Telling our stories...
Robotics Program at Literacy First Charter School
For Recognition and Inspiration of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a worldwide organization whose mission is to show students that science, technology, and problem-solving are not only fun and rewarding, but can provide paths to successful careers and a bright future in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Through the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), high school students are given opportunities to develop new knowledge and skills by competing in an annual competition. Each year, a new challenge is presented to the FIRST community and through the course of six weeks, students apply critical thinking to design, plan, and build a robot, which is then competed against teams from all over the world.
The Liberty Charter High School students have been competing for the past three years. The team in 2015 was the Leodroids, Team #4919. The robotics team operates like a small business that contains both a technical team and a project management/business team. The business team works to establish relationships with the local community and seeks sponsorships to sustain the technical team. The Liberty Charter High School FRC Robotics Team started with just nine students and grew to fifteen students the next year. The team is growing in experience and skill and has done well at the FRC San Diego Regional Competition considering the size of Liberty Charter School compared to the larger technical high schools.
Lovely, vivacious Alexia, a sophomore at LCHS, settled down confidently into the chair across from me eager to tell her story. I had asked earlier if she would mind talking to me about her experience in our reading and writing academies and today she sought me out ready to share.
I remember when she entered my freshman English class, even then, kind, helpful, always with a smile. Alexia, however, provided her own particular set of obstacles to overcome in the area of literacy. As she put it, “I thought I was the only one in the world with ADD and dyslexia.” And so, simultaneously, she was enrolled in our reading and writing intervention classes which we call the academy.
Alexia’s first thought about the academy, never spoken aloud, is probably common: “I thought it was just another class to take me away from people and show that I’m not smart.” I’d like to share with you what Alexia found instead.
Instead she found that Academy teachers gave her specific instruction, one small skill at a time, starting at her own personal starting point. With writing, she entered knowing she could barely write a paragraph her whole life. English class instruction was not enough. Her teachers were able to give her lots of specific guidelines, lots of practice, lots of one-on-one feedback--and lots of encouragement. With all of this help, she learned the nuts and bolts of writing concrete details and commentary. Now, when she is given a writing prompt, she can quickly process what to do, and dive in and get it done quickly with confidence.
Before, Alexia had always hated reading. Despite her initial concerns, Alexia said that once she met the academy teachers, and watched her scores change, she found out that she was smart. Instead of being a negative thing, these were classes to help her improve.
It was the encouragement from teachers that Alexia felt made the biggest difference. Every day she got the help she needed...maybe an extra day to get something done, a helping hand when she was stuck. The teachers also were constantly pushing her to meet her goals. Alexia said their main message was “We do this together, but you control your learning.” Through this, she found that she could trust the teachers and get the help that she needed.
None of this was easy. Alexia’s obstacles were daunting. She especially remembers struggling with reading fluency. She had many disappointments along the way and wondered if she would ever succeed. For quite a while there was little progress, and she wanted to give up. However, her teachers kept encouraging her, pushing her, giving her tips. Eventually there was a breakthrough and her skills progressed. To her frustration, when she was almost to the finish line, she still had a tough time getting over that final 150-words-per-minute barrier. Then it happened! Much to her surprise and joy, all the teachers were congratulating her, she got a certificate in class, and she realized that she had an accomplishment to be proud of.
The same thing happened with her reading comprehension scores. She worked so hard to get those scores to go up, but when she was almost there, it seemed like it would never happen. Again, Alexia had to battle hard to get over the edge. And again, she got to enjoy the certificate and congratulations from all of her teachers and classmates. It was a big moment for her.
What has been the effect on this young lady’s life? Alexia says everything now comes easier to her--homework, writing, and reading. This past summer she picked up Alice in Wonderland and got so enthralled she read it in four days. She said that her academy teachers opened her up to what the world of reading really is.
One more big effect on Alexia’s life: last fall, with her newfound confidence from her experiences in the academy (her thought, not mine!), she had the courage to apply for Mother Goose Parade Queen. The application process required that she give a speech about something in her life she had to overcome. What did she write about? Overcoming ADD and dyslexia, of course, and how her work in the academy helped her! She wrote well, delivered well with confidence, and was crowned queen.
At the end of all that Alexia shared with me today, I asked her what were her biggest gains from the academy. Her response: “I have grown in confidence. I can now walk around like anyone else and feel like I have something to offer.”
That she does!
Note: Alexia’s story is similar to many LFCS students’ stories that receive amazing support by an indefatigable team of teachers that inspire and motivate students to be more and try harder.
Run with the Bulldogs…
Another annual tradition the mighty Bulldogs look forward to every year...the "Run with the Bulldogs Jogathon" is in the books!
The nearly decade old tradition of LFCS students and parents joining together in Jogathon t-shirts and patriotic attire for a common goal took place this past Friday. Over 1300 students made the bus ride from their campus, the Junior Academy, Primary Academy or the Liberty Academy, to join their peers on the fields of the High School for a day of sport, fun, and fundraising! Mrs. Beyer refers to this coordination as a "ballet of buses" as it only took about 16 buses to transport all of our students in such a short amount of time.
With the direction of LFCS Athletic Director, Linn Dunton and LCHS PE Coach, Jon Abbas the courses were built to ensure safety while fun was had by everyone. Much effort was put into training members of the High School Cross Country Team and the Leadership Council to guarantee that our K-8 students would know just what to do when they arrived on campus. Some of our kinders were so focused that they weren't sure about following the orange vests because the instructional video said to follow the green vests! It was a labor of love and completely worth all the hard work to see our student body thoroughly enjoying themselves (and taking instruction so well). Not to mention the fact that this entire effort is a fundraiser that 100% supports LFCS Technology needs.
Mr. Keough comments every year that his absolute favorite part of the day is watching the kids take off from the start line at the same time. No matter which grade they are in, the looks on the students face show sheer determination and exuberance towards tackling the course in front of them. If you want to know what I mean, stop by his office at the Junior Academy, he's got a picture of it blown up on the wall! The energy was electric and the memories are lasting.
Despite a false fire alarm, a broken down bus, and a few skinned knees the 2017 Jogathon was another LFCS success story. By the day of the Jog-a-thon, Heather Dalman, the Fundraising Coordinator for the Jog-A-Thon reported that over $10,000 dollars had been raised! And at that time this was written, donations were still pouring in! All of the funds raised will be used for new technology in the classroom and other classroom needs. The expectation is that this fundraiser will be at least $30,000.
It's moments like these when you see our kids, K-12 laughing, parents cheering and people serving one another that we are reminded why Literacy First Charter Schools is such a unique and special place. Our students really do matter and our staff really does care. Every year we are impressed by the generosity of our families and their friends and family who join in the success of this fundraiser.
If you haven't had the opportunity to participate in this LFCS tradition, be sure to stop by next year to see it all first-hand…or write a check! It is well worth it!
Local History and Practical Learning…
"In third grade, we have been learning all about our city of El Cajon. Third graders learned that the citizens at that time had a problem to solve of getting water down into the valley that they lived in for drinking and watering crops. Being problems solvers, the citizens built a flume from the Cuyamaca snowy mountains, down into reservoirs like Lake Murray. When you think of a flume, think of a large water slide carrying water down the mountain. They even used to let you pay to ride a small boat down the flume!
In order to show our knowledge and understand the use of a flume, students collected cardboard, and toilet paper rolls as their supplies. When it was time to plan, they had to create a city plan routing the snow melt from the mountains, down to their city and have a reservoir to put their water. When their plan was approved by the city planners (3rd grade teachers), they began to build these flumes.
Students had the choice on a city name, what materials they wanted to use, how their city would look, the route of their flume, and the way they thought would be best to attach their flume. After completion, the students had a test run to see if the water would successfully reach their reservoir. We used marbles instead of water and let them go at the top of the flume! None of the flumes were successful on the first try! Some students realized they needed to make the flume go downhill to allow gravity to pull the water down. Some students realized that their construction caused the "water" to fall out. Some students water just never reached the right reservoir. It took a lot of grit and many attempts to get their plans just right! Some flumes were build 3D and some flat against the cardboard. Students got to be creative and engineer the way they thought was best! The third graders were very proud of their results!"
A Night to Remember
So… does it work—-this endeavor called Literacy First Charter Schools? Explicitly, Liberty Charter High School (LCHS), of which I have given my heart and soul for the past eight years, working on nine. Yes, there are wonderful moments of success scattered throughout the year, exhilarating joy on graduation day. However, there is one night that says it all to me, one night where I find out if the rubber really meets the road: Alumni Night.
This time we met at the Lemon Grove Recreation Center as our JV and Varsity volleyball teams played. It was a lovely fall Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 2016. A room was set up with stacks of goodies to eat. On the wall hung a special display for alumni to sign, beautifully crafted by one of our amazing students.The volleyball girls were getting their last minute pep talk from their coach in the room next door.
Then they came — familiar faces from years gone by. Familiar, yet not! How these young men and women have grown, not in height but in maturity. They have been living life after high school. Many have jobs, many have schooling, many have both. One young man told me he had three jobs.
Last year I remember one showed up who was a nurse at Kaiser Permanente. Another came with a husband and a baby, and they were preparing to move to Alaska. Lives happening! This year I had my same burning question: Did it work? Did LCHS prepare you for what came next?
Over and over again the answer was an overwhelming “Yes!” One after another told of the English and math classes they didn’t have to take in college because of AP classes and how well they did on placement exams. Essays? No problem! In fact, their papers were often used as models in the classrooms. Long papers? Easy, because they had all done senior exhibition. Presentations? Again, senior exhibition made it a snap. One young man told how he always does his presentations early to get them out of the way, but as soon as he does, the bar is raised, and he has noticed other students in his classroom rising to the standard he has set.
So many times these college students seemed to be amazed at how much other students didn’t know. Their classmates are only now learning MLA writing format, and only now finding out how to use concrete, detail sentences and commentary. So many wondered what in the world were those other high schools teaching? One student put it this way: “Perhaps those schools are only preparing students to graduate, whereas LCHS prepares students for life after high school.”
Equally gratifying to hear was when students brought up the ESLRs, our Expected School Learning Results, which are the underlying values to enable success and accomplishment. Students may joke or whine about them during their high school years, but none of the alumni did tonight. The ones who brought them up were gratified to have those principles built into their lives.
Tonight I sat across the table from one precious young man who was rather squirrelly as a freshman. I remember the challenge it was to get him to put anything much on paper. He broke out during his time with us like a butterfly out of his cocoon, leaping into leadership and finishing as a shining star. That star is continuing to shine in college. He told me how he scored 100% on his last timed essay. He remarked, “They set the bar so low, Mrs. Samuels.” He plans to continue his leadership skills in college. We shared a sobering moment. What if he had gone to another school? Would he have broken out like he did, prepared to step up like he is doing now in college? “No!” he replied. Anything is possible, but the likelihood is no.
And so here I am at the end of a full evening, with an even fuller heart, ready to go back to my students tomorrow, inspired afresh. What we are doing works—might I say, spectacularly. All of our hard work, our painstakingly designed programs, our hearts and souls given to living beings, our careful building of character and academic excellence... It works, it matters.
Alumni Night is my favorite night of the year.
E pluribus unum…out of many, one – that’s the LFCS way!
Literacy First has amazing families with amazing stories. As part of one of our founding tenants, 'every child is known,' our Language Support program seeks to learn the stories of our 2nd language families, many who have fought or traveled in peril to come to America.
Did you know that in nearly every classroom, every year, there are Literacy First parents who become American citizens through a long application and testing process? Many of our families have traveled to us from countries that have been in the midst of war for decades. These countries, once their homes, are now no longer a safe place for families to grow and prosper. These LFCS families hold the American Dream strong in their hearts, and Literacy First is so proud to be part of their dream!
Our Language Support program is unique. Because we support our 2nd language students in many different ways throughout the school day, we are often able to bring them up to grade level proficiency much faster than the average of 5-7 years. We are never in a rush to move students out of our program! Their brains are working extra hard all day, every day to process each word spoken in both languages. It is only natural for learning gaps to occur during this process. Our program allows students access to English Language Development for as long as they need it!!
Our teachers are providing Integrated Language Support all day long and across all subjects. Our Language Support students also receive 45 of daily instruction that is just for them. We also provide an additional 45 minutes daily of small group instruction to our newest English speakers.
The results of our program speak for themselves. Many of our highest achieving students, and valedictorian candidates are part of our Language Support program.
I would like to share one of our families stories with you. This is just one example. We have dozens of families with stories just like this! When you see an unfamiliar face in the parking lot, or at a school event, go introduce yourself!! We are a community, a family, let's get to know each other's stories!
“In 1996, my wife and I were working for an organization in Iraq that was working against Sadam Hussein. At the time we had just had our first son. He was only three months when Sadam invaded the city we were living in, and he had our organization as his first target. We then fled the city in fear with only our son and a small bag of clothing in hand. We stayed at the border of Iraq and Turkey for a month in a small village with little access to water and electricity and a very miserable baby. Then we were rescued by a US military operation that took us to Turkey and then to the US. We now have 4 amazing children that have been raised in the US. While the US is amazing and we are blessed to have raised our children here, they would not be as amazing had it not been for the endless support and love they have received from Literacy First. Here, our children are known and loved and that is more than we can have ever asked for."
CARD BOARD CHALLENGE at LFCS 2016…
What happens when you combine 140 fifth graders, mountains of cardboard and other recyclables, duct tape, and a lot of enthusiasm and imagination? The Global Cardboard Challenge! Inspired by a random encounter between a nine year old boy and a filmmaker, the Global Cardboard Challenge has grown into a worldwide celebration of creativity and play. People young and old create arcade-type games, obstacle courses, rocket ships… the sky's the limit.
For the fourth straight year our fifth graders have participated in the cardboard challenge, and the creativity and pure joy in designing and building their games continually astounds us! This year we had bowling alleys, pinball machines, whack-a-moles, and miniature vehicles, just to name a few! This experience is a reminder that we don't need complex electronic devices to keep us entertained... a little trash, a little imagination, a little collaboration and we're on our way to creative play!
What are your teachers doing when you go home?
“What do Literacy First teachers do on half days when their students go home?” you might wonder.
Let me give you a glimpse into the inner workings of an organization and the amazing team of professionals that take their jobs so seriously that they spend an afternoon in mid-September inspiring, encouraging, teaching, challenging and helping one another in developing innovative ways to inspire, encourage, teach, challenge and help their students!
Each year for several year LFCS has hosted in house their own Technology Conference. The goal of this conference is to develop tech skills that will allow teachers to be more effective in the classroom using the technology that is rich in our classrooms at LFCS. These usually include the use of the smart board, video, doc cam, a variety of apps, chrome books and google docs to name a few. However, this year, the Tech Conference took on a new look with the concept of “Innovation Day”. The idea behind “innovation” being not only “techie” strategies, but any strategy that would allow for innovation in the classroom. Sessions ranged from “maker spaces” to “alternative classroom settings”. There was time to attend sessions and time to roam and follow up on ideas that were interesting and curious. Teachers were motivated by learning new ideas, trying new things, spending time with and sharing ideas with their colleagues, a mixology center for creating their own innovative mixed drinks with tea and coffee, and valuable prize giveaways!
Who might you ask puts an event like this together? Again, let me tell you… it is the amazing LFC staff themselves! This band of dedicated teachers join together under the leadership of the tech team and through a collaborative effort develop an ingenius agenda that meets the need for our team, THIS year.
By all accounts, and the energy in the place Innovation Day 2016 was a great success.
So the next time our students leave the building and you wonder where the teachers went, more than likely on a Friday, they are somewhere together planning and preparing so that our children have the benefit of being taught by a staff that is fully invested in delivering instruction in the most innovative and engaging manner possible! Count your blessings to be part of this place! I do. ~db