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The One-Room Schoolhouse 

Teacher’s discovery brings a children’s book series to life

The city of Galena sits in the northwest corner of Illinois, off the Mississippi tributary. It’s a small, historic town that was once home to Ulysses S. Grant, who had settled there with his family in the mid-19th century. Grant’s house remains almost untouched. In fact, most of Galena’s 19th century buildings are still well preserved. 

Patricia HarteNaus, a 35-year retired elementary school teacher from Glen Ellyn, Ill., helps maintain the town’s history. In 2000, as a graduate student and fifth-grade teacher, she took on her last assignment: “Go into the field and find something that might benefit children of all ages.” 

HarteNaus decided she would explore the unglaciated area of Galena. There, she learned of a school on top of a hill that was built in 1859, and remained open for nearly 85 years. In 1943, Belden School was boarded up and abandoned. 

HarteNaus also learned of Bob Kleckner—known as “Big Bob”—a local farmer who lived in the area. Kleckner was described as “gruff,” but he and HarteNaus became fast friends. 

‘Big Bob’ Goes Dumpster Diving 

Kleckner told the former teacher how he had salvaged two discarded journals from the trash. One dated back to the 1870s. The journals held the untold stories of events and activities within the schoolhouse. 

“He gave me these journals,” says HarteNaus, “and I read them from cover to cover. I also read between the lines for story ideas.” The farmer also gave HarteNaus old pictures he had in his garage and the telephone numbers of the last people who attended Belden School in the 1940s. 

The former students, now in their 80s and 90s, told the “tales of their antics at Belden School, their jobs on their family farms, and their long walks through the valleys,” wrote HarteNaus on her website. “Many had fond memories of their teachers and assignments given to them during those years. They also spoke lovingly of the school...as it was the center of their lives.” 

The journals and the interviews HarteNaus had with the former students served as the basis for her award-winning book series “Belden Boy.” 

Her first two books, Belden Boy—the Adventures of Peter McDugal, and My Sometimes Pal, are fictional stories of two young boys set in the 1800s. McDugal and his friend, Franky, have their struggles with bullying. “It’s the same story, same pranks, but different time,” says HarteNaus who focused on bullying because it’s an important topic in schools. 

HarteNaus’ third book, “Backwoods Bully,” is written from the perspective of Franky who doesn’t understand why everyone thinks he’s a bully. The books are written for first- through sixth-grade curricula, and tied to state core standards. The “Belden Boy” series has won awards, too, including the 2012 Country School Association of America Award and the National Children’s Literature CLIPPA Award. 

“What I did was pull the Belden School stories together, my own history with bullying, and what I experienced with my students all those years of teaching,” says HarteNaus. 

The Assignment that Keeps on Giving 

For HarteNaus’ graduate class, she wrote a proposal of how the school could be used for school-aged children, and created a mock limestone miniature of what Belden School would look like once restored. She presented it to the Galena Territory Association, which was instrumental in restoring the school. They liked the idea. 

A committee was formed and the group went to work raising money to restore the abandoned structure. In September, 2009, Belden School reopened its doors. 

“It’s been a wonderful thing,” says HarteNaus, who before her retirement would take her students to Belden School. Students experienced lessons in the style of the 1800s: The clang of a bell would start the school day and students spent the day working on reading and “arithmetic, not math, lessons,” says HarteNaus. Snacks would be taken out from a woven basket, and children would play stickball. The veteran teacher would enlist the help of a colleague to play the role of Peter McDugal, who would go down to the creek and fetch some water. 

During the summer months, the building also serves as a getaway location for young writers. A three-day experience, the Belden Boy Writing Camp has no computers, technology, or WiFi. Instead, participants use good old-fashioned pencil and paper.  

HarteNaus, along with a literacy team, guides students to write and illustrate their own children’s story which, later becomes a hard-cover book. 

The school is open every two weeks from May to October for tourists, too. HarteNaus would eventually like to open the school to teachers who want to write their own books. 

“Teachers ask me how I wrote these books,” shares HarteNuas. “I’m here for the teachers. Now that I’m retired, I would love to conduct more lessons for adults—maybe have a summer camp for teachers... and have a four-day experience of writing.” 

This one-room schoolhouse from the past seems to have quite a future!              

—Brenda Álvarez

 


Kalamazoo Teacher Creates Student ‘Code Warriors’

Shannon Houtrouw was coding before it was cool

Last year, when former President Barack Obama unveiled a $4 billion “Computer Science (CS) for All” initiative in his final State of the Union address, Shannon Houtrouw, an instructor for the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) in Michigan, was already way ahead of the game.

Almost two decades earlier, the former professor and software systems engineer had begun to transform computer courses into hands-on coding and computer science opportunities. He’s built a groundbreaking program of introductory classes and AP electives at KAMSC, a 30-year-old math and science half-day magnet school serving 300 qualifying students from all over Kalamazoo County. The four-year school is administered by Kalamazoo Public Schools and receives resources and counsel from private industry. 

The program’s alumni enter some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Caltech. They pursue CS and engineering degrees at Michigan, Michigan State, Western, Hope, and Kalamazoo College.

They also chase dreams in medicine, art, and biology—transformed by the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they master when they learn how to tell computers what to do. 

“The task is not just to get them to code but to get them to think,” Houtrouw explains. “They can use these tools in whatever field they decide to pursue in their lives. It’s a big door opener.”

The Hook

Houtrouw hooks students when they’re required to take his sophomore CS class. 

“I didn’t know anything about computers, except for a typing class I took once,” says senior Ava Wood, a student in Houtrouw’s third-year AP CS class who is considering a college major in the field. “I basically was forced to take his class, and that’s when I found out I liked it.” 

A secret to his success is turning the work of problem solving into competition—in his classroom and in formal tournaments at the regional, national, and international levels. The hardest-working students win “Code Warrior” status with a T-shirt to match.  

“Competition gives them more motivation to study harder and work together better, and it’s just fun,” he says, likening the students’ efforts to Tom Sawyer convincing all those boys to whitewash the fence. 

Houtrouw has accumulated an impressive record in tournaments, even though he has been known to bring as many as 60 kids to compete in multiple teams of three to five where it was allowed. By contrast, many schools send only a handful of top students to compete.

Too many to list, awards include a first-place win in the toughest category of the ACSL International All-Star Invitational in Denver two years ago, and another in a state contest at Saginaw Valley State University in five of the last six years.

Girls Who Code 

Perhaps most dramatic has been his track record of mentoring girls to achieve at the highest levels in high school and then aspire to a career in an industry where only one-third of technical employees are women. 

Since 2011, six female students from Michigan have been among 35 girls nationwide to receive National Aspirations in Computing awards annually from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT). Five were Houtrouw’s KAMSC students. Another 23 of his female students were runners-up in that time. 

The 2013 national winner, Reinie Thomas, was one of only six girls who could be convinced to take Houtrouw’s AP CS class in 2012. A four-sport athlete awarded 11 varsity letters during high school, Thomas says she thought CS was for nerds and boys, and she had no interest. 

Now she’s a pre-med senior at Hope College, double majoring in computer science and Spanish. “Because he believed I could, I did it, and it has changed my life,” she says. 

One strategy he’s discovered is to directly attack the barriers standing between girls and CS, which include the stereotypes they believe and the intimidation they feel. Houtrouw enlists junior and senior girls to talk with the younger ones. 

Junior Isabel Hernandez says talking with older girls who were competing and winning made the
difference. “I was extremely intimidated,” shares
Hernandez, a student in Houtrouw’s AP class this year. “But once you get to know them, you realize, ‘I can be them.’”

Houtrouw works tirelessly to bust the myth that girls can’t code as well as boys, an effort that led him two years ago to deliberately take a girls-only team of 17 students to a co-ed high school programming contest at MSU typically dominated by boys.

His all-female team not only won the championship but they “destroyed” the competition, he says—solving the first of five challenge problems just 13 minutes into the three-hour time limit. They completed four of the problems before the other teams had finished one or two. 

“That was fun,” he recalls. 

For his work promoting the value and talents of women, Houtrouw was honored with the 2016 Michigan Education Association Gender Equity Award, adding to a lengthy list of honors he’s received, including 40 Significant Educator Awards, selected by students; the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing; and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation’s Educator of Distinction Award. 

Last year, he was one of five Michigan finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 

“When students graduate and write back and say ‘You made a difference,’ it makes you want to come back and teach again,” Houtrouw says. “I love my job.”

—Brenda Ortega,
Michigan Education Association

 

Rebuilding Hope in Homeless Students

An educator who has experienced homelessness cheers promising new provisions in federal law 

Jonathan Houston is a homeless liaison for the Tukwila School District in Tukwila, Wash. His presence is proof of the progress that has been made since the 1987 passage of the McKinney-Vento Act, which changed the way public schools serve homeless students. 

Today, every school district has a homeless liaison to arrange academic supports for homeless students and assistance for their families—shelter, food, and transportation—meant to help keep their children in school.

But the first step of identifying homeless students is still difficult, because a child’s instinct is usually to hide an unstable living arrangement, says Houston.

“They feel the judgment our society has about people living in poverty,” says Houston, “and they don’t want anyone to think their family has done something wrong.” 

The good news: Federal lawmakers took significant steps to provide more support for homeless students, who numbered 1.3 million in the U.S. in 2014, during the reauthorization of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Approximately 3 percent of students across the state of Washington are identified as homeless. But Houston has already identified 248 homeless students this year, and expects that by year’s end the percentage of homeless students in his district will again exceed 10 percent.

Sometimes Houston steps in to handle major crises: There was the time he had to scramble to find emergency shelter after discovering a student and his family had been sleeping in their car for a month. On another occasion, he raced to pull a pair of siblings from a bus after receiving a phone call that their family had suddenly relocated in the course of the school day.

He is diligent about checking in with students, walking the halls to offer a greeting, chat about their day, or make sure they have their books. When he speaks with a student about their homelessness, he lets them know that “their situation is temporary; it’s not who they are,” says Houston.

That’s something he had to remind himself of last year, when his family experienced the affordable housing crisis firsthand, and had nowhere to go when they got behind in payments. Houston, a father of two, had recently married a woman who also had two children.

So, the family of six stayed in a hotel room, with other family members, briefly subleased an apartment, then ended up back in a hotel.

Houston recalls having a hard time accepting assistance, even as he added the names of his own children, who are enrolled in the Tukwila School District, to his database of homeless students.

His family’s situation has stabilized, but the experience made him acutely sensitive to how schools approach homeless students. He says educators should focus on showing homeless kids that they believe in their success, and get them invested in it, too.

“If educators can build relationships, kids will open up. Teachers are good at modeling how to connect with others, which is what these kids need,” he says.

ESSA Boosts Services

Now, thanks to ESSA, districts that have more than 10 unaccompanied youth must identify a staff contact in every school. Houston says that the practice provides a better network for handling heavy caseloads.

Also, states must now report achievement markers and graduation rates specifically for homeless students, which will “shine a spotlight on the impact of homelessness and create a baseline from which to assess state and national progress for helping these most vulnerable students,” writes Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, in Education Week.

Washington is one of only five states that currently reports those rates separately for homeless students. The graduation rate for homeless students was 30 percentage points lower than the rate for all of the state’s students in 2014, and 20 points lower than the graduation rate of other economically disadvantaged students who did not experience homelessness.

Although his district is recognized for its service to students who are unstably housed, Houston worries about the kids who have not yet been identified. And he is haunted by the ones who disappear.

Student are dropped from enrollment after 20 consecutive absences. Tukwila has enrolled 248 homeless students so far this school year, but that number is now down to 210.

“When a student leaves, I wonder where they ended up and can’t help but ask, ‘Did I do a good job?’” says Houston. “I just wish we would have had one last chance to talk to their families before they went, to see if there was anything else at all that we could do to keep their kids

 

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Published In

1-Apr-17

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