Saturday, December 14, 2013

TOMMIE SAYLOR: Reflections on 'The day the world stood still'

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The late Nelson Mandela

By Tommie Saylor
Kennedy High School Principal

It was Wednesday. December. 12. 10 p.m.

The world stood still.  

I remember it clearly. My wife and I we preparing to go to bed when her phone rang. Seeming unusual that a phone call would come in so late “on a school night”, and knowing that all my children were at home and/or accounted for, I paused to see what the call was all about.  

I have a personal philosophy that unless you are dead, dying or bleeding you had better not call me after 9 p.m., so as you could imagine, this call at 10 peaked my curiosity.  Unfortunately, this philosophy held true, as my wife turned to look at me, her phone to her ear, with shock and grimace washing across her face. I did not know what was taking place, but after 20 years of marriage I could read that face like a book, and something was seriously wrong.  

My wife said very little to the mysterious caller on the other end of the phone before ending the call, then looked at me and told me that it was my sister on the phone, and she informed her that my mother became gravely ill, was rushed to the hospital, and passed away. My mom was dead. I swear, the world stopped -- not for very long, yet a clear pause. No sound, no movement, just a flash of every memory I ever had with my mother running through my mind in a single second.

My mother was a teacher, a real teacher’s teacher.  She was short, not quite reaching five-feet tall, pale, had piercing emerald green eyes, and her hair pulled back into a bun most of her life.  She was what we would consider the old-fashioned stereotypical classroom teacher. But man was she tough!  

She demanded the absolute best from her students, and may God help you if you tried to give her anything less than your absolute best.  She called parents daily, held lunch and after-school tutoring sessions and spent all weekend grading papers, entering grades in her grade book and calculating grades (days before computers and you had to calculate grades by hand), she even accepted phone calls from students in the evening hours needing help on homework, and even held the occasional weekend tutoring session at our kitchen table when a student was in need.  

Simply, she demanded the absolute best from her students, she also demanded the absolute best from herself, giving her students every ounce she could.

My mother was also tricky.  Attached you should find a picture of me when I was still a young man in the Army. I took several days of leave I had built up and came home from West Germany in mid-November to, believe it or not, go hunting with my father.  My mother made me promise to spend one of these days with her in her classroom to talk to her students about what is was like to be in the Army and to serve in West Germany.  

This was my first experience being before students in a classroom environment, little did I know it would not be my last.

She saw something in me, and when I left the Army she pushed me into taking a class in the College of Education after enrolling at Western Michigan University. “Try it,” she said. “If you do not like it, you do not
have to take another.”

One class lead to another, then another, the next thing I knew I was on my way to earning a teaching certificate. After several years of hard work the day came where I was able to show my mother my very first Teaching Certificate, and I will never forget the words she spoke to me.  

She took a long look at my certificate, touching the location where my name was printed, then snapped her head up looking deep into my eyes and said, “Now do some good with this.”

This challenge I now pass on to you: Your teaching certificate is more than just a piece of paper, it is a license to change the lives of every student in your classroom. It is a license to mold, shape, and most of all, inspire the greatness that hides deep inside every student in your class.

This is not done by allowing your students to “slide by.” It is done by awaking the genius that lies deep within, by holding them to standards that pry their potential from their apathy, or by not being accepting of “lame” excuses and “weak” explanations.

It is “done” by accepting from your students nothing less than their absolute best.

It is done by forcing students to adhere to school-wide standards, like properly wearing their ID cards around their neck. By enforcing hall sweeps and not allowing them in your classroom after the bell rings. By not issuing hall passes the first 10 minutes or the last 10 minutes of class.  

It is done by not being accepting of students failing to turn in assignments, or turning in assignments half completed or unfinished.  It is done by not allowing your students to “get away” with half-hearted efforts or “sloppy” work that is clearly well below their potential.  

By enforcing school initiatives and being unrelenting in our demand for excellence, we are teaching students a life lesson that specific standards placed before you by those in authority (your boss) must be observed if you wish to get anywhere in life. Allowing students to be “rebellious” and slack on these initiatives and in their efforts will instill within them a sense that it is OK to be late to work (court or appointments), that it is OK to ignore security procedures and/or not do what your boss desires.

You cannot say that it is OK to get up and leave your work environment or your assigned location whenever the mood strikes, that laziness and minimal efforts are “good enough” and accepted in the “real world.”

When our students enter the workforce after high school with these negative beliefs, how can we sit back and wonder why they find it difficult to keep a job.

If you truly care about your students, if you are truly concerned about their quality of life after leaving our hallowed halls, then show your concern by demanding from them their absolute best efforts and their compliance, while giving to them everything you got, and then some. It is better to be hated today and loved for all tomorrows, than to be loved today and forgotten forever.

I cursed God when he took my mother, but two days later I understood. At least in my mind, the good Lord knew that he would soon have a classroom full of young students who were in need of a good teacher (the Sandy Hook massacre took place two days later on the 14th of December), and my mother was just the right teacher for these little angels who would need so much as they filled her classroom in the sky.

Remember, their future is in our hands. Making Kennedy the school of choice. Excellence by design.

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Thanks to some help from Mrs. Brady, the show goes on!

The show must go on!

Kindergarten classes at Holland Elementary School were busy preparing a wonderful holiday program for their parents.  

By on the morning of the program, music teacher Mrs. Arndt, who has been planning and practicing the program with them, woke up with the flu. Fortunately, our other music teacher, Mrs. Brady, who we share with Kinyon Elementary School, was able to shuffle her classes around and come to Holland to carry on with our kindergarten program!  

The boys and girls looked beautiful in their festive clothing with Santa and elves hats on -- or reindeer ears -- and they sounded like a choir of angels.

The audience was filled with proud parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives who had enough cameras to light up the night.  The students did such an outstanding job, no one knew there had been a problem with the program.

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: 'Prayers answered' is a special story!

(NOTE: Holland Elementary School Principal Sue Massucci passed along this special Christmas story, written by a young student at the school.)

Jaxson Kubitz

     George Doung was an old man living in the West Side Homeless Shelter.  Every night he prayed for an angel to come down and help him have a great Christmas.  On December 24th, not an angel came down, but little Jimmy Gray from Wood Wing Road answered his prayer!
     Skipping down the street, going to school, his dad said, “Slow down, Jimmy!  Wait for me!” 
     He slowed down next to dad’s waist.  They turned the corner and they saw the homeless shelter.  One poor man stood out in the crowd to Jimmy.  It was George.  His sad face marked Jimmy’s brain with an image of sadness.  A sign outside the shelter said they needed helpers for Christmas dinner. 
     “Daddy, can we help them?”
     “Sure son, but we have to ask your mom first.”
     While at school, Jimmy had a sad face all day, blinded by George’s face every time he blinked. 
     “Jimmy, why so sad?” he heard all day because he was a joyful kid at school, especially when the holidays rolled around. 
     So, class finally got out and his mom came to pick him up.
     “So, mommy, can all of us go help out at the shelter on the corner to serve food for their Christmas dinner?  Before you say no,” (because his mom never goes through with his ideas)
     “I think it will make me less spoiled…wait, what did you say?”
     “I said yes!  Jimmy, I think it is amazing that you want to help the homeless people have a great Christmas.”
     “Well, thank you for going through with my idea for once.  See, I told you not all of them are bad!”

Christmas Day
     I just opened my presents and we were walking to the corner, corn in my hand, lasagna in mom’s hands and a big turkey in Dad’s.  We get there and I see there are more people than I remembered, but I still see George’s sad face.  I go over to him and say, “I’m Jimmy, what’s your name?”
     “George,” he says.
     “Well, what are you so sad about?”
     “Before I got in here, I had a wife and 2 kids.  After I lost my job, she kicked me out of the house and she took my kids away from me and I never saw them again.  All I want for Christmas is to see my kids again.”
     I took my parents and we left.  We showed up at his old house and went up to his door.  His ex-wife answered the door, “Yeah, what do you want?”
     “Can we see George’s kids?”
     “Who is George?” she asked.
     “The father of those kids you have in your house.”
      “Kenny! Barbara!  This snotty kid wants to see you,” she yelled.
     “Hello.  Can we help you?” they said.
     “Wow, you are kinder than her,” I said.
     “Thanks, we get it from our dad.”
     “Well, speaking of your dad how would you like to see your dad for Christmas?” I asked.
     “That would be awesome!” Kenny said.
     “Ditto!” said Barbara.
     So we hopped in the car and drove off to the shelter.  Once we got there, the kids jumped out of the car.  Seeing their dad and their dad seeing them, he had tears running down his face.
      “Kids!” he said. 
     He hugged his kids, putting his head on their shoulders.  He mouthed “thank you” to me, my mom and dad and we mouthed “your welcome” back.
     While they caught up, we passed out food to the other people. 
     George came over to me and said, “You are the angel I prayed to God for to make my Christmas great, but you made it spectacular!”


Randall Elementary School hosted the “Alien Adventure” last week.

It was an evening of family, food and fun. The families were able to enjoy pizza together while writing about and designing their own alien. Once the designing was done, they were able to go out to the “Arts and Scraps Truck” and fill a bag full of recycled goodies to build their alien.

Families were able to enjoy the time together and leave with some extra goodies and books.

It was a wonderful time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

MCDOWELL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: WSU leads campaign toward better health

McDowell Elementary School is building a healthy community with help from a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Fitness Foundation, UM Project Healthy  Schools and United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Wayne State University is leading McDowell’s program.

The program has the goal of providing students with education, opportunities and encouragement to be more physically active and choose healthier foods throughout the day and carry these important health messages home to parents/guardians. The long-term goal is a decrease in obesity among children in Michigan.

The school received amazing recess equipment and continuing lessons from Wayne State Coordinator Kerry Minshew, who brings the most yummy fruit snakes, resources for our website and wonderful health-themed books and a book case for the school library.

Very soon McDowell will be having a “Healthy Kids Club” after school.

So visit the school website by clicking here to get healthy monthly tips because healthy kids are better learners!

MCDOWELL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Book fair comes to building!

The Scholastic Book Fair came to McDowell Elementary School this week. The pupils were able to shop for family and friends. Plenty of pennies, nickels and quarters were exchanged for great books, bookmarks and fun stuff!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

WEST MIDDLE SCHOOL: 170 toys collected for program

This holiday season, the students from West Middle School Student Council collected donations for Toys For Tots program.  

West students brought in new, unwrapped toys to donate over the past few weeks.  All together, West collected over 170 toys to donate. 

Great job. We are all inspired by your generosity!

RANDALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Thanks to Mrs. Copple, it's Walmart to the rescue

At Randall Elementary School, Mrs. Copple, one of the amazing aides, contacted officials at the Walmart of Taylor, which was nice enough to donate $150 towards Mrs. Cahalan's third-grade classroom at for Christmas projects this year.  

The students were able to make an ornament filled with beads and holiday wrapping paper, along with a soap air freshener for members of their family.  

A huge thanks to the people at Walmart!


The Randall Elementary School Student Council sponsored the building’s annual "Food Fight” recently.

 Each class donated nonperishable food items for the month of November and 1,518 items were collected.

The food is donated to the Taylor Goodfellows.

Pictured above is Principal Meszaros and Eric Hall from the Goodfellows with the 2013-14 Student Council officers.

The fourth-grade (and the four-five split) won the competition and will be engraved on the plaque near the office.

EUREKA HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Peer-to-peer instruction sharpens math skills

Ms. Schoen and Ms. Farkas's first-graders at Eureka Heights Elementary School met with their fifth-grade buddies from Mr. Beddingfield's class recently to utilize peer-to-peer instruction and play math games.

Students used technology such as iPads and computers to work on number lines and math families.  

Other students used a math mat and 13 cubits to practice the math game “Rotten Apple.”  The contrast of these two very different learning methods ensure that all students learning styles are satisfied.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Writing touches plenty of hearts during holiday season

Welcome to the Holland Elementary School Writing Assembly!

All of the students at Holland participate in a school-wide writing topic each month.  Two students are selected from each class to read what they have written in front of their peers and parents.  

This month's topic was met with many heartfelt responses that demonstrated the generous nature of our students.  The topic:

"This time of year is all about giving to others.  What can you do for a special person that would cost no money?  Who would that special person be and what would you do for them?"  

The writings included cooking breakfast for parents, sharing the spirit of Christmas through being kind and loving,  giving gently used toys to children in need, talking to and sharing with the homeless, and sending Christmas cards and encouragement to the people of the Philippines, who recently lost so much in the typhoon.  

The writing was some of the best ever and everyone was touched by the students’ wonderful ideas!

MYERS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It's soup day in second grade!

Ms. Gorski's second-grade class at Myers Elementary School experienced recently what sharing in the community is all about.  

In Social Studies they learned how communities live and work together to provide food, clothing, and shelter.  The second graders reached out in the Myers Mustang Community to provide food.  

They made stone soup and invited the staff to come and share their dish!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Children have a friend in the White House (and yes, it's really him ... )

If you talk to the students in Ms. Danaj's second-grade class at Holland Elementary School, you will learn that they have a friend in the White House!  

They know all about the homeowner’s family, his pets and even about the set up of the White House itself.

Can you guess who their friend is?  None other than President Obama!  

The boys and girls wrote letters to the president a few weeks ago and this week they received a package from the White House!  Inside was an autographed picture of President Obama, a picture of the family dog with information on the back, an informational sheet and map of the White House and a very inspirational letter from the president himself.

He told the boys and girls that they can achieve anything they want if they work hard and set goals.  Ms. Danaj put all of the memorabilia on display in the classroom for the boys and girls to enjoy!