Our Schools

2020-2021 District Blog

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Reading is essential to the lives of all learners. That’s why Mansfield ISD has taken part in various initiatives and partnerships to encourage reading and get free books in the hands of children—especially as summer vacation draws nearer.

Every MISD campus held a two-week book drive to collect new and gently used books. The Race to Kindness Book Drive was started by 10-year-old Orion Jean, a fifth grade student at Mary Orr Intermediate School. The goal was to collect as many books as possible and give them to kids in the community who may not have any.

“Putting a book in a child’s hand really can change their life,” said Lesley Norris, librarian at Nancy Neal Elementary School. “Having them read a book and connecting it to themselves will really change their outlook, and where they want to go in life and maybe what they want to do.”

Families at Neal Elementary School donated more than 250 books for the drive, which ended May 21. Thousands were collected in total across the district.

Kristi Gonzales, English language arts and reading coordinator, said the drive was just the first step in the district’s plan of preventing a decline in reading ability and other academic skills in the summer—also known as summer slide.

“Studies show students can lose two months of reading skills over the summer if they don't have access to books," said Gonzales. "Our number one guiding statement is for 100% of students to be at or above grade level by the time they enter third grade and remain grade level. Part of that is supporting students throughout the summer. It’s really important to keep that reading goal alive in the summer.”

In addition to paper books, MISD is partnering with Learning A-Z to allow students to have digital books to read, listen or interact with through games.

“It’s just so important to foster a love of literacy in our students so that they can become lifelong learners because we know that in order for our students to be critical thinkers, they need to be able to read and learn for themselves,” said Gonzales.

MISD offers summer reading challenges and reading suggestions for students in all grade levels. For more information, visit the MISD Summer Study webpage.

Mansfield ISD established the Heartbeat Award in 2003 to honor the employees who not only do their job—they breathe life into the organization through their willingness to do any task with such passion while inspiring others along the way.

Three MISD staff members, nominated by the community, recently received this year’s award. Congratulations to Marquettia Stafford, Kaitlin McCool and  Sarah Campbell.

Marquettia Stafford is the virtual functional academics teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy and Willie Brown Academy of Young Scholars. Stafford is in her fifth year as a certified teacher. Her coworkers said that she gives her all to teach her students with special needs and finds ways to connect lessons to real-world situations.

“She is a phenomenal teacher who integrates technology into daily learning and makes it engaging and fun for our special education students,” said Catherine McGuinness, principal at Martha Reid Leadership Academy. “Give her a challenge, and she’ll find a way to make it work.”

Before coming to Mansfield ISD, Stafford taught in public school systems in Mississippi and Virginia.

Kaitlin McCool is a first-year teacher at Lake Ridge High School who teaches statistics and college readiness math. She has months of classroom experience, but she has already left a lifelong impression on the students and staff members of the campus.

“She has built the types of relationships that you expect in a teacher with 20-plus years of experience,” said Ashley Alloway, principal at Lake Ridge High School. “She’s a natural teacher. She’s a natural relationship builder. She has a beautiful and exciting future ahead of her in education.”

McCool is a product of Mansfield ISD. She attended J.L. Boren Elementary School, Mary Orr Intermediate School, Brooks Wester Middle School and graduated from Mansfield High.

Sarah Campbell is also a Mansfield High School graduate and currently serves as the math interventionist at Thelma Jones Elementary School. Those who work with her said she does whatever it takes to ensure that students are successful.

“She doesn’t just do her job well; she can do any job at this campus and do it well,” said Mico Rhines, principal at Thelma Jones Elementary School. “It doesn’t matter what needs to be done. Her heart is in it.”

Campbell has always wanted the opportunity to come back and work in the district she attended as a student. After seven years in another district, she finally received that opportunity and has been loving it ever since.

The three winners were announced and recognized at the 2021 MISD Employee Recognition Banquet on Thursday, May 13.

If you pass by Cannon Drive in Mansfield, you’ll likely notice the hundreds of pinwheels twirling in the front area of the Willie Brown Academy of Young Scholars.

They add a nice touch to the aesthetics of the school, but the more than 500 pinwheels represent the happy life of a student who should grow up feeling loved, supported and free from abuse.

“It’s on display for child abuse prevention,” said counselor Lisa Eubanks. “A kid needs to not worry about anything…that’s what it represents, and that’s what I want them to remember.”

The project is part of the national Pinwheels for Prevention campaign. Organizers hope the colorful, shiny spokes of the pinwheel that spin freely with the wind inspire others to think of how happy childhood should be.

At Brown Academy, a student’s name is on each pinwheel. There are rows of larger pinwheels that have the names of the teachers written on them.

Eubanks said her fourth grade helpers assisted to place the pinwheels in the lawn area. The students noted that they volunteered their free time because the cause was dear to their hearts.

“I loved doing this and helping my fellow students,” said 10-year-old Katie Montana.

“I just want everyone to know that they’ll fit in no matter what. We’re all unique,” classmate Addison Sarvis added.

Eubanks said the pinwheels will remain on display at the school as a reminder to the community that a child’s life is precious and abuse should not be tolerated.

“If you see something, say something,” she said. “If a friend tells you that you’re being harmed, tell someone. They need to be encouraged to tell, and that’s what we hope to do—create an environment in which they are free to do so.”

Pinwheels for Prevention was first launched in 2008 by Prevent Child Abuse America. The organization’s mission is to prevent the abuse and neglect of the nation’s children so that they grow up to be happy and productive adults.

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.

Mansfield ISD is taking intentional steps to focus on the holistic needs of students.

With the district’s social and emotional learning (SEL) trainings, resources and initiatives, teachers are getting the tools they need to empower themselves and their students to become more aware of self and others.

Lessons, such as empathy, diversity, and kindness, are integrated into the curriculum. Mendy Gregory, the district’s director of social and emotional learning, said her goal is to help students understand and manage their emotions in order to make meaningful relationships with others and make responsible decisions.

“Our kids need to feel safe. Our kids need to feel connected, and they need to know that you believe in them 100%,” said Gregory. “They will work for you, but you have to spend time letting them know, ‘Hey, I got you, and we’re going to do this together.”

Gregory said most MISD classes have either a social contract or a treatment agreement, which was created by students, to set guidelines for how to treat each other. In addition, a number of MISD classrooms start the day utilizing restorative circles so that students can communicate and share with each other using their learned SEL competencies.

“Restorative practices builds relationships,” said Nena Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at D.P. Morris Elementary School. “We become closer as a family, and we respect each other more, and we’re more willing to help each other and work harder.”

Students who take part in the morning circle activity have noted that it has become their safe space.

“I like circle time because I can express my feelings, and my classmates won’t judge or anything,” said Chelsea Lewis, a fourth grader.

Gregory said SEL can help students reach greater heights academically while strengthening trust between students and educators.

“That’s why SEL is so important,” she said. “We have got to create that safety that you belong here; and we’ll move mountains, but you’ve got to have that first.”

To continue the social and emotional conversations at home, the SEL department provides parents resources through the district’s website. The department also launched virtual SEL parent night meetings to teach strategies to support what is taught at school.

When Jesus Herrera enrolled into Mansfield ISD’s Early College High School, his goal was to save time and money as he worked toward his goal of becoming an engineer.

The high school, in partnership with Tarrant County College Southeast, provides students the opportunity to take college-level courses without having to pay for tuition and books.

Herrera will be part of the school’s first graduating class. He'll be crossing the stage with an associate degree and 70 hours of college credit—and he recently found out that his Ivy League bachelor’s degree won’t cost him a thing.

“I received the QuestBridge National Scholarship and the Dell Scholars Scholarship, and I’ll be going to Princeton on a full ride,” Herrera explained.

The senior said he applied for both scholarships at the suggestion of Katherine Levenson, a social studies and AVID teacher at the Early College High School. Those suggestions have paid off for him in a big way.

As a Dell Scholar, Herrera was awarded $20,000 annually, a laptop, textbook credits and ongoing support to students who demonstrate that they have a different type of GPA—grit, potential and ambition.

The QuestBridge Match Scholarship helps high-achieving, low-income students gain admission and scholarships to 45 of the country’s top-ranked colleges. Match Scholarship recipients are granted early admission to one of QuestBridge's college partners with a full four-year scholarship, worth over $200,000. It covers the cost of attendance, tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses.

“I’m still in disbelief,” said Herrera. “I can’t believe that I will be going to Princeton for free, but I’m so grateful and excited for the opportunity.”

Herrera noted that the Early College High School program has helped him a lot because of the rigor of the college courses.

Principal Erica Bennett said the 18-year-old is a prodigy student and a perfect example of how the school can help students reach their next level of success.

“His focus and discipline and his work ethic has allowed him to really transform what ECHS looks like,” said Bennett. “When they came to us in their ninth grade year, they were our babies. It makes me feel proud. I’m proud as a principal, but I’m proud almost as a parent.”

Herrera plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in engineering and pursue his master’s degree in the same field. He hopes to use his degrees to work for the government or starting his own company.

“It’s always been one of my goals just to never settle with thing that are small,” he said. “I know how to work. I know how to put in the work, and I just hope I can reach big things for the future.”

MISD’s Early College High School opened in 2017 and is a part of the district’s Power of Choice initiative. Learn more about the specialized program here.

The Mansfield ISD Education Foundation has come through for the district in a big way to offer additional support for students and staff members during such a unique school year.

Recently, the Foundation donated more than $100,000 as part of the organization’s annual grant patrol.

The patrol usually features a group of community members who surprise teachers in classrooms with checks that will be used to fund innovation in classroom. With this year’s heightened COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the grants were awarded outside from March 4 through March 10 in front of the various schools.

“This past year has been frustrating for educators, and I’ll tell you what a joy it has been to be a part of bringing something positive,” said Lynn Wilkie, director of the MISD Education Foundation. “This is our favorite time of year where we actually get to award the grant to teachers.”

There were dozens of grants given to provide students creative tools and equipment for core subjects. An added focus this year was to help students holistically.

“A lot of (the grants) focused on social and emotional health, diversity and inclusion, and teacher perseverance throughout the whole pandemic,” said Patrick Brown, vice president of operations for Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. “You could feel the emotion. You could feel the dedication from the teachers.”

Traci Browder, kindergarten teacher at Cora Spencer Elementary School, was brought to tears when she realized her diversity initiative had been funded. She said it is a game changer for the entire community, and it couldn’t have happened without the MISD Education Foundation.

“I feel, as a mom whose child is treated unfairly just because of the color of their skin, if I could be part of that change, if I could make it better for the next child, that just means the world to me,” she explained.

With the spring grants awarded, that brings the total amount of money given this school year to MISD from the Foundation to more than $260,000. It is a gesture Wilkie said shows what happens when the community works together.

“This is your money in action,” she said. “If you want to donate to the Education Foundation, this is what it’s all about—making a difference for Mansfield ISD.”

The Education Foundation partners with organizations and individuals in the community to fund educational experiences that go beyond what taxpayer dollars alone can provide. Anyone interested in donating to the Foundation can do so securely through its website.