Tuesday, November 21, 2017

East Chapel Hill High Students Win Award at iGEM Jamboree

Instances of academic achievement and innovation among CHCCS students persist at such a high level that it’s unfortunately too easy to take specific efforts for granted - “ah, another award, another recognition.” Yet many of the district’s students who step on national and international platforms are producing stellar, college or graduate level work that deserves the spotlight back home.
     
One such group recently returned from the annual iGEM Giant Jamboree competition in Boston. Seven students from East Chapel Hill High spent four packed days of learning and sharing, and they returned with an award for the Best Innovation in Measurement, and a nomination for the Best Poster Award. All this in addition to being one of only 44 high school teams internationally who made the cut to compete at iGEM this year.
     
The International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, with an emphasis on open community and collaboration. Teams of high school and college students choose projects that seek to improve global conditions with research and genetic engineering.
      
Organized and energized by junior Cecilia (Chae Hyun) Lee, the team from East came together last year, intent on developing a research project long before they decided on the area of focus. Lee had participated on an iGEM team when she lived in San Diego, and she missed the organization’s influence in her life. So she decided to create a team at East. The other students are Karlie Tong, Maddie Lorie, Amy Westerhoff, Lindsey Yan, Ananth Murthy and Nancy Liu.
      
They recognized that they couldn’t form a research club without securing a teacher to sponsor them. When they asked engineering instructor Bill Vincent about sponsoring their work, they received a qualified YES. “I could tell they were very inspired so I agreed to be their sponsor, but I explained that I could provide them a space to meet, supervision, and minimal guidance,” Vincent said. “As it turned out, this was all they needed. They took the proverbial ball and ran with it.”
       
The students to decided to seek a mentor at the university level. They found Dr. Joseph Harrison, a fellow at the UNC Lineberger Center. “Recently, I had been interested in finding ways to spread my enthusiasm for science outside of the lab setting, and connect with members of the public,” Harrison said. “I thought working with high schoolers would be a fun way to achieve this goal."
      
During the students’ first meeting with Dr. Harrison, they tossed around various ideas for subjects. Club founder Lee said, “Unfortunately, none of us really knew what genetic engineering was (since I was on the human practices team on my previous iGEM team), so we worked together to learn from scratch with Dr. Harrison! We came up with our project mostly because we were inspired by the incident in Chapel Hill earlier this year when there was an over-fluoridation in our water systems, and the water supply had to be temporarily shut down. It got us to think about how developing areas would deal with a similar situation.”
     
Dr. Harrison noted that when he began working with the East students, his expectations for what high school students had been taught were sometimes off the mark. “I have been doing research for over 10 years and it’s easy to forget certain challenges that beginners in the lab face, like using a multichannel pipette. But it was really rewarding seeing the team master some of these techniques over the summer and even make a video to show others how to use these techniques."
      
The final project embraces the potential for real impact in parts of the developing world. As the team’s project description states, “(we) seek to develop the fluoride riboswitch, a strand of mRNA that can bind to fluoride and regulate the expression of downstream genes, as a technology to combat fluoride contamination in water. We developed a system where the fluoride riboswitch controls the expression of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase, allowing bacteria to grow on the antibiotic chloramphenicol in the presence of fluoride. We will use this operon to screen and select riboswitches with higher responsiveness to fluoride.” The team envisions being able to use engineered fluoride riboswitch systems as tools to sequester, bioremediate, or detect fluoride in a cost-effective manner.
     
"We actually developed a really valuable screening methodology that has many applications,” said Dr. Harrison. “We are currently trying to spread the word about our system and try to get it in the hands of researchers studying riboswitches that would benefit from using it. What we have already developed could be used to test for toxic levels of fluoride in water, but we hope to continue to develop our project to have a better readout and provide more quantitative results."
      
Throughout the fall, the team members worked on the set of deliverables for the Jamboree:  the formal presentation itself, a wiki and the poster. They also needed to raise funds for the expensive trip and entrance fee to the competition, but it all came together in time to travel to Boston - and earn recognition.
     
Patty Berge, biomedical sciences teacher at East, said, “More important than their intelligence and knowledge content is (the students’) dogged determination, motivation, and perseverance to achieve and impact their community positively. These kids overwhelmingly impressed me and I am so proud of their achievements!!”
     
Lee said, “The Giant Jamboree was truly a unique experience where we got to celebrate our year’s worth of research - from brainstorming to the presentation.”
     
“iGEM provided me with invaluable tools in the areas of collaboration, team work, time management, and public speaking,” said team member Maddie Lorie.
      
The entire experience served the team with the kinds of exposure and skills-building that would be tough to replicate outside of the iGEM process. "I truly felt that I was making a global impact,” said Karlie Tong. “This experience brought me closer to my team as we fundraised passionately to get to Boston - and opened my eyes to the dilemma of water fluoridation in developing countries. We aren’t done yet either.”
      
The team hopes to publish its research eventually, but for now, they’re simply focused on making up all of the school work they’ve missed in recent weeks.
      
Congratulations!
      
To learn more about iGEM, visit http://2017.igem.org/Main_Page
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How Are We Thankful Throughout the School Year?


This is the time of year when people across America ask themselves, “What am I thankful for?” and reflect and share those answers with others.  So when I ask myself that question, do I answer as a superintendent?  As an educator?  As a parent?  As a member of the community?  Would my answer differ or would it be the same? 

Of course, I am thankful to be a part CHCCS and its community.  Every day I continue to learn.  As someone new to the area, I’ve been thankful for the enthusiastic welcome I’ve received since I arrived; however, what I’m about to say isn’t probably what most people expect, although it’s nonetheless true:  I’m thankful for all the challenges CHCCS has put in front of me, as a life without challenge is stagnant and doesn’t allow one to grow.  How CHCCS faces each challenge sets the tone.

We are currently working on constructing the Strategic Plan for 2018-21.  I have spent the past few months meeting with students, staff, parents and community members, listening to what their vision of CHCCS is and should be.  I’ve heard about all the wonderful things going on in classrooms across our district, areas where we need to work harder, as well as other places where we need to improve some things in which we’ve been failing.  Our up-coming Strategic Plan will set the tone for innovation and education that affects our 12,000 students and 2,300 educators.

How our students learn is as important as what they learn, which is why I challenged our educators to make this year about fun, taking risks, and encouragement.  As a superintendent, educator, parent and community member, I know when a classroom has these three things, everyone is learning.  Ideas are sparked, students retain their knowledge at a higher rate and teachers have a better understanding of their students and their craft - everything we want to happen – every day – in every classroom.

All of the challenges CHCCS faces over the next three years, thirteen years and thirty years will be overcome as long as we continue to address them as a community, as long as we encourage our staff and students, as long as we take a risk and have fun each day in our schools.

Maybe we could flip the way we look at what we are thankful for and reexamine how we look at challenges.  And be thankful for our challenges and what they teach us.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Three State Championship Teams

For our student-athletes, the school year begins long before the first class bell ever rings in August. The sweating, the training, the fatigue, the soreness...in some cases is a year-round challenge.

All of this work, all of these athletes - but just one common goal...a state championship.

The 2017-18 athletics year is off to a great start as three Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools high school teams accomplished that goal during the Fall sports season. 

Congratulations to the Chapel Hill High Women's Cross Country and Men's Soccer teams, along with the Carrboro High Volleyball team - all brought home state championships. 

"Due to their hard work and determination, these student-athletes won the ultimate prize of a sports season, a NCHSAA State Championship," said CHCCS Director of Athletics Scarlett Steinert. "We are so happy for their success throughout the season. It will create memories that last a lifetime."

Our student-athletes work diligently to maintain good grades, keep in playing shape, constantly learn and improve skills and strategies, and juggle a very busy schedule. They are to be commended for their hard work, focus and dedication to excellence. 

Our coaches are amazing individuals who have the ability to motivate and encourage our student-athletes, while helping them strike an appropriate life balance.

The families of these champions also deserve our gratitude. They make significant sacrifices during the season, and in many cases throughout the year. 


Thank you and congratulations to everyone who helped to make these dreams a reality!





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Friday, November 17, 2017

Chapel Hill High CTE Student Competes in Abu Dhabi

In mid-October, when many seniors were losing sleep as the panic over college application deadlines took hold, one Chapel Hill High senior was spending eight hour days at a computer in Abu Dhabi, competing as a web designer at WorldSkills2017. “It was kind of a problem,” Riley Johnson said about the inconvenient timing of his trip to the Middle East. Then he shrugged and smiled. Riley is a remarkably humble young man, and it’s unlikely he will ever be the one to report the extraordinary achievements he has already garnered in the web development and design field.
    
Johnson was in grade school when he discovered an old textbook on JavaScript, and his passion for programming caught fire. His first job was programming bike routes for cycling clubs using Google’s mapping API. Then he began freelancing as a web developer and has since worked for Lenovo-- and he hasn’t even finished high school. “Riley has a seemingly endless thirst for knowledge and skill which is coupled with the desire to apply this learning to his immediate contexts,” said Garrison Reid, director of the Academy of Information Technology at Chapel Hill High School. Other than the exceptional mentoring and instruction Johnson has received from Reid, he was completely self-taught until he reached the SkillsUSA competition in web design where he won the gold medal.
    
Kathi Breweur, director of Career and Technical Education at CHCCS, said “His maturity and skills have impressed me from the first day I met him. He used his skills to create a fire drill app the Chapel Hill High staff members are currently using. The CTE department is very proud of Riley.”
     
WorldSkills is a biennial event that’s like a vocational skills olympics: hundreds of young people ages 18-23 from nearly 80 countries compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in numerous categories. This year, 11 members from SkillsUSA traveled to Abu Dhabi to test their expertise in areas that include Automobile Technology, Bricklaying, Patisserie and Confectionery, Print Media Technology and Web Design. Johnson was the only high school student to make the American team. He said some web design contestants from around the world had been training with coaches for more than a year to prepare for Abu Dhabi; some were already working on their master’s degrees. Some of the national teams employ psychologists to support the stresses of preparation.
     
When Johnson won the SkillsUSA gold medal and was chosen to continue on to WorldSkills17, he began his intensive preparation in March. He spent much of the summer with professionals in the industry to learn specific skills required to compete successfully at the conference. Into the fall, Johnson worked outside of school on projects assigned and reviewed by the team of coaches.
      
The format of four consecutive days of competition in Abu Dhabi might have occasionally left him wishing he could just work on college applications like his high school peers. Each morning, he sat at his assigned computer station, in the midst of a crowded convention center. Each of the 35 web design contestants learned that day’s challenge at 9:00 and then had eight hours to complete each assignment - all in public view, with people streaming by, or stopping to watch. “It was a little terrifying,” Johnson said.
      
Although none of the 11 American contestants earned a medal, the experience was clearly instructive in many ways. Johnson learned what it’s like to compete on an international stage, and his many medals along the way to Abu Dhabi distinguish him from multitudes of young web designers.
      
Now that Johnson is back at Chapel Hill High, he’s looking toward college - where he hopes to study computer engineering and economics. He’s exploring ideas for financial technology apps. Of course, that’s just the beginning. While he’s still in high school, he continues to make a powerful impression on his teachers and peers. Garrison Reid said, “To his peers, he motivates them in pushing their internal competitive drive to succeed at state conferences. To me, as a technology teacher, he shows that dedication and passion for the concepts and tools taught in our courses can accomplish great things outside the classroom. As the SkillsUSA chapter advisor at CHHS, it's an incredible honor to have students this passionate in trade and industry concepts, and experiencing success at the state, national and world competition levels.”
      
Although Johnson doesn’t know where he’ll end up studying after graduation, he smiled when he said, “I want to help train the next web designer competing from Chapel Hill High.”


To read more about WorldSkills2017: https://www.worldskills.org/what/competitions/wsc2017/
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Overview of CHCCS Facility Needs


Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese will provide an overview of the district's facility needs, financial challenges with our two bond funded projects (Lincoln Center and Chapel Hill High School), and long term capital needs on Monday, November 27 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Chapel Hill High in Hanes Auditorium (1709 High School Road).  Time will be provided for questions and answers. 

We expect to have a majority of our Board members in attendance. In accordance with open records law, this note will serve as public posting. 
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Reality of Money


How many adults wish they could have learned about the reality of money, before they set forth into the world (or as Millennials say, before they began adulting)?
     
With guidance and resources from the local State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU), many parents, a team of teachers and support staff, and all of the eighth graders at McDougle Middle School recently experienced a crash course in personal finance. Maybe a little scary, but judging from the students’ evaluations, the event was also extremely valuable-- and fun.
     
The Reality of Money is a community outreach program created by SECU and offered to schools (grades 8-12) as a collaborative learning experience on financial literacy. Phillips Middle School has hosted this event the past three years, but this was the first time for McDougle Middle. The entire 8th grade class, approximately 200 students, participated in groups of 65 during the three sessions throughout the day.
     
In the media center, stations with pairs of parent volunteers were set up at tables: housing, healthcare/insurance, childcare, entertainment, and credit cards among others. First they received random profiles which gave details about their occupation, education level, family situation and monthly salary. As SECU’s Erin Roache said, “They then go through the same decision making process that we, as adults, go through every day.”
    
As students figured out their profiles, they compared information, laughing and shrieking, though at some points while circulating around the media center, some of them reflected stress and frustration. “I’m out of money,” rang out from station to station. One student said, “Things cost a lot more than I thought!”
     
Besides the categories of family and personal expenses, a wildcard element called “Stuff Happens” precipitated fear and amusement among students, as assistant principal Chassity Coston roamed around the stations, handing out cards. Surprise expenditures included buying a wedding present, buying $20 on Halloween candy, breaking a tooth and deciding on a dental treatment. Some cards yielded surprise bonuses, but most produced negative impacts on budgets. Coston said that students were running away from her, once their funds began to disappear.
      
Roache from SECU said, “The goals of the activity are to teach students to live within, or below, their means, to learn that credit can affect their way of living, that furthering your education beyond high school is important to a successful future, and that learning how to manage money now will help them avoid many financial pitfalls.”
     
As Robin Gallaher, District Career Development Coordinator for CTE said, “The 8th grade students learned financial information that many adults do not apply in their own lives.”
    
Nearly three dozen parents volunteered to cover stations, some for an hour or two, others for the full school day. Sarah Morales, 8th grade counselor, said, “Volunteer recruitment is key--we started early and enlisted the PTA's help.” The school provided lunch for volunteers, and a time to debrief, before gearing up for the afternoon sessions. “The volunteers had really positive feedback about their role in the program, too!”said Morales.
     
“A hundred lectures on budgeting wouldn't have as much impact on students as the experience of having to re-think their spending as their monthly balance dwindled away to nothing,” said Mellicent Blythe, parent of 8th grader Will Blythe.  “They also saw in really concrete terms how their education level and credit score can make things so much harder or easier for them down the road. I wish I had something like it when I was in school!”
     
What were the students’ reactions to the Reality of Money? Consider some of their responses to the question about what they learned: “I should definitely get insurance,” “Having two kids is really expensive and you never want to have bad credit,” “It’s hard to make decisions about money,” and “You can’t get everything you want.” One student who clearly had encountered assistant principal Coston with her Stuff Happens cards said, “You have to prepare for the unexpected.”
     
Several students reflected on how they now understand more about their parents’ responsibilities and concerns. One wrote, “I learned how to appreciate my parents”-- another, “Money is important and my parents sacrifice a lot.”
    
Eighth grade students, parents and teachers at Phillips Middle School will reprise this event in February.
   

“SECU relishes outreach opportunities like these as they help to foster relationships within the very communities we serve daily in our operations,” said Charles Robinson, the senior financial services officer who represented the organization at McDougle last month.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Signing Day

The period for student-athletes to sign national letters of intent with colleges and universities opened last week, and CHCCS had a sizable number of students announce their school plans.

We want to congratulate all of our student-athletes, their families and coaches.


Carrboro High
Destiny Cox - Volleyball - University of North Carolina
Jadin Dewith - Softball - Florida Southern
Jacob Steinert - Golf - Lewis University


Chapel Hill High
Thomas Bretzman - Swimming - University of North Carolina
Bryn Davis - Field Hockey - Wake Forest University
Katherine Dokholyan - Cross Country - Brown University
Gina Kim - Golf - Duke University
Bailey Rose - Volleyball  - Belmont Abbey
Jake Smith - Baseball - UNC-Wilmington
Anna Stouffer - Cross Country - Johns Hopkins University
Shannon Wulff - Lacrosse - Wofford College
Ines Yofres - Field Hockey - Appalachian State University


East Chapel Hill High
Sasha Bull - Field Hockey - Syracuse University
Olivia Kayye - Swimming - Pepperdine University
Sivi Kizinga - Track - Catawba College
Nathan Norfleet - Golf - Furman University
Sophie Perez - Swim - Duquesne University
Connor Sept - Swimming - Lehigh University
Alyssa Wang - Diving - Indiana University
Grace Vincent - Softball - Fayetteville State University
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Monday, November 13, 2017

Thanksgiving Holiday, Nov. 22-24 / Festivos de Acción de Gracias, 22-24 de noviembre

Thanksgiving Holiday, Nov. 22-24
The CHCCS Thanksgiving Holiday for 2017-18 is Wednesday through Friday, November 22-24. Schools and district offices will be closed all three days. Schools will resume as usual and district offices will be open on Monday, November 27.

Festivos de Acción de Gracias, 22-24 de noviembre
Los días festivos de Acción de Gracias de CHCCS para el 2017-18 son del miércoles al viernes, 22-24 de noviembre.  Las escuelas y las oficinas del distrito estarán cerradas estos tres días. Las escuelas y oficinas volverán a abrir sus puertas el lunes, 27 de noviembre.


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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seawell Student Inspires Others in Her Published Book

A few years ago, Seawell Elementary School student Paige Sullivan was happily attending school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, spending lots of time with extended family and lifelong friends, involved in gymnastics and other activities. But several times a year, she and her parents made the two hour trip to Duke Hospital, where she was receiving expert care from a pediatric cardiology team. Paige was born with an extremely rare condition, anomalous origin of the left artery, and she, her family and her doctors all knew that she would eventually need open heart surgery to repair the defect. Until the doctors decided she was old and strong enough to undergo the surgery, she lived in danger of going into cardiac arrest.

In August 2015, Paige’s family moved to Chapel Hill in order to be closer to the medical team at Duke, and she enrolled at Seawell. The first weeks were very hard for Paige; she missed her friends and relatives in Kannapolis, and she felt shy and anxious about her new school and the looming surgery. Frequent nightmares and difficulties getting up and out of the house many days made the transition even more challenging. “I was scared,” Paige said in the matter-of-fact tone she uses when discussing her ordeal.

Paige’s parents worked hard to ease the transition, and her mom Racine McCullough praised the team effort from the staff at Seawell who sought strategies to help Paige become comfortable in her new school. “Paige is an incredible girl!” said Marny Ruben, former principal at Seawell and now at the Hospital School. “She is a hard working, quiet soul that is wiser than her years - attentive and kind to her peers.”

As the June 2016 date for Paige’s surgery grew closer, her mother talked to her about her ability to embrace a superhero attitude. She sewed a bright red cape for Paige to take to the hospital. The medical team at Duke helped her understand each step of her care and stay in the hospital, and Paige kept a journal throughout that time. That journal became a book, Embrace Your Cape, designed to help other children calm their fears and answer questions about impending hospital experiences. It was published in February 2017.

Dr. Angelo Milazzo of Duke’s Pediatrics-Cardiology wrote in the foreword to the book, “To say that Paige faced her challenge like a superhero would be a significant understatement. She emerged from the operating room healed, and also transformed, her superpowers activated and in full bloom. For Paige, her future victories are sure to become the stuff of legends.”

The metaphor of embracing her cape has become the central image that Paige shared through her book as well as the organization The Heart of Paige. Each person who buys a book has an option to order a special superhero cape, but Paige and her mother also make many capes at home to donate to children who are undergoing any stressful experiences, not just health crises. Recently they provided over 100 capes to the Salvation Army in Charlotte. They’ll be making capes alongside volunteers in Raleigh on November 18 during Activate Good’s Family Volunteer Day: Craft for a Cause.

On Saturday November 11 at 10:30 a.m., Paige will be signing copies of Embrace Your Cape at the Barnes and Noble in New Hope Commons. Part of the proceeds will go to Seawell Elementary, as well as to the ongoing Cape campaign. One of Paige’s favorite sayings is “Team work makes the dream work,” and from all appearances, this young woman is just getting started with her dreams. Someday she hopes to train and practice as a heart surgeon but until then, she’ll continue sharing her mantra, “To be brave, be bold and believe… Embrace your cape.”  To learn more, visit Paige's website.



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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

CHCCS Now Owns Fire Truck

When the Chapel Hill Fire Department had trouble recruiting new firefighters, they teamed up with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to start the firefighting academy. The Fire Department took a monumental next step by donating a fire truck to the program Wednesday.

The conversation started almost a year and a half ago when Assistant Fire Chief Keith Porterfield noticed a trend.

“When Fire Chief Matt Sullivan and I came to work here back in the 80’s, everyone in the Fire Department and Police Department were from the local area,” Porterfield said. “Now, I’ve had a lot of difficulty recruiting local kids who want to be firefighters.”

Porterfield says a major component of this problem is there was not enough interaction between students and the Fire Department. This helped develop the idea behind the firefighting academy. Students enroll during their sophomore year and learn firefighting skills for the first two years.

“In the firefighting [academy], there’s 31 subjects that the students will take,” said firefighting academy teacher Perry Hall. “They do everything from personal protective equipment, to ladders, forcible injury, vehicle extraction and hose work just to name a few.”

After that, they have an opportunity to take additional classes to learn emergency medical technician skills and take the state exam to become a North Carolina certified medical technician. But there is another benefit for students who choose not to pursue a career in emergency care.

“Their courses articulate to Durham Technical Community College, so they’re already getting college credit for the high school courses they’re taking,” said Kathi Breweur, career and technical education director. “They’re already working on an associate’s degree.”

Traditional learning is still important, but students primarily gain real-life experience in the class. Hall says about 75 percent of the lessons require hands-on learning, which means having the proper equipment is crucial for the students’ success.

“Without the equipment that is required for it, which is pretty much the same that’s needed for an up-and-running fire department, we can’t do the skills and practicals that they are required to do through the state to become certified,” Hall said.

Not being able to become certified would undermine the core idea behind the class. The academy has received a plethora of donations of equipment but knew purchasing a firetruck was both necessary and expensive. Luckily, the Chapel Hill Fire Department had the solution.

“The [firetruck] belonged to our department,” Fire Chief Matt Sullivan said. “There were two firetrucks that were beyond their useful life and not worth a whole lot of money… We would have ended up selling the trucks for scrap metal value and to me, scrap metal has no benefit beyond what we are going to have from these two firetrucks and the use and development of our future fire service.”

Aside from the obvious direct pipeline for new firefighters, Chief Sullivan is hoping for an added benefit from the firefighting academy.

“It’s kind of like a mutual sharing of energy,” Sullivan said. “We can share information and experience with the students, but what I hope is the students can help keep our folks thinking about when they first got engaged in the fire service and maybe infuse some energy into our people.”

Chief Sullivan and Assistant Chief Porterfield hope to see at least half of the 10 students taking the class become career firefighters but recognize the career landscape might not change overnight.

“It’s like planting seeds,” Sullivan said. “We’ll probably see the results in five-six-seven years, but it’ll be well worth the process.”
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