Roadrunner Families, We will be holding our annual Veteran’s Day ceremony on Monday morning at 8:30 in the front of the school. All are invited to attend and we would like to extend a special invitation to all veterans and active military members in our extended Lee Family. We hope you will join us as our Roadrunners honor our veterans in this special event.
On Tuesday evening we will hold our monthly PTA Meeting at 7:00 pm. Childcare will be provided as we discuss a number of important topics, celebrate Teaching Assistant Appreciation Week and update everyone on the status of our four classroom addition. We will also share information about our annual Campus Camp Out, which is coming up on Friday, December 6th.
We will be holding our Roadie Work Day next Saturday, November 16th in the lead up to the Roadrunner Fun Run, which will take place on Friday, November 22nd. The Roadie Work Day will begin at 9:00 am and focus on a number of campus improvement projects like improving our trail to Waller Creek, repairing the chicken coop and preparing our track for the Fun Run. We hope to see you there!
In addition to the Fun Run, which raises important funds for our school, we currently have the Square 1 Art projects available for purchase. These student-created works are a great holiday gift and help support our fine arts program. You should have received examples of your Roadrunners artwork to review. Online orders for December delivery are due next Wednesday, Nov 13th.
This year we will be piloting a new approach to the annual Science Fair. Our new Celebration of Science is intended to draw on the variety of scientific interests of our Roadrunners. They will either participate in the traditional Science Fair or do a project on a scientific topic of their choosing. More information will be going home soon, but we wanted to let everyone know about this exciting new chapter in our focus on science at Russell Lee Elementary.
Lastly, we are excited to share this year’s first Installation of our “We Are Lee” series, brought to us by Clayton Maxwell. This edition focuses on two of our beloved teachers who exemplify the saying “Once a Roadrunner, always a Roadrunner”.
We Are Lee: So, if you could both tell me what’s your background at Lee? Ms. Nokes?
Ms. Nokes: I started Lee Elementary in 1985, in Ms. Profitt’s kindergarten class in the brand new kindergarten wing, and I stayed through sixth grade, and so I graduated in 1992 from Tom Shaughness and Joan Fisher’s sixth grade class.
Ms. Abrego: I know I graduated from sixth grade in 2000, because we had tee shirts made that had 2000, and of course it was such a big year because of the millennium. And I started in kindergarten in Ms. Stanfield’s class.
We Are Lee: Oh, wow. So you got to have a current teacher?
Ms. Abrego: Yes. I love saying that to my new students every year. It’s an immediate connection with so many of them, because so many of them had her either as their home room teacher or for Spanish, and so I’m like, “We’ve had the same kindergarten teacher. I know just what you have been through.”
We Are Lee: Did you have any of the current teachers, Ms. Nokes?
Ms. Nokes: I wonder if we’re down to zero, because Kasi Kennedy retired last year, and she was my art teacher, but I feel like she might’ve been the last one.
Ms. Abrego: When I was in kindergarten, it was the same kindergarten team that we have now. And then Kathy Thomas, currently a first grade teacher, is now my colleague. Shelly Cox was one of my teachers, and Shannon Sands and Julie Pearson. Well, Ms. Pearson for me, but now Julie Brown, Shannon and Julie were my sixth grade teachers.
We Are Lee: This community is very similar to when you were here.
Ms. Nokes: I had Ms. Abrego’s mother, Mrs. Lopez. Zulema Lopez was one of my teachers.
We are Lee: Wow, how long was your mother a teacher here, Ms. Abrego?
Ms. Abrego: She taught third grade at Lee for 29 years.
We are Lee: What are some of your clearest memories of being a student at Lee?
Ms. Abrego: For me it’s the programs. So I can still tell my kids for each program what my line was. So I say, “When you hear them say this line, that’s what I used to say” or, “When the Supremes, come on, I was a Supreme. My mother’s best friend made those dresses.” I’ve even see one of my mother’s old bridesmaid dresses in the Shakespeare program, the green dress.
We Are Lee: That’s remarkable.
Ms. Abrego: So definitely for me, I think the programs are so clear in my memory. In the Mexico program, I was the China Poblana, the Chinese girl from Puebla, with the hat dance. I was very excited to have that role.
Ms. Nokes: It’s a very special central role. And I remember in the Hawaii program we used to play the strumming harp, the lap harp. 2001 was the first year they did Celebrate Freedom, the 6th-grade program they started after 9-11. I think of it as one of the “new” programs because it started after I was a student here. I remember the dances Joy Riley taught us; she still subs, she was our PE coach. I also always remember the carnival.
We Are Lee: And what about some of the things that feel like institutions now, like Nifty Fifty (the second grade challenge to read 50 books) or the state song?.
Ms. Nokes: Okay. So there was a second-grade teacher, Ms. Skelton, and, for Nifty Fifty she hand made every single shirt, and she had a book of prints and patterns you could pick from, and she would hand puff paint your shirt for reaching your 50 books. I had that shirt until it just fell apart in the wash.
We Are Lee: She handmade each shirt?
Ms. Nokes: Yep, for every kid that reached their goal.
Ms. Abrego: Certain lessons stick with me. Mildred Mosley was one of my second grade teachers, and I guess we were learning about money, and we were given a certain amount of money and we had to go and figure out what we could buy from a shop she made in her class. That lesson stands out to me.
Ms. Abrego: My mother always did the president’s reports, so I feel like that was when I learned how to research. I researched John Adams. I was proud of that accomplishment. Learning how to research.
We Are Lee: Hearing you say the names of teachers I don’t know, makes me wonder, is it strange to have such a long-term perspective on our school? To have seen the comings and goings and retirings?
Ms. Nokes: For me, it was part of why I wanted to be a teacher. I saw the longevity of the career. It was actually in Ms. Abrego’s mom’s class, we did something about what you want to be when you grow up. I still have it. I was inspired by how everyone in this school had stayed here, ended their careers in this school, and that was my sense of what being a teacher was. It was a lifelong career, you were part of a community and you made a big difference. And so I wrote that down in third grade, and that was a very important part of who I wanted to be.
We Are Lee: You still have it?
Ms. Nokes: Yeah, I have it at home in a scrapbook. It was from Ms. Lopez’s class. It was just probably a simple assignment–thinking of your future, setting goals…
We are Lee: That is so cool you still have that.
Ms. Nokes: Probably just hard-headed. But it was very sentimental and I think … and then coming back here as a high school student to intern with all these teachers, Ms. Green was one of them, and Ms. Gonzales, and I helped out, but I felt like they were really consistent with how I remembered them as a child. They were still very serious about what they did, they were still very passionate about it, and I thought, “Oh, that wasn’t just my kid imagination that these people were enjoying their job.” They really are very passionate about it, and funny and interesting.
We Are Lee: That is something I’ve felt repetitively at this school, this kind of a deep admiration and fondness for the staff. But I want to get back to something you said about the longevity of the career. So you saw how people stick around, their dedication, and that was alluring for you?
Ms. Nokes: Right, which I know is contrary to what you read in the news, that people have three to five year spans of teaching careers, for whatever reason, but at this school that just didn’t seem to be the case. And so there’s a lot of pieces of the why of that, but at this school it was considered an honor to be in the profession, and it was treated like a professional position. When I started working here, it was pantyhose and dresses and it was very formal, which I appreciated as a new teacher, because it makes you seem like you know what you’re doing. Right? Until you really do and …
We Are Lee: So if I wear a pantyhose, I’ll feel like I know what I’m doing?
Ms. Nokes: There was an expectation that if you want to be treated like a professional, dress like a professional, and I liked that idea, that yeah, just because we’re on the floor picking up crayons doesn’t mean that we’re not doing something very, very important.
Ms. Abrego: And I think, as a student I always felt loved and cared for here, and as far as I know, I wanted to be a teacher too. And, of course, having a mom as a teacher–she loves Lee, that love runs deep, and she was so content here too. And I taught at another school for five years prior to Lee with a wonderful community, but there’s something special about Lee. So when that opportunity arose, when Kathy Zarkar retired, to have the chance to interview here. Because since everyone stays, there are not that many opportunities to get your foot in the door, it was really exciting to know that I could be a part of it.
We Are Lee: That’s right, you worked at Perez. I’ve appreciated hearing your perspective after having worked at another awesome public school.
Ms. Nokes: And I think the one thing that was interesting about my interview, because it was with the principal Mary Lou Clayton, but it was that so many of the interview questions were centered around community, like how do you feel about socializing with your colleagues?
Ms. Nokes: And then the first year, I really got a sense of how much the teachers show up for each other. You have a baby shower for the person on the staff having a baby, you have a luncheon with your colleagues, and I thought that that was such a special part of it, because it wasn’t just about coming in, clocking in, clocking out, it was celebrating each other and being there for the grieving pieces, too, and all the teachers still gather together. The retired teachers get together to see each other every month or more because they’re bonded through their Lee experience. It’s still a support system long after Lee.
We Are Lee: When you think about some of the harder challenging moments in this long trajectory, is there anything that pops to mind?
Ms. Nokes: I remember the year that we got a CD-rom and a TV in our sixth grade class, and Tom Shaughness could not figure out how to work it. So there’s that moment when you’re supposed to be teaching your children, and the technology fails and how frustrated he was. I had that moment the other day with these new screens and my computer, and how I was trying to find the right HDMI and I thought, “It’s the same story, just different tech.” I had a very respectful moment in my heart for Tom Shaughness for doing that for us and braving that new technology, because that’s what we are facing in the world. And the room where Mr. McIntyre is, that was our computer lab and we had like six Macintoshes, and we’d go in there and crowd around them and try to figure out how to use them, and the teachers were learning right alongside us. I feel that way sometimes with all the tech we have, and are asked to teach and use, and go so fast. And every year there’s something new, so the learning curve is always very high.
Ms. Abrego: And with all the changes going on with our programs, I think that Wren and I have this sentimental piece with it. I feel like they played a huge role in my life, in the sense that I pursued theater in high school. I was the president of the theater company at Bowie High School, I think all stemming from my experiences here at Lee.
We Are Lee: Wow, that’s cool that the programs had such an impact.
Ms. Abrego: And then when we talk about change, Lee is so much about tradition, but I think that it’s been wonderful for me as a teacher to understand what has been so important about those traditions. The skills that I got and the memories that I received from those programs can still be learned through a new program. So I was so happy to be a part of the new SEL program in first grade. So, even though it’s not the program that I took part in, our school is able to work together as the community we are now, and create something pretty magical for our first graders.
We Are Lee: And it’s a bumpy road figuring out that change, but seems like people are pulling together and making it happen.
Ms. Nokes: I agree with Celina, it’s nice to see that we’re still offering the same things to the students, and they’ll still walk away with public speaking skills, a sense of accomplishment as a collaborative group, the ability to face a fear of being out in front of an audience. All those things are still going to be accessible to them and we still get to perform in our beautiful auditorium, which is such a gift.
Ms. Nokes: So I think it’s made me more open minded to the change. I’ll still miss hearing a certain Hawaii song or seeing the little shaky rattles at the Thanksgiving program, but it’s nice to be a part of a growth mindset community that looks at change in positive ways.
We Are Lee: Any other powerful memories?
Ms. Abrego: I have a really clear memory of how proud I was when the head custodian at the time, Mr. Estrada, would let me help him change the letters on the marquee. He took pride in what he did and he helped all the teachers and all the kids and he set a good tone for the school.
Ms. Nokes: He was working here when I started and I just could not have done it without him and his team. And that was another part of the Lee family, you know, it was wasn’t just the teachers, it was all the staff.
We Are Lee: Ms. Nokes, did you have Bettie Mann, whom the kindergarten wing is now named for?
Ms. Nokes: I had Ms. Profitt. Bettie Mann was part of the really great kinder team, though—they brought in chickens and we would hatch eggs ’cause Ms. Profitt had a farm and they would cook with us. It was just very down to earth.
Ms. Abrego: Bettie Mann was a substitute when I was here. Even just as a substitute, you could feel her warmth.
Ms. Nokes: And then Ms. Edwards, who was in first grade. Did you ever have Ms. Edwards? She would take all of the kids and parents and teachers out to her lake house, pull us on boats, everyone’s invited. It was just this big first-grade throw down. Ms. Green’s class and Ms. Skelton’s class would come. We’d all go. Ms. Skelton was the one who made the puff paint tee shirts. And I remember Ms. Mosley in second grade, she was a stoic character. But she was also so loving. When she passed there a lot of people-staff, former students—they all came out for the service. She made an impact on them.
We Are Lee: We’re talking about the longevity of teachers here, and you said there’s probably multiple reasons. What are y’all’s hunches about those reasons?
Ms. Nokes: I think it’s the relationships. The teams work really well together. So you feel like you have a partner in your team, and the parents are beyond supportive.
Ms. Abrego: It is such a family here. Being a teacher anywhere is a challenge. It’s a lot of work. But I think when you’re with people that care so much about their job, I just think it helps– especially when so much gets done collaboratively.
Ms. Nokes: I feel like I could ask a teacher here for help and no matter what they’re doing I would get a yes.
Ms. Abrego: I feel that way when we get together for department meetings or when I’m sitting at lunch – there’s a sense that everyone is going to stay at Lee and so they invest in the relationships. They want to support each other.
Ms. Abrego: And I think there’s a lot of respect given to the teachers, both from parents and from administration. So I think as a professional, I feel that my administration knows that I’m going to do what’s required to hit all the standards that I need to teach. And having that respect is really important as well.
We Are Lee: I feel like the teachers here bring their best selves forward consistently. I’ve never seen a teacher be petty about things. Everyone seems, like you said, professional and good-humored and they bring their best selves to work. Not that you can’t be human.
Ms. Nokes: Oh yeah, we’re all human, for sure. Also when you are trying to celebrate a student or you need help with a student, the parents and the staff are all on board with you. And I think for a long time what really drew me to this school was that we were departmentalized. So that’s changed a lot and it’s been a big adjustment for me. But when we were departmentalized, the support I got from my teammates was that we all saw that same kid and so we could all say how is that going? Can we try this? And when you sat down with the parents, they had three teacher who cared about their child and wanted them to succeed. If that child’s succeeding, we all did it. If that child needs more support, we’re all going to do it. I am sad departmentalization has gone away because I don’t get to collaborate as much. That’s something that’s changed that I’ve gotten used to now. But a few years ago that was a hard, hard growth for me.
We Are Lee: I’m still thinking about that third grade your statement, Ms. Nokes, that you mentioned. The one you put in a scrap book. What did it say?
Ms. Nokes: It said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a teacher, and then a lawyer, then a mom and then a teacher again.” That was my order of operations.
We Are Lee: Wow. You knew a lot in third grade. And I think the thing that I’m coming away with is that this school went deep and stayed with you and is a big part of who you both are now.
Ms. Nokes: What I’m loving now is that we get to have a full time counselor and that was not the case when I was a student. But I think that Celina and I feel like we got that here before it was a thing, before there was a name for it. The teachers knew how to cultivate a learning environment that was safe and positive for all kids and make relationships with lots of different kinds of kids before there was even an SEL curriculum that we were asked to teach. So I feel like there were very positive role models in teachers here. I think that’s a nice continuum. I’m loving that we have a counselor now.
Ms. Abrego: I just know that I always felt cared for here, and I as a teacher, I’ve always felt that what’s most important to me is that my students know that I care about them. So I feel like all of the positive experiences that I had as a student here, I want to give to the students that I have now.
Ms. Nokes: I love to read and it was a struggle for me to read until after second grade, and then I just took off. I guess your mom’s class, Celina, was the first time that I could read independently and it was just, yeah, I fell in love.
We Are Lee: Have the demands of being a teacher changed?
Ms. Nokes: Dr. Mary Lou Clayton was both of our principals. She used to tell the teachers that they have to leave by four and they were not allowed to come up on the weekends. Your life is just as important as this Lee life here. ‘Cause when you’re here you’re 100%, so go home and be 100%. And I think that it’s not the fault of any administrator today. I think there are just a hundred more demands now than there ever were for those teachers. And so that’s a little less possible now to not work on the evening or weekends.
Ms. Abrego: Mary Lou was one of the very first visitors in the hospital when I was born. And I was born on Thanksgiving day, so she left her family because one of her teachers had a baby to come and visit me the day I was born. And when she walked into the hospital room, apparently my parents were just holding me and looking at me and she told them right away, “You have got to start talking to her, that’s how she’s going to learn.” So then they started talking.
We Are Lee: That’s wild. She was with you on your first day. So, yes, I guess that is a change. Teachers have more to do.
Ms. Nokes: We do. And that has nothing to do with Mary Lou Clayton or John Hewlett. It is a matter of the times and the demands and and it’s a lot of politics. I mean, you know what we have to do and how many hours do we have to do it? There’s a lot more expected of the students. And so that means there’s a lot more expected of us.
We Are Lee: Because of AISD’s regulations?
Ms. Nokes: And the national standards. And with testing and funding and all that, it’s just more stressful. I think that’s one thing I didn’t expect was the stress of meeting standards. I went to the diversity leadership program this summer and one of the things I appreciate is that we now understand more about who gets left behind and why they get left behind. And having that knowledge brings better understanding of how to teach and how to address those things. But it takes more work, you know, to identify kids that might fall behind or not make progress. It might be a kid who is at 95% every year, but how can we get them to a hundred? And those are things I doubt that they knew how to discuss before.
Ms. Nokes: And I’m really glad that our school prioritizes morning meetings because it does take away from academic curriculum, but it makes your classroom a better place. And I’ve learned so much more about how to help students learn through morning circles. You know, they’re hungry or they’re tired. Well maybe today’s not a good day for them to do whatever. But our morning circles help us come together as a class and I’m so glad that I can do that.
We Are Lee: What are some other things about teaching that have surprised you?
Ms. Abrego: My first three years at the other school were very, very challenging. My mother said I didn’t smile my entire first year of teaching. I was surprised by how hard it was. But I gave it my all.
Ms. Nokes: I found the things that I knew I’d love at teaching– like reading a good book to a class of students—they never get old. I read that book today, Ralph Tells a Story. I just laughed and they laughed and we enjoyed it– that never gets old for me. I’m going to be that little old lady wandering into libraries, just reading to strangers.
We Are Lee: It’s so nice to read together.
Ms. Abrego: It’s one of our favorite times of the day too. Right now we’re reading Toys Go Out and the kids love it – and then we go straight to lunch. So then in the lunch line they all want to talk about the book, “I wonder what’s going to happen?” Those things never get old. The light bulb moment with kids when they figure something out. I never happy cried until I became a teacher. And then every time a kid has one of those moments – it just comes bursting out of my face because it is a remarkable thing to see someone learn something and feel it and know it. It’s incredible.
We Are Lee: It makes you happy cry?
Ms. Nokes: Oh, I always happy cry over stuff like that. The reading, the math, the things they didn’t think they could do but then they figure it out. That’s incredible.
We Are Lee: Yeah, that must feel really good.
Ms. Nokes: I had a kid today write a story who I swear has never written a story before and he was so proud of it; and it was because of Ralph Tells a Story–he was inspired. Ralph has nothing to write about in the beginning, but then he figures it out. It was a real happy cry moment.
Have a wonderful weekend,
John Hewlett Principal – Russell Lee Elementary School 512-414-1117 @LeeRoadrunners