Monday, October 3, 2016

It Takes a Village or a Subdivision by Melissa Jones

It Takes a Village or a Subdivision
     You have probably heard this saying before. You may have thought, “Yes, that is a nice sentiment.”  Or maybe you thought, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  I think it is time we all started living this idea of a village, or a subdivision taking a collective role with all our children.  One way you can start these relationships is by taking part in National Night Out (Texas) on Tuesday, October 4th
    Why should we take time to meet our neighbors?  How does this help our children? The first way it benefits our children is by making our community a safer place to live.  Who doesn’t want a safer place for our children?  A 20 year longitudinal study in Shreveport looked at how connecting people in a community effected crime rates.  During the time of the study total crimes in Shreveport decreased by 25% and in the targeted neighborhood that was being studied crime decreased by 45%!  That is a powerful example of what can happen from getting to know our neighbors.
     Another reason to know our neighbors is to increase our sense of belonging.  We have a need to feel a part of a group.  This summer at a keynote speech, Lucy Calkins, discussed what has been happening to our sense of community in America.  The studies she shared are sobering.  The number of Americans who say they have no close friends has doubled.  Is that what we want for our children?  We don’t want to be alone during the hard parts of life and lately, most parts of life have been hard for us.  Raising children is fulfilling, but hard.  Doing it with others makes it easier. Living a connected life will encourage our children to do the same.
     So how do we go about getting to know our Bear Creek neighbors?  You may have noticed the signs about National Night Out.  National Night Out (NNO) is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live.  It happens the first Tuesday of October each year (the rest of the county celebrates this event on the first Tuesday of August). How to participate?  That is easy – just go outside on Tuesday night.  Look around for others and introduce yourself. I will be taking part in my neighborhood by going out with a tray of cookies in the driveway (pumpkin spice no less).  I know of someone who is planning to put their fire pit in the front yard to roast hot dogs with the neighbors. Make it a goal to know the 8 neighbors closest to you by name. Do it to make the neighborhood better and safer for our children.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Reflections of a Servant Leader by Dr. Lorena Zertuche

It's hard to believe, but another school year has come and gone. I wish I could say that it was an easy-breezy year, but alas, every year has its trials and tribulations. Fortunately, the joys and celebrations outnumber the trials and tribulations. For example, we had six staff members leave this year during the school year for promotional positions. Yet, we also had staff members who celebrated 30, 35, 40 years of service and one who even equaled 100 in her years of service + her age! I've learned that the likelihood of teachers staying at the same school- or even in the same district for that matter- decreases every year and that because I encourage growth at all times, people rise to the occasion when growth opportunities arise! People may come and people may go, but I can never stop encouraging a growth mindset and supporting them in meeting their goals. We had a student who would have been in 2nd grade, a former beloved BCE teacher, a KEYS mentor, Henrietta the hamster, one of our student's guardians and many other loved ones to our community pass away. Yet, we also celebrated many new pregnancies and births of parents and staff members as well. I've learned that, much like the tiles on our new Bryan's Buddy Bench, life is extremely fragile so we need to treat each life as precious. Even when we no longer have those people or creatures here on Earth with us, they will forever be on our minds and in our hearts. We had almost 40 families displaced and many more with water damage due to a 500-year flood which brought several feet of water in their homes. School was cancelled for a week because of the street closures and ramifications. Yet, we had thousands of articles of clothing and shoes, thousands of food items and thousands of dollars worth in gift cards donated to help the families in our community. I've learned that the Katy Council of PTAs is a powerful force to be reckoned with and that in times of need, our Katy ISD community comes together in an outpouring of support like no other on the planet. Amidst the devastation, our community came together with smiles on their faces and their sleeves rolled up ready to help in any way necessary. We had a power outage on the first day in May we were supposed to administer the STAAR tests. Yet, our district and school personnel came together to make sure our students were cared for and able to have the best possible testing environment for the following day. It is one measure of multiple measures we use to determine whether or not our students had academic gains and this year they had a few more weeks to learn before being assessed. Our "pawsome" PTA is so powerful that, together with a little help from our "pawsome" StuCo, they were able to purchase an electronic marquee for our school which will be installed this summer! We had students who did not meet the grade level expectations of our district or state for the year. Yet, every single child made progress in their learning and development. Many former BCE students now seniors returned to celebrate their high school graduation for their Senior Reception and Senior Walk. I'm normally a very emotional person, but I found myself getting choked up even more often towards the end of this school year. All of these trials, tribulations, joys and celebrations are why we do what we do. I see the beauty in every single one of our students, staff members and parents in our community. It is because of them that I jump out of bed every morning ready to take on whatever the day may bring. I know that through the great and difficult times, I'm fortunate to get to do what I love with people that I'm privileged to serve. I look forward to an even better 2016-2017 school year at Bear Creek Elementary carrying out our vision and mission for our students! Thank you for an unforgettable school year. Have a memorable, fulfilling, safe and restful summer 2016!

Monday, March 21, 2016

This is Why I Love Bear Creek by Raul Velazquez

    “If you don't love your work, relax! You are normal.” Wow, when I first read this I thought, ‘wow, Dr. Z is taking a big risk on sending this email, but later, after reading more, I realized that I love my work and I want to tell you why. I love my work not because of the long hours needed to stay abreast of lesson plans and grading, I love my work not because of the amount of paperwork required to complete any assignment, nor because of the amount of meetings. Being a teacher at Bear Creek has given me the opportunity to grow as a person, as a teammate, as a team leader, and as a member of the community. The challenge it represents, has provided me with endless opportunities for growth and an opportunity to exercise the clause in my contract where I am supposed to perform “other assignments as required by the principal.” In all fairness, any teacher now a days is required to complete the same amount of work I do. But this is not why I love my job. Bear Creek has an essential element that distinguishes it from other schools and it boils down to this: people. I have only worked at Bear Creek three years, but now I know it is true what Jennifer Valencia once said “if you walk through the front doors of Bear Creek, you will know the neighborhood.” You are correct Jennifer, this is an awesome community! Every year I have gotten to know more and more people in the Bear Creek neighborhood, and every year I have grown to love more and more of the community and our students. My students are the reason why I love my work! If you are ever around, come to see them. Collectively, they are a group of amazing individuals who eagerly strive to achieve every goal I set before them. Every time they rise to the occasion with a smile and contagious positive attitude. They are the reason why I don’t mind the minutia of “other assignments as required by the principal.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Confessions of a Crossing Guard by Colleen Dominguez

I have a confession to make:  When my principal first presented me with the idea of crossing guard duty, I was NOT all that excited about it.  It wasn’t just that duty was every morning and afternoon (significantly longer than my previous duties), it was also that it was outsideEvery day. I mean, communing with nature is great in theory, but all I could picture was the humidity, and the heat, and the stormy days that would definitely happen. (Ugh- wet hair all day? No thanks.) Could I really do it?  Did I really want to?  You may suppose it was the super bright and shiny vest that attracted me to the job, or the new stop sign, or even the trilling and “powerful” whistle.  It wasn’t any of those things that made me accept the job.  I said yes because it gives me a little more money each month and, well, because it felt right to say yes.  So on the first day of school, I marched on down to the corner with a prayer that I wouldn’t sweat all my make-up off before 8am and I waited for my little people to come.  And then it happened….

So. Much. Waving.  No really, EVERYBODY was waving and smiling.  I mean, I expected people I knew would wave to me, but EVERYBODY was waving.  People I have never seen before, BCE kids and parents, neighbors out walking their dogs, adults of every age out strolling, jogging and biking all waved to me with these sweet and genuine smiles. Teachers that were headed to work waved and smiled!  Kids in the backseat of cars with faces pressed to the window waved and smiled like I was some kind of celebrity! Even the cable guy, construction crews, yard workers, ladies and gentlemen headed to work -all waved like we were old friends. I felt like I was in some sort of surreal parade! Miss America Crossing Guard! It was amazing! And I thought “Surely this is some kind of ‘First Day of School’ mojo where everyone on the planet is in an awesome mood.” This is too good to be true!

And then the thanking began.  As if the smiling and waving wasn’t enough to make my cheeks hurt and my arm tired, people I stopped traffic for actually thanked me.  I heard “I’m so glad you’re here.”  I heard “Thank you so much!” I heard “You have a wonderful day and thanks for keeping us safe.”  Oh. My. Goodness!  I was overwhelmed by how such a simple task- putting up my stop sign so people can cross the road- made them feel so grateful.  Such a simple thing I do, and such a giant response of kindness and gratitude. I felt so uplifted. I felt ‘on top of the world’, quite frankly!

And if you’re believing that it stopped there, you would be mistaken. Day after day, car after car, walker after bike rider.  Teenagers, kids, parents, and neighbors all continue to greet me with warm smiles and waves.  They greet me with genuine thanks and acknowledgement.  I was absent one day, and the following morning a ton of people stopped (no, really, stopped) to tell me they missed me and asked if I was ok!  I confess, I wasn’t at all prepared for crossing guard duty to be a daily testament of how deep down wonderful people in our community really are.  I’ve always know Bear Creek was a great and family-friendly place to live, but I am so moved by the simple and straight-forward kindness of friends and strangers alike.  Every.  Single.  Day.

It’s been six weeks now since I began.  It has been super-hot and humid a lot of days. (Ugh)  Yes, there have been bugs, and pouring rain, and yes, I have definitely sweat my make-up off before 8am.  But it has also been six weeks of standing in nature for an hour each morning, soaking up the sun and enjoying the subtle signs that autumn and cooler weather is on the way.  It’s been six weeks of soaking up the smiles and waves and “Good Morning!” wishes, and the gratitude of passers-by.  It’s been six weeks of overwhelming appreciation and small blessings.  A lady this morning stopped, rolled down her window, and told me how much she liked my shirt.  Seriously, how nice is that!?  Last Friday a man stopped, rolled down his window, and told me to have a wonderful weekend.  A kid brought me a mixture he had made at home to show me the science he was doing. (sniffle, sniffle)  It’s just so ridiculously amazing!  And here’s the startling truth:  It happens all the time. 
I confess that I really had no life-long dream to be a crossing guard.  I confess that my husband (and several of my colleagues and friends) had bets on how long I’d last out there in the outdoors (big surprise-I’m not that outdoorsy).  I confess that I was worried someone might cuss at me (yes- that happens), or almost run me down (yep- that happens, too), or even threaten me or the kids (yes- so scary). But honestly, the negative has been almost non-existent compared to the daily tsunami of joy, gratitude, and good tidings. 
 So I confess, in a serendipitous twist of fate I ended up as being crossing guard… and I absolutely… love… it. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

A New School Year Begins

2015-2016. A new school year! Even though I have experienced many first days and first weeks of school over the course of my lifetime (9 as an administrator, 9 as a teacher, 23 as a student, and 37 overall), I still get the same excited nervousness every single year. I remember my first days of Pre-Kindergarten, 6th grade, 9th grade, college, graduate school, teaching, being an assistant principal and principal as if they were yesterday. Each new chapter and stage of development brought about thrilling new experiences and in that anticipation I remember being ready by about 4AM each time! As a student, it was the unknown and thinking about what would be expected of me each year that created the butterflies in my stomach. As a teacher, it was wondering if I had everything ready for my students and curiosity about who would be filling those seats. Now, as an administrator, I can honestly say that the excited nervousness comes from the desire to make sure we are doing everything we can to give each one of our students the best educational experience possible. Part of each of my spring and summers now is spent making sure we hire the best staff members to teach our students daily and so naturally I hope that we chose wisely. I also want to put all that I continue to learn through my colleagues, book studies, serving on regional and state-wide committee, and attending conferences and other professional development opportunities, to good practice so that it does not just stay with me, but rather so that our teachers, and in turn our students, benefit from that learning.

As a child, I was going to be a physician just like my parents. However, when I had to dissect pigs and frogs in junior high and could not stand the sight of blood without getting nauseous, I quickly realized that the medical field was probably not in my future. Growing up, I spent a couple of weeks each summer visiting family in Ciudad Juarez, where my aunt was a Kindergarten teacher. I would help her during that time and realized that I loved being her classroom helper. It was then that I decided that I would become a teacher and since making that decision, it became my passion to serve underprivileged children through community service during high school and college with organizations such as Amigos de las Americas, Alternative Spring Break, and Phi Delta Kappa Prospective Teachers Camp. During my undergraduate teacher preparation program, I always sought out practica and internships that would allow me to serve in underprivileged communities. In graduate school, I was able to serve students in all five boroughs of New York City by shadowing a Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project staff developer. As a teacher for ten years, I loved serving in Title I campuses with 90% or more free lunch/low socio-economic demographic populations. 

When I became an administrator it was important to me to continue to serve on a Title I campus. Over the course of the past eight years, Bear Creek Elementary’s demographics have changed. When I interviewed, the percentage of the students on Free or Reduced lunch was under 50% and as of last school year, we were at 67%. We have a huge responsibility to ensure that every student, no matter what their life circumstances, has the best possible education possible. Our vision as the heart of the Bear Creek community for almost forty years, is to empower engaged learners to reach their greatest potential. Our mission: “The Bear Creek Elementary Professional Learning Community will provide a safe, positive learning environment that ensures every child achieves personal academic success to inspire them to be life-long learners through collaboration and engagement with innovate best teaching and learning practices that grow the whole child.” I want to continue to dedicate my efforts towards accomplishing our vision and mission with our wonderful community of students, teachers, and parents. I want as many students as possible to have the same opportunities, mentors, experiences, and quality education with which I have been blessed. Happy 2015-2016 Bear Creek Elementary community!