SODA, PPD curricular presentations highlight school board meeting

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MFL MarMac SODA members SaFire Zinkle, Macie Weigand, Destiny Berns, Ethan Stubbs, Max Havlicek, Jacob Trudo, Micah Decker and Cassidy Penrod, along with staff members Jackie McGeough and Megan Schellhorn, visited the state capitol in Des Moines on Feb. 21, where they met with legislators Kristi Hager and Michael Bergan about substance abuse in area communities. Some of the students spoke about the experience at the March 12 school board meeting. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Members of MFL MarMac High School’s SODA (Students Opposed to Drugs and Alcohol) group spoke at the March 12 school board meeting, sharing details about their Feb. 21 visit to the state capitol for “Day on the Hill.”

In Des Moines, students met with legislators Kristi Hager and Michael Bergan, discussing substance abuse issues in area communities. The students’ visit was sponsored by the 5C Coalition, which works to raise awareness about and combat substance abuse in Clayton County.

The students learned about a variety of topics. For SODA President Micah Decker, vaping (the use of electronic cigarettes) was the most interesting.

“People think, because it doesn’t have nicotine, that it’s not dangerous,” he shared. “But a study came out that says it has chemicals in it that still hurt your body.”

Destiny Berns enjoyed listening to a doctor who spoke about the effects of alcohol on the body. Most startling, she said, is how it can stunt teens’ growth.

Macie Weigand was intrigued by a bill that would raise the tax on beer. Iowa’s 19-cent tax currently places it at 31st in the nation, she said. A 5-cent raise, to 24 cents, would place Iowa in the top-25 and land an additional $41 million. Those funds would go to groups like SODA.

Before attending “Day on the Hill,” SaFire Zinkle said the students were tasked with writing letters about a substance abuse issue to their legislator, in the hopes of forming a greater connection. 

“I wrote about how, in the McGregor area, meth and marijuana issues are going on and how the police aren’t doing anything about it,” she explained. She appreciated getting to discuss that with Hager. “I found it easy to talk to her.”

SODA adviser Jackie McGeough said this is the second year students have attended “Day on the Hill” events. It’s a good opportunity for the group, which, now in its third full year, boasts around 70 members.

“Hopefully, this is something we can continue to do year after year,” she said.

The SODA program wasn’t the only curricular presentation shared with school board members last week. They also heard from staff about the district’s personalized professional development, or PPD, efforts.

Most Wednesdays, MFL MarMac students are released an hour early, at 2:20 p.m. But staff don’t head home early, too. Rather, they use that extra time for training and vertical articulation—making sure subject curriculums align from grade to grade. They also participate in personalized professional development.

Through PPD, explained middle school teacher and instructional coach Brent Pape, staff “find weak spots in instruction or find ways to strengthen their students and collaborate with other teachers.”

Pape said each teacher follows their own individual journey, first researching an area of instruction on which they would like to focus. They then integrate that research into their classrooms and reflect on how it worked. Finally, teachers share what they learned with other staff, post their findings via a blog or social media, or even present at a conference.

Through her PPD journey, fifth grade teacher Shauna Lange wanted to build her students’ love of reading, and delved into whether students were more motivated to read with the use of projects rather than quizzes.

“The process has been really rewarding for me, my classroom and students,” she said, in that it’s created a culture of reading. “That time helps me be a better teacher.”

Middle school teacher Stephanie Jones also hoped to promote life-long reading through her PPD journey. 

“My research started with how to get students to be life-long readers while still adhering to the standards,” she said.

She’s working toward accomplishing that through book clubs and book talks. Staff have been encouraged to post information about the books they’re reading outside their doors. Students are also taking photos with books they enjoy reading, then posting them at school.

Seeing the reading activities promoted at the middle school, Melissa Haberichter, teacher librarian and instructional coach, said she became motivated to do the same at the high school.

“We can’t have students leave eighth grade, then come to high school and be proud of never checking out a book in four years,” she said. “I want to make sure kids are reading here, too.”

Haberichter has even created a young adult book club with some of the teachers and para-professionals in the Monona Center. They get together once a month and read young adult books, in the hopes of developing empathy and living a bit in their students’ shoes.

“The goal is for students to see teachers reading, see that it’s OK to read, it’s OK to have a book in hand,” she stated.

In addition to teachers, Pape said administrators are also following their own PPD journeys. A variety of journeys are occurring, not all focusing on reading.

“Anything teachers want to learn more about, we give them time to do that,” he said.

For example, during her PPD time, Jones said she’s also been able to research meditation and yoga in the classroom.

PPD journeys aren’t set in stone, said Pape. Teachers can change their focus at any point in time. 

Throughout their journeys, teachers receive license plates  recognizing their efforts. So far, around 30 have been distributed, Pape noted, and they can be found hanging outside teachers’ doors. Students have, naturally, been curious about what it means.

“It’s a good message, for kids to see teachers are learning too,” Pape said.

Jones agreed: “Most teachers enjoy learning as much as we do teaching.”

Other news

• The board accepted the resignation of high school science teacher and athletic director Tom Oppelt. Oppelt had resigned as head football coach several months ago. The board also accepted the resignation of Eliza Philpott as head high school cross country coach, pending a suitable replacement.

• The board approved the fiscal year 2019 budget with a proposed property tax rate of $15.16583 per $1,000 taxable valuation. The fiscal year 2019 calendar was approved, as well. 

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