The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “High School

CGTI 2016 – General Sessions

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be showing up over the next several days related to my recent experiences at the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute held at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois on July 17-21. (In the past, I have written about the Teen Institute on my personal blog. This year I have decided to share my reflections on this blog instead.) For those who are not aware, CGTI is a week-long leadership camp for middle and high school students that focuses on developing leadership skills, taking healthy risks, learning about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATODs), and working in action teams to bring about positive change in the community. Instead of breaking down the posts day by day, I have decided to reflect topically. Today I want to reflect on the general sessions held each day. (more…)


UHS Spring Musical

There is something wonderful about high school stage productions. As much as the students who participate in theatre are made the object of jokes and ridicule in movies and television, the reality is that these young people who are on the cusp of young adulthood are incredibly talented, amazing performers. Of course, I can’t forget the technical crew members! As a long-time spotlight operator, I tip my hat to the young men and women who stand behind 1,000 watts of light to focus the audience’s attention on the stage! (I was the chief spotlight operator while in high school, directing the off-stage lighting for nearly two dozen different stage productions, including plays, musicals, concerts, and assemblies.)

So when we got an invitation from our deputy superintendent to attend a special matinee performance of the Urbana High School’s Spring MusicalBeauty and the Beast, I eagerly accepted! (The other fourth grade class came, too.) The invitation came just before ISAT testing began, so it was a quick turnaround from getting the information to going. We got permission slips out and collected this week, loaded up the bus (if the temperature hadn’t dropped, we would have just walked), and filed into the UHS auditorium this morning.

I had no idea how my students would actually respond, but I had my hopes high. I knew that some had been to stage productions before, but this was a two and a half hour show. That is a long time for young people to sit in a darkened room. There was an intermission, of course, and some of the cast members came out and led the students in stretches, but it was still a long time to be seated!

Fortunately, my expectations for our fourth graders were well-founded! Once again the students in our two classes here at Wiley showed a level of maturity and responsibility that goes above and beyond what a typical 9- or 10-year-old would show. They were an awesome audience, applauded at all the right times, stayed quiet when they were supposed to, waited for the intermission to use the restroom, and were calm and quiet as we left the building.

The musical itself was fantastic! This was my first time seeing the stage adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It was also my first time seeing a stage production put on by the students at Urbana High School. I was blown away by the professionalism and talent! I would be delighted to take my family to see this show and invite my friends, too. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. It is absolutely worth it! Thank you to the drama director and all of the students for a wonderful morning in your auditorium. We truly enjoyed being your guests!


I started reading a new book this morning at about 8 am. I finished it by 11 am. Three hours to read a 200-page book. That doesn’t happen very often for me. It has from time to time, but most books take me at least a week or so. I get distracted or hungry or tired or I just have other things to do.

I didn’t have anything to do this morning. So instead of turning on the TV and watching episodes of Parks and Recreation on Netflix while meandering through Facebook and Twitter, I decided to read. This book was recommended by my wife, who first read it several years ago but decided to read it again. Even before she finished, she told me yesterday that I needed to read it. I have a personal rule about book recommendations: when my wife says I need to read a book, I will stop whatever else I am doing and read it.

I’m glad I did.

This is not a book for fourth graders or fifth graders. It probably isn’t even a book for middle schoolers, although I could see using it with eighth graders. It is a book for every parent, every teacher, every administrator, every counselor, every aunt, every uncle, every older sibling who knows a child and knows that she or he will be going into high school. It is a book for those who notice that some children, especially when they enter high school, seem to inexplicably change and the adults who love them and want them best for them don’t know what happened or why.

It is a book for teenagers who are afraid to speak, to talk about what has happened. It is a book for those who feel trapped and don’t know how to get out. It is a book for those who don’t think anyone else understands. It is that kind of book.

Speak is the story of Melinda Sordino, a freshman at a school in Syracuse, New York, who experienced a traumatic experience a few weeks before school started. Instead of talking to her parents, her friends, anyone, she withdrew, which happens to many who experience such experiences. Her friends feel betrayed and abandon her. Her teachers are upset by her poor grades. Her parents don’t know what is going on and take their frustration out on their daughter. Melinda is as alone as you can possibly be in a building with 1,500 people. It is a tragic story, but it ends with a ray of hope.

As a teacher, this story touched me deeply. I see my young students go through wild mood swings and often never know why. I ask them, and they usually don’t say anything, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know what to say. In my three years of full-time teaching, I have students experience the death of a parent, homelessness, abject poverty, past abuse, bullying, the loss of a best friend over a silly argument, even struggles with school work because of something so simple as poor vision. Not everything is a tragedy that will leave scars, but it is a Big Deal to them and therefore it needs to be a Big Deal to me. No judgement, no anger, no blame. Just listening, compassion, kindness, help.

I spend most of my day talking. This book is a reminder that I need to spend time listening, too. So that my students can actually speak.

Summer Reading VIII: Neverwhere

I finally finished reading Neverwhere! I have to say, first off, that the only other books by Neil Gaiman that I had read were Coraline and The Graveyard Book. I have been following Mr. Gaiman online via Twitter for years, and have grown to greatly admire him both as a writer and as an individual. He seems to be a truly classy gentleman and a man who is passionately passionate about life.

So, Neverwhere. It is a bizarre tale of a man from London Above (the city of London in England that we all know) who finds himself caught up in the world of London Below (an entire city that exists among the abandoned tube stations and sewers of old London). Richard Mayhew is a guy who just lives his life, plodding along, letting things happen to him. And one day he finally decides to actively do something. This something happened to be saving the life of a girl from London Below. As a result, he found himself entering her world.

What follows is a tale of friendship and love, courage and fear, betrayal and intrigue. It is a dark tale, as many of Mr. Gaiman’s tales seem to be, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel that leaves you feeling like all the struggles along the way were worth it for the change that came across the character. Definitely worth reading by older students and adults, although I would probably shy away from reading it to my students (or encouraging them to read it on their own). For younger readers, I wholeheartedly recommend Coraline and The Graveyard Book.

Now that I’ve finished book eight, I still have nine and ten to get through, but since I don’t have a copy of either at my immediate disposal, I am going to start another book by Neil Gaiman, entitled American Gods.

Lake Guardian – Day Seven

Sorry for the lateness of this post. Our research cruise ended on Saturday morning, then I spent all afternoon and evening with two other teachers at Niagara Falls State Park. I got on a train shortly after midnight, rode to Chicago, waited for six hours in Union Station with no wi-fi, then rode another train back to Champaign. Immediately upon getting home, I cleaned up and went with my wife to her parents’ house for dinner. Yesterday (Monday) was my first full day back home and I spent all day packing until we ran out of boxes and then cleaning. We had some friends over in the evening, and then I went to bed.

So this morning is the first chance I’ve had to actually blog about the last day of the Lake Guardian Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop.

Saturday morning was spent wrapping things up. We had returned to the Coast Guard Station in Youngstown, New York, and after breakfast had time to clean up our cabins and pack our belongings. Then we got together for one last time. All of us had time to share our final projects. As mentioned earlier, I worked with the two other teachers from Illinois, one a high school science teacher and the other an education specialist at the Shedd Aquarium, to design a debate format for students to discuss Great Lakes issues. The adaptation for fourth graders that I shared was an opinion writing assignment, which ties in directly with the Common Core State Standards that we have implemented in our district and our state.

Other teachers shared data about the Great Lakes, such as the dissolved oxygen levels in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, others shared ways to create specimen collecting tools using recycled household items, and others shared ways that they will integrate Great Lakes literacy into their teaching in the coming years.

After everyone shared, we were given parting gifts from the two Sea Grant folks who made this whole thing possible. I was given a certificate of completion and a sturgeon pin which I now proudly wear on my backpack. And then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

This entire week has been such a remarkable experience! I am so glad that I applied and was accepted. While the workshop is held every year, rotating through the Great Lakes, I found a lot of worth participating in a workshop with teachers I’d never have met otherwise. I spent a week working side-by-side science teachers from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota! I went to a part of my country I’d never been to before. And I also got to working with top researchers in fields of environmental science, limnology, and biology. The crew members about the ship were fantastic! One has even offered to make a trip to Urbana to talk to my students about his role on the EPA research vessel! So many fantastic opportunities for me and my students have been opened up through this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Sadly, I will not be eligible for any other research cruises because the EPA stipulated in their grant that they have to take a different set of teachers each year. But I will find my way to Lake Huron and Lake Superior eventually, so I can say that I have been to all five of the Great Lakes!)

And on the off-chance parents of potential students are reading these posts: Be prepared to learn, through your children, more about the Great Lakes than you ever knew possible! By the end of the year, my fourth graders will be experts on Great Lakes ecology! It is going to be an exciting year!

Lake Guardian – Day Six

Six days down, one more to go! By this time Sunday, I should be home! Of course, just because we are approaching the end of our time together, doesn’t mean we haven’t been working as hard today as we have every other day this week! (more…)

Summer Reading V: How To Be Popular

I am very fortunate to have a large number of nephews and nieces whose ages range from 16 years to a few months. Every time I visit them, I ask for book recommendations, especially from the older ones. All of my nephews and nieces who know how to read do read and quite a bit, actually. It is great when I can get a solid recommendation out of one of them!

About a week ago, I was visiting my parents and other family members, including some of my nephews and nieces. I asked my niece, who is going into sixth grade, what books she’s read recently that I should read. She gave me two suggestions: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, and How To Be Popular by Meg Cabot. I immediately checked with my library and found the latter available as an eBook, so I downloaded it and read it.

After I finished, I asked my niece if she’d be interested in writing a review that I could share here. She was eager to do so. Here is what she submitted to me, with no changes other than a few typographical correction:

How to Popular by Meg Cabot is about Steph Landry, Becca and Jason. Three teenagers who are all best friends. Main character Steph is trying to be popular because of her bad reputation. In the sixth grade she spilled a big red super gulp on mega popular girl Lauren Moffat. Read the book to find more. I really liked the book and I love Meg Cabot.

Here is what I have to say about How To Be Popular by Meg Cabot:

Steph Landry is a teenage girl, dealing with the typical struggles of a teenage girl: relationships with boys, relationships with her best friends, relationships with her family, and relationships with her classmates, particularly those in the “A Crowd.” When Steph was in 6th grade, she accidentally tripped and spilled her Big Red Super Gulp on the most popular girl in school, Lauren Moffat. Lauren, rather than accepting Steph’s apology (which included buying her a new skirt), targeted Steph with an ongoing cruel prank of coining the phrase “pull a Steph Landry,” used any time a person does something really bone-headed.

Steph discovers a book in her best friend’s grandmother’s attic that teaches how to be popular. The summer before 11th grade, she uses her personal savings to buy new clothes and seeks to remake her image by joining the “A Crowd” at school. What follows is a delightful tale of self-discovery, personal worth, friendship, love, and conquering your enemies without destroying them.

Now, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but I never experienced any of the things a typical teenage girl experiences, due to the fact that I was never a teenage girl. As such, I really enjoyed this book because it gave me insights into some of the struggles that girls in my classes experience. (Even though I don’t teach teenagers, many of these “girl problems” start to form in grade school.)

A huge thank you to my niece for recommending How To Be Popular! I can hardly wait to read Between the Lines. In fact, I may make a trip to the library today to pick up a copy! In the meantime, you should make a trip to the library to read Meg Cabot’s fantastic story!