RSSPortage Twp. Schools

The Importance of Grit

Today, more than ever, it is important that we teach our kids about the importance of resiliency, which relates to effort and the ability to persevere despite challenges or obstacles.

That’s true in school, but even more so in the real world where problems can be very complex. Unlike television, problems aren’t neatly solved in a 30 or 60 minute time frame. In real life, closure doesn’t necessarily come at the end of the show, end of a class period or end of a semester. Therefore, it’s critical that resiliency be developed, fostered and encouraged throughout the school years so that our kids have the skills in their lives once they complete school.

Carol Dweck has done considerable research on mind sets and the beliefs that children, as well as adults, hold about intelligence. She found that some people believe that intelligence is fixed, meaning that it is static and will remain the same throughout life. Conversely, others believe that with effort, intelligence can grow. In short, those with a fixed belief are concerned with ‘looking smart’ while those with a growth belief believe that the goal is to get smarter.

Those with a fixed belief think that no matter what they do, it won’t help them to get any better, so why bother trying. Ultimately, that affects their thinking and what they do. They tend to give up at the first sign of a challenge, in hopes that someone will come to the rescue and provide what’s needed. This is known as learned helplessness. Whereas, those with a growth belief know that if they persevere, despite temporary setbacks or momentary failures, they will succeed. Students need to have a growth belief, as there will, invariably, come a time when they will fail at something. That requires grit and resiliency.

There are several factors that foster resiliency. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to: Using good decision making, having caring relationships, high expectations, opportunities to participate and contribute, being assertive, having self-control, perceptiveness, independence, flexibility, a love for learning, self-motivation, competence, perseverance, creativity, and having a positive view of their personal future.

Most certainly, these factors are all important, but can they be taught? Yes. Resilience begins with beliefs. Our actions, words and behaviors project that message and can foster resiliency. It is the understanding that this is a process. As we successfully work through challenges, stress and adversity, we become increasingly resilient. It’s having the belief of a survivor, not a victim. A high percentage of people who come from high-risk environments achieve good outcomes.

Our responsibility as educators and adults is to teach our children that failure, albeit painful, is not necessarily a bad thing. The experiences from which we learn are often shaped from adversity. It is a reality of life, and as much as we would like to buffer our kids from painful experiences, we have a responsibility to prepare them for adulthood, not always attempting to remove all obstacles. Building resiliency is a critical life skill, and it requires OUR resiliency to develop that skill in our youth.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

April 13, 2014 12:00 am

Keeping schools safe

The Portage Township School system employs approximately 600 non-certified staff across the district.

These employees perform a myriad of behind-the-scene duties that make our schools a safe, secure and healthy learning environment for staff and students. As the Director of Support Personnel & Auxiliary Services, I feel privileged to lead a team of individuals so dedicated to the success of Portage Township students.

Two employee groups who work hand-in-hand to maintain our facilities and grounds are our maintenance and custodial services employees. This group ensures that 17 buildings, with more than 2 million square feet of interior space and approximately 275 acres of land, are cleaned, maintained and ready to service the needs of students and staff.

The maintenance department consists of a director, clerical support, skilled and semi-skilled workers, totaling 16 employees. This department handles the majority of major repair and maintenance to our buildings and grounds. The department keeps the plumbing, carpentry, electrical and HVAC systems functioning properly, as well as meeting the needs of the staff and students. They are also responsible for large area mowing and snow removal from all parking lots in the district. This department works with building and district level administrators in the development of our capital projects plan to ensure budgeting for the continuous updating of buildings and grounds.

The custodial services department consists of a director, clerical support, warehouse manager, building supervisors and three shifts of custodians totaling more than 100 employees. Their job is to clean classrooms, labs, offices, hallways, gyms, building exteriors, etc., as well as performing light maintenance duties. The custodial staff is also responsible for mowing around buildings and snow removal from sidewalks and walkways.

Building design, materials, maintenance and cleaning contribute greatly to our focus on student achievement. There have been several studies connecting the design, materials, lighting and cleanliness to the attitude and perception that students develop toward their schooling.

Furthermore, studies show that the development of strong, caring and supportive adult mentor relationships is a strong contributor to student achievement. It is clear that there is great value in having a strong, competent non-certified staff. Remember, that when a child leaves home in the morning to head to school they typically see a smile from their bus driver, a good morning at breakfast from a food service employee, clean and shiny hallways and bathrooms from the custodial staff, lighting and plumbing that is safe and sanitary from our maintenance staff and help and assistance from our clerical and support staffs.

These departments are staffed by outstanding people who contribute greatly to the academic achievement of students at Portage Township Schools.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

April 06, 2014 12:00 am

Rounding up future kindergarten students in Portage

Beginning kindergarten marks an important milestone in a child’s education. At Portage Township Schools, we want to help get your child off to a great start.

Kindergarten Round Up will be held Wednesday at local elementary schools. This will provide both parents and future students a chance to visit the school, and meet some of the staff that will be working with them in the upcoming year.

Information about the kindergarten program will be shared. Many of our schools will also be distributing a Bright Beginnings Backpack, which contains activities to help prepare your child for their upcoming school career.

While at the school, you will also be able to sign up for the Kindergarten Assessment on Aug. 12 and 13. During this assessment time, teachers will lead students in game-like activities that will give them an idea of what skills the child already has obtained in areas such as literacy and math. Having this valuable information prior to the start of the school year is helpful in several ways, providing teachers the opportunity to more accurately direct their instruction beginning on day one.

Plan to visit the school that day during the following times: 9:30-11 a.m., 1-2:30 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Children who are eligible for kindergarten are those who will be 5 years of age on or before Aug. 1.

Feel free to start the registration process online by going to and clicking on the START button. This process will require about 30 minutes, collecting the necessary information on your child. If you do not have a computer, you may complete the online process at the school in which your child will be attending, as there will be computer terminals set up and staff to assist you.

When you visit your local elementary school on April 2, bring the following information with you: The child’s board of health birth certificate, The child’s proof of immunization (board of health or physician verified), The child’s Social Security number (if available), custody/guardianship documentation (if applicable),

Two pieces of documentation from the following list: lease agreement, mortgage papers, driver's license or valid ID, NIPSCO bill, water or sewer bill, bill with home mailing address, home or cellphone bill, guardianship papers, affidavit of residency, Indiana Department of Education form I, II or III.

No fees will be collected until July.

If you are a parent of a child who will turn 5 years of age on Aug. 2 and before Sept.1, you may request a waiver of the state adopted kindergarten school entrance date. Requests for waivers will be accepted at each school until Monday, Aug. 4. Details for submitting waiver requests, or any other information regarding kindergarten enrollment, can be obtained from each elementary school office.

We look forward to meeting you and your child Wednesday as we begin this educational journey.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

March 30, 2014 12:00 am

Paul Saylor goes to the M.A.T.H. Bowl

Paul Saylor fifth- and fourth-graders competed last month in the Purdue University Indiana Academic M.A.T.H. Bowl at Portage High School. We competed with several surrounding schools including Kyle Elementary, Myers Elementary, Kouts, Morgan Township, Washington Township and the eight Valparaiso elementary schools, who have been participating in the M.A.T.H. Bowl for decades.

We are proud to have been the first Portage Elementary School to start competing in the M.A.T.H. Bowl, and we are happy that more Portage schools are getting involved. This was Paul Saylor’s sixth year competing.

We had a group of 16 fifth- and fourth-graders representing our school. These students were selected by their achievements on the ISTEP, high academic ability in the classroom and great behavior throughout the year. They worked very hard prior to the competition by attending after-school practices twice a week. During these practices, we taught and reviewed math skills ranging from fifth-grade standards to high school standards.

Preparation made the students think and use prior knowledge to help solve challenging questions. During some of the practices, we even simulated a competition environment by splitting the kids into teams and timing the questions. Preparing for the M.A.T.H. Bowl was a great enrichment opportunity for our high-achieving kids.

The M.A.T.H. Bowl competition consists of four rounds with eight questions in each round. During each round, three of our students go up to our team table to compete. Halfway through each round, there is an opportunity to bring in a substitute for one or more of the students. Each question is timed and the students work together to solve the problem. Every student has a calculator, paper and pencil.

The captain of the group turns in the answer once it is decided upon. After every question, the correct answer is given and the teams that answered correctly will raise their hands to signal to their other teammates that they earned a point. The points are added up at the end to determine the winner.

The eighth question in each round is used as a tie-breaker on the local and state levels. After all host sites around the state have held their local competitions, the scores are sent to the state and schools are ranked statewide. During the local competition you could hear a pin drop in a gym full of students, coaches, and parents. If you look around, you will see parents using their phones as calculators to see if even they can answer these challenging questions. Parents find out the answer to the age old question, “Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?”

The students made us proud with their maturity, both academically and behaviorally. Each year we continue to improve and we strive to keep improving in the future.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

March 23, 2014 12:00 am

Our own Olympics

Like most of you, I enjoy taking a break and watching the Olympics. Over the Winter Break, I began to pay attention to those “Thanks Mom” commercials.

It started me thinking about what makes a champion. The commercial at first made me notice how young the Olympians were when they started learning their sport. To me it appeared the children were maybe 4 or 5, much like our kindergarten and pre-school kids.

As I watched more and more of the commercials, I noticed how supportive the parents were of their children. They actively participated by making sure their child consistently arrived at the practice sessions and encouraged them even when they seemed to fail that day.

Isn’t that the beginning of all endeavors? We start young, learning what is appropriate for our age, encouraged and supported by our parents. This is the bones of the body, keeping you upright, yet not enough to make you reach your goal.

This is only part of the story. We need to look at what is in the heart of these young Olympians. Strip away the body and you will find a common set of inner qualities. There is perseverance. On how many of those commercials did you see a young child fall and get right back up and try?

Maybe you remember the one where the little boy is crying because he had been temporarily stopped from accomplishing what he wanted to do. This speaks to his desire. What about the overall courage that is manifested by the Olympians going beyond what they thought they could do? I look at what some of them do and marvel knowing I would never have the courage to do what I just witnessed them do.

To be the best of the best, you certainly have to have perseverance, desire and courage. But are these two components, the bones and the heart, enough to create the Olympians we watch in awe?

One more element is needed. It is the muscle that moves their bodies in such precision, beauty, and yes, automaticity. It comes from practice. Not the practice of, “I feel like doing this,” but the practice that you do even when you are tired and frustrated. It is the repeated practice to perfection so that no matter when they are asked to perform they are confident that it will be done successfully.

We may never have a student ever rise up to become an Olympian, but we are using these same qualities within our schools and home to create our own Olympians. Our Olympics are of the mind, not the body.

We start young, teaching what is appropriate, we support their efforts and encourage them along the way. We work with them to help them reach their goals and develop the heart of a learner, which requires the same characteristics of an Olympian, perseverance, desire, and courage. Finally, we provide practice so that the skills they learn become automatic, done with precision and yes, even beauty, for others to marvel at.

Just like the Olympian it takes all components to ensure success. It is the parents, staff, students and community members of Portage that make our children champions, able to do and become what their heart desires as they reach adulthood. It is marvelous and awe-inspiring to watch and be a part.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am

Believing in the schools

Creative. Innovative. Interesting. Thought provoking. Awe inspiring.

All terms that you would hope to describe your child’s classroom teacher. The Portage Township Education Foundation (PTEF) works tirelessly to cultivate and fund these attributes of our teachers so that they in turn are provided with the opportunity and support to create this type of environment for your children to learn in.

PTEF is a group of parents, educators, and business leaders who believe strongly in Portage Township Schools and who are willing to work towards raising grant monies so that teachers have the opportunity to expand the innovative delivery in their classrooms.

Through the grant process, the sub-committee looks for proposals that while curricular in nature, accelerate student achievement, demonstrate innovation, capture students’ interests, and foster hands-on, inter-disciplinary, experiential learning. Each year thousands of dollars are made available for teachers to fund their creative ideas by submitting to a grant process. Once an application is completed within the noted grant application window, the sub- committee will review, rate, and award grants to the most promising of ideas. Winners are notified and then the excitement begins for that teacher as they fulfill that proposal and provide more tools and/or experiences for their students.

Some quick examples of the innovations that have been provided through the PTEF grant process include:

Musical instrument petting zoo – where instruments are purchased, and presented to elementary students to explore and experience with the hopes of sparking an interest.

Early Childhood learning project – where books, training and food were provided to parents who had pre-K students and wanted to start their educational journey on the right path.

Open Heart Surgery video conference – where students were afforded the opportunity to watch and interact with a surgeon during an actual open heart surgery via a dedicated video feed.

Power of Image/Self Image – where students were provided with photography equipment and able to scour the community to capture images that were transformed into art projects to reflect thoughts and feelings.

These are just some of the many opportunities that students have been given that without the funding from the PTEF grant, may have never happened.

Each year PTEF co-sponsors a spring fundraiser with the Greater Portage Chamber of Commerce in which we petition local businesses and individuals to volunteer time and treasure for auction. This evening soiree provides the opportunity to not only financially back these innovations, but to network within your community and help raise awareness of these incredible educators and their ideas of how to take their classroom to the next level.

This year’s event is begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Oakwood Grand Hall in Woodland Park. Please consider attending and supporting this event and teacher innovation through the Portage Township Education Foundation. For more information or tickets, call (219) 764-6900.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

March 09, 2014 12:00 am

Supporting your student during the ISTEP process

It’s that time of year again! As we attempt to thaw out from the winter freeze, ISTEP review is in full swing at most Indiana schools.

ISTEP, or Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, is an annual test created by the Indiana Department of Education which measures students’ skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Some grade levels also test mastery of science and social studies concepts. Check with your student’s school to find out their specific ISTEP test dates.

The ISTEP is important in that it is one way to measure whether a student understands the concepts taught in the classroom, and where they may be struggling. The importance of the ISTEP test is stressed to students by teachers and administrators; however support from home is crucial in helping a child succeed on the exam.

During the academic year, there are several ways to support your child in a way that will help them succeed not just on the ISTEP test, but in his or her overall academic career. Encourage your children to take responsibility for their academic success by asking questions, completing homework, and doing their personal best on every assignment.

Parents also should have an open line of communication with teachers to discuss any concerns about a child’s academic performance. Praise your child for his or her successes in the classroom, while also supporting and encouraging them throughout their academic struggles.

On the day(s) of the test, be sure that your child is well-rested. Your child should go to bed at a reasonable hour and get a full night’s sleep. Take away electronics at least one hour before bed time to give the brain time to wind down before sleep and to remove distractions such a social media and text messaging.

Be sure that your child eats a nutritious breakfast, high in protein and low in sugar.

Test day would be an excellent occasion to make a special breakfast and sit down to discuss the ISTEP test with your student. Talk with your student about the importance of doing their personal best on the exam.

Discuss any fears or anxieties that your child may be feeling; open dialogue regarding these concerns will help clear your student’s mind and help them to focus on the task at hand. Stress the importance of being at school on the test days, and being on time to class.

After the test, review the results with your student. Talk about their successes and areas that need to be improved. Give your child praise for completing the test and doing their best, and remind them that the ISTEP test is only one way to measure what they know. Develop a plan with your student and his or her teachers to address academic areas of weakness and work toward improvement in the future.

You are your child’s first and most constant teacher, and your influence can mean more than you know. Imagine the opportunities, both academic and otherwise, that you can allow your student access to. During ISTEP season and beyond, let your student see your interest and enthusiasm for his or her learning.

Together, we can make a difference.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

March 02, 2014 12:00 am

Paraprofessionals make a difference in Portage Township Schools

Porter County Education Services, which provides special education services to students throughout Porter County, currently employs nearly 200 paraprofessionals, with over 30 paras working directly with students in Portage Township Schools.

Together, paraprofessionals and special education teachers form an instructional team to assist in meeting the varying educational goals of their students.

Paraprofessionals are responsible for a variety of different duties. While most paras provide academic supports to students by reinforcing instruction, there are many other daily responsibilities that go beyond the classroom. At times, paras assist students with self-help skills and increasing their independence in the school cafeteria and related arts courses. This time of year, you will also see paras spending a great deal of time helping students with zipping coats and correctly putting on gloves and boots.

Paraprofessional support is essential in providing students with meaningful life-skills and vocational experiences. Vocational activities frequently involve assisting students in the community: shopping, running errands, ordering meals in a restaurant, or checking books out from the library. Recreational activities, such as bowling, hiking, and swimming would not be possible without the support of the dedicated paraprofessional staff.

Paraprofessional support also allows students to attend public schools and participate in general education classes that they may not otherwise be able to find success in. They may assist physically handicapped students in maneuvering around the school building, supervising students with various medical needs, or teaching students to improve their study or organizational skills.

Effective paraprofessionals demonstrate a wide variety of skill sets when working with special needs students. It is critical that they are consistent and set high expectations to help students reach their full potential. They are creative and flexible, as no two days are the same. While working in the school setting provides daily challenges, our dedicated staff maintains a positive outlook and demonstrates a good sense of humor.

They must also possess good communication skills, as they are often the link between general education and special education staff.

For most positions, it is required that paraprofessionals meet Indiana’s standards of proficiency by either having earned a 2-year associates degree or 60 college credit hours. Individuals who have not met either of these two requirements must pass the ParaPro Test from the Praxis series. While individuals enter the field for a variety of different reasons, persons interested in the field of education will often secure a position as a paraprofessional either before enrolling or while concurrently enrolled in higher level educational programs.

Staff that have chosen this route have shared that their experiences as a paraprofessional have been invaluable as they have progressed through their college programming, both in providing real life experiences that apply to their coursework and in helping to determine the type of licensure they would like to pursue.

If you are interested in becoming a paraprofessional or a substitute paraprofessional, please visit the Human Resources/Finance section of the Porter County Education website at

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

February 23, 2014 12:00 am

What do I want to be when I grow up?

As parents, we all wish happiness and success for our children. Educators share these same goals for your families. Together, we form a powerful force. Have you ever asked your child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When they are young, their dreams and aspirations are limitless. “I want to be a teacher, a doctor, an astronaut, a professional football player.” They hear from us, “You can be anything you want to be.” There’s a catch, though. What does it take to become our ultimate selves? What skills must we possess? Are our childhood dreams going to provide for our future families? These are questions we, as parents and educators, must be prepared to answer as our children grow.

Kindergarten through 12th grade is 13 long years to a child, but in reality, the time moves quickly. Establishing a strong academic foundation during that time is paramount. In addition to that irreplaceable education is the need for career path knowledge. A quality parent/educator partnership will provide this foundation and knowledge.

Parents, know your children for who they are. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Be honest with yourselves and them. Encourage their dreams, but demand they work hard to achieve their goals. Talk to your children’s teachers, counselors and principals. Ask the difficult questions like, “What does it take to be that astronaut, and does my child have the skills necessary to achieve that career?”

Portage High School provides an amazing academic foundation that competes with the most renowned schools in Indiana. We also provide many college and career exploration opportunities. Portage High students can be certified in numerous fields from welding to culinary arts and cosmetology to automotive technology.

In addition to more than 30 vocational programs are the opportunities to secure college credits through dual-credit partnerships with Purdue, Indiana University, Vincennes University and Ivy Tech. Each year, students leave with college credits leading toward two- and four-year degrees as well as industry certifications that afford them a competitive edge when they are seeking employment.

My challenge to you is this: Become knowledgeable regarding workforce demands. Encourage your children to find a passion that meets these demands. Become familiar with educational opportunities at Portage High. Continually strengthen your parent/educator partnership by always being involved throughout your child’s schooling. Together, we can help your child become a successful, productive and happy adult.

February 16, 2014 12:00 am

Love is in the air in Portage

Love is truly in the air this week as Friday is Valentine’s Day. Anyone who says St. Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, they better check their sources. I believe most people that refer to this day as that, are unwilling to celebrate the day of love anyway.

Valentine’s Day has always been the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other by sending cards, candy, flowers or other tokens of affection.

The holiday is named after two men, both of whom were Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished and the earliest valentine dates from 1415 A.D.

Speaking of love, most of all you know that I love a Portage firefighter. For most of our 29 years together, Randy has either been a volunteer or a full-time firefighter. This man and countless others dedicate their lives to the protection and preservation of life and property, things that truly mean a lot to us all.

Over that amount of time you would think one would get used to a lifestyle that is much different than most people. Many times there are interrupted meals, holidays apart and stories of life-threatening experiences from the day before. Our children have grown up around pagers, fire alarms, red lights and sirens and vehicles that can do all kinds of seemingly miraculous things. We have a way of life that brings us to a strong sense of public service which accounts for the fact that many spouses are nurses, teachers, firefighters or even police officers as well.

Truth be told, though, with all the stress of this occupation, we also like to have a good time now and then and help people out at the same time. Yes, love is in the air Saturday and the public is invited to come celebrate at the annual Portage Firefighters Local 3151 Ball.

The ball will be held at 6 p.m. at Woodland Park's Sycamore Hall, 2100 Willowcreek Road. The cost is $50 per person which includes dinner by Topperz, open bar and dancing the night away with your sweetheart. There also will be a photo booth, raffles and more. For more information or reservations, please contact Pat Newell at

As always, the Portage Fire Department is committed to serving this community, not only through public service but through many volunteer functions and groups. Portage Rebuilding Together, Relay for Life, the annual Bike Rodeo and Safety Day, Shop with a Fireman and several college scholarships, given out to graduating Portage seniors, top the list of the many things they do for the community. The firefighters could not help out this great city without your support in their endeavors like the Firefighters Ball.

I’m extremely proud of our Fire Department and all it does in our community both on the clock and off. Please come on out and have a “ball” with the firefighters and help spread the love in Portage at the same time.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

February 12, 2014 12:00 am

Outstanding Young Man program continues

Portage High School takes enormous pride in sponsoring a unique concept in promoting the youth of our high school. The Portage High School Outstanding Young Man Scholarship Program, begun in 1991 through the vision and efforts of Joe Stevens, of the Portage High Thespians, and former auditorium director and master of ceremonies, was designed “to recognize the accomplishments of the young men who are seniors at PHS by giving them scholarships for the furtherance of their education after high school.”

On Feb. 8, 23 years after its beginning, the tradition in excellence of showing the many talents and good things our young men do and that these young men are positively involved in their school and community continues. Please plan to join us at 7:30 in the Portage High East auditorium for this fine program, the only one of its kind.

As in the past, this year 's 30-plus senior men are diverse in their accomplishments, interests, aspirations and backgrounds. They strive to uphold Portage Township Schools Five Critical Values of honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion and are a true reflection of all that is good in Portage Township and in our high school.

 Contestants will be judged by a judge's interview, academic achievement, presentation and address, a casual segment, and the always entertaining physical segment. Additional highlights will include showcasing musical and other talents by some of our contestants as well as by this year's Distinguished Young Woman Erin Lichnerowicz. Erin also choreographs and teaches the program's fitness routine and will lead representatives from last year's Distinguished Young Woman program in presenting the finalists with their awards.

Our 2013 OYM Eric Mesarch will take a break from his studies at Valparaiso University to join master of ceremonies Portage Police Chief Troy Williams as host of this year's program.

Eric is a paragon of OYM and its values. While a student at PHS, Eric was an Academic ACE, a stellar corner infielder for our varsity baseball team, co-founder of the popular Indians News Network and was its news anchor for three years, and he was awarded Academic All State Honors while on the baseball team.

At VU. Eric continues with his success as an honor student while majoring in civil engineering. He maintains a 4.0 grade point average and is on the dean's list. Eric also has a part-time job to help pay for college tuition. Eric's goals are to continue with his academic success and to attend graduate school to continue his studies in civil engineering.

This year, OYM's theme is Heroes. The program will award nearly $10,000 in academic scholarship money and gifts provided by Thespians and from the generous donations by many individuals, businesses and corporate sponsors. They are our program's heroes. This money is awarded solely for the purpose of furthering students' education after high school. The generous contributions have provided almost $200,000 in financial aid and gifts to dozens of our school's young men over the years.

Please know that the individuals in this growing fraternity of truly outstanding young men have proven to be a wise investment in our community and school. Their many successes in academics, in their personal and professional lives as leaders, volunteers, servicemen and as family men, many of whom are still actively involved in our area and community, personify what has become known as The Portage Way.

Please consider giving a contribution to help this excellent scholarship program to continue. You can do so by contacting Portage High or simply by attending our show. Call (219) 764-6126 for further information.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

January 26, 2014 12:00 am

Don’t forget to daydream

We have all heard a child say at one time, “When I grow up, I’m going to be…” This, in its simplest form, is daydreaming and at times becomes lost in our daily routines and commitments. Some may say daydreaming is not important or is a waste of time when in fact it is as valuable to our kids as sleeping and studying.

“Daydreaming has been found to be anything but counter-productive," Jessica Lahey, an educator and contributing writer to the New York Times, said. "It may just be the hidden wellspring of creativity and learning in the guise of idleness.”

One of the greatest qualities about daydreaming is that there is no age requirement! Unfortunately, as we get older, we lose track of time to daydream.

As a middle school parent and administrator, there are times when I forget to take time and daydream with my own children; to ensure they take a few minutes each day to share a highlight of the day, find solutions to challenges, and wonder about the possibilities of tomorrow. Lahey provides parents some suggestions to protect daydreaming with our children.

1. She suggests carving out just a few minutes each day to share thoughts, dreams and possibilities based on your child’s strengths.

2. Have your child put away the electronics and share their aspirations with you, or through journaling or drawing. Daydreaming taps into creative and imaginative skills that help solve problems.

3. Model the behavior of daydreaming by carving time out for you, too.

4. Teach your kids how to just be. How to value silence and be at peace with nothing but their thoughts to occupy them.

Daydreaming does more than create excitement about the future. It creatively forms goals and ideas and helps form them into reality. Daydreaming is fun and helps reduce stress because it focuses on the positive and highlights personal strengths. Amy Fries, author of Daydreams At Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers (Capital Books) says, "There's substantial research connecting daydreaming in children with creativity, healthy social adjustment and good performance at school."

Daydreaming conversations do not have to be overly complicated. Whether you and your child are in the car heading to a practice or event, sitting at the dinner table, before bed, or on the way to school, take a few minutes to ask your child three quick questions:

1. What was a highlight of the day?

2. What was a challenge you solved on your own or need someone to help you solve?

3. What are two positive possibilities tomorrow might bring?

As we develop plans, goals, and focus on the potential of 2014, find a place in the day to talk with your child, no matter their age, about their dreams of the future. Whether it is a kindergartener daydreaming of purple trees and blue suns like Dr. Seuss or exploring colleges and universities from around the world, take the time to share, learn and grow in the possibilities of what your child can offer the world. There are times when we have to remember to take a moment and remember that, “When I grow up, I want to be...”

To access Jessica Lahey’s article, go to

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

January 19, 2014 12:00 am

Talent is not enough

Talent can be found in many organizations, professions, and companies, but talent alone will not lead to success.

While talent is certainly a valuable attribute, it must be combined with an unrelenting will to succeed no matter how difficult the task. A positive attitude can be found in those organizations and it is this attitude that is necessary to achieve quality. In Portage Township Schools, there are many people in many different positions who have contributed to the success of our students. Although all of these individuals play a role, this article will focus on just one group – the teachers – because they are the ones who are in position each and every day to have the most impact with their students.

The profession of teaching is not for those without the desire to succeed. While talent is important, the challenge is to activate the talent so that students achieve the desired levels set by the state, federal and local levels. This can be seen through a teacher’s desire to press on, even though that teacher may face the most challenging circumstances.

Teachers are faced with the mission to advance learning to specific levels among a wide diversity of students. Teachers have to determine how to accelerate the learning of students who are below grade level expectations, and/or for those who have specific learning disabilities.

Portage Township Schools subscribes to differentiated instruction, which means that teachers also need to challenge the students who possess abilities higher than their grade level. In addition, teachers face situations of transiency when students enroll from other school districts where the expectations were far lower than those in Portage.

Instilling the importance of respect, in addition to other critical values, is another challenge that teachers face while teaching their students. Although teachers can pass on these values to their students, the values must be reinforced in their students’ everyday experiences. Often times, this process is not easy, and teachers have to find a way to motivate kids to promote respectful behavior. It is a daily challenge for teachers to prevent undesired behaviors from interfering with teaching and learning.

Finally, our teachers also face the challenge of managing their time. The actual “teaching” is only one part of their jobs. It is the preparation that goes into a lesson that few individuals recognize. Teachers could never survive in this profession if they only worked their contracted 7.5 hour per day. They would not be prepared for class, have time to assess student work, or have time to provide feedback for future lessons.

Passers-by will see cars in the school parking lots way before school starts and after school ends. In addition, it is unknown how much time teachers invest within the confines of their homes.

It is important for our community members to be reminded that our teachers also possess a perseverance and unrelenting will to serve their students, but that they go about their work quietly and behind closed doors. A desire to succeed applies to education, as well as any other organization or company, and it is the work and will of teachers that have a profound effect on the future of our community.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

January 05, 2014 12:00 am

It’s Ok to Make Mistakes

As the Dean of Students at Willowcreek Middle School I deal with a number of student issues on a daily basis. Many of those issues are behavioral issues in a classroom or in the hallway. My job is to help the students involved in those issues learn from their mistakes. I believe that every parent instructs their child to do their best and to behave appropriately while they are at school. Sometimes, the students make a mistake and that is when they come to my office.

It is ok for students to make mistakes. No one is perfect and there would not be a Dean of Students position if every student was perfect. The disconnect comes when students don’t understand why they were in trouble in the first place. If they do not understand that what they did was wrong and why it was wrong then I must explain it to them. Student discipline is not just saying you did something wrong here is your consequence, it is so much more. My goal is always to educate students so they do not make the same mistake again. If I can get the student to listen and help them understand why it was wrong, then most of the time they will not do it again. If I fail, then I will see that student again for the same thing next week or possibly the next day.

When a student enters my office I first ask them what happened and I listen. Some students make very compelling arguments for what they did and I think that is a part of the learning process as well. If you are thinking about doing something and you are struggling with whether or not you should do it, that is a good sign that the student is understanding and learning the Five Critical Values that we teach in our schools. Every day at Willowcreek we talk about the Five Critical Values: Be Honest, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Fair, and Be Compassionate. When I am speaking with students I refer to those values and ask students if what they did correlates to living a life with our Five Critical Values in mind. We live in a “right now” society, everything is spontaneous; we have the internet at our fingertips and technology has made everything happen in an instant. Our behavior happens in an instant but carries consequences with it. If I can get students to think of how their behavior affects others then hopefully their behavior will change.

Our middle schools are educating students in Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies; along with behavior and social skills. Our students’ behavior in school develops throughout their careers; it does not simply come from the parents. Certainly, parents are the first ones to instruct their children how to behave, but by the time these students reach middle school they have had several teachers and countless other adults that have affected their lives. Each adult that touches a child’s life has an impact on them. It is our job in the middle school to have a positive impact on the lives of our students and help them learn how to become responsible young adults.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

December 29, 2013 12:00 am

Who did you turn to for advice?

One of the most important factors effecting a young person’s development is the quality of relationships they experience with important adults in their lives. Children need caring positive relationships with healthy adults. Children and young adults need to know that there are adults in their lives that have a genuine interest in their likes, dislikes, activities, goals, and especially their concerns. If this is provided to a child and young adult by at least one consistent adult, they can succeed and soar out of the direst circumstances.

Who did you turn to for advice, comfort, and understanding when you were young? Was there an adult that you trusted, went to for advice, looked up to? If you can answer yes to either both or one of these questions, you probably understand how important having a relationship like that is to children and young people.

Recall that person who had a positive impact on you as a child or young adult. Most likely that person was a role model setting a positive example for you. Did this person have high expectations for you? Did they listen to you? Did that person guide you and direct you, not simply telling you what to do? Did you feel accountable to that person? Most importantly, did that person spend time with you?

Portage Township Schools is currently implementing the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. The Search Institute’s research shows that the more assets children and young people have, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. Other Adult Relationships is Asset 3 of Search Institute’s 40 assets. Other Adult Relationships includes the qualities, experiences, and relationships that help young people and children grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible individuals. According to research conducted by the Search Institute, young people who have three or more caring adults in their lives who support them feel happier, and more hopeful, do better in school, and are less likely to rely on drinking, smoking, or drugs to feel good or fit in.

Pay it forward! Build relationships! Make those connections! As parents, think about your child’s strengths, talents, and interests. Do you know any adults that share these same qualities? Invite them to make that connection with your child. Make an effort to interact positively with children and young people in your neighborhood and community on a regular basis. Consider being a mentor to one or more young people.

Children and young people need to feel that they are being listened to, that their feelings and opinions matter. Respecting their uniqueness, accepting them for who they truly are goes a long way in affirming a child and young adult’s self-worth. Recognizing their individual strengths, talents, and interests which are so important in helping them develop their eventual independence can be very powerful. Be patient, be flexible, and be dependable. Be genuine and keep your word by not making promises you can’t keep. Spend time having those meaningful conversations. Stick by them even through the difficult times. The rewards will be plentiful!

This holiday season connect with children and young people by taking the time to be together, listen to what is important to them, and thank them for their presence in your life.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

December 22, 2013 12:00 am

Community Service and the 5 Critical Values

A common reaction I get when I invite the students at Fegely Middle School to go out on a Friday afternoon and help me with Community Service is, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” Even at their relatively young age, they have learned to associate community service with punishment. To reverse this sentiment, we are working hard to help them realize a sense of pride in the community and that not only is it the right thing to do but you can have fun while doing it.

Each week, I randomly select a group of about 12 students to come out with me in the afternoon on a Friday. It is a diverse group of kids from the same grade made up of an equal number of boys and girls. It is nice to watch kids from different social circles come together and develop a sense of camaraderie while working together to complete our task. I reserve a mini bus from the bus barn and away we go.

Middle school is a critical time in the lives of our children (and often a trying time for us as parents!). Not only do they have the demands of a rigorous academic schedule, but they are also figuring out what is means to become an adult. They are at an age where they are developing the morals, attitudes and beliefs that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

To help them in this process, it is incumbent upon us as schools, parents and communities to not only help them with traditional academics, but also to help nurture and cultivate this transition into adulthood. To this end, Fegely stresses five critical values that serve as a reminder and a benchmark of the ideals we are striving to reach. These values are: Responsibility, Compassion, Fairness, Respectfulness, and Honesty.

Putting these critical values into action is the goal of our community service. Talking about these values is a good start, but it’s not enough. Kids need to experience it firsthand. They also need to see us as adults modeling these values so that it becomes something they want to do.

So far this year, while the weather had been nice, we have visited several of the local parks and searched the grounds for trash. But it’s not just all work. I make sure we have put aside some time for a little fun. The intent is to reverse the original thoughts they may have had about community service being a punishment and replace it with a sense of pride and the realization that it can be fun as well.

By far, the highlight of the season was our trip to South Haven Fire Department, where we helped the firefighters clean the station and wash the trucks. All the kids who went are begging to go back. In the future, not only will we continue to visit local parks, but we have planned visits to the retirement home as well. They should have a deeper understanding of the critical value Compassion after such a trip.

The community service initiative here at Fegely is designed to give real world experiences with the critical values of Compassion, responsibility, fairness, respectfulness, and honesty. Creating these experiences for them while modeling the desired behavior is an important step towards helping our kids become responsible adults.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

December 15, 2013 12:00 am

Stay healthy this holiday season

With the holiday season and winter upon us we are exposed to holiday cheer and, unfortunately, a variety of germs. Colds and flu as well as other ailments tend to get passed around as we are indoors with a variety of people and exposed to many public places. The stress of getting ready for the holidays can lower our immune systems.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family this winter season?

There are several preventative measures you can take to protect yourself and others. First, the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older. This vaccine covers the most common strains of influenza but it cannot protect you from the common cold or other possible strains of flu. Therefore other measures should be incorporated into your life. Everyday measures include hand washing, avoiding contact with sick people, and staying home from work or social events if not feeling well yourself. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. You should also always cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue. In your home or workplace frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected often.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help improve your immunity. Drinking plenty of fluid and eating nutritious food helps balance your system. It is difficult in the season of cookies and pie to do that but adding fresh fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks can offset that not so healthy food that we love. Adding a walk or other physical activity can make you feel more energetic and help lower stress.

Stress is a common factor during the holiday season and can lower our immune system. Take some time to de-stress. Watch a movie or listen to music that represents your holiday traditions. Scheduling a little time for yourself can make a huge difference. Simply getting plenty of sleep can lower your stress levels.

Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. Cold symptoms usually include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Flu symptoms tend to come on rapidly and include fever, chills, cough, headache and moderate to severe body aches and tiredness. Many people stay home and treat themselves if their symptoms are mild but if your symptoms are uncomfortable or severe it is recommended that people see their doctor. There are some medications that can ease symptoms. The CDC recommends that you or your child stay home at least 24 hours after a fever is gone except to get medical care. The fever should be gone without the use of medication that would reduce it. You may find more information about the flu and its prevention at

So as you work on completing that mile long to-do list remember to bundle up and drive safely as you make your way through the holidays and the winter months. Hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday season.

This column solely reflects the writer's opinion.

December 08, 2013 12:00 am

Girls on the Run

“Girls on the Run is so much fun!” said our Jones Elementary School Girls on the Run team.

Here at Jones Elementary School, we have been honored to be able to participate in the Girls on the Run program of Northwest Indiana. The Girls on the Run program was founded in 1996 by Molly Barker of North Carolina. This program is based on a “Whole Person Concept,” which focuses on equally developing the emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and physical parts of an individual to create a well-balanced, healthy person.

Girls on the Run incorporates girls in third through fifth grade, encouraging them to be positive, empowered young women through lessons and activities. The lessons focus on teaching the girls how to stand up for their beliefs, teaching positive self-talk, team building skills, bully prevention and many others. The program is set up to have the girls train for a 5K run while completing these lessons. This curriculum gives the girls a way to express and learn about themselves while having fun and feeling comfortable and confident around peers and adults.

This program is a great avenue for our girls to have a variety of their developmental assets met. As a district dedicated to developing these assets, the program is a perfect way to positively impact participants at a formative age. A caring school climate, adult role models, high expectations, interpersonal competence, personal power, self-esteem and sense of purpose are a few of the developmental assets that our girls receive through this program.

Our Jones Girls on the Run team comprises 20 girls in third, fourth and fifth grades, along with four coaches. Our girls have completed nine weeks of the program. Following are a few of the comments that our girls shared about their experience.

When asked what their favorite lesson has been, one fifth-grade girl said, “I liked the activity where we learned how to respond to others.” She explained how learning to “Stop, Listen, Breathe and Respond” was a great way to think about responses before giving them.

We also asked the girls how they were feeling about the upcoming 5K run. Here are some of their responses:

“I feel happy and excited! I liked running on the trail (practice 5K) and I can’t wait to do it again!”- fifth-grade girl.

“I feel like it will be easy because I practice a lot.” – fourth-grade student.

“I feel nervous. I have never done this (referring to the race) before.” - third-grade student.

Finally, we asked the girls to tell us one thing that they learned from girls on the run. These were the most rewarding responses to hear.

“Being confident and positive about yourself is a great thing to do…” - fourth-grade student.

“I learned that I like certain things, but I don’t like other things. I realized I love being around my friends and reading.” - fifth-grade student.

“I learned how to treat my body and how to respond to others without hurting their feelings.” - fifth-grade student.

The program finished its fall season with a 5K run in LaPorte on Nov. 9. Jones Elementary plans on having a Girls on the Run session in the spring, beginning in March.

December 01, 2013 12:00 am

Healthy boundaries necessary when children use technology

Portage Township Schools and the Portage community are committed to encouraging positive, healthy, life practices in children.

These practices, also known as Developmental Assets, include a number of strategies for providing students with healthy boundaries within the community, the school, and the family. Unfortunately, the availability of technology in our culture today makes maintaining these boundaries a significant challenge for all of us.

Many children have computers, tablets, smart phones, or laptops at home, and even for students without access at home, these devices are available at school, friends’ homes, Boys & Girls Clubs, libraries, and many other areas in the community. This makes managing healthy boundaries extremely difficult for parents and educators alike.

How and when children should be allowed to use technology can be a difficult decision for parents and educators especially when we may have become increasingly dependent on technology ourselves. At Portage Township Schools, we are committed to providing our students with a safe and enjoyable experience with technology and strive to help them learn when technology is appropriate to use in our learning environment as well as when technology should be set aside.

Some ideas for helping children learn appropriate boundaries with technology:

Talk with your child about how they use technology in school, at home, and with their friends.

Have conversations with your child about proper behavior online.

Have one or more “no electronics” times during the day such as during meals or homework time.

Collect all electronic devices at bed time to restrict access during the night.

Turn off your Wi-Fi or your Internet connection at a specific time in the evening and back on again in the morning.

Change your home Wi-Fi password daily and require your children to finish their chores in order to “earn” the password.

Require your child to “friend” or invite you to participate in their online activities.

Require your child to give you all logins and passwords to their electronic devices and their online accounts. Check up on them occasionally to make sure they’re using the technology appropriately.

Most important, however, is the need for parents and educators to model appropriate technology use in front of children. We need to put our devices away during appropriate times, ignore our texts, notifications or status updates during family times like dinner or game time or during class time. We need to be open with our children and students with how we utilize social media and how we behave online towards our peers.

These practices become even more important in light of the recent suicide of a student in Florida thought to have been initiated by cyber-bullying. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Cyberbullying Research Center, 52 percent of students have reported being cyber-bullied and the majority of these students do not tell their parents when cyber-bullying occurs. By talking with your child about their technology use, monitoring their use, and paying attention to their conversations online we can not only help protect our children from cyber-bullying and abuse but can also quickly identify if our children are bullying other children online. Technology is a permanent part of our lives, how we react to it however, remains up to us.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

November 24, 2013 12:00 am
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