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.