Ayo Adelaja

Rebuilding Together Benefits from ARL Internship Program

Ann HeavnerAnn Heavner joined Rebuilding Together Howard County in 2000 as a board member, and in 2008, she left her 27-year banking career to become its executive director. During her tenure, Rebuilding Together has transitioned from a single-day-a-year program into a year-round provider of free repairs to low-income homeowners living in Howard County. The organization is also introducing a Safe and Healthy Housing Program and a Community Revitalization Program. Here Heavner blogs about Rebuilding Together’s positive experiences with an Applications and Research Laboratory (ARL) intern.

As executive director of Rebuilding Together Howard County, I am pleased to share the story of our partnership with ARL, which resulted in our non-profit organization acquiring an intern this spring. Ayo Adelaja, a senior at Atholton High School and the Academy of Finance who plans to attend the University of Michigan this fall, brought to the table an advanced skill set that was much appreciated.

Although Rebuilding Together has been a formal partner with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) for several years, we never worked directly with ARL and we did not know what to expect when we signed up to host an intern.

Maddy Halbach, Academy of Finance instructor and this year’s HCPSS Teacher of the Year, first suggested the idea of a meeting between the two organizations. She said, “How would you like to have an award-winning writer create grant request applications for your non-profit?” The rest is history.

Not only did Ayo write grant requests, his grant requests were approved! For example, Ayo wrote a grant request for Sears’ Heroes At Home, which enables veterans and their families to receive free home repairs. As a result of Ayo’s efforts, Rebuilding Together was awarded $10,000 in funding to repair not one but two veteran homes in Howard County.

Ayo was a valuable team player whose efforts made a lasting impact on the Rebuilding Together organization. He performed important administrative jobs that freed up Rebuilding Together staff to focus on expanding programming and providing more low income homeowners with free home repairs. His energy and drive were outstanding. Ayo would receive a project anticipated to take a week, and he would turn it around in a day.

Rebuilding Together has already signed up for another intern in 2018. We hope to repeat the process with an equally outstanding intern next year!

Students participating in Career Academies receive focused instruction and experience in a chosen career field. An internship provides a key career immersion experience for students in several Career Academies. Interested mentor sites are invited to learn more about Career Academy Internships or contact the Office of Career and Technology Education at 410-313-6629.

Centennial High School CHS students using Canvas in class on Dec. 7, 2015.

Canvas: It’s about Communication, Collaboration and Instruction

Julie Wray
Julie Wray is the coordinator for digital learning innovation and design for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). She has served as an elementary teacher, technology resource teacher, instructional facilitator and graduate instructor.

Joe Allen

Joe Allen joined HCPSS in 2014 as the coordinator of learning systems. Previously, he held positions leading learning and technology functions for Fortune 500 companies.

As HCPSS heads into the final stretch of its second year using the Canvas Learning System, Wray and Allen take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going with the platform.

Canvas, the HCPSS online learning management platform, is aptly named. You could think of a student as a “canvas” that is shaped by teachers, families and life experiences, and is an individual masterpiece by the time they graduate from Howard County public schools. Canvas is also an online space where HCPSS connects all the digital tools and resources teachers use into one place, and helps develop student skills for college and career readiness.

Two years after launching the platform, we see teachers shifting from learning how to use Canvas to transforming their teaching and learning practices through Canvas. Classrooms are moving beyond paper and pencils to functioning in real-time with digital content, communication and feedback.

“Canvas is the first tool that has allowed me to see what a 21st-century classroom looks like. Using Canvas in conjunction with online software like Nearpod has helped me to teach without paper and has my students become more engaged and take ownership of their own learning. Canvas has also made me more acutely aware of the digital competence students must gain in order to be college and career ready,” said one HCPSS teacher.

“I have been able to transition to a paperless classroom because of Canvas…The amount of time I spend grading has been drastically reduced due to the use of rubrics for writing assignments and quizzes that are automatically graded,” another HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas is a place where all teachers are able to communicate with their students and families. Teachers have taken advantage of various features such as announcements to provide regular updates to parents, calendars to highlight upcoming events, and timely, personalized feedback on online assignments.

“The benefit is that there is one central location with everything I need to access for classes or school,” an HCPSS student told us.

“I like how students and parents can access Canvas and learning materials from home. When a student is absent or has transferred from another school, I can post materials on Canvas for the students to ‘make up’ and learn on their own at their own pace,” an HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas provides integrated tools for delivering instruction in engaging and flexible ways by including audio, video, text and other digital tools. Canvas also allows students to collaborate online using discussions, within groups, and participate in peer reviews. With the recently updated Google Apps for Education (GAFE) integration, teachers are also able to easily embed docs, sheets and slides directly into Canvas for students to use.

“Canvas has afforded me the opportunity to build a module that takes my students through the multiple steps of a project. They can watch a video as motivation for the lesson, download files to use, click on links for research, fill out a quiz as an exit task and collaborate as a group to make a Google slide presentation, all in one location. This ability, to have everything in one location and to have an archive of this lesson to build from or make changes to, is invaluable,” one HCPSS teacher said.

Recent HCPSS graduates have already shared how Canvas has real life application and has eased their transition to career or college experiences. They have gained the fundamental skills to collaborate and communicate effectively using a variety of digital tools and systems.

“… I personally think [Canvas is] the best resource we have used so far,” an HCPSS senior said.

Canvas will continue to innovate and introduce new functionality. This year, we introduced grade level pages which simplify communications and information sharing at the elementary level, and the Canvas Parent mobile app, which helps parents at the secondary level keep track of their children’s assignments and grades.

We look forward to Canvas’ ongoing role of creating rich learning experiences for students, efficiencies and blended learning tools for teachers, and opportunities for parents to stay connected to their children’s education.

The Canvas testimonials in this guest blog come from feedback submitted anonymously online by the HCPSS community.

Argentina spring break

Broadening HCPSS Students’ Perspectives Through Cultural Exchange

Julia Greiwe-MartinezJulia Greiwe-Martinez has been teaching Spanish at Howard High School since 2000 and served as the World Language team leader for more than 12 years. Previously, she taught English in Spain and co-founded a translation agency. She has traveled with students on cultural exchanges to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica and Spain.


Brandon Morfoot After graduating from McDaniel College in 2015, Brandon Morfoot joined Atholton High School as a Spanish teacher. Morfoot, who enjoys learning about other cultures, travels around the globe at every possible opportunity.

Greiwe-Martinez and Morfoot blog about their recent spring break trip to Argentina with Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) students.

Students from three Howard County high schools participated in Explore Argentina, a cultural immersion and community service trip through SAGE and No Barriers, an organization that creates travel opportunities for students to become engaged and compassionate global citizens. We spent 11 days with 12 Howard County students exploring Buenos Aires, Tigre, Iguazu Falls and parts of Misiones.

The entire trip was conducted in Spanish, from the moment the students arrived at the airport until the final good-byes upon returning to Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. The visits included two service learning opportunities, one in Buenos Aires in the Banco de Alimentos (food bank) filling boxes with consumables for charitable organizations to share with families and communities in need. The other service learning project took place at school number 153 in Oberá Misiones in a cultural exchange through a school façade painting project and school supply donation ceremony.

Another highlight of the trip was Iguazu, where students marveled at one of the seven wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. There we stood at the meeting point of three nations, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and toured a local wild animal rehabilitation center to learn about the challenges of different species in this sub-tropical rain forest.

Other activities included: an educational tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Ignacio Jesuit Missions, a traditional Argentine asado (barbecue), tango lessons, a stay at a traditional family style chacra and mate plantation, the Argentine hot tea mate, in addition to a cultural tour of Buenos Aires with a visit to the renowned Café Tortoni, the hang-out spot of the cultural elite.

Throughout the trip, students had regular reflection and sharing time, where they were able to process their experiences as a group and make connections to their personal goals. Based on student feedback on the trip, the opportunity to spend time with the kids at the local school, help out, play, share tereré (a cold form of mate made by the kids with soda) and learn about each other’s cultures and ways of life made the most impact.

Greiwe-Martinez said that the highlight of her language teaching career is the opportunity to travel with students in a country where they are able to apply their skills in a real world situation and make connections to the community in a natural way, through shared experiences. This was the case in our journey to Argentina. Mentoring the students to explore new foods, take risks in language learning, and engage in dialogues with locals about important social, political and personal topics such as social justice, the changes in the environment, corruption, changing family values, and cultural customs is a living and breathing classroom experience.

Safety is the school system’s top priority. HCPSS follows the U.S. Department of State’s recommendations to ensure the safety of its students and staff while on school system-sponsored international travel. The planning and approval of international educational travel events to Europe have been suspended until the current Europe Travel Alert is lifted.

Carolyn Devlin with her son, Rogan

HCPSS Cultural Proficiency Reaches Across the Country

Carolyn Devlin joined Glenelg High School as a counselor three years ago. She became a counselor to further pursue the relationship building, communication skill development and conflict resolution aspects of her previous roles in sales and customer service. Here she blogs about her son’s cultural proficiency experiences as an Atholton High School student, and how he is continuing to take part in similar initiatives in college.

I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the work that the HCPSS Cultural Proficiency team has been doing. Their impact recently had a ripple effect across the country in Boulder, Colorado.

My son, Rogan Devlin, a 2016 graduate of Atholton High School, was invited during his senior year to participate in the pilot Student Voice Circle program at his school by Atholton counselor Phil Cohen and teacher Jennifer Street. Over this last summer, Rogan also participated on a student panel at the two-day HCPSS summer conference “Student Voice for Inclusion and Equity.” These experiences were extremely positive for Rogan and encouraged new and respectful relationships with unfamiliar peers and staff members.

Recently I flew out to Colorado to be with Rogan, now a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder, for his 19th birthday. He shared that in lieu of his regularly scheduled journalism class the week prior, the professor invited students to attend an on-campus symposium on cultural proficiency and the current campus culture. In one of the sessions, the topic of raising cultural awareness and acceptance on Boulder’s campus was discussed. Rogan shared his experiences with Student Voice at Atholton and the summer conference with the audience. As fate would have it, the event organizer was sitting in on that breakout session and was inspired by Rogan’s story. After the session she asked Rogan if he would participate on a student panel to create a similar initiative on campus as Howard County’s Student Voice model.

This new opportunity for my son, and potentially his school, is a direct result of the great work that the HCPSS Cultural Proficiency team is doing. This team is modeling cultural sensitivity and excellence in equity and inclusion for school system employees, giving us the tools to take back to our school communities, supporting our implementation efforts, and making its way across the country to the Boulder campus community.