National Public Schools Week 2021

This week we’ve been celebrating National Public Schools Week by introducing you to just a few of the Fort Zumwalt teachers who represent some specific strengths in our community.

Teacher conducts choir

   Meet Jason Martin, Choir Director at South High School. His strength: Creativity

   “The blue chairs are all six feet apart,” Martin says as he welcomes a guest to his classroom. Typically, choir members would cluster on the risers for class. After six months, students are used to singing at a distance and from behind masks. Martin, himself wearing a singing mask that holds the fabric away from his face, heads to his keyboard, his back almost against the wall.

   “I see we’re missing some baritones today,” he says. Updates on absent students are offered from around the room. Martin raises his hand. There is silence. Each student knows his or her part and is ready to work together. When Martin’s hand drops, there is music. 

   It’s a sound Martin, who also serves as the district’s secondary performing arts curriculum coordinator, wasn’t certain would fill Fort Zumwalt schools this year as it has in the past. It took the team of performing arts teachers and principals to make it happen. Together they reimagined physical spaces. They tracked research on best practices in the pandemic. They reinvented what it looks like for students grades 6 - 12 to explore the performing arts, and for families to participate in that learning.

   In 15 years at South High, Martin had never considered a concert without families in the auditorium. Of course, he’d never considered the concert would be performed in the lobby. “We found good acoustics there,” he says with a chuckle. So a concert was live streamed from atop a ladder just before winter break. At other FZ schools cellos have found their way to football fields. Plays have been performed outdoors for socially distanced audiences in lawn chairs. And, across the district, live streamed virtual concerts have given families music made by their students. Because the show must go on.

   Feeding creativity. Fostering collaboration. Solving problems. When we each do our part, we are stronger together.

#FORTifyZUMWALT #PSW21 #PublicSchoolProud #LoveMOSchools

Teacher reads with student

Meet Sarah Mamelian, who teaches 4- and 5-year-olds at the Early Childhood Center. Her strength: Positivity.

   In a world full of questions, Sarah Mamelian provides answers. Her habit of noticing helps shape the same habit in her students and reinforces the importance of each little person to the bigger community that is her classroom.

   “Who is that?” one student asks.

   “Why is she taking pictures?” Another chimes in.

   “Can I see?” A third voice is heard.

   Mamelian notices each question and, in a soothing tone, replies to each in turn. “Wave hello to our visitor. Please use the chime and announce Clean Up Time. Show our visitor how we get ready for Show And Tell.”

   Mamelian’s habit of noticing is the foundation of Conscious Discipline, the driving philosophy of Fort Zumwalt’s Early Childhood Center. It is something Mamelian practices as much with her colleagues as she does with her students, and it’s a big reason she is recognized as a force for Positive Peer Influence on her team. Noticing each child’s needs. Noticing colleagues’ achievements. Noticing every day we’re each helpful in some way. #FORTifyZUMWALT #PSW21 #PublicSchoolProud #LoveMOSchools

Teacher in person and online

Meet Meet Anyisa Evans, Social Studies teacher at South Middle School. Her strength: Adaptability.

   Evans represents hundreds of Fort Zumwalt middle school teachers who have spent the year in two schools: one in person and the other online. Each day about 10:30, Evans switches gears and logs in.

   “The hardest part is that most of my online students never have their camera on,” she says just before wishing a couple of rows of gray boxes good morning in her Web Ex classroom. In the hour before, Evans was able to make eye contact, assess body language, peek over the shoulders of her in-person students to measure their understanding of the task at hand.    Nonetheless, after more than 20 years in a middle school classroom, she has adapted to the virtual environment. Messages pop into the chat. Voices poke from behind the gray boxes. “Ms. Evans, we can’t hear you.”

   She checks her settings, a voice confirms they can hear her now, and teaching and learning move forward. Connecting in person and online. #FORTifyZUMWALT #PSW21 #PublicSchoolProud #LoveMOSchools

Teacher guides student through work

Meet Bethany Nill, Technology teacher at Mid Rivers Elementary. Her strength: Awareness

   It’s very careful choreography. The way Bethany Nill moves around her Mid Rivers Elementary classroom keeps her safely distanced from her students, but in touch with what each of them needs. After filing through her hand sanitation station the fifth graders have logged in and are working to learn, and teach, about black STEM heroes. 

   “Do you need an office?” Nill quietly asks one student who has been checking in on those around him.

   “Huh?” He looks up at her in a post-snow-day-haze. 

   “If it will help you concentrate, I can build you a cardboard office,” Nill says.

   “Nope,” the student replies, and then digs into his research on Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

   The lesson, which Nill has shared with technology teachers at all Fort Zumwalt elementary schools, requires students to research and write while exploring these STEM heroes’ contributions to mathematics, physics and more. Teaching across curriculum areas in person and online. Understanding the importance of diversity and awareness. Ensuring the needs of each child are met. #FORTifyZUMWALT #PSW21 #PublicSchoolProud #LoveMOSchools

Teacher & Student perform experiment

Meet Joe Leibner, Science teacher at East High School. His strength: Flexibility

   Leibner was among four Fort Zumwalt high school science teachers selected for the 2020 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program through NASA and the SETI Institute. When the pandemic shifted the trajectory of the program, he, East High colleague Tom Ogle, West High’s Melissa Bouquet and North High’s Nick Fisher explored new ways of learning as they learned new ways of teaching. Their in-person plans for intensive professional development were moved to online coursework and discussions. The teachers had to be flexible enough to re-envision how hands-on lessons could come to life while abiding by COVID protocols. That flexibility is evident in Leibner’s classroom, where his students take flight, connecting big science to everyday items such as cell phones.
Adjusting course. Inspiring exploration. Modeling lifelong learning. #FORTifyZUMWALT #PSW21 #PublicSchoolProud #LoveMOschools