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Maximizing the Early Years: Tools to Prepare Your Child for School Success

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Greater Atlanta Christian (GAC) is hosting an afternoon event that will equip preschool and early elementary parents with evidence-based tools and strategies that boost student achievement.

Event is free.
Learn more & RSVP on Facebook.com/GACSpartans or via email: epierre@greateratlantachristian.org

Location:
    Greater Atlanta Christian School
    1575 Indian Trail Road, Norcross, GA 30093
    Sunday, January 26 | 3:30-5:30pm

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Education

New Simpson Elementary Principal Aims to Help Build Tomorrow’s Leaders

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SImpson Elementary School

A new principal has taken the helm at Simpson Elementary School in Peachtree Corners. In January, Taffeta Connery, Ed. D. replaced retiring principal Bron Gayna Schmit. Dr. Connery’s previous positions include principal of Sugar Hill Elementary School and Assistant Principal at Corley Elementary School in Gwinnett County. Her education career began in 1996 and, in 2008, she earned her Doctor of Education degree from Clark Atlanta University.

Dr. Connery said she wants to continue to build upon the legacy of high engagement and student achievement at Simpson Elementary. “In Gwinnett County Public Schools, we truly believe that great schools build great communities…and likewise, great communities help build great schools,” she said. “It is my desire to continue to build a strong relationship between Simpson Elementary, the Norcross Cluster schools and the City of Peachtree Corners.”

She added that she’s excited about the opportunities that students have to explore ground-breaking innovation and technology by partnering with the Peachtree Corners Curiosity Lab and Tech Park. “Students will be able to engage in real-world applications, problem-solving solutions and critical-thinking skills that are aligned to our AKS Standards,” Dr. Connery said. “Our students will be prepared to work in an industry that is constantly evolving, and they will be able to adapt and excel! My job is to build future leaders for tomorrow.”

SImpson Elementary School
Students from Ms. Michelle Guy’s class with Dr. Connery in front of one of her favorite quotes posted around the school.

Dr. Connery said she believes in servant leadership and fostering positive relationships. “Shared decision-making, for me, is essential to student success,” she stated.

She explained that, during the next few months, she plans to continue asking questions, soliciting opinions and listening to suggestions from all school stakeholders as to what makes Simpson Elementary feel like home to them. “My primary role is to support teaching and learning,” Dr. Connery said. “I want to ensure that students and teachers have all the curriculum resources and materials they need in order to be successful. In addition to our work to provide students a good foundational core, I want to be sure to support our connections (Music, Art, Media, STEM, Spanish and PE) team.”

Dr. Connery and her husband have lived in Peachtree Corners for more than eight years, and she’s excited to live, work and play in the community. “I am proud to be principal of Simpson Elementary School and I look forward to working with all of our Simpson Superstars!” ■

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Education

Wesleyan School Honors Coxhead, Delk, and Stafford As 2020 Inductees to Wesleyan School Athletics Circle of Honor

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Wesleyan School

On Friday, January 10, Wesleyan School inducted the 2020 class to the Wesleyan School Athletics Circle of Honor. This year’s inductees were Cort Coxhead, Wesleyan class of 2014; Rhett Delk, Wesleyan Class of 2014; and Kelly Hall Stafford, Wesleyan class of 2007.

While at Wesleyan, Cort Coxhead was a member of the soccer, basketball, cross country, and swim and dive teams. While Coxhead lettered in cross country and basketball, it was the soccer field on which he made the greatest impact. A four-year letterman and named to the All-County team for three years, Coxhead set records while at Wesleyan for assists in a season and assists in a career – and is now fourth in Wesleyan history for these records. After leading the team to the final four in 2014, Coxhead went on to play soccer at Davidson College where he was a four-year letterman and was co-captain of the team. He is now attending medical school at Emory University where he is studying internal medicine.

Rhett Delk lettered on both the Wesleyan football and wrestling teams. In football, he was named to the second team for both All-State and All-Region in addition to being named a Gwinnett County Scholar Athlete. Delk holds the school record for longest field goal, a 49-yard game winner. As a wrestler, Delk was named to the All-County Team in 2013, was the area and sectional champion the same year, and went on to become the state champion for 2013. While at Wesleyan, he was a four-time state place winner. Delk attended Washington and Lee University where he played football and wrestled. He is now back in the Atlanta area and is working in commercial real estate for Cresa Atlanta. Delk is also serving as a volunteer community coach in Wesleyan’s wrestling program.

Kelly Hall Stafford earned a stunning fifteen athletic letters during her time at Wesleyan. Hall participated in cheerleading, basketball, track and field, soccer, and lacrosse. In basketball, she was named to the All-County Team in 2006 and 2007 and the All-Region Team in 2007. During her time at Wesleyan, she held the record for charges in a season and in her four years playing varsity basketball, she won three state championships and one state runner-up. Stafford went on to cheer at the University of Georgia. She is currently living in Michigan with her husband and their young children.

The Athletic Circle of Honor was created in 2007 to show appreciation to members of the Wesleyan community who have made significant contributions to Wesleyan athletics. Those chosen for induction into the Athletic Circle of Honor have influenced our community through their ability, dedication, and service to our athletic program while at Wesleyan and following their graduation.

Wesleyan School is a Christian, independent K-12 college preparatory school located in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Wesleyan enrolled 1,179 students from throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area. To learn more about the school, visit www.wesleyanschool.org.

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Education

Technology in Schools, Empowering Students to Explore, Build & Create

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Technology in Gwinnett County Schools
VR use at Norcross High School

Throughout Peachtree Corners and Gwinnett County, teachers and students are using some of the latest advances in technology to enhance the learning process.

“As you can imagine, there are numerous course offerings and classroom opportunities that include use of and learning about technology,” said Tricia Kennedy, executive director of Instructional Development and Support at Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS). “Just like it permeates society, it permeates education.”

However, teachers and administrators are quick to point out that technology is, after all, just one of the tools necessary for a well-rounded education.

“We want to use the tools, not have them using us,” said Dr. Paul Cable, Greater Atlanta Christian educator. “It’s so easy to get that backward. Technology is not an end in itself, but a means, and we try to use it that way.”

Balancing technological opportunities with classroom interaction is a challenge that area schools are successfully meeting with great results.

This article first appeared in print in our October / November 2019 edition

Gwinnett County Public Schools

In recent years, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has seen a lot of increased interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) based courses.

“Many of our schools are now certified by the state of Georgia as STEM schools because of the quality and array of courses and extracurricular offerings in these areas,” said Tricia Kennedy, GCPS executive director of Instructional Development and Support. “All of our elementary schools now have Robotics programs. Middle and high school students have the opportunity to take courses leading to a career pathway in computer science.”

Kennedy said that online courses have become a part of the norm across the country. Teachers are able to provide effective instructional activities online, and there are opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate with teachers and classmates.

“We have a safe and secure environment for these interactions—our eCLASS C&I course pages,” she said. With online offerings, students can access learning resources from anywhere at any time.

“But we also believe face to face interaction with teachers is very important,” Kennedy explained. “Online learning does require a certain skill set for students, and their ability to work independently. Just like for adults, some students are not as comfortable with that model.”

GCPS is constantly adding resources and supports for students and teachers. “Some of our newer science materials give students the opportunity to participate in real problem-solving through simulations,” she continued.

There are 3-D printers in many of the schools, where students learn programming to solve problems and actually make physical objects. Science classes are equipped with probe-ware so students can collect and analyze data in real-time.

“Technology is used to enhance our students’ learning. It has not taken the place of teachers or the need for students to be actively engaged in class,” Kennedy said. “But technology in school can connect our students to information and opportunities that were not possible in the past . . .just as it does for all of us at work and home.” ■

Paul Duke STEM High School

As a newly opened technology school, Paul Duke STEM High School is equipped with the technology to support its courses in Engineering, Mechatronics, Graphic Arts, Digital Arts, Information Technology and Television and Film Production.

Principal Dr. Jonathon Wetherington explained that each student has their own passions and interests that drive them. “Some of the new classes that students are excited about our Principles and Concepts of Animation, Introduction to Cybersecurity, Game Design and AP Computer Science.” In addition, the Television and Film classes are always among the most requested, he noted.

“Courses that allow students to create, problem solve and apply their talents are why Paul Duke STEM was created, so it’s great to expand our offerings and engage our students with these technology-focused courses,” Dr. Wetherington said. “As a technology-focused school, we leverage digital instruction each and every day because our goal is to have students learning through and with technology.”

All classes are taught digitally on Fridays with the opportunity for face-to-face support. “Our only purely digital classes are offered through dual enrollment with our collegiate partners,” he said.

One of those classes is a new exclusive Cyber Security Program partnership with Mercer University and the FBI Atlanta Field Office that allows students to earn college credit in two foundational cybersecurity courses at Mercer while also engaging in case study learning with the FBI.

Another new option for students is Introduction to Mechatronics, which provides an introductory look at becoming an Electronics Technician or a Mechatronics Engineer.

“Digital learning is not a magic bullet,” Dr. Wetherington said. “It requires a great deal of effort to deliver effectively, and our teachers work diligently to design effective and engaging lessons.”
He added that as students get their academic content digitally, they need to learn time management, independence and self-discipline. “It’s exciting to be able to help students develop these valuable skills at such a young age.” ■

Norcross High School

Students at Norcross High School (NHS) are interested in a number of new opportunities available to them, according to NHS principal Will Bishop.

For example, a newly added Graphic Design class is taught by Mr. Miller who worked in the graphic design field and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to his classroom. In Music Technology, students can utilize a state-of-the-art music lab to create original pieces in a variety of music genres.

“Walking into the lab you may find a student laying down tracks on a Mac or hammering out a drumbeat on a drum pad,” Bishop said.

NHS has begun a partnership with Gwinnett Online Campus to open a Gwinnett Online Center on its campus. “This will be most helpful to students who want to accelerate their learning, need to catch up on coursework or want to take a class that’s not currently offered at NHS,” Bishop explained.

In addition, several students are taking a Georgia Tech class in Advanced Calculus while sitting in an NHS Media Center conference room. Through a Polycom system, the students can hear, see and speak with the professor leading the classroom as if they were on the Georgia Tech campus.

Bishop said that NHS is excited about some new technology the school has received to support its Career Technical Education classes. Students in Engineering classes are now designing and producing prototypes of their own designs using a 3D printer and laser engraver.

“Of course, the most exciting opportunities for our teachers and students is always about the next big advances in technology,” he said, adding that the introduction of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality will dramatically alter the learning experience for teachers and students.

“Some of our teachers are utilizing VR sets to visit far off historical settings without ever leaving the classroom,” Bishop said. “A student can put on a VR set and experience holding a heart in their hand or a visit to the Louvre.” ■

Wesleyan School

Wesleyan School is a one-to-one school, meaning one device to one child. In Kindergarten through 4th grade, one iPad is provided for each student. Each 5th through 12th-grade student is provided a touchscreen enabled Windows-based laptop.

“Wesleyan has always seen the value of and invested in technology as an important tool for learning,” said Brian Morgan, Wesleyan’s Chief Operating Officer. “In recent years, and thanks to the generosity of a donor, the school has expanded and improved its data center and network capabilities.”

“With technology infrastructure in place, our next goal is for technology to support students transitioning from consumers of content to creators of content,” said Jewel Anderson, Instructional Technologist and STEM teacher.

When technology in the classroom is to create, it can become cross-curricular. For example, fine arts students can draw creations on paper and use the school’s Epilog Legend Laser Machine to transform their creations into 3D art. In other classes, students use technology to apply art to the business world.

“By incorporating interactive technology resources, we’re able to take students’ ideas from concept to creation to completion. Every student has the potential to be a maker,” said Heather Niemann, Middle School Art teacher.

There are more ways technology is used efficiently at Wesleyan, too. Modern and classical language students complete performance-based assessments using their tablets to record themselves, then submit the recordings for assessment and feedback on their language speaking skills.

Sixth-grade robotics students recently worked on a group project; they created their own superheroes, designed scenarios using a coordinate plane map and programmed their EV3 robot to perform tasks and solve a real-world problem.

Wesleyan science teachers use student tablets, modeling programs and 3D printers to lead students through creation of new creatures and organisms. “The beauty of students using the 3D printers is that it reinforces the value of planning ahead and trial and error,” Anderson said. “When a student designs a structure and it isn’t structurally sound, the replica from the printer allows them to find that out.” ■

Greater Atlanta Christian

At Greater Atlanta Christian (GAC), every 4th to 12th-grade student has a school issued MacBook, while younger students have access to IPads and MacBooks for targeted learning projects.

GAC educator Mandy Richey explained that it’s important for students to practice 21st-century skills. “All school levels of GAC teach students how to use technology in a responsible way. Students are using technology to reinforce, research, record and create.”

Technology is infused in the curriculum at age-appropriate levels. Students learn to program as early as Elementary School, continuing in Middle School with MakerSpace, a fully equipped workshop, and ending with AP Computer Science and Robotics in High School.

Middle and High School students create new products using one of five 3D printers. The technology-focused courses include Computer Science, App Development, Web Design and Robotics. There are also robotics teams from Elementary to High School.

However, Rhonda Helms, Lower School Principal, said, “We emphasize that technology is just a tool…a resource. It is not our curriculum.”

GAC resources include Ethos School, the virtual school created by GAC that offers over 50 courses to more than 200 students across the U.S. and around the world. Ethos courses ensure rich, inquisitive dialogue among students, who can choose from over 50 courses.

“With online teaching, I learned how important human contact is,” said Dr. Paul Cable, a member of the GAC Ethos School faculty. “People are formed by example and love; they aren’t formed by forum posts. That’s what I love about what GAC’s Ethos School is doing through all of the points of contact with kids. It’s about forming people, not just dumping information on them and testing them on it.”

Chancellor Dr. David Fincher said that the GAC community thrives on relationships above all. “Students respond and achieve greater heights out of their deep personal links with caring and superb teachers. Designed well, technology learning can make those ties between students and teachers even deeper and more life-changing, not less.” ■

Cornerstone Christian Academy

“Technology has transformed the way Cornerstone teaches young students,” said Melissa Dill, Lower School Principal at Cornerstone Christian Academy. The school recently purchased Lego WeDo engineering sets for grades 2 through 4. “The hands-on STEM activities combine engineering, computer programming and collaboration and are a nice segue way to programming in the middle school robotics and technology classes.”

Dill said that students as young as kindergarteners begin coding robots with an innovative, screen-free product called Ozobot. “These bots encourage critical thinking as students use different colors to direct a small bot on a page. Their faces come alive when they realize that they can control a robot by simply drawing lines of different colors,” she said.

Middle School Math/Technology teacher Terri Childers said that 6th-grade students have a Technology elective. “The focus is on learning ways to effectively navigate the internet when researching a topic.” Students also work in two web-based programming apps, Snap and Scratch. Both are block programming apps that can be used to program robots.

“Our 7th and 8th grade students take a technology course that focuses on programming. Programming languages and apps like Robot C, Python and Construct 3 are all part of the curriculum,” Childers said. Construct 3 is a web-based video game creation application and has been a big hit with students. “Having access to free software that allows students to make video games from scratch that track scores, play background music and have animated characters is a valuable tool for learning,” she said.

The entire middle school is a Google Education school, and most middle school classes have digital textbooks that a student can access with a username and password. “Our students keep classwork organized through Google Drive,” Childers said.

The system allows students to easily share work with teachers and collaborate with peers. Since their accounts aren’t tied to any single device, students can access their accounts from anywhere on any device with internet access. ■

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