Balancing our Digital Learners

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Balancing our Digital Learners

March was a busy month as we finally embraced regular school schedules with the hope that inclement weather was behind us. Sunny days, without piles of snow, brought more time outside for recess, physical education classes, and the beginning of spring sports. It’s so important for students to have time away from their academic studies, including the technology that is used to assist or enrich their learning. The time away is part of a balancing act.

We need to support students in finding “tech-life balance” – developing a schedule that allows them to balance their time looking at various technology screens (smartphones, iPads, laptops) and engaging in other physical activities. When our district involved stakeholders (district staff and parents) in the planning for our 1:1 iPad initiative in the schools (a.k.a. mobile learning), the group discussed the need to ensure students do not spend too much time during class on their iPads, especially at the K-6 level. This involves finding a balance between in-class instruction and time dedicated to research, design, and communication using technology.

At home, there also needs to be a tech-life balance. My husband and I work with our 7th grade son to achieve this balance, limiting his screen time so more time is spent in his academic work along with his athletic and musical activities. As a family we’ve tried to designate a certain amount of time (or specific time frame) for his technology usage so it doesn’t take a toll on his schoolwork, personal development and interactions, and overall health. Spending too much time in using technology can leave students (and adults) feeling stressed and tired. He already spends a good amount of his time using technology as part of his school course work, so finding additional time for the non-academic technology-based activities he enjoys (texting friends, posting on Snapchat and Instagram, etc.) is a balancing feat. We’ve found that parenting in the digital age comes with many challenges.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers recommendations and resources for helping families (children and adults) find tech-life balance while still honoring the needs of students who are growing up in a world of digital media. This involves recognizing the mindful use of media while also monitoring screen time. These resources can be found here.

Another resource for parents includes the information offered by the Society for Social Implications for Technology (SSIT). The organization offers ideas for appropriate activities for digital learners from birth through age 18, including information about maintaining a student’s healthy “digital diet.” The information can be found here.

An American teacher by the name of Mary Garza conducted an in-class experiment to show how learning can be affected adversely by cell phones. The teacher had her students turn up the volume of their cell phones during a 4th period class, and every time they received a notification on their phones they placed a tally mark under the appropriate category on a class poster (Snapchat, text, email, Facebook, etc.). This picture, which she posted on her Facebook page, provides a sobering image of the number of interruptions in a student’s education during one class period of the day.

In education we are sensitive to the amount of time students spend on technology, and recognize the value of technology as an instructional tool when used accordingly. At MTSD, our staff has spent much time in professional development that offers strategies for technology integration in the curriculum, including a focus on the 4 C’s – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.  This planning allows teachers to use technology to support and enrich student learning when it’s appropriate within the curriculum. The technology usage is balanced with direct instruction from teachers. From time to time we receive questions from parents about students’ “screen time” in the K-6 grades, seeking affirmation that students are not watching small iPad screens for a significant amount of time during the school day. Our teachers plan strategically for the use of technology in their classrooms, striving for balance as they teach their grade level/course skills and content while using the iPads (or other technology) to assist and extend learning. Technology is not used every single period of the day, or during each subject every day. Digital citizenship is taught at various grade levels throughout the curriculum to promote safe digital learning.

Of course, we do have students enrolled either part-time or full-time in our MTSD virtual academy. Our virtual academy consists of students who participate in online learning for part of their school day while others engage in online learning throughout most of the day. Although screen time varies for these students in our virtual academy, we hope they too find tech-life balance so an appropriate amount of screen time can be achieved. Engaging in after school activities without screen time will help achieve that goal. Some of our full-time virtual academy students participate in competitive out-of-school sports/activities that occur during the school day, and need access to online learning that fits their busy schedules.  Some of our virtual learning students may also just prefer to learn at a self-selected pace that is different than the schedule within the typical classroom, and online learning offers this opportunity.

Technology enhances educational opportunity and educational access. We must be cautious and prudent in our efforts to prepare these digital natives to use their personal and school devices, social media, and the Internet in safe, healthy ways. A tech-life balance is also essential for promoting their positive health.

Employee of the Month

Dr. Wendy Hancock with first grade teacher Liz Ducey
Nitrauer Elementary Principal, Dr. Wendy Hancock, is with our March Employee of the Month Liz Ducey.

Our Employee of the Month, Liz Ducey, is a first grade teacher at Nitrauer Elementary School, an assistant coach for the MT Age Group Swim Program, and an assistant with the field hockey program.  Her colleagues share that Mrs. Ducey is an incredible first grade teacher, colleague, and mentor. She creates a community in her classroom that fosters social and emotional growth within her students. Her colleagues share that she “pushes students to reach their full potential every day, and teaches them to be good citizens that care about each other and the world around them.” They further note that “she does whatever it takes to make learning fun and meaningful for her students.”

The Nitrauer staff share that Mrs. Ducey is a true professional that loves her job and unselfishly and passionately supports all students and staff.

February 2019

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Expressing Appreciation

The month of February has flown by quickly, especially given the number of days we were addressing inclement weather. We are looking forward to the milder temperatures that spring will bring.

Special messages of appreciation written by students for their peers.
Special messages of appreciation written by students for their peers.

February is often dedicated to events that show appreciation for others. Our younger students make special Valentines for their peers and parents. Our older students express appreciation through cards, descriptive writing, and poems.

In some of our schools students read books and wrote stories about gratitude and generosity. They engaged in “Random Acts of Kindness” or expressed their appreciation of others through participation in the Kindness Club. Watching students thoughtfully plan activities to show appreciation for others is heart-warming, especially knowing that these behaviors contribute to the development of caring, considerate children. Students of all ages spent time this month, and many other months as well, showing appreciation for others in a variety of ways, from community service events to school/classroom-wide activities. Some of our student clubs, such as the Aevidum Club and Interact Club, facilitate specific activities that promote the positive recognition of others.

I would also like to share my personal appreciation this month of our Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO’s), Booster Clubs, and other parent organizations. Our district is extremely blessed to have such supportive, generous parents that offer countless hours to our schools, athletic programs, performing arts program, and various clubs. Because of their ongoing positive support of our students, our district benefits in so many ways. Our students see the value of collaborative home-school relationships.

On a similar note, I would like to express appreciation to our parents who have willingly offered their time and support to join our parent task force dedicated to building a strong structure and communication framework for the planning of our new district early learning center for kindergarten. Although the planning for the early learning center is in its infancy stage, we value the input of our parents from the conceptual stage of planning through the final stages. Our district has spent a significant amount of time dialoguing and planning for how to address our growing student population. Recognizing our continued focus on early learning programs and building partnerships with families and local community organizations, the development of a kindergarten early learning center that is solely focused on addressing the unique needs of our youngest learners will greatly benefit our children and the overall community. Our parent task force will help us construct a model for active parental involvement in the early learning center, creating a framework that values and appreciates family connections at this critical point in a child’s life.  As our district moves forward in the planning of the early learning center, I will continue to provide updates on our website and in my blog.

Employee of the Month

February Employee of the Month
February Employee of the Month, Mrs. Dyan Branstetter is with Brecht Principal Mrs. Sharon Schaefer.

Our Employee of the Month, Dyan Branstetter, is a third-grade teacher at Brecht Elementary School. She was nominated by her colleagues for “sharing her passion for the arts with the Brecht community.” Every spring, Mrs. Branstetter organizes a school community arts night, and find various Artists in Residence to visit Brecht. These special opportunities provide enriching experiences for our students. For years, Mrs. Branstetter has coordinated a performance of the Nutcracker where third grade students integrated music and dance with research, reading, and writing.  She is always willing to share technology and arts integration tips at her staff development meetings and individually with her colleagues. Her colleagues share that “Mrs. Branstetter does whatever it takes to challenge her students to make learning relevant, meaningful and fun.” They further note, “Mrs. Branstetter is a wonderful colleague and teacher; we appreciate and would like to recognize her expertise, dedication and work.” I also want to express my appreciation for Mrs. Branstetter who always has a smile on her face, and a consistent heart of giving.

January 2019

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Defining Student Success

Students actively engaged in their Monday Morning Meeting activity.
Students actively engaged in their Monday Morning Meeting activity.

In November, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) launched a new system for measuring school performance – the Future Ready PA Index. This system is an improvement from the previous accountability system that ranked schools by a single score, weighted heavily by standardized assessment results. The Future Ready PA Index goes beyond the framework of issuing a single score by offering a more comprehensive focus on three essential areas for measuring school performance: (a) academic performance, (b) student progress/growth, and (c) college and career readiness.

Having an accountability system for school performance that offers more meaningful, holistic data, including various measures of student growth, college and career readiness, and early indicators of success (grade 3 reading and grade 7 mathematics), provides important information to parents, school educators, and administrators. This information is essential for building successful educational programs for students K-12. Even further, the student growth measures at the elementary level, as well as the “Grade 3 Reading-Early Indicator of Success” data, help us identify areas of improvement for our early learners (PreK-Grade 2 students). Given our strong focus on expanding early learning initiatives at MTSD, and ensuring academically at-risk students are identified earlier and effectively supported, this data helps our pursuit to increase proficiency in grade 3 literacy for all students.

Beyond the focus on the younger learners and the early identification of students in need, our district Comprehensive (Strategic) Plan also addresses the desire for increasing the graduation rate and overall academic achievement through provision of additional learning opportunities. These opportunities may serve as learning interventions as well as new, meaningful job-embedded experiences that promote college and career readiness. The PDE continues to emphasize the significance of offering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) experiences in grades K-12, and computer science education, especially given the growing workforce demands in these areas.  We are pleased with PDE’s emphasis on promoting college and career preparation skills; it supports our district and high school goal to build more internship and apprenticeship opportunities for students within their local community. Partnerships with local businesses and organizations offer engaging, meaningful, real-life experiences that will ultimately challenge and prepare students for life after graduation.

We are in the process of developing several exciting new opportunities that provide the rigor and application of real-world/career-focused learning experiences. Some examples of these opportunities include building career development and college preparation skills through additional dual enrollment and College in the High School opportunities, as well as new partnerships for student internships and apprenticeships. These career-focused learning experiences are not solely for high school students; we recently involved middle school students in visits to local industries. On January 11, about 95 MT middle school 7th graders participated in workplace tours within the Lancaster area. This experience was made possible by a grant through our MT Educational Foundation. The students visited TE Connectivity in Manheim, PBZ Manufacturing in Lititz, and Flex/Cell in Lancaster. Students learned about careers available in our Lancaster area and toured each facility. Junior Achievement activities at Landis Run Intermediate School offer additional opportunities for students to be introduced to real-world, career-related skills.

Employee of the Month

Beth Faehling is Landis Run Intermediate's Employee of the Month for the month of January.
Beth Faehling, with LRIS Principal Mr. Will Gillis, is Landis Run Intermediate’s Employee of the Month for the month of January.

An example of a MTSD educator who consistently provides engaging, meaningful instruction that provides students with a strong foundation for learning is Mrs. Beth Faehling, a fifth grade teacher at Landis Run Intermediate School. Mrs. Faehling is our “Employee of the Month” for January. The Board of School Directors honored her at the January 17 public meeting.

Mrs. Faehling was nominated by her colleagues for “always going above and beyond for her students and our school; she cares deeply about each of her students and believes in teaching the ‘whole’ child.” Her fellow educators shared that “her positive energy is contagious!” She demonstrates great compassion and patience with the students who need it most. They further noted that she is a great leader, and “always knows the right thing to say in any situation.” One teacher offered, “Mrs. Faehling shares her knowledge with passion and positivity.”

Throughout our district we continue to be relentless in our work to provide multiple opportunities for student success. There is not a lone pathway that meets the needs of all students.

November/December 2018

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: A Heart of Giving

Our MT Marching Band students volunteering on the 2018 Day of Caring at the Whittel Farm, Elizabethtown.

I was reminded today of the positive power of giving. At the drive-in window of a local Starbucks, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my grande vanilla latte and hot chocolate drinks were fully paid for by an anonymous giver who had driven through the lane several cars ahead of me. The passengers in the two cars between the generous giver and I had their bills covered, with no expectation of any expression of gratitude.  Spurned by intense feelings of personal gratitude, I decided to pay for the bills of the two cars that pulled in behind me at the window, with the same expectation for anonymity. My 12-year old son was quite enthralled by the whole activity, including the mindset for why a complete stranger would pay for everyone’s bill, and then have his mother follow suit. The whole activity caused an interesting conversation between my son and I about the concept of paying it forward, and why people would be motivated to do a good deed for others as a result of someone doing a good deed for them.  After my son stopped trying to calculate how much money the original giver might have paid for everyone’s bill (drinks, bakery items, etc.), he began reflecting on the benefits of doing good deeds for other people, and how these actions could cause a positive chain reaction. Such generosity can be socially contagious, especially recognizing the impact of a single act of kindness among others. We talked about ideas for paying it forward at his school.

Our MT cross country team organizing and boxing food items donated for the local food bank.
Our MT cross country team organizing and boxing food items donated for the local food bank.

At Manheim Township, our schools are filled with examples of ways that students are focused on showing acts of kindness to others: buddy benches on our elementary playgrounds, the Kindness Rocks Project ( at some of our elementary schools, the “Kindness Clubs”, the “Have You Filled A Bucket Today” project, and the many different community service projects our students perform weekly at various locations. At the secondary level, many of our students in clubs, performing arts, and athletics spend a meaningful amount of time giving back to the community in a variety of ways.

As we approach the holiday season, our students will continue to be quite active in serving their community. Just as paying it forward provides a strong feeling of generosity and giving, serving others through community service also benefits the students, our local community, and the larger community itself. Students grow individually as they become actively involved citizens, thereby, developing a sense of civic responsibility. We are proud that so many of our students volunteer their time and energy to making a positive impact in a world much larger than their own.

The mindset of giving to others is part of our continued focus on the development of the “whole child.” Educating students at Manheim Township involves building district-wide systems and programs that promote life long learning so they are healthy, safe, and engaged in their school and local communities. Through involvement in service activities, students apply their academic learning to the world around them, thus, developing social awareness and responsibility. Our students are tomorrow’s leaders, and their heart of giving and kindness to others gives me hope for a continued positive future.

Terri Sies Neff Elementary November Employee of the Month
Terri Sies
Neff Elementary November Employee of the Month

An example of two district educators who work diligently to help build healthy, socially aware students, are our district Employees of the Month for November and December. Ms. Terri Sies, our Employee of the Month for November, is currently a para-educator in the Learning Support program at Neff Elementary School, and has worked in this capacity throughout the district in various programs, such as multiple disabilities, life skills, and learning support. She was nominated by her colleagues for ” taking the time to get to know each student on a personal level so she can incorporate their interests into their work.” They shared that Ms. Sies is “encouraging, yet has high expectations for behavior and achievement, and hold kids accountable … she is an amazing asset to our special education program, the teachers, and especially the students.”

Schaeffer Elementary Principal, Elizabeth Edwards, congratulations December Employee of the Month Megan Bingham.
Schaeffer Elementary Principal, Elizabeth Edwards, congratulations December Employee of the Month Megan Bingham.

The Employee of the Month for December, Ms. Megan Bingham, guidance counselor, was nominated by her colleagues at Schaeffer Elementary School for “upholding the vision and values of our district and our school.”  They shared that “she knows all of the Schaeffer students and families really well and is willing to help anyone in need; she treats every child as if they were her own. Ms. Bingham is gentle, kind, and empathetic. Students are comfortable talking to her, and she is attentive their needs.” Even further, they noted, “her accessibility for meeting with students and classroom presence is greatly appreciated.”

May you have a peaceful, joyous holiday season and a new year filled with happiness!

October 2018

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Planning for Continuous Improvement!

As I am sitting outside on my front porch enjoying the mild fall-like temperatures of the weekend, watching my 12-year old son contently shooting basketball in the driveway, my mind shifts to thinking about the importance of both physical and mental well-being for children. Just as my son is exerting physical energy running up and down the driveway with the goal of achieving his left-hand basketball layups, his mind is continuously thinking about the placement of his feet as he dribbles the ball with his left hand approaching the basket. His mental state shows concentration and determination as he approaches the net, feeling the sensation of the ball rolling off of his fingers with intended directional control. When the left-hand layup is successful, he looks at me with a jubilant smile and goes through the movement all over again. The following several successful attempts at making layups help him persevere through the unsuccessful attempts. He knows that continued effort and practice can bring improvement in speed, footwork, and ball control. And his growth in building resiliency helps him maintain focus and determination even after many failed attempts to achieve the shot.

These are key elements for consideration when striving to help students develop their emotional health and well-being. We know from research that students who are socially and emotionally healthy tend to demonstrate skills that help them be more successful in their academic learning, relationships with peers and adults, and overall motivation. Social emotional learning is essential in helping students become strong, healthy adults. In order for this to occur, schools need to address any barriers that inhibit healthy social, emotional, and academic development in children of all ages. Addressing barriers involves the need for equity in the school system. Equity in students’ access to educational programs and equity in the provision of interventions and supports when students are struggling. Equity benefits all students.

Thus, when the Manheim Township School District came together last school year to develop a new Nitrauer Students on First Daythree-year Comprehensive (Strategic) Plan, the district and school-level planning teams addressed the need for continued academic growth at all grade levels. The planning for continuous improvement in learning across the district focused on the need for promoting equity and removing barriers to student learning. The title “Pursuing Excellence and Equity for All” was given to the Comprehensive Plan, which serves as a blueprint for promoting student learning and well-being over the next three years. Below are the three overarching goals of the Comprehensive Plan:

  1. Implementing effective instructional strategies district-wide incorporating 21st century learning and innovation skills;
  2. Addressing barriers to student learning in order to increase student achievement & graduation rates; and,
  3. Ensuring academically at-risk students are identified early and are supported with needs-based interventions.

The specific strategies and initiatives designed for the schools and the district to achieve the three goals can be found on the district website: Some of these important initiatives include (but are not limited to) our focus on the following: implementation of early learning programs, a grades K-6 Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), trauma-informed care/practices, college and career readiness skills, student transitions between key grade levels, technology integration, meaningful professional learning for staff, and community partnerships.

MTSD October Employee of the Month Annette Frey with Bucher Elementary Principal Mr. Andrew Martin.

An example of a district educator who strives to eliminate barriers to learning is our district October Employee of the Month, Mrs. Annette Frey, who was nominated by her colleagues at Bucher Elementary School for the ability to make a positive impact on students. They noted that Mrs. Frey is dedicated to providing interventions and supports to her students with special needs. During our October 18th Board Meeting, Mr. Andy Martin, Principal at Bucher Elementary School, shared comments from her colleagues such as “Mrs. Frey has an excellent rapport with her students. She clearly makes a positive impact on students, not only in their learning but in their daily lives as well.” He further shared that Mrs. Frey “truly cares about each student as an individual, and wants to see them succeed.” She knows when to provide extra accommodations for them, and when to “push a bit.” Her colleagues further noted that “she is always ready with a listening ear, a hug, or even a fidget toy when it is needed.” They shared that she has a great sense of humor, and can usually manage to laugh about something from even the most difficult days.” She is modeling for students how to develop a positive attitude and strengthen their social-emotional health.

We recognize the significance of social and emotional health on a student’s ability to develop secure relationships, regulate their emotions, and increase the capacity to learn. Connectedness is important to us at Manheim Township, and our new Comprehensive Plan guides the way for continued improvement in academic learning and positive social-emotional health.

September 2018

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Educators Impacting Students!

Our 2018-2019 school year is off to a great start!

The year has started with great positive energy and vigor by both staff and students. As I walked through our nine buildings on that first day of school welcoming staff and students, accompanied by several of our School Board members, the excitement was palpable. The enthusiasm demonstrated by our staff created a warm welcoming environment for students of all ages.

While students were enjoying their summer breaks, there were many teachers and staff members at Manheim Township taking graduate level classes, attending professional development workshops and conferences, and participating in research studies, training programs, and national/international educational trips. Our staff was busy! Examples of these professional development activities include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Anita Shoemaker, Nitrauer Elementary, participated in the Keystones Technology Innovator STAR Summit at Shippensburg University;
  • Dyan Branstetter, Brecht Elementary, participated as an Arts Integration and STEAM Specialist/Personal Coach for EducationCloset, an online resource for arts integration and STEAM;
  • Olivia Good, Manheim Township Middle School, participated in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s week-long summer institute at the University of Virginia studying the American Civil War, the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Institute at the University of Massachusetts, and the Lowell National Historic Park studying the rise of reform movements during the Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, Olivia and middle school teacher Brian Booker, both attended the Days with Documents seminar at Gettysburg National Military Park to study the use of primary documents for learning in the classroom;
  • Brian Booker also attended the 2018 PA Art Education Leadership Retreat at Kutztown University, learning about policies and strategies from impacting art education across the state;
  • Ben Parker, Manheim Township Middle School, attended a research conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis titled “Cultivating Equitable Research Opportunities” that focused on the development of research ideas and academic publications that address educational issues present in marginalized communities;
  • Donny Himelright, Manheim Township Middle School, participated in the PA Master Naturalist Training Program, a statewide partnership initiative that connects people with their local ecosystems through intensive natural science training and local conservation service work;
  • Amanda Stine, Manheim Township Middle School, attended the 2018 Art Education National Leadership Conference titled “The Artistry of Leadership” in Charleston, South Carolina, and learned strategies for building leadership skills and advocating for art education;
  • Alex Swavely, Manheim Township Middle School, participated in a local training titled “Wellness Works in Schools: Mindful Choices;”
  • Rich Nolt and Bill Ziegler, Manheim Township High School, spent three days at the STEM Teacher Externship at CNH Industrial, New Holland, learning about product lifecycle, engineering, and advanced manufacturing;
  • Chris Manning and Missy Doll, Manheim Township High School, attended the American Association of Physics Teacher Summer Meeting in Washington, D.C. to develop and strengthen professional connections, learn from internationally renowned speakers, and attend workshops that provide opportunities to improve our physics curriculum;
  • Lisa Lyons, Manheim Township High School, participated in a three-day “Computer Science for All Summit-National Initiative,” focused on providing equity in computer science for all students K-12 (including a strong foundation for grades K-5 students);
  • Jen Breton, Rachelle Impick, Emily Heisler, & Kristin Bell, Manheim Township High School, participated in an EdCamp at Derry Township School District on the topic of Technology Integration;
  • Ked Kantz, Manheim Township High School, joined educators from across the U.S. on a two-week educational tour of Germany with the Transatlantic Outreach Program, visiting German schools, historical monuments, museums, and German corporations, and meeting with contemporary historical witnesses. The experiences provided him with resources for enriching the relevant district International Baccalaureate courses and promoting global mindedness among students and colleagues;
  • Nicole Eshelman, Manheim Township High School, attended a training to prepare her for a December 2018 trip to the Antartica, as part of her Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions;
  • Steve Schulz, Manheim Township High School, participated in a two-week training at the U.S. Naval Academy involving the “Maury Project” (named after the Navy Officer Matthew Fontaine Maury) that provided him with a framework to lead teacher workshops that embed Oceanography concepts into STEM courses. The training program also involved the collection of data from a YP 686, the touring of the Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facilities in Washington, D.C., and a visit to the Baltimore Aquarium;
  • Wayne Kantz, Manheim Township High School, continued his work as a Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, utilizing the resources of the Lancaster Historical Society to develop curriculum.

As you can see, the summer was a busy time for educators desiring to grow in their academic fields and interest areas, for the benefit of the students with whom they work. Even further, this list is just a snapshot of learning activities conducted by 21 educators – they were many more activities completed by Manheim Township staff over the summer in preparation for their work with students during the 2018-2019 school year.

Ginny Wilson

Another example of teachers making a difference is Ms. Ginny Wilson who was recently selected by high school staff and administration to be formally recognized as the Employee of the Month during our September 20 School Board Meeting. Ms. Wilson, a high school Health and Physical Education teacher, was honored for her ongoing service to students, leadership in the Health and Physical Education Department, leadership within the school, and mentorship to fellow teachers and coaches. Outside of the classroom, Ms. Wilson has served as the Manheim Township Assistant and Head Girls’ Softball Coach, Head Junior High Girls’ Basketball Coach, and Cross Country Coach. She has numerous accolades for winning seasons for several of her sports.

Ms. Wilson also works with the students in our Life Skills Program and other students to provide specialized Physical Education programs. Her colleagues shared that Ms. Wilson is very deserving of the recognition, noting that, “she always includes all students into every activity, and modifies as needed.” Other staff members added, “Ginny has been a stabilizing force within the Health and Physical Education Department,” and “She puts students first and always has time for them … she is well respected and is a positive role model for her students.” Given that this is Ms. Wilson’s 33rd year in education, she is well deserving of this honor as a Manheim Township Employee of the Month!

Each month our Board of School Directors recognizes the “Employee of the Month,” an employee who is nominated for recognition by his/her colleagues. These individuals have made a positive impact on students, staff, and their overall building. My blog this school year will include a feature on each of these nominated employees – their recognition needs to continue beyond the monthly Board Meetings.

Our school district is blessed to have highly dedicated educators and staff who are devoted to making a difference for children.

August 2018

Posted Posted in 2018-2019 School Year

Making Today Count: Preparing for Back-to-School!

photo of books to complement blog

The 2018-2019 school year is upon us!

I have always looked forward to the start of a new school year, as a teacher, administrator, and Superintendent of Schools. The excitement is contagious for both our school staff and students. I recently spoke with a student and her mother at the local Target store while they were purchasing school materials in preparation for the upcoming school year. Both the student and parent were enthusiastically talking about the possibilities that the new school year could bring, from time spent in the school marching band to new challenges from an Advanced Placement course. I felt the excitement of the student as she spoke about her hopes for the upcoming year. It reminded me of the excitement felt each year as I plan for the implementation of our annual goals, initiatives, and planned visits to each of our schools. Expecting the unknown, and experiencing feelings of uncertainty, can be both invigorating and a bit worrisome.

Feelings of uncertainly can be heightened for our students in the “transition years,” – students entering kindergarten or first grade, students moving from elementary to the intermediate school, or students entering middle school and high school. We recognize that these transition years bring more challenges to students as they enter a larger building with more students and staff, encounter different expectations, and experience new self-management skills. The anxiety that students may feel in anticipation of this transition is quite normal, and they need to be reminded that school staff will support them during this important time.

I recently read an informational article about back-to-school planning published by MindShift, an educational podcast focused on the exploration on the future of learning, cultural and technological trends, and innovation in education:  The article titled “Tips to help kids with back to school anxiety,” offers strategies to help students make the transition effectively back to school. As noted in the article by Lynn Bufka, a practicing psychologist who also works at the American Psychological Association, “Going back to school is a transition for everyone …. no matter the age of the child or if they’ve been to school before.” This applies to both students and their parents. The transition can be significant to everyone in the family, but there are proven tips for making the transition successful, from creating a positive expectation to starting the back-to-school routine early.

We have been busy preparing for the start of the school year, and are excited for students to arrive on August 27. The day will be special for everyone, both students and staff!

June 2018

Posted Posted in 2017-2018 School Year

Making Today Count: Reflections of 2017-18

While watching our students crossing the stage for their diplomas during the graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 6, my heart was filled with feelings of both excitement and anticipation. I sensed the eagerness of the students for their movement into this next phase of their life. What a wonderful time for each of our 448 graduates – their future is filled with many unknowns … and possibilities.

MTHS 2018 graduates spend time together before the ceremony.

The worthy achievement of the long-awaited (and well-earned) diploma holds great value. During my graduation speech that evening, I had shared a profound statement offered by Nelson Mandela, political leader and former President of South Africa: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education is crucial to creating a sustainable planet, reducing poverty, eliminating gender inequality, and promoting peace both within our communities and in the world. The achievement of a high school diploma is the result of a significant amount of academic work over the past 12+ years. Students were reminded that education, combined with their voice and actions, are powerful tools to bringing change – to making a difference in the local community and in the world.

And the dedication of our teachers in meeting the individual needs of our students, K-12, helping them master the established grade level/course content each school year, is commendable. Parents and community members repeatedly share with me their pleasure with the teachers at Manheim Township, acknowledging the impact they have had on their student’s learning, and life. Students have also shared similar appreciative statements with me.  As noted by a significant amount of research, the role of a teacher is the most influential variable in students’ academic performance.

Opening Kick-Off for Comprehensive Planning
Our teachers and other district staff have also contributed greatly to our achievement of the district goals this past school year:

  • Comprehensive Plan development
  • Mobile Learning Initiative (1:1)
  • STEAM Labs
  • Year 1 of our K-6 Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) planning
  • Communication Plan
  • Cyber Seniors program
  • Community partnerships
  • Several other key projects!

Cyber Seniors Program

The following district staff members were honored publicly by their school and/or department colleagues this year during monthly School Board Work Sessions:

  • September: Wendy Pfautz, MT High School Classroom Assistant
  • October: David Cooper, MT Middle School Teacher
  • November: Josh Stehman, Brecht Elementary School Teacher
  • December: Lonna Hoffman, Schaeffer Elementary School Library Assistant
  • February: Heidi Marshall, Landis Run Intermediate School Teacher
  • March: Natalie Mundorf, Bucher Elementary School Teacher
  • April: Nicole Wingert, Reidenbaugh Elementary School Teacher
    Patricia Roscoe, Nitrauer Elementary School Classroom Assistant
  • May: Taylor Good, Neff Elementary School Teacher
  • June: Jason Hoffman, Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor

In many ways these staff members have contributed to the betterment of our school district, and were “Champions for our Children”!

May you enjoy the peace and relaxation of the summer months.

April 2018

Posted Posted in 2017-2018 School Year

Making Today Count: School Safety Planning

School: a place where every child should have access to a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment.The voice of children is powerful, and offers insightful feedback on the topic du jour. They provide fresh ideas, meaningful perspectives, and candid thoughts. They are often the quiet voice of reason… and their words resonate with my soul. Thus, in discussion with both of our secondary principals, Mr. Dave Rilatt (Manheim Township High School) and Mrs. Karen Evans (Manheim Township Middle School), we decided to facilitate “Open Student Safety Forums” for interested students. Designated times during the day were offered to our high school Student Government leaders, middle school Student Council members, and any other interested students. The goal of the forum was to elicit open student discussion about topics related to school safety. Specifically, students were told that the purpose of the forum was “to provide students with an opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas relating to safety at the high school/middle school.” We had a series of questions to promote student discussion, but not all questions were covered since students enthusiastically continued the discussion on only several of the presented questions.

In general, students shared that they felt safe in their schools. They know we have procedures in place to address emergencies, such as intruders or other hazards. Students acknowledged the safety trainings that occur throughout the school year, and some noted that their teachers have offered specific ideas for addressing safety in their classrooms in the event of an emergency. They were honest in their comments, and some challenged our thinking about areas to improve for overall safety. Students also offered ideas for how to prevent or decrease student-posed threats, and discussion focused on the steps to follow if someone sees or hears about a threat. In some of the student groups we discussed the challenges of social media, and the unfortunate ease by which a threat can be posted on certain sites (ex. Snapchat); after a short period of time the message/image often becomes inaccessible. We discussed the need to be alert and vigilant about safety. In other words, “If you see or hear something, say something.” We were pleased with the openness of our students’ responses, and the number of students who chose to speak with us. Safety will always be our #1 responsibility, our top priority.

Shortly after the tragic events that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we sent home a letter to all families about our school safety measures. As much as possible, we wanted to assure everyone about the depth of our safety planning. In the letter we shared that prior to these recent incidents of violence in the nation’s schools, a select team of elementary, intermediate, and secondary level administrators attended an intensive hands-on training to prepare for an active shooter situation. This training program focused on specific safety behaviors designed to teach skills and strategies that bridge the gap between the times a violent event begins and law enforcement arrives. We have currently implemented a professional development plan for this active shooter training for staff and students throughout the district, in addition to our other regular monthly safety drills.

Ongoing reviews of our operations, facilities, and safety and security measures continuously occur, and are often discussed during monthly Safety Committee Meetings involving school and district administrators and staff, and members of the Manheim Township Police, Manheim Township Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

All of our Manheim Township schools have a safety and security plan, with evacuation and parent reunification procedures in the event of an emergency. For safety reasons, we are unable to make the safety plan and evacuation procedures public in order to keep the protocols confidential. As shared in the letter, we will continue to promote safety and security in all of our schools and campuses, maintaining a close, positive working relationship with the Manheim Township Police Department.

We encourage you to have conversations at home as well regarding safety at school and other locations. As a community, it is imperative that we work together to ensure the well-being and safety of everyone. And in Manheim Township, we are all one family – the community and the school district are naturally intertwined.

March 2018

Posted Posted in 2017-2018 School Year

Making Today Count: Students Serving Others & Making a Difference

During my last Blog I spoke about the positive impact of early learning initiatives on preparing students for school-age learning expectations. These initiatives provide instruction and supports to our families as they work with the school system to acquire important skills and concepts that become stepping-stones to future learning. They also help our school district continue to be a welcoming, responsive organization, and one that values the unique and special relationship between parent/guardian, child, and the school.

Your Story Matters!
Motivational statements written by students and posted on the sidewalk for other incoming students to see

The influence of those early stepping-stones for later success in school becomes apparent as students begin to develop and flourish as active learners, and establish themselves as more advanced and/or mature learners within and outside of the school setting. Many of our students begin their schooling in our district and remain with us until graduation. This allows for meaningful relationships to be built between the students, their teachers and other school staff, parents, and the local community. Students also strive to build meaningful relationships with each other. We can gauge their academic and social-emotional progress through the various grade levels, looking at the strengths and areas of need within our curriculum and overall educational programs. Furthermore, we can find alignment between the trusting relationships that were built between students, their families, and our school staff.

Given that many of our students spend much of their educational career in our district, it is essential that we offer experiences to students both in the academic programs and through extracurricular activities that build powerful relationships. Beyond the teacher-student relationship is the coach-student, advisor-student relationship, and the student-community relationship. These interactions help develop character, positive identity and self-esteem, resiliency, and an understanding that everyone’s voice matters. This latter skill is further enhanced in adolescence and adulthood as they share their perspective on important topics with others. The relationships students build from their early years until graduation impact how they view themselves and others, and promote service and leadership mindsets. Students will feel like they can make a difference with their skills, their voice, and a willingness to lead in service to others.

This connection became quite evident when learning about the accomplishments of our secondary level students this month in their fundraising efforts for the Four Diamonds, whose mission is to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children and their families through care, support, and continued research for treatments and cures. Our middle school and high school mini-THONs contributed approximately $151,060.00 to the Four Diamonds! They knew their hard work could make a difference for others. Similarly, our MT High School Key Club students were recently awarded a series of honors for their achievements in service, leadership, and fundraising that greatly impacted the larger community. The accomplishments are as follows:

  • Our students had the second highest number of community service hours by any Key Club in PA (specifically, they performed 4,029 hours); students averaged 39.89 hours per person (5th highest hours per member).
  • We are one of seven distinguished clubs in the state, nominated for our overall achievement in service, fundraising, and leadership.
  • Our students raised the most funds ($3,502.00) to be given to the PA Youth Serving Youth Project, with the focus this year on “Early Childhood Education.” The fundraising helps provide much-needed funds to initiatives at the local and larger community levels.
  • Our students also raised funds ($625.00) for the Eliminate Project, a project that brings together the Kiwanis International and UNICEF with the goal to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in third world countries.
  • They were honored with the Bill Brandamore Kiwanis Family Award for their work with the local Lititz Area Kiwanis Club.
  • Several students were individually honored for their leadership in a variety of ways.

MT High School Key Club at their PA Convention
Front Row L-R: Elyse Gallagher, Tiernan Barber, Lauren Poff, Nicole Honrade, Lauren Martin, Emma Dieterle, Shruti Nair, Katie Bowe
Back Row L-R: Summer Szymanski, Veronica Reisinger, Lauren Campbell, Dan Aiello, Jackson Hilbert, Sam Westphal, Lauren Kaufman
Mini-THON Students: $117,732.20 For The Kids
Mini-THON Students: $33,323,84 For The Kids
MT High School Key Club at their PA Convention Mini-THONS for the MT Middle School and High School

We also have individual fundraising and community service projects occurring at our intermediate and elementary school levels, for the purpose of helping others in our local and greater communities. These projects are a testament to the positive relationships between the schools, students, and their families. I’ve spoken about several of these community service projects in past Blogs; in many ways our students continue to share their time, energy, and resources with the local and greater communities. They know their voices matter, and recognize the power of having meaningful, positive relationships with those around them.

Most recently at our Landis Run Intermediate School, we concluded several weeks of a leadership development program for a group of students, sponsored and facilitated by our highly supportive local Compass Mark organization. Students worked with mentors from Compass Mark to develop leadership skills and make a difference in their community. As a result, they built positive relationships with their adult mentors, with each other, and with the larger student body. The culminating activity was the creation of a “Kindness Day” where students (a.k.a. “Kindness Agents”) performed activities and distributed special uplifting messages to others. We even had a special visit by Anne Shannon, reporter from the WGAL News, who provided a highlight of our special leadership program on the local news!

We applaud all of our students for continuing to make a difference, for creating a positive footprint in their local community and beyond.

Anne Shannon with our Kindness Agents
WGAL’s Anne Shannon with our Kindness Agents