Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December Recap - The Year Ahead

For a year that has brought so many new experiences, I'm choosing to end it quietly.

Tonight, it's going to be me, Brad, and NYC via Ryan Seacrest's Rockin' New Year's Eve. The way I see it, the upcoming year is going to be one big celebration of sorts, so I can take the night off. It feels comforting just to be home with familiar things, and I know the upcoming year will often take me away from them. So I choose to wrap up this year in peace. When the clock turns to 12:00 in a few hours, I'll officially embark on my year, and the past two and-a-half months have prepared me for what's ahead.

December found me on a one-person mission to visit the rest of the schools in Martinsburg for Be the Difference WV. I don't want to abandon this project or my commitment to making it to all of the schools in Berkeley County this year, and I knew this month would be my "window" to record as many interviews as possible. I made it to every school in Martinsburg except one, leaving just the schools in the southern part of the county for the second semester. For those of you that haven't been to Berkeley County, we are small in square miles but exploding in term of population. Just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., many families relocate to our area of the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia so they can still commute to their jobs in the metro area. That means a lot of students, and a lot of schools. I still have about ten more schools to cover in our county, and hope to be including those from around the state in the very near future.
With Melany Delong at Burke Street Elementary

I did two radio interviews - one with Cecelia Mason for West Virginia Public Radio, and another with Marsha Chwalik for the Panhandle Spotlite on WEPM 1340 and WLTF 97.5. Marsha - who is a former English teacher for Berkeley County Schools - also had me record some intros ("This is Erin Sponaugle, and your listening to 97.5, W-L-T-F") for some of Prettyman Broadcasting's stations, so be listening for them in the upcoming year! What's ironic is that Cecilia Mason, who is the Eastern Panhandle Bureau Chief for WVPR, was a guest speaker for one of my journalism courses at Shepherd before I changed majors - and she remembered me! Funny how things come full circle :-)

With Marsha at Prettyman Broadcasting
I also was a part of the Martinsburg Chamber of Commerce Education Day for their Leadership Berkeley Class. I spoke to members of the community participating in this event at James Rumsey Technical Institute, a vocational school that serves students in Berkeley, Morgan, and Jefferson Counties. High school and post secondary students have the opportunity to learn a trade and certification in a number of fields, ranging from Automotive Technology to Graphic Design to Masonry. We are fortunate to have such an institution in our area that prepares students to become a part of the workforce.

Another part of Education day that I took part in was touring our county's beautiful new Spring Mills High School. At 250,000 square feet, it is projected to become the largest high school in West Virginia. The structure and technology in this facility are astounding, and it's exciting to see what our students will have access to as they are prepared for the future.

Spring Mills High School at night

I ended the day interviewing two teachers for Be the Difference WV at Winchester Avenue Elementary, a school in downtown Martinsburg that opened its doors in 1920. Looking at the portraits of the former principals lining the hallways as I left that day, I reflected on the variety of teachers and facilities we have in our area to serve our students and community. Whether it's a  technical school preparing students to assume a vocation, a state-of-the-art facility introducing high school students to the tools of tomorrow, or a small, urban school with a lot of history and devotion to setting the foundation for our youngest pupils, the commonality all have is the future. What goes on within our walls, wherever we teach, is just prelude for what is to come for our students. 

My month concluded with a personal trip to Austin, Texas, to celebrate the wedding of one of Brad's track and field teammates from Wheeling Jesuit University. It was great to see Jason and visit the capital of the Lonestar State. Within the next month, I will have traveled to two more state capitals - Charleston, for the State of the State address, and Phoenix, for the first meeting of all the state teachers of the year. 

With Brad at the reception
We fit in some time to visit the capitol building before we left. It's the largest state capitol in the United States and taller than the federal capitol building in Washington, D.C. There are also four floors of 700,000 square feet of office space below ground!

Beautiful Day!

Guess Who :-)

Star at center of Rotunda is eight feet!

Delegates chamber - tree has an ornament from each delegate's district

Austin skyline
...And now, I'm home, ending the year much differently than I started it. Next year is a blank slate that will quickly fill up with memories. I have more to share with you before we return from break about the programs and platforms I hope to enact in the upcoming year, but for now, I'll leave you with the message that drives what I resolve to accomplish in 2014. Happy New Year - and God bless you all!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

McDonald's Presentation

In between adventures the week before Thanksgiving, McDonald's of Martinsburg and the McDonald's Family Foundation came to Tomahawk on Wednesday to donate $1,000 to my classroom and treat our fifth grade to a magic show performed by Ronald McDonald. The students loved it (who doesn't want to start their day out with Ronald?), and once again I am tremendously grateful for the generosity that has been shown to my classroom and school.
Thank you, McDonald's!

Helping Ronald with his magic act

With Ronald and a representative from McDonald's
 I also had the chance to briefly speak to the students. I miss them - but I know they are in good hands. When you are away and come back to a school like Tomahawk, you realize what a wonderful place it is to teach - as in, you can tell when you walk in the front door. None of  what has transpired over this year this would have happened had I ended up anywhere else. You can watch my (very brief) message at this link.

The next few days will be almost normal. I get to be with my students for a few days, and in between will be doing two radio interviews - one for WV Public Radio, the other for our local station. I am also attempting to make it to all of the schools in Martinsburg for Be the Difference WV by our winter break. The month of January is going to be the busiest of all, so if I am to make it to all of the schools in Berkeley County as planned ( and add others) I have to stay on it! There are some other projects I am working on that I will be sharing in the next few weeks as well.

When I was "just" in the classroom, I kept a very full schedule and was never content - I had to keep creating, stretching. I "think" myself to sleep most nights :-) Now that I have this opportunity to have a classroom with "no walls" for a year, I want to see what I can possibly create that will bring joy and success to others. It's the least I can do for a profession that impacted my own life beyond anyone's imagination.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rewind Wednesday: Stonewall Resort and Greenbrier

Today was like taking one giant deep breath, then slowly exhaling. It's finally Thanksgiving Break. The past two months have been a rush. I have much to be thankful for this holiday, and I am deeply grateful for a chance to relax with family for a few days.

Last week was the first of the many times I will travel the Mountain State this year. That being said, these were already events that I had scheduled to participate in prior to October 9th. They just held greater significance for me now, because they became a part of my year representing the teachers of Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia.

Last Friday I traveled to the Stonewall Resort in Weston for the Instructional Materials Criteria Committee. It is located within the Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park in Lewis County. Although the location was peaceful, my mind was split thinking about my presentations for the West Virginia Reading Association (WVRA) conference that was less than a week away. I stayed up late every evening making sure I had everything ready, because the turnaround time I had to get everything together when I came home was, oh, a day-and-a-half.

Oh, Deer!

Old Sorrel, named after Stonewall Jackson's horse

Beautiful lake at Stonewall
Monday evening I returned home, for, as I said, a day-and-a-half. In between, I was honored by the McDonald's Family Foundation, which I will share in another post (stay tuned). Wednesday afternoon, it was back in the car with some fellow teachers to attend the WVRA Conference at The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs. It was originally built in 1858, and became known as The Greenbrier in 1910. Twenty six U.S. presidents have stayed here. The resort was an army hospital during World War II, and also interred foreign diplomats who were considered a threat to the U.S. during the war. There's also a bunker at The Greenbrier that was designated to house members of Congress in an emergency during the Cold War. It's positively stunning - larger than life. Here are some - some! - of the pictures I took while there.
Hotel Room Hallway 
Oh, Christmas Tree...

Main Lobby

Main Lobby

Entry Way

All decorated for Christmas

One of the many beautiful rooms
Chandelier from "Gone with the Wind"

Spring House

Night View

In addition to absorbing the surroundings :-), I also attended the conference and did two presentations, one on integrating "The Great Bridge Building Contest" (a children's book on the building of the Philippi Bridge) into the curriculum, and another on using Web 2.0 tools in reading and writing instruction. I was also honored to be recognized by the First Lady of West Virginia, Joanne Tomblin, during her remarks in the closing general session.

By the time we returned home Friday, I felt like I had accomplished a lot - and my body was paying for it. One thing that I have learned very quickly this year is that I have to, I must, take care of myself. As teachers, we naturally push ourselves to the limit - staying up late, gobbling our lunch in record time (and amazingly not choking)...and holding it to go to the bathroom on numerous occasions. I've been doing this for years, and now...well, it's either put on the breaks or crash.

That being said, I was recharged enough by Monday to interview Rhonda Foreman and Elaine Unnone, teachers at Martinsburg High School, for Be the Difference WV. You can view their episode by clicking on this link.

And now...it's time to rest and give thanks. I have been blessed beyond measure this year, to the point where there is simply no way I can repay what I have received. So when you can't repay it, you pay it forward - and I intend to, in a multitude of ways.

Right after I breathe in, and breathe out.
One last picture!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Berkeley County Schools Community Celebration

I don't sleep well in hotel rooms, at least on the first night. This could be a long year.

As I try to bring myself to the point where it doesn't matter what the bed feels like or who walks by my room, I'll write about the awesomeness that was Tuesday evening. Why yes, I do use and like the word "awesomeness." It's zippy, peppy, and all encompassing  of an experience that is/was completely positive. So, whenever I experience something that blows me away, "awesomeness" it is, no matter who I am or what I become.

On Tuesday, Berkeley County Schools and the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce held a Community Celebration in my honor at the Holiday Inn. A special thanks goes to Margaret Kursey, Elaine Bobo, and the BCS communication department for planning a very thoughtful evening. It is very humbling to have people go out of their way to do very nice, beautiful things for you - and it's quickly risen to a point where there is no way I can make it up to anyone for their generosity. It was a beautiful event with members of the community and many of my closest colleagues and family members.

With Heather and Katie, the best teacher friends ever

My cousins, Kaitlyn and Andrea

My in-laws, Brad, and parents

More teacher friends Nicole and Jessica

Finally! A Lewis picture :-)

My Tomahawk Family

I was honored to have several people speak on my behalf Tuesday night - and to share the stage with Beverly Hoffmaster, the 1992 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, as well as Michael Funkhouser, last year's teacher of the year who made the trek to Martinsburg for the second time in less than a week. I know that Hardy County's not on the other end of the state, but I really appreciate it that he has taken the time to support me over the last month.

2013, 2014, 1992

At the end, I was able to say a few words about my goals for the year and a little about who I am and how I got here. The more I watch myself speak, the more I notice things I need to "fix" - so I guess my documenting of my year serves a dual purpose. Speaking, no matter how you try to spin it positively, is something I have to work at - and I know it. I've come a long way though, and only those that know me best know how far. You can hear my speech by clicking on this link.

...And now, I think I typed my way into a foggy-enough haze that I just might sleep for a few hours. I've got a busy week ahead - I'm definitely going to need it.

Special Visitors

Boom! Boom! Boom! That pretty much sums it up.

The past three weeks have been like the finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display. I've always had multiple events and/or projects going on at once. Sometimes, I wonder why I do it to myself, or why things seem to gravitate in my direction. Now I know why. No words can describe the amount of multitasking you suddenly acquire when you become teacher of the year. If you aren't someone who can concentrate on seemingly hundreds of "to dos" on a list that grows by the minute, you become one fast...and I am eternally grateful for every responsibility, task, and hurdle that has been put in my way in the past eleven years, because without that kind of "boot camp," I wouldn't be prepared for this.

...And, although it's a lot to absorb and navigate, I do feel prepared. It's still surreal that I'm here, but I've accepted that this was meant to happen - and I hope I can do some amazing things with it.

So what's been up? Well, three weeks ago (unbelievable it's been that long), I was actually having a fairly normal school week. I was back in the classroom with my students, just being Mrs. Sponaugle. Then Tuesday evening the phone rang. Richard Belisle from the Herald-Mail (a newspaper in Hagerstown, Maryland, that covers our bordering Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia) was calling to arrange a time to not only interview me, but also my students and see my classroom. He wanted to know if he could come Thursday or Friday, so of course I said Thursday (because if you have ever been in a school on a Friday you perfectly understand why). As soon as I hung up, I gasped.

Thursday was Halloween - and if you have ever been in a school on Halloween, you also perfectly understand why.

I'm human. I'm a teacher, with flaws and positives like everyone else. So the immediate thought of having a reporter AND photographer come to my classroom on the most sugar-infested, crazy behavior inducing holiday of the year was a little, shall we say, spooky. However, it all went just fine. In fact, I think it took the focus off of "What are going to dress up as tonight?" and put it on to "Did he take your picture? Did he ask you a question? He took MY PICTURE!! He asked me LOTS of questions!!" My students loved getting to talk to a reporter and being photographed. Although not every picture or quote they gave made it in the paper (we had to have a discussion about how writing a newspaper article and editing works), they clearly enjoyed being celebrities. You can read the article at this link.

The following Thursday, we had a special visit from Michael Funkhouser, the 2013 West Virginia Teacher of the Year. Michael is an instructional coach at East Hardy High School. I appreciate that he took time to come up to our school on a rainy day to meet with my class and let them ask him questions. They all remarked what a very nice man he was after he left - and I would have to agree. He is a wonderful, sincere person - and it's pretty remarkable when a classroom of ten-year-olds picks that up in a matter of minutes.
Mr. Funkhouser
In between, I also taped some interviews for Be the Difference WV at Eagle School Intermediate and Opequon Elementary. I am trying to double up and get as many schools in Martinsburg covered by the end of December, because my schedule for January is almost solid. December, not so much at this point. Then again, I haven't checked my e-mail today yet.

It's strange being out of the classroom so much. In past years, I am hardly ever out - and then, it's only been for school business with two or three exceptions. Being a teacher is part of my identity, my daily routine. I'm getting ready to leave for the Stonewall Resort in Walkersville to work on the instructional criteria for English Language Arts, then next Thursday and Friday I'm at the West Virginia Reading Conference. Those are things I had planned to take on before this happened, but it's very much a preview of what's to come. I have wonderful, capable people who can step up and take over for me, but "fading" out of my role at Tomahawk, although temporary, makes me a little sad. I mean, I love teaching there - and suddenly I'm everyone's teacher, with a much larger classroom. Which means my role in my own classroom, my little spot on Earth, takes a back seat.

Now, I'm the special visitor.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week in Review: Apple Harvest Parade and New Teacher Mixer

Right now, I'm a little sleepy. Alex, my big, orange, kitty, is keeping me awake by grunting at me whenever I stop scratching behind his ears (which makes typing a little difficult).

It's been a busy seven days.

Last Saturday, I rode in the Apple Harvest Parade, an event of the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival in Martinsburg. If you remember in my last post, I was quite tickled they asked me to be in it, shortly after the school year began. And it was absolutely, purely fun to get to wave at my family, friends, and students ("There's Mrs. Sponaugle!!! There's Mrs. Sponaugle!!!") along the parade route. As I said previously, every teacher should get to feel so special.

Thanks, Jim, for driving me in your car!
Ready to roll!

Driving up Queen Street

I taped an episode at Potomack Intermediate on Monday for Be the DifferenceWV. A big thanks to Lauren Mongada and Cathy Stickel for letting me interview them. I hope to get it up on my YouTube channel tomorrow - there's been so much else going on I haven't had time yet to put the segments together. My head is still swimming (remember the Olympic backstroke?) with how to balance my classroom with my new responsibilities. Which is why I am catching myself nodding off to sleep as I write this - except Alex, the big orange kitty, has now proceeded to the kitchen to yowl like Tarzan for a late night snack.

On Tuesday, I attended the New Teacher Mixer at the Purple Iris. There were about 70 new teachers from Berkeley County Schools, as well as some of our school business partners. This was actually my second event for new teachers in our area, as I spoke to the 200+ newly hired teachers in our school system this year at a breakfast at the start of the school year. It was a nice event to introduce the new teachers in our county to one another, as well as to some of the resources for young professionals in our area. 

With some of the new teachers from Tomahawk
New Teacher Mixer
Purple Iris

I spoke at this event as well about how I began my teaching career, the importance of community, and my three A's for new teachers. You can watch my speech at this link. 

Today, I presented at the National Board Certification cohort in Berkeley County. I am a candidate support provider for those pursuing National Board Certification in our school system. My sweet, fellow CSPs, some of which mentored me when I was going through National Board certification, presented me with an NBCT pin to wear during my travels this year. I strongly support the National Board process and introducing teachers to the benefits of achieving certification. In an era of monumental education reform, we need quality teachers who remain in our school systems throughout their careers. The incentives of National Board Certification provide a link to that - but I'll have to expand on that in another post.

Tomorrow is my day off. I will spend it preparing this upcoming week for my students, as well as planning what I want to accomplish this year as the West Virginia Teacher of the Year. I have many ideas, goals for communicating to the rest of the country all the good that occurs in our public school system. I want to be the same "go-getter" that I've been in the classroom - while still maintaining a presence in my own classroom this year.

My entire message is centered around being the difference, breaking away from the norm in order to move forward. I want to redefine, "reimagine" (my new, favorite un-word) what it means to be a representative of education. Can a 5th grade teacher do that? 

We'll find out - right after I give this grumpy, orange kitty his snack (and end his evening concert).
- Erin

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Be the DifferenceWV

It all started with a phone call.

The first week of school, there was a message in my mailbox to call Myra Robertson. I couldn't recall who this was, but during my lunch I returned her call.

"Hey, Erin! I sat beside you during the New Teacher Breakfast last week! We were wondering if the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year would like to ride in the Apple Harvest Parade."

Naturally, I responded like any mature adult who happends to work with ten and eleven-year-olds all day would:

"OOOOOOH! I'd love to - that would be so cool! Thank yoooooou!"

Yes, I really did say that - but that first week of school, when you're learning the names and personalities of 24 new people, bogged down with work, and pulled in more directions than you know exist, a little pick-me-up along the lines of "someone wants you to be in a parade" will make you about half giddy.
With Melanie Cox, Hedgesville Elementary

As I glided back to my classroom, though, I  felt a little pang of guilt. This was the first of many "so cool" things, little pick-me-ups that I would get to experience this school year. People are eager to do nice things and "showcase" me to Berkeley County and the rest of the state. It feels good to get positive attention, when often in education that isn't the case.

What about the rest of my colleagues? Not just in my beautiful school, but in my school district. There are many talented, dedicated educators who teach their entire careers without one nod of recognition...and they don't mind. Even if they do, they will keep doing their best to improve the lives of our students, because they know that's what matters most.

They won't speak on a stage and get a standing ovation. Their names won't appear in the newspaper for days in a row. They won't return a phone call asking them to be in a parade. They should, though - each one of them.

I started to think, in between sorting emergency cards and carefully writing my new students' names on everything, what I could do to make my colleagues feel special. In a way, I felt helpless and undeserving. There's no way I can do anything that would really matter. Nobody's really bothered anyway - they're too busy doing their jobs while I soak up an escalating amount of attention.
With MaggieBeth Ponton, Hedgesville Middle

Frustrated, I hopped on my laptop when I got home and swung on to YouTube. Maybe a silly video or two would change my mood.


So, in between watching Ninja Cat and Sarah Bareilles' music video for "Brave" three or four times, I got it. People get on YouTube to watch all kinds of things (let's just leave it at that). You can watch it on the computer, your phone - who needs television? Why not a web show, just about how special teachers are - and why they are the true "super stars" in a generation consumed with celebrities and reality show contestants?

And so, Be the DifferenceWV was born. Each week, I go to a school in Berkeley County and interview two teachers about why they went into teaching, what they love about working with students, and what they wish the public understood about education. The latter is important, because negative public perception brings down teacher morale. When you don't feel good about who you are and what you do, it can affect your performance in the classroom - which in turn just hurts students. Teachers are good people - incredible people. They deserve to be celebrated for their selflessness and perseverence in spite of the stressors that come from a life in the classroom.

I don't have a lot of experience with speaking on camera or playing Barbara Walters - but I like it. I'm a one woman, one camera crew that sets up my camcorder on a tripod, hits "record," and scurries around to the other side. It's fun, but more importantly, I'm giving other teachers a chance to take center stage and feel important. I feature a range of teachers, from elementary to high school, from brand new to the profession to seasoned veterans. My goal is to make it to every school in Berkeley County by the end of the year. Now that I represent all of the teachers in West Virginia, I'm hoping to feature other parts of the state as well.

Teachers are the difference. In the midst of all the hoopla this year, my mission is to also elevate the teaching profession. I hope you'll tune in this year so you can learn about the teachers in the Mountain State. You can reach my channel at this link.

Consider it my own, virtual, teacher parade.

- Erin

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rewind Wednesday: Wonders of West Virginia Celebration

As the song goes, "Oh, what a night!"

I sit here this evening exhausted after a day of school. My school bag is full of papers and projects to grade from when I was out last week. There's a colorful assortment of thank you cards at my feet (I sit on the floor to do just about everything) to deliver to all of those who have expressed their love and congratulations to me over the past few days. I have video to upload from my interviews for my "Be the DifferenceWV" episode I taped this afternoon at Marlowe Elementary. In my head I'm starting to "write" out my lesson plans for next week.

I'm just a teacher, who just found out I represent a lot of other teachers. My head isn't just swimming; it's doing the Olympic backstroke.

For the record, I never expected it to be my name called last week. There are no guarantees in life, and although I wanted this opportunity, I realized that it was just an honor to be there celebrating with those who have supported me immensely throughout my career in Berkeley County Schools. The Clay Center is a beautiful facility, and the Wonders of West Virginia Celebration was a well planned event that recognized the county teachers of the year, Schools of Excellence, and other educators who have received awards in the last school year.
With my parents, Scott and Debbie Lloyd
My husband, Brad

With my principal, Beth McCoy, and the best teacher friend ever, Heather McCain

My former assistant principal at Tomahawk, Lewis Mullenax, also attended, along with our superintendent, Manny Arvon, deputy superintendent, Don Dellinger, and assistant superintendent, Margaret Kursey. Although one of our schools, Hedgesville Elementary, was also being honored that evening as a School of Excellence, that's a lot of people to travel nearly five hours from the Eastern Panhandle. Silly as it may seem, I started to feel very wobbly and shaky once we all sat down and the ceremony began. It was made very clear to me beforehand to prepare a speech "just in case." It all started to sink in that maybe that wasn't "just in case" but "just because."

The food looked absolutely delicious but I hardly ate anything - and I love ooey, gooey deserts. Didn't even touch them. Someone said at one point I looked so white she thought I was going to pass out. I walked up once to be recognized for being the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year, then once more for being one of the four finalists.

And then this happened:
Thank you so much for taking this, Lewis
West Virginia is a state that doesn't always get a lot of positive press. Teachers everyday use their talents and dedication to the profession to do their best to educate our students, regardless of the misconceptions that exist in public opinion. There are thousands of teachers in our state that do incredible things, greater things than I'll ever achieve. It has been a long road for me personally to become the teacher and individual I am today. I wish my aunt Dawn was here to see this.

That's pretty much everything that went through my mind in the following 30 seconds after my name was called out as the West Virginia Teacher of the Year.  

After a quick picture with a banner emblazoned with my name and a beautiful clock handcrafted in Huntington (it's ticking quietly in the background as I type). I gave my prepared "just in case" speech. Standing in front of my peers, some of which were standing themselves, watching from the second floor balcony of the Benedum Grand Lobby, I had a lot of emotion, but also a lot of peace and resolve. I had never met most of the people gathered there that evening, and this was my chance, in the next few minutes, to introduce myself.  Click on this link to go to my acceptance speech. I'm so glad my husband was able to tape it in its entirety.

Needless to say, there were a lot of excited people once the ceremony was over with. Lots of hugs and hurrahs :-) It's the first time in 21 years that the West Virginia Teacher of the Year is from Berkeley County, the first being Beverly Hoffmaster in 1992. I don't quite feel worthy yet, and don't know if I ever will. Right now, I'm swimming my own version of the Olympic backstroke in my head. I can't see where I'm going, but I'm navigating the waters as fast as I can. Here's hoping in the next few days I can say I've touched the shore.
- Erin