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Substitute teachers may be assigned to a campus for a short period of time, but they are a vital part of the Mansfield ISD family.

Substitutes are an extension of MISD teachers. They provide consistency in instruction for students when teachers are out of the classroom.

“Without our substitutes, we really can’t continue the learning process,” said Venetia Sneed, director of human resources development. “So, they’re a very critical aspect of Mansfield ISD and our vision, our mission and our goals.”

Those who are approved to become an MISD substitute teacher go through an extensive training to get initiated into the district. The substitutes learn about every aspect of teaching that will hopefully get them off to a great start.

“I feel not only included; I feel a lot more informed,” said Jordan Geis, a new substitute teacher for the district. “It just makes me feel more secure and more confident whenever you’re walked through it.”

Other than the usual housekeeping items, the training covers the different technology used in classrooms, special education and classroom management.

“The most I got from it was how to deal was behavioral problems because that was the thing that I was not sure about how to do,” Geis added.

To further help the substitutes feel welcome, they were given a free district shirt at the start of the school year and free state fair tickets. Substitutes are encouraged to participate in district initiatives, such as Colors for Caring, and two outstanding ones are chosen each month to be named a Substitute of the Month.

“It takes a lot to be a substitute. We let them know that it’s not an easy job, but it’s a very important job,” said Sneed. “We want them to know that their role in the district is critical to student success. We’re constantly trying to attract and keep our great subs so that the instructional part of the day goes forward even if the regular teacher is not in the classroom.”

MISD has about 545 substitutes on its active roster. Interested parties can apply to become a substitute online. More information is available on the district’s website.

The sole purpose of the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation is to support the students and teachers of the Mansfield ISD above what tax dollars cover.

A big part of fulfilling that purpose is the foundation’s annual prize patrol that goes around to surprise MISD teachers and staff members with grants. Education Foundation representatives loaded onto two buses on Oct. 10 to make dozens of classroom wishes come true.

“We’re going out and providing grants to teachers who have applied for things that are innovative and above and beyond what they normally do in the classroom,” said Rebecca Putman, board president of the MISD Education Foundation. “We have awarded some of the most amazing grants today.”

Members of the prize patrol came to the campuses with cheers, balloons and a check for the winner. Teachers who received the money said it can be life-changing for the students.

“We applied for this grant to help us purchase equipment, so that we could take our hobby that we like—fishing—and teach the kids how to fish,” said Wanda Mann, teacher at Asa E. Low, Jr. Intermediate School. “We had a student who said he was very lonely at school, and he joined the fishing club and got out there with all the kids and just had a great time interacting with everybody.”

Mann said she hopes the grant money will help other kids who need help coming out of their shell and make some lifelong friends.

The use of the grants varies from school to school. Some may receive a grant for an item that will enhance literacy and math. Others may want a new device that promotes more physical activity and healthy decisions. As different as the grants may seem, they all have the same goal—to enhance the educational experience at Mansfield ISD.

“We get to go into all these classrooms and see things that are innovative, things that are cutting edge, things that no other school districts are doing, and we have teachers in Mansfield ISD that have these amazing ideas, and they get to bring them to life with the help of these grants,” said Putman.

The MISD Education Foundation issued 52 grants worth more than $100,000 on its big prize patrol. The organization plans to give out another $100,000 in grants by the end of the school year.

Cancer affects so many people every year. Mansfield ISD started the Colors for Caring initiative to let everyone know that no one fights alone.

Colors for Caring occurs the first Monday of every month that students are in school. On that day, the entire community is encouraged to wear a cancer awareness color in support of a loved one who has or had cancer.

MISD teacher Rena Long participated in Colors for Caring because she had family members who lost their lives to cancer. This year, the days will hit a little closer to home because her husband was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

“His diagnosis took a long time to get to. No one could figure out what was wrong,” the Lake Ridge High School history teacher explained. “In August, we got the diagnosis that it was leukemia, so now we’re going to Baylor hospital for treatment.”

She said she has had an outpouring of support that has helped her through the rough times, including some tokens of compassion from of her past students.

“They snuck into my room one evening with the help of another teacher and put all of these Origami birds up; and the symbolic reason for that is it’s thought to have power that if you fold 1,000 Origami birds, you can make a wish, and it will come true. It just meant a lot to me,” said Long.

The teacher said it was also touching on the first Colors for Caring day of the 2019-20 school year to see so many people at her campus wear orange for leukemia.

For others, Colors for Caring Day is a time of reflection.

Kirk Thor, athletics coordinator and head football coach at Lake Ridge High School, will be honoring a good friend whom he lost to cancer.

Billy Smith was a teacher and defensive coordinator at the campus. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016. After having surgeries to remove the cancer, the cancer came back in a more aggressive form.

“When he passed away [last month], it was devastating,” said Thor. “The lives he touched as a coach and as a teacher—the emails and the letters I’ve gotten in these three weeks—it’s amazing.”

People from the Mansfield ISD community and beyond wore green the day after Smith’s death as an outpouring of love. Thor said #SmithStrong shirts were made a few years ago as a fundraising effort, and people wore them in memory of Smith.

The coach said moments like that made him realize Colors for Caring goes beyond the clothing.

“It’s a pretty neat thing because it’s more than just a shirt. It kind of comes to life for the people that we love and care about,” said Thor.

Whether a person is battling cancer now or has already fought to the end, the Colors for Caring initiative serves as a visual reminder that we are all in this together.

The next Colors for Caring Day is Monday, Oct. 7. Read more about the upcoming days here.

We live in a world filled with technology. To ensure Mansfield ISD students are ready to take on this ever-changing tool, 12 passionate instructors are tasked with empowering teachers to create digital learners.

“Building digital learners is important so that students are prepared for college, career and their life,” said Janice North, director of instructional technology for the district.

North and her trainers work with MISD teachers to plan lessons, model how technology can be implemented, provide district training and help in classrooms when a new technology item is being used.

Some of the newest technology devices that have received great feedback with students and staff are the virtual reality and augmented reality programs.

Students are able to put on a headset and become immersed into a setting that feels real and takes learning to another dimension.

“It’s a way for students to visit places and learn about things that in their normal life, they might not ever get to,” North explained.

Fourth-graders at Imogene Gideon Elementary School did a virtual reality activity about temperature. They put on the headsets and tried to catch Carmen Sandiego as she traveled to Antarctica, deserts and volcanic areas.

“It was real. I thought I was actually going somewhere,” said student Nyomi Harden. “I was moving around and trying to touch things, but I could not see my hands.”

Educational technology trainer Natalie Driver said that when the kids are told they will be using a technology tool to learn, they can hardly contain their excitement.

“As soon as they see those VR headsets, or whatever we’re bringing out—Bloxels, Skype or whatever it is—they always get real giddy,” Driver said. “And they always ask when we’re coming back.”

North said she has been with most of her staff members for more than a decade, but the dedication to incorporating technology in the classroom has not waned.

“It causes engagement, and it can enhance learning. Sometimes it can extend learning, like in providing students learning resources 24/7,” said North.

The MISD Education Technology Department provides learning activities and programs to students of all ages. A list of resources is available on the department’s web page.

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