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Despite the rainy weather and heightened safety protocols in place, Mansfield ISD elementary schools still found a way to congratulate graduating seniors while inspiring the younger generation.

Senior Clap Out is an opportunity for MISD 12th graders to return to their home elementary campus as staff members and younger students cheer them on before the final days of school.

This year's celebration was held districtwide on Friday, April 30 as an outdoor event. It was a full-circle moment for the students involved.

“When we think of Vision 2020 and 2030, it’s all about students being college, career and life ready,” said Kristi Cobb, executive director of elementary education. “It’s really a culmination of a student’s educational experience and then getting to come back where it all started.”

Cobb said the event gives the elementary students someone to look up to and gives them a visualization of what their future could be.

“They can see—right in front of their face—the picture of an MISD graduate, someone who has worked hard and finished their career throughout the MISD educational system. I’m excited for them to be a part of that,” said Cobb.

Ava Cunningham, a fourth grader at Alice Ponder Elementary School, made a poster for the seniors. She said it was fun to clap and cheer for the graduates as they walked by.

“The parade is special so that they can see their old teachers and be proud of themselves,” said the 10-year-old. “I felt excited to be a senior too.”

A majority of the seniors were in their full caps and gowns for the parade.

In addition to the outdoor parade, Ponder Elementary staff members provided the seniors with goodie bags to take with them. One of the parting gifts was a paper, wrapped up like a diploma, filled with words of wisdom from students in grades K-4.

A student group has been created at each Mansfield ISD middle school to help and potentially save the lives of their peers.

Hope Squad is a support program to help kids who may be struggling or at-risk of harming themselves.

The goal of the program is to reduce youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention.

“It’s really just about fostering that culture on the campus of support and encouragement and kindness and connection, so that everyone really feels included and a place of belonging and a place that kids want to be all day long,” said Jennifer Powers, director of guidance and counseling.

Powers said she has worked for more than a year to bring Hope Squads to MISD. Through a partnership with The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, the program was able to launch at MISD middle schools.

Hope Squad members are nominated by their classmates as trustworthy peers and then trained by advisors to be alert and know when other students might be in distress. Instead of waiting for a peer to come to them, Hope Squad members are the ones to reach out first.

“We’ll try to talk to other students and make sure they’re feeling okay, mentally or physically. And if they’re not, we will try to refer them to go talk to a counselor or other Hope Squad adult,” said Kaylee Berger, an eighth grade Hope Squad member at Brooks Wester Middle School.

Fellow member Kooper Kelley noted that there’s a stigma placed on people who need help, especially males. His goal is to debunk that way of thinking.

“A lot of people like to bottle up emotions,” said the seventh grader. “A lot of men, we try not to cry. Boys try not to cry; but when you have someone to talk to, it kind of makes you feel better.”

Hope Squad members strive to create a safe school environment and promote connectedness. They also work to support anti-bullying, encourage mental wellness and reduce mental health stigma.

“Students can’t be successful if they don’t have hope, if they don’t have positivity, if they don’t feel included,” said Powers. “Adults can’t be successful if they don’t feel those same things as well. So, it’s vital that we have that positive feeling on our campuses.”

Although the Hope Squads are starting at the middle school level, Powers said she hopes the groups will eventually be at all MISD campuses.

Currently, Hope Squads are located in more than 950 schools in 31 U.S. states and Canada. Since its inception in 2004, Hope Squad has referred more than 5,000 students for help.

A Mansfield ISD mechanic has joined an elite group of automotive service industry professionals, proving that he is an expert technician.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) recognized Joel Thomas as a World Class Technician.

Technicians earn the title of World Class Technician, which is the highest in the industry, after undergoing rigorous voluntary testing and successfully obtaining ASE certification in 22 specialty areas.

“I love solving problems and working with my hands,” said Thomas, a mechanic of more than 20 years who already holds six master certifications. “I do the heavy equipment...if it’s dirty and greasy, I’ll do it.” 

Thomas is a man of few words, and those few words usually aren’t spent talking about himself. So, it was no surprise that he didn’t make a big fuss about the recent accomplishment. 

David Walker, director of transportation, explained how big of a deal the designation really is.

“To put it into perspective, there are about 879,000 technicians in the country. About 250,000 of those are ASE certified. There have only been 2,000 technicians in the past 30 years to be recognized as a World Class Technician, and Joel is one of them,” said Walker.

In recognition of the achievement, Thomas will receive another patch to put on his very decorated mechanic jacket. He will also be given a special certificate and plaque. 

Walker said the World Class Technician status says a lot about Joel and shows how committed the transportation department is committed to excellence.

“Mansfield ISD, as we understand, is the only public school facility that is also ASE Blue Seal certified,” he said. “You know that your buses are receiving top-notch care. You know that when you put something back on the road, you know it’s been done right. It’s been done correctly. It gives us confidence knowing that the vehicles we have on the road are being taken care of by technicians that are highly skilled.”

Individuals who have achieved World Class Technician status are announced annually in the spring. Forty-two technicians were recognized as 2021 recipients. Thomas is one of four Texans to earn it this year.

The opportunity to explore and create in a project-based learning environment is a big draw of Mansfield ISD’s Frontier STEM Academy.

Although the curriculum emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), creativity and problem solving are at the core of the assignments.

A major project the students work on throughout the year is called Future Forward. With the projects, the learners collaborate with local businesses to try to solve a problem and create a viable product for the betterment of the community.

“They are essentially identifying a problem within that topic, and then their goal is to create a solution,” said Larita Nuñez, an elective designer at the school. “Having the kids work with the businesses I think has been the best part of the project because I get to hear the excitement from the kids when they do connect with them.”

The learners work in groups for the Future Forward projects to foster collaboration. The ideas being created range from a way to help nursing home residents easily connect through technology and a station at parks that would provide the public a place to repair tires.

“I started this project not knowing how to do any of this stuff,” said Mason Bellmon, a contributor to the group that is creating the park vehicle repair stations. “I barely knew anything about solar panels or wiring, and I just learned how to do all of that this year. It’s been great.”

The freshman added that the experience has helped him gain a better knowledge of deadlines and meeting a client’s need. So far, the Frontier STEM Academy has partnered with more than 30 business partners to work on solutions.

Nuñez said the innovative projects also allow the learners to explore the options available to them after graduation.

“That’s really our vision is helping them to explore as many avenues of professions that they can possibly go into, and how can we help them get into that field and be excited about being in that field,” she said.

The students are able to work on their projects at the school’s STEM Fabrication Lab, often called the Fab Lab or Green Room. The room, which was funded by the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation and Mouser Electronics, is equipped with 3D printers, collaboration areas and idea boards.

“We want to create students who are passionate about their future and passionate about what they want to become. If they’re not exposed to different electives, they’re not going to know what they’re truly passionate about,” said Nuñez.

The Frontier STEM Academy launched in the 2020-21 school year as a reconfiguration of Frontier High School, which was only for 11th and 12th graders who were interested in being immersed in post-high school graduation preparatory programs.

The school will now provide rigorous STEM courses for all high school grade levels. Starting with ninth grade, a grade will be added each year until the school reaches its grade 9-12 capacity.

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