Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Woman Who Dreams Big

Tonight, I was reading about Tim Tebow and how he was once a boy who dreamed of becoming a respected football player.

Also, I was watching Diane Sawyer interview the 31-year old gentleman who started the newest Internet phenomenon, Groupon, which reminded me of how Mark Zuckerburg started Facebook as a college student, which is now visited by over 400 million individuals a month.

I have also studied admirable educators like Ron Clark who started world-class schools (which, in his case, is the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia).

All over the United States, there are stories about phenomenal individuals who made their dreams come true by being just a little bit proactive. You may not realize it, but a few of my dreams have already come true. Ever since Beth Newingham was Scholastic's grades 3-5 teacher advisor, I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to do something as incredible. Three years later, during the 2009-2010 school year, I followed in her footsteps. Additionally, I have had the courage to begin writing a children's novel called Etola's Keeper, which I hope to get published a little bit down the road. I know I am not the next J.K. Rowling, but it has been a dream of mine to even begin such a project. Also, I wrote a grant a few months ago so the fourth grade students at our school could receive incredible science materials. A month before, I attended a NASA tweetup and toured the Vehicle Assembly Building, which I remember staring at in awe when I was a fourth grade student on a field trip to Kennedy Space Center. Then of course, I started a website called in 2005 that I did not expect to become a well-known site that is visited by thousands of people every year. When I graduated from Flagler College in April 2004, I never thought I would accomplish this much, but I guess I had something in me all along. A very strong desire and will. Persistence. Passion for what I do.

Yet enough about what I have accomplished since 2004. Those accomplishments do not even come close to this... potentially unattainable... vision. When I was five years old, I mapped out curriculum for my stuffed animals, and later on in elementary school, I was fascinated with floor plans, so I sketched out school floor plans every once in a while. By the time I graduated from high school, I had developed an entire imaginary high school named "Northside High School" with over 2,000 students that was the focus of many of my short stories back then. I remember sitting in classes over the years thinking about educational possibilities.

Even in fifth or sixth grade, I dreamed about a computer where I could upload pictures and reach out to other people, yet society did not have digital cameras, photo cards, flash drives, or even the Internet like we have now. I thought about how that "computer" could make learning so exciting, yet I was a young girl from Hernando County, Florida who did not have a voice.

At age 10 or 11, I knew there were people who made their voices well-known, yet I did not have the vehicle to speak. I was a bullied outsider who daydreamed about the possibilities of education and technology (and a school where I would be embraced and not ridiculed). A lot. I did not want people to think I was flying the coop, so I kept my mouth shut. I did not have the confidence nor the know-how to speak up.

Not until after I began teaching fourth grade did I officially begin thinking about starting my own school. The idea may have sprouted about three or four years ago. I don't remember how I began thinking about it, but I remember all I imagined. Entering through the doors of this school, approximately 300 students in grades K-8 had access to superior academics and were able to develop their character in compelling ways.

Here are some components of my dream.

  • It does not matter whether my school would be private or a charter school (though I ideally prefer a private school). However, I would have one class per grade level (18 in grades K-2, 22 in grades 3-5, and 25 in grades 6-8, totaling 54 primary, 66 intermediate, and 75 middle school). 
  • No matter what, I desire for my teachers to focus on the Sunshine State Standards. It is my prerogative for the students at the school to meet and exceed the state's expectations. Technology and hands-on learning will also be a priority. Students would have access to laptop computers, where they would visit websites that brought their textbooks to life. 
  • Students would have access to superior literature (fiction, non-fiction, periodicals). They would also learn critical thinking skills so they could respond to literature in numerous ways and make text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. 
  • There would be a strong focus on food preparation. K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 students would assist in maintaining an organic greenhouse. They would then take fruits and vegetables prepared in the greenhouse to prepare one healthy meal a month for their class to enjoy. They would also learn how to prepare smoothies. Ultimately, the food preparation component would address multiple math standards in a hands-on way.
  • Students would learn about podcasting and green screen technology. They would have the opportunity to publish their podcasts as well as digital storytelling pursuits on our school's website, which would be formatted like a magazine. 
  • Continuing the focus on technology, we would have access to Skype and as many tools as possible to communicate with people all over the world. Each student in each grade level would have two pen pals, one from Florida and the other from a foreign country. I would check up on classes in other countries that have access to Skype. Additionally, students could communicate with authors, museum directors, NASA scientists, athletes, and other individuals who make a difference. I like how for example the PS22 chorus from New York City has been able to share their passions with so many individuals. I would love for people to connect with our school's vision and communicate with us. 
  • The students at the school would have access to a few clubs. The clubs would focus on science, history, drama, art, writing and journalism, and running and exercise. Soccer and basketball would be available for all students as well. With the running and exercise club, students would participate in a few "fun run" races offered in the Tampa Bay area. Additionally, Odyssey of the Mind would be offered for any interested students in K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 as well as American Heritage Girls. Parents could also inspire the initiation of other clubs.  
  • Each older student in the school (grades 4-8) would mentor a student in grades K-3. It would be different than a regular Book Buddies program offered in schools now. Students would meet with their "buddy" one-on-one to share an accomplishment or work on a small project together. For example, an eighth-grader could help a third-grader to write a story. 
  • I would want to bring back a few components of the education I had growing up. One of the most influential was the Young Authors program. I am still obsessed with blank books to this very day. I would find ways for students to connect writing to ANY curricular component and develop the students' creativity. I also remember when I was a first grade student meeting famous comic strip artists and children's authors. I attended two other times as well, the last time being eighth grade. Several years later, the program has been phased out. 
  • Middle school students would have the chance to go to Washington, D.C., which is a field trip one of our local schools goes on annually. Students in grades 3-5 would be able to learn a lot about America's Oldest City, St. Augustine. There would be many opportunities for science and history trips. The largest trip for grades K-2 could be one like visiting Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, only an hour south of us. 
  • The ultimate vision for our school would be "having a voice" (communication and being proactive). Students in all grades would complete a project every year where they would reach out to others at a local level or higher. They could develop websites, write literature, write letters to prominent individuals, or develop a long-term science project, for example, where they would focus on local environmental issues. For example, a student may find a way to help an orphanage on the other side of the world, help hurricane victims, write a book where they reach out to children with disabilities, write to government officials, develop a script for students to perform at a community level, express interest in careers (writing to Disney, for example, asking their advice on how to start a career as a ride engineer (or as they call "Imagineer"). 
  • In these respects, I would try to instill a strong desire for the students to love learning. All eighth-grade students would hopefully graduate as more self-confident individuals with a broad schema of what is going on in their world. 
I am glad I was able to express my desires with YOU. Thank you for reading. Currently, I love my job as a fourth grade teacher and have the foremost respect for public education, but I have the freedom to dream and communicate what I have only envisioned in my mind until now. Honestly, I do not know where to begin, but I know any vision can become a reality. In this difficult economy, I hope I reach out to the right people and communicate numerous visions I possess through this blog. 

If you would like, follow me to read future updates. I am going to try to cover as much as I possibly can with you. I know I am a 29-year old woman who graduated from college only eight years ago, but I know that this day and age encourages me to have a voice.

(Addition: This is the Montessori school my cousin started in New Hampshire a while back. I just thought about this and how it has inspired me for quite some time. Though I am not seeking a Montessori mission, I admire her so much for establishing an ever-expanding school.) 


  1. I miss living / teaching in Florida.

    I miss teaching the primary grades.

    I share your vision and passion.

    Sign me up to be your first grade teacher! :)

    Ironically, as I was reading about your dream of the food program I was thinking, "I need to send her the link to the Montessori School nearby." It also in NH.

    Cool stuff!

    :) Jodi from the Clutter-Free Classroom

  2. I love learning about other schools, so THANK YOU! It is awesome that people share my vision out there; I know that can garner some excellent support and make this dream a possibility. Thanks, Jodi. - Victoria