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.

Faces of 501: Darlene Hughes-Palmer

Topeka Public Schools has celebrated American Education Week this week, and today concludes the celebration 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 at 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.”

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, has also coached the softball team, in addition to helping start the junior varsity program.  Before starting his position for TPS, he served active duty in the United States Air Force for 26 and a half years, working in 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."

Meadows Elementary Students Work Together on Student Council

With agendas and pencils in hand, 31 Meadows Elementary School students met for their monthly student council meeting to discuss fundraising opportunities and to decide how to spend the raised funds. In October, after a school-wide vote, the student council chose to have a water bottle refilling station installed at their school. Being a part of the student council allows students to experience responsibility, develop clear communication skills and engage in their own education.

Ashley Garcia, fifth grade Meadows teacher and student council sponsor, explains, Students will care more and participate more if they have a buy in. I think we need to give them a chance to become leaders and make decisions. They will care more about their school and their education if they are a part of it.

The water bottle filling station will provide students and staff with another source of clean water and will essentially replace throw away cups and bottles, reducing unnecessary waste. The water bottle filling station is estimated to cost $1,000 and will be installed within the next year. Garcia suggests that giving students access to sustainable clean water can help keep them stay hydrated and focused in class.

To be selected for student council, students fill out an application that is reviewed by a teacher committee. The committee then selects one boy and one girl from each class to represent their grade. Second through fifth graders are eligible to apply. Fifth graders are also selected for an executive committee to run the student council meetings. Students in each class vote on fundraising options and hand off their decision to their selected student ambassadors to be represented at the student council meetings.

Meadows prides itself in providing students with the opportunity to be a part of their student council program. By giving younger students additional responsibility, they become more invested in Meadows and their own education. By giving students a meaningful voice, decisions can be made that better benefit the school, staff and students.

Faces of 501: Christopher Wagner

Christopher Wagner, right, with his grandson Gage Wagner, 14, with the work that Gage did in the  front of Meadows Elementary. 

Child Nutrition Services Specialist Christopher Wagner will have worked for Topeka Public Schools for two years in February, but long has had respect for the employees of TPS and the work that they have done with his grandsons. Wagner’s 14-year-old grandson Gage, and a freshman at Topeka High, recently finished his Boy Scout Eagle project at Meadows Elementary. The project made the front entrance to Meadows more beautiful and functional for the school, and showed the dedication that the Wagner family has to the Boy Scouts. 

“As Boy Scouts, we really work hard together with team effort, that everyone should be working as hard as the person next to you. As Scouts we do a lot of community service by doing food drives, cleaning parks and other services around the community. When not helping the community, we do activities like fishing, canoeing, camping, archery, football, baseball and everything else you can think of. We teach the E.D.G.E (Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable) method to the boys. This allows them to develop, they learn how to run their own meetings and activities and it teaches them how to handle situations on their own. Scouts teach respect, community, country, being independent, build friendships, family bonding and self-esteem.

Gage’s project was created with the school, he wanted to give back to his elementary school. When you do a Scout project it needs to be something that can enhance the community. He met with the principal and the custodian, then found a project that needed to be done and together they chose landscaping work at the school. The project was done in two phases, the first phase was a family project where we edged and mulched the flagpole area. The final part of the project included members of Troop 29 and we all landscaped the front entrance of the school with stone, planted a shrub, mulched, and painted the bike rack.

Our family has a lot respect for Meadows Elementary, we don’t know what there isn’t to like. My wife and I adopted Gage and his younger brother Wesson in 2009. Prior to that, the boys suffered some personal family issues. The boys had to overcome many challenges over their years at Meadows. The staff, teachers, counselors and administrators at Meadows worked with our kids over the years. Their compassion and understanding toward our boys and all students surpasses anything I’ve seen in my life.

As a parent and grandparent, I want my kids to know that everything happens for a reason. Focus on one thing at a time. You can have it all, but not at once. Plan ahead, but your plans will definitely change when the time comes. Trust your instincts. And it’s okay to be unsure about your purpose in life, take a leap of faith in yourself.” 

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