Sodas, Classic Cars, and a Sock Hop…

PTO…our Parent Teacher Organization…lifeline of our campus everyday.  I don’t want to imagine having school without this group!  For our first Family Night Event this year, we kicked it off tonight with a Back-To-School Sock Hop…what a GREAT evening of fun and fellowship!  Every type of music from 50’s classics to present-day group dances was cleverly spun for fun in the gym with colored lights shining.  Students shared dance moves, taught the adults some new steps, and shared a few laughs (at my expense, of course).  One friend noted, “Mrs. Van, you’ve got the moves but they just need some adjusting at your age.”  🙂

We also enjoyed touring outside the cafe and talking with owners of several classic cars who participated this evening with us.  Of course, several of our dads laid claim to knowing a bit about these vehicles so we tested their knowledge (and that of each owner) with a few questions just to verify.  As one young friend noted, “What a bunch of sweet rides!”  🙂

Several PTO volunteers and parents spent countless hours organizing, planning, decorating, checking everyone in, serving soda floats, dancing, and laughing with friends.  Our active PTO Board Members this year are:  Angela Shaver, Gayle Turner, Nicole Blackmon, Wendy Harvey, Christie Clenney, Amanda Fisher, Amy Byers, Tracy Brown, Beth Woodall, Tami Tobey, Lori Walk, Stacy Moore-Helms, Keisha Buchanan, and Heather Cooper.  Please watch the PTO website @ and “like” it on Facebook (LaRue Miller PTO) for updates and information throughout the year. Ladies, you really rocked this whole experience!

Family events such as tonight bring our entire learning community together to relax, enjoy, and celebrate.  Our thanks to everyone to assisted, who attended, and who chose to spend a glorious autumn evening here at LaRue Miller Elementary!

Time for lunch!

Lunch…sustenance…a break in the instructional day…time to visit with friends…A Miller friend shared some time with me during lunch recently (just to clarify, this was a reward and not a punishment–princiPALs are not all about consequences, you know).  We talked about her views of our campus, her experiences so far, her expectations, and (of course) her dreams.  Noticing her lunch was a healthy one–she particularly likes veggies and fruit and drinks lots of water throughout the day–I asked her who helped to form these eating habits and her comment was, “our school.”  Truthfully, I was a little surprised to hear this answer so I had to dive deeper.

“You see, Mrs. Van, I listen and watch everyday.  My teacher talks about bringing healthy snacks, buying or bringing a healthy lunch, and drinking our water so our brains stay engaged.”  I asked, “Why do you think this is so important?”  She expanded her thoughts: “It’s hard being a student; you have to think ALL DAY LONG.  I see a difference in my thinking when I eat good food and when I eat junk instead.”  She also noted: “My family is working to improve our eating too–those GO foods take up more space on my plate now and I save those WHOA and SLOW foods for special times.”  At this point in our conversation, I was honestly thinking how I could clone this child…it never ceases to amaze me how a single comment or action can grow into a new way of life at times.

Back to lunch though…it’s that important time of day where our learners (and their leaders) can take a moment to relax, to unwind, and to nourish the body.  You are always invited to visit during lunch here at LaRue Miller…it’s quite the experience in our cafe.  We want our students to talk with friends and to eat (but to also be safe, thus there are rules).  Staff members on duty assist and direct the organized chaos.  You are also invited to put on an apron, open milk cartons and packets, and assist us anytime during lunch; we appreciate our volunteers!

A class makes their way down the hall with smiles and anticipation as I escort my friend back to class following our lunch conversation.  A child looks up at me to note: “It’s time for lunch, Mrs. Van!”

We serve breakfast in our cafe starting @ 7:20 a.m. and lunches run from 10:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m. daily.  Join us anytime!

Blazing a Trail!

As Helen Keller observed:  “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  Such is the message we hope to live daily with learners and their families.  It takes the entire team to assist a learner to personal excellence daily!  My friends pictured here are learning to carefully cut apples to make a batch of homemade applesauce today.  Yum!  The smell of cooking apples, cinnamon, and sugar reminds me of my favorite folk tale character, Johnny Appleseed (based on the real man, John Chapman).  As legends tell it, he was a man of simple values, loved and respected by all he met, always tried to do right by his friends and the environment, and devoted his life to helping others help themselves.  It is said he planted tens of thousands of apple trees throughout his lifetime.  He was a pioneer, probably our nation’s first conservationist, and undoubtedly a great role model.

Being a trailblazer (like Johnny Appleseed) takes a dream, a sense of persistence, and a definite direction in order to achieve personal goals.  From our youngest students to our seasoned veterans, we are all blazing educational trails on our journey this school year.  Here’s hoping we continue to do so much together that we’re never truly alone!

To Dream the Future…

When I spend time with young learners in classrooms like I do most days, you learn so much about the power of their imagination.  Most young learners live in dual worlds–the real world and the dream world. We’ve been talking about our dreams lately on the morning announcements (especially during College Week) and several students have interesting things to share with me on dreams:

  1. “Dreams are those things I have at night and talk about in the morning.”
  2. “Dreams tell me things about my past, my present, and my future.”
  3. “Mrs. Van, did you know dreams tell our future?”
  4. “I can never remember my dreams; they fly by too quickly.”
  5. “Mom says my dreams can launch a lifetime journey.”
  6. “My soccer coach tells me to find a dream and chase the dream; I want to play pro-soccer, you know.”

Albert Einstein noted, “Imagination is more important in life than just knowledge.”  Perhaps his point is well-taken.  Children’s imaginations push them forward in the learning process and we do our best to cultivate it daily.  Dreams take time, patience, sustained effort, and a true willingness to fail if they are ever to be anything more than dreams. Every day is a new chance to be what you’ve dreamed and to do what you’ve imagined.

My Granny B. commented, “Your dream come true is just a tough little wish that wouldn’t take ‘NO’ for an answer!”  Surely we all find those dreams that made it beyond the original tough wish into our daily reality–I know I did (from my earliest days, I felt the call to educate).  Here’s hoping our learners today dream big, but don’t rush themselves too much; after all, what will they do tomorrow?

Pointing to a successful future…

You’ve heard me comment before about our “buffet of services” available here at LaRue Miller Elementary.  Please take note of the amazing team of Miller leaders pictured here who make it happen everyday.  Pictured on the top row standing are:  Joy Cowan (CM/LL, Incl), Nancy Walts (CBI), Rebecca Johnson (HS), Chandra Filmore (CBI), Brittany Mach (Res/Incl), Kris Roberts (CM/LL), Bethany Griffin-Loftis (ESL/Dyslexia), Jennifer Blair (Res/Incl), Laura Flores (HS), Danielle Schrodt (HS), and Shanna Horton (LEAD/CBI).  Pictured seated in chairs are:  Jurae Greiten (HS), Adrienne Mitchell (HS), Terri Bush (diagnostician), Ann Beller (PPCD), Eva Martin (CBI), Kathleen Stuckert (ST).  On the floor, you’ll find:  Jennifer Mabra (AII), Angela Bailey-Coleman, (PPCD), Christy McAfee (CBI), and Delaina Wimpee (LEAD/SLP) . . . and then I say, “E-I-E-I-O!”  Did you follow all the initials?  Do you need a dictionary?  Why this is only a portion of the personnel who come from throughout the region to enrich our instructional programs daily! Yes, we are indeed blessed with an extraordinary team of dedicated, highly-qualified, fun educators right here on our campus!

We offer a continuum of services designed specifically to meet the individual needs of all learners.  Regardless of an identified need, we create a strong personalized program where a child with special needs works in the least restrictive educational and instructional setting with specially-trained staff everyday.  General and Special education service teams work collaboratively and inclusively on a plan of instruction to meet specified goals as outlined through the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) Committee.

Here are a few terms to note:

  1. CBI – Community-Based Instruction
  2. PPCD – Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities
  3. Res/Incl – Resource/Inclusion
  4. HS – Head Start PreK Program
  5. LEAD/SLP/ST – Speech programs
  6. CM/LL – Content Mastery/Learning Lab
  7. AII – Auditory Impairment Instruction
  8. VII – Visual Impairment Instruction
  9. ESL/Dyslexia – English as a Second Language/Dyslexia service provider

I could spend several blogs on the intricacies and merits of each program within our instructional rainbow; we’ll just keep this simple for now.  All learners are indeed blessed at Miller to share in the unique experiences of having all types of learners on our campus.  As this staff picture indicates, we are also blessed to have leaders who take their work seriously, but not necessarily themselves too seriously.  After all, they point us in the unique direction of a successful future for all learners!

There’s no place like home…

Homecoming…the arrival at home.  In Midlothian ISD today it’s a festive annual event held by our district to celebrate our alumni coming back home and to cheer our hometown team to victory!  In our case at Miller, we have the honor of sharing our spirit with several of our Panther Readers today!  Like this picture shows, Mrs. Clark’s third graders are displaying their best wishes to Panther Myron Hanson (#51) this morning while he reads to them.

Homecoming is more than a parade, a football game, the crowning of a king and queen, the big pep rally, or seeing old friends; it’s really about creating team, sharing community spirit, and building future leaders.  It’s interesting how we rally around sports teams in towns across America (there are dissertations written on this very subject in fact).  It is my sincere hope we actively choose to demonstrate this same spirit ALL THE TIME in every area of our lives . . . just imagine what we could really accomplish in the world?!

Students love to show their spirit (thus, the reason we do several special days throughout the school year) and they heartily participate in the teamwork and fun they experience during special events.  Like my friends Georgia and Kayleigh noted:  “There’s no place like home at Homecoming!”  See you at the parade and game; go Panthers!

We’re ALL All*Stars at Miller!

Today was our fundraiser FUN RUN, sponsored by All*Star Fun*Run.  Under the direction of team athlete leaders, all learners and their classroom leaders participated in making this event a huge Miller success!  We kicked off the festivities last week with a campus-wide pep rally.  Throughout the past week, students and their classroom coaches (teachers) have been in training with team leaders in daily “team huddles” to promote the character traits of leaders through the ASCEND theme.  Leaders always Appreciate, Serve, are Considerate, Encouraging, Never-Give-Up, and are always Dependable.  Students and families have secured pledges for the laps they ran today.  I can joyfully report our students ran an average of 34 laps!  WOW–what a great morning!

Regardless of financial giving, every student participated, received an All*Star ASCEND jersey, were a part of the daily team character huddles, and participated in the fun during the event today.   Most impressive to the All*Star Team Athletes were the many Miller parents and volunteers who came to support our runners today by marking shirts as each lap was completed, cheering for everyone, passing out water, and joining in the fun this morning!  You can see just a few of the many fine folks huddled here; we thank you for your partnership and encouragement during this school-wide event!

   Here’s Toller, an All*Star Team athlete and our campus leader, taking a pie in the face (for me) because certain goals were made this week.  Thanks, Toller; I owe you one of my famous chocolate pies…

Several of my Miller learner friends shared reflections with me about their experiences:

  1. The team huddles were my favorite part!
  2. There’s so much energy; WOW!
  3. Leadership ROCKS; I want to do my best always!
  4. The music made me move faster; my laps were done quickly and we laughed the whole time!
  5. I loved it that my dad came by to cheer me on!
  6. I hope we do this every year!  🙂

Why do we need a campus fundraiser each year?  There are ongoing projects we support throughout each school year (field trips, student awards and incentives, special speakers and events, etc.) not covered by traditional district funds allotted through our campus budget.  These activities must be funded through our campus activity fund, thus, we must supplement this fund each year.  We only do one campus fundraiser each year and we’re done for this year (more on our results from today in a future blog).

As always, we are indebted to our Miller families and our entire learning community for embracing our many projects.  Your time, talents, gifts, and service add extraordinary value to our educational setting.

As my friend, Nolan (pictured here), summed it up today:  “Mrs. Van, I’m tired; I’m happy; we’re all  All*Star leaders at Miller!”

The Power of TEAM…Student Honor Council

Perhaps you’ve heard this definition of TEAM:  Together Everyone Achieves More.  One of the many ways we work to truly maximize foundations for future leaders is through extra-curricular opportunities here at school.  As noted before in a previous post, our fifth graders have multiple ways to experience leadership on our campus during their final year in elementary school.  One such important team of student leaders are 5th grade learners who are willing to serve on our LaRue Miller Student Honor Council. Pictured left to right are our 2011-2012 representatives:  Kara, Emily, Baylee, Autumn, Jamison, Jonathan, Cade, Michael, Bryce, and Jace.  These talented students endured the extensive application process which included seeking staff and personal recommendations, submitting grades, signing a contract of agreement with a parent, and sharing an essay on how they plan to fulfill all the duties required of this honor.  Applications are read by staff and outside community supporters who then choose the top ten candidates for approval.  Their proud sponsor is our school counselor, Mrs. Stanley.

So what exactly does the Student Honor Council (SHC) do during the year?  The better question might be, “what do they NOT do?”  The expectations are high and the demand on their time is even greater.  Each team member must exhibit great leadership, citizenship, school spirit, teamwork, responsibility, and strong academics in their roles as campus student leaders.  Activities for SHC include campus-wide service learning projects throughout the year, Red Ribbon Week activities, College Week activities, training at the prestigious “Leaders R Us” seminar, student motivational day celebrations, and leadership roles in various capacities (such as campus ambassadors).  They work as a true TEAM by making the best use of the talents of others.  As one student leader shared with me:  “Mrs. Van, my work is not finished until I’ve made every student at LaRue Miller feel like they belong here!”  🙂

There is nothing more powerful or empowering than to tap into the natural leadership of young learners working as a TEAM.  As Margaret Meade commented:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can make a difference, in fact, it is the only thing that ever has . . .”

Caring Counselor, Mrs. Stanley…

You’ve heard me say before there is an art and a science to education, but I hope we never forget the HEART.  Our own LaRue Miller counselor, Christa Stanley (shown here with her famous friend, Froggy), brings a whole new meaning to educating with “heart!”

Mrs. Stanley is notorious for “walking her talk” with learners and their leaders everyday.  Her sixth counselor sense notes when a child or adult needs an extra hug, a smile, or a warm pat on the back.  She is easy to approach, tells the best stories, and does everything in her school counseling powers to ensure every member of our Miller learning community reaches his or her personal best daily.  With multiple years of classroom and counseling experience in a variety of instructional settings, she truly understands the unique needs of young learners.  It goes without saying, she’s a natural at her work everyday.

So what exactly does a school counselor do?  I asked some Miller friends and here’s what they told me:

  1. She teaches us about friendships and gives me help in the hallway.
  2. Mrs. Stanley talks to Mrs. Van and Mrs. Bass on the walkie-talkies about safety.
  3. She smiles and tells us stories about making good choices.
  4. We dress up for College Day and Red Ribbon Week and other fun times at school.
  5. She leads our Student Honor Council; it’s hard work but what fun we have!
  6. On ‘nnouncements, she talks about Rachel’s Challenge and our promise.
  7. I like her friend, Froggy; he helps me in the car line each morning.
  8. She is everywhere in our building–up, down, and all around…

As you can tell, our learners think highly of Mrs. Stanley and her work here at Miller.  Parents who visit with me share their positive, insightful observations of her as well.  School guidance counseling is about building relationships and connections with each learner in a positive, productive, collaborative manner.  Often times, Mrs. Stanley can approach a challenging situation with a fresh idea, therefore, I encourage you to visit with her when you have questions regarding specific educational concerns.  Always keep her updated when a home or family situation changes; she can help support and encourage a learner along with the classroom teacher.

I say it all the time:  We are here to serve our learning community.  Our work is never complete, but a caring counselor like Mrs. Stanley takes the art and science of education and serves Miller with the biggest heart everyday!

Fabulous Fifth Grade . . .

Fifth grade…top of the elementary pyramid…leaders embarking on new quests…never a dull moment!  Pictured in clockwise order starting at 12:00:  Jennifer Lassetter, math; Laurie Garippa, science; Sherrie Gunter, reading; Jennifer Campbell, social studies; and Susan Bly, language arts.  There is little this Fab 5 cannot do or achieve with our learners everyday!

With the excitement of middle school building throughout the entire year, this team of leaders takes our oldest learners on campus through an educational journey of excellence while doing everything within their power to prepare them for the high expectations of the secondary education to come.  Learners change classes every 65 minutes, show responsibility and accountability  to five instructors teaching five subject areas, and build strong teams of collaborative, productive citizens.  Our fifth graders lead the charge with our campus Student Honor Council, Yearbook Staff, Safety Patrol, WattWatchers, HotSteppers, Miller Ringers/Singers, Peer Helpers, Book Buddies, morning announcements, and so many additional opportunities.  In fact, one fifth grade friend recently noted: “WOW–we even get to eat lunch among all our 5th grade friends, as long as we don’t mess up.”  Another noted: “I love my locker; it’s my ‘go-to’ place for everything and I never lose a book or an assignment.”  One friend added: “Hey, but do we ever have the homework; at least they mix it up each night.”  Finally, a friend jumped in: “5th Grade really ROCKS!”  🙂

Yes, there are sometimes rewards for enduring the structure of the early years in elementary school–those times when we learn the rules, learn to read, learn to write, and learn various subject matter–all in an effort to create leaders of learners before they leave our campus.  Fifth grade has the honor of bringing the previous 5-7 years of school experience and rolling it into a promise of fabulous possibilities.  I can hardly wait to see what this team of 5th grade learners and leaders will accomplish this year!  🙂