- CHS, PHS Link Crews Serve as Friend to Freshmen (September 2023)
- RUHS, CIF shed light on global nuclear threat (April 2023)
- CHOICE serves as champion for special students (January 2023)
- Jackson garden feeds more than students' stomachs (November 2022)
- JSRI students spend their summers battling bacteria (July 2022)
- Craig blanket donation offers comfort for those in trauma (April 2022)
- Fun is main ingredient in Lincoln Elementary cooking class (March 2022)
- Tradition of DECA excellence continues at Parker (February 2022)
- Elevate helps educate Craig High entrepreneurs (January 2022)
- Rock University High School 2021
- This week in Kindergarten 2021
- Computer Science Programs 2021
CHS, PHS link crews serve as friend to freshmen
It used to be the start of a new school year was a time of high anxiety for freshmen.
Wide-eyed, nervous ninth-graders migrating from middle school to bigger ponds faced schools of senior sharks — all circling in anticipation.
“Those senior guys with full beards just looked so old. I remember being afraid somebody was going to do something stupid like push me into a locker or a garbage can,” said Shelly Learned, who graduated from Craig in 1991.
“There were rumors about the upperclassmen being mean, and that there would be hazing. It wasn’t that way for me, but there were a lot of people who experienced bullying.”
Those memories stuck with Learned. When she joined the Craig staff as a science teacher in 1999, she began seeking out programs to alleviate the stress and discomfort she remembered as a first-year high-schooler.
That search led her to Link Crew, a peer mentoring and student transition program offered by The Boomerang Project. Impressed by its mission, she trained to become a Link Leader in Spring 2005. She introduced the program at Craig that Fall.
“The whole purpose of Link Crew is to reduce the anxiety of that first day of school by welcoming freshmen in a way that’s not typically expected,” said Learned, who is now also a national coach for the program. “It’s not about school rules or traditional systems. It’s about building relationships with upperclassmen who have been there, done that.”
According to The Boomerang Project, Link Crew fosters better academic performance and fewer discipline issues. The idea is to have upperclassmen serve as guides for freshmen and help them navigate high school early on.
In the 18 years since Link Crew started at Craig, the climate Learned remembered has changed. Juniors and seniors have come to recognize that helping freshmen rather than terrorizing them not only makes for a more cooperative environment, but also helps foster a skillset that will be highly sought out post-graduation.
“It definitely creates relationships, but it also teaches things like speaking skills and how to be a leader. I think that’s important,” said Caleb Wier, a senior and Link Crew Ambassador at Craig. “It’s not just about the freshmen and being around to show them things on the first day of school. It’s bigger than that. It’s about being committed to something and just helping other people.”
Recognizing the success of Link Crew at Craig, Parker followed suit and implemented its own program in 2011.
Parker phy ed teacher Stacie Nichols has been a Link Crew adviser since Day 1. She said she finds it refreshing to see how seriously older students take their roles and how hard they work to help younger students succeed.
“For me, it’s about getting a chance to work with a group of upperclassmen that is committed and wants those freshmen to have a positive experience,” she said. “And that intimidation factor really goes away once (the freshmen) see that the upperclassmen are there to help them out.”
Though it might seem that being friendly to freshmen shouldn’t be difficult, there’s more Link Crew than that first-day welcome. The commitment begins before the school year begins and doesn’t wrap until graduation.
Each spring, sophomores and juniors apply to join the next year’s crew. Small group interviews are conducted, and those selected meet up in late August for orientation.
During this year’s orientation, Link Leaders took part in activities meant to improve leadership, interaction and communications skills. They played “Simon Says,” and advisors tricked them into singing the hook from “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” They joined hands, locked arms, created partnerships and generally got to know each other.
That ability to comfort and communicate will come in handy. Amid the smiles and laughter were slight moments of awkwardness – fitting reminders of how new things can be a bit scary.
The thought wasn’t lost on Collin Marling, who sees Link Crew as an opportunity to overcome his own fears about speaking in large groups. But he also hopes his presence as an authority figure at Parker will bring solace to one incoming freshman in particular.
“I got involved because my brother is going to be a freshman this year, and he has big problems with anxiety,” Marling said. “I just want to be able to be there for him and be able to have him not be afraid of being in a new, big school.”
One of Marling’s Link Crew partners, senior Megan O’Leary, gets that. She remembers the uncertainty she felt on her first day of high school, and how Link Leaders at that time went over and above to help her acclimate.
“I had gone to private school my entire life, and this was my first time at a big school,” she said. “My freshman year, the Link Leaders made me feel so comfortable, and they helped me make friends. And I’m still friends with the friends I made that first day.”
For Craig senior Martha Trujillo-Ocana, connecting to people and building friendships is an added bonus. With plans to attend UW-Whitewater to study criminology, she is paying it forward – understanding she is about to become a freshman again, as well.
“I’ve just always always liked helping people, and this takes that to a different level,” she said. “Even though it’s just high school, it still helps prepare you for meeting new people at college.”
It is obvious character is a key component advisers seek out when creating their annual Link Crews. Fortunately, that’s something not in short supply in the School District of Janesville.
“The Link Leaders we have are kids with great GPAs, but we also have SWS (School Within a School) kids, kids in drama, kids in music, kids in athletics. We’ve got a variety that speak different languages or graduated from the EL program,” Learned said. “There is a diversity that exists when you look at the leaders, so that way, every kid can see themselves represented.”
“I think it’s important for every kid to be seen, and to be seen in a way where they can’t just fall through the cracks or fade into the background.”
Note: Advisers for 2023 Link Crews are:
Craig -- Shelly Learned, Becky Boylan, Dayna Clark, David Davis, Josh Smith
Parker -- Stacie Nichols, Nikki Woerth, Andrew Jensen
RUHS, CIF shed light on global nuclear threat
For as long as most of us can remember, the threat of nuclear weapons and their potential to obliterate humanity has been a fear trigger felt worldwide.
And for generations, it has been young people who have been at the forefront in the call to eliminate these weapons – leading protests, demanding disarmament and advocating for nuclear nonproliferation.
Despite these efforts, the global inventory of nuclear warheads remains abundant. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, Russia boasts 5,977 such weapons, followed closely by the U.S. with 5,428. Other members of the so-called “Nuclear Nine” include China (350), France (290), United Kingdom (225), Pakistan (165), India (160), Israel (90) and North Korea (20).
But the battle against nukes isn’t over, and young people continue to be a driving force toward establishing a more peaceful world.
Among the progressive efforts toward nonproliferation is Critical Issues Forum (CIF) — an international, project-based education program that “aims to promote awareness of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons through disarmament and nonproliferation education.”
Facilitated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., CIF boasts chapters around the world. In addition to 25 high schools in the U.S. (most in California), the contingent includes 10 schools in Russia and nine in Japan.
CIF’s lone American Midwest chapter resides in the School District of Janesville at Rock University High School (RUHS), located on the Blackhawk Technical College. RUHS joined CIF as a full member in 2009, and over the years nearly 80 students have participated in the program.
Through this portal, high schoolers discuss the current situation with foreign peers and subject experts intent on ridding the planet of its nuclear arsenal.
“This class really empowers students, because they are listened to like they are the experts,” said Erin Jensen, RUHS humanities teacher and co-advisor for the school’s CIF chapter. “They have people from around the world – people who are doctors, professors and scientists that are masters in this field – showing up to listen to them. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.”
The CIF course at RUHS is a full-year program consisting of twice-weekly sessions. During classes, students are encouraged to think outside the box while searching for nonproliferation and disarmament solutions.
After completing an introductory mini-project that shows their knowledge of nuclear weapon science and history, the students complete a final project that interprets the yearly theme. This year’s theme was “Bringing Intersectional Approaches to Youth Education for Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation.”
For both projects, RUHS students decided to create a podcast, "Going Beyond the Bomb", in which they discuss the harm of nuclear weapons and how we must find ways to live a life without them. Episodes 1-3 break down the science and history of nuclear weapons while episodes 3-6 focused on U.S. survivors of nuclear mining and testing – the Western Shoshone, Navajo and Marshallese tribes.
“The western Shoshone people of the United States are the most bombed nation in the world,” Jensen explained. “They had multiple bombs dropped on their land (in Nevada) alone. The Navajo (in Nevada and New Mexico) are a very close second, and the Marshallese from the Marshall Islands (in the Pacific Ocean) had more than 67 bombs tested throughout the Marshall Islands (from 1945-58).”
Students present their findings during a conference with other CIF-member schools. In the past, students have traveled to HIroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and most commonly to Monterey, Calif. Since the onset of COVID, conferences – including this year’s – have been held virtually.
Whether in person or through computer screens, the international interaction RUHS students receive offers insight into how governmental and societal reactions to certain topics differ from country to country.
“The first year I was here, there was a final conference we had with people from all of the different schools (involved in CIF),” said RUHS sophomore Claire Dieckhoff, who has been in CIF for two years. “The Ukraine war had been going on, so a lot of the Russian people could not show their faces. They were scared, obviously, to be part of a peace conference. I remember there was a Russian teacher who talked a lot, almost in a joking way, about how it was dangerous for her to be part of CIF. That was really interesting to me.”
Stephanie Villarello, RUHS’ science teacher and a co-advisor for its CIF chapter, believes the world might be in position for a perfect storm of change on this issue. Not only are students more emboldened than in the past, they also have access to technology and communication methods that provide a metaphorical megaphone for their opinions.
“I think (high school students) can help move the needle because of their influence,” she said. “Being loud on social media is something they are really good at. Is it going to be a quick fix? No. But I think they can get us one step closer than we were last year or 10 years ago.”
Villarello also sees the internet as a vital piece of the puzzle. With access to unlimited information, students can develop a comprehensive understanding of complex topics while confidently questioning their own findings.
“They will ask, wait … the U.S. has how many nuclear weapons? Russia has how many nuclear weapons?” Villarello said. “How many weapons would it take to wipe out the entire population of Earth? Oh …19 strategically placed, and we have 3,000? And how much do these cost us every year to maintain … trillions of dollars? What else could we do with that money? We see so many needs in the U.S. and globally that, even if we could just reduce that number 1%, how much would that free up for these other really important issues?”
Dieckhoff is among those asking such questions. She disagrees with those who argue nuclear weapons are a necessary evil in today’s world.
“There are plenty of weapons already,” she said. “If you need to be in a war for whatever reason, there are other options. If you just get rid of them (nuclear weapons), people will find other ways to threaten war, and they will be less completely destructive.”
RUHS junior Jayden Rodriguez admits that when it comes to nukes, he has a “healthy, but not irrational” fear.
“It’s not like I wake up every morning with a looming threat that maybe a nuke is going to hit today,” he said. “But I live in the U.S., where the threat is not as prevalent. If you live in a country overseas, that threat could be more serious.
“Even though it’s a threat everybody has some inkling or understanding of, it’s one most can tell is not talked about enough.”
For sophomore Ana Paula Dominguez Antonio, eradicating nuclear weapons wasn’t the initial reason for her interest in CIF. But she believes the information she is gaining from it will help her in the future.
“I joined this class because I want to make a change in the world,” she said. “I have an interest in pursuing nuclear engineering (as a career), and I want to learn how to use nuclear science and technology to benefit the world today.”
Whatever their reasons for involvement, RUHS students’ passion for and dedication to CIF continues to inspire Jensen.
“The biggest thing we can do with any kind of heated or controversial topic is get the young people involved and make it accessible for them,” she said. “They shouldn’t be shielded from the things that are going to affect them in life.
“The moment you give kids a chance, the sky’s the limit.”
To learn more about Critical Issues Forum, visit https://sites.miis.edu/criticalissuesforum
CHOICE serves as champion for special students
Picture yourself at 18.
Do you remember how it felt to finally graduate high school, or maybe to vote for the first time? Can you recall how excited you were about becoming “an adult” or the nervousness that came with venturing out into the world on your own?
Imagine that same scenario, but this time, factor in a learning difference that might complicate your dreams of independence. Maybe you have autism or are nonverbal. Perhaps you deal with functional skill difficulties, struggle with basic reasoning or find it hard to communicate your feelings.
How would you handle that? What would you do?
Fortunately, students in the School District of Janesville have a CHOICE.
Based in a well-kept home in the city’s Fourth Ward neighborhood, SDJ’s CHOICE program (Chestnut House Occupational Independent Community Exploration) is an application-based program for 18- to 21-year-old special education students who have specific disability related needs.
Though all students have met academic requirements for graduation, most are not fully prepared to be out on their own. CHOICE serves as a gateway to self-reliance by teaching not only basics such as cooking, cleaning and self-care but skills others take for granted such as comparison shopping, understanding friendships, navigating the city bus system and more.
“This program is important because it sets up our members to be the most independent version of themselves they can be,” said Jeremy Harnack, who is in his second year as CHOICE’s lead teacher. “We’re really the last step in public education for them. If they’ve gotten this far and they don’t have community supports in place, they could leave this period of their lives with nothing waiting for them.”
Though the district has owned Chestnut House for more than 30 years, the facility initially served as a working lab available to students only on an occasional basis. The current CHOICE format – which has been in place for about 15 years – is structured so two groups of students meet on opposing weekdays before coming together every Friday.
Each morning, students discuss topics such as problem solving, time management, proper social etiquette and more before venturing out into the community for the afternoon. In between, they meet with advisors, maintain the home’s interior and prepare lunches with limited assistance.
“It’s a safe place where they can make mistakes while they’re learning skills,” explained Shana Ratzburg, the district’s transition specialist. “The confidence that is built through this program is amazing. If you ask any of our young adults if they can do something, I don’t think a single one will tell you, ‘No.’”
That confidence starts at the heart of the CHOICE program – Chestnut House. It is here students gather to meet with Harnack, Ratzburg and paraprofessionals Ronda Schyvinck and Kelley Hansen.
Schyvinck, who has spent 14 of her 23 years in the district at CHOICE, works largely with students to improve their familiarity with kitchen practices. In addition to teaching food preparation and appliance usage, Schyvinck is also the lead when it comes to showing parents exactly how capable their children can be.
“I’ve seen a lot of students come through here, and it’s funny how when they start out, the parents are like ‘Oh, they could never take the bus alone’ or ‘Don’t let them cook because they might burn themselves,’” she said. “It’s amazing how, after one or two years, they have grown -- not only the students but the parents. We’ve had students who have moved out on their own where their parents never thought that would be a possibility.”
Hansen, who has been with CHOICE for four years, concentrates her attention mainly on students’ transportation needs. She teaches them how to navigate the city’s bus lines, rides with them while they are learning and uses phone apps to track them in real time when they are ready to commute solo.
“A lot of them come here scared to ride the bus. They come scared to go places. They come scared to work,” she said. “We go slowly to teach each one how to use the bus, and we can start back at square one when we need to.
“Right now, I have a student who, it’s time to start bus training,” she added. “His mom and dad are like, ‘Whoa, he’s never even crossed the road alone,’ so we’re taking baby steps. I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave him, and he’s not going to ride the bus alone until everybody’s comfortable – including you.’ Building that trust with our parents is so important.”
Equally important is building confidence in students. That requires getting out and getting involved with the public – something Harnack stresses.
“What I want is for our program members to get out to places they’ve never been and meet people they would never meet,” Harnack said. “That opens up their world in a way that is different from the world individuals with learning differences had for decades.
“Where previously they were just sheltered, kind of kept to the side and made to be quiet, we want to do the opposite of that,” he added. “We want our voices to be loud, and we want to be part of the community. We want everybody to know who we are.”
Given the CHOICE program’s focus on community, field trips are an integral part of the curriculum. Outings have included tours of the local Festival Foods store, ANOTHER and the state capital building in Madison. Earlier this month, students attended a performance of “Elf” at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Volunteerism also is encouraged, and there are myriad opportunities provided. In addition to cleaning blankets and food bowls at the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, students also have washed garden tools at Rotary Botanical Gardens, pitched in at GIFTS Men’s Shelter, undergone hospitality training at Baymont Inn-Janesville, read to kindergarteners at Jackson Elementary School and more.
“Our students with disabilities become adults with disabilities,” Ratzburg reasoned. “They’re in the community and they’re part of the community. This program allows them to become productive, involved members of that community.”
Peggy Tadder has seen firsthand the impact CHOICE can have on those it serves. Her daughter, Marlene, was a student in the program when Peggy’s husband and Marlene’s father, Tom, fell ill and died in 2018.
“We had a situation where I would go to work every day, and (Tom) was in a nursing home,” Peggy said. “But I knew (Marlene) was with people who loved her and who were looking out for her future. That meant so much to me because it was one thing I didn’t have on my shoulders at such a horrible time in my life.”
Today, Peggy’s outlook on the future is much brighter due to her daughter’s improved independence. She encourages families who are granted the opportunity to take part in the CHOICE program to “jump on it.”
“We were so fortunate, because (CHOICE) isn’t something everybody gets a chance to do,” Peggy said. “They (the advisors) were just so wonderful, and they taught (Marlene) things I would have never thought to teach her.
“The day will come when I’m not around anymore, and thanks to the Chestnut House and the CHOICE program, I know she will be prepared.”
For more information about the CHOICE program, contact SDJ Assistant Director of Pupil Services Thea Murphy at 608-743-5097 or email@example.com.
Jackson garden feeds more than students' stomachs
As we made our way across the parking lot and headed back toward Jackson Elementary School, my third-grade companions Ethan and Tempy confided that they weren’t too fond of vegetables.
“What would you rather eat?” I asked.
“I like mac ‘n’ cheese,” Tempy said.
“So, if I had a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese, what could I do to get you to pick the bowl of tomatoes?” I asked.
“Make it taste like mac ‘n’ cheese,” Ethan said.
The eating habits of most 8-year-olds are well documented, and anyone familiar knows you’d be hard-pressed to find one who would choose produce over pasta and powdered cheese. But if you had seen the smiles on the faces of Ethan, Tempy and their classmates as they joyfully stripped the school’s massive garden of nearly all its ripened bounty, you might have wondered otherwise.
For 14 years, the Jackson Garden has been a fixture on the vacant lot west of the school’s parking area. The spot that Jackson teacher/garden advisor Andrea Dunmore once viewed as “just another space to mow” has since evolved into a near-4,000-square-foot hub of nutrition complete with an underground sprinkler system and a regenerating workforce of willing students.
It all started with a strawberry.
“We were getting a fresh fruit and vegetable snack three times a week, and one day, we were eating strawberries,” Dunmore said. “One of my students said, ‘I wish they wouldn’t put these green things (stems) on here.’
“It was then I realized we really need to teach kids where food comes from.”
Dunmore started the school’s first garden with a limited crop.
“Basically all we had were cherry tomatoes,” she said. “But we picked those cherry tomatoes, took them right into the kitchen, and the kids had them at lunch that day. After that, I went out every morning and picked tomatoes.”
The bite-sized fruit proved to be a hit, and its popularity led to a gradual expansion of the garden’s menu. These days, a small group of advisors and students work together each year to grow everything from tomatoes, corn and broccoli to peppers, squash and pumpkins.
From start to finish, children are involved in everything from dropping mulch and planting seeds to picking crops and pulling weeds. The opportunities to learn are endless.
“Getting a little dirt under your nails is probably good for everyone,” noted Josh Rosburg, Dunmore’s son-in-law and a trained chef who is the culinary heart behind Jackson’s annual Soup Supper – a special event the school hosts each November.
“The Soup Supper is where we take vegetables harvested from the garden and put them together in recipes to provide soup to our families,” explained Jackson Principal Sarah Brehm. “(Josh Rosburg) does the cooking, and we invite our families to come in. We also tie this in with our literacy night at Jackson, so families come in, read books with their kids and staff and then we all enjoy soup together.”
Building community isn’t the only reason the garden and Soup Supper are important projects at Jackson.
“A lot of our friends at Jackson live in a sort of food desert,” Rosburg said. “There aren’t a lot of options for them such as grocery stores or even restaurants that have fresh produce or anything like that.
“This is an opportunity for the kids to not only see what it looks like for something to come out of the ground but to be able to touch it, consume it,” he added. “Tomatoes from your garden taste much different than they do when they are in ketchup or on pizza, and some kids don’t even know that those things come from a tomato.”
The garden isn’t intended as a vehicle to trick kids into thinking broccoli florets alone might rival pizza on the flavor scale. The idea is to instill the knowledge that fresh, healthy foods are attainable, that they can accentuate dishes when prepared correctly, that they don’t just come from the grocery store, and that there is pride in eating something grown with your own two hands.
“In my ideal world, every school would have a garden,” Dunmore said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if families could come in and have a garden plot where they could grow things to help feed their families? And wouldn’t it be cool if students could say, ‘I grew this at my school?’”
The district pitches in by having work crews arrive at Jackson each spring to work up the soil and get the garden ready for planting. Students then come out to drop seeds and bury young plantings before shoveling out a thick layer of donated mulch to curtail weed and thistle growth.
While students are on summer break, Dunmore makes thrice-weekly visits to the garden to add more mulch, battle weeds and make sure the garden’s water system is providing adequate irrigation.
During this time, an edible metamorphosis takes place inside the garden. By the time the students return in fall, harvesting and food processing has begun. But the lion’s share of picking is left for students to ensure they get to taste the satisfaction that comes from their hard work and dedication.
As produce is collected, items that won’t freeze well due to their high moisture content (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) are added to Jackson’s daily lunch menu. All other items are quickly processed and frozen for use in dishes at the Soup Supper.
It’s a formula that works well, and it’s one Jackson teacher Kasey Rosburg – Dunmore’s daughter and Rosburg’s wife – plans to maintain as the heir apparent to Jackson Garden project leadership.
“I have been involved with the garden since (my mom) started it,” she said. “It was always cool and important to our family to be a part of it. Then I started working at Jackson, and that became an even cooler thing.
“It would be really cool to take it over someday, because it’s my mom’s baby,” Kasey added. “It’s been a family affair, and I don’t want the project to die. It’s a big responsibility, and there’s a lot to it, but it’s too cool not to continue.”
For now, Dunmore isn’t planning to step aside. Even after the 21-year veteran teacher does decide to call it a career, she intends to stay involved in some capacity.
“When I retire, I think I’d like to take a Master Gardener course,” she said. “I really don’t have the background for this. It’s just been a lot of guessing by golly and looking things up on YouTube. It’s not like I have a wealth of knowledge about gardens.”
What Dunmore does have is a desire to serve Jackson’s students and families, and to ensure they recognize the importance of – and have access to – good nutrition.
“It’s about community – building community with our families and our students,” she said. “A big part of that is making sure kids see that you can grow food and that it can be delicious.
“Yes, you can still have pizza, or you can have chicken nuggets. But please, not every day for lunch. Let’s work to feed our kids real food.”
To learn more about the Jackson Elementary School Garden Project, email teacher Andrea Dunmore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JSRI students spend their summers battling bacteria
No one knows where the next great development in medical science could occur.
Most people might expect a high-tech lab with state-of-the-art equipment and a host of white-coated researchers. Others will envision a renowned university or even a world-class medical facility.
Few are likely to suggest the work of summer-school students in a typical classroom studying cell samples collected from standing water, toilet bowls or cow manure. But that might be a mistake.
Last month (June 2022), several current and former high-schoolers convened daily in a second-floor classroom at Parker High School as part of the Janesville Summer Research Institute (JSRI). There, they investigated how antibiotic resistance continues to evolve in certain bacteria and how once-feared viruses might play a key role in mutating or killing the stubborn microbes.
Obviously, this isn’t your standard summer school class. What students uncover here could realistically help uncover the secrets to one of humanity’s greatest emerging threats – superbugs.
“If you want to get philosophical about it, it’s if you believe you can change the world,” explained Isabella Cassioppi, a junior involved in the program. “Do I necessarily believe I personally, by myself, have the ability to do that? No, not really. But I believe that, throughout the years, with this research we’re doing, we could make an impact in the future.”
That optimism is a byproduct of Dr. Zach Pratt, a Parker biology teacher with an extensive background in biochemistry and microbiology. Pratt holds a doctorate in cancer biology from UW-Madison and since 2019, he has been using connections at his alma mater to help bolster the JSRI program.
“Luckily, my grad school advisor (Bill Sugden) was an associate director at the Carbone Cancer Center in Madison (when I started the program),” Pratt said. “He said, ‘Write me up a synopsis and tell me what you need in terms of money and how much you want, and we’ll see if we can figure it out.'”
That first year, Carbone came up with about $6,000 to help fund Pratt’s program. Last year, the amount increased to $7,000.
The main requirement for funding from Carbone is that work must somehow correlate to cancer research. Since cancer patients rely heavily on antibiotics to prevent infections, JRSI’s research seems to check that box.
Though Pratt and his students know their work isn’t necessarily on par with that of big-budget labs, they find it equally fascinating.
The aforementioned “superbugs” are bacteria that evolve to the point they develop a resistance to standard antibiotics. This is an ever-growing health concern the medical community believes could someday rival cancer in terms of worldwide death rates.
In the search for a solution, researchers are experimenting with bacteriophages, or phages – viruses capable of killing selectively targeted bacteria without harming humans, animals or plants.
In Pratt’s lab, students collect samples from various sources in an effort to find phages. Those that develop are exposed to a lab strain of E. coli bacteria to see if the E. coli develops a resistance.
“We find phages that bind the bacteria’s efflux pumps (a sort of ‘sump pump’ that expels an antibiotic from the bacteria),” Pratt said. “If the efflux pump works as it normally should, then the phage can attach to it and infect the E. coli. However, if the efflux pump is mutated, then the phage cannot attach to it, and the E. coli is susceptible to antibiotics.
“So we force the E. coli to make a decision: be resistant to the phage or be resistant to the antibiotic. The bacteria can’t be resistant to both at the same time.”
Even after students determine whether or not the phages have accomplished their intended missions, myriad tests remain – and answers often lead to more questions. This is a critical point in Pratt’s lesson: that continuous testing and retesting are not only necessary but invaluable to a future scientist’s growth and experience.
“A big part of what we do is all about repetition,” he said. “You can learn a lab technique, but unless you’ve done it a few times to where you can do part of it by memory, you might not really understand it. It’s the same thing with research. (It's about getting students) to ask themselves why they are doing it so when people start to ask questions, they can say “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that” or elaborate or hypothesize about where they think the results are leading.”
In both 2019 and this year, JRSI students wrapped up the summer program with visits to UW-Madison, where they met with scientists conducting similar research and toured lab facilities at both Carbone and UW Hospital.
The students recognize the cache that comes with being part of JRSI. One student, Emma Thurner, recently graduated from Parker yet still returned to the program for the opportunity to work with Pratt and expand her knowledge base.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to learn more about my future career, because I want to pursue research and microbiology,” said Thurner, who is attending UW-La Crosse in the fall. “I’ve always liked science, and Dr. Pratt has always been one of my favorite teachers. I know kids that just take science classes just so they can be one of his students.”
Another student, sophomore Emma Purdy, aspires to someday become a NICU (newborn intensive care unit) nurse. Her goal is to broaden her knowledge of biology through the program.
“I’ve worked with E. coli before, but I’ve never worked with phages and stuff like that," she said. "I had no idea what any of that was. It’s always taken a little bit for me to understand that stuff, but as I’m working with it and really just jumping in, it’s all starting to make more sense.”
For Pratt, the JRSI program is the driver that originally led him to the School District of Janesville. After initially presenting the idea to former Superintendent Steve Pophal in 2019, he found himself with an opportunity to join the district as a teacher. The rest is history.
“It got to a point, I think in graduate school, where I said, ‘I’m not going to win a Nobel Prize, but I want to raise the person who’s going to win a Nobel Prize,’” he said. “So for me, it’s about getting (the students) engaged or helping them figure out if this is something they want to do in the future.
“Even if they don’t want to, at least they have had the experience.”
For more information about the Janesville Research Institute program, email Pratt at email@example.com. To learn more about bacteriophages, check out the video “The Deadliest Being on Planet Earth – The Bacteriophage” from Kurzgesagt.
CRAIG BLANKET DONATION OFFERS COMFORT FOR THOSE IN TRAUMA
In the violent world of human trafficking, comfort is a scarce commodity.
Though evident during the grooming process, all signs of concern for one’s well-being disappear after the predator traps his or her victim in a web of repression, sex and brutality. From there, a cycle of agony and isolation awaits those fortunate enough to survive.
Knowing they can’t completely eliminate this worldwide scourge, a group of Craig High School seniors has taken up studying the cause and hopes to inject a bit of kindness into the lives of those overcoming trauma.
As part of a research project on human trafficking for their AP Government class, five seniors recently coordinated a drive to assemble fleece tie blankets for two local groups working directly with survivors: the YWCA CARE House and the “Blanket Buddies” program at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center.
Delivery of 90 handmade blankets took place this week.
(When we toured the CARE House), they said that they make their own blankets, that the staff makes them themselves,” said McKaylie Justman, one of the seniors involved in the project. “So we thought, ‘What better way to give back to our community than by making these blankets.’”
To aid in production, the five seniors sought help from several clubs at Craig. The effort brought together 14 groups: LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), National Art Honor Society, National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, National Chinese Honor Society, Leo Club, Spanish Club, Interact Club, Skills USA, Lion’s Club, CHS Softball, Sierra Club, Octagon Club and Link Crew.
Michelle Meier, a teacher at Craig, and her 6-year-old son, Cooper, also donated to the cause.
“There were a lot of people who just donated material, but we did get a ton of clubs involved to help spread out the blanket-making,” said Kiah Biddick, another senior involved in the project. “And there were a lot of guys and girls who you might not expect to do some of this stuff that came out, so that was super nice to see.”
Production time also provided an opportunity for the seniors to share what they have learned.
“While we were making the blankets, we did talk a little bit,” she added. “So we kind of educated other people about what’s going on – about little facts they might not have known about human trafficking.”
Though it started as an assignment, the project later evolved into a mission for Justman, Biddick and classmates Madelyn Mayer, Caitlin Werner and Jessa Alderman. In addition to the blanket drive, the group researched human trafficking by conducting interviews with local experts, public officials, law enforcement personnel and workers in the medical field. Werner and Alderman recently traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of Craig’s Democracy in Action program to continue the group’s research.
This spring, the seniors will share their findings during presentations to students in the Janesville and Beloit school districts.
“I think this is the best thing about education,” said Carrie Wyatt, a Spanish teacher at Craig who helped guide the students toward resources for their project. “The best of the best young minds take a topic and want to do something so proactive and positive. This will impact their lives forever because it has really opened their eyes to something they will never see quite the same way again.”
Wyatt, who also is chairwoman for the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RCAHTTF), admits trafficking is a difficult topic to discuss, but she stresses it’s not one to turn a blind eye toward.
“It is happening in our communities with our youth from elementary through high school and beyond,” she said. “For the students to take this as something they might have thought was just an international issue and to know it’s happening right here at home, and for them to want to share their knowledge with other students – that directly impacts the community in a positive way.”
The students settled on human trafficking after Craig AP Government teacher Samantha Bannach charged them with finding a global issue to not only research but to also implement local change upon. They were surprised to discover how prevalent the issue is not just in the U.S. and beyond, but in Janesville and Rock County specifically.
“It made me realize human trafficking and sexual abuse with children in our community is a big problem,” Mayer said. “I had no idea until we started this project.”
Mayer said the local impact of trafficking became visible for her during the visit to CARE House, a child advocacy center on the city’s south side. Since 2000, the center has invited victims of neglect, physical or sexual abuse to place their handprints and first names on its walls and ceilings.
She found the sight overwhelming, and it resonated with her deeply.
“Seeing all of those handprints was heartbreaking,” Mayer said. “So is knowing it’s going on in our community and it’s not being talked about.”
Justman recalled the CARE House visit being cut short because a family in need was undergoing intake.
“They needed help,” she said. “We got to see that whole process kind of go down, and it really stuck with me that I wanted to help these people.”
Jamie Counsell, a forensic nurse coordinator at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, is founder of Mercy’s “Blanket Buddies” program and is a member of the RCAHTTF board with Wyatt. She has seen firsthand the difference something as simple as a soft blanket can make in a victim’s life.
“It gives people something to hang onto,” she said. “They can use them to cover their faces, or they can curl up with them. Sometimes they use them to wipe their faces if they’ve been crying.
“Every patient I see gets a blanket,” she added. “They’re surprised to get something, but they’re overwhelmed that someone else cared enough to make something for them to keep. Sometimes, depending on the situation, that’s the only thing that’s theirs.”
Counsell lauded the student effort at Craig.
“I think the best part of having kids do this is it helps them to understand, and it’s important for them to be aware of what’s happening in their community,” she said. “It’s a very small gesture to be kind to somebody, and this could change a victim’s outlook on their future.”
To learn more about human trafficking and indicators to watch for, view this video from RCAHTTF or visit the Polaris Project. If you are a victim in need of help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
FUN IS MAIN INGREDIENT IN LINCOLN ELEMENTARY COOKING CLASS
For 16 years, Emma Dieter lived life as a professional chef. A seafood specialist trained in restaurants around the world, she found joy crafting creative dishes to delight the discerning tastes of diners.
But recently, the Western Australia native found herself wrangling a group of energetic first-graders while teaching them how to make twice-baked potatoes. Though the final results lacked a bit in terms of presentation (and there might have been some spilled sour cream), the overall goal of putting smiles on students’ faces was unquestionably achieved.
“I don’t expect them to become chefs. I just want them to enjoy themselves,” said Dieter, who initiated the “Cooking With Kids” after-school program earlier this year at Lincoln Elementary School. “If they learn something they can do at home or tell someone else about, that’s great.”
As coordinator for Lincoln’s family resource center (FRC), Dieter’s duties range from distributing donated clothing to checking out books and board games. But for one hour every Wednesday, she gets to spend time teaching kids simple recipes they can share with family.
“Last week, we made blueberry muffins,” she said. “We’ve also made salsa, and the twice-baked potatoes is a popular one. Kids have told me they’ve made (twice-baked potatoes) at home for grandma or took them to Thanksgiving.”
At first, “Cooking With Kids” was intended for fifth-graders, but the program’s popularity grew. It has since cycled through grades 1-4, and kindergartners will get their turns, as well.
Every fourth week, a new class enters the program. Parents must sign students up to participate, but with limited numbers accepted, the popular class tends to fill quickly.
“Excitement and engagement are through the roof, and the waiting list is long,” said Lincoln Principal Shawn Galvin. “('Cooking With Kids') went from a one-time offering to being weekly, and now we have classes signed up. It continues to grow, and there is never a lack of demand for being part of it.”
That’s encouraging for Dieter, who just wanted to give kids something enjoyable to look forward to each week.
“I just want them to have fun,” she said. “Life has been pretty bad for the last couple of years for a lot of these students (due to COVID-19). So if we can add some fun, that’s my biggest thing.”
Judging by the laughter – mission accomplished. And since students don’t handle sharp objects alone or touch hot surfaces, Dieter doesn’t consider discipline a vital ingredient for class.
“Things aren’t as strict here as they are in regular classes,” she said. “I tend to let things go a bit because I want them to have fun.
“When I was teaching the third-graders, I had two boys I knew might be a bit of trouble,” she said. “I had a man come in who wanted to donate money to the FRC, and while he was here, the boys each got eggs and smashed them on each other. (The man) was like, ‘OK … here’s the check …’ as he backed away. But he still gave me the check.”
To fund “Cooking With Kids,” Dieter accepts monetary donations and applies for various grants. A Donors Choose campaign helped pay for some pans, a microwave, toaster ovens and a small fridge.
“Last year, I had gardens outside over the summer, and I got $750 for that from Alliant Energy,” she said. “I’m hoping to do a spring carnival or something this year where each student gets a plant or something. I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Dieter obviously loves her new gig. For those who question why someone of her culinary pedigree might opt for English muffin pizzas over lobster bisque, she has a simple explanation.
“It’s because I’m teaching the kids,” she said. “When I get emails from parents saying ‘So-and-so made this at home for me’ or ‘We went shopping, bought the ingredients and made this together,’ that’s where it’s like, ‘Wow! I got through and made a difference.’”
The program’s impact reflects through the enthusiasm of the students, whose pride at learning new skills is evident.
“I’m learning to cook just like my daddy,” said 7-year-old Sophia. “He cooks burgers.”
“I only know how to cook a little stuff,” added Aria, also 7. “I know how to cook spaghetti and muffins, and me and my mom once made candy canes.”
The class has been restorative for Dieter, who admits she had lost her passion to cook professionally several years ago. Instead, she found purpose teaching English to refugees in her native Australia and volunteering with the less fortunate in Southeast Asia.
“In mid-2007 or 2008, I went to Cambodia and Thailand and was volunteering with orphans,” she said. “It was just basic, but I fell in love working with the kids. I was like, ‘OK, I don’t know how I’m going to fit (teaching) into my life right now, but if nothing else, I can still cook and volunteer.’”
In 2009, Dieter moved to the U.S. and married her now-husband, Jon, a Whitewater native. After several years as a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s daughter, Natasha, Dieter began volunteering at ECHO and at Kennedy Elementary, where Natasha was a student.
“It came to a point where I decided I wanted to go back to school because I really liked working with kids,” she said. “I enrolled at Blackhawk (Technical College) and got my associate degree (in Foundations of Education). Now I’m at Viterbo (University) doing two years to complete my bachelor’s degree.”
Dieter expects to complete coursework on her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education by June and graduate in December. Provided the opportunity, she would like to teach at Lincoln.
“The staff here is kind of like another family,” she said. “You can talk to them about anything, and everyone’s really supportive of each other.”
Among those supporters is Galvin, who recognizes the benefits Dieter's “Cooking With Kids” program provides to students and families.
“One of the big things here is the ‘real-life’ application piece,” he said. “There is reading (recipes are printed in English and Spanish), collaboration, learning to follow directions step-by-step and being creative with recipes while taking risks and getting immediate feedback.”
Galvin added the program also encourages conversation and teamwork and “puts kids and parents on the same level for extended periods of time.”
For more information about Lincoln’s “Cooking With Kids” program or to make a donation, email Dieter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tradition of DECA excellence continues at Parker
In 1997, Andrea Greenwood pitched an idea for a customer loyalty card to Daniels Sentry in Janesville. Patrons at the grocery store embraced the program, and it earned the Parker High senior a state DECA title.
In 2006, Jenna Johnson and Heather Hoile came up with an expansion plan for Dairy Queen on the city’s east side. Though the proposal wasn’t implemented, it did lead to the pair placing among the top 16 in DECA’s national competition that year.
In 2017, Claire Timm devised an extensive strategic marketing plan to boost business at Wedge Inn East, a family restaurant on Milwaukee Street. She spent hours conducting research, interviewing customers and mapping out costs and benefits. The plan qualified her for DECA’s international competition.
Four names. Three stories. A drop in the bucket for a renowned Parker program that continues gaining momentum and prominence with each passing year.
For those not familiar, DECA is a worldwide association of high school and college marketing students. The co-curricular program emphasizes disciplines of business and marketing, and its primary mission is to prepare high school and college students for careers in management, finance, entrepreneurship and more.
The key word here is “prepare” – something Parker does in spades. According to John Zimmerman, longtime business/marketing teacher and DECA advisor, the school’s vaunted program has consistently ranked among the state’s largest and best for more than a quarter-century.
“When you start to get the kids to believe they’re good, the tradition builds on itself,” he said. “The kids here have just been rock stars. I’ve never counted (how many state champions Parker DECA has had). I don’t have enough fingers and toes.”
For 28 years, Zimmerman has been the face of Parker DECA. Under the tutelage of he, his fellow advisors and a solid network of local businesspeople, students continue to set benchmarks that keep subsequent classes constantly challenged.
“In his room, Mr. Zimmerman has a list of kids he has taken to internationals, so it’s pretty obvious there was a standard of taking kids every year,” said senior Amelia Ross, one of the Parker chapter’s two vice presidents. “It adds a little pressure, but he knows our personal standards and that we push ourselves to do the best we can.”
DECA members hone their skills through competitions, potentially qualifying for district, state, national and international levels. Each consists of a 100-question economics test, a 100-question “cluster” test on a student’s chosen discipline, and a pair of role plays covering scenarios rooted in the student’s chosen category. Role plays are judged on a 100-point scale, and combined tabulations of all components determine a final score.
“I started exploring business as a freshman, and marketing was my first business class,” said this year’s Parker DECA President, Tadyn McCann. “I had older friends who were involved, and I wanted to do the competitions because the events looked really fun.
“What I didn’t realize is how much outreach DECA has in our community,” she added. “We do a lot of community service through a variety of projects. You meet a lot of people who could be good business connections. I didn’t realize how many real-world skills DECA was going to prepare me for.”
In other words, it’s not all about developing a hard-nosed business acumen. It’s about learning to be relatable and adaptable to personalities in addition to noticing absent decimal points.
“A lot of (DECA) is about the soft skills; being able to communicate,” said Kylee Skrzypchak, the DECA team’s other vice president. “It’s about being able to make connections with different business people while we’re doing the activities we do. It’s not necessarily about the hard skills. It’s about building connections and being able to speak with people.”
Recognizing that distinction is important, as many DECA members eventually decide not to pursue careers in business. According to Mike Wick, a seven-year advisor in the program, that value remains, regardless.
“One of the great things about our department is you don’t have to go into business,” he said. “Something we stress to the kids is that, if you want to become a doctor, a nurse or an architect, we really don’t care. But every single thing you do is going to be associated with business. Somehow. Some way.”
Senior Carter Fugate, a DECA member who also serves as manager of The Barn, Parker’s school store, attests to Wick’s assessment.
“A lot of the DECA program is not only learning about business and how to succeed at life, but also how to succeed as an individual,” he said. “A lot of the program is relatable on a personal level as much as it can relate to a business. I think that’s really helpful.”
To ensure Parker’s DECA program remains up-to-date, Molly Mickelson – a five-year advisor in the program – said staff pays close attention to new systems and evolving trends.
“New things come out every day that we can relate to business management techniques,” she said. “If you read articles and do your research, you can give them the applications that are happening in their lives right now. That’s the best part of business.”
Despite having headed the program for nearly three decades, Zimmerman bristles at being lauded for its success. But Wick stresses that Zimmerman’s fingerprints are all over Parker DECA, and that his contributions to it have been invaluable.
“Mr. Zimmerman has done a phenomenal job of establishing great relationships with local businesses, and he has helped us (he and Mickelson) do the same,” Wick said. “Now we have a direct pipeline of feedback as to what businesspeople want and need right now, and we can go back to students and tell them the things they are going to need to be prepared for those jobs.”
“The business community has been unreal, and they deserve a lot of credit. Our partnerships have allowed this program to grow consistently over the years,” he said. “And Mike and Molly have jumped in and done a great job, and along with our kids buying in, our alumni have really come through for us.
“It takes a group of people to buy in for this to be successful, and we’ve been lucky to have a group of people who have bought into this and have just really gone to town.”
Caitlyn Dickman never planned to become a captain of industry. The Craig High School junior and self-described “arty kid” instead had her sights set on a career as a creative.
When she realized she could do both, she decided to get down to business. Literally.
“I had taken some business courses during my freshman year, and I really wanted to find a way to combine my art talent with my business talent,” Dickman said. “That’s why I joined Elevate.”
An education capstone program focused on global business, Elevate immerses qualified juniors and seniors at Craig into executive environments to help them gain valuable hands-on work experience in the field.
“Through Elevate, I’ve learned a lot, like how to work the stock market, different kinds of IRAs … even how to file taxes,” Dickman said. “A lot of personal finance classes don’t give you as deep a look at our economy or go as far into explaining how it works.”
The rigorous one-year program consists of three segments: business-specific classes as part of a traditional school curriculum, pairing with a mentor employed in the student’s chosen career field and a pair of 8- to 10-week business projects involving local companies or organizations.
Even the enrollment process is a nod to the working world, as students must apply for admission and take part in interviews to be selected. This year, 31 made the cut.
“We want to make sure they are a good fit and that they understand our expectations,” said Brandon Miles, a business education teacher at Craig. “We liken (Elevate) to an AP course in terms of time. It’s not necessarily the same difficulty in terms of curriculum, but you’re spending a lot of time solving real-world problems with your companies. And if your business project has a deadline, you have to get it done whether it’s before or after school. Whatever it takes.”
Along with Miles, the Elevate staff consists of Craig Assistant Principal Shawn Kane, social studies teacher Fritz Elsen and English teacher Cindi Haberkorn.
The idea for the program formed in 2017, when Kane saw a presentation about a similar initiative at Pewaukee High School. The two schools now partner and have held case study competitions in the past. Another is planned for April.
What sets Elevate apart from other school business programs is its mentorship component. Since launching Elevate three years ago, staff has developed a base of professional advisors that continues to evolve with individual student interests.
Along with expertise and business savvy, Elevate’s mentors provide supplemental benefits that extend far beyond the program.
“We’ve had a lot of mentors write letters of recommendation for kids, help them with school and offer career planning,” Miles said. “It’s a good network of people who have been gracious enough to give their time and energy. We definitely have some dedicated folks.”
To complement the mentorship aspect, Elevate students also help develop complex projects that result in countless unteachable experiences.
Senior Quin Studer didn’t fully understand how involved some facets of business were until he started working with the Business Alliance, a downtown Janesville startup that would offer co-working spaces for at-home workers and entrepreneurs.
“It’s unique from the other projects because, usually, you work with a business that’s already started,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is primary and secondary research to see if this is worth developing and why we should be developing it.
“I’ve learned there is a lot more background work to running a business other than just basic needs such as marketing, sales and finance,” he added. “And there’s a lot more to business than just making money. One of the most important things is having people around you and growing your circle, because that’s what the whole thing is about.”
Within Elevate’s advocacy base is Janesville School Board member Michelle Haworth, who is volunteering this year as a project mentor on a school district daycare project. Haworth saw the program’s impact firsthand through her daughter, Aubrey – a former Elevate participant.
“(Aubrey) was on three different projects,” Haworth said. “She worked on ARISE, a brewery project and she got exposure to (the medical field through) Mercy as the first intern they had. She got to explore different careers to see what she really enjoyed doing.”
Now a student at UW-La Crosse, Aubrey plans to pursue a career in medicine. Her experience with Elevate directly influenced that decision.
“(Aubrey) called Gunderson Clinic (in La Crosse) to see what they had open and explained her experience at Mercy,” Haworth said. “When they heard she had Epic (software) experience, they slid her right in. She had an offer that afternoon. That was because of what she got to do at Mercy.”
“(Aubrey) wants to be a physician assistant or a pediatrician, so she’s going to continue on with grad school, and La Crosse has a strong (physician assistant) program,” she added. “And having the Gunderson network right there, she can always stay within that and be in line for a job, potentially.”
Haworth believes Elevate holds similar promise for other students who seize the opportunity to enroll.
“We are so fortunate to have Elevate, and the community has really embraced it,” she said. “Students are making an impact in their community and are getting exposure to many careers and people. Wherever they go, they will have those resources for their entire lives.”
Students interested in learning more about Elevate and professionals interested in offering their services as mentors are encouraged to email Kane at email@example.com.
- A semester’s tuition at UW-Madison is $10,725
- At UW-Whitewater, it’s $7,706.
Those costs are before books and room and board.
Parents, imagine how those costs would change if your child left high school with a two-year associate
degree with credits transferable to a four-year college.
Students, imagine leaving high school with a degree that allowed you to make real money.
That option already exists at Rock University High School, one of the Janesville School District’s most
unique charter schools.
It’s called the middle college concept, and it’s not only about saving money. It’s also about giving
students a head start on their lives.
How does it work?
“In essence, it means students are working towards a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time,” said Kollen Onsrud, Rock University principal, and
a curriculum coordinator for the School District of Janesville.
It starts with an intense focus on the mental habits and study strategies students need to succeed in a college-like atmosphere. The school, which is housed in Blackhawk Technical College, doesn’t operate on a standard high school schedule.
Instead, students have longer class periods, and must manage their work load and their free time. Each year, the students take a seminar, a class with an intensive focus on reading, writing and research.In those classes students also learn about the skills they’ll need for colleges, including the ability to interact with others.
During their junior year, students begin to take dual credit courses. These courses count for both high
school and college credit. By their senior year, some students will take classes almost exclusively at
Blackhawk Technical College.
“What makes us unique is that we work closely with Blackhawk Tech to see which courses are going to
work as high school and college credits,” Onsrud said.
Students don’t always know what they want to do after high school. Rock University High School
teachers and staff help students explore their options.
“We’re really promoting it as a place where freshmen don’t have to know what they want to do as a
career path,” Onsrud said. “But we expect them to understand that the goal is to be working towards an
This Week in Kindergarten is a quick look at what's going on in Mrs. Amy London's class at Adams Elementary School.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Lucas thinks the best way to be like Martin Luther King is to share your toys.
We’re all so used to the images off Dr. King speaking from pulpits or in front of the Lincoln Memorial
that it’s difficult in imagine him sharing Legos with Lucas.
But Lucas was right, and Dr. King would have been pleased to see his legacy and his lessons carried on in
the minds and hearts of kindergarten kids.
For the past week, Mrs. London’s kindergarteners have been learning about Dr. Martin Luther King.
He’s been incorporated into reading, writing, math and phonics lessons. Kindergarteners also learned about the history that lead to King’s long fight.
Mrs. London explained to them that before Dr. King, white children and children of color had to go to
different schools and different restaurants. They even had to use different water fountains.
“That’s not fair!” was the universal response, Mrs. London said.
She doesn’t go too deeply into the topic, but King’s message of love and inclusion resonates with kids.
They know what it feels like to be left out or bullied.
Lucas knew about sharing. His classmate, Addison, said “being like Martin” meant “being a hero and not
a meanie.” Others contributed “treating people the same,” “being kind” and “caring a lot.”
And Saraji, a child who clearly listens carefully to her lessons, announced that being like Martin meant
“letting everybody go to the same places.”
Dr. King would have been proud.
Making friends from six feet away
Educators call it “social emotional” learning. Parents call it “learning to get along with others” or, less formally, “stop hitting your brother.”
During a normal school year, Mrs. London’s kindergarteners would share the playground with older children. In the classroom, they’d sit around tables, working on activities together and sharing supplies.
Not this year. But here’s the thing: Teachers have always taught social emotional skills in a variety of ways. For example, many teachers use the “bucket filling” story with kids. Parents take note—you can use this at home.
Here’s the premise: Everyone, everywhere, is carrying an invisible bucket. When we express appreciation and love, and act with kindness, that helps fill up another person’s bucket. It also makes us feel good about ourselves.
Bullying, and thoughtless or mean speech dips into another person’s bucket and depletes it. Kids, and grownups, too—know what depletion feels like: It’s a sinking feeling that settles in the middle of your chest, and it comes with a sense that you are less cared for and less valuable than you really are.
Grownups can moderate those emotions, children cannot.
Many parents worry that their kids will miss out on the “learning to get along” aspect of school because of COVID-19 restrictions. But strangely enough, those restrictions have become part of being a good friend.
On a sunny day last fall, one little girl offered her friend a hug. Her friend looked uncertain.
Then the little girl said, “Just kidding! I like you! Everybody has to be safe!”
Not only was this smart, but it was also, apparently, very funny, because they both laughed really hard, from six feet apart.
Supporting kids from a distance.
Kindergarteners are huggers. They’re high-fivers and hand holders. But this year, hugs are out, as are high fives, encouraging back pats, and holding hands.
Elbow bumps, while affirming, aren’t the same, especially when a kid is having a bad day. Feelings of affirmation, support and caring come in other ways too.
Praise from teachers makes a student smile, sit up a little taller and return to their work with renewed effort.
Teachers tend to use pre-emptive strikes. Mrs. London, kindergarten teacher at Adams Elementary has an uncanny ability to hand out kudos the moment they’re needed. Instead of waiting for a child to have a meltdown, she’ll praise a child for continuing to work through their frustration or difficulties.
Those pre-emptive strikes also take the form of praise for following the classroom rules. Mrs. London will say “Thanks for pushing in your chair, Lucas.” Lucas is happy, and the other children respond by making sure their chairs are pushed in, too.
Parents take note: This trick works at home, too.
Until Covid-19 is over, high fives and hugs are out, and parents will need to fill the gap with extra high fives and hugs at home.
Don’t call the Janesville School’s computer science program its “best kept secret.” That makes it sound like a restaurant or travel destination.
Instead, the Janesville School District’s computer science department is a quiet powerhouse, a force propelling students into the best colleges and then into high-paying jobs immediately after graduation.
How strong is the program? Consider this:
- The Janesville School District is one the few districts that allows— even encourages-- students to take AP computer science their sophomore year. Successful completion of the AP Comp Sci exam means students can take computer science classes at UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison or Beloit College in their junior and senior years. That’s right, those college credits are free.
- In the 2018-2019 school year, Janesville had 39 students who took the AP Comp Sci exam. Only one school district in the state had more—Madison, a district with four high schools and a significantly higher student population.
- In the 2019-2020 school year, 754 students statewide took the AP Comp Sci exam. Only 181 received a five, the top score. Of those 181, six were from Janesville.
- Every year, the National Center for Women and Information Technology honors a handful of high school girls with “Aspirations in Computing” awards. Last year, the organization honored 101 young women from Wisconsin’s 800-plus public and private high schools. Of those 101, six were from Janesville.
- The district is one of the few in the state that offers the advanced course, “Data Structures,” a college-level course.
- Both high schools have made it to the finals of the international Zero Robotics competition, and they’ve both made it more than once. The competition involves writing code to operate a robot on the International Space Station. The handful of teams that make the finals go to MIT. There, the wining team gets to watch its code used to operate a robot on the space station.
The district’s computer science dynasty started in 2005 when Bob Getka arrived at Parker, and started teaching AP Computer Science. His classroom walls are covered with photos of students who passed the exam. Among the many who have passed, are 48 that passed with fives.
At Craig, Janice Bain started her career teaching math and computer science. She minored in computer science in college, but in those days they were using Pascal and Cobol, defunct computer languages. When an instructor was needed for AP Computer Science, Bain took a deep dive into JAVA, the current language. The district also sent her to a week-long intensive institute on the course.
She also learned from what she calls the “course of Bob.”
Her efforts and her students’ work paid off. In the 6 years she has been teaching AP Computer Science, more than one-fourth of her students taking the exam earned 5s.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 100 percent of her students passed the exam, a distinction she shared with only seven other schools in the state.
She’s had 100 percent successes in other years, too.
Getka, who calls himself as “very competitive person” described her pass rate in wondering tones, calling it “extraordinary.”
What’s the key to their success?
Getka and Bain said the school district has been very supportive of STEAM programs, and acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
Good teaching and motivated students are a crucial part of the equation, too, and, like any good sports team, it helps to start ‘em young.
Five years ago, the Getka and other started Lego Robotics teams at the elementary level. Now almost every elementary school has a Lego Robotics team, and many of Janesville’s private schools do, as well.
Now, with the elementary school students reaching high school, Getka and Bain expect those students will dominate, both in competition and in class.
Bain wants students to know that computer science is a career for anyone.
“Whatever job you have, computer science can help you get that job done,” Bain said. “It can be used in art, it can be used in ag—that’s really the power of it. It can be applied to any field you go in to.”