YS School Board— Sixth graders give back through service
- Published: December 12, 2019
Mills Lawn sixth graders are learning to think of themselves in a civic context — as community members with the ability to be of service and contribute to the greater good.
Five representatives of the sixth grade came to the November school board meeting to report not only on the school’s annual Peace Week activities, but also on a new community service initiative launched this fall that requires each sixth-grade student to complete five hours of volunteer service work.
Mills Lawn counselor John Gudgel, who previously retired as principal at Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School, said the effort is modeled on the high school graduation requirement started over two decades ago when he was head administrator there.
“I felt strongly about students giving back to the community,” Gudgel told the school board.
Student volunteer work is a way to acknowledge the community’s support of the schools, he said.
“I tell the kids, ‘the Yellow Springs School District spends approximately $11,000 on you each year [in per-student expenditures].’”
So, after 13 years of academic instruction, “over 100,000-some dollars are spent on you, in addition to the volunteers and chaperones and everything else that people do out of goodwill gestures,” Gudgel said he informs his students.
Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh said bringing the community service idea to the district’s sixth graders was all Gudgel’s doing
“I just said, ‘yes, go for it,’ because it’s a great thing for our sixth graders to have that sense of doing important work,” Housh said. “It follows a lot of the culture pieces we’re trying to instill in our sixth graders, and they’ve really embraced it,” he added.
Sixth grader Treyon McCullough said he was glad to have a chance to give back, “in light of the community having supported us during our years as elementary students.”
Treyon said he completed his required time working an hour at the John Bryan Community Center and four hours assisting in the Mills Lawn Reading Center. He liked the experience so much, he’s continued helping at the reading center, he said.
Kiernan Anderson folded mailings and stuffed envelopes at Home, Inc. He said working with friends made the task enjoyable.
“Me and my friends entertained each other,” he said.
Hannah Parker agreed that working with friends made her service work — playground cleanup — more fun. But seeing the impact of their efforts was most satisfying.
“I was just happy to know that the playground was clean,” she said.
Gudgel said other service projects have included cleanup at the Jacoby Road canoe launch and serving food at the Presbyterian church during free community meals there.
Many students “are going above and beyond the [five] hours,” he added.
Principal Housh said the initiative fit well with the school’s focus on social-emotional learning, which includes the annual Peace Week programming.
“It’s a part of what we do” toward building a community of support and respect, he said of Peace Week.
Reading from prepared remarks, the students told the board that “Peace Week has become an integral part of our school culture.”
The focus, they said, is on “peace-making skills and habits” and “social inclusion for all.”
Each day of the week, students wear specified colors representing different themes: blue for school spirit, black for respect, the rainbow for kindness, which “comes in a variety of ways,” Kiernan said.
Gudgel noted that more than 90% of the school’s students participated in the daily color-wearing campaign, according to teacher tallies.
And all of the 320-plus students responded to writing prompts about the ways they could contribute to creating a peaceful community, he said.
Students also collected donations for the school’s snack food pantry, gathering more than 3,100 healthy snack items, according to Gudgel. Spurring the effort was the promise of a pizza party for the classroom with the most donations, which Vickie Hitchcock’s fourth graders won with 510 items.
The week ended with a peace rally in the gym featuring a proclamation from the mayor and a performance by Mills Lawn alum Issa Ali, a hip-hop artist who grew up in Yellow Springs.
“They had so much fun,” Gudgel said of the students, who were invited by Ali to join him in a peace rap.
School board President Steve Conn lauded the sixth graders for their efforts.
“I’m really excited about this community service,” Conn said. “I just think that’s really terrific. So thank you. Thank you for giving back to the community, and thank you for coming here tonight.”
In other recent school board activity—
Mills Lawn Principal Housh reported that other activities at the elementary school this fall included the annual Veterans Day luncheon, which welcomed more than 50 veterans to this year’s event; and the traditional Halloween costume parade through downtown.
Housh also reported that a request from boys interested in having a group like Girls on the Move, which encourages “running, being fit, building self-esteem, building confidence,” prompted Girls on the Move coordinator Karla Horvath to organize a male-focused group as well.
Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School Principal Jack Hatert singled out the recent achievements of ninth-grade cross-country runner Cheyan Sundell-Turner, who advanced to compete in the regional cross-country tournament, and senior Julia Hoff, who has been selected to perform in the all-state theater production at the statewide high school thespian conference this spring.
Hatert also reported that the high school’s fall stage production of “The Bigfoot Letters” was chosen to be presented in a full run at the annual theater conference.
Coming up next in the district’s theater program is a production of “Scrooge! The Musical,” featuring a cast from the elementary, middle and high schools. Opening night is Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Foundry Theater on the Antioch College campus.
Hatert also reported on a new initiative at the middle and high school this year to recognize a “student of the month” from each grade. Teachers and staff nominate the students, who get a free meal provided by local businesses partnering with the schools.
Another highlight this fall has been the reanimation of the student review board, which except for the annual handbook review has been mostly dormant the past few years. Hatert said the new social studies teacher, Hannah Weinstein, agreed to advise the group, which has grown to about 25 students who typically meet twice a week.
Hatert said one of their main efforts has been to form a “community committee” focused on strengthening the school community. The group recently hosted a dance and partnered with the athletic boosters to raise money for the local food bank, the principal noted.
Interim Treasurer Tammy Emrick reported having “mixed news” to share at the board’s regular meeting in November.
Of concern, she said, is a downward trend in income tax collections, with $14,000 less coming in this October than October 2018. Countering that, however, was $15,000 less in projected expenditures during the same month.
Over all, for the first four months of the fiscal budget, which began July 1, “we are trending about $50,000 ahead on our cash balance,” Emrick said.
Superintendent Terri Holden reported that the facilities task force is gearing up to begin a series of public meetings in which the group will share highlights of what they’ve learned since beginning their work last March and then seek community feedback on their findings.
The meetings will continue into the beginning of the new year, and the group plans to incorporate the input they receive in a final proposal to the school board.
“The folks on this task force have given such a tremendous amount of time and energy — intellectual energy, emotional energy — to get some sort of understanding of the complexity of the facilities issues here,” Holden said.
The first community meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 7–8:30 p.m., at Mills Lawn.
The superintendent also reported on 2019–20 enrollment numbers. As of mid-November, total district enrollment stood at 699 students, Holden told the board.
Of that total, about 25% is through open enrollment, a percentage that has remained fairly steady for the past five years, Holden said.
“There is no denying that open enrollment fiscally helps us out,” Holden said. Revenue from open enrollment topped $900,000 last year, according to district records.
But there are other, less quantifiable benefits as well, Holden added.
“Bringing in others who are either like us or not like us makes us better and makes us stronger,” she said.
New graduation requirements
The state has revised graduation requirements “again,” Holden informed the board. The last major revision was two years ago.
The changes will be mandatory for the class of 2023 (this year’s freshmen) and after.
The details are still being finalized, but the main changes involve end-of-course exams and the institution of “readiness seals” that can be affixed to the graduate’s diploma and which recognize a variety of achievements ranging from test results to community service.
As the new requirements currently appear, graduating seniors will be allowed two tries to pass end-of-course exams in Algebra I and English II, which will be the only tests that are mandatory. Should a student fail on the second try of either test, however, the Ohio Department of Education lists several alternative options to allow graduation, including enlistment in military service or the demonstration of career-focused activities, such as vocational training.
Graduates also have to earn at least two seals — one from a state-generated list and one stipulated by the district. Twelve total will be available, with three of those determined by the district.
Districts also will be required to develop an individual graduation plan for every student that has to be updated each year.
Principal Hatert said the local school already sits down with each student at the end of eighth grade to come up with a four-year plan, but subsequent advising is less formalized than the state will now require.
Board President Conn noted that the mandates will require more time from school staff without additional support or funding.
Food service contract extended
The board unanimously approved extending the temporary lunchroom contract with The Nutrition Group, which was set to expire in February, to continue through the school year.
In response to a question on the action posed by the News after the meeting, Holden said that the temporary contract had been limited to six months based on advice from the state, which more recently indicated that the partial-year contract was unnecessary.
She said the district would still be seeking new bids for the next school year.
The board accepted a donation of $300 from parent Lori Kuhn for the Yellow Springs High School Drama Club’s purchase of additional microphones, as well as a donation of winter coats to Mills Lawn from the Knights of Columbus.
Student travel OK’d
The school board approved the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., scheduled next spring, April 2–5, as well as a Spanish class trip to Costa Rica the same month.
High school Spanish teacher Chris Sidner said that the trip, tentatively scheduled April 8–14, was being offered to seniors in Spanish III and IV.
“In the world language standards there is a set of standards that really would like students to experience language and culture from within, but due to our geographic location, that’s really really difficult,” Sidner said. The Costa Rica trip, which features home stays and a community service component, achieves that immersive objective, he said.
Speaking on behalf of the board, President Conn said they welcomed the opportunity for students to travel.
The board reluctantly accepted the retirement of longtime district employee Vicki Willis, who according to Mills Lawn Principal Housh, plans to move near Chicago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.
He said she will be missed at the elementary school.
“She’s got this awesome wisdom,” Housh said. “Kids really gravitate to her.”
The board also approved a resolution releasing Chalyn Cantrell from the position of school nurse for not having a current pupil services license from the Ohio Department of Education.
Greene County Career Center
The board approved a resolution naming board member Steve McQueen to the Greene County Career Center board for a three-year term effective Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2022.
McQueen is already representing Yellow Springs on the career center board in a one-year appointment set to end Dec. 31.
Meetings with the superintendent
In addition to a series of casual “coffees with the superintendent” at local eateries, the district is sponsoring meet-and-greet gatherings with Holden — who was hired this past summer — in local homes. Board member Aida Merhemic is organizing the events, and she said anyone interested in hosting or attending a gathering should contact her. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s an important way to get to know who our superintendent is, and to bring up issues that you have or have had,” Merhemic said.
December board meeting
The school board’s next regular meeting is Thursday, Dec. 12, in the John Graham Conference Room. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate the board’s annual post-December meeting dinner.
The superintendent said in November that she anticipates presenting a proposal about upgrades to the athletic field at the high school as part of the December agenda.