“Oh my gosh, we were cooking a gingerbread man and he got away!”
The chase began when cafeteria worker Katrina Leeper announced the dilemma to Ms. Russell’s prekindergarten class in January.
In the following weeks, the gingerbread man was spotted several times by the principal, the librarian, the nurse, and the cafeteria ladies. But even though they tried, he eluded capture because he was so fast.
Elementary principal Mike Word reported his experience.
“I just saw him running down the hall yelling, ‘You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.’”
In the prekindergarten classroom, thirteen-year veteran teacher, Shethelia Russell, encouraged the hunt.
“Oh my gosh, guys, we’ve got to trap that gingerbread man!”
Russell has been doing a project based Gingerbread Man unit in her PreK class for the last six or seven years. The idea came when watching other classes read The Gingerbread Man at the beginning of the school year and while searching for a January project.
“In December everybody’s doing Santa, and I know a lot of people do gingerbread during Christmas,” Russell explained. “I just thought, you know The Gingerbread Man is so much fun, let’s do something else with it.”
The story was introduced using characters placed on a flannel board.
“With the flannel play I have more working room to use the vocabulary I want to teach the children,” Russell stated.
Over the next few days, the students heard multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man through different literature such as The Gingerbread Girl and The Gingerbread Baby. They also learned of different ways to trap the gingerbread man.
“We’re just incorporating all this literature into this one story,” Russell said. “One of the stories tells how a little kid made a gingerbread house and caught the gingerbread man. One story is how the fox outsmarted the gingerbread man. The children are seeing how to solve a problem through the introduction of a story.”
But the unit was not only about the story. Math, fine motor skills, problem-solving, writing and technology were all incorporated into the unit through games, Play-Doh, puzzles and iPads that were gingerbread themed.
“It’s fun for the kids,” Russell remarked, “but here’s a lot of PreK skills that we’re learning.”
Even simple physics was covered when the class began to make their traps and discussed how traps and mechanisms worked.
“We work on our trap in a collaborative group as one of our stations that we do,” Russell explained. “They average about two hours through two weeks working on their trap and they have to collaborate with their group.”
During the building of the trap, Ms. Russell facilitated the ideas and got the needed supplies.
“I do not tell them what to do, I am just simply an observer,” Russell emphasized. “I may say, ‘Hey, do you think that’s going to work? What about this, what about that?’ I use a lot of questioning strategies to try and get them to think more in depth of how they’re going to make their trap.”
After completing the traps, the groups presented their trap to the class. Even then, learning continued.
“Most of the time the other kids in the other groups are saying, ‘Oh that’s such a good idea. Man, we wish we had done that in our group,’” Russell said. “The kids are actually learning a lot from each other even while we’re sitting there and making the traps.”
The children took the traps and put them in four predesignated locations in the main building. The library received a trap because the gingerbread man likes to read; the nurse’s office because he would break his leg; the cafeteria, because, well, a gingerbread man has got to eat; and the principal’s office because he was going to get in trouble. Every day after that, the students checked their traps and found notes and cookie crumbs as evidence that the gingerbread man had visited their trap and escaped.
In order to keep the unit fresh, Ms. Russell adds new aspects every year.
“Every year I feel like I’ve added something new into it, just based on the children’s interest. Just something different, something that’s unique to each group of kids.”
This year the focus was on the process of writing.
“One of the things that was new this year was that we wrote a note to the gingerbread man, because the gingerbread man had written us a bunch of notes,” Russell added. “We talked about how the gingerbread man must like writing and must like reading notes. In the note that we wrote, there were a lot of our sight words in it. We would go every day to lunch and read that note and talk about the sight words on that note.”
Another surprising aspect was also new this year.
“He liked Skittles,” Russell said. “All the kids wanted to make and put Skittles on their traps because they thought the gingerbread man loved Skittles.”
As with all good plot lines, the story ends with the culprit being caught. School nurse Debbie Thompson called with the news.
“Oh my gosh, the cafeteria ladies said they caught the gingerbread man and they cooked him! Come and get him.”
The class trekked to the cafeteria to see the gingerbread man for themselves.
“We got him! He was reading your note and we put this bucket over him and we threw him in the oven,” the cafeteria ladies exclaimed.
Ms. Russell described the event.
“The cafeteria ladies put on a big show. The kids were just waaa, waaa and going wild. It’s pretty fun and we ate him.”
And how did the gingerbread man taste?
“He tasted good,” Mr. Word said.
While Ms. Russell works to make learning fun, this project was really centered on the imagination and creativity of the students.
“What I really want people to know is it’s not about what I do for this project,” Russell explained. “This is a project that the kids do. This is really focused on what they can do and their little skills and their little imaginations and how their mind works. It’s about what they can create.”
And in the end, Ms. Russell said it best.
“I think it’s amazing fun.”
Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Exciting things are happening in the Headstart class as the students blast off into outer space to look for the cow. From boarding the shuttle to exploring the moon to building a land rover and space probes, the class is learning math, science, literacy, gross motor skills, and social skills.
Headstart teacher Fran Stidham developed the idea of heading off into space after reading the nursery rhyme to her students.
“One thing in the PreK guidelines is to ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions and prediction questions,” she explained. “We were predicting what happened to the cow and one kid said ‘the cow’s in space.’ We evolved a whole story just sitting on the carpet about the cow being in space and what that means.”
From there she spent several days preparing the centers around the space theme. Using some online resources, Stidham created a space shuttle with an instrument panel, pilots seat, gears and widgets, a command center, and a jet pack for exploration. In this center she and her paraprofessional Anessa Woodard spent a couple of days in guided play with the students.
“We had dry erase sleeves and markers and they used their marker and to trace a line for their flight path,” Stidham said. “There was also a checklist. They checked the gear, counted the passengers on the plane, choose their flight plan, and typed in their code. If it broke down, they used the little hammer and the gears and widgets to fix the shuttle. They could use their jet pack to go off and explore the moon and use their binoculars to look for the cow.”
But the center is not just about a shuttle ride, it is about learning.
“When I do a big center like that I always make sure there’s reading, math, and science,” Stidham explained. “I also try to have social/emotional skills such as playing together, interacting and having to share. That’s why there’s only one jetpack, they have to share it. Sharing is a big deal in Headstart.”
From the shuttle the students moved on to the parts center. There they used many assorted parts to build land rovers, space probes, dinosaurs, and many other objects.
“One student wore a dryer vent for half hour one day as an arm,” Stidham recalled. “He would go around and we would push his button and he would make his arm extend. We talked about length, we talked about robots, and what you could use a longer arm for.”
The purpose of the parts center was to help develop gross motor skills by using construction and deconstruction. It was also used to help the students learn to work together.
Besides the shuttle center and the parts center, Stidham also created a research center for exploring, measuring and weighing moon rocks. The exploration done by the students helps fulfill the PreK guidelines for math and science. It also helps fulfill overlapping guidelines set by Headstart and ELOF, Early Learning Outcomes Framework.
Even though the preparation for class is time consuming, Mrs. Stidham really enjoys teaching Headstart students.
“I feel like I’m where I should be,” she remarked. “I enjoy the PreK kiddos, and I enjoy the Headstart kids especially. They have a lot of love to give and they are a sponge. They want to learn.”
The centers in Headstart are constantly changing in order to keep learning fresh and interesting for the students. The space themed centers, one of the longest lasting, will be up for approximately two weeks before the four-year-olds began to get tired of it. But there are always centers to encourage playing and exploration.
“Kids learn through play. That’s why having centers and free play in the classroom at age four is very, very important,” Stidham said. “You have to give them the opportunity to apply the things they are naturally interested in and also the things that you’ve taught them.”
So, after space is explored, Headstart will be on to the next unit and the next topic designed for learning, exploration, and discussion.
How do we improve our students’ learning? How do we push to improve the way we educate our students when we already do a good job? How do we tell if our students are really being prepared for life beyond high school?
With the high stakes faced by school districts in today’s world, many educators are looking for ways to answer these questions. Schools are not only faced with preparing students for standardized testing and accountability. They must also prepare them for life.
In society today, just a high school diploma does not guarantee a person a living wage. Most careers require some kind of post-high school education, whether it is at a university, community college, trade school, or a certification program. And most educators realize that what really matters is preparing students for wherever their career decisions lead them.
This year CISD committed to an integrated program called Instructional Rounds. Based on medical rounds used to train doctors, instructional rounds uses classroom observation, networking among educators, and improvement strategies.
While all three aspects are present on each campus, instructional rounds combines the elements in a way that guides the professional development for the teachers and to collect data regarding a needed area of improvement. It is this combination that makes rounds a powerful tool.
The first step for the network of educators is to define the problem of practice for the campus. This problem of practice is something the group wants to understand more deeply and on which they want to focus.
For Clarendon, that initial network consists of teachers, support staff and administrators from all three campuses. The group met in June to receive training on how to implement instructional rounds. During this time, the group discussed the areas in which they would like to see student improvement. They pinpointed the problem of practice to center around depth of knowledge and questioning by students and teachers for all campuses.
Next are the classroom observations. The network forms smaller groups of three to four people which visits several classrooms and observes instruction for about 20 minutes at a time. Their purpose is not to “fix” or “critique” the teachers. Their purpose is only to collect data about what is happening in the classrooms for a particular campus. They are not looking at what happens in the classrooms in general, they are looking at their specific and identified problem of practice. The observed teacher is never discussed or critiqued.
In Clarendon, they are looking at the types of questions posed not only by the teachers, but those asked by the students. They are looking at how many of the questions are open-ended as opposed to closed. They are also gathering data as to how many of the questions show higher order thinking as opposed to procedural or basic knowledge questions.
During the debrief time after observations, the groups gather to disseminate the data they have collected. At this time, they qualify the instances of the problem of practice and then count the number of times they occurred. Charts and graphs are created and displayed where all the educators can see the results of the data, without reference to any particular teacher or classroom.
Another part of the debrief is for the network to discuss their findings and how that impacts the problem of practice. They also discuss what happens next. They can make suggestions for professional development or a change in procedure if needed. They can then start to develop the improvement strategies for the campus or district.
One result of this process is to help teachers quantify what is happening on their campus. This information can then be used to identify campus strengths and weaknesses.
Another is that the observing teachers have an opportunity to see what happens in other classrooms and how other teachers conduct business. The observers can then use that information in their own classrooms.
But perhaps the most powerful result is the opportunity for educators who usually work in isolation, to talk about education in their school. As they talk about what is happening in the classrooms, they also gain a collective definition of what should be happening. They get a unified vision of what they want their school to be like. It gives the people who work most closely with students a voice in the solution and a stake in the outcome.
To be the most effective, instructional rounds are a continual process. It becomes a part of how the school operates. When one problem of practice is identified, quantified, and addressed, the next one begins. In this way, the district continually pushes to improve instruction.
The 2017 season for the Bronco football team was, to say the least, a surprise. Most people expected only one or two playoff games before the end of the season. But this football team surpassed expectations by going four rounds into the playoffs and making it to the state quarterfinals. For the first time since 1972, the Broncos played in December.
But the team’s success came as no surprise to one player. Senior offensive and defensive tackle Justin Christopher knew his team had the ability to go far.
“I [knew we could]. 100%. I just had faith in my team,” Justin emphatically stated. “No one else gave us a chance, but I knew what we had.”
Clarendon advanced through the year racking up win after win in preseason and in district until the last regular season game against Wellington. With another loss against Wellington in the post-season, they ended the year with 14 wins and 2 losses overall and 4-1 in district. For a team that started with mediocre expectations, a new coach with unknown qualities, and the loss of several seniors from the year before, the Broncos had an outstanding year.
Preparation started in August with the introduction of head coach Clint Conkin. With sixteen years of coaching experience, Conkin spent ten years in Littlefield and one year in Memphis before coming to Clarendon for his first job as athletic director. He began by introducing new plays to the boys.
“At the beginning of the year, as a team, we were kind of rough with all the new plays,” senior wide receiver and cornerback Colt Wood explained.
But as win after win was recorded in the preseason games, confidence grew among the players.
“At some times, some games, I thought this is going to be a little rough,” senior running back Damarjae Cortez stated. “As we got going I knew that we could go somewhere.”
The first turning point for the season came during the Wheeler game. At halftime, the Broncos were trailing but came back to win 15-12 in the second half. This was when defensive coordinator Johnny Nino, who has been with Clarendon fourteen years, began to see the difference with this team.
“We got into halftime and made some adjustments,” Nino said. “The kids had to make a decision, are we going to go out and get the job done, or are we not going to get the job done. They went out and got the job done. I think that was one of the early games where I thought things are a little bit different.”
The next game was against Gruver before the homecoming crowd and was slated to be a loss for the Broncos by popular opinion. Clarendon proved the experts wrong with a decisive win over Gruver 32-14.
Another challenge came early in district play against Crosbyton which had a good tailback that would be hard to defend against. Again, the Broncos surprised everyone by easily winning 41-0 and maintaining their winning season.
One more game and one more win against Ralls, and the Broncos were facing the two toughest teams in district, Memphis and Wellington. Memphis had stopped the Broncos in their tracks last year, and Wellington was making a serious push to the state playoff game.
First up was Memphis. In 2016 the Broncos came into the Memphis game with 8 wins and no losses. After losing to the Cyclones that year, Clarendon was never able to regain their momentum. This year, the boys were determined to win a game that became an emotional roller coaster.
“Memphis brought a lot of fans,” senior tight end and defensive linebacker Andy Davis explained. “If they made a good play, you could hear them cheer. If we made a good play, our fans would cheer. It was just back and forth the whole night.
The Broncos started the game strong, but began making mistakes in the middle of the game. They were able to rally, though, to beat Memphis 22-8. That win became the pivotal turning point for the season according to the players.
“Last year we were 8-0 and this year we were 8-0. But last year Memphis basically derailed the whole season. They were the start of the downfall,” Justin Christopher stated. “But this year we beat them and that just gave us new life in my opinion.”
With another win under their belt, it was time to face state ranked Wellington. But this game did not end well. Even though the Broncos were not playing at full strength due to injuries of key players, they also did not perform.
“We just didn’t execute, we didn’t play our best,” Andy Davis recalled. “We had some guys injured. It was every wrong thing happened in that game that could go wrong.”
Clarendon lost the game 0-49 and racked up their first loss. But the Broncos still secured second place in district and were on their way to the playoffs.
Post-season play led to history for this year’s Bronco team. For the first time since 1972, Clarendon would advance to the state quarterfinal game.
The first game in the playoffs was against Vega. The Broncos fell behind with three turnovers in the first half. The Broncos fought back and went on to win the game 36-14 due to the determination of the defense.
Next came Bovina and again the offense started making turnovers and it looked like the Broncos would lose.
“It was awful,” Coach Conkin recalled. “We had seven turnovers that game. If you have seven turnovers, no matter who you’re playing, you’re supposed to lose, especially in a playoff game. At halftime, we went in and we were down 20-6, and I told them Bovina hasn’t stopped us once. We’ve stopped ourselves. We’ve fumbled the ball, we’ve thrown interceptions. If we just hang onto the ball, we’re going to score. They came out the second half and did it. We held onto it and drove down and scored. We got up and won 26-20. That was huge for our confidence, too. Our kids knew after that if we don’t stop ourselves, we’re going to be fine.”
The athletes also agreed with the lesson learned in the Bovina game.
“We were down 20-6 going into halftime. At halftime, we went in to fix our mistakes, then we came out and fixed them. It brought us back into the game,” Damarjae Cortez stated. “Mistakes like blocking the wrong guy, hitting the right person, hitting the right hole. We came out and fixed it and got the W.”
But the players and coaches on the field were not the only ones to contribute to the win.
“The most memorable time I heard the crowd, was at the Bovina game,” Justin Christopher said. “We just came back, we were winning by six points. There was a minute left and they were trying to score to win the game. Our fans were so loud, they couldn’t hear their quarterback, so they kept getting false starts because they weren’t going when the quarterback said hut. So, the crowd just deafened the entire line and they kept getting penalties because they couldn’t hear the quarterback.”
The Broncos moved on to the regional game against Hamlin, a young team with good talent. Coach Conkin’s strategy was to take advantage of their youth, keep pressure on them, and not make mistakes. The strategy worked in the first half, but in the third quarter Hamlin came back and took the lead. The Broncos rallied immediately and kept the lead for the rest of the game, a 30-19 win.
Then came the state quarterfinals game where Clarendon would face their district nemesis, Wellington, again. Even though the Broncos lost the game 0-33, they fought hard the entire game according to defensive coach Johnny Nino.
“I don’t think people realized this but Wellington got beat by Childress their first game. After that, by halftime of nearly all their games, that game was over. They’d go and sip Gator Ade and enjoy halftime. The second time we played them halftime was 13-0. It was still a ball game.”
This sentiment was shared by Coach Conkin.
“Our kids just kept fighting. We dropped probably three touchdown passes in the first half. We could have either been tied or up the score at halftime and that would have been huge. We just barely missed them. Our kids fought hard.”
The end of an unexpected and historical season, while a disappointment, left everyone, coaches, players, and a community excited and pleased with the results. The Broncos had proven to be a team with uncommon determination and worthy of pride.
“They never quit, they never got down, they just kept trying to find ways to win,” Conkin summarized.
For the third year, Superintendent Mike Norrell recognizes the Servant Leaders at CISD. Each month, one student from each grade level is chosen by the teachers and principals as an outstanding example of student leaders. These are students who serve and help others, show respect, are courteous, and have a positive influence in the classroom and the school. The program is designed to recognize those students who show these qualities and to encourage other students to exhibit them also. As servant leaders, CISD students can have an impact on the school, the community and the nation.
Back: Shaun Childress, 3rd; Josie Murillo, 2nd; Jaymi Mitchell, 5th. Front: Korbyn Jones, 1st; Carlos Vaquera, Kindergarten.
Back: Emberly Gonzalez, 7th; Isabella Martinez, 8th. Front: Rowdy Eytcheson, 6th.
Roxie Adams, freshman; Tanner Burch, sophomore; Shiann Cook, senior; Brandalyn Ellis, junior.
Emma Christopher, Kindergarten; Paxton English, 1st; Aiden Word, 5th; Presley Smith, 4th; Kennedy Halsey, 2nd; Kinslee Hatley, 3rd
Emmalyne Roys, 6th; Josiah Howard, 8th; Davin Mays, 7th
Front: Aubrey Jaramillo, freshman; Mattee Johnson, sophomore. Back: Brandon Santos, junior; Zack Caison, senior.
|Back: Amour Jones, 1st; Kassie Askew, Kindergarten; Anna Balogh, 3rd. Front: Addison Havens, 2nd; Whitney Williams, 4th; Grant Haynes, 5th.||Braden Bond, 6th; Emily Gonzalez, 7th; Brock Hatley, 8th.||
Back: Trent Smith, sophomore; DaQuawne Oliver, senior. Front: Jenci Hernandez, junior; Armani Jackson, freshman.
|Back: Rylan Thomas, Kindergarten; Talise Overbeeke, 1st; Sequoia Weatherton, 2nd. Front: Riley Jantz, 5th; Parker Haynes, 3rd; Kyler Bell, 4th.||Elyza Rodriguez, 6th; Elijah Lee, 7th; Samantha Clendaniel, 8th||
Back: Gracie Shadle, freshman; Blake Keith, junior. Front: Harmond Drenth, sophomore, Justin Christopher, senior.
|Top to Bottom: Hunter E, 5th; Bruce C, 2nd; Trystan R, 3rd; Kaleb M, 4th; Clara C, 1st. Not shown: Quinn J, Kindergarten||Back: Aleyah W, 7th. Front: Aiden C, 8th; Anthony C, 6th.||Back: Tate P, senior; Aaron R, freshman. Front: Hayleigh B, sophomore; Sandrea S, junior.|