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.”