Friday, December 8, 2017

Faces of 501: Fred Willer

Fred Willer has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past 12 years as a social worker at Highland Park High School, but before that was stationed at the school as a social worker through the Family Resource Center. On an average Willer makes contact with dozens of students a day, driving them to appointments, helping them find jobs, feeding them or just taking the time to talk with them. Recently, he has taken on an additional role with the district as director of the new Millie Murphy Community Cupboard, which operates out of the Quinton Heights Educational Center. 

“This idea started back in the 1980s with community volunteer Millie Murphy running the original Topeka Public Schools clothing bank located at the Holland Center, and it ran successfully until the early 2000s when Murphy retired. We restarted the clothing bank at Highland Park in 2005, where it was located until this last school year. It has been expanded into the Community Cupboard, which in addition to the clothing bank we now have a food bank and provide hygiene supplies. The idea behind the Community Cupboard is to provide resources to students and families that if not provided may pose a barrier to school success.”

“The most surprising thing to me has been the groundswell of community support through donations. Harvesters has been a great partner by donating food supplies, Silverbackks provides us with hygiene supplies and we have gotten thousands of donations of clothing and canned food this semester from community members. The district’s social work interns have spent countless hours organizing the Cupboard to make sure supplies are easy to find. If you need to access the Cupboard reach out to your school’s social worker or counselor, or you can call me directly at 274-6026 to set up a time to visit. I’ve learned that students can overcome difficulty in their lives, just don’t be afraid to ask for help and we are here to provide that help.” 

Willer, right, accepts a donation from Tisha Schmidt and the ENT department at Stormont Vail Health. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Faces of 501: Stephanie Karrer

French Middle School eighth grade math and algebra teacher Stephanie Karrer is in her eighth year of teaching for Topeka Public Schools. This past summer Karrer was named a Kansas finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honor in the nation for math and science educators.

“I really enjoy teaching and it’s a lot of fun. Teaching can be one the most rewarding jobs, like parenting, it’s hard work and stressful at times. You are making a difference for kids even if they don’t see it right away. It’s neat to hear that former students went down a math field as a career. And it’s great when a high school student comes to you when they need help with their math work, you know that they trust you.”

“It seems that a lot of students come in with lots of baggage when it comes to math, they don’t like it or they think they aren’t good at it. I tell all of my students that we start where they are right now and your brain is only truly learning by making lots of mistakes. There are relatively new research findings which state the brain grows when mistakes are being made. This research is behind the push about the importance for a growth mindset, especially in math. Having a growth mindset gives students an ‘I Can’ attitude towards math rather than ‘I Can't.’ The growth mindset gives students and teachers the ability to focus on the learning, the why and/or the how versus the normal right or wrong approach. Growth mindset classrooms allow for safety and risk taking where math is concerned. Often times students have a sense of feeling they are either good or bad at math, but when classrooms are growth focused students begin to see everyone is good at math-- we just master concepts in our own time.”

“In my classroom, I use the word YET.  When I hear students say ‘I don't get this’ or ‘I can't do this’ or ‘I'm not good at this,’ I coach my students to add YET to the end of their statements. 'I don't get this... YET,’ it seems to empower students to persevere and allows students to feel more successful.”

“Looking back, the only profession of interest to me was teaching. I can remember playing ‘school’ with my friends and cousins—I was always the teacher. In third grade, I recall struggling with delayed grief from the loss of my mother. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Morris was amazing. I don’t remember everything she did or said; however, I know I always felt safe, cared for, listened to, important and loved. Not only did Mrs. Morris teach me reading, writing and math, she also displayed strength, independence and how to care for others. Once I had settled on teaching as a career, I gravitated towards becoming a mathematics teacher because math was always my favorite subject in school.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Topeka West Student Earns 4-H State Title

Topeka West sophomore Claire Coultis at the State 4-H Convention 

Livestock and crafts are the first things that come to mind for many when discussing 4-H.  However, Topeka West sophomore Claire Coultis invested her time in a less typical facet of the positive youth development and mentoring organization. Coultis chose reading as a focus for her two-year, award winning project.

As an eighth grader at Jardine Middle School, Coultis had no idea that her project would become nationally recognized. Coultis’ journey to Kansas 4-H state champion began with a brainstorming session with her mother, Barbara Coultis. They discussed how to conduct a reading project in a unique way that had not yet been attempted. 

“There is a negative stigma with the reading project that it’s all book reports,” Coultis said. “I thought we could do a lot with it that other people didn’t think of.”

She planned and led various programs within Topeka, expanding reading programs for her peers, read children’s books to preschoolers, wrote book reviews for the Shawnee County Public Library website, collected books as donations to various Topeka libraries and even volunteered at Jardine Middle School’s book fair.

Coultis also took this opportunity to expand her own reading skills and knowledge. In the past two years, she has learned to read in French, became well versed in international affairs and connected to her family heritage by reading passages from her grandmother’s journal from the Great Depression. Through this process Coultis realized that reading is key to both gaining and sharing knowledge and that reading can, “help keep a community together.”

Coultis will be traveling to Georgia over Thanksgiving break for the National 4-H Congress where she will be celebrated as the Kansas 4-H Champion for Reading. When she returns, she plans to continue focusing on her academics, Model UN, Scholar’s Bowl and orchestra at Topeka West. After graduating from Topeka West in 2020 she hopes to attend a Kansas based college and pursue a career in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Music) field.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Faces of 501: Darlene Hughes-Palmer

We at Topeka Public Schools have celebrated American Education Week this week, and today we conclude with honoring one of our substitute teachers, Darlene Hughes-Palmer. Hughes-Palmer retired in 2014 after 32 years at TPS she has substitute taught for the past three years, currently her assignment is a Pine Ridge Prep, a preschool within the district. 

“I’ve come full circle in my career. I started teaching Head Start in 1976 and have taught at every level from grade school to high school and now I’m back to teaching Pre-K students. When teaching the Pre-K level, you don’t have to teach to re-teach. We make sure that they have the basic skills to not only be successful here but throughout their educational career. They can start school and not have to play catch-up the rest of their way through school. I’ve had the opportunity to teach in three different school districts and in three different states. Two of those school districts were in a desegregation order. The main difference being, Pine Ridge Prep is not in a desegregation order, and all the students, have the same opportunity to attend and learn in a quality school.”

“The unique thing about teaching preschool is that you can address the developmentally appropriate cognitive, social, and emotional needs of the children that are necessary for getting a solid educational base. A solid educational base in preschool would minimize or even eliminate the achievement gap found in many of today’s public schools. I believe Early Childhood Education prepares the children to be educationally ready to be successful not only in kindergarten, but also their elementary, intermediate, and secondary educational careers.

“I want students to know that if they should stay focused and learn as much as they can. Listen to your teachers, be respectful to your parents. Set high expectations and don’t compromise on being the best you can be. Never give up.”

Friday, November 10, 2017

Faces of 501: Fernando Adams

Senior Master Sergeant (retired) Fernando Adams, has worked for Topeka Public Schools since August 2012, as an Aerospace Science Instructor at Highland Park High School. In addition to the teaching position, Adams, one of the Air Force JROTC instructors at the school, has also coached the softball team, in addition to helping start the junior varsity program at the school.  Before starting his position for TPS he served active duty in the United States Air Force for 26 and a half years, working at construction and facility management, where he was stationed all over the world, including stops in Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi, South Dakota, Guam, Korea, Japan, Portugal and Germany. Adams is a graduate of the University of Maryland and is originally from Jackson, Miss., coming to Kansas when his son was a student at Kansas State University. 

"I'm from a large southern family, I was number eight of eleven kids, all of my older siblings graduated high school and went straight to college, I broke the mold and joined the military. I liked to travel and explore and 26 years later here I am. Veterans Day for me is a recognition of others, I don't see myself as a veteran because I'm still serving by teaching the kids. I want people to have that recognition because most people don't realize how many life events that you miss when you are on active duty like funerals, births and weddings. I want others to recognize what other people have to sacrifice while they served. By teaching I am still actively serving these students and this community. I know these kids are in challenging situations and my job is to be consistent with them. I'm teaching them to be reliable and honest, I want them to know that integrity means something. I hope they learn that to be a good leader you have to be a good follower. You have to be a good listener. When you say you are going to do something, do what you say you are going to do. Show up when you say you are going to show up. People will follow you, if you get out there and roll up your sleeves with them."

"I tell students that they need to try something for themselves. Whether it's ROTC, different classes, food or a movie. Try it for yourself. If you don't like it then at least you know you tried it and you made your mind up for yourself instead of listening to what others say."