Springdale Schools Blog

West Is Best of the Best

posted Nov 18, 2016, 9:09 AM by JACKSON BRASWELL   [ updated Nov 18, 2016, 9:17 AM ]

Helen Tyson Middle School art teacher Lori West was recently honored at the Arkansas Declaration of Learning Celebration at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock where her project idea was recognized as “Best of the Best” in the state of Arkansas.

 The Declaration of Learning is an initiative signed into legislation by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The idea was for teachers across the United States to have the opportunity to work with historic art and objects from national and state partners to create innovative lessons for their classrooms and school libraries. With partners like Crystal Bridges and the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas was the first state to sign on and make this project come to life.

 West and a team of teachers from this region sat down at Crystal Bridges in June of 2015 and brainstormed ways to use object-based learning in their classrooms to inspire and engage students.

 Each of the participants in the program was asked to select three objects, one from each of the museum collections, Crystal Bridges, the Butler Center and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. West chose “The Anti Slavery Medallion”, Kerry James Marshall’s “Our Town” and “The Little Rock Nine.”

 “I chose these pieces because I noticed a common thread in all three and that was that each work was actually outlining a journey of sort and that is where our classroom story began,” said West.

 West initiated her lesson by asking students to create a portfolio that showed the theme of civic engagement conveyed in the pieces of art by choosing a cause or issue that was important to them and then visually interpret it.

 Once the students came up with their ideas and drawings, West was attracted to one particular idea created by seventh grader A.J. Antibos.

 “A.J., a Marshallese student, created a work of art that drew attention to the issues of climate change, and the fact that the rising sea level was quickly eroding his home land and when I saw his idea it gave me chills and I knew that was the direction we were going to head with this project,” said West.

 West and her students took A.J.’s idea and ran with it. Lori was given the opportunity to use the 100’ x 16’ storage building on the Helen Tyson Campus for a mural and after a nifty idea of tracing the student’s shadows on the building to represent the Marshallese people, the project was named “Shadow of a Journey.”

 “Seeing it all come together was amazing , said West. “The impact on our community has been very powerful.”

 The mural the students at Helen Tyson created is proudly on display on the campus and West knows that this project and this journey will stick with her for a lifetime.

 As an educator, this project was an experience of a lifetime,” said West


Sojas Wagle Keeps Big Secret

posted Nov 18, 2016, 8:59 AM by JACKSON BRASWELL

Have you ever kept a big secret for months? A REALLY BIG secret? Springdale Har-Ber sophomore Sojas Wagle has. He won $250,000 on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” in July and didn’t tell a soul until mid-November.

How did he do it?

“It wasn’t that hard actually,” Wagle said. “It was really exciting to win but they told us the show wouldn’t air until November and we couldn’t tell anyone. The longer it went and as I got into the school year I just put it into the back of my mind.”

Once the show aired, everyone at school and in the community knew about it. Did they treat him differently?

 “A lot of students and teachers have congratulated me,” Wagle responded. “In a couple of my classes they have even shown clips from the show.”

Sojas isn’t new to success. Last year he finished third in the National Geographic Bee. Did that experience help him this time?

“It was very different,” Wagle said. “At the National Geographic Bee I was on the stage with nine other contestants. This time it was just the show host (Chris Harrison) and me. At the Bee we were all competing against each other. This time it was the host asking questions for larger amounts of money. I was much more nervous with just the host and me.”

As he continued to answer questions accurately, Sojas reached the question for $250,000. He was relieved when it involved geography. Harrison gave Sojas four statements and asked him which one was correct. He accurately determined that Brazil is larger than Australia.

Ecstatic at being correct and content with his amazing winnings, Sojas declined to attempt the $500,000 question.

“I thought about it but if I didn’t answer correctly I would have lost $200,000,” Wagle explained. “That’s a lot of money. I still would have kept $50,000 but I thought it was better to stop there.”

What does he plan to do with his winnings?

“I really want to travel so this summer I want to go to Europe,” Wagle said. Of course he will take his family, too. Can you imagine being able to pay for a family trip to Europe before you can drive? Sojas just turned 15.

“I will save the rest for college,” added Wagle. He may not need it. By the time he graduates he will likely be able to go to the college of his choice with plenty of scholarships. He already earned a $10,000 college scholarship by finishing third in the National Geographic Bee.

Colleges are already aware of Wagle’s academic prowess. He scored well on his ACT in seventh grade through the Duke Talent Search. In fact, he has been receiving emails from the Duke Talent Search ever since. That’s how he discovered “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” was looking for young contestants.

“It was quite a process to get on the show,” Wagle said. “After I applied, my mom had to write an essay telling them what my qualifications were. Then they did an interview with me on Skype. After the interview they asked sample questions typical of what they would ask on the show. They wanted to see how I would react under pressure. They didn’t make any commitment then but later they contacted me and said I made it.

“They sent an itinerary for my family and me, then brought us to Las Vegas for the show. We were there for a week before I was on. The other students who were selected and I were in a room every day waiting to be called. We weren’t competing against each other so we got along fine. I met students from Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and the West Coast states.

“Finally they called my name so I went into another room and waited an hour before the contestant before me was finished. I was pretty nervous while I was waiting. I was nervous on the show, too.”

He wasn’t nervous about keeping the secret, though. He never let it slip, maybe because he was so occupied with three Advanced Placement classes (Calculus BC, Biology and World History), being on the Har-Ber debate team and playing the violin. It was a pretty big secret. Now everyone knows.  Congratulations, Sojas!



Elmdale's Mr. O, Teacher on the Go

posted Oct 19, 2016, 12:32 PM by JACKSON BRASWELL   [ updated Oct 19, 2016, 12:40 PM ]

Raciel Oropeza is a model of perseverance. A teacher at Elmdale Elementary, his path to becoming an instructor was far from traditional.

 Oropeza’s journey started in Mexico where he went to school to become a teacher. Getting a teaching degree in Mexico is not cheap and requires a person to take a lot of classes and expend a great number of hours. Mr. O, as his students call him, got married and started a family and after working under contracts for many years he decided he wanted to move his family to the United States.

 “Working under contracts was difficult and that is one of the reasons I wanted to move to America,” said Oropeza. “The other reason is because my daughter wanted to be a doctor and really wanted to study in the U.S.”

 After arriving in the U.S. Mr. O applied to the University of Arkansas and hoped that his credits would transfer and that the process to become a certified teacher in America would be short and simple. That was not the case.

 “I took a lot of courses there and did different workshops and none of them counted here,” said Oropeza. “You have to submit all of your information from there but you also have to get information from your previous school in Mexico. The U of A contacted the school back in Mexico but couldn’t get any information because there was nobody who spoke English so all of the information that I submitted that was already translated and everything was not good enough. Therefore I had to start over.”

 Hearing the news he had to start completely over was heartbreaking and frustrating for Oropeza, but he didn’t give up. Mr. O is now in his ninth and final year studying at the U of A, a process that has been elongated due to his time spent working as an Instructional Aide at Elmdale Elementary, a place where he feels at home.

 “I feel connected with the students here,” said Oropeza. “Working here has been challenging because I had to learn the language and it is not easy when you are 30 something or 40 something years old and I am almost 50 and still learning. The awesome part is that you see the kids grow from basically nothing. I have seen kids who didn’t know any English and grew and become good students and that is the awesome part because I identify with them.”

 Mr. O is taking four classes this semester and four classes next semester and then will officially be a licensed teacher in the U.S. While this will be no doubt rewarding, Oropeza’s main goal for his life is for his wife and kids to be happy.

 "I have a wonderful family and have been married for almost 28 years and have three daughters and I want to see them graduate and be happy,” said Oropeza. “If I get a job here as teacher I will enjoy it and I won’t be under stress. I have been under a lot of stress this whole time because I have had to work, take classes and take care of my family but being steady and seeing my family happy will make me happy.”

 So far, Mr. O’s goals are lining up. His oldest daughter graduated from Springdale High first in her class and is now in her fourth year at UAMS in Little Rock studying to become an OB-GYN. His second daughter is in grad school getting her masters at the U of A to become a teacher and his youngest daughter is a third grader at Elmdale. Elmdale and the entire district is proud of Mr. O, whose perseverance is a model for all the lives he impacts. #THEChoice

Hellstern Serves As Pilot for UA Program

posted Oct 13, 2016, 8:32 AM by JACKSON BRASWELL   [ updated Oct 13, 2016, 8:32 AM ]

What happens to the heat generated when automobiles burn gasoline? Most of the energy is lost. Four universities, including the University of Arkansas, have been given a grant to attempt to discover a way to harness and use this lost energy. The schools needed a partner to pilot the project and the UA staff has selected Hellstern Middle School in Springdale.

Why Hellstern?

“We chose Hellstern for several reasons,” said Dr. Shannon G. Davis, who works in the UA’s Department of Electrical Engineering. “Kathy Prophet, a teacher at Hellstern, was one of the authors of the new national science standards. She and several other Hellstern teachers worked with our faculty this past summer. Kathy is a nationally known teacher and the entire group of teachers is gifted.

“This is also part of our growth concept. You will see engineers and physicists come out of these classrooms.”

I graduated from the University of Arkansas but never had an opportunity in middle school or high school like these students are having,” said Hellstern’s Tammy Guthrie. “They will move on with confidence in their scientific skills.”

What exactly are the Hellstern science class students doing?

“Our staff believes in ‘doing science’ rather than just reading science,”  Guthrie said. “Our students are conducting experiments in the area of optimizing power. They are being observed by UA staff members. Eventually a video will be made of our students that will be circulated to schools all over the country as a demonstration of adapting to the new science standards.”

The new science standards don’t officially go into effect in Arkansas until next year but Guthrie noted, “We like to stay on the cutting edge. This group of teachers isn’t afraid to try new things. Kathy Prophet, Cassie Kautzer and Greg Herzig, our science teachers, are finding and creating new opportunities for their students as their content standards are changing.

“At this point they are exploring energy transfer. They will eventually be able to talk about the relationship between temperature or kinetic energy and the total energy in a system.”

Hellstern’s students are doing work similar to that being done by UA students. Guthrie said, “It may look a little different but ultimately we are investigating the same phenomenon. “

Davis added, “We are introducing sixth graders to heat transfer. Eventually we will develop harder projects to be used by high school students. Our ultimate goal is to inspire students to become engineers, scientists and mathematicians.”

“We are honored they chose us,” Guthrie said. “We have incredible teachers and our kids are amazing. Our students are definitely enjoying science.”

Stanford, Illinois and Howard are the other universities involved in this grant project.


SHS Students Practice Entrepreneurship

posted Oct 12, 2016, 8:41 AM by JACKSON BRASWELL

In the Springdale School District, students have opportunities to get a great education while also following their post-graduate dreams. Three seniors at Springdale High School are already pursuing their dreams and in the process, are helping the community.

 Adrian Ruan, Daniel Rodas and Jesus Rebolledo are members of a car club named Elite Empire. The club started when Daniel and Jesus noticed Adrian’s car around campus and they all bonded over their love of cars.

 “We really just started to get to know each other better and it was amazing,” said Jesus.

 “We realized that we all loved cars and could each bring something different to the table,” said Rodas.

 All three guys have expertise in the world of making a car run and look better and that has given them an opportunity to host car shows around Springdale in order to raise money for local organizations in the community. People who attend the car shows pay an admission fee and get to park their cars alongside Adrian, Daniel and Jesus and show off their wheels to onlookers.

“We have seen the car community grow in Springdale and we want to set an example to the younger generation that if you do positive things and give back to your community, your community will give back to you,” said Ruan.

 The group’s name, Elite Empire originally garnered some hesitance from the administration at Springdale High because they were unsure of the group’s motives but once they learned about what they did, the boys had the school’s full trust.

 “Once they got to know us, they started to trust us and now they have motivated us to work hard and make our dreams come true,” said Ruan.

 Assistant Principal, Don Eichenberger has helped the group set up events and they are currently working on organizing a car show to benefit the family of Kyler Williams. The lessons the students have learned regarding business have been huge for the three but they appreciate the support of the faculty and administration most of all.

 “We just appreciate that they got to know us and instead of writing us off as another group, they have supported us and helped us be the best we can be, said Ruan

 The goal has always been for the guys to own their own shop and they recently just secured land and a building to make that goal a reality. This will give Elite Empire the chance to serve their community for years to come and be an example to those in Springdale that you can do anything you set your mind to. #THEChoice

Conscious Discipline Working at Sonora

posted Sep 27, 2016, 8:26 AM by JACKSON BRASWELL   [ updated Sep 27, 2016, 8:27 AM ]

 Teachers at Sonora Elementary are trying a new method in their classrooms to build a class family that is constantly in a problem solving state of mind. Conscious Discipline is the name of the method and teacher Kari Spurlock has seen great results just a few weeks into school.

 “This method integrates social emotional discipline and self-regulations so as teachers we spend less time regulating behavior and more time teaching vital life skills,” said Spurlock.

 A big part of implementing this method in the classroom is helping the students understand the brain and brain science. The students learn about the different parts of the brain and the three main states of mind you are in when you activate those certain parts.

 The first state of mind is the survival state. This area deals with the human’s natural fight or flight instincts and makes it impossible to effectively problem solve. The second important area is the emotional state. The problem with the emotional state is that most people can’t understand why they feel a certain way and how to make themselves regulate that emotion in order to get to the third and final important area which is the executive state. The executive state is where teachers want the students to be at all times throughout the day. This state activates the prefrontal lobe, which is where all of the problem solving, learning activity and emotional regulation takes place in the brain.

 “If the students are in either of the other two states, survival or emotional, it doesn’t matter how hard we try to reach them, they aren’t going to be processing the information,“ said Spurlock.

 Each day when the students arrive in Mrs. Spurlock’s room, they have a job. Whether it’s as an encourager, electrician or kindness recorder, they have a purpose in the classroom. Having this purpose gives them incentive to come to school everyday but it also gives them motivation to always be aware of their cognitive state so they can perform in the classroom to the best of their ability.

 The students also set goals every day. Students in the classroom have a clip with their name on it and before class starts in the morning, they put their name on a card with a goal on it. These goals vary from being respectful that day to being responsible and encouraging others. At the end of the day, Mrs. Spurlock asks each student about his or her goal and what he or she did or didn’t do to meet those objectives. This continues to program the students to always be thinking about their behavior and what they can be doing to be  top-notch classroom citizens.

 Being aware of behavior doesn’t just mean the students act differently with their teachers, it also plays a huge role in conflicts among students.

 “A really big thing is student to student conflict and how they handle that conflict,” said Spurlock. “When someone does something that a person doesn’t like, the goal is to resolve that and say, ‘I didn’t like that can you please not do that again.’ Then they should communicate how they want to be treated by other people instead of being angry or emotional.”

 What all of these traits eventually culminate in is a family within the classroom. Every student sees purpose and respect in each of his or her classmates, and that breeds interpersonal confidence and facilitates a classroom where learning is constant. Mrs. Spurlock and other teachers at Sonora Elementary are not only creating good learners but are also molding solid human beings every day when they come to school. #THEChoice

Caylan Koons Represents Arkansas at National Convention

posted Aug 25, 2016, 9:03 AM by Jackson Braswell

Helen Tyson Middle School seventh grader Caylan Koons was so active in her school’s Fuel Up To Play program last year that she became Arkansas’ representative at the national convention in Indianapolis.

“We were there for three days and it was very exciting,” says Koons, whose father, Kelly, is an assistant principal at Lakeside Junior High and mother, Jody, is a teacher and volleyball coach at Southwest Junior High. “We met some current and former NFL players and learned a lot about how to make the Fuel Up To Play program better at our school and introduce it to other schools.”

How did Caylan become the Arkansas representative and earn the trip to Indianapolis?

“I answered questions by computer,” she responds. “I had to do it eight times because it wouldn’t send the first seven. I found out I had won while I was at school last spring. It was very cool.”

Caylan has always been health and nutrition conscious and competes in cross country, volleyball and basketball for teams at Southwest Junior High. In fact, her mornings start at Southwest for volleyball practice before she arrives at Tyson for her first classes.

At Tyson she spearheads the Fuel Up To Play program. Last year’s initiatives included testing foods for possible use in the school cafeteria. She notes, “We tested a healthier pizza crust and this year they will be serving it in our cafeteria.”

What’s on the agenda this year?

“We want to educate everyone on eating healthy foods, want to get our students more fit and are asking teachers to give brain breaks during class,” Caylan says.

This year’s program will have a solid starting financial base since Caylan’s trip to Indianapolis resulted in a $1,000 grant for Tyson’s Fuel Up To Play. Convention speakers also offered tips in fund raising.

There were other benefits of the trip. Among them for Caylan was the opportunity to visit Indiana.

“My mom and dad are from Indiana,” Caylan says. ‘In fact we are the only family members that don’t live in Indiana. It was nice to be back there.”

Her parents may be from Indiana but they are happy Caylan was representing Springdale at the convention.

“Dad was really excited I won for Springdale,” she says. “He knows how many kids in the district need healthy lunches.”

While Caylan is interested in a healthy lifestyle for kids and their parents, she also has a passion for animals.

“In the future I really want to do something with animals,” Caylan says. “I could become a vet or something in a related field. We have two Huskies and they just had their third litter.”

Whether it’s helping people or pets, Caylan Koons is a perfect example of why Springdale Schools is #THE CHOICE.


Sonora Cafeteria Server Turns Author

posted Aug 23, 2016, 7:34 AM by Jackson Braswell

Sonora Middle School cafeteria server, Dawn Kirkland is the epitome of what Springdale Schools’ staff represent. SPS staff members work hard every day to make sure students are taught, loved and cared for. Dawn does all of these things but on the side is an author.

 Kirkland has always been interested in writing and after failed attempts at finding her son, a student at Hellstern, a good wholesome book to read, Dawn figured she would just write one herself.

 “I have written ever since I was a kid,” said Kirkland. “I started writing short stories at a young age growing up in the country in Pennsylvania so I just figured, you know what? I am going to write my own books.”

 With so many books containing zombies and werewolves, Dawn looked to the sky for inspiration for her series of books.

 “One big inspiration was the fact that as a nation we have been lacking in our exploration of space since the 60s and that was quite a long time ago,” said Kirkland.

 While writing her books about space and exploration, Dawn had images in her mind for the drawings in the book but couldn’t find an illustrator. After months of searching and hoping for someone to step forward, she found her artist, and she only had to look across the cafeteria to find her.

 Former Sonora Middle School Assistant Principal and current Walker Elementary Principal Lynn Ryan recommended SMS art teacher Jenny Allen for the job and it turned out to be a perfect fit.

 “I told Mrs. Ryan I was having trouble finding an illustrator and she said wait a minute and brought Jenny across the cafeteria and told her I was writing a book and needed an illustrator and I asked Jenny if she was up to it and she said yes,” said Kirkland.

 “It has been fun,” said Allen. “It has been my first time officially illustrating for someone. I have always wanted to be involved in illustration and just to collaborate with Dawn has been awesome.”

 The cohesiveness between an author and an illustrator is key to telling the story of a book. Many times there are differences in vision and opinion but for Dawn and Jenny, the partnership came natural.

 “I just went on the images that I got when I read it,” said Allen. “Everyone gets some concrete images when they are reading and I was going off of those images I was seeing. Every idea I had was exactly what Dawn was looking for.”

 Kirkland’s three books titled, “What’s Out There,” “Journey to Juno,” and “Dolan,” are the first installments in a six book series and while there is not a distribution date yet, she hopes that the series inspires children to start reading again.

 “I really want to get their minds working, that is why I chose space. Kids are interested in what is out there and if it gets them thinking maybe I could be an astronaut or a physicist, or maybe I am the one who is going to build the next shuttle, that would be a success,” said Kirkland.

 In the next couple of months, Kirkland is excited, hopeful and thankful that her books will be in the hands of Springdale students. She thanks Springdale Schools for giving her inspiration and ultimately supplying her with an illustrator. While her thanks are appreciated, Springdale Schools thanks Dawn and Jenny for working to make their dreams come true and for making Springdale Schools #THEChoice.


Making Assessments Fun – Pokemon Go!

posted Aug 22, 2016, 12:10 PM by Jackson Braswell   [ updated Aug 22, 2016, 12:12 PM ]

Pre-assessments are vital but can be laborious with very little excitement involved. Right? Not at Tyson Middle School. Missy Allgood and the other sixth grade teachers came up with a way to make it exciting by utilizing Pokemon Go!

 “We are pre-assessing in English Language Arts,” Allgood said. ‘We need the data on all our sixth graders to know what their strengths and deficiencies are coming into the sixth grade. We wanted to make it fun so we set up 12 Pokemon Go stations in our halls.

 “The students use their iPads to access a QR code that is below the Pokemon figure. Once they hit the QR code, questions appear on their iPads for them to answer. There are various categories, including pronouns, vocabulary, capitalization and figurative language, among others. Once they answer the questions, they capture the Pokemon.

 “The data comes to us on google sheets and we will have all of it compiled. Every sixth grade teacher will have the information.”

 What did the students think?

 “It was fun and educational,” said one.

 “It was cool how you catch them,” said another.

 “You would have to answer questions completely to catch them but it was a game so it was fun,” concluded another.

 The Tyson teachers can’t wait to get the data and the students couldn’t wait to provide it as the exercise was made so much fun by Pokemon Go.

Har-Ber Grad is National Finalist

posted Aug 22, 2016, 10:30 AM by Jackson Braswell

Marissa Davis knew she wanted to be a food scientist before she entered her sophomore year at Springdale Har-Ber High School. Currently she is preparing to make her dream come true as a University of Arkansas student and intern at Tyson Foods. Recently she learned she is one of four national finalists for the National Future Farmers of America Proficiency Award in Food Science and Technology – Entrepreneurship/Placement.

 Davis will compete for the award at the finals in October at the National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis.

 “Marissa is only the fourth student I have had in 18 years of teaching to become a national finalist,” said Har-Ber FFA sponsor Patti Priest. “I think she can win. The finalists will be interviewed and Marissa interviews well.

 “There are 188 finalists in 47 categories at the National FFA Convention. Marissa is the only one from Arkansas. We are very proud of her.”

 Davis is excited about the opportunity but is more excited about her work at Tyson.

 “They hired me as an intern right after I graduated from high school,” said Davis. “Normally the youngest interns are college sophomores. During my junior year at Har-Ber I was on the meats judging team and we won state. Rachel Gray, a Tyson supervisor, coached us for nationals.”

 Gray was looking for an intern two years ago and called Priest, who recommended Davis, even though she was younger than Gray was looking for. Gray made it happen.

 “I’ve been with Tyson over a year,” Davis, who is beginning her sophomore year at the UA, said. “During school I work 23 hours a week at Tyson and take 15 hours of classes. I am in the Sensory Department in the Discovery Center. We test products before they are launched. It’s not busy work. It’s real work. We provide data so the food scientists can receive a broad perspective on their products.”

 Davis would love a career at Tyson when she graduates from the UA. After all, it’s the largest protein producer in the world.

“My parents are very supportive,” she said. “My dad works at Tyson and my mom is in the technology department in the Springdale School District. They are excited for my trip to Indianapolis. I was actually at work when Patti called me and told me I was a finalist. I almost cried.”

 How did Davis get so interested in agriculture in the first place?

“I grew up on farms in Iowa and Pennsylvania until Tyson bought IBP,” she responded. “My dad was working for IBP, so we moved to Springdale for him to work for Tyson. Originally I wanted to be a vet but I told my dad I like to cook, I like food and I like agriculture. That’s when I started learning about food science.”

 Davis’ family moved to Springdale when she was in the third grade. She went to Hunt Elementary, then Hellstern Middle School and Central Junior High before her three years at Har-Ber. She played softball for Har-Ber in her freshman, sophomore and junior years before devoting full time to FFA.

 “When she arrived as a sophomore she told me she was going to be a food scientist but softball kept her too busy to be involved in many FFA activities,” Priest recalled. “I kept trying to recruit her. Finally we got her full time as a senior.”

 It wasn’t without consternation by the softball coach.

“When I told my coach I was devoting full time to FFA, he tried to work out a compromise where I could do both,” Davis said. “But, when he saw my schedule he realized I would be spending as much or more time in agriculture as softball practice and that there would be conflicts with the games. So, that was the end of my softball career.”

 But it was the beginning of an extraordinarily bright future for Davis, who is another example of why Springdale Schools is #THEChoice.


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