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Gwinnett County Public Schools

March 2024 - Resourcefulness in the Seckinger Cluster

This March, join us as we explore Resourcefulness in our Seckinger Cluster.

Developing Resourcefulness— the ability to innovate by translating original and incentive thinking into viable solutions— is key to ensuring that Team GCPS students, families, and staff can transfer and adapt to learning from diverse experiences to access, select, and use resources efficiently and wisely to achieve success. Our school communities encourage a “can-do” and “think outside the box” mindset so they can transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships to create new or meaningful ideas, methods, or interpretations. Each and every student and staff member demonstrate imagination and new ways of thinking about things in their daily lives and activities.

Though its doors only recently opened in August of 2022, Seckinger HS is the anchor of the Seckinger Cluster. While it is distinguished as the nation’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) themed educational institution, students and staff have carried the connections and family-feel atmosphere there from the other schools integrated into the cluster. In the Seckinger Cluster, Resourcefulness looks like community involvement, support, initiative, and continued growth— together.

Grab your backpack and get ready to join your fellow high school students with a visit to the Ivy Creek ES Media Center for a mentoring session that includes some drawing, a little bit of homework, and maybe a game of UNO™ or “Guess Who?”

Seckinger HS student playing Guess Who with an Ivy Creek ES student

The Seckinger Mentor Program is one of three student mentorship programs at Ivy Creek ES, including the Hope Mentors with volunteers from the community, and Cub Buddies with school staff mentors. Ivy Creek counselors saw the need for additional mentorship opportunities which led to the expansion in collaboration with Seckinger HS. Counselor Shannon Zogran describes the mentoring session as more of a “peer program,” and notes the resourcefulness of bridging the gap between elementary and high school students, using fun activities as a connector to what’s really happening— conversations and laughter... authentic connection that is therapeutic.

Seckinger HS student playing Sorry an Ivy Creek ES student

“Mentorship programs are some of the most effective ways to support students holistically, and seeing the huge need that we had, we asked, what is in our cluster and in our community?” Ms. Zogran adds. “[Students have] an individual connection with someone they can look up to, they play, do things with their hands, get their minds off what’s going on around them, get out of the school setting, and that opens the door for conversations and a deeper connection.”

Ivy Creek students engaged in this “peer program” say they enjoy talking with the high school students, spending time with them, and being friends. Encouragement and support are the theme of these mentoring meetings hosted by students in the peer leader program at Seckinger HS, and they’re learning important lessons, too. From learning and knowing how to interact with different personalities, and the realization that little kids have a great sense of humor, to patience, and dealing with adversity and growth— these high school students say mentoring has been rewarding.

Seckinger HS student playing Uno with a group of Ivy Creek ES students

“It’s a great experience because you get to be a role model for the younger kids, and when I was at elementary school, I looked up to high schoolers a lot and liked to follow the same things they did,” adds Carter, a Seckinger senior. “You’re affecting a lot of people’s lives, whether you know it or not, so just being that leader or role model to them is a special thing.”

Do you have the gift of gab? Do you like to jibber jabber? Well, clear your throat and sit down at the mic... it’s time to record another episode of “Jabbering Jags!” This podcast, started in the fall of 2023, is “for kids, by kids.” From topic ideas and scripts, to recording intros, outros, and commercials, students have a hand in each step of the process.

Ivy Creek ES Podcast %22Jibbering Jags!%22

When Kelli Fitch joined Ivy Creek ES as a Math Instructional Coach, she presented the idea of starting a podcast, and now she oversees the production. Ms. Fitch conducts three class lessons with each class prior to them being able to start an episode that includes listening to other kid-driven podcasts, brainstorming episode topics, and then learning how to write a script and structure the podcast. During this third lesson of script and structure, a host is selected, and other speaking parts are divided among group members interested in talking. After the students write their scripts, they must be shared and submitted to Ms. Fitch or the homeroom teacher for approval to ensure that the episode flows, and everyone has an equitable amount of speaking time.

“Podcasting has really helped increase engagement in academic areas as [students] want to be able to effectively redeliver what they have learned in class in their podcast episodes,” says Ms. Fitch. “In addition, [the podcast] has increased collaboration and communication skills, [students] have to work together to conduct research and collaborate on how they want their scripts to look and determine what information is shared. The creativity and initiative that these students have shown has been truly remarkable.”

Ivy Creek Media Specialist reading to a class

Before leaving the Ivy Creek Media Center, criss-cross applesauce and join other students around the rocking chair for a reading with Media Specialist Kimberly Sharp. Ms. Sharp explains that reading together helps build relationships between staff and students, helps students relate to others through characters, and encourages critical thinking and conversation. With books in Spanish, and now Korean, the media center is a hot topic among students when discussing what books to read next and planning out their reading requests.

Ivy Creek ES student reading in the Media Center

Ms. Sharp explains that Resourcefulness isn’t just about resources, materials, or money. She says that while Ivy Creek is a large elementary school that doesn’t know how to do anything small, having a closeness and a feeling of a tight-knit community is owed to building and maintaining relationships, and volunteers. Tapping into the community means bringing in parent volunteers, grandparents, church members, and even Korean Community members helping with practicing English.

Ivy Creek ES students reading in the Media Center

“In our school, in our environment, it’s all about the people– who can we bring in and what expertise can they bring into the school to make it a better experience for the children?” Ms. Sharp adds. “We have a diverse group that’s bonded together, and it's been delightful to watch [these] relationships build and develop.”

Building relationships, developing leadership and necessary life skills, family, and fun is the calling of staff and students at Jones MS. Meet your buddy at the bus and check-in at homeroom together, get some homework done, and then maybe it will be time for a shift with "JonesDash". The Buddies Club brings students with and without exceptionalities together to form friendships, socialize, grow, and learn from and with each other.

Jones MS Buddies Club

Buddies Club members and Aspen and Denise, both 7th graders, enjoy walking with their buddies in the mornings, helping teachers, and spending time in homeroom helping with morning work and individual tasks. Aspen is even working on a plan to develop a Buddies Club at Seckinger HS.

“It’s really rewarding to help people,” said Aspen and Denise. “We take our buddies to social events, like our school dance, help them get to know other students, and help with JonesDash.”

Students working is the JonesDash room

Are you excited for your shift at “JonesDash”? Like DoorDash, Inc., staff at Jones MS place orders for snacks and drinks, and students with special needs fulfill those orders and make special deliveries. Special Education Teacher Ashley Saye explains that JonesDash started just four years ago on a rolling cart, and now has expanded into a room where fulfilling orders with multi-step sequences and variable tasks help exceptional students develop critical life skills. JonesDash helps students gain vocational skills with adaptable methods like using pictures for matching items and packaging orders while practicing motor skills, writing receipts, and communicating with customers upon delivery.

“[Students] build confidence as they participate in JonesDash. They’re learning jobs, getting to know the staff, and breaking down barriers for students with exceptionalities,” says Ms. Saye.

Jones MS paraprofessional working with a student

Breaking down barriers isn’t just a habit of students at Jones MS. Special Education Teacher Bernadine Haire started at GCPS as a substitute teacher, became a paraprofessional in 2006, and will soon finish her first year as a lead teacher. The exact same can be said for her fellow Special Education Teacher Kamesha Kelly, who started her journey as a paraprofessional in 2015. Both teachers credit fellow staff members, including Ashley Saye, instructional coaches, and the administration at Jones MS for their encouragement and support. Both women say they enjoy working with exceptional students and the challenges, new perspectives, and rewards that come with doing so.

“Here at Jones Middle, we’re family,” Ms. Haire said. “The main thing is support, and the main reason I chose to [teach] is love for the kids.”

Ms. Joyner teaching her Language Arts class

The importance of building community is the common thread throughout all classrooms and activities at Jones MS. In Mekay Joyner’s language arts classroom, Resourcefulness means fostering a willingness for students to learn from each other and rely on each other as a team and source of knowledge. In the first few weeks of school, students are presented with team challenges and switched often to build a larger community. They learn to work through difficult tasks with various personalities.

“When students get frustrated or stuck, we say, ‘okay, what are you noticing is happening, how can we possibly fix this?’” Ms. Joyner added.

Error analysis and thinking outside the box to accomplish tasks has done a lot to build community and encourage critical thinking. Ms. Joyner also explains that she's seen shy students open up and feel safe to problem solve and get things wrong. She models that it’s okay to make mistakes and move away from what’s not working.

Jones MS students

When thinking about the team-building tasks they learned at the beginning of the school year, 8th graders Abigail and Titus view Resourcefulness as using their surroundings to complete tasks and finding ways to do so in a timely and efficient manner according to the situation.

“I feel like all around the school, it’s all about collaborating, and how Jones is just one big team. If we all learn these collaboration skills, we can get through it together,” Titus says.

Collaboration is the name of the game at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, nestled almost in between the Seckinger and Mountain View Clusters. But you won’t be hiking today; no, the game, or games, are interactive, sensory-sensitive, and geared toward families with special needs children, from newborn to age five.

Little girl on the early learning field trip

“We’re providing an avenue for parents to come learn how they can build their child’s knowledge and skills at home through simple activities,” explains Kim Holland, executive director of Early Learning and School Readiness.

The Resourcefulness highlighted at this Early Learning Field Trip features common household objects used as toys and interactive learning activities. From Ziploc bags filled with items like cotton balls and beads, to writing letters and numbers in shaving cream— parents can find helpful and creative ways to engage with their child.  

Student Volunteers from McClure Health Science HS

What’s another great resource found at this event? Student volunteers from McClure Health Science HS are getting a unique, hands-on experience, and a look at what a future career in occupational or physical therapy holds. Sarina and Hury, both seniors and exercise physiology students, say they had fun, and learned important lessons about the challenges of encouraging individuals to perform different therapeutic activities, and most importantly, they practiced patience.

“We both want to be physical therapists, so [the field trip] was a really good experience,” Sarina adds. “I learned how hard it is to convince someone to do something, especially with kids that may not be willing, and you have to switch your plans and try to get them to engage in the therapy and exercise.”

Step into the media center at Seckinger HS and rotate through “Research Stations” to explore more than 40 databases available through the Online Research Library. Or, you can engage in a discussion with generative AI on how to avoid plagiarism and how to use tools like ChatGPT as a collaborative partner when brainstorming.

Seckinger HS students working together

Featured in School Library Journal, Media Specialist Joni Gilman is helping students develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) literacy and gain a better understanding of the resources available to them through evaluation and critical thinking. Students are tasked with looking at examples of how plagiarism has negatively impacted people in the real world, and they explore AI deep fake technology to demonstrate how easily AI can trick users.  

Students also learn how to be more vigilant when evaluating sources in this world of synthetic reality. Ms. Gilman adds that all staff members encourage students daily to be responsible, reflective, and respectful, as well as resourceful when they encounter problems, and they continuously demonstrate and recognize these qualities in the classroom. 

Class in the Seckinger HS Media Center

“Our teachers encourage curiosity, resilience, and creativity in their classrooms through modeling a growth mindset, providing opportunities for reflection and remediation, offering opportunities for autonomy for students to demonstrate their learning and continuously providing a supportive environment,” Ms. Gilman says.

At all schools in the Seckinger Cluster, the considerate and purposeful continuation of connection, community, and support leads to a growth mindset that is necessary for developing Resourcefulness.

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The Seckinger Cluster includes the following schools: