Learning Classics While Building ConfidencePosted by Lori Villarreal on 1/6/2021
Since joining Hartman Elementary in 2012, Erin Parker-Atkins has had one mission: build her students’ confidence through the power of performance. Having seen the power of music since she was a kid, Parker-Atkins knew she was destined to share her passion for it with the next generation.
Parker-Atkins grew up in a tiny town in West Texas and her backyard backed up to the local high school’s football field. Her dad was the band director and spent every night of the week practicing with the band on the field. Most nights, Parker-Atkins would hop the fence and watch rehearsals, witnessing the impact her dad was having on his students. Before she was even 10 years old, she knew she wanted to be a band director too.
While in school and student teaching high school band, Parker-Atkins realized she needed more flexibility and time with her two young sons. Her mentor, Susan Brumfield, a Professor of Music Education at Texas Tech University and a well-known textbook author, recommended she take a music teacher position at an elementary school. Upon starting her elementary career, Parker-Atkins knew this is exactly what she was meant to do.
When joining Hartman and Wylie ISD as a Music Specialist, Parker-Atkins knew this was a special environment. “This place is completely different than any other district you’ll ever find,” said Parker-Atkins. “I tell people all the time now that I’ll leave Hartman and Wylie ISD when I’m dead.”
After a couple of years with the district, Parker-Atkins, an avid reader, found scripts for musicals based on classic literature and applied for a grant from the Wylie ISD Education Foundation to help her bring classic books to life. Her first grant funded a full production of “No Strings Attached”. An adaptation of the classic story of Pinocchio, Hartman Music’s first grant included all the materials needed for the set design, costumes, high-quality sound equipment, and so much more. Parker-Atkins, with grants from the Foundation, has brought stories we all know and love to life through musicals including not only Pinocchio, but also Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, and Hartman’s latest literary adaptation.
In 2019, Parker-Atkins received a grant from the Foundation to put on a full production of Tom Sawyer. Her third graders would learn the classic story through a musical adaptation. However, this program extends beyond just building a student’s knowledge and reading skills. It was designed to build their confidence.
Prior to the preparations and rehearsals of the musical, Parker-Atkins asked her students if they described themselves as confident and/or if they thought they had good self-esteem. Just 54.32 percent of her third graders said yes. After the production, 82.46 percent of students reported they were more confident now than they were before the performance – a significant increase to show the impact this program has on students’ lives.
While all of Parker-Atkins’ students report the musical does help build their confidence, this particular group of third graders truly stepped up and acted like the professionals they were never expected to be. Near the end of preparations for Tom Sawyer, Parker-Atkins’ dad, the person who inspired her career, hopes and dreams, unexpectedly passed away. With the help of a close friend and Wylie ISD substitute, Susan Shuler, the students continued to prepare for the Tom Sawyer musical, memorizing their lines and songs while Parker-Atkins was out for four weeks. Although their performance date was delayed by a month, these students showed up each and every day excited to keep rehearsing and perfecting the Tom Sawyer musical. Why? Because the performance mattered to them. They were just as invested as Parker-Atkins was.
“This particular group of kids, my Tom Sawyer kids, they will mean more to me, forever, than they understand. Children, so often, do not understand that they are our reason for doing, but these kids truly are,” said Parker-Atkins. “What I do at Hartman is totally different than what everyone else does by a typical elementary standard, but my kids are worth it. If I don’t have a grant, then I pay out of my own pocket or we reuse materials we already have. With funding from the Foundation, we can create fun and engaging experiences for our students. I am so grateful for the Education Foundation and the opportunities they’ve given us.”
Written by Beth Rose, friend of the Foundation.
Creating Tomorrow’s STEM Leaders TodayPosted by Lori Villarreal on 11/30/2020
Hartman Elementary students look forward to computer classes each spring.
At some point between reading, science, writing, math, and social studies, students from Kindergarten to fourth grade have the chance to release the robots. The classroom transforms into a Wonder Workshop with 10 “Dash and Dot” robots who help students code and bring them to life. Dash responds to voice commands, navigates objects, dances, sings, and can play the xylophone with his buddy, Dot, following close behind.
The program was started in 2018 by Lara Paretti, the school’s computer paraprofessional, who was awarded a grant from Wylie ISD Education Foundation to fund “Bee… Bop… Bot… with Dash and Dot (Robotics and Coding),” a program that allowed her students to learn the basics of robotics and coding in a fun, innovative way.
“They couldn’t wait to get to computers,” Paretti said. “To most of the kids here, they’ve never had these experiences, and they probably never will unless it’s through education. It’s exhilarating to be the person that gave them that opportunity.”
Despite having spent nearly a decade working in insurance, Paretti always loved tech and trying to figure out how things worked. She had been a girl scout when she was younger, and her family is full of engineers. So, when Paretti was offered a position to teach computers at Hartman, she couldn’t turn it down. She has loved every day she has been at Hartman since joining in 2017 and has always tried to find new, engaging ways to pique her students’ interest in STEM.
Paretti spent the summer of 2018 working on her grant application for the Wylie ISD Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing educational opportunities in Wylie Independent School District. She was intimidated and unsure of where to start, but after spending hours researching ways to encourage students to like STEM, she determined Dash and Dot robots were an effective way to show students what the future could look like. When applying, she asked herself, “why not? It truly comes down to just a few hours to make a difference in a kid’s life. These are things we can’t provide on our own, and to give them the opportunity to do it, it’s worth it. I loved it.”
A 2019 study by Purdue University (1) found that utilization of robots in education “allows for an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates technical and social topics. This approach encourages students to build mental connections and associations with the breadth of engineering, physics, and mechanistic concepts.” This is precisely what Paretti wanted to accomplish. Through robots, she was able to teach her classes – all filled with students of diverse backgrounds – the fundamentals of STEM.
“A lot of students didn’t know what STEM was. They’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Paretti. “I’m hoping this is life-changing for even just one kid. When they get to pick their endorsements in high school, maybe one student will look back and remember the robots in Mrs. Paretti’s class.”
Students of all ages and backgrounds can learn the basics of robotics and coding through the Dash and Dot Robots. Special needs classes across the world have used robots to help students build their social skills, and Paretti’s program is no different. She assigned two students per robot and was very intentional when pairing partners. So much so that she spoke with teachers throughout the school to see if they agreed on pairings. Paretti wanted to set all of her students up for success so they would feel encouraged and inspired about STEM. Her careful planning paid off as her special needs students excelled alongside the rest of the class.
For Paretti, the robots are not only a way to teach kids about technology, but also a way to tackle traditional concepts by creating and exploring. She’s used virtual reality, Legos, magna tiles, and iPads to spark and grow their interest.
“I hope I can give at least one kid that big moment in their life. The moment they realize they love STEM,” said Paretti.
Written by Krisleigh Hoermann, Board Member, and friend, Beth Rose.
Inspiring A New Generation of ReadersPosted by Lori Villarreal on 10/22/2020 9:40:00 AM
Allison Bryant, a second-grade teacher at Dodd Elementary, hadn’t told her students that she applied for a grant from the Wylie ISD Education Foundation until the day Foundation representatives appeared at the door with a giant $800 check for new classroom books.
“It would be so awkward to tell them and then not get the grant,” Bryant said. “The day the Foundation showed up with a big group of people got them excited.” Although, at that point, they were unsure why.
Surprised faces softened into pure excitement as she explained how this check would turn into new books and an expanded library that reflected the students in her class across an array of genres.
The grant Bryant received was a part of the Grants for Teachers, launched in 2001. Wylie ISD Education Foundation started in 2002 by the District and its Board of Trustees to support enhanced educational opportunities in Wylie Independent School District. It solicits, manages, and distributes funds for enrichment purposes in areas otherwise not funded by the District.
Bryant was so intrigued she applied for Grants For Teachers after coordinating with her school’s learning specialist, librarian, and other staff to discuss the needs of the students. The Family Literacy Center released that more than 37 percent of fourth-graders are not reading at the basic level in their grade. By the time these students get to high school and early adulthood, U.S. government researchers found that 50 percent of unemployed youth ages 16-21 are functionally illiterate with no prospects of obtaining good jobs. Developing a passion for reading has to start earlier.
With Dodd Elementary being a highly diverse school representing many backgrounds and cultures, Bryant wanted to inspire a new generation of readers by providing her students with books that looked, sounded, and felt like the students she teaches.
She remembers clearly the moment she pulled “The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family” out of her box to read to the class.
“I think back to my student who inspired me to read it because I wanted him to have a connection finally to something we were reading in class,” Bryant said. “As soon as I said the word hijab, his eyes lit up.”
Others students asked him questions and the book opened a great forum for organic conversation on culture, diversity, and inclusion in the classroom.
Two years later, her students are still reading and discussing the books provided by the grant. Bryant has applied for several additional grants and earned more than $6,000 for her school. She hopes that more teachers will follow suit.
Wylie ISD Education Foundation has given more than $1,654,900 through its Grants for Teachers program, $428,000 for Scholarships For Seniors, and supports the District in an array of other ways. A great testament to the value of the program that puts money back in teachers’ hands to enrich education is the fact that approximately fifty percent of teachers, administrators, and school staff give back annually to the Foundation that supports these efforts.
Written by Krisleigh Hoermann, Board Member
Challenged Readers Find Confidence in Independent WorkPosted by Lori Villarreal on 10/1/2019
October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month. Dyslexia is a learning difference associated with reading, writing and spelling. An unexpected cheer-worthy encounter inspired me to share what feels like a big win.
Last academic year Mrs. Allyson Palmer, a Dyslexia Therapist at Cox Elementary, was awarded ten C-Pens through Wylie ISD Education Foundation’s Grants for Teachers program. C-Pens scan the words on a display and read them aloud for the user. A headset can be used to not distract other students. This pen lets challenged readers work independently and often allows them to remain in class not losing out on instructional time.
Standing on the sidelines of my son’s team competition another mom and I discussed the challenges of rearing teen boys. An hour was easily consumed by this commiserating when she said, “But I’m really worried about my second grader.” Understanding the weight of a worried heart, I followed up with a dozen questions. A solution came to mind and with a single text to the right person, her son to gained access to a resource that could potentially support his learning.
The morning after our sideline conversation Mrs. Palmer had a C-Pen in the hands of the specialist at this struggling reader’s campus. The C-Pen adjusted how the second grader reader was tested and changed his approach to reading. The previous frustration of difficulty reading and low comprehension were superseded with the confidence that comes from doing well. “His first experience in using a C-Pen was for a science test which would have been read to him by his teacher. This day he was able to complete the test on his own with the C-pen,” his mom said. “He scored a 100 percent. He was overjoyed and so proud of himself. His confidence instantly improved and his teachers saw the difference right away.”
Dyslexia is a print disability but it also impacts many other areas of reading. The grant evaluation showed improvements as well as intangible results equally valuable. “In addition to supporting confident readers, access to the C-Pen devices allowed teachers to reduce their time reading with my students and increase time for learning,” Mrs. Palmer said. “I couldn’t put a number on the independence my students gained, the self-confidence they developed, and the love of reading that many developed.”
Once again standing on the sidelines of yet another of my son’s team competition, mom and I cheered together the success of her young son’s renewed enthusiasm for school. He was there rooting on his big brother alongside us. I didn’t want to make an embarrassing fuss so all I asked was, “How’d it feel to show off what you know about science?” He leaped and squealed with the energy of a second grade boy. Words were not necessary. The playing field of learning finally felt level for him and he now could enter the stadium of education feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time.
Written by Lori C. Villarreal and Megan Figuly
For more on Dyslexia > About Dyslexia
Newton's Laws on a Test RunPosted by Lori Villarreal on 9/12/2019
The roar from the gym was almost deafening. Instead of being packed with hundreds of cheering spectators, the roaring fans in McMillan Junior High’s gym were leaf blowers attached to dozens of student-made hovercrafts. Mrs. Joanna Robertson’s 8th grade STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) classes were giving Newton’s Laws a test run.