An Exchange of Learning

June KauffmanJune Kauffman, an ESOL teacher at Ducketts Lane Elementary School, has taught in the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) since 2011. Prior to moving to Laurel with her husband and two children in 2008, she lived in Hong Kong, China for 15 years where she taught English and fell in love with Asian food and hospitality.


Pam Freedman
Pam Freedman teaches English Learners (ELs) at Ducketts Lane Elementary School. This is her ninth year teaching in Howard County and her 12th year teaching ELs from Pre-K through 12th grade.

Here Kauffman and Freedman write about their experiences with the Korean Summer Cultural Exchange Program, where they enjoy learning from their students as much as they do teaching them.

Ten years, seven teachers, more than 200 Korean students and an abundance of learning have taken place in the Korean Summer Cultural Exchange Program hosted by the International Student Registration Center of HCPSS. Started in 2005 by HCPSS International Student and Family Services Specialist Min Kim and taught for many years by retired teacher Pat Previdi, the three-week learning excursion challenges students to learn to navigate culture and language through daily formal English classes, visits to places with historical or cultural significance, and building relationships with host families.

Middle school students from Iksan, South Korea go through a rigorous selection process to be accepted into the program. They attend classes taught in English every morning, and focus on all skills necessary for English language development: reading, writing, listening and speaking. This multi-faceted approach helps to build confidence and camaraderie among students as well as challenges them to try new things.

South Korean English language teachers accompany students on their trip and join in the learning environment. This exchange provides a prime opportunity for the teachers to participate in hands-on professional development and gain teaching skills they can use in their language classrooms. We encourage the teachers to teach a mini-lesson to the students, so we can learn from them as well.

This summer, we co-taught 20 students and hosted two teachers at Patapsco Middle School. Students loved debating, learning idioms, typing journal responses in the computer lab, and giving and receiving feedback from their peers. Throughout the three weeks, the students’ strong English language skills “knocked our socks off” and challenged us to challenge them even more.

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities involved the Korean students’ interaction with American students. Students from both countries learned about each other through various games and activities. It was gratifying for their teachers–both Korean and American–to watch them interact and witness first-hand how the students’ English skills had developed. This activity left both the students and teachers feeling accomplished.

At the end of the program, the students showcased musical performances and read essays that highlighted their talents and time spent in the United States. Host families were invited to attend the ceremony. In addition, a memo of understanding was signed by HCPSS Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano and Superintendent Jideug Yu from Iksan, South Korea, expressing an intent to continue in this amazing partnership.

To see video and photos of the closing ceremony, visit here.

Saketh Sundar

Spelling Your Way to the Top

Saketh Sundar is entering 7th grade at Mayfield Woods Middle School. Sundar is active at his school, participating in the orchestra, student government association, and news, film, coding and debate clubs. Sundar participated in the 2016 and 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, placing 12th this year.

Melissa ShindelMelissa Shindel has been an educator for more than 20 years and a principal for eight. She is currently the principal at Mayfield Woods Middle School. Shindel is the past president of the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) and currently serves as a member of the MASSP board.  

Shindel partnered with Sundar to blog about his spelling bee journey. By making the top 15 nationally, Sundar went farther than any other Howard County student in the history of the competition.

Each year, millions of students from around the world participate in their school or community spelling bee. Whether large or small, every bee is full of suspense and excitement.

In Howard County, every school or organization sends its top speller and runner-up to the Howard County Library System (HCLS) Spelling Bee. Each year, after hours of competition that usually end close to midnight, the winner of the HCLS bee is announced and that student advances to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. l know this pattern well. As principal in two different schools, I have had students advance to the Scripps bee four times, and each time it was equally as nerve-wracking and exciting. For the past two years, the HCLS winner has been Saketh Sundar.

Saketh’s spelling bee journey began at Bellows Spring Elementary School, where he remembers: “I always enjoyed spelling and was enthusiastic to compete in spelling bees. I started out in 4th grade. My mom and I spent 30 minutes every day going over the words. I won my class spelling bee and advanced to the school bee. There, I got words I had studied and won. For the county bee though, I bowed out on the word ‘blight’ which befittingly means ‘something that frustrates one’s plans or withers one’s hopes.’ That first blight of my spelling bee career is what ignited the spark that took me to the national bee.”

As a 5th grader, Saketh worked even harder. He studied and practiced more often, won the competition in his school, and moved on to the HCLS bee. He recalls being on stage in the late hours, and he was ecstatic to hear the pronouncer say, “We have a winner.” This had been his goal since he was younger, and he was thrilled to be moving on to the national competition.

In the Scripps national bee, the preliminary round includes not only spelling words on stage, but also taking a spelling and vocabulary test. No more than the top 50 spellers move on to the final round. During his first visit to Scripps, Saketh did not qualify for finals. He recalls: “This experience made me mentally tough, and I set my goal that the next year I would make the finals.” And that’s just what he did.

As a 6th grader at the national spelling bee, Saketh did well on both the written and oral portions of the preliminaries. On the next day of competition, after correctly spelling both onstage words, Saketh heard his name during the announcement of finalists. Instead of celebrating, he went to bed. A huge day awaited him.

On June 1, Saketh participated in four rounds of spelling during the day. I can remember the excitement at Mayfield Woods. The bee was televised on ESPN2, and we made it available in classrooms, so students could watch Saketh spell. Staff and students could be heard cheering in the hallways each time Saketh spelled a word correctly. Community members, parents and local businesses contacted the school or posted their support on social media. It was a truly unique and magical experience. In a matter of days, Saketh Sundar became a hometown hero.

By the end of round seven, Saketh became a primetime finalist, and this hometown hero was now an ESPN star. He was interviewed by and highlighted on ESPN, and tweeted by Amanda Carey, associate producer for the NFL. Carey mentioned Saketh’s favorite athlete, the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, who in turn tweeted, “I know who I’m rooting for this #SpellingBee! Let’s go Saketh!!”

Finally, it was time for the nationally televised primetime finals. I was there with Saketh’s parents, and everyone in the studio audience was buzzing with excitement as ESPN commentators were live in the room. Unfortunately, Saketh spelled his first word incorrectly. Saketh said, “My mind blanked. I knew most of the words following my elimination and was frustrated. But then I realized I still have two more years. This experience taught me a few life lessons like how to handle pressure, be optimistic and accept failure gracefully.”

Saketh does have two more years to compete, and we suspect we will see him again on ESPN primetime.

Saketh said, “This opportunity and experience would not be possible without HCLS and their sponsors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank HCLS, HCPSS, my parents, my school principal, and others for their support and encouragement!”

Photo credit: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee.

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.

Veterans Day: A Time for Reflection and Appreciation

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I welcome guest blogger Mary Weller, HCPSS Secondary Science Coordinator. Mary has been with HCPSS since 2010, and became a science educator after serving in the U .S. Navy.
Veterans Day: A Time for Reflection and Appreciation

By Mary Weller, HCPSS coordinator of Secondary Science

Veteran’s Day is an important day for every American. For those of us who have served in the armed forces, it can be a special time of reflection on our military experiences and the impact those experiences have had on every aspect of our lives.

Education is my passion and my life’s calling, and I believe no other profession carries more impact than that of a teacher.  But while it has been quite a few years since I last boarded a naval ship, I still consider the work I did during my years in the military to be some of the most important work that I have ever done. Those experiences shaped my life in countless different ways.

I joined the U.S. Navy during the Cold War era. I felt it was an important commitment to make for my country, and military service offered many great opportunities that were less accessible to women in other fields at that time. As a young surface warfare officer, I had huge responsibilities and had to make decisions that could literally be matters of life or death. Most civilians don’t realize just how much responsibility is on the shoulders of very young people in the military. Those experiences gave me the confidence to take on more of life’s challenges, and they give me greater perspective in dealing with many of the non-life threatening decisions of everyday life.

My naval service also opened my eyes to many cultures, influences, and experiences that were far beyond anything that I had encountered. As I discovered the world, I learned more about myself, and realized that teaching would give me opportunities to open my students’ eyes to the infinite wonders of science, and help them grow and discover just as I had done.

Many veterans work here in Howard County schools, including many who served far longer and in more dangerous settings than I did. I am awed by their sacrifices, and deeply grateful for their decision to take time from their lives to serve others.