Are You Ready for APS Football?

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What a great Washington Bulldog catch!

Atlanta Public Schools kicked off the football season in huge fashion on Saturday as our Department of Athletics played host to the 2015 High School Classic at Lakewood Stadium.

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The Carver Eagle Band takes a break from performing at the High School Classic.

As superintendent and a football fan myself, it has been a great thrill for me over the past few weeks to meet with the student athletes, their coaches, managers and trainers and actually get to train and run patterns with them. I not only worked with the football players, but I played with high school bands and practiced routines with cheerleaders (In case you missed those entries, click here, here, here and here!)

But then it adds to the excitement to see all of them put their training and practice into action on the field and during the halftime performances. I had the chance to not only watch two games from the sidelines with the players but dance with the bands and learn routines with the cheerleaders! (Board Member Eshe’ Collins picked up the video evidence of both the dancing and the cheerleading.)

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Our student athletes competed in three of the four featured games of the day and showed great heart and sportsmanship along with their skills. I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. Also a great thanks to Jasper Jewell, our athletic director, and his team for a wonderful event.

Among the results: Our Grady Knights bested our Washington Bulldogs by a score of 40 to 13. Our Carver Panthers fought hard against their namesake school from Columbus before losing 28 to 24. Finally, our Mays Raiders, who were state runners-up last year, got their season started with a win over Langston Hughes High of Fairburn, Georgia.

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Touchdown, Mays!

What a great day of football in Atlanta!

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Grady Knights find an opening!

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Washington breaks through the Grady line.

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Watching the game with Grady High Principal Timothy Guiney.

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You’ve Got to ‘Stride’ Before You Can ‘Sprint’

I have not only enjoyed practicing with APS student athletes including football players, cross-country runners and cheerleaders, but I have embarked on a training regimen in preparation for the East Atlanta Village (EAV) Runfest.

Team APS!

Team APS!

About 100 of my fellow APS co-workers responded to a training challenge earlier this month. Now we generally meet every Monday and Thursday and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday for practice. Our schedule is below.

Just as we are targeted and deliberate in our strategies to prepare students for college and career, we have done so with our training. John Keltz, our director of research and evaluation, is not only a master with numbers and statistics; he apparently understands process and has developed a fitness routine designed for maximum effect leading up to the EAV Runfest. As a former triathlete, he is making his comeback through our APS run challenge.

I really wanted to be a better and consistent runner. Here is what John suggested:

Cadence – A good way to work on this is focus on cadence- number of steps per minute. Time your number of steps in 15 seconds of running normally. 45 is usually cited as ideal (180 per minute). If you’re below 45, don’t try to get there right away- go from 36 to 38 for example and work on that for a week. You can do this by shortening your stride.

Short strides have a few benefits- they usually help you land your foot in the right place (not too far in front), prevent non-forward motion, and are more efficient. (Similarly, beginner cyclists usually have a cadence that is too low and should spin in a higher gear.)

Striders – Most people’s running form improves when they run fast (but not a full sprint, and not while exhausted). Practice running fast with good form can improve your form generally. One workout a week for the next couple weeks, you can do one lap of warm-up, then run fast on the straights and walk on the curves for three laps, then one cool-down lap. Don’t sprint the straights, but run a speed that is fun and comfortable, and that you can mostly recover from by the time you finish walking the curves.

Doing some variable speed work can also help if you think you’re plateauing. Mixing up your training helps challenge your body to improve.

Balance Drills – While he didn’t think this would be a priority for me, John thought it might be fun to build these into our after-run routine. These usually involve standing on one foot and swinging the other leg around to throw off your balance. Balance drills help strengthen our small balance muscles and help us keep good form while running.

So feel free to join us at the Oval in Piedmont Park. John will be leading our effort tonight!

Date Time Location
Thursday, August 27, 2015 7:30 pm Piedmont Park
Saturday, August 29, 2015 8:30 am Piedmont Park
Monday, August 31, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Thursday, September 3, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Saturday, September 5, 2015 – Optional 8:30 am Piedmont Park
Monday, September 7, 2015 – No training Scheduled (Labor Day) Chill all day Be with your family
Thursday, September 10, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Saturday, September 12, 2015

(First 5K day)

8:30 am Piedmont Park
Monday, September 14, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Saturday, September 19, 2015

(Second 5K day)

8:30 am Will change location because Piedmont Park is being used for Music Midtown
Monday, September 21, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 7:00 pm Piedmont Park – (with post run celebration TBD)
Saturday, September 26, 2015 8:00 am Village Fitness –

1231 Glenwood Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30316

Day and Night at North Atlanta High School

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Enjoying the NAHS nightlife with BOE members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Nancy Meister who represent the North Atlanta cluster.

Whenever I find a school, program, or any place where things seem to be working well in APS, I want to immerse myself in their process so that I can glean how we can apply that lift and success to other schools in our district.

As a part of my back-to-school tour, I decided to spend a little time in the North Atlanta High School (NAHS) cluster this month. Parents always come up to me and gush about their NAHS cluster experience. They talk about their time at one of the cluster elementary schools such as historic E. Rivers or Garden Hills, then their experience at the cluster’s sole middle school—Sutton, and the pride that comes with becoming an NAHS Warrior. Often times, parents have attended the same schools that their kids now attend. This cluster is a place where thoughtful planning around the priorities of a cluster is working – and has been working for some time – so I was excited to learn more as we enter into APS’ second year of cluster planning in the district.

The property contains a small lake - stunning views!

The property contains a small lake – stunning views!

NAHS is a vibrant, diverse, Title I school with equally diverse feeder schools, all coming together ultimately for their International Baccalaureate high school experience. The school’s renovation was still a big conversation when I arrived a year ago and since Atlanta is a city that values sustainability, I was not surprised that our schools and buildings also reflect a desire to re-use, recycle and renovate with a purpose.

For instance, Beecher Hills Elementary in southwest Atlanta recently saw the addition of the city’s Beltline Southwest Connector Trail, which is a part of a 33-mile network of Atlanta Beltline trails. And over at Springdale Park Elementary, which feeds into the Grady cluster, great effort was taken during renovations to preserve the historical elements of two homes – merging them with new school buildings and obtaining the coveted LEED Gold certification, making them one of Georgia’s first green schools.

But still, one of the most unique school buildings here in APS, and in the nation, was once a corporate office complex housing 5,000 IBM employees – and that would be North Atlanta High.

What a view!

What a view!

A few years ago, after extensive renovations, North Atlanta High School students began attending classes in what was once an old office building, originally built in 1977 and this month students started their third school year in the re-purposed building.

When I arrived on campus, it was a Friday night and everyone was preparing for the first football game of the school year, NAHS vs. Lovett School. Board of Education member Nancy Meister gave me a cool, night-time tour of NAHS and wow, was it a beautiful sight. Check out our ‘reflection’ selfie photo below.

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Cool shot, right?

This school is 11 stories tall with a small lake (double wow). Appropriately, the school’s newspaper is called “11 Stories” and I had the opportunity to be interviewed by budding NAHS journalists (insert video link if available).

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Good luck Anna! I can’t wait to hear about your Hong Kong University studies.

Oh – and a quick shout-out to a former NAHS journalist! I hope to continue to follow the academic career of recent graduate and NAHS STAR student Anna Gustafson who is headed to the University of Hong Kong this fall to study journalism. You may remember her photo from my blog about our Georgia Scholars earlier this spring. Anna, who was born in London, speaks both French and Chinese and is a really well rounded student with plenty of talents. The intensity of the school’s film/tv and writing programs, coupled with the International Baccalaureate focus (NAHS was the first school in the southeast to receive the IB designation over 20 years ago), prepared her for this unique post-high school experience. Anna represents so many of our students who are thinking globally about their futures – with that in mind, it is important that we continue to develop clusters that support students in a way that will allow them, even encourage them, to take both traditional and non-traditional pathways for college and career after graduation.

IMG_2550Board member Meister took me down to the field and the school was buzzing as parents launched a ‘Football and Food Trucks’ tailgating event leading up to the game. I had a chance to meet more students, teachers and parents on the sidelines until the game ended in a 14-14 tie.

The following evening I volunteered at “Black Silver & Red Hot Jazz.” This event is organized by the North Atlanta High School Foundation and supports the North Atlanta High School community.  The night’s theme was set in the Roaring 1920s and part of my volunteer prep involved studying up on the time-period and participating in character. So cool. It was a well thought out event and a great way to interact with parents in the cluster and hear their wishes and desires as well as stories of success in APS.

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Black Silver & Red Hot Jazz was a big hit with supporters of NAHS! Thanks Ms. Meister!

The following Monday I returned to the campus to visit with principal Curtis Douglass and hear more of his vision around the future of the school. One thing that stood out to me is that I saw art everywhere. Principal Douglass is not only focusing on the school from an operational and academic view, but also using aesthetics to build an entire experience for students.

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Principal Douglass told me about last year’s senior prank. I asked if I could participate this school year!

It was so exciting to see the infusion of student-created art into all of the spaces in the school. From the stairwells to the hallways and even over the water fountains, Principal Douglass has done a great job of utilizing what could have been drab, blank walls and giving them color and life. On all 11 stories, he wants to tell…a story, using original art, historical photographs and other unique pieces. He says that when students walk down the hallway, he wants them to learn something about the school – and in turn something about themselves and their classmates.

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Art is everywhere at NAHS.

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The student created artwork is stellar at NAHS.

A big thank you to the students and staff who were patient with me as I popped up at various events. I see what you’re doing over in the NAHS cluster – and I like what I see.

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I paid a visit to a film and tv class. NAHS offers IB level flim and video classes through the CTAE program.

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Meister, me and NAHS PTSA co-president, Dawnitra Quigley. Great job with the football and foodtrucks event!

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Principal Robin Robbins of D.H. Stanton has a daughter here at NAHS! Look closely, you can see her cheering in the background…right between our heads :)

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Ms. Irving strikes a pose in the NAHS dance studio.


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I See You: Social-Emotional Learning at Fain ES, Boyd ES, West End Academy and Crim Open Campus HS

Checking in on the progress of our schools doesn’t stop after Day One or even week one. I love visiting schools as often as possible and seeing first-hand how the decisions we make as leaders impact the day-to-day learning of students. It was great to see the beginnings of our social-emotional learning (SEL) work taking root in schools as early as the first week of the school year. In my opinion, social-emotional learning skills are the foundation of the academic success of our students.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

You may remember that this spring the district entered into a partnership with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to administer its social-emotional learning program within Atlanta Public Schools. Our belief is that if students can develop healthy relationships with their peers and the adults in their lives, we know they will be more successful in school, work and in life.

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I heard lots of great stories at West End Academy.

Over at Crim Open Campus High School, one of the first things Principal Parker did was to introduce me to her students and encourage them to tell their stories of success. Each student led me through their journey to this non-traditional high school and spoke enthusiastically about their futures.

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Beautiful message over at Boyd Elementary School!

When Dr. Alonzo A. Crim, the school’s namesake held my job back in 1973 as the first African American to become schools superintendent in the South, he sought to build a system “where students would know that we care about them.”

And I really do care about our students at Crim. This is a non-traditional high school where students must interview to be accepted. Students here have chosen to attend this high school that values individuality, provides alternative scheduling and courses and offers innovative delivery to obtain class credits that can be used towards graduation.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Principal Parker leads a diverse group of students and had great accomplishments with her recently graduated class of 2015, of which 36 fully completed Career, Technical and Agricultural Education or CTAE program requirements in graphic arts, culinary arts, engineering and technology, early childhood education, small business and construction.

And this is a very vocal group of students with plenty on their mind! I ran into a young lady who emailed me earlier this year with concerns about her education. We were able to get her issues resolved and it was great to see she was in school and ready to learn when I gave her a big hug during my visit.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I met another student today for the first time who told me about his journey to Crim. He says he was an academically strong student and a pretty good athlete at his previous high school, but didn’t like going to class and knew he wasn’t living up to his potential. He chose Crim as an alternative to his traditional high school and not only is he on track to graduate on time, he has dreams of enrolling at my alma mater, Auburn.

Another student, Jamie Simon, who I met last school year, has really grown up over the summer! He’s a great guy and it was so good to see him. He’s headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production. I’m so proud of him!

That’s what I love about Crim.  Every student is truly focused on the mission of our district, to graduate ready for college and career and they show a profound amount of respect for one another and their teachers.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

While our students don’t always come in to school with the skills necessary to navigate academics and social situations, the good news is that research has shown us that SEL skills – which include the ability to develop good relationships, and make good decisions – can be taught.

I also visited Fain Elementary, Boyd Elementary and West End Academy, where the early implementation of SEL practices could be seen. At Fain, new principal Mr. Rasheen Booker had each teacher to post information about his or her education, accomplishments and interests outside their classroom door – allowing students and parents to know a little bit more about them before entering the room. There were also bulletin boards that told little known facts about the teachers, once again laying the groundwork for great conversations between teachers and their students which builds healthy relationships.

At Boyd, the bulletin board in one of the hallways says “We are here to be seen and heard,” a tenant of SEL in the district. Boyd has relocated this year and although they are in a temporary space while their campus undergoes renovations, there is evidence that new principal Mr. Marcus Jackson understands the importance of self-awareness and encourages teachers to listen deeply to the needs and desires of their students.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Over at West End Academy students were also eager to talk to me about how the supportive staff – from the front office to school leaders – were the reason they were seeing such success in the program. I wrote about West End Academy last October. The Academy offers online courses to juniors and seniors and allows students to work at their own pace. Principal Mobley proudly displays her success stories on almost every wall of the school and although she has been practicing the components of SEL for years at the school, she is looking forward to formally embracing the model.

This move toward changing the culture in the district is being infused into not only our schools, but our district offices as well. APS established board policies and administrative norms for the organization to abide to include practices such as putting students and schools first, respect for others, drive and embrace change, and accountability.

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I met Jamie Simon last school year – what a great young man. Headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production.

Hopefully our communities are already seeing the evidence of the changing culture through the collaborative work between the Board and myself as well as the emphasis on stakeholder input when we go out into neighborhoods and hold meetings around topics that affect our students and our schools.

As we continue our culture lift in the district, with the help of SEL, every child and every adult in our district will be seen…and heard.

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces. SEL in action!

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces and asks questions about their first week of school. SEL in action!

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At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

Hearing more stories from Crim students!

Hearing more stories from Crim students!

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Teachers at Fain Elementary have detailed bios posted outside each of their classrooms.

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Great conversation starter. Way to go Fain!

Healthy Food and Fitness at Fickett Elementary!

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I couldn’t help myself when I visited Fickett Elementary School, I simply had to try the fruits and veggies!

I popped in recently for a quick visit with our friends at Fickett Elementary. Principal Twyman is always bursting with new ideas and she was excited to show me one of the newest additions to the school, a learning garden!

Fickett is the recipient of a Captain Planet Learning Garden grant as well as a Strong for Life grant, both of which focus on healthy living.  From the hallway near the main office, I looked out onto their courtyard and saw what appeared to be the beginnings of a small garden.   As we opened the doors to go outside, I noticed three raised flower beds with greenery.  I took a closer look and noticed the greenery was not bare, but had tomatoes growing on the vine. Some reddish in color, almost ready to eat.  I couldn’t help myself, they looked so good.  I decided to pull one and give it a “taste”.  I was pleasantly surprised that cherry tomatoes were so tasty (sweet and tangy)….so mmm mmm good that I decided eat more than one.

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A class entered the courtyard, and Principal Twyman wanted the students to show me all of the hidden gems in the garden.  As the children arrived, they pointed out the basil, thyme, and other herbs. They were all excited and talking at once. Everyone had something they wanted to share. One student pulled a tomato for me to eat, while another student lifted a watermelon from the vine. We had a blast!  Pulling and eating the vegetables right on the spot!   One student asked, as he was pointing to bushy greenery, “What’s that growing right there?”  His classmate replied, “Those are carrots!”   But the student still couldn’t see what was growing under the soil…so we pulled a carrot up to show him. “What’s all of that white stuff covering the carrot,” he asked.  I told him it was the carrot’s roots and that the roots allow the carrot to receive water and nutrients to continue growing.  “Oh,” he exclaimed.

Right there, in a little less than a minute… learning was happening in the outside classroom garden.

We collected our garden gems, including the watermelon, and placed them with my Fickett backpack for me to share with others.

The mint I pulled will add that “spa like” touch to a cool glass of water. I plan to take my watermelon and set it up to ripen so that I can cut it and share with staff.  Finally, my carrot didn’t make it out the building because an “old friend” stopped by to see me before I departed off to my next school visit.

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Carlos is a fourth grader I met last school year during another great visit to Fickett. He heard that I might stop by during the week, so he asked the principal if it was possible for him to say hi to me before I left.  Ms. Twyman called him down as I was about to leave and I showed off the garden goodies that I was taking with me to my office.  As I pulled out the carrot he asked if he could share it with me, and like the tomato that I had earlier, the carrot did not disappoint.  Both Carlos and I agreed that it was great.

Thanks Fickett Elementary for giving our students healthy food and a focus on healthy living.  Keep up the good work on the garden and let me know when you are ready for your next big harvest.

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The watermelon made it to my office! Can't wait to slice it open and share with the staff.

The watermelon made it to my office! Can’t wait to slice it open and share with the staff.

Running with the Jags and Strutting in the EAV!

WelcomeCrossCountryJagsTuesday, after school, I was able to have my first cross country training experience at Jackson High School with the Jaguars! Let me tell you, these kids work hard! Our run started at the school’s athletic field, wound through the historic Grant Park neighborhood and over into Grant Park, near the Atlanta Zoo. There were hills, asphalt, grass and plenty of hot sun. Like I said, these kids and their coach Ms. Robinson, work hard.

Thanks for running with me Olivia!

Thanks for running with me Olivia!

But it was a great experience – I love seeing our students outside of the classroom – I even ran into one of my Student Advisory Council members Olivia. Not only is she super smart with great ideas about how to make the district better for her fellow students, but she’s also a great runner (and standout Lady Jags soccer player as well). It was hot, hot, hot out there but the kids kept going and made me proud…I, however, had to give up on the fourth hill of the run! It was just too much!

After catching a ride back to the school (could not run back on the concrete with shin splints), I saw that the Football team was practicing on the field just as I was arriving back to the school and, well, you can imagine what happened next. Before I knew it I was in a helmet, in a three-point stance and running down the field. I have so much respect for our student-athletes and it is always fun to spend a little time in their world. A big thank you to the Jackson football team for letting me crash their practice!

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First game for these fellas is Friday night. Good luck!

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My visit was a great chance to keep my commitment to running and also to prepare for the upcoming East Atlanta Village (EAV) Runfest. My former Associate Superintendent and now principal of Burgess-Peterson Elementary, David White, encouraged me to join this 5K and not only did I sign up, but so did about 100 of my fellow APS co-workers. We had our first practice last week at Piedmont Park and I can’t wait to see everyone again tonight for practice number two. We will typically meet on Thursday evenings at 8pm and Saturday mornings at 8:30am.Everyone in the group isn’t a runner and that is fine by me – we are encouraging employees to walk, strut, jog and run their way to good health.

Just like with our students, I also enjoy seeing APS employees outside of the office and outside of their schools.  An important part of building a school district is building a sense of community. Strong schools are built by strong people who know that not only are they valued for the work they produce, but also for their natural talents, abilities and interests. An hour or so a week together outside of “work” goes a long way toward building a positive culture inside our schools.

Team APS!

Go Team APS!

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Check out our APS team participating in stretching and warm down aerobics! And, yes, I taught aerobics after school during my teacher days so we do step on the steps of the Oval!

The EAV Runfest is September 26, 2015 and is the kickoff to the annual EAV Strut.

Learn more about Runfest here: http://www.runeav.com/

Learn more about the EAV Strut here: http://eastatlantastrut.com/

I hope to see some of you September 26 when our APS team takes over the EAV!

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So Sweet (and Smart) at CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy!

csk8Last week, my back-to-school drop in visit with the ladies of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) was so much fun! At the helm of the recently merged, all girls’ middle and high school is new principal Erin Barksdale.
She and her team gifted me with a super smart looking t-shirt that was too cute and oh-so stylish! Outlined with the words “Smart is the New Pretty,” it captures the playful and positive, yet academic vibe at CSKYWLA.
CSK5Once I was decked out in my new tee, it was time for the tour. Joined by Board members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Eshe’ Collins, I entered a chemistry lab where students were engaged in a lesson on the chemistry behind making ice cream.  I loved science when I was in school and this type of engaging lesson is right up my alley because it is hands-on and it involves food.  Who doesn’t love ice cream? The lesson provided opportunities for the students to explore the properties of salt, ice, chemical reactions and the changing states of matter, all while working towards the goal of tasting the dessert. At the conclusion of the lesson, it was evident that the students had not only learned a lot about the chemical process, but were challenged while having fun.  We all had the opportunity to sample the ice cream and the girls even had the opportunity to customize their work with pink sugar and candy sprinkles. CLICK HERE to try a similar experiment at home!
CSK4Next up was the Army ROTC classroom where students had just received their SAT word list. I decided to help the students learn their vocabulary words by creating a “game” out of their guessing the meaning of the word. Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Eshe’ Collins helped give the students hints and I let them know when they had gotten the correct definition of the word.   We were having so much fun that we didn’t want to leave but it was time for the next stop on our back-to-school visits.
I don’t remember words like anachronistic, querulous and surreptitious being on my SAT, but they are all fair game now days and I want our students to be well prepared!
For those of you with students who will take the SAT this year, I’m including a few important links below:
CLICK HERE to register for upcoming SAT exams.
CLICK HERE to view the SAT ‘Question of the Day.’
CLICK HERE to obtain a fee waiver for the SAT exam.
CLICK HERE to learn more about FREE SAT online practice with Khan Academy.
Thanks CSKYWLA for giving me such a sweet start to my school year!
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