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Making connections

By Kim Underwood

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Snowball 10 JULY 26, 2013 – At Camp Snowball, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County students have picked up ideas for projects that they would like to pursue this year.

After Mary Kerr, a senior at Atkins Academic & Technology High School, heard about students in other districts nurturing positive connections by meeting informally with students from different high schools, she started thinking about organizing something along those lines here.

“I feel like there is too much rivalry,” Kerr said.

When Bryan Porter heard that students at a school in Seattle sponsor a Waste-Free Wednesday in which everyone does what they can to minimize trash, he thought it would be great to start such a day at East Forsyth High School, where he is a senior.

Fellow East senior Seth Mashburn said they are also talking about such other “green” approaches as composting and using more recyclable materials.

Following up on such ideas is just what Melanie Langley, who teaches at East Forsyth High, had in mind when she invited six students to participate in the camp, being held on the campus of Wake Forest University through Friday. She wanted them to come to understand that if they want something done, they can take the initiative in making it happen. “It’s OK to be an advocate; you don’t have to be an adult,” said Langley, who teaches chemistry and is the coach for the Science Olympiad team. “More than anything, I wanted them to understand it’s OK to ask why.”

Snowball 31 Camp Snowball organizers describe the camp as an “experience that brings together parents, educators, and business and community leaders to build everyone’s capacity for learning and leading the 21st century.” The camp is supported by such organizations as the Waters Foundation, which promotes an approach to education called systems thinking. At the camp, participants explore such topics as the ways in which things are connected and ways to keep the planet healthy in years to come.

Altogether, about 240 people from throughout the United States - including 50 principals, teachers and students from Forsyth County - and such other countries as the Philippines are attending the camp.

During the course of the week, Jane Goins, the chairman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, and school board members Irene May, Jill Tackabery, Marilyn Parker and Elisabeth Motsinger have spent time at the camp. Earlier today, Superintendent Beverly Emory visited along with Carol Montague-Davis, the assistant superintendent for secondary education, and Steve Oates, the assistant superintendent for elementary schools.

Wake Forest is doing more than providing a home for the camp. On Thursday, Paul Laurienti, the director of the university’s Laboratory for Complex Brain Networks, spoke to the people in a class for people interested in developing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum at their schools about how the brain works relates to such complex systems as bees in a hive and swarming starlings.

Snowball 6 Rashan Wynn, who goes to Hanes Magnet School, said that he was glad that he decided to come to Camp Snowball. “I heard it was a fun camp, which it is,” Rashan said. “The teachers are funny, and the classes are fun, and I get to make new friends.”

He has gotten to know students from New York, New Jersey and California.

D’Bravius Blackwell, a senior at Atkins, said that he feels as if the camp has broadened his perspective. “I think I’m taking a sense of globalization, of networking, of having a greater purpose as far as changing the world in a positive way,” he said.

“I’ve really been able to grow from the experience,” Kerr said. One thing she has particularly liked about the camp is feeling as if the adults are listening to what she has to say, she said. “Here, I feel very appreciated. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity.”

Blackwell and Kerr were two of four Atkins students that Monta Ervin, the school’s curriculum coordinator, invited to come to the camp as student leaders to help with logistics and other responsibilities. “Those students are some of our top ambassadors at our school,” Ervin said.

The other two Atkins students were senior Christopher Perez and junior Sterling Davis. Davis is coming away from the camp with a job offer. After he spoke at a forum, students who have a software business based in Arizona came up to him and invited him to join them. Davis said he is going to look into it. “It always feels nice to be recognized,” he said.

Snowball 9 A number of WS/FCS teachers have been leading classes. Karen Abbott of Meadowlark Elementary, Elaine Wicker of Walkertown Elementary and Anna Geras of Bolton Elementary have been teaching a Level 1 class in systems thinking. Jennifer Hart, who will be teaching at Diggs-Latham Elementary this year, has been teaching a Level 2 class in systems thinking. Kay Endriss, who teaches advanced-placement statistics at the Career Center, Scarlett Mooney, the curriculum coordinator at Hanes Magnet, and Bud Harrelson, the school system’s program manager for school improvement, have been teaching the STEM class.

“It’s really been exciting and rewarding to see our teacher facilitators,” said Harrelson, who has been serving as district liaison for the camp. 

Maria Simpson, who teaches second grade at Walkertown Elementary, has been leading a day camp for elementary students called Camp Sunshine. On Thursday morning, students were exploring the connections between population and levels of pollution.

“This has been such a positive experience for our teachers and our students,” said Motsinger.

And, while making friends and learning thinking tools that will serve them well in coming years, the people from here have been excellent ambassadors for our community, she said. “I am really proud of them all. They have made Winston-Salem look wonderful.”    



Kim Underwood