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Gwinnett County Public Schools

May 2024 - Communication in the Archer Cluster

 In May, we examine Communication in our Archer Cluster. 

Through Communication— Team GCPS students, families, and staff articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts, and for a range of purposes and audiences. Each and every student and staff member listen effectively to understand knowledge, values, attitudes, and intentions.  

Harbins ES Kind Kids Club - meeting

Kindness is a constant quality throughout the Archer Cluster. There has been an intentional push to improve communication among all five schools to promote the cluster values of high performance in academics, athletics, fine arts, and service. 

Students at Harbins ES use the voice of kindness to spread effective communication throughout their learning community. Once a month, 30 Kind Kids Club students meet to find new and fun ways to spread positivity around their school and in their community.  

The group chooses a hands-on activity each month to communicate gratitude, happiness, and inclusion to others. Inclusion goes beyond the walls of Harbins ES and into the local community. The Kind Kids Club has shared “thankful cards” and goodie bags with the fire department and SROs (School Resource Officers) in the cluster. Similarly, students have also made Valentine’s Day placemats for those living in a nearby nursing home.  

Harbins ES - Kind Kids Club - Placemats project

’Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is to simply include them.’ This is the quote that inspired the creation of the Kind Kids Club,” says sponsor Jennifer Tatum.  

Ms. Tatum and her co-teacher, Melanie Cain, say they wanted to encourage the students to take kindness with them wherever they went. “It is important for them to make the world a better place... they are our future,” they shared.  

Speaking of the future, we have future leaders setting the example of excellence at Archer HS. Archer’s Peer Leadership group brings together high-achieving students to make a positive impact on the student body. The group learns about various leadership qualities that contribute to their lives in and outside of the classroom. Peer Leaders use communication by acting as liaisons between cluster schools, working with staff to discuss strategies to create a positive learning environment, and communicating with the student body daily.  

Archer HS Cluster Showcase

“It is so important to have the peer leaders spread and share kindness in our learning community because they truly have the most impact,” says Carey Stachler, Peer Leaders Advisor. “Peer leaders are senior students, so they have a lot of influence on fellow students who are in different grade levels. It resonates more with younger students when a peer leader or a student shares the importance of kindness with them.”  

A total of 21 Peer Leaders volunteer their time to brainstorm ideas collaboratively that can make the school experiences in their cluster more effective and enjoyable. This school year they have contributed to promoting school spirit for seasonal sports and found ways to include the community. Additionally, the leaders raise money for those in crisis and spread kindness to teachers by thanking them for their dedicated support.  

“Peer leading has taught me to communicate with different people from fellow peers to assistant principals. I can see the direct impact of effective communication,” shares Natalia, a Peer Leader. 

Cooper ES Culture Fest

Uplifting others, forming connections, and open communication are invaluable practices in building and maintaining relationships within the larger Cooper ES family. With students from over 82 different countries, Principal Paul Willis and Assistant Principal George Kashella worked together to develop an idea for an event to represent the increasing number of families from other cultures. Their vision for the event gave control to parents and families to create a booth

representing their country including pictures, artifacts, information about music, fashion, the climate, traditions, and food. When Culture Fest started three years ago, 15 families participated. This school year, 23 families created booths and provided food.  

“Culture Fest has been a wonderful way for our community to grow and learn about each other,” adds Mr. Kashella. "It is amazing to hear where our students are from, and listening to them talk about their heritage allows these students to connect with their peers in different ways.” 

Cooper ES Cultural Fair - Ethiopian Table

This year, Culture Fest included a booth representing Georgia to encourage students and families that are not from other countries to attend. School staff wanted to see other families get involved, and including the United States resulted in a huge increase in attendance. Mr. Kashella says the event is a staff and community favorite as many students do not know that others are from the same country, and it is fun to see students smile and connect when they see that there are others from their country.  

Connection and character development also are important aspects of the Cooper ES All Pro Dad chapter. Started in 2017 by PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) Coach James Meadows and another Cooper father, each monthly meeting includes a breakfast or dinner, a “pride moment” where families interact with one another, character-driven lessons, and 45 minutes of intentional time between fathers and children. Mr. Meadows explains that the “pride moments,” consisting of fathers uplifting their children in front of others for five or more minutes is his favorite part of the All Pro Dad meetings.  

All Pro Dads Club at Cooper ES

Fathers involved in All Pro Dads also get involved around the school. Tasks have included helping build a fence for the school’s outdoor classroom, assisting with the new chicken coop, lending a hand with demolition before the installation of a new gym floor, and greeting students getting off the bus or exiting cars in the mornings. 

“I hope fathers springboard the relationships developed at one of our All Pro Dad meetings to interact out in the community at the ballfields, grocery stores, restaurants, or wherever,” says Mr. Meadows. “Communication is essential to building a stronger Archer Cluster with connected families.” 

Connect and collaborate during the Impact Lab, a free early learning conference at Archer HS coordinated and facilitated by Gwinnett Building Babies’ Brains partners, including GCPS’ Early Learning and School Readiness Department. This signature event is aimed at fostering vital connections within Gwinnett’s preschool and elementary school communities. Through impactful keynote speakers and breakout sessions, which emphasize clear alignment of learning standards, exemplify high-quality teaching practices, and promote collaboration among participants, educators gain and share valuable insights, tools, and resources to support learning for children birth through age 5.  

Impact Lab participants at Archer HS

Together, Gwinnett’s early learning community actively engages in authentic and meaningful ways to nurture the youngest learners, positively impacting their kindergarten readiness and beyond. Adrini Fobes, a Play 2 Learn Teacher at Lovin ES, and former Play 2 Learn participant, believes events like the Impact Lab help build bridges and create collaborations between early learning centers and GCPS for the benefit of early learners.    

“Our ultimate goal as educators is to produce a well-rounded adult,” Mrs. Fobes says.  

At Lovin ES, activities that help students become well-rounded learners don’t just happen in the Play 2 Learn classroom. Whether you decide to tend the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Garden, help with the “worm bin,” sell your goods at the Archer Cluster Farmers Market, join the Food Waste Warriors, or take care of the “Lovin Ladies” out in the henhouse, there’s no shortage of opportunities for growth in, and out, of the school.  

Archer Cluster Farmers Market

Communication thrives at our school through various engaging and collaborative activities that reflect our staff and students' initiative, teamwork, and ability to communicate effectively in diverse settings and projects,” says Principal Kevin Payne

Collaboration and coordination are imperative when it comes to creating and successfully running the Archer Cluster Farmers Market. Communication played a pivotal role in organizing logistics, promoting the event, coordinating vendors, and ensuring a seamless experience for participants and visitors. 

In addition to creating goods to sell at the Farmers Market, many Lovin ES students have taken lessons from the classroom into their homes by starting gardens, acquiring chickens, and even composting. All students at Lovin have opportunities to engage in various waste reduction, gardening, and other AgSTEM (Agricultural and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives and activities throughout the entire school year.  

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Teacher Gerin Hennebaul says students have become VERY passionate about composting, gardening, and of course, chickens. Students run the school programs, and if the buckets are not out at lunch to collect the waste, they will get them out.  If the food waste needs to be weighed, or the garden needs to be watered, they handle that with a strong sense of responsibility. 

Students continue with their learning and growing all summer as families can “adopt” the STEAM Garden.  When students adopt the garden, they water, weed, harvest, take care of the chickens, and turn the compost. Lovin families can keep any fruits and vegetables they harvest and eggs they collect. Many students end up bringing extended family members, friends, and neighbors to share their knowledge

“The students have so much pride for what they have created,” says Mrs. Hennebaul

Lovin students also have learned much from the school’s community partnerships. Principal Payne says this was really evident when students did the tours with The World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF has visited Lovin twice this year.  These visits included about 30 guests each time, many of which flew in from all over the country.  While they were at Lovin, 15-18 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders (“STEAMbassadors”) lead the tour which included many of the school's waste reduction and AgSTEM initiatives.  

World Wildlife Fund visit to Lovin ES Tower Gardens

Students spoke about the Lovin Ladies (hens) and how they care for them, keep data on egg production, and the many projects that have been done this year in 5th grade for their year-long PBL (Project-Based Learning). Students walked the tour through the STEAM Garden where they spoke about the many vegetables and fruits they grow, the different types of soil, and what works best, and how they get to “adopt” the garden during the summer. Students not only explained how the compost bin works, but also demonstrated and allowed guests to try it out. Inside, students explained how the indoor year-round gardening works with the school’s Tower Gardens and Aquaponics system.   


“The knowledge and confidence they had while talking about our initiatives was mind blowing!” adds Principal Payne. “Through effective communication, students not only shared their knowledge and passion for conservation, but also engaged with visitors, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness.” 

World Wildlife Fund visit to Lovin share table cart

Lovin also began attending Green and Healthy Schools (GHS) meetings back in 2010, and over the years, the relationship has turned into a very strong partnership. The school’s involvement has gone from attending meetings, to presenting at meetings and summer professional developments. As the partnership has grown, GHS has supported Lovin in multiple ways. They attend their Southeastern Pollinator Census each year, help in the STEAM Garden, they are represented during the school’s STEAM Showcase, they assisted with Lovin's Food Waste Warrior Food Audits by being onsite and provided funding for the Share Table.   

Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful/Green and Healthy Schools approached Lovin ES in November of 2021 for a grant through the Food Well Alliance (FWA), called the Compost Connector grant. This three-year grant from FWA, and the support of GHS, has enabled Lovin to build a sustainable composting program schoolwide involving every student.   

So far this year, students have collected more than 5,000 pounds (about 2267.96 kg) of fruits and vegetables from the cafeteria to use in the compost bin and garden, instead of sending it to landfills. Composting also led the school into a partnership with Creative Enterprises. Creative Enterprises is a nonprofit that educates adults with special needs to teach them life skills such as cooking and gardening. They wanted to begin composting but did not have the fruit and vegetable waste needed. Because Lovin was collecting more waste than their compost bin could handle, they now donate Monday and Tuesday scraps to Creative Enterprises, which has allowed them to begin a composing program.  

Another initiative to help solve the school’s waste challenge was the design and construction of a “worm bin” for vermicomposting, a process that relies on earthworms and microorganisms to help stabilize active organic materials and convert them to a valuable soil amendment and source of plant nutrients. Lovin’s 4th graders researched and came up with a plan to build the bins, then FWA visited and worked with them to complete the bins. This helps the school produce more worms for the compost bin, which in turn helps break down the waste faster for the garden.   

“Compost connectors and composting is important because if we didn’t have compost, we wouldn’t have fruits and vegetables, and [waste] won’t go into the landfill or into the water,” says 3rd grader Olivia.   

Lovin ES students presenting

Each year, 3rd graders also create compost lessons and present the lessons to the kindergarten classes. During this process, students learned about composting throughout the year and then worked collaboratively to design lessons during Computer Science class.  

“We make slides with our group and kindergarteners come to Mrs. Hennebaul’s room where we present and teach them all about composting,” says 3rd grader Reagan.  

During Civics class, students work on public speaking and presentation skills before they present to kindergarten. Students use strategies such as turn-and-talk routines where, first, the teacher provides students with a brief prompt or question, then one student verbally answers the prompt while the second student listens and third, the roles are reversed, and the second student answers the prompt while the first student listens. Students also use ‘I can' statements while delivering the material using songs, games, skits, and hands on examples.  

“This is an amazing example of communication because [students] learn how to work as a team to put together a presentation and they also learn to communicate with our youngest learners,” adds Mrs. Hennebaul

When it comes to the “Lovin Ladies,” these chickens support Lovin ES in AKS (Academic Knowledge and Skills) standards in all grade levels. From the needs of plants and animals to life cycles, to microorganisms, chicken learning is everywhere!  

Lovin ES henhouse

Each year, 2nd graders are in charge of feeding and taking care of the chickens. They check their water and food daily and they feed them a bucket of vegetables from the teacher salad bar in the cafeteria that otherwise would go to the landfill. The 2nd graders also collect eggs each day and gather the “egg data” on a picture graph in their hallway, then share this data with the 5th graders. They also donate all the eggs to families in need in the Lovin community.   

“We have learned that chickens can be helpful,” say 2nd graders Micah and Aiden. “They help us give food to others; we can donate eggs to those [in need].” 

The 5th graders took on the chickens as their year-long PBL project. Lovin’s year-long driving question is: “How might we, as Lovin students, make a positive impact on the environment in our community?” The 5th grade's year-long driving question is: “How might we improve the lifestyle of our Lovin Ladies (chickens) so that they may continue to benefit our community?” 

With some creative thinking, the 5th graders were inspired by the school’s 11 hens to solve many problems and improve the lifestyle of the Lovin Ladies. First, they improved the lighting for the coop by adding solar lighting to increase the number of light hours which led to increased egg production. Second, they created healthy chicken treats after researching healthy snacks using fractions to create recipes. Third, students spread knowledge about chicken safety and microorganisms by creating infographics about how to keep the chickens and humans safe. Now, students are using their knowledge of learned and inherited traits to create entertainment for the chickens and are currently working on creating games and toys and teaching the chickens how to play them. 

“We used data from our 2nd graders about eggs and [realized] the chickens need a powerful light source that will give them light and heat so they’ll be comfortable laying their eggs,” added 5th graders Solomon and Serenity. “[Learning about chickens] gives us a chance to help our school and do what we do best.” 

Gaming Club at McConnell MS

Ready your party for the next campaign and roll the d20 (20-sided die). Do you know your hit point maximum? Your character might be due for a short rest. The Dungeon Master might ask for an ability check, roll the d20... will you succeed in your task? At McConnell MS, the Gaming Club meets once a week with around 20-30 members at any given time. Workshops help students learn how to get started in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Magic: The Gathering (MTG). Students can play other games as well, including Dice Fights, UNO! ™, and Danger The Game. 

“Students often take over the role of teaching other students how to play games. There is a mixture of ages 11 - 14 and they eventually end up interacting and forming positive relationships through the shared interest of gaming,” says club sponsor and teacher James Norton. “Students love having a space to belong and a space to enjoy their passions without criticism.” 

McConnell MS gaming club participants

Mr. Norton explains that games like MTG require inferential reasoning to understand how any number of cards work in unison, as well as in-depth reading comprehension and memorization of not only rules, but keyword interactions and the ability to plan ahead. Socially, all games require a level head and willingness to be a fair and reasonable participant, as nobody likes a cheater or a sore loser. D&D requires cooperation amongst players, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the mechanics and lore of the Dungeon Master's Campaign. 

“Many of our clubs such as the Chess Club, Culinary Arts Club, Radio Club, and Robotics Club provide students with a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing themselves,” says Principal Derico White. “At McConnell, we believe that learning communication skills in middle school is crucial for students’ academic, social, and future success.” 

“If you’re not sneezing, it’s not seasoned!” Wash your hands and get ready to prepare spaghetti three ways, with some meatballs and the possibility of garlic bread... what else needs to be said? In Culinary Arts Club, students first go through a process which includes, but is not limited to, an application, an interview, and a grade and behavior status check before they can say, “yes, chef.” 

McConnell MS Culinary Arts Club

Although it started in just the last school year, the Culinary Arts Club has grown from 23 members to 50, with more than 180 applications submitted in the 2023-24 school year. One of the club’s sponsors, 8th grade Science teacher Toosdhi Ashley says the club teaches students about collaboration, teamwork, and conflict resolution

“Each member offers different experience, knowledge and cultural attaché',” says Mrs. Ashley. “We at McConnell MS pride ourselves on diversity and equity. Students learn many aspects of life that they can apply in the classroom and in the community.” 

The club meets in the Family Consumer Science classroom which is separated into white, red, and silver kitchens with three sinks, three stoves, color-coordinated pots and pans, and three sets of tools. The red, for ‘stop,’ kitchen is an area for students with any food allergies, while the silver kitchen features a gas stove. 

McConnell MS Culinary Arts Teacher Ms. Ashley demonstrating how to cut vegetables

Communication is very, very key, and at the same time [the club] is teaching [students] conflict resolution because when you’ve got different personalities working together and everyone wants to be the leader. You have to delegate who’s doing what,” Ms. Ashley explains. “There is an order to everything and communication and collaboration must be there.” 

Each meeting of the Culinary Arts Club is divided into 25 students and after school, these sous-chefs-in-training work together making food, memories, and lasting friendships. On the menu tonight is cold pasta, baked spaghetti, and spaghetti with meatballs. Students divide and conquer chopping vegetables, simmering sausage, rolling meatballs, boiling water, and cleaning tasks as they go. 

“There's a friendship and bond we all have, because cooking brings everyone together,” says London

For 8th graders London, Spencer, and Nia, joining the Culinary Arts Club provided opportunities to learn about foods from diverse cultures and enhance their cooking skills. All three cook and bake at home, exploring different recipes and making dinner with, and for, their families.  

McConnell MS Culinary Arts Club students share some smiles

“I’ve learned about food I didn’t know about, and it’s made me more interested in researching and getting to know the backgrounds of different cultures,” says Nia

Of all the lessons they’ve learned, all three say some of the most important are how to keep organized, how to stay clean and sanitary, keeping tools sharp, time management, and patience when working with others. 

“I learned to work together with others because people often have different opinions and how they do specific things, and I’ve mixed that with how I [cook] and overall have [created] a better experience,” adds Spencer

Ms. Ashley adds that she has a great support staff for the club, and these staff members help remind students to communicate with each other while remembering to be kind and offer constructive feedback. Kevin Greenwood, a McConnell MS 6th grade Social Studies and Math teacher, is another sponsor of the Culinary Arts Club who volunteers his time after school to help students in the kitchen. The club combines 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and Mr. Greenwood says he’s enjoyed watching the students grow throughout the year while they work, discover, experiment, and learn together.  

London and Spencer participate in the McConnell MS Culinary Arts Club

“We want to get as many kids involved as we can in different programs, so they are exploring something that interests them outside the classroom, such as an extracurricular activity, group work, engaging with each other, and taking charge of their own learning,” Mr. Greenwood adds. “They are learning to lead and learning to follow. There’s a lot of cooperative learning going on here.” 

PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) Lead and 8th grade Social Studies teacher, Dr. Nadine Emanuel also assists with Culinary Arts Club and Family Consumer Science class, and says students love the opportunities both experiences provide, diversifying their techniques, and cooking at home.  

When reflecting on the success of the Culinary Arts Club and her return to the Family Consumer Science classroom for the 2024-25 school year, Ms. Ashley says she wants to help children figure out what they want to do in life, while providing real-life skills and hands-on experiences. The class teaches life skills like cooking, cleaning, sewing, and laundry, employability, good customer service skills, and business skills. 

“It makes my heart smile. I want to use the [opportunities available] in Family Consumer Science and Culinary Arts Club to teach [students] different aspects of the tools they’ll need to be able to succeed in life,” adds Ms. Ashley

McConnell MS also offers a Communications Connections class where skills encompass verbal and nonverbal communication elements, including speaking, listening, writing, and interpreting nonverbal cues. Principal White says the class encourages active participation by providing opportunities for students to share their thoughts and ideas, promotes inclusivity and respect by valuing diverse perspectives, and creates a culture of acceptance. 

McConnell MS Tiger Buddies enjoy a game

Get ready to tame some tigers, or rather join forces with Tigers Together and Tiger Buddies. At McConnell MS, both opportunities foster communication through fun topics that are relevant to students in today's world. Part of the application process to join either group involves teacher recommendations, and a personal articulation of how each individual exhibits TIGER traits (trust, integrity, growth, effort, respect). 

Tigers Together is a club that meets after school once per month. The mission of Tigers Together is to promote inclusivity in the school community and anyone may join. The club includes students of all ability levels who engage in a variety of activities together that encourage collaboration, kindness, and community

Arleana, a McConnell MS 7th grader, says she was motivated to become a Tiger Buddy to learn more about others outside of her “bubble.”  

“When I was given the opportunity to become a Tiger Buddy, I could not have been more enthusiastic. My goal with being a part of Tiger Buddies was not only to expand my knowledge of people who are different from me, but to make a difference in someone's life who is outside of my bubble and inspire others to do so as well,” adds Arleana.  

Tiger Buddies at McConnell MS

Tiger Buddies takes place during the school day and consists of general education students who participate in activities with exceptional students. Some Tiger Buddies attend a connections-type course during advisement time, and some visit classrooms during the day to read to students or help with classroom projects.   

“I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with these amazing kids and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world,” says Semira, a McConnell MS 7th grader.  

At all schools in the Archer Cluster, Communication is synonymous with inclusion, kindness, and collaboration. The considerate and intentional development of supportive relationships and equitable learning environments ensures well-rounded growth for each and every student in the cluster. 

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The Archer Cluster includes the following schools: