Sunday, April 27, 2014

Week Before Washington, Part One: Morgantown, Wesleyan, and Senator Rockefeller

I will be on the road to D.C. in less than three hours - and I'm not out of bed yet. Well, I was up, but gravity, more likely fatigue, pulled me back down for a few more hours. Fortunately, I only live about 90 minutes from the D.C. metro area, so as long as I'm there by 3:45 for the opening events, my body can remain in standby mode for a little bit longer.

I did not know if I could pull last week off. I was scheduled to go to West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown on Monday and Marshall University (5 1/2 hours away) Wednesday and Thursday. Knowing that I had a big week planned for the end of April, I knew this was going to be hours of driving and a lot of "on time" speaking, walking, navigating...there's so much that goes into appearances and presenting. I love it, more than I ever thought I would, but it's not like I just show up and say a few words. The amount of planning rivals what you do to prepare for students each day in the classroom - if not, do I dare say, more. No two events are the same. You are also the "main event," well with some exceptions like the one I'm going to tell you about, but for the most part, people are gathered together, going out of their way, because you've there. It's a lot of pressure to look and sound good, if not awesome. Factor in that coming from Martinsburg, I have at least three hours of driving to what I hope the GPS is the right location...and the GPS has NO CLUE where to find a parking spot. Ever.

On Monday, I made an extra stop before I went to WVU to Children's Hospital at Ruby Memorial. There are many children who would love to be in school with their classmates but can't for health reasons. I felt compelled to stop by and share Berkeley with the patients in the pediatric wing. Although I did not get to visit with as many kids as I would have hoped, I will remember each of the children I visited with forever. I'm glad I stopped by.
Berkeley waiting patiently in the activity center at Children's

That afternoon I spoke to the student teachers in Sara Aronin's class at WVU on classroom management. That has become my most requested workshop, even before anyone knew it had a kickin' 80s theme (I am an 80s child, after all). I enjoyed meeting with her students, and it's been exciting to have had the chance to influence so many future teachers this year.
Allen Hall

With Sara Aronin's student teachers!

Some of my classroom management goodies from my workshop

Right before I presented at WVU, I received a phone call from Senator Rockefeller's Martinsburg office. Where would I be tomorrow afternoon? Driving to Huntington. Would I be able to stop at West Virginia Wesleyan College to hear Senator Rockefeller interviewed by Ted Koppel and possibly meet him afterwards?


It meant driving in (another) wild and crazy rain storm and leaving home for my trip to Huntington at 9:30 am (when I had gotten home from Morgantown about 12 hours earlier), but how many times does this happen? This year is about being flexible and going with the flow (and going without sleep). Senator Jay Rockefeller is the former president of Wesleyan and also the former governor of West Virginia, in addition to his 50 years of service in the Senate. He is retiring this year from Congress. Some things, you just don't pass up, regardless of weather or lack of sleep.

Senator Rockefeller's "Welcome Home to Wesleyan" event was held in the Virginia Law Performing Arts Center, where I spoke to Wesleyan students back in February (Senator Rockefeller  understandably drew a much larger crowd). Ted Koppel interviewed him about his life in politics and views on public policy. I was very moved by what he had to say about the his reasons for going into public service and him message to the next generation about serving their state and county. Here are some of my favorite remarks made during the interview by Senator Rockefeller:
Senator Rockefeller and Ted Koppel

- On the people in West Virginia living in poverty: "They're pushing a rock with two hands." His analogy was that when one hand is taken off the rock, it rolls backward and you start over once again.
- "Commit yourself to making other people's lives better."
- "Get outside of your comfort zone. Understand what the rest of your country is like."
- On making promises to improve or change situations as a political figure: "If you put your neck on the chopping block and say you're going to get something done, you can have a lot of fun."
- "Public service is anything you do for others." He spoke about other professions that improve and serve the lives of the public.

Afterward, I did get to briefly meet Senator Rockefeller. I'm honored to have met someone who has spent his life working to improve the lives of West Virginians. You can read more about Senator Rockefeller's visit at this link at WOWKTV in Charleston and this link from WV Public Broadcasting.
Being introduced to Senator Rockefeller

I did a quick walk around the Wesleyan campus before I continued on my way to Huntington, as the last time I was in Buckhannon it was buried under five inches of snow (I pretty much drifted down through Main Street into the campus that day...). I stopped at Wesley Chapel, the largest worship space in West Virginia (it seats 1,800 people). It was good to be somewhere peaceful - for a moment - in the midst of all the traveling and changes occurring right now in my life.
The sun came out for a few hours!

Wesley Chapel


12 Apostles

Statue of John Wesley 

Back view of chapel

From there it was on to Huntington to spend two days at Marshall University - which I will have to share with you in another post, because I leave for D.C. in an hour and 45 minutes! Must get up!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spring Break: All Over the Place!

I just finished packing for Washington, D.C., this upcoming week. I have everything ready to go, and am looking forward to a week of amazing experiences and not having to drive myself anywhere (I've logged close to 20 hours of driving over this past week). Before I have anymore adventures, I need to tell you about all of the places I've been in the last two weeks - starting with Spring Break.

No, I did not take Spring Break off - my choice. It gave me the opportunity to meet with a lot of people that I otherwise would have missed. I'm over having a routine and a "normal" schedule anyway. On Monday I went to Alderson-Broaddus University in Philippi (Barbour County) to speak to their student teachers. I had a long, rainy drive on US 119 (the GPS took me on an adventure...again), but made it in one shaky, soggy piece. I appreciate it that Dr. Marsha Sarver asked me to come meet her students. We had a nice time at dinner afterwards, and I learned that the grandmother of one of the student teachers taught with my aunt Dawn at Williamsport Elementary (cue the song "It's a Small World After All..."). This is why I can't turn down any chance I have to meet people - you never know how you are going to connect.
Alderson-Broaddus University

With some of the student teachers after dinner

I turned around and headed home from Philippi that evening because the next day I visited schools in Hardy County with the 2013 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, Mike Funkhouser. Although it was a rainy day that ended with wind and sleet (Spring has sprung...a leak), I had a great time meeting and speaking to the students at Moorefield Intermediate and East Hardy Early Middle. Berkeley was a huge hit, and I enjoyed speaking to all of the fifth grade students about "Control Your S.E.L.F." At the end of the day, I interviewed Mike and David Rudy, a math and chemistry teacher at East Hardy High School, for Be the Difference WV. I am hoping to get the interview up before I leave for Washington - I have been traveling so much that I haven't had the chance to put it together. A big thank you to Mike and his wife Ann for taking me around the schools and keeping me company that day!
With Mike and Jamin Hershberger, 2014 Hardy County Teacher of the Year

Interviewing David Rudy

On Wednesday I went to Berkeley Springs in Morgan County to tape an interview in support of the school levy. It's important that I use my close proximity and title to promote the need for the community to support our school systems. I interviewed Jenna Epstein, a guidance counselor at Warm Springs Intermediate, about why she entered the education profession (similar to what I do with Be the Difference WV) and how the levy passing or not passing impacts her school and position. For more information on the Morgan County School levy, visit  Tom Shade did an excellent job putting together the video, which you can view on Vimeo at this link.
I also stopped by the Health and Benefits fair in Berkeley Berkeley could have his photo-op with the Heisman Trophy.

Thursday...I stayed home! I don't remember what I did, though, except wash clothes and write thank you notes. Let's talk about those thank you note for a minute. Everywhere I go, I meet people who wither have done something special for me or impact me in some way that I feel compelled to write them a note. I can't help myself, I love to write any way - and I know it makes me feel special when I get "happy mail," too. Friday I went to Shepherd in Jefferson County to do a workshop on classroom management in the morning and a presentation on resume and interview advice (titled "Hire Me" - what else?) in the afternoon. I created "Hire Me" and "Who's the Boss" using the iPad app Haiku Deck, which makes the presentations accessible on the web.

Friday was also my 32nd birthday. I feel like I've aged a lot more than one year since this all started, maybe 10. I get cracked on a lot because I'm short and young looking, but I've always felt much older than what I really am. Not sure what can top the events in year 31, except next week. Fun fact: I signed my first autographs on my birthday this year. Three of the teacher education student asked me to sign their brochures from my presentation. I was tickled, not because I think I'm important or anything but it just made me feel cool for a few minutes.Other than my yearly Dairy Queen ice cream cake, I really didn't do anything else to celebrate. This entire year has already been a "party" of sorts, and at this point I'd rather have some sleep than a night out.
Yearly cake pic

My birthday sunset

No weekend homework since it was Easter. I did spend Sunday afternoon preparing for the upcoming week, because it was going to be intense and I was doubting that I had the stamina for it. Remember that nearly 20 hours of driving in one week? That just happened. Aside from the fact that I'm willing to walk, run, or crawl (maybe not if it means I don't have to get behind the wheel of a car, it was an amazing week, one that could only be topped by meeting the president.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekend Homework: EPAC Jazz Brunch, JCRA Literacy Conference, and the Last 6 Miles

My week that started in Parkersburg and stopped in Brooke County in the Northern Panhandle in the middle ended close to home for two Jefferson County events on Saturday. I did not realize I had the amount of stamina that I have until the last few months. When I'm home, I go into "power down" mode, but for the most part I've managed to be upbeat and articulate when I'm doing events, regardless of what I've had scheduled that week or how few hours I've had of sleep. I have never been a procrastinator, and that has been my saving grace this year. That last minute stuff doesn't fly when there are so many things on your schedule to present and speak at - and with a few exceptions, it's never the same speech or presentation twice. When you represent a lot of people, the expectations are that you will be ready to roll and exceptional when it's "showtime." Maybe that's just the expectation I have of myself, but all of those years of being overly detailed and prepared have made this year run a lot smoother.

I split last Saturday between the Jefferson County Reading Association's "Leaders of Literacy" Conference at Shepherd University and the Eastern Panhandle Alumni Chapter (EPAC) of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, where I received the Educator Award at their annual Jazz Brunch. I thought after being named teacher of the year that would be the end of any more recognition ("maxed out," in other words), but between this and PBS Digital Innovators I guess not. I went down to Shepherd to speak at the opening of the literacy conference, then went to the Jazz Brunch to meet with the members of Delta Sigma Theta and accept my award, then back to Shepherd to do my presentation on integrating bridges and West Virginia history with "The Great Bridge Building Contest" at the end of the day.
Howard Burns' Band

With the other awardees

Accepting the Educator Award

After my presentation, I was in dire need of being recharged. It was a beautiful day in Shepherdstown, so I took a walk around Shepherd's campus to enjoy the warm Spring weather before heading home to recharge for Spring Break.

McMurran Hall (and Berkeley)

Some of the pedagogy projects at the literacy conference

My husband's a runner. They say that the last six miles of a marathon are the most demanding because your body and mind have reached their limits, regardless of how much you've trained. As you progress to the finish line, it gets harder to stay focused and hang on to what little energy you have reserved (now I'm just speaking about what I've heard, because I don't run and have no interest in being involved in it aside from cheering from the sidelines...and occasionally reprimanding Brad for overdoing it). April is my last six miles. Oh, this experience and my role are nowhere near over after this month (2014 is 2014, after all), but between now and May 1 when the state teachers of the year are recognized at the White House is when the travel and the expectations are the most intense. Every week this month I feel like I've sprinted up another staircase that the week before seemed impossible to climb. I plan, drive, appear, present, and repeat. It's a time consuming workout that has taught me more about myself and even more about my state. I'm proud, focused, and prepared, but I sure am glad the finish line is in sight.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rewind Wednesday: Brooke County School Visits

I began this post on a Wednesday, and finished it the evening of my 32nd birthday. It's the end of Spring Break, a week that has had me in a different location every day (including one day at home). I've had a chance to reflect on last week's travels to the Northern Panhandle, specifically to visit schools in Brooke County.

"Why on earth would you want to go there?" I've heard that more than once this year. It's no secret that Berkeley and Jefferson counties are strikingly different than much of the rest of West Virginia. With a vein of Interstate 81 running through our area and a steady stream of relocating families from the D.C. metro, our county appears prosperous on an unimaginable scale to those whose towns and livelihoods are crumbling. The farthest reaching counties of the Eastern Panhandle are like a bulging, sculpted bicep on a body crippled with the side effects of poverty and a headache of a recent water crisis.

That's why I have to go "there" - and any other forgotten place in this state that will have me. Being teacher of the year is not a prize, and the longer I am in this role, I feel that it's not even an award. Awards don't take you away from your family for lonely days on end (I can't imagine doing this with young children), have you up hours late at night packing and planning when you body is pleading with you for a full night's rest, or positively break your heart when you view the broken circumstances of children and their communities. This is an experience, an opportunity to view this state through the lens of an educator. It's a chance to break through the isolation that geographically divides us. I'm not part of a part anymore, but of a whole - and there are many things you must simply see to understand. I go "there" because I represent every teacher and student, and I want to know them.

I began my trip to Brooke County feeling grey (if I could choose a color) and frustrated. Unsure of the area - my last visit to the Northern Panhandle was more than ten years ago - I became increasingly distressed as I tried to navigate the road construction and obey GPS directions, to no avail ("Recalculating..."). I was doubting the impact I was really having on anyone. I left my camera I use for Be the Difference WV at home, feeling that maybe I was just wasting time sharing stories and inconveniencing people who had greater priorities than to endure questioning under the watchful lens of my 3 megapixel recorder.

The first school I visited was Bethany College to speak to their education majors about Web 2.0 tools. Bethany is a beautiful school of about 800 students - the  architecture of its main building reminds me of a castle. The Hurl Building, where the education program is housed, is a former high, middle, and elementary school. You can still see the eraser marks on the bricks where the students beat the chalk out of them against the building. I'm appreciative to professor Angela Icard for hosting me for the afternoon.

The Hurl Building at Bethany College

The next day I went to Follansbee Middle School to speak to their students about Control Your S.E.L.F. (Social Life and Media, Education, Lifestyle, Future). Follansbee has around 500 students in grades five through eight (many schools in the state have fifth grade in their middle schools). I was really impressed that Michelene Mills, the school's new principal, took the time to arrange for me to speak to the student body. My visit and message of making positive choices became even more timely, as the day before a high school student stabbed 21 other students in Pittsburgh, just 45 minutes away. A reporter from the Steubenville (Ohio) Daily Star came to speak to me about my program and how it relates to middle school students; you can read the story at this link. It just goes to show that you never know what you have to say will become incredibly relevant. One of the fifth graders quietly came up to me when she was leaving the auditorium and said "I think you taught a lot of people some life lessons today."

I ended the day with a visit to Colliers Primary, a West Virginia School of Excellence. Many of the teachers at Colliers were there when I was named teacher of the year in October. As part of their positive behavior recognition for the third nine weeks, I shared Berkeley and his Sugar Maple Friends with their students in grades Kindergarten through fourth. Berkeley brings joy wherever he goes. With a little black bear and his perspective on his adventures, I'm able to share my journey with a generation of West Virginians that can use the generated excitement to be curious about their world and contribute to their community.

The students, as always, left me with joy and purpose. If I accomplish nothing else this year, I know that what I've done positively impacts children. As I packed up to go home (and asked for directions to avoid getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike), I talked to the teachers and staff about the area. Brooke and Hancock counties, once prosperous from the steel industry, have seen a lot of economic hardship in recent times and a decline in population - both of which impacts the outlook and opportunities for students.

As I walked out of the gymnasium, the custodian, unfolding tables for tomorrow's breakfast, said "I wish more people would focus on the good news. Most of what we see and hear about schools is so negative. These kids and adults need to know what's going on in schools that's right."

The good news. The people I meet along this journey teach me so much at unexpected times. What we do to highlight and show appreciation for those around us is never wasted. People want to be lifted up, and with the mounting stress and fatigue, I had forgotten that. This year is about the people of West Virginia - their stories, their future. Within two days, I had met future teachers, a middle school student body and their determined, hard working principal, and the students and staff of a small, successful primary school. My travels are the opportunity to teach others about what is truly needed to use education as a change agent - and give others a voice.

There is hope and potential wherever I go - and I wish I would have brought my camera.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Homework: WV DAR, WV PTA, and Ohio Valley University

Let me start this out by acknowledging that all teachers have weekend homework. Maybe it's grading papers, or surfing Pinterest, or just thinking about how you ended a week with a certain student, but when you are a teacher, your job always comes home with you.

This year, I've taken my job on the road. I have several weekends over the next two months where I will be out and about, in addition to my responsibilities during the week. It's a lot, and I'm feeling it. April is going to be a big month in regards to travel, events, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. That being said...I just got home from my "weekend homework assignment," and I'm beat. I haven't gotten up from the couch yet.

My weekend began at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg to address the West Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) conference. Much of the behind the scenes work as teacher of the year is logistics. I stayed for lunch and to speak to the WV DAR members, but had to time it so that I left in time to get across the state to Parkersburg by 6:30 (that's a four hour drive from Martinsburg, if you don't make any stops). It was tight, but I made it work! I was also honored to receive the Golden Apple Award from the WV DAR and state regent, Barby Frankenberry (also a Berkeley County Teacher of the Year).
WV DAR Annual Conference

With President General Lynne Young and State Regent Barby Frankenberry

Seeds of Learning Centerpieces :-)

Addressing the DAR members

Receiving the Golden Apple Award

I made it to Parkersburg with an hour to spare and spoke to the West Virginia Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that evening. It was great to have so many PTA members from Berkeley County there in attendance. I am very appreciative to Justin Raber, WV PTA president, for asking me to give the keynote at their awards ceremony. He was the first person to contact me about doing a speaking engagement back in October.
With a student member of the Musselman Middle PTSA

With National PTA Board Member Melissa Nehrbass and WV PTA president Justin Raber

On Sunday, I set out to do a little exploring. It was a gorgeous Sunday, but unfortunately Blennerhasset Island is not open until May 1. It's a beautiful state park in Parkersburg with a lot of history, and I was really hoping to see it while I was in town. No such luck - guess it means I need to come back! After taking a little walk, I prepared to speak to the education majors at Ohio Valley University that evening. They were a wonderful audience, and I'm glad I was able to coordinate my Parkersburg visit to include their school.
Stand-in picture until I visit Blennerhasset Island...someday...

Education majors at Ohio Valley University

This morning I headed home to take a breather before I visit the Northern Panhandle this week. I could have done without the dense fog (absolutely no visibility) between Finzel and Cumberland, but I made it home in one (frazzled) piece. The press release for this years PBS Digital Innovators was also released, so I'm excited to share that with you now as something that I will be doing during the 2014-15 school year. 100 educators were selected to work with and learn from PBS LearningMedia. You can read the bios of the selected educators at this link.

Heads up -  there are going to be a lot of blog posts this month. Writing relaxes me, and right now I need that as I pick up and travel to several school systems and colleges over the next few weeks. I've got some reflection pieces I'm working on as well that I also want to share with you. Traveling by yourself is grueling, especially when you are lugging your own equipment and traveling long distances (and so far this year, through perilous weather). I wouldn't trade in any experience I've had, but I miss just being Mrs. Sponaugle. When you are away from home a lot, you miss the things often taken for granted - especially family members. I will never just be Mrs. Sponaugle again - and that's a good thing. I needed this year to grow and become what I was meant to be (more on that in another post). However, those moments when I am with students, as "just a teacher" will forever be greatly appreciated.