Author Archives: joindcpublicschools

We’ll Be Back in the Fall!

Our educators are taking a short blogging break this summer. They will be back with more great content in the fall, so please check back with us then!


Active Bodies = Healthier Future

By Jennifer Krystopowicz June 20th, 2014 11:00 AM

It’s a Tuesday morning and 30 students, all wearing bright blue and yellow tee shirts, are running, squatting, planking, jumping, and laughing to the beat of music. The time is only 8:00 am, but these students have already done more physical activity than most adults do in a day. No, this is not their physical education class. This is a typical morning at Tyler Elementary, where students in the BOK’s program come to participate in physical exercise through fun games and activities before the start of the school day.

According to their website, BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success) is a free before-school physical activity program initiated by Reebok and the Reebok Foundation. BOKS was created by a group of moms after reading Dr. John Ratey’s book Spark, which states that, “exercise is the single most powerful tool that we have to optimize the function of our brains.” The goal of the BOKS program is to enhance academic performance and the overall health of kids through physical activity. The program, run by moms, dads, P.E. teachers and all other types of volunteers in local communities, is simple to implement. BOKS currently operates in close to 1,000 schools around the world.

I learned about the program through a friend, Ewunike, who is the regional director of BOKS for the DC area.  As soon as I heard about it, my first thought was “I need to get this program started at Tyler.”  Not only would it bring health and wellness to the school, but it would give me an opportunity to participate in something that I am a fanatic about outside of teaching: physical activity.  After Ewuinke gave a presentation to my principal, Tyler was signed up and ready to start our first session in the fall.  As the lead trainer, I attended a training day where I received the full curriculum of BOKS, including the daily schedule, skills, and activities to follow for the entire year.

Tyler now runs BOKS on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7:45-8:30am for 12 weeks in the fall and 12 weeks in the spring.  The program is open to all students, K-5. Each day begins with a warm up (locomotor movement or specific stretch), followed by a quick running game or exercise, then review of the skill of the week with practice time, followed by a fun game, and ending with a nutritional take away. Skills of the week include planks, burpees, donkey kicks, metric run, jumping jacks, and other traditional movements that are essential to healthy living.

Students who participate in BOKS not only have a blast playing fun games – they also get the recommended daily dose of exercise.  My students all love the games that BOKS has created, and they remain energized throughout the entire session. Most importantly, many teachers who work with students in the BOKS program have told me that they have noticed a difference in their students. On BOKS days, these students perform better because they are more focused and ready to learn. It has been so rewarding for me to see how bringing BOKS in my local school has made a direct impact on the students’ health, nutrition, and learning.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being recognized by BOKS as a “Champion of Change” for my commitment to creating a healthier future for children at Tyler. Along with 15 lead trainers from across the country, BOKS celebrated us for our efforts at BOKS Active Kids Day at the Reebok Headquarters in Massachusetts.

BOKS Award

For more information about BOKS and to find out how schools can get involved, visit, the BOKS Facebook page or follow BOKS on Twitter @bokskids.

Transitioning a Club

By Nicole Bell June 16th, 2014 12:00 PM

During their years in DCPS, many students pour their hearts and soul into school clubs and teams. When they graduate, it can be hard for them to walk away from a team they helped build – raising the question of what we can do as teachers can do to help our students’ legacies live on.

The robotics team captain this year has been incredibly dedicated to the team, to the point where he considered making his college choice based on geography – just so he could stay on as a team mentor next year. Strong students like him are instrumental in making clubs thrive. When they graduate, however, they can sometimes leave a lack of student leadership in their wake (especially when the team is mostly made up of seniors). As the year comes to a close and I think about the year ahead, I’ve been thinking a lot about what type of information has to be passed on from one generation of team leadership to the next. Without a strong transition plan, once vibrant clubs can start to wither and fade away. Below are the key areas I believe should be documented, to give a club its best chance at continuing to flourish.

Club/Team History

Why this matters: 

  • Almost every grant application, marketing flier, or business plan requires a team history, and those histories are hard to recreate once enough detail has been lost. If your team doesn’t have one yet, documenting one creates a great base for the future.

What should be documented: 

  • Genesis story – when was the team founded, by who, why, and with what resources.
  • Major milestones – how many students, number or type of competitions attended, performance at competitions, and other outcomes.
  • Student information – names, years participated, year graduated, where they went after school, and email address (so you can stay in touch! Being able to cite statistics on college attendance and graduation rates for student members can be helpful for telling your team’s story).
  • Student testimonials – these can be used to help improve marketing and recruiting materials, and it’s great to already have a supply of quotes at the beginning of the year.

Finances and Funding

Why this matters:

  • Knowing about your past funding sources is often a key aspect of applying for grants and pitching potential donors, since you need to be able to make the case for how they can uniquely add value.
  • Knowing how much money the team spends and on what is helpful both for planning and for soliciting financial support (so they know how much money you need and what you would spend it on).

What should be documented:

  • If your team has already been tracking finances well, look through all information to make sure it would make sense to a third party.
  • If you haven’t been tracking finances well, you should write down expenditures and purpose of those expenditures (ideally time of year spent as well, to get a sense of money needs throughout the flow of the school year), sources of funding and process for acquiring those funds, and details on any team-driven fundraising efforts.


Why this matters:

  • It’s always sad to see a wealth of knowledge fade away. Helping the next set of leaders not have to build from scratch will help them continue strengthening the team instead of rebuilding it.

What should be documented:

  • Key people who are helpful to talk to, and what they’re helpful for. This could include other coaches and students across the city, people at your school (students, teachers, school leadership, and administrative and janitorial staff), parents, etc.
  • Important websites, books, etc. that your team often references.
  • Make sure any supplies for the team are well organized. If there’s time, make a list of the key supplies, what they’re used for (if it’s not obvious), and where they’re located.
  • Documents – gather together all of the documents the team has created (student surveys, grant applications, advertising fliers, etc.) and put them in an online folder that can be shared easily.


Why this matters:

  • As with the last section, saving your successors time next year will help them do more with the team. It’ll also help the team start up smoothly the next year, reducing the risk of losing new recruits due to a rocky start.

What should be documented:

  • Team structures – student leadership positions and a description of each position, how often and how long meetings are, when the season starts and ends and is most intense.
  • Things you wish you had known when you joined the team. Little things like needing to bring extra pens, paper, and highlighters to competitions (so you can scout the other teams and highlight your matches) can make things smoother and simpler.

Invest advocates for next year

Why this matters:

  • When the most active students in a club are seniors, the club can sometimes die after they graduate. In these situations, it’s incredibly important to make sure there is a group of people who are prepared and poised to advocate for the continued existence of the club and also to advocate for resources for that club at the start of the year (when they’re often given out).

What should be done:

  • To make sure the team stays strong, you need to figure out who has both the will power and the capacity to advocate for the team next year and make sure it continues. Depending on the team, this could be students, parents, administrators, or teachers. Depending on who they are and what they team needs, they might need to recruit new students, recruit a new team coach, convince certain students to take on leadership positions, or more.
  • Once advocates are identified, work with them to make sure they’re prepared with an understanding of what the team will need next year to keep it running.
  • Stay in touch! If student leaders are willing to be contacted after they graduate, the team should have a list of their contact information. It’ll be a great way to maintain continuity for the team, and for the graduating students to build their mentoring and leadership skills.

The Joys of Summer

By Destinee Hodge June 10th, 2014 4:15 PM

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Teachers are so lucky, they get the summer off! I wish I got that long vacation at my job” or “Why do you all get such a long break? I need one as much as you.”

I usually just chuckle and brush it off in a weak effort to mask my condescension. Anyone who teaches knows that summer break is not a privilege; it’s a necessity.  It’s a time for teachers to do whatever they need to do in order to reflect and prepare for the upcoming year. So as a teacher, what can you do over your almost two-month break? From my perspective, that depends on your own needs and preferences. I usually separate my options into two buckets: “Make Money” or “Make Memories.”

Make Money

Teach Summer School: Yes, I know, it’s not for everyone. For some people the thought of teaching during the summer is not even a consideration— but there are some pros. First, most teachers in D.C. are paid year-round (despite having the summer off). This means that teaching summer school feels like making twice the money you would normally make for working similar hours. Second, you have the option to teach in an environment that’s different from your current school. This is a refreshing and eye opening experience, and I’ve always learned new strategies that I can take back with me to my own classroom.

Find Another Job: Perhaps you like the idea of more money, but you really value that break from teaching. For those of you in this category, there are many part-time jobs that you can look into. Once you’re okay with running into a student as you work the floor at a local museum, taking on a job keeps you occupied and is a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the school year.

Internships: this is something I wish someone would have mentioned my first year teaching. DC is an internship hub. While the pay may not be fantastic, you have the option of gaining valuable experience without leaving your actual job behind. For example, one person I know who wanted to explore education policy worked at an education non-profit as an intern during the summer. Just remember, if you want to do an internship, it may require that you apply during the fall or spring.

Make Memories

Travel: This option happens to be my personal favorite because there’s nothing like a great summer adventure. Usually at the beginning of the year, I start planning where I want to go and put things in place to get tickets and hotels.  There are also a lot of tour companies that have good prices (i.e. GLOBUS). For example, last year I did a tour of Spain with a friend of mine. We went everywhere, including the cities of Madrid, Seville, and Barcelona.  More than just adding a notch to my travel belt, I was able to share those experiences with my students and provide more authentic exposure to a different culture in my lessons. Even if you can’t go out of the country, a trip to Mount Rushmore can be just as exciting as a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

Rest and be a Tourist: D.C. is a great place to call home and summer is a fantastic season to live here. There are endless festivities and enough museums for you to go somewhere different every day. The great thing is that many of the museums are free or offer discounts to educators.

DC Summer Events:

You may not know what summer holds, but you can be confident that the course of summer is entirely in your hands!

Three Tricks for Sparking Students’ Creativity

By Amanda Rogers June 4th, 2014 2:15 PM

For many educators, project based learning can showcase a students’ knowledge of a subject better than any standardized test. However, let’s be honest, we all sometimes struggle to come up with a creative idea or the best way to start said projects. Here’s what I do in my classroom to stir up creative paths and guide students to a finished project.

  1. Start a classroom idea bin. During independent work, some of my students need more direction when it comes to beginning a project. An idea bin is a container, in this case a large empty plastic pretzel container, filled with strips of paper. On each piece of paper there is a prompt for beginning a project. For example, a piece of paper might say, “Crash! What just happened in the street?” The student who picked this prompt would use this creativity starter to jumpstart their own project, thinking of open-ended ideas that relate to the example. While I use this concept for visual art, it can easily be modified for classes in other subject areas. For example, a piece of paper in another class might say, “How can you use only a sheet of paper, scissors and tape, to create the parts of a flower?”
  2. Challenge students daily using creative thinking warm ups. When your students arrive in your classroom, they are coming from many different academic and life situations. Some students may have just nailed a test that they studied for last period, while others may have had a difficult situation at home that morning. Whatever the case, it can sometimes be difficult to light the fire of student engagement and learning. “Daily challenges” are one way to tackle those situations, get my students motivated, and strengthen their creative thinking skills. An example of a daily challenge warm up might be, “Using at least three geometric shapes, draw a symmetrical design.” These warm ups can also be used to review previous lessons and provide the teacher with valuable assessments of student understanding.
  3. Show Your Work! Writer Austin Kleon wrote the book Show Your Work, which challenges people to show off the things that they have accomplished. When people share their ideas and accomplishments, it can jumpstart a creative path for someone else. To do this in your school, set up an area in your classroom that showcases the work of your students. Encourage your students to use it as inspiration for their ideas, which can also be another valuable lesson in borrowing ideas versus copying ideas.

I hope that these three suggestions have sparked some creative ideas for your own classroom.

Follow me on Twitter @necityart

Sharing the Job That Empowers Us: Educating Our Students!

By Sara Arranz May 30th, 2014 10:00 AM

A good beginning is important for a strong ending. Every year, I make sure to start the school year by meeting each one of my students’ families. This introductory dialogue is the key to a successful year, and I really appreciate the information they share with me during that very first meeting.

You might be asking, “why is this contact important, and what should we talk about?” When you are talking with parents, let them know how much you care about their kids and how successful you want them to be. Offer your help and support unconditionally. But, do not forget to let them know their duties. In my experience, I must say that having a fluent and healthy relationship with my families at Cleveland has helped my students grow and achieve better results.

I’d like to share a few tips from my classroom that make me a more powerful educator and empower my families every day:

  1. Share your contact information with your families and provide them with your schedule and flexibility at the beginning of the year.
  2. Talk with your families about using the Internet and media to be able to receive and send messages.
  3. Share your expectations for the year with every family: classroom management, schedule, materials, homework, etc., and assure them that they can ask for help at any time.
  4. Make all those expectations visible in the room. Designate a board for their information. 
    Familias Picture_SA
  5. Display student work so that your families can see what their child is working on in class.Student Work_2_SAStudent Work_SA
  6. Ask them to sign a contract to “work by your side”. They must agree to the procedures that will help students to progress. This includes things like punctuality, homework, attendance, help at home, etc.
  7. Explain the curriculum and methodology that you use in your class (Creative Curriculum, Tools of the Mind, and Reggio are a few examples for early childhood) and discuss how that methodology transfers to their daily life and home.
  8. Send homework weekly; it does not need to be anything intense but it has to be something that families can relate to and help with. Offer your help with materials, resources, and ideas.
  9. Write a newsletter. it is important for families to stay informed about the activities that are happening every month. Always add your contact information as a reminder.Newsletter_SA
  10. Find a time to call, email or text to share good news with them.
  11. Send families pictures or videos of their children working, exploring, investigating and sharing.
  12. Invite your families to class for interviews. Allow them to share their expertise, read with students, or help out with a field trip or lesson. Students love to see their parents involved, and it reinforces the idea that “my parents care about me.”
  13. If a conflict arises, find a moment as soon as possible to converse with that family and resolve it. Remember and remind them that you are both “in the same boat” rowing to the same island – educating our students.
  14. Celebrate the joy of sharing a wonderful job. You are both educating their children, and it’s important to find a moment to smile and enjoy it with them.Families_SA

Finally, I would like to share part of my plan for next year. As part of my classroom “Innovation Plan,” I will be dedicating time during the initial weeks of the school year for a “School for Parents Workshop.” In these meetings, I will share information about expectations and procedures, discuss with them how to ask for help and where to find resources, and exchange best practices and new ideas.

In addition, I am so excited that next year we are going to start a home visits program where we will visit families in their own environment and context, making communication even easier and more accessible. Using these new strategies, I hope to build even stronger relationships with my families next year!

Let’s Talk About Race

by Clare Berke May 20, 2014 10:00 AM

If you grew up in rural Nebraska in the 1990s, like I did, you would have experienced few productive opportunities to talk about skin color.  Nearly everyone in our town of 3500, including myself, was white.  Educational conversations about race were generally relegated to an elementary school unit on Martin Luther King, Jr., and a high school unit on the era of reconstruction following the Civil War.  There seemed to be a tacit belief that the Civil Rights Movement had passed and the country was generally better for it, but not a belief that race, culture and identity were contemporary topics to explore in school.  The 40th and 50th anniversaries of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision to outlaw segregation in public schools passed me in 1994 and again in 2004 without leaving a lasting memory.

Last week marked the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.  Perhaps because I’m older, or perhaps because I live and teach in D.C., this is an anniversary year I won’t forget.  As First Lady Michelle Obama, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and multiple news outlets have poignantly expressed, the nation needs to build on the steps taken in 1954 and continue forward on our quest for race-based equality and school integration.

At a high school graduation ceremony in Topeka, Kansas, on May 16, Obama recognized: “many young people in America are going to school largely with kids who look just like them.”   Henderson, in an email to DCPS staff, wrote that “many of [our] children remain segregated in high-poverty, struggling schools.”  ProPublica, an independent news organization, investigated Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which had been forcibly integrated in the late 1970s and later released from court oversight of their desegregation compliance.  Today, Central High School is 99% black.

So how do we as teachers “work together to figure out a different way to solve this problem,” as Henderson asked? How do communities “‘break through’ barriers to talking honestly about race,” as Obama challenged her audience in Topeka?  I don’t have the answers, but I will proffer what has been an entry point for me: reading texts that beg discussion and reflection, texts from a diverse pool of writers, texts that challenge and stretch the mind.

This month, my AP Language students read a blog post by Junot Diaz, author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Diaz wrote about his MFA program at Cornell University in the 1990s, and how difficult it was for him and the other students of color to survive the “unbearable whiteness” of their writing workshop.  My students, emerging masters of identifying an author’s voice, purpose, and audience, correctly noted that Diaz’s informality, humor and raw honesty meant he was speaking to young writers like them, begging them to keep writing, imploring them to tell their stories.  Diaz writes:  “We need your work.  Desperately.”

Like Diaz, I want to encourage my students to write what they know.  All of my students have seen the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk about the “danger of a single story.”  She speaks about the stereotypes that form when people hear only one perspective, and she high-lights the depth of understanding and human connections that occur when multiple voices are brought together.

Who has power in society?  I ask my students.  Whose voices are heard the loudest?  What might we be missing because of what is NOT heard?  These aren’t just stock critical thinking questions; these are questions for a society that has slid backward in time.

Sixty years after Brown vs. the Board, we must revive the nationwide movement to ensure that a multitude of perspectives are brought together in our schools and in our larger communities. Teachers have a unique opportunity to heed the First Lady’s call to “ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations” about school integration, race, and our nation’s progress toward equality.