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X-Factor Student Achievement Awards 2007

A 300-word entry brings $30,000 to a K12 school district.

DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION LAUNCHED THE FIRST-EVER X-FACTOR Student Achievement Awards last spring, with the exclusive sponsorship of AutoSkill International Inc., a company that creates intervention software solutions to help close the proficiency gap in K12 schools.

The program challenged public school educators to submit one or more 300-word descriptions of a creative "X-factor" idea that would raise student achievement in their districts.

Proposals could be targeted to student groups, classes or schools, as long as each was practical, did not take long to implement, was transferable to any size district and had measurable results. The grand-prize winner would receive $30,000 seed money to jump-start the initiative, and as Susan Koch, vice president of marketing at AutoSkill International put it, the program provided "a forum to share new ideas and the financial means to test the winning concept in a real-world classroom."

Entries were submitted online with a deadline of June 30, 2007, and we were gratified by the number, quality and variety of proposals received from school districts throughout the United States. The many ideas included purchasing interactive whiteboards and portable readers, equipping mobile learning labs, hiring mentors and tutors, initiating classroom videoconferences, organizing field trips, providing career training, and implementing curriculum programs in almost every content area.

The proposals were judged by the entire editorial staff of District Administration over a period of several weeks, and each idea was reviewed and discussed multiple times to narrow the field. In addition to editorial and educational experience, our seven editors also brought unique perspectives to the table, including Judy Hartnett's thoughts as a parent of a middle school daughter, Angela Pascopella's concern for disadvantaged students and "green environment" proposals, Zach Miners' interest in electronic media, and Ken Royal's admiration for a teacher whose love of books changed his life forever. But tough decisions had to be made, and after extensive negotiations, we unanimously chose the grand-prize winner, one runner-up, four finalists and 20 school entries for honorable mention.

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the $30,000 award for the 2007 X-Factor Student Achievement Awards is Lou Ann Miller, physical education teacher in the Mohawk School District in Pennsylvania, for "Fitness Buddies." Proposed in collaboration with reading/language arts and wellness teachers, the project explores the link between physical activity and academic achievement. In a new fitness center, students will use technologies such as Sportwall International and Dance Dance Revolution to deliver cardiovascular workouts in a game format. Participants will have fitness buddies from the high school wellness program to record data and keep individuals motivated, and fitness and academic achievement will be evaluated throughout the year.

Congratulations to Lou Ann Miller, the finalists and every participant in the X-Factor Student Achievement Awards. Creativity is alive and well in American schools!

-Odvard Egil Dyrli, Editor-in-Chief

A Vision Creates a Winner

A new Interactive Fitness Center could improve reading and overall student achievement

WHEN PRINCIPAL PATRICIA Monaco of Mohawk Elementary School in rural Pennsylvania asked Lou Ann Miller and Larry Carr, both physical education teachers and wellness instructors, if they had a use for a storage room at the school, they immediately saw potential. Formerly a racquetball court, the room had been used as a computer lab before it was converted to a storage area last school year.

"We jumped all over it," recalls Miller, who has taught at the school for two years. "Our idea was, OK, we're going to put a fitness center in there. We didn't know how we were going to do it. We just had the vision."

That vision was an Interactive Fitness Center, equipped with fun technologies that would motivate elementary students to exercise, such as the popular video game Dance Dance Revolution that has students performing dance moves.

When Miller learned the district won the X-Factor award she was so excited and appreciative that she cried. Miller and Carr are excited about their plans for the new fitness center, hoping not only to improve the students' physical fitness but help struggling readers improve academically.

Fit to Read

Studies show that physical activity can improve cognition, self-esteem and academic performance, Miller says. The Mohawk Area School District in Bessemer, which has about 2,000 students between the K6 school and the Mohawk Junior/Senior High School, lies in a rural community about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The district plans to conduct a study to see whether increased physical activity using the new fitness center will help improve the academic performance of a group of "reluctant readers"-those students who score in the lowest quadrant on schoolwide reading assessments.

"We are hoping physical activity is not only going to improve their academic performance but is going to be related to higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and stress," Miller says.

"We didn't know how we were going to do it. We just had the vision."-Lou Ann Miller, physical education and wellness instructor, Mohawk Elementary School

But all students, not just those in the study and including those with disabilities as accommodations can be made, will use the Interactive Fitness Center. Today's tech- savvy schoolchildren, who have grown up playing video games, need more interactive fitness technologies to capture their interest, Miller says. Too often, entertainment technologies, such as video games, contribute to a sedentary lifestyle as students spend large amounts of time after school sitting in front of a television with a game controller. The idea of the fitness center is to use similar technologies that typically encourage them to sit to get kids excited about physical activity, she says.

Running or riding a stationary bike, which are more adult-style disciplines, are "boring" for tech-savvy students, Miller says. "They are not going to want to do that," she says. "We are going to try to make it fun."

Helping Reluctant Readers

This fall, the school plans to randomly select two groups of "reluctant readers," each with about 20 students for the study. Both groups will participate in physical education, but those in the experimental group will be using the fitness center more frequently than those in the control group, she says.

Although the schedule has not been firmed up yet, the experimental group may use the facility three to five times a week, while other children will use the equipment once a week or once every other week. And depending on scheduling, it's possible that there could be some before- or after-school opportunities for those in the experimental group to use the center as part of the study, she says.

Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Kwolek says that students' body mass index (BMI)-an indicator of obesity- also will be tracked. "The research says there is a link between physical activity and achievement, so we are going to put it to the test," Kwolek says.

The 850-student school uses internal reading assessments at the beginning of each school year and continues testing about every nine weeks. The hope is that the students will improve their reading performance over the course of a year, Kwolek says.

Although BMI is not part of the criteria by which students in the study will be selected, the hope is that the students' BMI will decrease as a result of the center's 21st- century activities.

The district is enlisting the help of selected students from the adjacent Mohawk Junior/Senior High School to serve as "fitness buddies" to mentor and motivate the children in the experimental group as they use the fitness facility, says Kelly Hoff man, a health and physical education teacher at the high school.

The high school students, drawn from an advanced health and wellness class and an independent-study physical education course, will give positive reinforcement to the young children and record data for the study, including, possibly, the children's heart rates to help gauge exertion and ensure that the rates are within the recommended ranges under what constitutes physical exertion.

Looking to Technology

The interactive facility, which will be designed to accommodate up to 25 students at a time, will feature technologies such as the popular video game Dance Dance Revolution. Students perform dance moves by stepping onto electronic pads in response to arrows that appear on the video screen. The arrows, which are synchronized to music, tell players what to do, and the computer keeps track of how well the students' feet keep up, via electronic sensors embedded in the pads. It takes concentration and coordination.

Another interactive technology that entails physical activity is the popular video game system Nintendo Wii, which uses wireless, handheld controllers that respond to students' movements. Unlike traditional joystick games, in which children only exercise their fingers, the Wii games are played through active body movements. If students are playing a Wii tennis game, they would hold the wireless Wii controller in one hand and make the same swinging motion they would if they were hitting a ball on a tennis court.

Sports games like tennis and boxing on the Wii definitely give users a workout, says Mohawk Assistant Principal Lorree Houk. "The boxing game is incredibly strenuous,"

she said. "It's pretty incredible."

The school, through fundraising, has already purchased one $4,000 Dance Dance Revolution machine and two Wii consoles that together cost about $800, including accessories, Miller says.

Miller hopes to purchase another Dance Dance Revolution machine using some of the $13,000 it raised last school year. She plans to use the $30,000 in X-Factor grant money to purchase additional interactive fitness equipment, with the aim of having the entire facility in place at the end of January.

Although the school is still deciding which technologies to purchase, it is considering buying a Sportwall, a large panel equipped with blinking lights and a digital timer, Miller says. As part of a game, students race to touch the illuminated lights while being timed.

Another device being considered for purchase is the Makoto, she says. Manufactured by Makoto USA, Inc., the device features a triangular arena with three 6-foot, vertical steel posts standing at each point in the triangle. Each of the three posts is equipped with many touch sensitive lights and is able to produce sounds. Assisted by the sound effects produced from each post, Makoto players use their hands, feet or a stick to hit as many lights before they turn off , testing the students' response time.


Reality Therapy

The program that was to be implemented in Canajoharie High School in Canajoharie (N.Y.) Central School District was a close runner-up in the X-Factor award.

DONALD BOWDEN, THE PRINCIPAL OF CANAJOHARIE HIGH School, sees in some of his most struggling students a disconnect between their school studies and the life experiences that are shaping their view of the world when they're not in the classroom.

"These kids are out there, doing other things, looking for jobs, and when they look at school administrators like me ... it's like we're from Oz," he says. Bowden wants to change all that-to inject more of a "commonsensical reality" into Canajoharie High School-and with grant monies, he would do it through a mentoring program calling on retired professionals from the local and surrounding communities to help.

The mentors-or "emissaries from the outside world," as he calls them-would not only spark more excitement and enthusiasm into some of the most academically struggling students, but also act as surrogate parents for many of the students who don't have strong support networks outside of school, adds Bowden.

The Canajoharie district is a small community of 1,200 students in an impoverished rural town, and the mentors-drawn from the ranks of police, firefighters, military officials, business executives, technicians and medical personnel-could serve as role models, career counselors, teacher-student liaisons, and parent-child liaisons, Bowden says. "The mentors would not just communicate the scope of their job, but also take an active interest in the student's schoolwork, tests, and life in general," he notes. Mentors would be paid an honorarium of $4,000 per year for a one-day-a-week commitment.-Zach Miners

The Ultimate X-Factor

Without the X-Factor grant money, it would have taken a few years of additional fundraising to realize the school's vision for an Interactive Fitness Center, according to Mohawk Superintendent Timothy McNamee. "This grant will be wonderful and very timely in that we will be able to kick this project off much sooner," he says.

As part of a remodeling, the district is expanding the room from its current 20-by-30-feet dimensions to a 20-by- 40-foot size to provide more space for the various activities. The room is situated between the gym and cafeteria.

Workers already have installed a door between the gym and the fitness room to allow Miller and other physical education teachers easy access. The district also has installed a one-way window between the facility and cafeteria. Although kids eating lunch will be able to watch the children using the equipment, those students using the fitness room won't be able to see into the cafeteria. This will minimize any distraction from being observed, say, for example, while they're hamming it up with Dance Dance Revolution.

The idea is that the students eating lunch will see how fun the equipment is and look forward to using the fitness center themselves, Miller says. And the district plans to lower the high ceiling in the former racquetball court to improve acoustics, she says.

The hope is that the Interactive Fitness Center will ignite students' interest in physical activity and teach them about many different ways to keep fit-a lesson that could follow them into adulthood, says Hoff man, the high school teacher who will help coordinate "Fitness Buddies."

"We are hoping that these kids will realize that they can do a lot of different things to stay in shape," Hoff man says, "not just go outside for a run, not just jump onto an elliptical."-Kevin Butler


High School Television Production

Niagara Falls High School, Niagara Falls (N.Y.) City School District

FOUR YEARS AGO WHEN THE NIAGARA FALLS HIGH SCHOOL BEGAN its own Educational Access Channel, Our Schools Channel (OSC) TV 21, fewer than 10 media production students created it. Now student involvement in the program has grown to nearly 200, requiring more computers capable of video editing and graphics manipulation.

Judie Gregory, public relations director for the Niagara Falls City School District in New York, is seeking grant monies to purchase the additional computers and editing software, as well as equipment to launch a new digital music production class.

High school students have taped city council meetings for public record as well as a variety of other local events, and students from other schools in the district are also becoming more involved in the production program. Every school now has at least one digital video camera.

Under the guidance of Media Education Director Rich Meranto, OSC alumni have taken their skills and gone on to major in television production and communication related fields at various colleges and universities, Gregory says.

The district serves a poor community of 7,500 students in 11 schools. The OSC provides tangible, quantifiable skills in television production as well as professional networking built right into the school's curriculum.

Meranto and OSC coordinators also learned that the program fulfilled 24 out of 28 of the New York State Learning Standards due to the variety of projects it demands of the high achieving students.

"The sky is the limit," Gregory says. "And it's all about building a sense of community."-Z.M.

Teen Themes

Cumberland County Schools, Fayetteville, N.C.

MARGARITA DOSTALL, THE CUMBERLAND COUNTY SCHOOLS ESL coordinator, wants to start a program that includes monthly initiative topics to help reduce the dropout rate and deter negative student behavior, including gang affiliation. Teenage gang influence is growing, and at least 10 to 15 of Dostall's ESL students either drop out or are in danger of doing so each year. The program, "Teen Themes," addresses college and career opportunities, gang awareness, job interviews, teenage pregnancy, health information, drug and alcohol awareness, and other LEP (Limited English Proficiency) student-chosen issues. Dostall says the X-Factor award would have made the initiative possible because district funding for new projects is limited due to a tight education budget.

Dostall wants to use mental health professionals, police department officers and local college staff as mentors. A bilingual (Spanish and English) ESL coordinator can lead the project, and hired tutors can address academic, language and environmental difficulties. The goal is to help LEP students be competitive in the workforce and become involved in more constructive activities. Dostall can also invite parents to participate in orientations and activities, providing interpreters as needed. -Ken Royal

Classroom Amplification

South Street Elementary School, Eastport-South Manor School District, Manorville, N.Y.

ROBIN BARBERA, SOUTH STREET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, says that young children "spend 45 to 60 percent of their school day involved in listening activities." According to Barbera, the primary channel for learning is hearing, and young students' somewhat limited experience with speech and language creates a situation where the soft, subtle consonant sounds that comprise the key element of word recognition, very important for them.

Sixteen of the school's classrooms in the Eastport-South Manor School District in Manorville, N.Y., are outfitted with sound field amplification systems for that very reason, but Barbera would like to see the entire school hooked up.

Barbera says that using sound field amplification in the classroom increases student participation and interaction, improves student attention and on-task time, and helps to raise test scores. -Z.M.

Career Training

Walthill High School,

Walthill (Neb.) Public School District

CAROL HILKER, PRINCIPAL OF WALTHILL HIGH SCHOOL, whose student body is American Indian, 90 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunches, wants high school seniors and juniors to receive career training.

Walthill Public School District has a student mobility rate of 67 percent, compared to about 14 percent for the state. In 2005-2006, Walthill had a 40 percent graduation rate.

Hilker's plan calls for guest instructors to visit the school to provide hands-on training in fields such as masonry, welding, child care and electrical work. Training would include practice job interviews as well as resume-writing techniques. The X-Factor funds would have helped to supplement instructor salaries and provide materials. Students would be tracked afterward to evaluate the program's success.

Hilker plans to work with the superintendent and seek help from the tribal council to raise enough funds to get the program running. She believes the students will feel they should do this work, rather than feel they have to. -K.R.


After-School Excellence

Rio Rancho (N.M.) Public Schools Rey Cordova, manager of the Students Achieving for Excellence Before and After School Program at Rio Rancho Public Schools, proposes to contract with the Explora Children's Museum in Albuquerque, which includes working with two Explora instructors who would teach students through science, technology and art workshops. Cordova wants to enrich the academic experiences of his students. A database would be set up to track student progress using state- mandated testing scores.

Teaching English with Handhelds

Comanche (Texas) Independent School District Teresa Loudermilk, district director of administrative services at Comanche Independent School District, would like to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) students with handheld technology devices to help them acquire English language skills. Spanish speakers have a difficult time learning due to the language barrier, Loudermilk says, and iPods are increasingly being used in English as a Second Language (ESL), special education and foreign language classes.

Extending the Day

Miller Elementary School, Dodge City (Kan.) Public Schools Joyce Warshaw, the principal of Miller Elementary in the Dodge City (Kan.) Public Schools district, would use rant funds to extend the academic day. Funds would also address transportation services so parents would not be inconvenienced. Warshaw says an extended day would allow educators to focus more on depth and understanding rather than teaching curriculum "in a linear fashion."

Mentoring for Exit Exams

Natomas Unified School District, Sacramento, Calif. Natomas School District Superintendent Steve Farrar would like to expand a mentoring program across the district that recently helped 25 out of 57 Natomas High School seniors pass the California High School Exit Examination. For the program, students were meeting two hours a week for five weeks, working from a customized plan that identifies individual needs.

Learning the Real World Way

Halifax County Middle School, Halifax County Public Schools, South Boston, Va. Marliss Barczak, associate principal for instruction at Halifax County Middle School in the Halifax County school district, would use grant funds for trips to nearby outdoor classrooms at the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, which would serve as a learning site for seventh-graders in life science class. Students would help restore wildlife populations' habitats, observe what they have been studying in class over the school year, and learn about the impact man has on the environment and what technological tools can be used to preserve it.

Special Education Management

Lee's Summit (Mo.) School District Jerry Keimig, district director of special services at Lee's Summit, would like to use grant funds to continue to update their special education automation software to serve students with disabilities and at-risk students to ensure they get the assistance they need. In 2001 the district implemented new software to solve the paper-based and labor-intensive issues that complicated special education management.

Software for Special Ed

Katy (Texas) Independent School District Fred Shafer, executive director for special education, counseling and psychological services at Katy Independent School District, proposes to expand the use of software to improve special education and evaluation, documentation and accountability district-wide. The district began implementing Web- based special education automation software in 2004 to improve efficiency and effectiveness for its enrollment increases.

Response to Intervention Model

Lexington (S.C.) School District One Barbara Criss, lead school psychologist at Lexington School District One, plans to expand the district's intervention model to five additional schools. Grant monies would be used to purchase a well-researched, scientifically based intervention program for struggling readers, including using professional development. "This addresses the very important issue of ensuring that the intervention is implemented with fidelity," says Criss.

Growth Model Assessments

Ponca City (Okla.) Public Schools Ponca City Schools Superintendent David Pennington proposes to institute a growth model to measure student academic performance over time. "The method would allow us to assess the academic skills of each student and then develop growth plans based on each individual student's academic strengths and weaknesses," says Pennington. The system will provide timely and accurate information to guide teachers and help administrators develop goals to drive instruction and school improvement.

Research-Based Reading Program

Pewitt Consolidated Independent School District, Omaha, Texas Julie Dellelo, curriculum and technology director at Pewitt Elementary School, along with other administrators, would like to purchase laptops along with an integrated, tiered, reading program for struggling students and those needing to develop the cognitive skills necessary for successful reading and learning. Dellelo wants to ensure that the Pewitt School District's students are given the best educational resources and opportunities so they will be ready for a changing society and world.

Backpacks with Benefits

Willow Glen Primary School, St. Francis (Wis.) School District Sue Dohr, district library media specialist at Willow Glen School District, would use grant monies to purchase books so each student could leave school in June with a backpack filled with a fiction and nonfiction book. The backpack would also have information about the public library summer reading program. Students could use their backpacks for the summer sharing library and school. The summer months can create a significant achievement gap among children who read and those who don't, according to Dohr.

Improving Adolescent Literacy

Boyertown (Penn.) Area School District Karen Beerer, assistant superintendent at Boyertown Area School District, would use funds to purchase books for students in grades seven, eight and nine for a summer reading initiative, making sure to include titles that are interesting to adolescents, rich in language and filled with experiences that will provide meaningful classroom discussions come fall. Beerer says that adolescent literacy is a problem across the nation.

Differentiated Literacy Instruction

Mount Vernon (Wash.) Schools Assistant Superintendent Cathey Frederick of Mount Vernon Schools in Washington wants an intervention strategy that can help improve student performance across all disciplines by improving their ability to read and comprehend nonfiction text. Frederick wants to offer a Web-based differentiated literacy instruction that is designed to increase reading comprehension, vocabulary and writing proficiency.

Books for Low-Income Students

Riverbend Elementary School, Juneau (Alaska) School District Carmen Katasse, principal of Riverbend Elementary in the Juneau School District, hopes to purchase books to be distributed to children at each of the low-income housing complexes on a monthly basis. Juneau has two public libraries: One is downtown and one is in the valley. Many low-income students don't have access to the public libraries because they are too far away, and most households don't have books for their children.

Reaching Coach Initiative

Monroe (Wis.) School District Jennifer Thayer, curriculum director at the Monroe School District, would like to hire a reading coach for a newly implemented reading program to provide consistency and support across the district. Thayer says a grant would enable the district to hire a coach who could provide the support and training they need for regular and special education teachers. Test scores in the three elementary schools have varied significantly from school to school and grade level to grade level.

Curriculum Products

Potrero Elementary School, Mountain Empire Unified School District, Potrero, Calif.;

Cottonwood Community Day School, Mountain Empire Unified School District, Campo, Calif.

Barbara Cowling, the principal of both Potrero Elementary and Cottonwood Community, wants to use grant funds to purchase math, reading and writing instruction products, and to hire parttime aids and train them along with other staff to use direct instruction models for struggling students. About 90 percent of students at Potrero School are English Language Learners and some of them are placed at Cottonwood upon the recommendation of a probation officer or a school board member.

Integrated Reading Project

Pine Forest High School, Cumberland County Schools, Fayetteville, N.C. Cindy McCormic, principal of Pine Forest High School, would use grant monies to purchase a novel for each student in grades nine through 12. The novels would tie together a variety of academic subjects. Teachers would conduct seminars on the readings, and students would create a project, which would not only integrate numerous content areas but also enhance literacy and technology at the school. McCormic feels that while many high school teachers are content-driven, they rarely integrate other subjects into their lessons.

Preparing for a Technical World

Norwood High School, Norwood (Ohio) City Schools Wendy Godbey, the library specialist at Norwood High in the Norwood (Ohio) City Schools, wants to purchase additional laptops and a rechargeable cart for the high school's more than 800 students. The school currently has only 20 laptops, which are more than four years old and have expired service contracts. Godbey says that many students "do not have the proper equipment available to them to meet the increased demands society is placing on them."

Reading and Math Program

The School District of Janesville (Wis.) Donna Behn, director of curriculum and instruction at Th e School District of Janesville in Wisconsin, would use grant funds to expand implementation of Auto Skill Academy of Reading and Math to the district's Edison Middle School. Administrators used the academy program in five elementary schools last year and were impressed with the improvements that students showed on district assessments in reading and math, Behn says. Edison also wants to start an after-school program to give students more time to further develop their skills in such classes. -Z.M.