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Education - Druid City Living, Tuscaloosa's premier community newspaper. - Druid City Living, Tuscaloosa's premier community newspaper. Wed, 15 Aug 2018 15:15:09 -0500 MYOB en-gb It’s Back-to-School Time: Teachers Offer Tips to Make This the Best School Year Yet Teacher Sheila Hallman with two of her past students during a field day.

For parents, teachers, and students alike, August is a hectic month full of big changes and new beginnings. Each group has stresses of their own as they ready themselves for the start of the new school year. No matter which group you belong to, put down your supply shopping lists, lesson plans, or class assignments, because some of Tuscaloosa’s best teachers (DCL’s past Teachers of the Month) have contributed their sage advice for taking on the back-to-school season. 

“Spend the last few weeks as a family,” said Sheila Hallman, a third-grade teacher at American Christian Academy. “Try to clear time each day to put away those electronics, slow down, and remember how much fun it is to just play the old-fashioned way. Send your kids back to school feeling less stressed, confident, happy, loved, and ready to have a wonderful year!” 

Going back to school can be filled with equal amounts of excitement and worry. By taking time to relax and enjoy the fun moments, like picking out a fresh, clean notebook, or enjoying a night with no homework to do (or grade), life gets much sweeter. However, many teachers stress that the key to a less stressful August is preparation. 

“First of all, I think that it is important to start getting kids up earlier a few weeks before school starts,” said Beth Duncan of Faucett-Vestavia Elementary School. “Start having them go to bed at a normal time and then get up each morning. This eases them back into a routine, and it is much easier for them to get up and function when school starts.”

Duncan also stressed the importance of being prepared for school. And while shopping for school supplies is certainly part of being ready for school, there is more to it.

“If your school has an open house, make every effort possible to go, and take your child,” she said. “The child and parents will feel better and more at ease once they have met the teacher and seen the classroom. Take the new supplies, so that the child will be prepared for the first day of school.”

They say the early bird gets the worm, but the parent who starts their back-to-school routine early gets the most pleasant first week of school.

And Andi Jones, a second-grade teacher at Lake View Elementary, wants to remind parents to encourage their little dreamers as they head back to their classrooms.

“Dreams are often too big, so we can grow into them.”

Parents: Enjoy another year of watching your kids grow into an incredibly bright future. 

Education Tue, 07 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Nikki Hill, American Christian Academy Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Nikki Hill, American Christian Academy

When Nikki Hill was a high school student studying at American Christian Academy, she fell in love with English literature. Inspired by her own experience, Hill now teaches a new generation of students at the very same school. 

Hill says she is driven by the belief that educated people make a difference, and she teaches her students that they can make a change in the world. Her English classes are about more than big ideas; she says they use the material to evaluate and discuss the world in a thoughtful way.

“Every student, whether they want to be a welder or an accountant or an English professor, benefits from taking English classes, because a good English class is about learning to think critically about the world around you,” said Hill.

Hill adds that the problem-solving and critical thinking skills students practice in her class will be invaluable throughout their higher education, in workplace interactions, when starting a family, and as they become productive citizens.

“If I want to have effective conversations with my students about issues that are not only affecting them, but important to them as well, then I need to be informed on politics, art, science, and social media movements,” Hill said. “Because of that, there’s never a moment when I’m not looking for new material to use in my classroom.”

The end of each year is a time for Hill and her students to reflect on their journey together. Using her students’ feedback, and summer courses at UA, Hill spends the summer months updating her lesson plan for the coming year. However, she says no number of classes and certifications can compare to the lessons learned in the classroom.

“There’s a lot of heartache and worry and sleepless nights and time away from our families that goes into what we do, but we pour into our students because we love them, and we are really trying our best to equip them with the tools they need to succeed,” Hill said.

After only eight years of teaching, the tough moments that every new teacher faces are still recent memories for Hill. Her advice for people who want to become teachers is to always keep going. When you see your students’ progress, your hard work will be worth it. 

Hill credits the leadership at ACA for encouraging her to keep going and be the best teacher she can be. She tries to mirror in her own classroom the consistency and support she gets from the administration and the teachers around her.

“Teachers live their lives in front of a constant audience, so the responsibility to act as a positive role model can’t be understated,” Hill said. “We teach so much more than just our subject content: we show what kindness looks like, what grace looks like, what responsibility and consequences look like.” 

Education Tue, 31 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Education Summit Tackles School Safety Education Summit Tackles School Safety

School safety was the featured topic at the 2018 Education Summit, held June 21 at Hotel Capstone.

Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent, Tuscaloosa City Schools, and Dr. Walter Davie, Superintendent, Tuscaloosa County Schools, were joined by Sheriff Ron Abernathy of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office, Chief Steve Anderson of the Tuscaloosa Police Department and Chief Gerald Burton of the Northport Police Department for a panel discussion.

The panelists talked about the various ways the departments worked in conjunction to keep students and faculty safe, and the challenges posed by the different facilities. All of the law enforcement agencies stressed every situation was investigated fully, and that cooperation and communication between the schools and the agencies was a priority. 

The 2018 Education Summit was presented by Ellis Architects.

]]> (Super User) Education Mon, 02 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Tiffany Turner, Maxwell Elementary School Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Tiffany Turner, Maxwell Elementary School

Tiffany Turner feels inspired by her kindergarten students at Maxwell Elementary School to be the person they need – whether that is an educator, a comforter, an advocate, or a support system.  

 Originally from Vernon, Turner moved to Tuscaloosa to earn both her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree at The University of Alabama. She has taught in Tuscaloosa County Schools for 12 years.  

 “I have had the privilege of graduating with multiple degrees, earned my National Board of Teaching Certification, and received teaching awards, but nothing compares to witnessing the impact that I have had on my students,” said Turner.

Turner says she was drawn to Maxwell Elementary because of the character the students, faculty, and parents embody. The school has been recognized as a Lighthouse School, and it participates in the “Leader In Me” program, which emphasizes the importance of learning leadership skills as early as kindergarten.

“The end of the school year is always bittersweet,” Turner said. “You have put so much time and love into your class, and you never want them to leave, but you also want to see them move on and grow. It is always refreshing to see those little five-year-olds’ soar on to new levels after they leave your classroom.”

Despite the young age of her students, Turner uses the time she has with her students to teach them important lessons – both for academics and for life. She strives to give each child the confidence to learn on their own path and to not compare themselves to their peers. She believes this confidence comes from feeling valued and encouraged.

“As a kindergarten teacher, you can really see your students grow academically and socially, and become accomplished young adults,” Turner said.

The summer months will not be any less busy for Turner, who will welcome her second child in July. She already has an active three-year-old and is preparing for a whole new group of students in the fall.

As the new school year approaches, Turner encourages teachers who are beginning their first year of teaching to always give their best and be the difference in their students’ lives. She says they should never underestimate the influence of a teacher and their ability to shape their students’ futures.

“My first set of students will graduate next year, and it’s truly an honor to have watched them mature and succeed,” Turner said. “The greatest feeling is to have your former students come and thank you for loving them and still remember their time in your classroom.” 

Education Tue, 26 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Congrats to the Graduates! Northside High School seniors make their mark on the final days of school.

Every year, the young minds being shaped right here in Tuscaloosa get brighter and more driven for success. In every school in the city and county, you’ll find faculty and staff who are dedicated to helping Tuscaloosa’s young people create a promising future for themselves. Whether these students stay here in town, or follow their dreams to another part of the world, there is no doubt that the community has been better with them a part of it.

“As a Student-athlete at Central, you have different expectations from your teacher and coaches. Without good grades, it would be difficult to be accepted into college, but with the help of Central, I am going to be a successful student athlete.” Demontae Wilson, Central High School, will attend Lipscomb University

“Because of the outstanding faculty and staff at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, I had multiple offers at colleges and universities throughout the US. In addition, I was surrounded by classmates I consider my second family. For this, I am forever grateful.” Peyton Goodbread, Holy Spirit Catholic School Valedictorian, will attend the University of Kentucky

“Sipsey Valley has prepared me for my future by not only providing me with an education, but also by teaching me the values of teamwork and cooperation. I met a lot of great people with whom I share similar goals, and I know they will be there for me in my next season of life.” Abigail Phillips, Sipsey Valley High School Class President, will attend the University of Alabama 




Education Wed, 06 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Seven Need-Based Scholarships Available to Kentuck's Summer Art Camp Seven Need-Based Scholarships Available to Kentuck's Summer Art Camp

Do you know an artist in need? Kentuck Art Center & Festival, in partnership with Tuscaloosa City Schools, is offering seven need-based scholarships to kids ages 8-12 for Imagination & Enrichment Summer Art Camp, instructed by Studio Artist Sydney Gruber. 

Participants in the camp will explore a variety of mediums and artist processes, from painting abstracts on canvas to pen drawings, and even creative writing. All exercises are designed to give students the tools to express themselves in many ways, while also working on artistic technique.

All children and teens attending workshops this summer at Kentuck Art Center will have one piece of work featured in the "Kids of Kentuck" gallery show at the September 2018 Art Night.

To register for camp, visit

You must apply for a scholarship by June 1. To apply, please send the following information to:

Kentuck Art Center
Attention: Sydney Gruber
503 Main Avenue
Northport, AL 35476

]]> (Super User) Education Sun, 27 May 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Andi Jones, Lake View Elementary School Druid City Living’s Teacher of the Month: Andi Jones, Lake View Elementary School

With the weather warming, exams ending, and the possibilities of summer looming ahead, May fills area schools with electric excitement. Students’ stresses begin to fade away, as they are treated to end-of-the-year celebrations and movie days in class. They enthusiastically make plans with their friends about how to spend their newfound free time during a vacation that seems like it will last forever.  

For teachers, the month of May is exciting in other ways – they've spent a year teaching, guiding, and shaping these young minds, and all their hard work has paid off. While their work is far from being over, they do get to take a step back and appreciate all the wins they had throughout the school year. 

“The end of the year is like ending a chapter in a book,” said Andi Jones, a second-grade teacher at Lake View Elementary School. “It is time to look back and see the growth and success that each child has accomplished over the year.”

Jones knows this story well, as she has taught in Tuscaloosa County Schools for 16 years, with 10 of those at Lake View Elementary School. She decided to transfer there to teach in the school her own children attend – and in the community where she grew up (Jones attended Brookwood Elementary and Brookwood High School). 

In the story of children’s educations, the early chapters transform their story line, and teachers are key characters. Through long school days, after school lesson preparation and one-on-one lessons, teachers build unique relationships with their students. 

Jones looks at her job as more than just a teacher, but as a mentor to the people who’ll become everyone’s future. Each school year is a new opportunity, she says, to influence and leave her mark on a fresh mixture of young minds. 

“I think teachers should influence students in a positive and loving way,” Jones said. “I think it is important for the students to know that they are in a safe environment. When a teacher believes in a student, the student learns to believe in themselves – and they’ll have the tools they need to be successful in life.”

Tuscaloosa’s great teachers, like Andi Jones, are already hard at work preparing their classrooms for a new group of students who will make up much of Tuscaloosa’s future.   

Education Tue, 22 May 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Investing in Students: Program for ACA Seniors Prepares them for the Future Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill participates in a mock interview with ACA senior Allie Swann on March 22. Swann plans to attend the University of Alabama this fall.

Most young adults enter their first interview with uncontrollable nerves, shaking hands, and no idea what to expect. For the seniors of American Christian Academy, that will not be the case. 

With the guidance of their English teachers, ACA seniors have spent all semester working on a comprehensive professional development project that includes researching careers, developing a resume, and practicing their interview skills. 

“After 19 years of working with seniors, I think this project is one of the most realistic assignments they can experience during their last semester of high school,” said Christine Blakley, one of the teachers leading the project. “Many of my former students have stayed in touch with me, and they always say the senior project was not only memorable, but that it was also genuinely beneficial.”

Since 2011, ACA has encouraged their seniors to participate in the project. Hopes are that after graduation, they’ll have all the practical skills they need to confidently enter the next stage of their lives.

“I really needed this experience going into college,” said Hudson Grammer, an ACA senior. “I like being able to better myself, and I know one day this will help me in the future.”

A “who’s who” list of Alabama business and government officials gathered at the school on March 22 to participate in mock interviews that the students spent weeks preparing for. These community leaders acted as a hiring manager at the local Starbucks - interviewing each student for an entry-level position. 

“They are doing a great job to prepare them for the real world, not just the academic world,” said Jeff Smith, an attorney at Rosen Harwood. “I would encourage any other schools to do this.” 

Other notable community leaders who participated in the mock interviews included Secretary of State John Merrill, Northport Mayor Donna Aaron, U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler, and Tuscaloosa City Councilwoman Sonya McKinstry. Overall, 60 volunteers from across Alabama came to ACA to invest in the students. 

“My favorite part was getting to talk to my interviewer after, just be a little more casual and talk about their real life and what they do,” said Caroline Haas, another senior who participated in the mock interviews.

Other aspects of the senior project, such as career research, seek to help students get an in-depth look at the career path they may want to pursue. Students researched things such as job outlooks, benefits, salaries, and education requirements before writing a 10-page paper on the career choice they found most interesting. 

“Through this, we've learned a lot more about the profession we want to pursue,” said Kayleigh Atkins, also a senior at ACA. “You actually learn what it takes to do it, and how.” 

On April 12, the students were able to shadow professionals from the community in their chosen field. For this final piece of the project, students were able to put into practice the knowledge and professionalism they've gained throughout the semester.

“I know a lot of other schools don't do this,” Atkins said. “We are really lucky.” 

Education Wed, 16 May 2018 00:00:00 -0500
New First Class Pre-K Classrooms to be Added in 2018-2019 School Year, Including Many in Tuscaloosa New First Class Pre-K Classrooms to be Added in 2018-2019 School Year, Including Many in Tuscaloosa

Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education announced on Monday that the state’s First Class Pre-K program will add 107 classrooms to 33 counties this fall. Among them: nearly 50 new classrooms in Tuscaloosa’s city and county school systems.

For a full list of the new classrooms, including those in Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa county, click here.

According to the office of Gov. Kay Ivey, the new classrooms will expand access to Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten program to 18,864 children in the 2018-2019 school year, with more than 1,040 classrooms in all 67 counties that will serve 32 percent of eligible four-year-olds statewide.

Monday’s announcement came one week after Alabama First Class Pre-K was recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research for having the highest-quality, state-funded voluntary pre-k program in the nation.

“First Class Pre-K is a nationally-recognized program of excellence,” said Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education. “The program framework encompasses all aspects of the highest quality early learning experiences that ensure school readiness for children, and this emphasis on quality impacts student outcomes far beyond kindergarten.”

This year, the Alabama Legislature approved an $18.5 million expansion for First Class Pre-K, increasing the 2019 program budget to $96 million – the program’s largest ever single-year increase. In addition to funding new classrooms throughout the state, the Department of Early Childhood Education will continue to ensure pay parity for all First Class Pre-K teachers with the same 2.5 percent cost of living raise as K-12 public school teachers in the upcoming school year.

“Having a strong start to one’s educational journey is critical to having a strong finish when it comes time to enter the workforce,” Governor Ivey said. “Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is, without question, the best in the nation. I am proud that we can increase the reach of this important educational opportunity, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to further expand the availability of voluntary Pre-K.”

In February, Governor Ivey also announced an in-depth study of Alabama third graders that found the state’s pre-k program significantly narrowed the academic achievement gaps that typically exist between children in poverty and their more affluent peers, and between minority children and non-minority children. According to research conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, students who participated in First Class Pre-K are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level, consistent with the results from previous statewide and national studies.

These outcomes have caught the attention of researchers from Harvard University, who are creating a full-length documentary featuring Alabama First Class Pre-K that will be released nationwide in Spring 2019.

]]> (Super User) Education Mon, 30 Apr 2018 15:34:10 -0500
Harvard Graduate to Share Wisdom During Paul W. Bryant’s Commitment Ceremony Michael Constant graduated from Paul W. Bryant High School in 2012, and from Harvard University - where he earned a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology, magna cum laude.

When Michael Constant graduated from Paul W. Bryant High School in 2012, he never dreamed he would be invited back to the school to share his wisdom with students.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d be invited to speak at Bryant,” Constant said.

But, that’s exactly what he will do Thursday, April 26 when he speaks to the Class of 2018 during Bryant High’s annual Commitment Ceremony.

Constant, who was valedictorian of his class at Bryant, was named a National Achievement Scholar and was selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar. The Gates scholarship allowed him to attend Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology, magna cum laude. Now, the scholarship is allowing Constant to study medicine at Columbia University.

“The teachers are what made Bryant so special for me,” Constant said.

“I know firsthand how difficult it can be to be committed to your studies when in high school. Luckily, I had many teachers who made learning an engaging experience.”

In its fourth year, the annual Commitment Ceremony, which will begin at 9 a.m. in the school’s gymnasium, will honor students who have been officially accepted to college, the military, workforce or an internship after high school.

“There are many ways to succeed,” said Dr. Linda Harper, principal of Bryant High. “For some students, success means going to college. For others, it means learning a skill and entering the workforce. While for others, success means entering the military.”

For Constant, success means earning his medical degree and then going into orthopedic surgery. When he speaks, he plans to encourage this year’s seniors with stories about his time as a Bryant student.

Michael Constant is studying medicine at Columbia University.

“When I was getting ready to graduate from Bryant, I was full of anxiety about what the next step would bring,” Constant said. “I’ve learned a bit about how to manage those anxieties since then, and I hope to give students a few pieces of advice that will help them make the most of this exciting time in their lives.”

“We believe that every student should leave our campus with a post-secondary plan,” Harper said. “Students leave our school with a skill-set that allows them to move into any college or career setting with the confidence to be successful.”

“I feel honored that my alma mater would ask me to speak with students,” Constant said. “Bryant High School is truly a place that cares about students.”

Education Tue, 24 Apr 2018 16:33:29 -0500