Casting a Vision for College and Beyond
CISD Education Foundation Grants: 'Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series about some CISD Education Foundation grants from which local students, teachers, and campuses receive such great benefit. It is amazing to see what can be done with these resources donated by generous people in our community when placed in the hands of teachers who think and dream big!
For the sixth year in a row, a team of Carthage Junior High eighth grade teachers received a grant from the CISD Education Foundation to take students to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches for a spectacular day that offers them an up-close-and-personal look at college life, allows them to picture themselves in that life, and hopefully gives them a powerful desire to achieve it. It also provides a day full of very fun but also very useful team building activities that help them realize the importance of working together in harmony and trust with other people to accomplish a task.
David Myers, Technology Applications and Career Investigation teacher and one of the trip’s organizers, says that the activities offered help the students to prepare for life even beyond college, into their chosen careers, adding that this is not a premature preparation because students are required to declare a career path as they begin high school. He continues, “The ability to work well with others in a group is much higher on today’s employers’ hiring agenda than individual success or super-stardom in a given field, and the team building activities offer great practice at this skill, as well as proof of its necessity.”
He adds, “It represents a shift in what kids have been taught for a long time. The model stresses NOT relying on individual strength and ‘winning on your own,’ but having partners, working as a team, listening to and trying out the ideas of others, and depending on each other to find the best solutions to problems or tasks. In my class, we work with teams in our robotics program and in the Dallas Morning News Stock Market Game, so the students already have some experience with issues like two ‘Type A’ personalities wanting to be in charge, or how it’s not always a good idea to have your best friend on your team.”
David says the idea of a college visit is part of the eighth grade teachers’ constant effort to show the students, at such a pivotal time in their educational lives, how appealing college life is, but also that studying two years at Panola College and then graduating from SFA is a very achievable goal for any of them. “My sister-in-law Jennifer Myers and I wrote the initial grant together,” he says. “She conceived the college visit, and I added the team building aspect. Ashley Smith and I coordinate the trip now with the help of the other members of the eighth grade staff.”
“The actual campus and dormitory tour that SFA offers to kids that age only takes about an hour,” he says, “so we are also able to utilize the Outdoor Pursuits program offered through their Student Recreation Center for the other activities. They have a warehouse full of outdoor equipment that people can check out, and they even take some SFA students to the Grand Canyon for rock climbing, camping, backpacking, and kayaking. They also have their own high ropes course with zip line, a 36-foot indoor rock climbing wall, and an HPE Climbing Gym with every kind of climbing apparatus you can think of. We go on two separate days, taking about 100 students each day, and both the students and teachers rotate in groups between the activities—the tour, the team building activities, the climbing wall, and the HPE Gym.”
David offers explanations and comments on the various team building activities in which the students participated:
1. Working with several odd shaped pieces of PVC pipe and connectors, a team of four to five students tries to build the tallest structure they can that will free stand for 30 seconds. Every student on the team must contribute to the structure, and the tallest structure wins. Everyone is working in the same room, so they try to guard their secrets as best as they can.
2. Jacob’s Ladder is a ladder made with landscaping timbers that are four to five feet apart and connected by a steel cable reaching the top of the gym. It swings and is not like a traditional ladder at all. Students work in pairs to reach the top, and it is very difficult to move from rung to rung. Students have to help each other to the next rung. Often a student team ups with a physically weak partner, but working together the team members both reach the top and share a great sense of accomplishment. It is very cool to see students working so hard to help their classmates.
3. The milk crate stack can be done as a single or double stack; the students choose their preference. A student starts out standing on one crate, their partner hands them a second one, and without getting on the floor they stack it and get on top of it. The first few go smoothly. At about eight or nine crates the stack gets wobbly, so your partner becomes critical in handing you the next crate. An expandable pole is used when it becomes too high to reach. It’s fun to watch because it can seem to be going smoothly, but a slight loss of balance creates panic and desperately trying to keep from falling. I think one of our students was able to stack 17 crates before falling. Teamwork!!
4. On the climbing wall, students are instructed to support each other, and they really take that seriously. Many have a fear of heights, and their classmates encourage them and help them overcome that fear. Simply climbing two feet, or reaching the top and ringing the bell, are both met with rounds of cheering and congratulations. Eventually race challenges are made, and even some of the teachers show the youngsters how it’s done. The secret is in the legs!
5. A card game like Battle called Ubuntu is played, but instead of traditional playing cards, each card has six to eight objects on it. When you challenge someone, you compare your cards, and the first one to identify similar objects on them wins. The loser becomes part of your cheering section. Challenges are made until only two are left. It’s pretty rowdy at this point, with half the group supporting each one. You move from trying to win yourself to becoming part of a group that is trying to win. It is a very interesting activity as that dynamic changes.
David also offers congratulations and gratitude to the Education Foundation for making so many great opportunities like this possible—opportunities whose price tag would make them impossible in the regular operating budget but whose value to students above and beyond the regular curriculum is often too great to measure. “I want people to understand the impact that these Education Foundation grants can have,” he says. “For example, when I first came here, a Foundation grant had provided LEGO NXT robotics for the Gifted and Talented program. As we saw what a great way they were to teach programming, we wrote a grant for some new EV3 robotics and began offering a robotics component in the regular classroom as well. My wife Mandi teaches sixth grade science and realized what a great learning tool they would be for her students, so she wrote a grant and incorporated them into her curriculum. And now the district has this great vertical learning going on in an area that is very engaging to the students but which also requires the high level thinking they desperately need to develop. I really believe that everything the Foundation grants provide has that kind of effect!”
The Foundation grants provide every conceivable kind of student field trip at every grade level, cutting edge equipment and manipulatives for classrooms, sets of books for literacy advancement, an incredible amount of current technology equipment like iPads, Chromebooks, etc., and countless other various and specialized items requested by teachers to help maximize learning in their classrooms. Many grants also send teachers to conventions and other continuing education venues to help them stay abreast of today’s constantly changing educational trends.
Many grants focus on technology, which David believes is so critical for today’s learning. “Students literally have the world at their fingertips now,” he says. “We still need classrooms and teachers and conversations, but there is such a shift now for students to ‘go look it up’ and ‘go research it’ rather than just asking the teacher for an answer to a question. School absolutely MUST prepare them for how to do that. Of course, it is also important for them to learn they can’t trust everything they read on the Internet, so it’s also important for them to learn to check several sources for consensus.” How wonderful it is that our community supports the Foundation’s endeavors to help our district provide first-class educational opportunities that go above and beyond what the regular budget can allow!