at it."
He praised classroom teachers for their efforts in making the initiative so successful
"The program's success hinges on teachers integrating the lessons into their curriculum," Ludvik said.