Team Mason: Excellence in Action

Team Mason articles shine a spotlight on students, teachers, programs, and projects in all buildings and grades in the district. Team Mason articles are written by Dr. Janet Alleman, instructional consultant for Mason Public Schools. 

Dr. Alleman is Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University and has worked with Mason Public Schools since 2012 as an instructional consultant. Team Mason articles are a snapshot of her observations and experiences in classrooms and buildings throughout the district. 

Mark your calendars for April 11- you won’t want to miss Evening of the Arts at Mason Middle School! I guarantee you will go home feeling “pumped up” and joyful!

Evening of the Arts will feature performances and exhibits by our 6th-8th grade band, drama, choir and art students.

New this year will be a VERY unique digital, projected immersion art display featuring Mason’s landmarks. I had the rare privilege of observing it being created, and I think it is truly amazing!

While all of these artful experiences will look polished on the night you enjoy them, don’t underestimate the planning, artful teaching, and developing life skills that go into their development and execution!

You can show your appreciation for our phenomenal students and staff supporting the Evening of the Arts on April 11 from 6-9 p.m. at Mason Middle School. We hope to see you for an enchanted evening! 

It’s amazing what you find when you keep your eyes and ears open! Recently, I had a break in my schedule at Harvey Education Center and Mrs. Chiarini asked me if I wanted to join the kindergartners for” Second Step”, a Board-approved program. I sure am glad I did!

Imagine 100 kindergartners sitting on a huge rug in the media center learning from their teacher team (Angie Chiarini, Lisa Harless, Rachael Huntley, and Danielle Spearman) about managing disappointment!

Guess what? There were some tools modeled by the teacher team that could probably serve as refreshers for many adults. If you have a connection to children at Harvey, consider asking them for a tutorial about disappointment. You will be amazed at what you will learn – and what they share may preclude you from freaking out the next time you are disappointed!

Time simply evaporated as the four kindergarten teachers taught the lesson using singing, role play, a game, and a video to engage students by having them actively participate to process, acknowledge, and learn how to manage feelings associated with disappointments.

While students found humor in watching their teachers role play inappropriate behavior, as well as appropriate responses, the importance of reinforcing the positive was obvious. The energy and talent of the teachers had you believing they were auditioning for a TV show – and those students were “all in.”

Yes, on this day, these students were entertained. However, there was no question they were also learning. Of course, the proof is in their actions. The good news is these children not only learned about emotions they face, but also the “why” and “how” of managing them successfully. Learning to listen, focusing attention, handling conflict with friends, and fair ways to play are among the host of lessons within the curriculum. To me, they all sound like authentic learning opportunities needed to navigate a successful life!

Check out our new strategic plan and note we have already started to implement what we promise every student every day. Stay tuned for my next “find” in the district!

The talents among our teachers in Mason never cease to amaze me. With their workloads and district expectations, personal responsibilities, and I might add, their hesitancy to present in front of their peers, they aren’t breaking down the doors to showcase their gifts.

Make no mistake, they don’t earn big bucks for presenting, but a few of our faculty, with much prodding, are beginning to step forth! It’s exciting, and a terrific way to prove you don’t have to drive 100 miles to be considered an expert.

Recently, Jen Meeuwenberg stepped to the plate for a North Aurelius faculty meeting and offered to share her new twist in math. She spent some time this summer working on new strategies to get students more engaged. She had come to the realization that, too frequently, she felt like she was doing all the thinking for her 4th graders. After poking around in the literature, she landed on the work of Peter Liljedahl and his book, Thinking Classrooms, and she was hooked. During the year she has been implementing and studying the process with her 4th graders.

During her presentation she made several key points regarding thinking, motivation, and engagement while attendees participated in the process. To really get it, you must do it! The room was filled with enthusiasm and the ‘seed’ had been planted. Of course, my curiosity got the best of me, and I set a date with Jen to observe this process in action in her classroom.

In her classroom, she set the stage for the session and established the learning target and moved students into their large writing spaces. The students stood and worked together using non-permanent markers to foster collaboration, accountability, low risk, and high-level engagement. Students were assessed not only on team outcomes, but other things such as perseverance, their ability to express their thinking, and the ways they challenged their teammates.

At the conclusion of a skillfully orchestrated, interactive lesson, students reconvened on the rug to debrief and reflect on what they had learned. I was convinced that Jen’s 4th graders had worked their brains mighty hard, had persevered, and had met the target during the class!

Thank, Jen! Word on the street is, ‘there are peers who are going to harvest your talent by replicating this process in their classrooms.’

“Vote like your democracy depends on it.” How profound! These were the words of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, as she spoke to a room full of our Mason High School students from the Youth and Government Club and our law classes. Plaudits to Brittany Catalano and Hilary Schroeder for arranging another amazing experience for our Mason youth!

For one full hour, her message commanded the attention of the audience as she highlighted the most salient elements of her work life, tantalized our learners with the array of career possibilities in political science, and nudged the listeners to consider a host of opportunities to pursue in public service.

Dana Nessel invited students to become active in government now by doing things like seeking high school internships with government officials, volunteering in public service, and doing due diligence on political information that hits the air waves. She assured our students that the more they learn about the inner workings of government, the more trust they will have in it, and realize the extraordinary importance of democracy.

Finally, she reminded our students that, as a sixteen-year-old, you are not only eligible to apply for a driver’s license, but you are automatically pre-registered for voting at eighteen. A tremendous gift and way to exercise agency! She underscored the idea- it is not only a right, but also a responsibility!

Given the passion Dana Nessel expressed, and the connections she made with her audience, I’m convinced those individuals eligible to vote in November will do so with gusto, remembering her words, “Vote like your democracy depends on it!”

Did you know Professor Derek Burkholder, a marine biologist from Nova Southeastern University in Florida and a Mason High School graduate, was at Steele Elementary recently? Many of you may be thinking, “Now that must have cost the school district a chunk of money!” Guess again, the trip was free because his visit was virtual!

As someone who attended the session, I can’t imagine these fourth-grade students being any more excited if he presented in person. The students were highly engaged and posed sophisticated and well-crafted questions!

I, of course, wanted to know the back story about the visit, so I went to Katie Wiseman who invited Derek to meet with the fourth graders. Katie revealed that she had grown up with Derek and maintained a friendship over the years. When Katie, a new teacher at Mason, realized the fourth-grade literacy program presents several essential questions and stories about animals, larding in skills such as point of view, main ideas, and supporting details, and with a host of students excited about sharks, she immediately thought of Derek. The rest is history!

These fourth graders have learned a ton about sharks. Plus, for several students, it has opened the door to explore a science field they might want to pursue as adults. They met a new role model who has opened their eyes to the power of reading and research to expand their horizons and nurture their curiosities. They may find themselves saying, “If Derek Burkholder, a hometown Mason kid can grow up to be a marine biologist, so can I.”

Preparing our students for the real world is part of our new strategic plan, and for these fourth graders, the virtual experience was prudent, powerful, and illustrative of how our teachers find ways to bring our words to life while still being cost effective. What alum can we tap next?

I attended Mark Sundermann’s 10A English class only to discover a creative seating arrangement in his classroom. Students were seated in a square, giving all of them a chance to actually look at each other! A feeling of trust and community prevailed, and wow did it feel safe and caring!

In addition, the class took part in four minutes of mindfulness, which you might not be able to comprehend unless you experience it regularly, to set the tone for a powerful session.

The class had been reading and discussing A Midsummer Night's Dream (undoubtedly, for some, not the most engaging piece of literature they’d ever read). However, I hasten to say, given the framing of the questions and the learning opportunities these students were” including discussing the text, movie segments, unique questions, text to text, and text to self-connecting, the students were engaged and “into it.

On this day, Mark was using the Harkness Technique – a terrific way to engage student voice! Harkness is described as a pedagogical practice that hones students’ interpersonal skills and helps them grapple with mature ways of disagreeing. Students must listen to others, connect key points, and monitor their own conversations. Because they must prepare in advance, students have to think and build confidence to take part in the group conversation.

The Harkness model is one that fosters connections to text, to other pieces of literature, and perhaps, most importantly, to their personal lives. This, of course, is essential for our students, giving them a reason to care about the content.

Mr. Sundermann ‘makes it happen’ even in a small space!

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a team-taught WIN (What I Need) class at Steele Elementary. The smiles on the children’s faces as they filed into this lovely classroom told me this was a special space – and one that brings them joy.

Trish Byrnes and Angie Thompson were just as geeked as the students – and for 30 minutes, no one missed a beat! The target for the session was, “I can determine point of view in the text.” Mini chunks of “teacher talk” and modeling followed by student “chews” (applications), kept these learners on task.

Students made smooth transitions to oral and choral reading and then to writing while engaging in teacher/student interaction.

I was especially taken with the amount of emotion and imagery put into instruction which exemplifies one of my favorite sayings, “If you don’t feel anything, knowing is not enough.”

For these WIN kiddos, they are “on it.” Judging by their responses, verbally and visually, it was an impactful and successful session that met the target. Time simply evaporated!

While these children have been identified as needing support for the target skill, their need was being met in a space that’s far from punitive. In fact, it’s actually very rewarding! As for Trish and Angie, their orchestration was remarkable – even without a baton!

First Alert Chief Meteorologist Darrin Rockcole is a familiar face to Mid-Michigan television viewers on Channel 10, however, not someone you would typically find in a classroom.

However, he was a welcome guest at Steele Elementary when he was invited to talk about weather with second graders. Connecting a TV face to a real person created quite the excitement!

For forty minutes, Darrin was bombarded with a flurry of questions like “How does the weather affects us?”; “What’s the difference between partly cloudy to partly sunny?”; “How are clouds formed?” “Where’s the snow?”; and more.

The second graders were completing a literacy unit with a weather theme and were about to launch into a science unit addressing the same topic. Bringing a local expert/TV celebrity was a terrific way to add purpose to reading, enhance understanding of the content, and engender curiosity. A host of future career opportunities related to climatology also crept into the conversation.

There’s nothing like giving our students a peek at all the opportunities they can pursue, another element found in Mason’s new strategic plan.

What Darrin might miss in a forecast (and never fear, a student reminded him he’s not always right) he makes up as a teacher! His use of the SmartBoard by diagramming and describing weather phenomena held the attention of 100 second graders – to say nothing of adding meaning and long-term retention.

Our teachers are always thinking about ways to connect content to the lives of our children and youth, to give them purpose, and to foster a love of learning. Darrin Rockcole hit it out of the ballpark. He underscored one of my favorite phrases, “If you don’t feel anything, knowing is not enough.”

As our students returned to their classrooms, there was no doubt they had lots of thoughts and emotions about the weather and beyond. Who knows what second grader may someday replace Darrin on Channel 10 or become a researcher at the National Drought Mitigation Center? Everything is possible!

Kudos to our second-grade faculty at Steel- Sierra Bennett, Mallory Fournier, Ashley Johnston, and Racheal Lator.

Gifts come in all sizes and shapes. Some are tangible while others are experiences. Recently, Mason Public Schools faculty and staff received a professional learning experience focusing on trauma that drew rave reviews and opened the eyes and ears of all of us about this pervasive phenomenon.

While some gifts are simply luxuries, others are utilitarian - much appreciated when the need is great. Well at the end of this very growth producing day, we left with a tool kit that we can begin enacting immediately! In fact, many of the tools promise to be useful for a host of people and not necessarily in trauma. Does it get better?

While every tax dollar is precious and obviously budgets are tight, the expenditure our district made on an October 23 PD Day gave us a tremendous bang for our buck! Our faculty and staff, and indirectly our students, received a remarkable gift.

We will be unwrapping the contents of our gift throughout the year. We can assure you that your children and adolescents will benefit.

Another find! Recently, I had the opportunity to attend Ted Talks by students in Jacob Hardy’s What I Need (WIN) class. Students in the WIN classes had the opportunity to present and hear from fellow students on a variety of topics, and the experience affirmed for me that Mr. Hardy believes in the power of student voice!

Imagine a billboard in front of Mason Middle School with questions like: “Will Sports Umps Become Robots?”, “Is Drive Through Faster than Going Inside?”, and “Why Do People Not Like School Lunches?”, these are some of the topics students explored during their talks. I’m convinced that if you were free, you’d be knocking down the middle school door to learn more about what the students found out about these, and other, topics!

Mr. Hardy used the Ted Talks to underscore the importance of communication– an underrated skill set that is key to having the edge in future life work. To underscore the uneasiness many people feel when speaking in public, he urged the audience to be “in the midst” and supportive during the presentations.

While he explained the speeches were practice sessions, and not professionally polished, they were mighty good! You could have heard a pin drop during the delivery with resounding ovations at the conclusions of the talks.

Student voice, who cares? Mr. Hardy does! Again, it’s not our intention to have students take over instruction, they aren’t equipped, but they do deserve a piece of the action. On this day, they got just that!

Who cares what our students think? Let’s be clear, our faculty and staff do! During our staff back-to-school professional development, our district stepped way out of the box and invited students from our middle and high school to serve on a panel facilitated by our very own Mark Sundermann. Students shared their thoughts and insights associated with their needs and wants for the coming school year. Not surprising, our students stole the show as the most compelling part of the two-day kickoff.

Make no mistake, in preparation for the session, we discussed the non-negotiable things about school including the 180-day school year and course requirements. Among the many messages our student panelists shared were a plea for more time to talk, debate, and ask questions in classes, more choices in formative assessments, more collaborative activities, and more authentic projects.

Would you believe the student panelists – with no prompting – took questions from the audience of 250 adults? It was a sight to hear – and for some, a real eye opener! While change is often hard, scary, and uncomfortable, it is essential for all of us if we are going to prepare our students for the real world.

Since that memorable learning opportunity on opening day, I have had the privilege of observing a host of classes and have witnessed some very positive responses to our panel and its message.

Stay tuned for future news about community-based seating, Ted Talks, portfolios, student teaming, literature circles, learning centers at the secondary level, and more - all of which can be effective teaching and learning practices!

It is no secret that it’s often hard to shift adult mindsets, however, in 2023, it is a must if we are truly going to meet the needs of ALL of our students. While it certainly isn’t cool, especially for teenagers, to tell us they appreciate our attempts to change and enhance our practices, their attentiveness and heightened engagement says it all!

While our students may not be equipped to run Mason Public Schools – and it certainly isn’t our intent – we are systematically embracing their voice to meet the needs of every student, every day – a tall order – but our collective commitment as promised in our new strategic plan.

In Jake Ward’s earth science class, students were challenged to “discover” the topography of an area without being able to view it. Now, how exciting is that? Admittedly, for some this might have felt a bit scary because they couldn’t simply Google it – and for others who have a fear of being wrong, it could be stressful.

However, Jake’s ability to create a classroom community that is emotionally safe, that possesses a growth mindset atmosphere and is highly engaging is remarkable. Daily, he establishes high expectations, that he ensures are achievable, then enacts the ignite, chunk, chew, review/reflect instructional model that supports students as they unpack the content.

Students engaged in a warmup, the learning target was introduced, and Jake set the stage for a two-day investigation that would simulate how astronomers collect data on the surface of planets without being able to see through thick cloud covers. He handed out lab kits including chopsticks which served as measuring devices with one centimeter increments, boxes with 90 small holes arranged in a grid pattern on the lid of the box, and modeling clay. In pairs, their

task was to build a landscape out of clay that would fit in the box. Jake explained certain things that needed to be incorporated into their landscapes including gradual slopes, steep slopes, landing zones and more.

The next day, pairs of students exchanged boxes and, without opening them, tried to figure out what the landscape was like, locate the various features, including the landing spaces, and create topographical maps using the elevation data they were collecting in a systematic manner (holes were labeled A-1 along the top and I-10 along the side) with complementary contour lines.

Throughout the two-day inquiry lesson, Jake provided ‘chunks’ of information followed by pairs processing the content and applying it to various steps of the learning experience. He circulated around the classroom serving as a ‘consultant,’ larding in challenging probes, and of course adding those subtle motivating comments such as ‘what if,’ ‘I wonder,’ ‘have you considered,’ etc.

Fast forward to the moment the pairs had their own boxes and the topographical maps returned. The room was filled with energy and suspense. How accurate were their peers? Where did they go astray in their calculations? Thoughtful conversation abounded as reckoning was realized.

Time simply evaporated! As Jake checked the clock, he realized he needed to pull the session together and ask his students to reflect on what they had learned. He masterfully asked for everybody’s attention and for students to write in their journals at least two key things they had learned. This was followed by a short reflective discussion teasing out key observations and generating new questions.

While it should come as no surprise that it wouldn’t be ‘cool’ to admit it was a compelling learning experience and one ‘I’ really liked, their verbal reflections, body language, and facial expressions were convincing to the observer that Googling isn’t the end all, and while it’s a terrific tool, rest assured that in Ward’s class it’s on the back burner and critical and analytical thinking remain the priority!

P.S. Our amazing MPS’ Foundation provided the dollars for the kits – and by the way, can you imagine Jake’s prep time?

- Dr. Janet Alleman, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University, MPS Instructional Consultant


When was the last time you witnessed 24 second graders all smiles as they eagerly gathered their learning materials and were peacefully rushing to the rug for a math talk? This event was simply magical!

“What is a learning talk anyway?”

While its label might sound like a time waster, it is a planned learning opportunity that has students sitting together as a class, taking turns showing each other multiple strategies for solving the same problem, and questioning each other

about the accuracy of their solutions and the efficiency of the strategies they used. Make NO mistake, it takes careful planning on the part of the teacher – and one who listens to every word of the conversation to get a view into the depth of understanding students have and any misconceptions that need to be addressed in later lessons.

Nicole Carlson, second grade teacher at Alaiedon, truly believes math talks help her ability to assess student progress, improve student math proficiency, and serve as a powerful equity strategy that affords her second graders to see themselves as valued math thinkers.

During a math talk, instead of modeling and assigning several practice examples, students are given one problem and a generous amount of time to solve it – and the class members are encouraged to use as many strategies as they can. Requiring at least two strategies builds independence in verifying their own solutions and jump starts student ideas for further conversations. Nicole leverages the power of think, pair, share affording students the opportunity to think on their own, take turns exchanging strategies and observations, and share with the entire class.

Time evaporated as students moved in and out of the circle on the rug to converse with partners – with volunteers going to the SmartBoard to share and show. During one defining moment, when a brand-new challenge was provided by the teacher, all but one student calculated the same answer. Would you believe the one student held out – and to the shock of everyone, he was right! Words can’t express the empowered look on his face as he shared his thinking, the strategy he used, and where he thought others might have gone wrong.

The emotional safety that permeates throughout this classroom made the learning experience all okay and Nicole skillfully used the moment to serve as foreshadowing for what they’d all be working on during the next session. She assured her students that they simply hadn’t learned it YET!

Providing lots of time for talking about, and showing, math strategies may sound impossible given teachers’ limited teaching time, the payoff, however, can be great! It affords students the opportunity to be exposed to multiple ways to approach the same problem and hear various explanations as they listen, watch, and talk to each other, see patterns, and make connections. For Nicole’s class, math talks provide ONE strategy in her repertoire for math instruction and a venue for celebrating their accomplishments.

- Dr. Janet Alleman, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University, MPS Instructional Consultant


You can’t attribute it to climate change and yet it’s mighty impactful for our students! It is Mason teachers launching innovative ideas – and in this case on the first day back from winter break!

On January 3, a 27-year veteran science teacher and an 8-year colleague were trying something brand new after careful study and collaboration using the powerful lesson study model. They were confident enough to ask their principal Lance Delbridge, teacher coach Melissa Netzel, and me to observe their students in action and provide feedback.

One of Kathy Omillian and Jimmy Joyce’s goals this trimester has been to develop a new anchoring phenomenon for their nuclear chemistry unit using a cloud chamber. (This new high-tech chemistry equipment was gifted to the department by the Mason Public Schools Foundation!) The cloud chamber provides students a visual representation for deriving the phenomenon of nuclear chemistry.

Kathy set the stage for the lesson by explaining she’d been a little under the weather during break and because she’d been mostly at home due to the weather she wondered if it had to do with something she’d been encountering regularly. She showed the objects she speculated could possibly be the culprits – and then pulled

out the Geiger counters. Students’ faces lit up – and they were ‘into it,’ as now, they were given the challenge of figuring out which object was giving off the most radiation and whether or not it fell into the danger zone.

Objects they were given to test included Kathy’s cellphone, a Diet Coke (she explained she sips a lot of these as ‘pick me ups’), her computer, a bag of bones (interestingly enough, she’s been doing a lot with them as she preps for her anthropology class), her smoke detector, and a teacup - a memento from her grandmother. (She admits to sipping a lot of tea, especially when she’s home for long periods.)

Students launched their data gathering and group conversations. As we listened in on the groups, it was apparent they were drawing on their prior knowledge. The cloud chamber was a stunning addition, giving students the unique ability to observe the small particles due to the dense fog created by vaporized isopropyl alcohol. Task variety including observing, talking, listening, drawing, and writing – even a gallery wall revealing teams’ calculations and illustrations, made from a seemingly shorter class session.

As observers, visibly seeing the power of launching something new – and the value of collective thinking as a part of the classroom community was exciting. It served as a terrific example of learning being socially mediated – a Deweyian big idea of 100 years ago that to this day cannot be refuted. While Kathy and Jimmy, along with the observer, learned a lot from this new enhancement to nuclear science, the bell signally class ending was hardly checking a box. Much had been accomplished with this FIRST, but more was to come.

If only I had a transcript to share from the two-hour debrief, I could easily convince you that teaching is a scholarly activity! Questions, analyses, insights, suggested tweaks, and enhancements to the lesson were all a part of the deep conversation – further evidence that Growing Season exists at Mason High School – even in winter!

- Dr. Janet Alleman, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University, MPS Instructional Consultant

With tax season on people’s minds, return on your investment is undoubtedly part of many conversations. Some may be asking, “how are late start Wednesdays paying off for our Mason students?”

During the late start Wednesdays, Mason teachers work together in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) using the dedicated time to collaborate and focus on increasing student achievement.

Recently, Mason Middle School allocated its after school faculty meeting to showcase three teacher teams’ successes as the result of the PLC process being implemented during those early morning meetings. During the PLCs, teaching teams focus on four key questions:

  • What is it we want our students to know and be able to do?
  • How will we know if each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when some students do not learn it?
  • How will we extend the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?

Teams discuss the quantitative (formative assessments, unit tests,.) and qualitative data (absences, changes in home situations, traumatic events,.) and together adjust their teaching and learning practices.

During the faculty meeting, the teams shared with their peers materials and strategies they are using in an effort to better meet the needs of our students. Be assured, there is evidence that our PLC time is paying dividends for our children and youth. While it is a ‘work in progress,’ you are getting a good return on your investment! We thank our community for its support!

The following teacher teams presented during the meeting:

  • Tiffany Henfling and Audrey Waters
  • Carrie Mulanix and Erica Francis
  • Carla Richards, Dawn Matthews, Kayla Nguyen, and Jen Buskirk
  • Katie Konkel and Liz Stark
  • Laura Lewis and Cindy McCormick

Recently, I had the opportunity to be in Mrs. Ballard’s third grade class only to find the Big Boy mascot talking with the students!

Needless to say, I was a bit startled – and somewhat confused! As it turns out, Big Boy had made a surprise visit in response to a letter a student had written to the restaurant manager.

The back story is that the third grade teachers, Julia Ballard, Holly Dornbush, Abby Strachan, and Shanna Messner, had designed an assignment asking that each student write an opinion piece. The expectation was that the piece be on a select topic, supporting a point of view, and providing at least three reasons that support their opinion. The catch, of course, was sending the letter to a real place with the hope that third graders would receive actual responses.

There’s nothing better than having an authentic audience when it comes to motivation! While we know from the recent research that K-12 writing scores in the United States are disappointing, to say the least; our Steele teachers are taking this finding seriously and doing their best to generate exciting ways to teach writing. The opinion piece proved to be a terrific assignment given the responses students are receiving! A great example of authentic assessment!

After receiving a letter from a third grade student, Big Boy popped in to thank Eleanor for her letter and leave vouchers for every Steele student and educator to receive a free milkshake! Wow! How affirming is that! I’m wondering what other 3rd grade letters will warrant such a feat!?

So, what do TED Talks and celebrations have in common? Actually, they are synonymous if students create them and share the fruits of their labor with their classmates!

Recently, I had the privilege of being a member of the audience in Room 22 at Mason Middle School (MMS) when members of Jacob Hardy’s What Individuals Need (WIN) class presented to a room packed with very attentive middle schoolers.

Given that WIN is only 30 minutes, four days a week, regrettably only three talks were delivered – but with gusto! I acquired a boat load of research-based information and acquired a thirst for learning more about Racial Judgment, Environment Regulations Associated with Dog Breeding Facilities, and Seed Types: Which Are Harder – or Easier – To Grow. I was especially struck with the range of data sources used by the presenters. They ranged from personal experience and observation to survey results from the student body to statistics from credible national organizations. All of which added interest, appeal, and personalization!

Of course, TED Talks do not just happen. In fact, they are scaffolded learning experiences with the intentional development of lifelong skills. I was fortunate enough to be in Jacob Hardy’s classroom when he rolled out the TED Talk project. He said, “A good TED Talk focuses on one idea only. You can support your idea with a foundation of related points – facts, stats, and stories. They need, however, to clearly relate to the central idea to have impact!”

For many, of course, words aren’t nearly enough, so in typical Hardy style, he followed with YouTube examples to illustrate and add credence to his words. Now that’s powerful teaching!

Throughout the trimester, Jacob Hardy larded in mini lessons and engaged in ongoing check ins with students as they created their talks. He was adamant that students select topics they were passionate about. Every TED Talk had to have a clear and concise message. The talks were to also have clear take-aways for the audience, needed to be drafted as stories, and the visuals students created needed to be tailored to the audience.

The recent experience in Room 22 was testimony that sharing the fruits of labor, as in delivering a TED Talk to a live audience, is celebratory. Make no mistake, teachers at MMS create memorable celebrations – even without cupcakes and bounce houses!

Did you know that April 29, 2023, was proclaimed “Pete Barnum Arbor Day” in the City of Mason?  He has been the agricultural teacher at Mason High School for more than 20 years and serves as the advisor for the local FFA chapter.

Pete was honored at a special ceremony and was recognized for his commitment to the FFA and its national motto, shared by Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, which reads, “learning to do, doing to learn, living to serve.” Follow Pete around for a day and you’ll quickly realize this motto fits him perfectly!

To honor Pete, a sugar maple tree has been planted near the FFA Sugar Shack.  Pete has led his students to earn a number of awards and in 2023 broke all records locally, statewide, and nationally. The knowledge, authentic learning opportunities, and leadership qualities his students exhibit are truly impressive!

Trappings from Mason Public Schools Foundation pop up in amazing places and are doing unbelievable things for our students! Recently, I entered the cafeteria at North Aurelius and found the place packed with third through fifth graders totally captivated by a nationally acclaimed author – namely John Schu. Leave it to Angie Moore, the librarian, to figure out a way to convince John Schu to make a stop in Mason – and by the way, bringing over 200 children’s books for the school library! It doesn’t get better!

I felt like I was at a pep rally. Everybody was super charged about books as John leveraged his dynamic interactions with students and applied new technologies as a means of connecting authors, illustrators, books, and readers. Not surprising, he has been named by a Library Journal as a Mover and Shaker. Throughout his presentation, he expressed nuggets of wisdom such as reading is a workout of the mind, books help see us with our hearts, and books inspire. I guarantee our third through fifth graders left the session with a renewed sense of joy about books – with some even thinking they too could be an author, teacher, or librarian just like John Schu!

Check out John Schu’s This Is a School (Candlewick, 2022) illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, This Is a Story (Candlewick, 2023) illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo, and The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life (Stenhouse, 2022). He’s currently revising Louder Than Hunger, a novel-in-verse for middle school readers (Candlewick, 2023). John Schu lives in Naperville, Illinois.

Thanks to our very own Mason Public Schools Foundation. Great work!

If you're looking for lessons in leadership, you might want to check out Traci Casali’s leadership class at the middle school! Last year, her amazing students even managed to get airtime on the local TV channel as the result of their yeoman efforts to plan and implement a fundraiser for the Sparrow Health Trauma Team that was on duty the night of the tragic event at Michigan State University.

The dollars earned from the fundraiser were used to purchase gift baskets, which several of the students had the opportunity to personally deliver, when they visited with the Sparrow recipients. It’s impossible to put into words the indelible impact this experience had on the givers and the receivers!

When I visited the leadership class, students were “all in” as they were creating Dream Boards. Listening to their conversations centered on goals and hearing them discuss what they needed to do to achieve them were mighty powerful. Mrs. Casali reminded them that when they talk about their goals there is a 50% chance they will realize them. The percentage goes up to 75% when they post them and make them public. Of course, the practicality comes when they formulate their action plans. A bonus is that we, as educators and family members, can serve as their cheerleaders by giving them guidance and support! “Yes, it takes a village!”

When I asked Mrs. Casali about the leadership skills embedded in the course, she was quick to list eight that her students practice- courage, honor, respect, responsibility, communication, confidence, perseverance, and innovation. You need to go no further than the school store (an ongoing leadership class initiative) to see them in action!

Make no mistake, Mrs. Casali’s classroom atmosphere is overflowing with motivation and positivity! I was especially struck by one of the signs in her classroom that reads, “Success is not overnight. It’s when every day you get a little better than the day before. It all adds up!” How true!

While the class is only for the lucky middle schoolers, maybe we could convince Mrs. Casali to offer one for adults! I guarantee we would all benefit! I will be the first to sign up!

Star light, star bright, what do I wish for tonight? I wish for more individuals who enter the education profession to have the opportunity to be mentored by two of Mason Public Schools’ stars, both who recently received well-deserved honors.

Cindy Hyaduck was this year’s recipient of the Mason Public School Foundation “Top Dog” Award. She has been a part of our district for 42 years as a teacher and has been instrumental in developing, and enacting, a host of individualized curriculum materials designed to address the needs of every child.

She has diligently built relationships with state, county, and local organizations and has designed an amazing Special Olympics Program.

One of the events she orchestrates is the annual Ability Awareness Day, which takes place at the high school with major help from Unified Partners from the middle and high school.

What a thrill it was to observe the 80 students in attendance who improved many skills by rotating through 20 stations - including kicking soccer balls, playing basketball, and showing off their best yoga moves. Students were reuniting with former classmates and were introduced to teachers they might have next year. The joy revealed in their beautiful faces said it all – a truly heartwarming experience! When you get down to the core, it’s Cindy who makes it happen!

Another star, Lauren Fusilier, was selected as this year’s recipient of the Mason Area Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Teacher Award. This award recognizes an individual who best exemplifies the teaching qualities that inspire students to learn and value education. In her role as PreK-12 Special Education Teacher Consultant, with enhanced responsibilities for Autism, her influence extends far beyond the four walls of a classroom. She serves as a mentor guide for fellow educators, sharing her wealth of knowledge, and expertise to enhance professional development across the district.

I had the privilege of participating in a session with individuals who are a part of the New Teacher Academy that she and our MTSS Consultant, Dr. Julie Grech-Kramer created. They “knocked it out of the park” as they shared practical strategies, explicit and subtle, that can be used in day-to-day functions of behavior and how to navigate them. They also raised awareness of how trauma impacts behavior and how to navigate those behaviors. Their presentation demanded serious note taking – and rest assured, no one left early!

The selection committees for the awards didn’t need to go to the planetarium to locate stars- these teachers, and their work, shine brightly across our district – and we thank them for their gifts.

My only regret is that every Masonite didn’t have the rich experience I encountered on April 8, 2024, at Mason Middle School (MMS). 

A solar eclipse is a big deal, and our middle schoolers had the opportunity to realize it! I spent the day looking, listening, and learning as I visited the science classes where our science team went the extra mile to locate excellent video clips, mini experiments, instructional activities, and data sources for supplemental reading about the experience.  

Our MMS science teachers also stayed after school to facilitate an opportunity for students to view the eclipse- something that won’t happen again for another 40 years! The school supplied NASA-approved glasses to every student, provided a telescope with proper filters for refined viewing, and even had pin-hole camera materials available for those who wanted to experience the eclipse with family at home! Our science team at MMS was on it!  

Across the district, other classes also engaged in age-appropriate learning activities for this highly engaging experience. It couldn’t have been more authentic!