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December 2011

‘Heart of the School’ School libraries no longer just about books INSIDE

-- Music educators honored - Schools recognized for achievement - Student’s song makes airwaves - PHS presents ‘Working’


PICTURE THIS: More than 90 students at George Nettels Elementary Schools participated in the school’s Talent Show, which took place on Dec. 19 and 20. The event was coordinated by Lori Wilks.


A Look Inside FROM THE COVER The role of school libraries is expanding as technology opens doors to a world’s worth of information. (Cover photo by PHS senior Brandon Smith)

• Darling, Laushman honored by KMEA

• Musical celebrates workforce

• Student’s song recorded by rock band

• Schools recognized by Challenge Award program Also Inside

• PCMS students help feed the hungry • Musical talents showcased in concerts • PHS track/soccer field project update • Westside hosts Disco Night • Focus On Learning: PLCs and more...


Evan’s Song Radio hit inspired by WWII book He had just finished reading a book about World War II, and the words just came to him. “The book was very interesting to me, especially the stories about the soldiers,” Evan Hawn, a fourth-grader at George Nettels Elementary School, said. “Something about it made me want to write a song about it.” So, with four different markers, then-8year-old Hawn took to a notebook and scratched out the lyrics to the song “Enemy Lines.” “It’s about a soldier who is at war and he asks God for help,” Hawn said. Not long after writing his very first song, Hawn showed the lyrics to his uncle, Kenny Warring, a lead vocalist in the rock band Take The Day. “The depth of empathy for our troops abroad expressed in those words went far beyond that of an average 8-year-old boy,” the band’s website states. The band was so

moved by Hawn’s words that they wrote complementary music and recorded “Enemy Lines (Evan’s Song)” and included it on their first, three-track EP, Stitches. The song can be regularly heard on the local radio station Rock 107.1. “The first time I heard it,” Hawn said, “I felt so amazing. It was just incredible to hear the words I had written being played on the radio. “I never really expected anything like that to happen,” he said. “I just thought, after reading that book, that I wanted to write down some song lyrics, and now it’s a real rock song. That’s very cool.” A portion of the song was recently played at the George Nettels talent show. “Enemy Lines (Evan’s Song)” can be heard in its entirety at www.reverbnation.com/ taketheday.

Enemy Lines (Lyrics) Help me Lord, because I found my way Behind these enemy lines Oh please help me and lead me out of this Lead me out of this war Oh please help me create a plan And save the fallen If you would please help me Across these enemy lines Will you hold my hand ‘Cause I can barely breath I’ve fallen Oh I think this world is broken Is someone saving me? there is no way out of here Listen at www.reverbnation.com/taketheday


Perfect Harmony

Darling, Laushman honored by KMEA For Virginia Darling and Susan Laushman, music education isn’t their job. It’s their passion. It’s who they are. “I can remember being in second grade and being called to come forward to teach a song in music class,” Laushman, Pittsburg High School choir instructor, said. “Then I’d go home into our garage and pretend to be conducting a choir. I feel like I’ve been teaching music forever.” Darling, who began piano lessons at the age of 9, said she never truly considered another profession. “I just always kept playing,” Darling, Pittsburg Community Middle School’s vocal music teacher, said. “Going into teaching was the natural fit.” For their devotion to their craft and their love of the art, both USD 250 music educators were named this year’s Outstanding Music Educator for the Kansas Music Educators Association Southeast District. Darling was honored in the middle school division, and Laushman received the high school honor. With the Outstanding Music Educator awards, the KMEA annually recognizes Kansas music teachers whose programs display consistent excellence and improvement. Both Pittsburg educators said they were honored to be chosen as this year’s

recipients. “It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers,” Darling said. “You don’t always know who nominated you, but it’s certainly an honor to receive the award and the many nice comments from others in your profession. It really makes you want to keep working hard and improving so you can make sure you deserve all of the nice things people are saying.” Laushman said she is proud to be recognized in the same year as her USD 250 colleague. “It’s great to be recognized and honored for your hard work,” she said, “and this is especially neat because we were honored together in the same year. Music education means a lot to us, so to be honored in the field that is our passion is a great feeling.” Darling is in her 30th year as a music educator and her sixth at USD 250. Laushman has taught music for 19 years, including 10 at USD 250. “We are very fortunate,” Superintendent Destry Brown said, “that our music programs are under the direction of such dedicated and talented professionals. Both Virginia and Susan are very deserving of this honor, and we could not be more excited for them.”


PICTURE THIS: Mrs. Sisk’s Meadowlark Elementary School 5th grade students partnered with Mrs. Broxterman’s kindergarten students to created personalized ornaments to display this holiday season.


Labor’s Day PHS Encore musical celebrates nation’s workforce Tall buildings are hard to miss. So, too, are large, 18-wheel semi-trucks. Often gone unseen, however, are the men and women who build the tall buildings and who drive the large trucks. For its winter musical, the Pittsburg High School Encore and Theatre Department shined a spotlight -- literally -- on those very blue-collar workers who help make this nation operate. Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel, “Working: a musical” explored the lives of “average, everyday” workers from a variety of professions, including teachers, firemen, truck drivers, mill workers and parking lot attendants. Junior Megan Reed, who portrayed a mill worker, said the show aimed to give credit to those who often go unsung. “It was fun to represent real feelings of the world,” Reed said. “When someone buys a new, fancy car or walks into an extravagant building, they don’t think of all of the hard labor put into it. This show was a way to open the eyes of the public to the hardworking people who rarely get the credit

they deserve.” Featuring music by Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and James Taylor, “Working: a musical” tells a story that is as inspiring as it is eye-opening. “Just by being a part of this show,” PHS senior Brad Gaddy said, “I’ve gained a whole new appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers and what they go through. The songs are powerful, and the variety of stories told in this show are incredibly interesting.” Of the approximately 60 students in PHS Encore this year, more than 40 had featured singing roles in “Working.” “It’s wonderful to allow so many students the chance to be on stage and perform in a show like this,” Encore Director Susan Laushman said. “This was a fantastic show, and I’m very proud of the students.”


‘Learn to Explore’

School libraries more than just books They’ve been called the “hub” of the school. Others have referred to them as the “heart” of the school. Whatever the nickname, school libraries are growing in importance as technology changes the way information is gathered and distributed. Books still line the walls and remain a vital part of the library service, but students and staff visit the library for more than reading material. “Books still play an important part,” Pittsburg High School librarian Cheryl Larson said, “but increasingly, we teach skills for finding, interpreting and

using information.” Perhaps more now than ever before, those information literacy skills are being taught and honed through the use of resources such as computers, iPads and e-readers. And with ever-increasing Internet speeds, the quest for information continues to shorten. “The time spent looking for information has been drastically reduced during my 30-year career,” Larson said, “because you can find most things in an instant.” With a world full of information at the students’ fingertips, the role of school libraries has long been to teach

the proper ways to turn that information into knowledge. “Students today need libraries more than ever,” Vicki VanBecelaere, Meadowlark Elementary library media specialist, said. “We have access to an overwhelming amount of data, and both students and adults need to be able to locate, evaluate and use information effectively.” Sherry Turnbull, library media specialist at Lakeside Elementary, said the resources available go far beyond what most people think of when discussing school libraries. “Online subscrip-

tions to programs such as World Book, Renaissance Learning, Study Island and Tumblebooks allow us to offer electronic resources for learning,” she said. “We have laptop computers, digital cameras, smartboards and iPads for student and teacher use.” Turnbull said providing a plethora of educational resources inside the library is vital to a student’s education in the 21st century. “Research studies show that schools that have well-stocked libraries with licensed library media specialists have higher student achievement,” she said.


LIBRARY: ‘Try new challenges, explore, create and imagine’ Along with being a one-stop shop for information, a school library can also serve as an escape for both students and staff. “It is a place where they may relax in a welcoming environment,” Lori Wilks, George Nettels Elementary library media specialist, said. “They can learn, discover new things, try new challenges, explore, create and imagine.” Creativity is sparked inside the library, and it’s those moments during which students can learn to not only understand concepts such as research, but also to enjoy them. “The importance of school libraries,” VanBecelaere said, “is that it is the central place in the school where our students are welcomed

as a unique individual. The reasons students come to a school library are varied from required research to personal needs. It is in this creative atmosphere where they learn to explore, think critically and develop selfconfidence in their own learning.” Larson cited a recent experience as an example of the vast role libraries and library media specialists play. “This past month, I’ve worked with sophomore English teachers on a persuasive paper and talked with students about ethical use of information, analyzing and interpreting non-fiction text, proper attribution of sources and the structure of the paper,” she said. “My staff and I have

administered hundreds of AR tests, created web pages on topics for both instruction and pleasure reading, worked on setting up Nooks for a pilot project in the classrooms and answered countless questions about documents, printing and information needs from staff and students.” Turnbull said it is the wide array of challenges that makes being a library media specialist enjoyable. “Being a school librarian allows me to see the students grow in skills and interests from the first kindergarten book they choose through their fifthgrade year,” she said. “I also get to help students learn new technologies, such as the iPad, and have the fun of showing

them new books.” And while they can often been seen as background scenery to the computers and e-readers, books are and long will be the main attraction inside school libraries. “Think about how many times,” Wilks said, “that you have picked up a good book that you could not set down because you loved it so much. Think about how many times you’ve used a dictionary or had to look up information in a book. “A library,” she said, “builds upon those skills and helps prepare a child to be a responsible life-long learner.”


Sound of Music Winter concerts showcase students’ musical talents If ever a two-week span highlighted the importance of the performing arts in schools, it was the first two weeks of December. From elementary school choirs to the high school band, Pittsburg Community Schools students showcased their musical talents in a variety of winter concerts. The programs, many of which were conducted at Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium, not only culminate several weeks of practice and preparation, but also give the students the chance to showcase their artistic abilities. “This is why music is called a performing art,” Christa Weber, George Nettels Elementary School music teacher, said. “It is meant to be performed and shared with others. It gives the students a chance to show a snapshot of what they do and learn in music class.” Lakeside Elementary music teacher Jeanne Hoover said the concerts are often the students’

first experience at being in front of a large audience. “Student music concerts are a valuable tool, as they allow the students the opportunity to be in the spotlight and perform in front of a crowd,” Hoover said. “Starting this at a young age is very important. They gain confidence and self-esteem each time they perform.” Perhaps most important, the concerts are fun for both students and staff. Among many other purposes, music classes serve as a creative break from subjects such as math, reading and science. “Each year, we get to do something different,” Jenny Marlin, Westside Elementary music teacher, said, “and it allows for creativity from the students and from me. Students really like to perform and show their hard work.” But before a single note can be sung on stage, months of preparation must take place to

ensure all is in place by performance night. The venue must be booked, the costumes must be ordered and the songs must be practiced, practiced and practiced again. “The preparation for the elementary programs is very strict because of time constraints,” Lacy Mikrut, Meadowlark Elementary music teacher, said. “We don’t see the students every day, and sometimes not even every other day. So, it’s important for the students and the teacher to have the program laid out perfectly and memorized.” Virginia Darling, PCMS music teacher, said she enjoys observing the students’ progress as they advance through grade levels. “Programs are fun for the kids,” she said. “They like to share and show off what they have learned. The older they get, the more they care about getting it ‘right’ and ‘performance ready.’ It is a process -- musical and growth.”


USD 250 schools recognized for achievement by Challenge Awards program Three USD 250 schools were recently recognized by the Confidence in Kansas Public Education Task Force for “outstanding achievement” on state assessment exams. Lakeside and Westside elementary schools, as well as Pittsburg Community Middle School, this fall each received a Certificate of Recognition in the state’s Challenge Award Program. This award recognizes schools for outstanding achievement and uncommon accomplishment based on Kansas Assessment results from 2011 and other qualifying factors, including the sample size, ethnicity and socio-economic status of those taking the test. “This recognition is a testament to the hard work and devotion to education exhibited on a daily basis at Pittsburg Community Schools,” Superintendent Destry Brown said. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of our wonderful students and excellent staff.” For each of the 14 state assessments, 60 state schools meeting

the Challenge Award criteria were identified as “high performing,” according to the Confidence in Kansas Public Education Task Force. From those 60, the schools

with the top scores from 10 regions were presented Certificates of Merit at the Challenge Awards dinner in November. The remaining 50 schools of the top 60 were honored with a Certificate of Recognition.

“By receiving this award,” Charles Volland, CKPETF chairman, said, “your school stands as an excellent example of one that believes all children can learn, expects them to do so, and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their substantial abilities. We are proud to recognize those efforts with a Certificate of Recognition.” The Confidence in Kansas Public Education Task Force was established 30 years ago to promote Kansas schools and their achievements. Eight statewide organizations comprise the task force. They include the American Association of University Women, the Kansas Congress of Parents and Teachers, the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas School Public Relations Association, the Kansas State Board of Education, the Kansas State High School Activities Association, Inc., and the United School Administrators of Kansas.

“By receiving this award, your school stands as an excellent example of one that believes all children can learn, expects them to do so, and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their substantial abilities.” -- Charles Volland, CKPETF chairman


PICTURE THIS: A proud mom uses her cell phone to snap a photo of her daughter with Santa Claus during the “Breakfast with Santa” event conducted by Pittsburg High School and the Mount Carmel Foundation.


PHS track project on pace for summer completion

If all goes as planned, the track and soccer field renovation project at Pittsburg High School is on pace to be completed by Summer 2012. Jim Newell, USD 250 Maintenance Director, said most of the concrete and asphalt is in and roughly 70 percent of the dirt work is complete. By spring, when it’s warm enough to lay the track surface, all other facets of the project should be complete or nearing completion. “It has to be 50 degrees and warming for us to be able to put down the new surface on the track,” Newell said. “So, that part will have to wait until

spring. We’re looking at the entire project being done by the end of May or early June.” The $800,000 project, funded mostly by private donations, will provide PHS with a stateof-theart track facility and regulation-size soccer field, both of which will allow the school to host SEK league competitions in both sports. Doug Hitchcock, PHS

activities director, said having an improve facility will be a major benefit for PHS in future years. “It’s been a very long time since PHS has been able to host a track meet,” he said, “so we are very excited about the possibilities that this new facility will provide. It will take some time to get everything in place for us to host a meet, but we’re very confident

that, because of this renovation project, we’ll one day host one of the premier events in southeast Kansas.” The facility will also be open for public use, as walking lights will be installed around the track. “We’re going to have a wonderful facility at PHS,” Superintendent Destry Brown said, “and we want to make sure we offer it to our patrons and the community. The walking lights will allow local residents to visit the track for a walk or a jog in the evenings.”


PCMS conducts food drive for Wesley House

At the beginning of the school year, the Pittsburg Community Middle School Builder’s Club was asked to think of a fall project. “The first thing they mentioned was having a food drive,” club adviser Sarah Dees said, “and I decided that right before Thanksgiving would be a great time to have one. It’s the time of year when everyone is in the mood to give.” Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the PCMS Builders Club Food Drive was

launched. Students were to bring to their

tually be donated to Wesley House.

homeroom classrooms non-perishable food items that would even-

Earlier this week, Dees announced that nearly 630 cans of food

Disco Fever Westside Elementary School hosted Disco Night for students and families on Dec. 1 inside the school’s gymnasium. The event featured a variety of songs and dances, led by instructors from Pittsburg State University, as well as colorful lights, disco ball and even a bubbles machine. Many of the students also dressed in their best disco-era outfits.

“This was a fun event that gave our students and their families the chance to let loose, dance to some good music and just have a great time,” Veronica Ausemus, Westside physical education teacher, said. Those in attendance were treated to food and beverages following the dancing. Door prizes were also given away throughout the night.

were donated during the two-week effort. “I am very proud of all of the hard work that our students and the staff at PCMS put into this,” Dees said. “This was a very successful food drive, and everyone involved should feel extremely proud of what they accomplished.” With 54 donations, Angela Lewis’ 8th-grade homeroom won the class competition, which earned a doughnut party for the students.


PICTURE THIS: Lakeside Elementary School second-grader Braden Benson listens for the next direction in his class’ Reindeer Cookie project. All Lakeside second-graders participated in the activity.


Focus On Learning: Professional Learning Communities For the students of USD 250, Winter Break officially ends on Thursday, Jan. 5. Two days before they return to class, however, much of the staff will return for a day of conversation and collaboration known as Professional Learning Communities (PLC) Day. Scheduled sporadically throughout the school year, PLC days allow time for educators to work in teams to address pressing issues, discuss ideas and develop strategies to ensure that all students are learning at a high level. “Professional Learning Communities allow our teaching and administrative staff to have a committed focus to student learning,” Dr. Brian Biermann, Asst. Superintendent, said. “It isn’t about what is being taught, but what is being learned. Pittsburg Community Schools has provided the time and resources for teachers and administrators to work together to devise appropriate learning supports for individual learners.” Teamwork and collaboration among staff is essential to providing

a school environment in which each student is given the opportunity to learn and succeed. The PLC model provides the framework for interactive staff engagement and reminds teachers and administrators that they are not going it alone. “It’s nice to meet with fellow educators in your field to see what each other is doing to get fresh ideas for the instruction in the classroom,” Pittsburg High School Debate and Forensics Coach Julie Laflen said. The effectiveness of PLCs is gauged by evaluating a variety of results and outcomes. Those may include improved students test scores, implementation of new programs or revisions to current interventions. “PLC days afford the staff the opportunity

to spend time working together to develop a culture of learning,” Rhonda Willis, PHS math teacher, said. “It is because of this that we have been able to implement new programs that hold students more accountable in the classrooms.” One of the main goals of the PLC model is to ensure that educators are not only focused on what they are supposed to teach, but also what the students are supposed to learn. The answers to those questions often come about during lengthy and analytical discussion among peers during PLC days. “A PLC day is a useful time for teachers, counselors and administrators that is needed in order to share ideas about how best to serve students at all grade levels, not just in the grade

of a particular teacher,” Melinda Degruson, Meadowlark Elementary School counselor, said. “We share kids so often, back and forth, that it is important to try to align our curriculum, as well as pace it better.” By scheduling PLC days throughout the school year, USD 250 aims to ensure that ample time for collaboration and discussion is provided for all of the staff. “We greatly value the input of all of our educators,” Superintendent Destry Brown said. “We want them to be able to voice their opinions, share ideas and give their input. Education is a team game. We want and need everyone to play a vital role in the ongoing evolution of public education. “Our teachers and administrators have a full plate each and every day, and it can often be difficult to find time to have a lengthy conversation with peers,” Brown said. “The PLC days allow the time for those discussions and help ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.”


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Dragon Tales (December 2011)  

The December 2011 issue of Dragon Tales, the official magazine newsletter of USD 250.

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