• Essentials of Engagement Student Leadership Training

    Carla Schmidt and Brad Kempf, West Middle School

    West Middle School Orientation day activity. Through a School Assistance Grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation, West Middle School was able to provide leadership training to seventh and eighth-grade students in the summer of 2017. The students used the training to interact with incoming sixth-graders during orientation day to begin the 2017-18 school year.

    During the summer, two three-hour training sessions were offered to 50 students from diverse segments of the school. In all 30 students completed both three-hour sessions, while 20 were able to take part in at least one of the days.

    When the incoming sixth-graders arrived at their new school for orientation, they were placed in groups of 10 with a trained student leader for an engaging day of learning about West Middle School.

    “The leaders facilitated the small groups for the half-day orientation time,” said counselor Carla Schmidt. “They taught them about the West community, what it takes to be successful in middle school, and led collaborative activities to help students connect with peers and the new environment.”

    Based on feedback from students and observations of the small groups in action, the sixth-grade teachers requested that the peer mentoring continue for the school year. Leaders met with their group each quarter.

    “We successfully met the goal of transforming sixth-grade orientation from a passive sit-and-get, to activity-based orientation that builds community and connections,” Schmidt said. “The positive outcomes from 2017 have led us to again request grant funds for 2018.”

    Schmidt said staff members noticed a difference in orientation day, including one teacher who sent her the following text that night:

    “I am reflecting about the day… it was the best first day of my teaching career,” the 20-plus year veteran wrote. “I went to the store and ran into a parent who recognized my shirt and she went on and on about what a great day their child had at school. It made me feel proud to work at West.”

    Free State Poetry Team

    Kylee Wright and Andrew Martin, Free State High School

    Slam Poetry provides people the ability to express themselves creatively through poetry using the power of voice. There are competitions locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. With a school assistance grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation, the Free State High School Slam Poetry team was able to participate in a competition in San Francisco in July.

    Five students traveled to California for the 21st Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival. They competed with three group pieces and two individual pieces. These were slam poems that the students had composed together and individually. In addition to the competition, there were workshops during the three-day event.

    “Although the team did not make it past the first round of the competition, they were truly inspired by amazing poets they saw perform over the three days of the festival,” said team sponsor Kylee Wright. “They were able to attend workshops during the day, which helped them with ways to process emotions and ways to put those emotions into words.

    “Each evening they were able to watch showcase performances, which brought tears of joy and inspiration,” Wright said, describing the festival as “life-changing” for herself, chaperone Jeff Plinsky and the students.

    Two of the team members who attended last summer’s event returned to Free State this year and are using that experience as they host events and compete in the area. The team hosts a slam poetry night once per semester and invites area high schools to participate. The students have competed in state competitions and performed in Kansas City.

    Without any funding, the team raises money by performing at dinner gatherings, holding candy bar and other fundraisers and reaching out to LEAP partners and others for donations.

    Gallup/Clifton StrengthsFinder for Student Council

    Keri Lauxman, Lawrence High School

    Keri Lauxman and assistant principal Mark Preut. Before this school year started 24 student council officers at Lawrence High School took part in a program that would make them better leaders for their fellow students.  A school assistance grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation made it possible for these leaders to participate in the Gallup/Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment.

    The program is designed to uncover talents and encourages users to devote more time to developing innate strengths, rather than spending time fixing shortcomings. For a group of student council officers, that leads to a more cohesive team and more effective projects.

    “It is helpful because we got to see our specific abilities and learn how to use them,” said students Tony Racy and Amy Manning.

    The program included a half-day results analysis retreat led by a highly-skilled trainer from Johnson County Community College’s Continuing Education team. Students received a comprehensive inventory of top strengths and a personalized action plan to assist in applying their unique strengths to current and future projects.

    “Beginning the school year with this purposeful, meaningful and personalized activity, allowed us to get to know each other as contributing members of the team better than in the past,” said Keri Lauxman, LHS student council advisor. “Having these individual results has allowed us to better plan and improve reflection after events and at the end of each term.”

    Lauxman said she has seen a change for the better in the leadership of this group of students.

    “When team leadership knows the individual strengths of its members, we can stop setting people up to struggle or fail and instead use each other’s strengths to put the right people on the right tasks to succeed,” she said. “As we prepare to tackle new events, we have returned to our individual strengths to “draft” committees. This allows us to build the most effective teams for specific tasks. Students can reflect on their interests, but also their strengths to position themselves where their talents can do the greatest good.”

    Elementary Breakout Boxes

    Neil LeValley, Sunset Hill

    Neil LeValley with current Sunset Hill principal Jeremy Philipp.  Getting kids engaged in their learning is a major goal of breakout games. The games promote collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking – skills these students will need all of their lives.

    A couple of Innovative Teaching Grants and School Assistance Grants from the Foundation were awarded to teachers wanting to excite their students about learning via these games. Sunset Hill kindergarten teacher Neil LeValley has helped his school with this engaging way to learn.

    In their grant application, LeValley and then principal Darcy Kraus said “Problem solving is at the core of learning. Critical thinking skills are required in our everyday decision making. Trial and error are at the heart of mathematics, construction, software development, machine mechanics, as well as a host of other industries… Breakout boxes are perfect for hands-on, high-engagement learning and can be easily differentiated for multiple learning needs within a single classroom, as well as across the population of the entire school.”

    LeValley described the fun activities the game presents.

    “Breakout in this form is a series of academic clues, puzzles and problems that the kiddos solve in order to find the correct combination to a series of locks attached to the box,” LeValley said. “They will use special flashlights, invisible ink and other fun ‘spy’ tools to reveal the clues and find what is hidden in the box.”

    Multiple teachers at Sunset Hill are being trained by gifted instructor Anna Heinritz and learning coach Mena Hill so they can implement the games in their classrooms. LeValley has already seen great results with the use of the breakout games.

    “Kiddos in all grades are learning how to problem solve, especially how to persevere through challenging problems,” LeValley said. “They become excited and engaged almost instantly. It is a great way to facilitate collaborative learning.”


    - more to come -