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!