Grapevine celebrates 25 years of honored wines

By Laura Smith

To see original post, please visit

Photo by Laura Smith

Grape stomping, wine sipping, corndog-eating and Ferris wheel riding are just a few of the activities guests participated in last weekend in Grapevine, Texas, at the 25th annual GrapeFest–A Wine Experience.

GrapeFest, the largest wine festival in the Southwest, began in 1986, and its People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic is the largest, consumer-judged wine competition in the nation. This year’s competition featured 119 wines from 33 Texas wineries. In addition to wine tasting and judging, GrapeFest featured a grape stomping competition, in which the winning team of two pounded out 39.76 ounces of juice to claim the coveted Purple Foot Award.

Attending GrapeFest not only opens visitors’ eyes to new wines, but it introduces Grapevine’s surrounding attractions, shopping and authentic Texas-style restaurants to savor. Grapevine’s newest additions, Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Aquarium, attract visitors of every age. Legoland combines fun with education about how Legos are built and used. Sea Life features more than 30 displays of marine life, including 11 sharks in the main Ocean Tank. The two attractions are located at Grapevine Mills Mall, which has more than 180 stores and the newly restored Palace Arts Center, which is home to the Grapevine Opry and hosts a number of performing arts groups throughout the year. The city’s a boon to meeting planners even when the festival isn’t in town: There’s more than 800,000 square feet of meeting space at venues including the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, Great Wolf Lodge and other area hotels.

Proceeds from GrapeFest benefit the Grapevine Heritage Foundation’s restoration and program development at Nash Farm, where groups learn about the history of the North Texas settlement, farming technology and more. Multiple venues on the farm can be rented for special events.


All About Timing

By Laura Smith

To see original post, please visit

Timing is everything, especially during meetings and events. Food must be served before attendees get hungry and impatient. Breakout sessions must coordinate with speakers’ schedules. Keynotes must be scheduled according to the mood and tempo of the conference.

The timing of your social media reach is equally important. Last week, a webinar by HubSpot, a marketing company, addressed the science of social media timing. Dan Zarrella, Hubspot’s social media scientist, explained that tweeting at a certain time or sending an e-blast on a specific day makes a difference in the amount of attention it gets. Social media, he said, is like a cocktail party. When you’re at a party and everyone is talking, it can be hard to hear. But when two people step into another room to talk, they can hear one another. It’s the same with social media. The concept is called contra-competitive timing: avoiding crowds by delivering content when others aren’t so you have a greater chance of getting attention.

Below are facts and resources to help time your social media:

– Retweets happen most later in day or week. Use to find when most of your retweets happen.
– Saturday and Sunday tweets get the most clicks.
– Most followed Tweeters send an average of 22 messages a day­. The more you Tweet, the better, but content matters. If you’re Tweeting links from other websites, send a lot of them. But if you’re Tweeting content from your own websites, don’t go crazy; only Tweet once or twice per day.

– More articles are posted during the week but more are shared on the weekend because the “noise” is turned down.
– Articles published early in the morning do better than those published in the afternoon. This could vary for your organization, so monitoring your audience response is important.

Food Factories

Ever wondered how cheese, pretzels or taffy is made? Find out on a factory tour.

By Laura Smith

To see the original article in Groupaway Magazine, click here.

Biting into a salty, crunchy pretzel or taking a lick off the top of a cold ice cream cone can instantly put you in a better mood. Everyone has a favorite treat they reach for to satisfy a sweet tooth or a late-night craving. We all know what the packages look like on the grocery-store shelves, but to really know what you’re digging into, take a tour of these group-friendly food factories. They offer behind-the-scenes looks at the manufacturing of some of America’s favorite foods and share their fresh treats with visitors straight from the assembly line.

Cabot Cheese

Cabot, Vermont

The central Vermont woods might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of dairy products, but that’s where Cabot Creamery is creating award-winning cheddar cheese, rich butter and more. Tours begin with a short film on the history of the creamery, which is also a farmers’ co-op, and the town. Visitors then head down a long hall, nicknamed Cheddar Hall, to see large vats and a finishing table where cheese is sliced. No hairnets are required — the view is through windows. Guests then visit the towers where cheese curds are pressed into solid form and the packaging area where products are sent down the assembly line and prepared for final shipment.

Throughout the tour, guests sample all Cabot specialty cheeses, mustards, jams, pretzels and more. The creamery’s store sells sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurts, cheddar powder (for popcorn) and, of course, 31 types of cheese. Some of Cabot’s popular cheddar flavors include smoky bacon, garlic and herb, habanero, chipotle and chili-lime.

“I think they enjoy the whole thing,” Laurie Callahan, senior manager of retail stores and tourism, says about tour guests. “If they’re coming to the plant in Cabot, they love cheese [and] we have the world’s best cheddar,” she says. Proof is in the many awards the creamery has received.

Where: 2878 Main St., Cabot, Vermont

When: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (changes seasonally)

How much: $2 for anyone 12 and older

Need to know: Reservations for large motorcoach tours are encouraged; call ahead to confirm cheese-making days, 800-837-4261

More info:

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels

Hanover, Pennsylvania

Snyder’s of Hanover has been making crunchy, salty pretzels since 1909 when Harry V. Warehime, founder of Hanover Canning Company (Snyder’s parent company until 1980), began producing the legendary snack. Today, Synder’s is a top pretzel baker in the world, selling 10 million bags a week. A Snyder’s of Hanover tour, which has been offered for 24 years, gives guests a look at what it takes to make the famous Hanover pretzels and chips.

A factory guide leads guests on the hour-long tour through the mezzanine level, giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the factory. The tour begins overlooking the warehouse, where guests watch robots bag and box pretzels while hearing fun facts about the factory. For example, the factory uses more than 100 tons of pretzel salt per month, and 25,000 pounds of flour is delivered every day. Guests then head to the packaging room to see seven of the largest ovens in the world, measuring 150 feet long. The tour concludes in the potato-chip processing area where potatoes are washed and peeled and Synder’s tortilla chips are cooked. Guests receive a complimentary bag of mini pretzels at the conclusion of the tour.

Where: 1250 York St.,

Hanover, Pennsylvania

When: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: Reservations required at least 24 hours in advance; 800-233-7125, Ext. 8592

More info:

Sweet’s Candy

Salt Lake City, Utah

Family owned for five generations, Sweet’s Candy is the product of the Utah-based Sweet family, a fitting last name for the company that produces more than 200 types of candy and is a top maker of saltwater taffy.

Curtis Anderson, who runs the 5-year-old Sweet’s Candy tour, says guests get excited about the family ownership of the company as much as the candy itself. More than 30,000 people take the tour each year, getting an inside look at the candy-making process. They walk the floor of the factory, getting close enough to the sweets that they can smell them.

On the tour, groups see orange sticks (orange jelly covered in chocolate), cinnamon bears, taffy and all things chocolate. The tour takes a spin through the raw materials area, taffy kitchen (where guests see taffy being whipped and poured over giant cooling wheels), chocolate-melting room, jelly bean room, enrober (a chocolate waterfall) and three packaging areas, where 300 pieces of candy are packaged each minute. Guests get to try free samples of candy fresh off the line, and can purchase overstock sweets in the factory store at a slight discount.

Where: 3780 West Directors Row,

Salt Lake City, Utah

When: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: As many as 100 people can take a tour at one time and appointments are required; 801-886-1444. Parking lot has designated spaces for buses.

More info:

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream

Waterbury, Vermont

Cherry Garcia. Half Baked. Chubby Hubby. Ben and Jerry’s might be known as much for wacky ice cream names as it is for the ice cream itself. The factory tour in Waterbury takes guests through colorful halls with a mooing cow soundtrack in the background to the Cow Over the Moon Theater, which shows a short film about the company history and fun facts about the ice cream. Guests are then led to a mezzanine level to look out over the production floor where the approximately 60 different types of ice cream are made. Finally, guests head to the flavor room where they receive a generously-sized free sample of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream of the day.

After the tour, visitors can also taste current flavors at the Scoop Shop, see the cow pasture and stock up on souvenirs at the gift shop. One popular attraction is the flavor graveyard, where each retired ice cream flavor has a tombstone dedicated to the tasty legacy it left. The tour, which has been in operation since 1986, can accommodate 40 people and usually gets about 300,000 to 500,000 guests a year.

Where: 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury, Vermont

When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with some seasonal changes); ice cream is made Monday to Friday.

How much: $3 adults, $2 seniors, children free; packages that include coupons and a T-shirt are $21.

Need to know: Adults get in free if they check in on Foursquare before visiting. A large parking lot can hold several motorcoaches. Reservations for groups of 10 or more are highly encouraged.

More info:

Tabasco pepper sauce

Avery Island, Louisiana

One drop of world-famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce can leave a person sweating with its combination of tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. In Louisiana, everything is made with a little kick to it and Avery Island’s most famous product is no exception. The Tabasco Sauce factory is surrounded by the Cajun bayou and offers up-close tours of how the spicy condiment is made.

The tour begins in the lobby where guests can watch clips of commercials and TV programs that feature Tabasco products. They then head to an exhibit area where a guide explains the process of making the sauce from picking peppers to completion. Visitors then watch an eight-minute film on the history of the company and Avery Island, and move to the production room where they see the machinery that bottles the sauce. The tour ends in the interactive room. Here, guests can play games related to Tabasco and see one of the actual vats stirring the pepper sauce. Guests receive three miniature Tabasco bottles — original, green pepper and chipotle — upon completion of the tour.

Guests can visit the country store after the tour is over and buy all things Tabasco, including Tabasco-branded clothing, kitchenware, decorations, cookbooks, golf bags and Cajun food such as crawfish etouffee. Free samples of unusual Tabasco-infused products like spicy Tabasco Coca-Cola and Tabasco ice cream are also available.

Where: Avery Island, Louisiana

When: Daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tours run every 15 to 20 minutes.

How much: Free; $1 to enter island

Need to know: Tours can take up to 40 people at a time. The factory has a large parking lot that can fit a motorcoach.

More info:

Journeys: Small towns made famous

See original article in Groupaway Magazine here
Hollywood brings recognition and group tours to sleepy cities

Only the magic of Hollywood can turn a beach town on the North Carolina coast into a haven for young teenage girls or a small Pennsylvania city into a destination for comedy enthusiasts. And only the fantasy world of a novel can turn a rainy, quiet town in upstate Washington into a haven for vampire lovers. Thanks to appearances in well-known television shows and movies, small towns across the country are gaining notoriety and a new visitor market.

Before the “Twilight” book series came along, Forks, Wash., was simply a small fishing town outside Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of the county. Now, a pale teenager with a thirst for blood has turned it into a mecca for vampire lovers of all ages. In 2008, 18,736 visitors signed the guestbook at the Forks visitors center. So far this year, 43,000 visitors have scribbled their names down, says Marcia Bingham, director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce. “It’s simply a fantasy we’re playing in,” she says. “We won the lottery, that’s how I look at it.”

Tour groups escaping to the tiny town are not all love-struck teenagers who want to catch a glimpse of actor Robert Pattinson, Bingham says. Families and over-40 travelers are increasing, too. Dazzled by Twilight ( has three tours a day throughout the year, with a special evening tour in the summer, which bring the “Twilight” world to life. Each two- to three-hour tour features a guided trip through Forks. For $39, the tour includes a snack or lunch and photo ops at attractions from the books and movies.

Forks Adventures ( allows “Twilight” enthusiasts to spend more time engulfed in the fantasy. The two-, three- and four-day tours range from $320 to $650 per person and travel down the Washington coast and Olympic Peninsula for more attractions.

The coastal town of Wilmington, N.C., is a scenic spot with clear beaches and warm weather. But look a little closer and you might see teenage heartthrobs and Hollywood actors. This town of more than 100,000 has been the setting for television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” and movies like “A Walk to Remember.” Connie Nelson of the Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau says 400 movies and television shows have been filmed in Wilmington, making it quite an entertainment-junkie destination.

Wilmington’s Screen Gems Studios (, the largest studio in North Carolina, currently offers tours of the “One Tree Hill” set. One-hour group tours for 20 or more are available most days of the week. The tours must be reserved one month in advance and require a non-refundable deposit of $200.

Tours by Hollywood Location Walk of Old Wilmington cover several film locations in an hour-and-a-half ( Adults are $12; seniors, students and military are $10; and children 6 and younger are free. Private group tours are available.

If one of the weddings you couldn’t miss last year was for Jim and Pam on NBC’s “The Office,” then you probably know about Scranton, Pa. The city, home to about 75,000 residents, is where the popular show is set. Students from the University of Scranton offer four-hour tours once a month. Highlights include visits to The Mall at Steamtown and Lake Scranton, lunch at Cooper’s and drinks at Poor Richard’s ( Tickets are $45 for adults, $35 for children (under 21) and include a gift bag. Remaining dates are Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.

— Laura Smith

‘Avenue Q’ gives adult twist to Muppets

Kerri Brackin (from left), Nicky, Rod and Brent Michael DiRoma in “Avenue Q,” which uses puppets and actors to tell the story of a college graduate trying to survive in New York City. Credit: Courtesy of John Daughtry/News & Record

To view the original article in Go Triad, click here

Most women can’t go without their iPhones or lipstick. Kerri Brackin doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have a puppet with her.

Brackin is one of 12 performers creating laughs and gasps on stage for the Avenue Q 2010 tour, which will come to Greensboro Friday and Saturday.

The tour, which will travel to about 70 cities this year and will end June 26 in Ottawa, Ontario, began in September.

“Avenue Q” tells the story of Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves to New York City with big dreams and discovers the color of life through issues, including race, pornography, sexual orientation and sex itself. Puppets and humans create the adult-themed humor and stories in the production.

The show, whose characters are mirrors of the “Sesame Street” characters, began in 2003, ending its Broadway production on Sept. 13.

The main roles Brackin plays are Mrs. T (a kindergarten teacher) and one of the Bad Idea Bears, which is her favorite role. The Bad Idea Bears are Care Bearlike characters, who innocently try to manipulate people into giving in to their desires. They function as shoulder devils. Later in the performance, they convert to Scientology.

Brackin also plays the second hand to the Nicky and Trekkie Monster characters. Nicky is a parody of Ernie from “Sesame Street” and is a messy and jobless roommate. The Trekkie Monster is a Cookie Monster parody who is addicted to Internet porn instead of cookies.

“My particular part in the show is very, very puppet-heavy,” she said. “I work with literally every single puppet in the entire show.”

But performing with puppets wasn’t first nature to Brackin.

“It was the craziest thing,” she said. “It made the rehearsal process very, very different from anything I had ever done before, especially in terms of a musical theater kind of setting.”

Brackin began performing at age 8 in professional musical theater productions.

Feeling the need to “do the whole high school, college thing,” she said, Brackin took several years off to get her undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma. She attended law school for a year at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and got a master’s degree in psychology from Pace University.

She had the itch to go to New York City to begin performing again and soon was on stage. Before “Avenue Q,” she toured with the production of “Hairspray.”

When Brackin got called back to audition with “Avenue Q,” she attended a “puppet camp” and got her first experience with the fuzzy characters.

“Originally in rehearsals, it was so much about the technical aspects of it, opposed to acting, singing,” she said. “It was so much about the puppets.

“Now, it’s almost kind of become second nature. I don’t know what I do when I don’t have a puppet on my arm.”

And those puppets don’t come with family-friendly slapstick humor. “Avenue Q” is known for its profanity and adult themes.

Brackin, who comes from a conservative family, had to warn her family what to expect when they saw the production, she said.

“But honestly, I think that the majority of audiences and most of the people that come &ellipses;they enjoy it, and there’s something for everyone in the show,” she said. “It is really cool to see how the different audiences across the country react to it.”

For Brackin, the audiences are what make the show.

“We’ve had a lot of really great cities we’ve gotten to play recently, and I think that the audiences really don’t know what a huge impact they make on us as the actors on the stage,” she said.

“They’ve been fantastic, and it makes it that much more fun for us.”

Local school system hopes for better test scores to offset past struggles

Students Zy’taja and Leya work on a project in their classroom at Andrews Elementary School. Photo by Bryce Little.

This article was a semester long product of a look into the local school system in Alamance County, N.C. For the original article, click here.

During the week of May 17, principals, teachers and administration in the Alamance-Burlington School System will be holding their breath.

On May 17 students in grades three through eight will take their End-of- Grade tests, and the county is hoping test scores will improve.

In the past, ABSS has struggled with poor test scores and an overall stigma of subpar academic quality. While some still see it this way, others say the school system is beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But, this light has always been harder to see for the schools in Alamance County.

Out of the 33 elementary, middle and high schools in the county, as well as one middle college and one alternative education center, 13 of the schools are considered Title One schools. Title
One refers to schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. In turn, they receive supplemental funding from the United States’ Department of Education.

The schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in order to keep receiving funds, a requirement that was passed under the No Child Left Behind Act signed in 2001 by former President George W. Bush.

In AYP, for every subgroup that a school has, a set percentage of each must pass the reading test and the math EOG tests proficiency targets), according to Dain Butler, director of accountability services for ABSS.

A subgroup must include at least 40 students and is organized by demographics that include white, black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and limited English proficiency student, Butler said.

Each group is counted twice, once for the math test and once for the reading. They are counted once again for attendance in which 95 percent of each subgroup must be present at the test.

Essentially, then, each subgroup is counted four times. If there are five subgroups in a school, then there are 20 targets. One extra target is always added. In this case, the school would need to make 21 out of 21 targets in order to make AYP.

When a school does not meet its AYP targets for two years in a row, it is considered a school “in school improvement.”

This means that parents have the option to send their child to another school outside their district. A school gets “out of school improvement” if it meets its AYP targets two years in a row, according to Butler.

In addition to serving mostly low income schools, Alamance County receives less federal funding than counties surrounding Alamance.
ABSS Superintendent Randy Bridges said he does not know the reason for this. Every year ABSS submits a local budget to county commissioners.

“We try to communicate our needs, and at the same time, we do the best with what we’ve got,” he said.

Testing tribulations

Since Bridges took his position as superintendent four years ago, he said he has seen vast improvement in testing through eight went up.

“Last year was a phenomenal year for ABSS,” Bridges said.

EOG tests are administered to grades three through eight in math and reading at the end of every academic year. EOC tests are given to all high school grades in the areas of Algebra 1, Algebra II, English 1, Biology, Civics, U.S. History and Science at the end of each semester. Students take each if enrolled in all those classes. Algebra 1, English 1, Biology, Civics and U.S. History are required for graduation, Butler said.

The testing in Alamance County has not come without controversy and many do not feel comfortable with the testing system.

Burlington resident Leah Ann Godwin has two children in ABSS and said she thinks not enough is being done to prepare students for testing, nor is it stimulating enough.

“I don’t think they prepare them through the school year,” Godwin said, noting that her children receive testing review only about a week before the actual tests. “And I think they should make it more fun.”

According to Deborah Long, Elon University education professor and director of the Elon Academy, testing in Alamance County is a crisis that needs attention.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Long said. “There’s so much emphasis on testing that I think for a lot of teachers, the life has been drained out of them. I think there are a lot of really dedicated teachers who are working really hard and really care about the children that they’re teaching, but the whole emphasis on testing has just taken the life out of teaching.”

Associate communications professor Glenn Scott has an 11-year-old son in ABSS. He said that while tests are important, they should not be the only measure of performance.

“I don’t worry that the school system here isn’t testing enough,” Scott said. “I wish that there was more energy put into other attempts to teach our children to think deeply and creatively because I think in the long run, that’s what really makes fine, successful people.”

He said overall, though, more focus is put on testing at a national level than it used to be.

“I’d like to see less ultimate influence on testing and more on the development of thinking and writing skills,” Scott said.

Scott said for the most part, he has seen a great deal of commitment from parents with children in ABSS toward their children’s education. Part of how well children learn, he said, depends on how much of an emphasis parents put on reviewing and learning at home.

“I think what we would all agree upon is that we wish the school district here would see gradual, sustained growth in performance of the students,” he said.

David Cooper, dean of the Elon University School of Education, meets regularly with Bridges to enhance the relationship between the university and the school system. He said while scores are rising, more needs to be done to raise the bar.

“According to the way the state of North Carolina tests students, it’s one of those glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of scenarios,” Cooper said. “If you look at the ABSS data from one perspective, you would say there’s progress particularly in the elementary areas at End-of-Grade scores. The glass-half-empty scenario is that the bar for that is set pretty low. Passing scores are not terrifically high.”

He said the same of the system meeting the federal guidelines through AYP goals.

“The majority of schools are meeting the federal guideline … The majority of ABSS schools are making that AYP status,” Cooper said. “(But) in one sense, you can say, yes, they’re meeting the federal standard mostly, and each year most schools meet that standard. On the other hand you could say, well, is that a standard you really want to aspire to?”

Why the low scores?

According to several members of the ABSS administration, though, the reason test scores have been low in the past is because of a re-norming of EOG tests in recent years.

The math EOG test was re-normed in the 2005-2006 school year, and the reading EOG test was re-normed in the 2007-2008 school year.

When these tests are re-normed, they tend to be made more rigorous, Butler said.

“Any time a test becomes more rigorous or challenging, typically we see a drop in our overall scores,” he said. “It doesn’t mean our students are doing worse, per se, or they didn’t do as well as they did last year, it just means that on this new, more challenging test, the scores are not going to indicate what we saw the year before because this is a different test. You’re comparing apples to oranges.”

The state of North Carolina hopes every school has at least 60 percent of its students pass the EOC and EOG tests and they make progress. If progress occurs, the school has made growth.

John Swajkoski, the principal at Turrentine Middle School, said when the tests were re-normed, he saw a 10-20 percent drop in Turrentine students’ scores.

“Everybody took a major hit,” he said. “So educators understood the fluctuation in test scores, but the general public I don’t think did.”

Last year, Turrentine did not make its AYP goals. It met 28 out of 29 subgroups, but because Turrentine is not a Title One school, it will not be affected by the option to have children attend another school outside their designated district.

“The public would see it as ‘well Turrentine didn’t meet their AYP goals,'” he said. “Well no, we didn’t. But if you were a basketball player and hit 28 out of 29 free throws, that’s pretty doggone good.”
Martha Caulder, principal of Andrews Elementary School in Burlington, said her students’ scores took the same dive.

“We continue to revamp the tests … to fit what the state is expecting of all schools in North Carolina,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like it, but principals and staff alike just have to remember education is constantly changing. This is the standard that has been put before us, and this is what we have to do to meet it.”

Finding a solution

Both the Turrentine and Andrews schools are making strides to combat the EOG test re-norming and are seeing improvement.

“We know that students need to be much more engaged in the lessons,” Swajkoski said. “One of the things Turrentine is trying to do is to focus in on student engagement.”

Turrentine’s most recent approach has been the “Strive for five, be great with eight” initiative.

“If we can raise each individual child’s test scores by five points, we’ll improve in our scores,” he said. “If we raise them by eight points, we’ll have a shot at being a school of distinction, which is our goal.”

Turrentine has also taken advantage of the Literacy First program, in which all ABSS middle schools are participating. In the program, teachers are trained in teaching specific concepts, such as phonics, word skills and word patterns in depth.

Student engagement is the main staple at Andrews, too.

“We’re doing a lot,” Caulder said. “At this school it’s all about making sure the students are growing, the teachers are motivating students and students are engaged.”

One part of the engagement is the Little Leaders program. The program, which is taken advantage of by four ABSS schools including Andrews, provides students with the opportunity to have the same teacher for four years from kindergarten through third grade.

The children attend school on a year-round basis and are able to go on field trips in the community. The program began last summer, and ABSS administration members are eager to see the impact it may have, Caulder said.

Last year, Andrews made all of its 21 AYP targets.

“Your job as a teacher is to make sure students are learning and growing, regardless of the testing umbrella that hangs over everybody’s head,” Caulder said. “You still have to make sure you are coming to school to do the job you were hired to do, which is growing children and being motivators of children.”

Making progress

The elementary and middle schools are not the only ones making strides to improve. In 2006, Cummings High School in Burlington was threatened to be shut down by the state because of the lack of quality.

Lynn Briggs was hired as one of the co-principals for Cummings, and every position, including the janitorial staff, was re-interviewed. Curriculum content coaches were also hired.

“We decided that in order for us to be successful, we had to build a strong, stable staff because the turnover here was unbelievable and the staff was not as strong as it needed to be,” said Briggs, the current principal of Cummings. “We also had to change the culture here because the culture was ‘come to the mall and have a good time.’ Test scores were not what they needed to be.”

Briggs said Cummings changed the culture by setting boundaries and high expectations as well as hiring well-qualified teachers. Since then, the school has made vast improvements, Briggs said.

“The first year, test scores dropped,” Briggs said. “Anytime you change the culture of a school, that’s what happens initially. Every year since then, they’ve shown steady growth.”

Cummings still has a way to go, though. According to Briggs, 30 percent of students read at a seventh grade reading level or higher. Cummings also does not offer any in-school Advanced Placement classes because of lack of interest from students, Briggs said.

Cummings does allow students to go to nearby schools to take AP classes or students can take them online through the North Carolina Virtual Public High School.

The Elon Academy

Another helpful entity that has improved Cummings’ achievements is the Elon Academy. The Elon Academy began in 2006 through a partnership with Cummings and Elon University when Cummings was threatened with closure.

The three-year program focuses on an intense college initiative for students with significant financial need and/or no family history of college. The program comprises three four-week residential summer experiences and year-round monthly Saturday programs.
Long became the director and began recruiting Alamance County students for the program in the fall of 2006.

About 2,000 letters were sent out to every Alamance County high school freshmen, and about 100 students completed an application, she said.

The first Elon Academy class began in 2007 with 26 members. These students have now been accepted to universities such as Radford, Wingate, Swarthmore, Middlebury and Smith. They will graduate from high school this month.

“We have these young people whom these colleges, as we hoped for, are really fighting over,” Long said.

Currently, the Elon Academy works with seven ABSS schools.
In addition, Cummings also participates in the “Go 4 College” program that allows Cummings students to visit Elon’s campus, sit in on classes and talk to other students.

“The way out of the cycle of poverty is by education, I think,” Long said. “If we can start getting some of these students who are growing up in high poverty situations and get them an education so they can live a more fulfilling life … when they have children, their children will be educated. It’s a long-term solution.”

Cooper said ABSS needs to set the bar higher.

“I think what ABSS could do to help itself is to aim higher,” he said. “To adopt a view that is kind of like what Elon (University) has adopted, which is ‘why not be great?’ Why settle for adequate when great is within reach?”

Moving forward

One way to move from adequate to exceptional, Bridges said, is to adopt a new model of education, not just within ABSS, but globally.
“The traditional model doesn’t work for all kids,” he said. “What students need, really, is very simple: they need more time and they need more help. We have to figure out ways to address those two things.”

Bridges said one way to replace the traditional model of teaching that has been used for years is to come up with more engaging solutions.

“Kids are smarter. They know more,” he said. “Hopefully in my career, before that’s over, we will make some significant changes in the model, the delivery system that we will provide to these kids. It’s the same one they used when I was in school, and the two don’t match.”

According to Bridges, the key word in this puzzle is innovation. Technology, he said, is something kids need more of in the school system.

Currently, ABSS uses E-Rate money given by the federal government for special rates on telephone services and classroom technology to install new equipment.

Turrentine has a wireless campus, and each teacher has been given a laptop. The school is currently looking into getting a SMART Board, an interactive computerized board that students can work with.

Andrews has eight SMART Boards: one for every grade in kindergarten through fifth, one for gifted classes and one for English as a second language classes. All Andrews teachers have PC desktop computers as well.

Caulder says it’s not enough, though.

“In my perspective as a principal, Andrews needs to raise the bar on technology,” she said.

She is hoping to get more SMART Boards in the classroom.

“Most of the time schools have to be real creative with their money in regard to how you can get more technology,” Caulder said. “That’s something we’re trying to do here.”

Briggs has the same feeling for Cummings. The school has two computer labs, three mounted SMART Boards, one mounted active board and are in the process of obtaining another SMART Board.

“We’re working towards more technology,” Briggs said. “There’s just not enough money to keep up with it. Any teacher that requests something, we try to honor it.”

Briggs said it is difficult to compete with other schools in technology. Kids are coming into Cummings with more technological skills, and Cummings must try to fit that need. She said any leftover funds she has at the end of the year will go toward technology.

Bridges said ABSS is always trying to look for grants to obtain more technology in the schools.

“We are not where we need to be technology-wise, and resources have been scarce in that arena,” Bridges said. “(But)I think we’ve been able to make some really good progress in the last three or four years. We have probably put more emphasis on technology in my time here than previously and that’s driven by the students.”

Bridges said that with new innovation and increasingly engaging curriculum, ABSS will continue to do better.

“The kids are expanding their knowledge and we can’t be a barrier to that,” he said. “We need to support that.”

In addition, he said leadership is improving and teacher turnover rate is not as high. He hopes scores for the tests that take place next week will continue to improve as they did last year.

“We try to operate under the mindset that it’s always about continuous improvement,” he said. “How can we get better because we know there is room for improvement in everything that we do … Do we have much work to do? Of course. But I feel really good about the direction that we’re headed.”

Panel Session: The Future of Learning IS the Internet

Cathy Davidson with HASTAC lead the panel on the future of learning and the web

The following was written for the FutureWeb 2010 conference. The original article can be found here.

A group of digital-tools-wielding faculty from Duke University gathered to share their insights at the FutureWeb session on learning and the Web. “The real challenge is how to bust open the walls of the university,” said Laurent Dubois, an educator who leverages world cup soccer in his teaching. “To no longer think about the classroom as a settled place; it sets up a relationship of authority and knowledge.”

The panel discussed the future of education and how it will be affected by the emerging technologies of the Internet. The moderator was Cathy Davidson, Duke professor and creator of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory).

Negar Mottahedeh has utilized the Web in one of the most original ways seen yet to get through to students. She created the first-ever Twitter Film Festival, where each student tweeted three things about a film she had posted on their course blog. The festival lasted two days and had approximately 300 followers.

“I feel very strongly that my students are in a place of privilege,” she said referring to their access to the Internet. “I’m constantly wondering how I can make a difference, how we can make a difference.”

Mottahedeh said social media can also benefit students in education because there is an immediate response among one another.

Davidson said the Internet serves as a place for students to up the ante in their work. She said when students write papers that will be posted on the Web for millions to see, they take more pride in their work and do a better job than when they simply hand it in to a professor to read.

The rapid pace of getting information on the Internet helps, she added. “There’s something about this culture that wants education to be retrograde, to not be urgent,” she said. “It needs to be urgent.”

Davidson said she also feels strongly about allowing students to use their laptops and other portable Internet-wired devices in class. She challenges them to find information quickly on their computers in class and relay what they find to fellow students.

“Most schools are in an age of digital lockdown,” she said. Davidson said that by forcing students to put away the technology, they are not able to take advantage of what it can allow them to learn. She grinned, saying that students do not pay attention any more when their laptops are not allowed in the classroom.

O’Driscoll said he allows students to Tweet in class to get feedback on how his lesson is going – he can tell this way if the students are bored and when they are gaining a lot of value out of the content being covered. This year, he had students produce and edit a movie for a class project instead of writing term papers. “I try to use as much as what’s publicly out there,” he said, referring to various Internet platforms students can use.

While the Web brings new opportunities to the classroom, the panelists said it is still important to remember the finest traditions behind teaching. “It remains important to think about what great teachers have done to be great teachers and to not lose sight of that,” Neal said. “We need to get students to remember the nuts and bolts of things that we do in classrooms.”

Neal said it is vital to teach students how to think, and teachers are still not being given enough of these tools. He added that there is fluidity in classroom when students are allowed to interact with the Web. “They’re going to respond to what they like,” he said.

Davidson cited one groundbreakig example of utilizing technology in the classroom – the Quest to Learn School in New York, which teaches academically disadvantaged children through the use of video games.

“They’re doing incredible things,” she said.

-By Laura Smith, Imagining the Internet