Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Year-In- Review

In the spirit of the season, we thought we'd do a year-end wrap-up and highlight some of our favorite posts from this, our inaugural year.  If you missed them the first time around we highly recommend you take the time to read them now.  And please take a moment to share them.  We have a great story to tell, and it takes a village.

And so without further ado, we bring you our top ten posts of the year, in no particular order (just click on the title and it will link to the full post):

We like this post because it speaks so well to the entire University City Schools experience.  Each of our four 2013 Valedictorians attended U. City Schools beginning in kindergarten and stuck with us all they way through.  These bright students are a testament to the quality of education available in our schools, as well as the great experiences kids can have. They honor their classmates, some by name, and acknowledge that success comes in many forms. They clearly had a lot of fun writing and delivering this address, and that's awesome too.

We literally cringed the first time we heard our college counselor tell a group of parents that when people ask what she does, and she tells them she's the college counselor at UCHS, they occasionally respond with such ignorance as, "I didn't know kids from UCity went to college."  Seriously??!!  At this VERY MOMENT, while I am sitting here writing this blog, there are University City High School graduates studying for their finals at Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Bowdoin, Washington University, SLU, Purdue, Swarthmore, and dozens of other highly-ranked schools.  We have an image problem my friends, and it's going to take some effort to change this. Which leads us to...

Read it, share it, help us get the word out.  If we could profile each and every one of our newly-minted college students you would be amazed.  And, since we always have a new crop of young scholars to point in the college direction, check out the college visit programs offered by our guidance office.

We like this post because teachers.  We live in a crazy world where teachers get blamed for all kinds of things they have no control over.  They don't get the pay or the respect or the appreciation they deserve, and yet they keep coming back for more!  We have awesome teachers here in U. City, like those mentioned in this article who teach all day and grade papers all night and still have time to put in thousands of hours seeking to improve their teaching skills and join the ranks of the nation's elite.  And, since this post was first published, there have been a bunch more willing to take on the National Board challenge! Our teachers rock. You should thank them.  And bake them some cookies.

OK robots.  If you are a regular reader of our blog, you may have suspected that we have a slight bias towards them, and you'd be right.  We've written about them here and here and here.  We love them, and we know that the world is going to need more and more scientists and engineers, so the more kids we can introduce to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields the better. Robotics are fun and exciting and programs are available to U. City kids from kindergarten through high school.  Our robotics programs succeed in no small part thanks to volunteers, and we have have a lot of them, which is a great thing on it's own.

The Missouri Association of Middle School Principals says our Middle School principal, Dr. Jamie Jordan, is the best in the state.  In. The. State.  Booyah!

About 700 of the 1.6 MILLION students who take the ACT every year get a perfect score. In 2013, 29 of those perfect scores came from Missouri students. One of them was UCHS senior Dan Politte.  We also had National Merit Finalists and even a National Merit Scholar.  What do each of these superheroes of academic awesomeness have in common?  They each attended U. City schools all the way through, starting in kindergarten.

UCHS currently offers about 13 Advanced Placement (AP) classes (some are offered in alternating years, like AP Chem and AP Physics), and is always considering adding more. AP classes challenge students academically, prepare them for college-level curriculum, and give them the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school.  It is not uncommon for a UCHS grad to start college with a full semester of credit under their belts, thanks to our AP programs. And, the students who take the classes get to do really cool stuff, like participate in studies to identify cyanogenesis in white clover. Don't know what that even is?  Better read this post.

Our Amazing Students

Ok maybe we're cheating here, but choosing 10 posts from the nearly 75 that we've posted this year was really hard, so we'll just highlight a few of the kids we've highlighted over the past several months.  Like UCHS Student Deja Bowie, 2013 recipient of the UMSL Distinguished Achievement for Excellence in Science Award, known to her teachers and classmates as "Quiet Einstein."  Or young Xavier Morgan-Gillard, who overcame personal challenges, used his experiences to write an awesome essay about Jackie Robinson, was honored at Busch Stadium, and inspired us all with his courage. And then there's artist Marina Claunch,  admitted to the prestigious pre-college program at the San Francisco Art Institute. Or how about Jazz St. Louis All-Star drummer Zach Morrow? Or the UCHS Latin students who consistently win awards at the state convention and on the National Latin Exam?  And then there are the multitudes of students who serve the community in the Brittany Woods National Junior Honor Society,  our middle school celebrity, pint-sized pundit Gabe Fleisher, and freshly minted Eagle Scout Michael McMahon. (Just to name a few).

So that's it, our unscientific wrap-up of our favorite posts of the year.  We hope you've enjoyed reading about just a few of the terrific things going on in our schools, and we encourage you to keep on reading and to share with your friends and neighbors.  Comment on a post or two, "like" us, subscribe to our blog and help us get the word out about all of the good things University City Schools have to offer. It really does take a village!

Our very best wishes for you and yours in the new year!

In the News: Town & Style

The School District of University City had a double-feature in the December 18 issue of Town & Style.

Heidi Morgan, a U. City High School dance teacher for more than 20 years, was featured in the cover story as one of the 2014 St. Louis Art Awards recipients. Ms. Morgan is being honored as Art Educator of the Year.

We already know here in U. City, the honor is well-deserved. The article says, "Morgan, determined that all young people should experience the joy of dancing, has recruited countless students with disabilities to her classes." But that is only one facet on the jewel U. City has in Ms. Morgan.

In the "Talk of the Town" column by Bill Beggs, Jr, the two Leed-certified schools in the district are featured. Below is an excerpt.

"With its two new elementary schools-the first in the area built to LEED standards--U. City has had the opportunity to weave teachable moments on the environment into daily life. Most recently, in 2011 Barbara C. Jordan opened with major features that include large windows and a building orientation that exploits sunlight. It has a rain garden as does Pershing Elementary, completed in 2009. Pervious (the opposite of impervious; in this case, porous) pavement helps lessen storm runoff at both schools. Recycled building materials were a key element in construction. These features figured into the exhaustive checklist required for LEED certification. It ain't easy being green: For example, more-efficient HVAC systems cost more at the outset but save energy dollars over time. Somebody had to take the lead with LEED; let's see if other districts follow suit."

You can pick up a free copy at Town & Style at many local establishments or view it online as soon as the archive copy is made available.

Someone To Talk To

For children, the process of growing up can be difficult. There is pressure to succeed at school, peer pressure, body image issues, family issues - the list goes on and on.

Our family has always used therapy whenever the need arises. Sometimes just talking through one's issue with an independent third party can bring a whole new perspective that makes a tough situation a little easier. So it isn't unusual for one of my children to come to me and ask, "Can I see a counselor? In fact, the last child who requested a visit wrapped up their issue in two sessions with the option to return if necessary.

Middle school can be a particularly challenging time. It's often said that there is no "good" middle school because the students are all in that awkward stage transitioning to adolescence and experimenting with more freedom. Add in all the social pressures and the desire to fit in and it makes high school seem like a breeze.

A study by the National Institute of Mental Health states that one in five children have some type of mental, behavioral or emotional problem.
  • Among teens, one in eight may suffer from depression
  • Of all the children and teens struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, a mere 30% receive any sort of intervention or treatment.
  • The other 70% simply struggle through the pain of mental illness or emotional turmoil, doing their best to make it to adulthood.
So often families are unaware of resources that are available to them. Recently, Ms. Johnson, the 8th grade counselor at Brittany Wood Middle School shared a plethora of resources for our community - many which are FREE. Use them, share them - let's take care of our kids.
  • Lutheran Family and Children's Services (LFCS) - In a partnership with Brittany Wood Middle School, LFCS now has counselors that work with students at the school. Contact your child's counselor for more information.
  • Provident is providing free counseling for St. Louis County youth thanks to funding provided by the St. Louis County Children's Fund. Call 314-533-8200.
  • Youth in Need is providing free counseling for St. Louis County youth thanks to funding provided by the St. Louis County Children's Fund. Call 314-594-5010.
  • Family Solutions for Kids is a free 12-week in-home intervention tailored to meet the distinct need of each family. Funded by the St. Louis County Children's Fund. Contact Wykeeta Lee at 314-785-0180.
  • Jewish Family & Children's Services - Child and adolescent psychiatry. Contact Rochelle Novack at 314-812-9389.
  • Care and Counseling is a leading provider of professional mental health services, providing services on a sliding scale basis, depending on a family's ability to pay. Call 314-878-4340.
  • Epworth's Family Support Network Program provides free in-home counseling services to families with children with behavioral issues aged birth to 13. Call 314-918-3362.
  • Community Psychological Services at UMSL - Call 314-516-5824.
Other Resources
If you are aware of other resources in the region, please post the information in the comments section and we'll keep this list updated. Thanks!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seen on Facebook: JP GOTR

Congratulations Jackson Park Girls on the Run who received the 2013 Komen Award for Excellence in Community Service and placed third in the in the St. Louis GOTR chapter. Thanks Nancy Mozier for the photo!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gabe Fleisher: Political Pundit

During the past two years Gabe Fleisher has consistently produced a political newsletter every morning, been interviewed numerous times by the public media, and written and published a book on the history of Flynn Park Elementary School. Did I mention Gabe is a sixth grader at Brittany Woods Middle School?

Gabe is being recognized in the news once again for his stellar accomplishments. You can listen to the NPR story or read it at St. Louis Public Radio.  To subscribe to his blog, send an email to:

Gabe Fleisher
Here is an excerpt from Alex Heuer's report to get you started:
A lot has happened to 12-year-old Gabe Fleisher in the last year and a half. He’s garnered local and national press attention and recently got to meet one of his favorite historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

His teeth now sport a set of braces with red, white and blue anchors.

It's all part of a day in the life of Gabe Fleisher, political junkie.

In 2012, he was a regular blogger on the Beyond November website, a cooperative effort by St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Beacon and the Nine Network of Public Media to cover the elections.

Gabe’s moniker: “the pint-size pundit.”

He’s now ditched that nickname, as his side job as a publisher has taken off.

Thanks to encouragement from his mother, Gabe is the editor-in-chief – and sole staff member – of a daily emailed newsletter, “Wake Up to Politics.

He currently has a circulation that’s closing in on 600. Subscribers include the White House.

Jamie Jordan, the principal at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, helped arrange Gabe’s 6th grade class schedule so that his first period is in the library. That gives him a chance to finish assembling his publication and send it out before he has to lock up his laptop in the library office and head off to his first academic class: Spanish.

Update: Gabe was featured in the January 8th, 2014, edition of Town and Style Magazine.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Meshuggah Art Show

We started this blog to spread the word about all the great things that happen in U. City Schools every day. While we like to think we're connected, there is so much great stuff happening that we are continually learning about happenings ourselves.

Sometimes we see it on the Facebook page of parents or the School District Facebook page. Such was the case today. (You might just want to hop on over and like the district FB page to keep yourself in the know.)

Meshuggah, my favorite coffee shop in the Loop, hosted an Art Show of Brittany Woods Middle School advanced art students. The FB post led me to the art class blog where I found some nice work. I'll post a few here, but you may want to visit the site to see the talent being developed by art teacher Kathrine Avant.

Connecting the Classroom to the Home

The School District of University City launched the Parent Portal a few years ago. If you're not familiar with it, the portal is a password protected site where parents can track their child's homework, grades, attendance, discipline - even the status of their lunch account. If a family has multiple children in the district, the portal provides information for all of the children from a single sign-on. It's a great way to stay on top of any homework that a child didn't complete, which is often the culprit when grades begin to slip.

Students also have a log-in to a student view. Although I'll admit, my children aren't nearly as diligent about checking their grades as I am.

The Parent Portal is a handy tool, but today I received an email from a teacher that really got me excited. Ms. Eberle, a sixth grader science teacher at Brittany Woods Middle School, was letting parents know it was time for a science unit test. She directed us to her classroom website where the study guide was posted.

Handy for when your child manages to lose the hard copy of the the study guide between class and arriving home. But the exciting news was that Ms. Eberle had posted videos of the content reviews she had conducted with the classroom. What a great way for students to study for tests! It's also useful for parents who want understand the content their child is covering in class - giving them the ability to assist their children with the concepts at home.

The school district has installed Smart Boards in almost every classroom in every school. The exception is some physical education classrooms. I've no idea what all the capabilities of a Smart Board are, but being able to record a teacher's presentation, verbal instruction, and handwritten notes "on the board" sure beats the chalkboard and overhead presentations my teachers used in school.

Kudos to Ms. Eberle for using the the provided technology to its fullest potential - connecting the classroom with the home. Let's hope this becomes a standard in U. City.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Food and Family at Pershing Elementary

Pershing Elementary recently hosted a Family Dinner Night to honor the families who participate in the Home Works! program.  Home Works! is a teacher home-visit program that partners teachers and families with the goal of improving academic and social success, as well as increased parental involvement.

Families were treated to a delicious spaghetti dinner and participated in activities related to the event's theme, We are Family.  Each family was asked to write down what family means to them, and kids were able to present their different definitions of family to the entire audience.

At the end of the evening the was a raffle in which families could win gift bags and gift cards.  Says Pershing parent Kristine Hendrix, "Good times!!"

Photos courtesy of Kristine Hendrix

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Golden Explosion Visits Atlanta

Research has shown that, regardless of socioeconomic background, students involved in music perform better on standardized tests than students not involved in music.*
  1. For math, music instruction helps develop spatial-temporal reasoning which is important to developing critical math skills.**
  2. Overall reading and writing skills improve with music education.***
  3. Students in the arts tend to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-motivated, and have a better sense of self-esteem.****
As a band mom, I can attest to the benefits my child has received from music education. I can't tell you how music has benefited him academically, but I can tell you how it has given him a purpose, a social network and leadership skills. Plus, marching band is just plain fun!

The 2011 Lincoln University homecoming parade.

Every year, the University City High School "The Golden Explosion" participates in a number of parades throughout the region. The band even takes their show on the road. This year Indiana, Jefferson City and Atlanta were on the itinerary. The band holds a car wash in the fall to help pay for the trips. 100% of every ticket a student sells goes directly to their trip expenses. Some students pay for 100% of their costs selling car wash tickets.

Band director Daniel Shavers selects a different out-of-state university to visit each year. This strategy allows students to experience band programs at a variety of schools during their four years at UCHS.

Mr. Shavers leads the band in warm up exercises.
For many students, especially freshmen, this is their first big trip away from home. And for some, their first trip out of state.

Visiting Clark Atlanta University (CAU) this year had special meaning. Not only was the Disney movie "Drum Line," filmed at Clark Atlanta, a UCHS alum starred in the movie. On top of that, two of the bass drums used in the making of the movie are part of the UCHS drum line.

To make the long drive to Atlanta, band members arrived at UCHS at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. You read that right - 4 a.m. After loading up the bus with the uniforms, instruments and luggage, most everyone went back to sleep for a few hours.

Twelve hours later and we were in downtown Atlanta, took over a pizza buffet, and headed over to the CAU football field to watch the CAU band practice its homecoming halftime show. It was a little chilly, but the students were rewarded with an invitation into the CAU band room for a little bonding. Of all the high school bands participating in the parade the following day, only UCHS had the opportunity to be present at the CAU band practice.

Watching the the college band conduct business.
It was 10:30 p.m. by the time we made it back to the hotel and curfew was 11:30 p.m. (but that doesn't mean the kiddos went to sleep). Six a.m. came early for some folks (myself included after being an overnight hall monitor), and at 7:00 a.m. we were back on the bus headed for the parade route. By parade time the temps were in the low 60s, beautiful weather for marching.

With the campuses being in close proximity, the CAU homecoming parade is held jointly with Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. The parade route winds through all three campuses in addition to the campus of Morris-Brown.

It's always a treat to march with the UCHS band. You can't help but be proud of the tremendous reaction their performance receives from the people crowded along the street to watch the parade. People are cheering, dancing and so impressed the band came down from St. Louis.

After the parade it was a visit to the infamous Varsity Drive-In for a burger and orange whip then back to CAU for the homecoming football game.

Leaders of the band L to R: Nancy Burstein, UCHS staff and former
band parent; Phil Forrester, assistant band director; Jay Burstein;
Daniel Shavers, band director.
CAU lost the game, but that's when it got exciting for the band geeks. It was now the "fifth quarter" - time for CAU to face off with the visiting team's band. We were seated next to the CAU band and the UCHS students were loving every minute. The show kept going until the visiting team finally marched out of the stadium to their waiting buses. Once again, UCHS was the only band at the game allowing the band members to absorb the college band atmosphere.

Mr. Shavers always plans a surprise activity after the game. Back on the bus we headed to Stone Mountain for dinner and a laser light and fireworks show. By the time we arrived back at the hotel it was 10:30 p.m. again - a long day for the adults, but not so much for the band. Most of them stayed up in their rooms most of the night. Let's just say it made for a really quiet ride home the next day.

Next year will be my last as a band mom. I'm already sad as I've grown to love these trips with the band. Truth be told, my first year I had my reservations about traveling with a bunch of teenagers. I'd conjured up the image of rowdy, obnoxious teenagers and me enduring rap music for the duration of the trip. Truth be told, it was quite the opposite. Imagine my surprise when they popped in the first movie and the bus started singing along to "The Lion King."

Then there was the year we went roller skating in Little Rock. The local kids were having so much fun with the band they didn't want our kids to leave. And it goes without saving, the hotel staff always go out of their way to tell us how impressed they are with the band's behavior. As the band members are told before the bus rolls away from the high school, "remember you are representing your family and your school" - and every year the band represents U. City well.

*, **, ***, ****

Jackson Park Girls on the Run

More than twenty awesome girls from Jackson Park Elementary, along with parents and teachers, participated in the November 16th, 2013 Girls on the Run 5K in downtown St. Louis.  Way to go girls!

Thanks to JP parent Nikki Scheele for the photos!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eagle Scout Project Benefits School District FLL Program

What do Neil Armstrong, Gerald Ford and Steven Spielberg have in common? As teenagers, all three men earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Eagle Scout is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

Only 1 in every 100 boys that join scouts makes it to Eagle.

Requirements to earn the Eagle rank include earning at least 21 merit badges and demonstrating Scout Spirit through the Boy Scout Oath and Law, service, and leadership. This includes an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads, and manages.

Left to right: Jerry Finkenkeller, Troop 493 scout leader; Michael McMahon,
Rod Jennings, school board director; Occupational Therapist Christina Stephens;
Joylynn Pruitt, Superintendent of Schools;
Nicole Adewale, U. City parent and FLL volunteer extraordinaire.

The highest academic honor at Brittany Woods Middle School is the "Soaring Eagle." It took on a whole new meaning during the recent First Lego League (FLL) regional qualifying competition at Brittany Woods when the School District of University City dedicated eight FLL competition tables. These tables were made by UCHS junior and Boy Scout Michael McMahon as part of his Eagle Scout project.

The tables were constructed for the school district and will now be used by FLL teams within the district for future FLL competitions and other FLL scrambles hosted by the district.

After receiving approval for his project from the BSA Board of Review, Michael first launched a campaign to raise the $400 required to purchase the supplies. His first fundraising attempt was at the St. Louis Regional FRC competition in April of this year.

Michael visited teams in their “pits” and distributed flyers promoting his project and soliciting donations. Michael was pleasantly surprised when people just handed him money after learning about his project. He was even more surprised when he started receiving checks from strangers in the mail - evidence of the power of the USFirst robotics program.

Michael also solicited FLL teams and coaches within University City and found them to be equally as generous.

With the funds raised, Michael set about purchasing the supplies and garnering the support of his fellow scouts. Over four work days Michael completed the eight tables just in time for the November competition.

And, in true scout spirit, in addition to building the tables, Michael also volunteered both days of the competition from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are still a few more requirements to complete, but when Michael earns his Eagle rank, he will join the long list Eagle Scouts that hail from Troop 493.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Robots Rule at Brittany Woods Tournaments

On November 9th and 10th, the Brittany Woods Middle School gymnasium was abuzz with students, parents, mentors, visitors and volunteers soaking in the excitement of a FIRST Lego League robotics tournament.  More than 40 teams from across the area converged on Brittany Woods for two qualifying events, bringing with them high energy, colorful costumes, and a collective mission to change the world through innovations in science and technology.

Teams set up displays in their 'pit' areas and welcome guests
and fellow teams to learn more about their robots and their projects

FIRST Lego League (or FLL) is the second in a tier of four FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics programs for students from kindergarten through high school.  FLL introduces students in grades four through eight to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a themed playing surface.  Over 230,000 children in 80 countries will participate in this year's FLL season.

This year's playing field contained LEGO-built elements simulating
 challenges faced during and after natural disasters.

FLL students design, test and program robots, research challenges facing today's scientists, learn critical thinking, team-building, and presentation skills and much more. This year's them was Nature's Fury, and challenged teams to come up with solutions for keeping people and property safe before, during and after natural disasters.

Photo: Tim Gillard
The Jackson Park FIRST Responders signing off on their score sheet  after a match
The robot game involved a series of tasks such as raising an evacuation sign, moving a supply truck, moving tree branches off electrical wires, and reuniting pets with their owners.  In addition to the robot game, teams researched problems communities face when natural disaster hit and created presentations.  All of their preparation took place over the course of an eight-week build season.

Fun costumes are the order of the day

On the morning of each qualifier teams, often dressed in colorful outfits, took turns going before judges to give their presentations, explain their robot and programs in a technical interview, and demonstrate their FLL Core Values (friendly competition, learning, community involvement and respecting the contributions of others) in a teamwork exercise. 

The Brittany Woods Soaring Eagles FLL team waits to test  their robot
 on the practice field. 
In the afternoon, the teams put their robots through their paces, completing the missions and solving the challengers of the robot game. The two teams from each day with the highest overall scores in all categories progressed to the Eastern Missouri FLL Regional Championship, which will be held on December 8th at St. Louis Community College - Florissant Valley.  The winner of that event will have a chance to compete in the FIRST World Championships, held in April at the Edward Jones Dome. 

Soaring Eagles ready to rock!

Two University City teams participated in the Brittany Woods qualifiers, the Soaring Eagles from Brittany Woods Middle School and the FIRST Responders from Jackson Park Elementary.  Two teams from Flynn Park will compete in qualifying events next weekend.  Jr. FLL teams (grades K-3) from Flynn Park, Jackson Park, and Barbara C. Jordan elementary schools will compete in the spring.

FIRST Supervolunteer, UCHS alum, and UCity Schools parent and Event
Coordinator Nicole Adewale with school board representative Stacy Clay
This is the third year in a row that Brittany Woods has hosted this event. Many University City School District parents, students, staff, and alumni came together to organize this two-day event, and U. City parent/school board member Rod Jennings was the weekend's emcee.  University City is the only public school district in the area to host an FLL qualifier.

Volunteer coordinator and U. City parent Celina McGinnis consults with the
tech desk.

In addition to the robotics programs at the elementary and middle schools, University City High School has a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team.  The UCHS Robolions build competitive robots weighing up to 150 pounds during their six week build season in January and February.  You can read more about them here or follow them on facebook.

The UCHS Robolions FRC team provided concessions for the event

Members of the high school team were on hand for each day of the competition, serving up nachos and pizza and other goodies, and acting as goodwill ambassadors for FIRST.  Several members of the team even volunteer as referees for additional qualifiers.

U. City Schools Superintendent Joylynn  Pruitt gets into the spirit
 with the UCHS Robolions. 

For more information on FIRST Robotics, including how to start a team of your own, visit For information on local FIRST events, visit

UPDATE: Congratulations to the Jackson Park FIRST Responders, who will be representing University City schools at the Eastern Missouri FLL Championship on Sunday, December 8th!