Birds of Prey!

The Birdman, Kevin Gaines, and his trusty sidekick, Jordan, visited our campus yesterday.  We were treated to an exciting presentation by Sky Kings Falconry.  They are dedicated to the education and preservation of our planet’s wildlife.  They also employ the natural abilities of wildlife to help reverse serious environmental issues in our world.  This powerful demonstration featured a hawk, a falcon, owls, and a vulture.  Did you know that the Eurasian Eagle owl is the largest in the world?  Our students got to see one up close and in flight!

The program specifically focused on natural history, the unique traits of each bird of prey, and the natural abilities and talents of these clever creatures.  One student commented to me afterwards:  “Mrs. Van, the facts, like why the bird is bald (because of bacteria on the head)—that was cool!”  🙂  

Special thanks, once again, to the Ramirez family for securing this extraordinary opportunity for all our learners and classroom leaders at LME and to Mrs. Clark, photographer extraordinaire, for sharing her amazing photos with us.  Here’s hoping you spot an incredible bird of prey while taking a walk or hike soon!

Burdens and blessings…

A small group of learners were having discussion with a classroom leader about stress and anxiety when taking tests.  She used this story with them:

  • Teacher (holding up her glass of water):  How heavy is this glass of ice water?
  • Learner:  I estimate about 12 ounces, like a can of Coca Cola (these students thought this was an estimation activity).
  • Teacher:  Really, the weight doesn’t matter because it depends on how long I hold up the glass.  If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem.  If I hold it an hour, my arm will ache.  If I hold it all day long, better have Mrs. Van call 911.  In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.  That’s the way it is with a burden or stress—if you carry it all the time, it becomes heavier and you won’t be able to carry on…

The message here is so simple:  Put down the stress, burden, or anxiety and rest before holding it again.  The group went on to brainstorm some ways to lay down the stress, especially when taking an important test.  One learner remembered that I keep a basket of bubbles in my office (as treats) and can often be found blowing away bubbles (of stress or burdens) with children.  Another child shared:  “Just close your eyes for a moment and count your blessings…that’s what I do.”  WOW—how special is this pearl of wisdom?!  🙂

This reminded me why it is so critical for the adults in a child’s life to talk and share ideas together, especially when a child is feeling anxiety or stress concerning an important event.  Often times, the burden will not surface in the usual manner; coping skills may not always be in place and we must problem solve ideas together.  As we gear up for new STAARy horizons, we want you to know we are doing our personal and professional best to ensure each learner is prepared.  Here’s hoping all our burdens become blessings in disguise at some point!

A community of opportunities…

Fridays are always busy with weekly wrap-ups, completion of projects, presentations, or class reviews.  Today was easily filled with a community of learning opportunities . . .

Our Kinder friends spent the day working with community helpers and their study buddies talking about future careers.  You can see the results of their discussions on display here.

Our StuCo members assisted with community service by stuffing bags of popcorn during their recess time for classes to celebrate successes.

Finally, I enJOYed lunch out in our community with the first semester Principal Luncheon recipients—what a great group of learners to take off campus for conversation and lunch!  Congratulations to these KG-5th grade students for no absences, no tardies, top grades, and awesome behavior!

I am truly inspired by our community of opportunities today and everyday at LaRue Miller Elementary; here’s hoping you are as well!  Have a safe, restful weekend.

Got rigor?

As you probably know, Dr. Schlechty and his team of educators have spent numerous hours in Midlothian ISD helping us “work on the work.”  Our WOW philosophy of planning meaningful and engaging lessons through specific lesson design qualities gives all students the opportunity to learn to their personal best.  Building relationships with learners, providing relevance for the work they do, and increasing rigor to meet ever-changing state and federal standards propels each learner to achieve his or her best results.  Rigor is just one part of the whole, but it’s a challenging piece (literally).  The actual word, rigor, comes from Middle English (rigour) and Latin (rigor) meaning “to be stiff with harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment.”  WHEW!  This sounds harsh, huh?!  The idea of being unyielding, inflexible, or making life difficult is not what classroom rigor should be (in my opinion, anyway).  I see rigor in classrooms every school day—students working at higher levels of thinking, sharing ideas in ways that stretch their personal understanding, and collaborating together to solve problems.  Rigor looks different in every educational setting.  I always encourage you to talk with your child’s teacher to better understand what rigor looks like during the educational journey this year…and here’s hoping your child never experiences classroom rigor mortis!

We are all stars!

Beginning this spring, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) will replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).  The new STAAR program at grades 3 – 5 will assess the same subjects and grades previously assessed on TAKS:  Grade 3 tests Reading and Math; Grade 4 tests Reading, Math, and Writing; Grade 5 tests Reading, Math, and Science.  You can go to the TEA website to learn more about each test and to look at sample questions to familiarize yourself with the design and format of the new STAAR assessments:

Your learner and your classroom leader are working each day on the state curriculum, specifically, the student expectations found in the state curriculum (TEKS) at each grade level.  While we have no way of knowing really what to expect, we have great faith in our learners, in the work and preparations they are doing, and in the daily effective teaching practices in our classrooms.  As I remind all of us frequently:  Plan your work; work your plan; autograph your work with personal excellence.  I have no doubt they will produce their personal best results when the new testing dust clears.  Please let us know when you have questions and we’ll do our best to find answers with you.

This homework is COOL…

Our staff knows I appreciate a great joke, a funny cartoon, or a cute saying, so a teacher handed me a cartoon this morning to start my day.  The picture shows a child talking with the teacher at the beginning of the day and saying:  “My dog ate my homework and it got arithmeTICs.”  🙂  Honestly, some of the math problems I see our learners working gives me the eye-twitch!

So yesterday morning while unloading cars and buses, our first grade friends were carrying in their Arctic Animal Projects–not one first grader said “the dog ate my homework!”  Their enthusiasm for everything they learned during this project fascinated me, so I took some time today to ask some questions about their work.  One child shared how they were each given an Arctic animal (everything from polar bears and killer whales to harp seals and walruses) to “talk about and report back to the class on; we had to use details!”  🙂 Another friend commented about doing “research in our library book–do you know how to check out a book in the library and do researching, Mrs. Van?” 🙂  Another learner chimed in to say, “it’s all about the facts and the pictures; little kids need pictures so they get it.”  🙂  Another first grader summarized it this way:  “We had to share facts, important ones and not silly ones; we had to answer questions our friends asked us during our class talk like, ‘Who are the predators? – or – How do they survive the cold?’ and then we showed our stuff to everyone.”  🙂  As you can see from the pictures, they are extensive projects.  One friend summed it up best though when asked about this work:  “I think this homework was cool, Mrs. Van–get it? Cool!!” 🙂  Although I agree, I think it’s especially COOL to see young learners share so much knowledge with each other!

Answers to the questions…

Perhaps you’ve seen or heard it recently yourself, but a valid discussion was circling around our campus today about a child’s answers to questions posed by a teacher.  Here are some examples; you decide how best to grade these answers:

  • Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?  *At the bottom of the page
  • In which battle did General Custer die?  *His last battle
  • The Mississippi River flows into which state?  *Liquid state
  • What looks like half an apple?  *The other half
  • How do you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?  *Concrete floors are hard to crack.

I think you get the idea, so, how would you grade it?  In teaching, we have to remember that we have literal learners working in a figurative setting at times.  This is especially true during state assessment time.  Personally, I think this learner is brilliant–a real thinker outside the traditional box of knowledge in fact!

Speaking of brilliant, out-of-the-box learners, we will begin our quest to identify gifted and talented learners in MISD in the coming months.  If you wish to nominate a child, please contact our school counselor, Mrs. Christa Stanley, at 972-775-4497 to have a form sent to you.  In the meantime, here’s hoping you treasure those little literal moments with your learner each day; I know we do!


A young learner stopped me in the hallway this morning to share a heartprint with me.  (Heartprints are those beautiful impressions left behind by a deliberate act of kindness.)  The child remembered me asking the question one morning:  “Do you choose to stand BY and do nothing or stand UP and do something?  Are you a BYstander or an UPstander?  Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?”  The child noted:  “These are hard questions, Mrs. Van.  Why do you make us think so much?”  🙂   Yes, these are powerful questions for young learners, especially as we work each day to promote good choices, strong character, and solid foundations.  This young learner was doing her best to bring it all together by willingly sharing her story and choosing to stand UP to help another in need.

I know I’ve said it before:  Heartprints should be the norm and not the exception in our society.  All around us are opportunities to share heartprints with others.  While we cannot give what we do not have, we are all able to give them in some way—support, time, talents, encouragement, advice, attention, praise, honor, respect, enthusiasm, energy, hugs, and so much more.  Here’s hoping we are raising a generation of thinkers who make the choice to stand UP and share heartprints everyday!  🙂

The Miller BELL!

The first edition of The Miller Bell newspaper is on its way!  An industrious group of fifth grade learners came up with the amazing idea of creating an elementary school newspaper written by students for the students of LaRue Miller Elementary.  Their enthusiastic sponsor, Mrs. Campbell, states:  “There are several sections they plan to include in each edition.  They have articles written such as a central cover story, sports news from the gym, funny jokes, a ‘Kindergarten Korner,’ a Miller Staff interview, current events, Miller fashion trends, and even a ‘Dear Mrs. Van’ question and advice column.”  (You just never know what advice I may give either!) 🙂

The news team includes (bottom row from left to right):  Baylee, Autumn, Macee, Kamren, and Madeline; (top row):  Megan, RaeAnn, Madi, Haley; (not pictured):  Sierra, Morgan, and Anna.

We will post the new Miller Bell on our campus website each time it is published so you can enJOY their work as well.  Bravos to these extraordinary writers and their sponsor for sharing a dream as well as their campus perspective in a brilliant way . . . their voices ring loud and clear here at LME!

Celebration and Appreciation…

Today was a day of celebration and appreciation.  Mrs. Miller was on hand to help with the festivities.  Our wonderful PTO provided a really scrumptious luncheon of soups, salads, breads, and dessert.  Thanks to our parents and volunteers who cooked and shared valuable time to nourish our staff!  Special thanks to Angela and Lori for coordinating food!

We also celebrated the work of our MISD School Board by sharing time with Mr. Tom Moore.  He joined our Student Honor Council for lunch, a special student tour, and a huge bag of handmade accolades for a job well done (created by the students and staff of our appreciative campus).  Thanks, Mr. Moore, and all our MISD Trustees for your valuable time, talents, gifts, and service on behalf of all of us!  Please join us; thank a Board member today!