Innovation at BBS - Part 2 - Languages and Culture

In our last post, I mentioned that it was the first in a two-part series looking at the thought of innovation at Brainerd Baptist School. I talked about the culture of innovation that we have worked hard to create. If done correctly, I believe this type of culture encourages our faculty to be risk takers and try new things. Many of the innovative things we do that make our program unique have come from teachers in our building. The expectation for our faculty is that they are life-long learners who are constantly working to become better teachers. We want them to try new experiences and techniques. The blog post below is another example. We utilize an “exposure” model and strongly believe that our students benefit from being exposed to many different types of learning in various subjects. I am really excited about what we are offering our students this year in foreign language. Baylor School does something similar to this in their middle school and I have always thought it was great for students. In the post below, our Spanish teacher April Connell explains the fun things we are doing with our students this year.

The BBS Language and Cultures class
April Connell

This year, BBS 4th & 5th grade students will begin a new journey in their language classes. Instead of remaining focused on only one language (Spanish) throughout the year, students will now have the opportunity to discover three additional languages and their cultures. After researching many of the local middle and high school language offerings, Ms. Connell gathered a list of the most common ones that BBS graduates would have the option to choose from at their future schools. By exposing the students to an array of choices, they will leave BBS, not only better prepared to make their language selections in middle school, but also with a greater understanding of the world around them.

There will be four different languages and cultures taught this year, following the school’s quarter system. These are (in order): Spanish, Latin, Chinese (Mandarin), and German. Each year, the fourth quarter offering will flip-flop between German and French, allowing fourth grade students the opportunity to experience a taste of both before graduating. Basic vocabulary, most common phrases, and correct pronunciation will be explained and practiced. Geography, including map studies and virtual travels using Google maps will be employed. Cultural highlights, including holidays, traditions, and pop culture will be explored, along with studying a brief history of the language’s origin and of the people who speak it. Students will create or experience a form of art, both literarily and thru a hands-on activity, that relates to each culture. They will also have the opportunity to try a “taste” of the different cultures with various samplings of popular foods associated with each unit.  All five senses will truly be engaged! 

The students have already shown great enthusiasm towards this new and exciting class, and Ms. Connell is anticipating a unique and fun year ahead. This creative approach to learning is just another way that Brainerd Baptist School is expanding minds and preparing hearts in its students.

Sean Corcoran
The Houses of Brainerd Baptist School

The following post is the first of two in which we are highlighting something new at Brainerd Baptist School this year. We strive to develop a culture were creativity and innovation are normal parts of our day. These are traits that we want our students to develop, so it is important that we, as a school, also embody these traits. I believe that schools operate best when there is no fear of failure of trying something new. Teachers will be quick to tell you that we can become entrenched in the way we do things. A culture of innovation removes the fear of failing at something new, and replaces that fear with excitement and encouragement. Our students have been blessed by this innovation over the last few years with some amazing opportunities that are not available at other schools in our area. Some examples would be our 4 C’s curriculum or our C.A.T. (curiosity, adventure, thought) experiential learning opportunities. In the post below, John Creed talks about our new Houses of Brainerd Baptist School.

The Houses of Brainerd Baptist School
John Creed

This school year, fourth and fifth grade students will take part in an altogether new experience at Brainerd Baptist School. In addition to the many aspects of student life that make their final years as Bobcats special, these students will be the first to participate in the House System at BBS. 

House Logos.jpg

The House System at Brainerd Baptist School is designed to serve as an extension of the school’s mission and vision. As both an academic and non-academic program, the House System seeks to nurture unity within the fourth and fifth grade student body. While promoting cooperation, healthy competition, and encouragement, this system will point students toward traits such as integrity, responsibility, kindness, and diligence. Our hope is to further build upon the strong culture and community of our school. 

Each house has faculty representation to serve as heads of the house. These heads are comprised of fourth and fifth grade teachers and fine arts teachers. Students were assigned to four houses after their first assembly of the year. A few days later, they participated in an initial a house meeting where house heads taught students a handshake, song, or chant to share with the members of their house throughout the year. Additionally, house members learned about their house’s unique crest and the house point system. 

During the year, students will have many opportunities to earn points for their houses. These points can be earned by displaying quality character traits or through a simple act of kindness. House competitions and specific academic goals may also contribute to points for a house.

It was a treat to hear the first house meetings draw to a close with the rumble of each house’s newfound chant or song pouring into the hallway. The early excitement of the students has been encouraging, and we are looking forward to seeing this grow and develop throughout the year! 

Sean Corcoran
My (20th!) First Day of School
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Much is made about the excitement of children as the first day of class approaches. Today marks the first day of class at Brainerd Baptist School. A LOT of preparation has gone into making this day run as smoothly as possible for our students. My youngest child had her first day (junior year) on Monday and I certainly understand the anxiety that can accompany this momentous occasion from a parents perspective. Moms spend time shopping (often with their child) for the various necessary, (and often unnecessary school supplies -hello locker wallpaper and chandeliers). Schedules are analyzed and memorized. New shoes are purchased, and in many cases, other things like picking out a new backpack is a tradition for many. Today marks the 20th consecutive year where I have experienced a “1st day” professionally. Of course, before that, I experienced many first days of school personally as well.

If I could say one thing to students AND parents that you may not have thought about, it would be this - your teachers are just as excited, and often times more anxious about this day as you are! They have put in MANY hours creating a space in their classrooms that is warm and inviting just for their students. They have prayed over their students and are excited to get to know them, and most importantly, their goal is to positively impact the lives of their students this year. Believe it not, I would almost certainly bet that many of your teachers also had their outfits laid out last night in preparation for the big day. I will even admit that I also got new shoes for today, although I doubt any of my students will fully appreciate my choice in purchasing new loafers from Cole Haan!

Here is to the beginning of a GREAT year! We are happy that many of you have chosen Brainerd Baptist School for your child. Our enrollment is up about 7% over last years first day number. We have added 2 new classes due to growth. For many of you, today marks “the last first day” at Brainerd Baptist School for your child. My advice as a dad that has experienced this three times - soak it up and enjoy it, because it will go by fast. If I can help any of you as the year begins, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sean Corcoran
BBS Announces New Faculty for 2019-2020

I have often said that the most important thing I do as Head of School is hire the right people to join our school. In school life, the end of each year often means change. And although we are sad when teachers leave our family, it is necessary to identify the best people to join our team. I like to joke that at our school, change is often the result of two things - retirement, or pregnancy! As we finish this year, and are preparing for the 2019-2020 school year, we are facing more changes than I can ever remember in my time as Head of School. We have some long-tenured faculty who are retiring, and we are excited that we are also adding two new classes/teachers due to our enrollment growth.
When a job is posted at BBS, we typically have 30-50 applications to consider, and this year was no different. We selected several strong candidates who had impressive resumés to come on campus for a tour, and interviews with our administrative team and also with the prospective team members. This process involves many of our teachers, and I am thankful for their hard work as they helped us select the best fit for each position. All of our new teachers have spent time on campus and in our classrooms preparing for their move to BBS in the fall.
We are excited to announce that the following individuals will be joining our faculty for the 2019-2020 school year:

  • K3 - Ms. Lindsay Patty - Lindsay is a graduate of UTC and is coming to Brainerd Baptist School after teaching at East Brainerd Elementary.

  • K4 - Mrs. Cheryl Johnson - Cheryl is a veteran pre-k teacher that comes to Brainerd Baptist School from the preschool program at Lookout Mtn. Presbyterian Church.

  • K5 - Mrs. Angel Schrader - Angel has been teaching 1st grade at East Side Elementary in Chattanooga for 13 years. She is no stranger to BBS, as both of her children (Elizabeth Grace and Charlie) are students.

  • 1st - Mrs. Katie Adams - Katie comes to Brainerd Baptist School after teaching for 5 years in Cumberland County (Crossville, TN area). Katie is also very familiar with our school as she walked the halls of BBS as a student and is excited to be returning to teach at her alma mater.

  • 2nd - Mr. Tanner Winters - Tanner recently graduated from Covenant College with a degree in Elementary Education. He is also familiar with BBS. He completed his practicum in Mrs. Ateca’s K5 class last year, completed his student teaching placements at Battlefield Primary and in Mrs. Dahlke’s 1st grade class this spring.

Join us in congratulating our new faculty members. Complete bios for each teacher will be coming soon.

Sean Corcoran
The Calming Presence

Later today we will celebrate Mrs. Cathy Creed’s tenure at Brainerd Baptist School with a retirement reception. The post below is from our winter 2019 issue of Foundations magazine. I attempted to highlight the tremendous blessing that Mrs. Creed has been to me during my years as head.

The Calming Presence

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When trying to think of the right adjectives to adequately describe Cathy Creed, several instantly come to mind like affectionate, compassionate, witty, sincere, observant, patient, intuitive, friendly, loyal, supportive, funny, and most importantly, a champion for doing what is best for students. When I was appointed Head of School in May of 2006, Cathy was the first person I hired, and she has served as our Assistant Head of School for the last thirteen years. In her role she has overseen our  K3/K4, Summer Camp, and Brainerd Baptist After School Care program. Additionally, she has worn many other hats and taken on multiple other roles. Until we added our first Academic Counselor, Mrs. Creed worked with all ages of students who needed additional academic support.

Over the years while working as a team, Mrs. Creed and I have celebrated many highs and lows that come with our profession. Cathy is the type of person who would always be available to listen and provide a different perspective right at the time when I needed one. Many people may not know that she has a very dry sense of humor, which she utilizes extremely well. I cannot count the times our weekly administrative meetings have been interrupted with laughter due to a sly comment that is perfectly delivered by her with a straight face.

However, what I appreciate most about Cathy is her ability to be a calming presence. She is never the loudest person in a meeting or a room. She has a genuine love for her job and the people that work with her. She is an incredible listener and has even been been known to sit and cry with a teacher or parent that is going through a tough time. Over the summer, Cathy told us that this year would be her last as Assistant Head of School.  While we are sad, we are happy to announce that she will still be working at Brainerd Baptist School part time in our academic counseling office. This will prove to be very beneficial for our students who have the opportunity to work with her. There is no doubt they will benefit from her wealth of experience and vast ability to work with students who have learning differences.

As with any change, we are also excited about the future. I am a believer that good schools develop leaders from within. Therefore, we are also excited to announce that Mrs. Regina Ateca will be moving into the Assistant Head of School position this summer.  Mrs. Ateca has been working with Mrs. Creed in preparation for this move, and we know that she will do a phenomenal job.

We will have a special time to honor Mrs. Creed’s service to our school in the spring and will communicate those details at a later time.

Sean Corcoran
Auction Success
Here is our new bus that will be delivered in the next week.

Here is our new bus that will be delivered in the next week.

We are a few weeks removed from our annual auction, and I have some exciting news to share with our families. As was stated on the night of our auction, our goal was to raise enough money to purchase a new bus. Our friends at Brainerd Baptist Church have been very accommodating in letting the school use their motor coach (and other vehicles) for the last 24 years. The coach has served us well and we have been incredibly blessed to have such a nice mode of transportation for so long. As you can imagine, maintaining a bus this old has become a burden, because something always seems to need replaced. Additionally, a coach is substantially more expensive to maintain over a regular bus.
Back in 2017, we raised money to purchase a mini-bus for our summer camp and athletic programs to use. This has been a tremendous asset for us, but it can only hold 15 people, so it isn’t practical for field trips where an entire grade level needs to travel. We decided this year to begin working toward raising enough money for a new bus. The cost of a new bus is approximately $100,000. In previous years, our auction has raised around $55,000. Our hope was that our auction would continue it’s trend of raising additional funds for the school, and that money, coupled with money given to the school by Brainerd Baptist Church from selling the Prevost motor coach would allow us to purchase a new bus. I am happy to report that our auction raised almost $80,000! This money, along with money given to the school by Brainerd Baptist Church allowed us to order a new bus that should be delivered this week! Our 4th grade will be using the new bus to travel to Nashville and visit the state capital and our 1st graders will be using it to head to the Knoxville Zoo. As you can see, your student’s have a direct impact on your generosity. We want to once again say a heartfelt “Thank You” to our families for making this night such a success.

Sean Corcoran
Going 350 Extra Miles for Hayden

Recently, WRCB News Channel 3 featured Brainerd Baptist School on David Carroll’s weekly “School Patrol” segment. The story highlights the efforts of BBS teachers have made to help 1st grade student Hayden Hudgens. Hayden is currently battling Leukemia and often has to travel to St. Judes Children’s Hospital in Memphis to receive her treatment. For the last two years, Hayden’s teachers have travelled to her home to see her, and even over 350 miles to Memphis to work with her on her school work (and have some fun as well).

Sean Corcoran
Food Waste Challenge

One of the most recent faculty additions at Brainerd Baptist School is our school nurse, Rachel Adams. This is her third year at BBS, and just about every person at BBS would echo my sentiments of, “How did we survive without her for so long?” One of the things that I appreciate about Mrs. Adams is not only her commitment to overseeing the health of our students, but also her desire to help students incorporate health into their everyday life. She is ALWAYS developing a new (and fun!) way to help our students think about their health. A few examples of some of her ideas include: the indoor walking track, the water challenge, the February fitness challenge, covering health topics (like heart health) in STEM class, and many others.
Below you will read about one of our new initiatives - helping our students realize (AND REDUCE!) the amount of food we waste each day. We are blessed with an amazing cafeteria staff, who do an incredible job of making our students great meals each day. Our new focus will show our students the amount of food that they throw into the garbage can each day at lunch. Mrs. Adams gives more details below about this initiative.

Food Waste Reduction Challenge


This past Tuesday, Feb. 19th, we launched our first ever food waste reduction challenge.  As I began researching food waste in our nation, I was blown away and saddened by the statistics.  According to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Up to 40% of the food in the United States is never eaten.  But at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table.” 

This challenge comes on the heels of BBS once again winning first place in WRCBTV’s Share Your Christmas food drive for most amount of food collected in the small school division.  This was not planned, but could not have been better timed.  Last week during chapel, our students learned that 1 lb. of wasted food is equivalent to approximately 1 meal.  Each day we throw away a lot of food, but our staff was curious to see just how much.  This curiosity and the desire, to be better stewards of what we have, led us to take action.  Wingfield Scale Company has graciously loaned us a commercial scale to make data collection possible.  We are so thankful for their partnership with us.

Stay tuned for updates on our progress.

Sean Corcoran
Black History Month at Brainerd Baptist School

The month of February has been designated as Black History month since the 1970s when President Gerald Ford urged Americans to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Over the years, our teachers have done an amazing job of incorporating meaningful activities into our curriculum that celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans throughout our history.

Several years ago, former music teacher Lisa Kell developed a special chapel program to recognize famous African Americans. While this chapel was the most visible of our endeavors to celebrate Black History month, it did not adequately capture all the activities that our teachers have incorporated into their classes. We have not done a good job of communicating the great things that are happening in our classrooms all month in conjunction with Black History Month. This post is an attempt to provide our parents with a general overview of activities that summarize how each grade level is incorporating Black History Month into our classrooms. Although this list is not exhaustive, it does give insight into various learning activities that are happening throughout the month.

Additionally, we have a special chapel planned for Wednesday, February 20th, to highlight Black History Month. We have three special speakers that will be talking about Black History Month from different perspectives. Mrs. Celeste Bradley, parent to both Spencer (5th grade) and Austin (2nd grade), who is an attorney here locally will talk about education advancements since the introduction of Black History Month. Mrs. Kilzma Brown, parent of Regan (‘18), and Lacy (2nd grade), will explore the topic of worship and how different cultures are unified in our worship of our Lord, and Shaq Hardy, Youth Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church, will close our time with a challenge to all students with the concept that as followers of Christ, we have more in common than not, and that we are all created in the image of God.

Black History Month Areas of Study

1st Grade studies the life and achievements of MLK, Jr. in January with a week of reading books and center activities all centered around this great leader. In February, they study and discuss the following:
Freedom quilt craft (along with Underground Railroad discussion)
Mae Jemison craft (discussion of 1st African American woman in space)
Jesse Owens
Booker T. Washington
George Washington Carver
Jackie Robinson
Harriet Tubman
Ralph Bunche
Alex Haley
Wilma Rudolph

North America is our continent of study for February/March, so many of these individuals come up throughout our focus. It is also our "Famous American" presentation month so other folks like MLK Jr, Ruby Bridges, and other African American athletes coincidentally are presented by our first graders.

2nd Grade studies Black history in the context of our F & F reading unit which focuses on recognizing the important details in a book. All of our books are about African Americans who have made a difference, especially in the Civil Rights Movement. The children will be reading and learning about Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, Jackie Robinson, and the topic of segregation of black baseball players in the major leagues. The students will also be individually researching famous African Americans and creating a project about them.

3rd Grade does a unit on Famous Americans during the month of February in Social Studies. The students will read a biography and complete a Coke bottle project for their famous person. This project is a fun way to show the facts that they have learned in their books. The students will choose from famous women, Hawaiians, and African Americans.
The 3rd grade will also be going off campus to see the play, Freedom Train, which is the story of Harriet Tubman. Additionally, the books that our students will be reading as a part our F&F unit are on African Americans.

4th Grade has several areas of focus during Black History Month. Some of the learning activities that are:
1. EPB black history poetry contest - students will work on this during English and Social Studies classes

2. Scholastic News Article on Black History and Scholastic activities associated with this issue - Reading class

3. The students will view the movie No More Baths. The will learn about racism in an age appropriate setting in which children can easily make connections

4. 4th graders will complete 2-3 Black History Vignette focuses per week during February. Before reading class we will highlight a person who accomplished something great among America's black community (medical, political, musical, literary, etc.). In reading class this information will be supplemented through center activities such as practicing cursive using famous quotes from books or songs, reading comprehension focusing upon a particular person with questions to help students focus on main ideas, and video clips on iPads that show special Black History features.

5th Grade reads The Watson's Go to Birmingham about the bombing in the Birmingham church.  Our F&F unit is on fact and opinion and we will read articles on famous African Americans.

Most of the articles are from a book called Famous African Americans.  Rube Foster, Ruby Bridges, Hank Aaron, MLK, Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, Sarah Breedlove (later became Madame C.J. Walker), Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Dr. Ben Carson are a few of the people we read about.  People were selected from many different areas of walks of life that would interest the students, but also would give them examples of how people can influence many lives in small or big ways. It also gives our present students a glimpse into the past where black people suffered much hardship to gain the civil rights they deserved. 

Sean Corcoran
February Fitness Challenge

Rachel Adams, our school nurse, has done a phenomenal job of developing fun and creative ways to help our students focus on improving their health and their choices that they can make to help them have a healthy lifestyle. Last year, Mrs. Adams partnered with our PE program to develop a monthly fitness challenge in the month of February. This year, Mrs. Adams and Mr. Owens have developed another fun and challenging month to help our students focus on their health. Mr. Owens has written the following blog post to help our parents see all the fun ways they can be involved with this special challenge as well as a special calendar showing the days/events.

February Fitness Challenge

We hope that you will join in on this year’s fun by participating in the BBS February Fitness Challenge!

Here are the instructions for students who want to be entered into a raffle to choose a daily activity/game to play in PE class:

Follow our February Fitness calendar of exercises on the back of the page to complete this challenge. Each week that you complete all of the daily exercises, cut out the raffle ticket on the bottom of the page, fill out your name and teacher, and have it signed by your parents. Then, turn the ticket in to your homeroom teacher on the following Monday to be entered into the raffle drawing (to lead PE for one day). There will be 1 raffle winner per grade level that week, and the winner will be announced on the Tuesday morning announcements. If you complete the entire February Fitness Challenge, simply bring in the final “February Fitness Champion” raffle ticket to receive a special certificate.

Good Luck as you become BOBCAT STRONG!

Sean Corcoran
2018 SAIS Accreditation Visit Results

Back in September I wrote a blog post here on the Bobcat Blog that explained the SAIS accreditation process that our school was going to be completing in November. We are fresh off of our visit and are excited to share the results with you here. Additionally, we also want to share the results of the Value Narrative Survey that many of you completed as a part of the accreditation self study. This will be shared in an upcoming blog post as well.

The following is a summary of the 2018 accreditation visit that was conducted in November, 2018 and chaired by Mr. Brendan O’Shea. Brainerd Baptist School used the strategic plan that was created by our Board of Trustees in 2013 as the guide for the self-study. The plan focused on improvement in 5 different areas. The visiting team responded to each of the focus points of the strategic plan in their report. Their recommendations and commendations are listed below. We hope that you will take a few minutes and read through the results of many hours (I could even say, weeks, months, and years!) of work that this report represents.

As always, if you have any questions, or would like to have additional discussion about what is in the following summary, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss or explain in more detail.

SAIS Visiting Team Summary Report

Area 1Create a continual feedback loop of all shareholders in the school community that will fulfill and further the mission of Brainerd Baptist School.

Teachers and administrators of the school regularly and successfully gather feedback from shareholders of the Brainerd Baptist School community. The SAIS survey demonstrates parents' complete and thorough satisfaction with their children's educational experiences. Parents and teachers hold multiple conferences throughout the year to report student progress. ERB testing provides feedback to both parents and teachers about individual student's progress as well as progress of various classes. Teachers and school officials use testing results appropriately to review and advance curriculum and document overall school progress.

The visiting team commends the school for the following:

  • Establishing the Foundations and Frameworks (F&F) program to focus on literacy and reading fluency with the intention of strengthening skills and standardized test results;

  • Scoring extremely high on the SAIS parent satisfaction survey;

  • Communicating regularly and efficiently with parents to ensure information is easy to access;

  • Having teachers readily available to communicate personally with parents;

  • Creating a culture of access and harmony between school personnel and parents through intentional programming to focus on retention;

  • Focusing on trying to make the parent experience as smooth and easy as possible for families.

The visiting team recommends that the school consider the following:

  • Sharing the executive summary of the annual survey with community shareholders;

  • Researching the correlation between the Foundations and Frameworks (F&F) program and ERB scores over several years;

  • Continuing to promote the successes of Brainerd Baptist School to the parent community who serve as the school's most important and authentic marketing team.

Area 2Examine and create financial sustainability for Brainerd Baptist School.

Brainerd Baptist School, now a separate entity from Brainerd Baptist Church and its own 501(c)(3), has taken measures to create its own financial reporting system. With a newly hired business manager, Brainerd Baptist School is poised to change internal accounting from a cash basis to an accrual basis, present a balance sheet for review, and develop financial models for the future.

The visiting team commends the school for the following:

  • Taking ownership of the financial management from the church and bringing all financial operations in-house;

  • Establishing an endowment to secure the financial future of the school;

  • Taking advantage of extremely low facilities costs, resulting in significantly lower tuition rates than local competitors;

  • Reducing the school's dependency on the annual fund in the yearly operating budget.

The visiting team recommends that the school consider the following:

  • Restructuring the financial reporting to include accrual-based accounting, balance sheet and other necessary reports;

  • Raising tuition gradually over time to increase endowment funds, to make teacher salaries more competitive, to provide additional financial assistance for families and to create funding for deferred maintenance needs.

Area 3 Examine the school's current plans and policies, updating and creating new plans and policies when necessary to help ensure the school's future.

Brainerd Baptist School has developed clear policies and procedures that facilitate the mission of the school.

The visiting team commends the school for the following:

  • Creating and implementing policies and procedures that support the mission of the school;

  • Cultivating and developing a competent leadership team that is capable of executing the school's plans and policies;

  • Developing a school culture that promotes innovative thinking from all staff members, as evidenced by the number of positive and meaningful enhancements implemented in recent years, including programs such as The 4 C's (carpentry, chess, coding, and cooking);

  • Working toward and successfully establishing a positive working relationship with the leadership of Brainerd Baptist Church.

The visiting team recommends that the school consider the following:

  • Examining continually the relationship between the church and school with consideration given to establishing a written agreement to ensure a lasting, secure and cohesive relationship in the future;

  • Developing a succession plan for school leadership including the head of school and board chairman;

  • Establishing permanent working board committees, such as a finance committee.

Area 4– Communicate our elementary school academic excellence as found in our Christ-centered loving environment, sustained in a cost-effective manner.

Parents affirm they learn about the excellence of Brainerd Baptist School most regularly via word of mouth. Stakeholders in the school community know and proclaim the success of the program through informal methods, often incorporating social media, including the school website and outlets such as Instagram, various blogs written by school personnel, videos, photographs, and the school magazine.

The visiting team commends the school for the following:

  • Developing and protecting the trusting relationship between school personnel and constituents as evidenced by numerous affirmations from parents regarding the school delivering on its promises;

  • Providing as-needed access for parents to school team members to enhance the partnership between families and the school;

  • Clearly communicating, demonstrating and living the mission in every aspect of school life;

  • Having a head of school deeply involved in the admissions process, meeting and touring just about every prospective family who comes to campus;

  • Affirming and motivating all school employees as they initiate innovative student programming.

The visiting team recommends that the school consider the following:

  • Including employees other than the head of school in giving admissions tours to prospective families and training these employees appropriately with the intent of involving more personnel in the process, exposing prospective families to more members of the team, and relieving some of the pressure on the head of school;

  • Developing social media protocols and guidelines for all members of the community to ensure consistent, positive messaging from all members of the community.

Area 5Ensure that the classroom instruction models best practices, are child-centered and engaging.

In every classroom and every conversation, it was evident the teachers were focused on child-centered, developmentally appropriate instruction. The school culture calls for rigor, interest, and high-order thinking skills at each level of instruction. There was clear demonstration of the joy of both teaching and learning throughout the school, and students confirmed their engagement in the educational process with genuine excitement and praise for their school.

The visiting team commends the school for the following:

  • Hiring and supporting a faculty that is dedicated to student development, and exhibits joy in the process;

  • Choosing to focus on the most valuable school asset - the people associated with Brainerd Baptist - working in recent years to enhance faculty salaries and benefits as well as professional growth opportunities;

  • Selecting and instituting a rigorous, challenging curriculum enhanced by the faculty's desire to instill the love of learning in its students;

  • Using creative and innovative approaches to teaching in all grade levels and all subject areas;

  • Providing classrooms spaces that are modern, allow for movement, and appealing to the children.

The visiting team recommends that the school consider the following:

  • Ensuring the careful training and encouragement of teachers continues to be a high priority;

  • Offering opportunities for the school's current parents and potential parents to be introduced to the excellent methods of instruction used in the classrooms;

  • Striving to retain a cohesive and exemplary faculty through continual examination of competitive salaries and benefits as well as opportunities for professional development for all members of the team;

  • Encouraging teachers to share their skills with others at TAIS, SAIS and NAIS conferences.

Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendation

Currently, Brainerd Baptist School is operating from a position of strength. With a healthy enrollment, sound financial position, stable faculty, excellent leadership team, and long-serving head of school, the school is faring well in a highly competitive independent school market. Major strides have been made in recent years, solidifying Brainerd Baptist School's independence from Brainerd Baptist Church as the school now operates as it's own 501(c)(3) entity. To protect it's future, Brainerd Baptist should consider developing succession plans for both the head of school and board chair position, further strengthening the board by establishing standing committees with documented responsibilities, and securing the current facility use agreement with the church going forward. All school constituents should be commended for the efforts put forth to advance the school to the position it currently holds.

Brainerd Baptist is an excellent school. So much can be learned by witnessing a school's culture. This is where Brainerd Baptist truly excels. It is clearly evident that all school personnel are completely engaged in providing the best possible experience for the children in K3-fifth grade. A wholesome, caring, loving environment exists for the children who benefit from a comprehensive and innovative curriculum delivered by an impressive group of educational professionals. The visiting team was impressed with all aspects and components of the school.

The visiting team would like to offer special thanks to Head of School Sean Corcoran and Accreditation Coordinator Missy Henson who both were organized, forthright and hospitable during our stay. We found all factions of the Brainerd Baptist community to be courteous, forthcoming and supportive of school leadership, and most importantly, devoted to the academic foundation and moral development of each child served by Brainerd Baptist School.

Standards Compliance
The school is in compliance with all standards of the SAIS accreditation process as verified by documentation, observations, and interviews.

Self-Study Quality

The self-study conducted by the school meets the standard of quality and thoroughness required by the SAIS accreditation process and answers the four critical questions as outlined in the Guidebook.

The school is unanimously recommended for accreditation.

Sean Corcoran
Shakespeare on the Playground: Part 2

Last year, I asked 4th grade teacher Vikki Cole to write a blog post about her “Shakespeare on the Playground” creation. Over the last two years, she has done an after school club for interested 4th and 5th grade students focusing on the famous works of Shakespeare. She guides them through a specific literary work, and then the students act out this work in a mini play. The plays are rehearsed to be performed in the open air on our playground (our own version of the Globe Theater!), but the weather does not always cooperate. In the post below, Mrs. Cole talks about the fall production that was performed this week. I so appreciate that our faculty is dedicated teachers like Mrs. Cole, who strive to provide new experiences for our students.

“What if I mess up?” a student wailed. 


 It was two minutes until show time, and I was talking nine, nervous 9 and 10-year-old “players” off the proverbial edge of panic. Huddled just offstage, they were a mishmash of wings, fake mustaches, velvet flat caps, and ivy crowns - the absolute best the church’s wardrobe closet offered for their diminutive sizes.

 “Someone will mess up,” I stated calmly. “We’ve even practiced that. We’ve got this!” I assured my tiny troupe.


 Alas, the fall 2018 BBS production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream did NOT go off without a hitch, just as predicted. Oberon and Puck had a conversation in Act Two, which wasn’t supposed to occur until Act Four. There were a few mispronounced words. A two-ton truck metaphorically ran over a couple of Shakespeare’s original lines. And one player ran on stage at the wrong time, paused, and loudly declared, “I’m not supposed to be here right now!” before dashing away.

 However, the performance was a hit in its own topsy-turvy, uniquely creative way. These young actors showed up despite their fears. They delivered their lines and “caught” each other when necessary. They laughed with the audience, and one another. They kept going when something went wrong. 

Though I boast of no previous theatre experience, I am now convinced of the absolute necessity of such activities within an elementary school program. Such productions provide an excellent platform from which children can gain hands-on experience in collaboration and grit.


 Actually, there was little chance of this elementary performance becoming a complete fail. After all, the audience was primarily composed of parents and grandparents, shoe-ins for standing ovations and catcalls of praise. Yet, even without such a generous audience, the show would have still been a success. These children acted their hearts out. They gave it their all and left it on the stage for our utter enjoyment. They showed courage, perseverance, dedication, and humor. I have never been prouder of a group of people.

Sean Corcoran
Standing to Learn

If you have been around Brainerd Baptist School long, you will know that we like to frequently ask questions that focus on learning. We are consumed with examining how our learning processes align with a research-based focus. We spend much time in our in-service and faculty meetings talking about things like this. Our teachers are challenged to look at how the teach in relation to what is best for students. This is not a new phenomena at our school. I vividly remember when my son (who is now in college!) was in the first grade at Brainerd Baptist School, his teacher (Mrs. Stromberg) realized he would do better on his work if he stood up. Seems simple enough - so she let him stand up to work. This is just a small example of ways our teachers have taught for a LONG time!
A popular trend in many schools over the last two years is to offer students multiple options of seating as they work. Although some teachers have been doing this for years, there is relatively new research that speaks to the benefits of these choices for students. There are several grades at BBS that have incorporated alternative seating choices for students. About two years ago Mrs. Payne approached me about the possibility of adding these desk to their classrooms. I have asked Mrs. Payne to talk through the logic behind us adding these desk to our classrooms in the post below. I am thankful for teachers who believe so strongly in what they do that they continue to go above and beyond to make our school better! See Mrs. Payne’s thoughts on the desks below.

Why A Standing Desk?
Koko Payne
I like to say that teaching elementary students is such a neat experience because, their minds are like little sponges, absorbing so much!  However, we are faced with the challenge of providing a high quality academic curriculum with the understanding that you have a limited amount of time for sustained attention! As educators, we are always trying to seek the most effective way to teach our students while also providing the best possible learning environment for them. For years, we have implemented movement and various seating options to help our students with sustained attention, but there is still, room for improvement.

 So much research has been done on performance and productivity in the work place, hence the introduction of standing desks! This research has shown that standing while working improves working memory, processing, alertness, focus and enhances physical health.  Movement is important because research proves that shifting weight, fidgeting, and subtle movements support mental processing.  When blood gets flowing through the body and to the brain, memory retention increases. Because of these benefits, standing desks have become very common in the corporate world, and now, schools are also incorporating them into classrooms.

 Because the research suggest that it is what is best for students, we believe that this is what we need at BBS for our fabulous first graders!!! And so for our first grade, this is where our journey began. 

 In the winter of 2017, we began to research how we could add these desks to our classrooms.  While there are many desks available for the secondary schools, not as many were available for a self contained elementary classroom. After much searching, we found that the Hyde Park Day School in Chicago, IL had worked with Marvel Desks to develop a desk that would meet the needs of young students. 

 After deciding that this desk would be the desk that we wanted our students to use at Brainerd Baptist School, the difficult task of funding these desks became a reality. Teachers LOVE to teach, but do not necessarily like to talk about raising money!  These desks were well above the normal budget that BBS spends on desks. It was obvious that this amount would not be available in our school budget.  With the help of our development director, Ellen Baggenstoss, in fall of 2017 we applied for a grant hoping to obtain funds to purchase the desks!  We were disappointed when we were not awarded the grant.  Although disappointed, we believed so strongly that these desks would benefit our students, that in the summer of 2018 we decided to try a different avenue to raise the money.  Who would be willing to help? We realized that the people we needed to reach out to were the ones who loved BBS as much as us, but also did not want to ask our current families, who already give so much to our school. So we reached out to parents of former BBS students. In about a one-month time period we raised almost $6,000. I think we surprised Dr. Corcoran with how quickly we were raising the money more than ourselves! Since the goal to obtain desks for our classroom was so successful, the decision was made to purchase desks for the entire first grade.  Our dream has become a reality. On October 1, 2018 – with the help of our parents – these desks were placed in our first grade classrooms! We are so excited to see how this will impact our students for years to come!

Sean Corcoran
The Importance of the Spartan Race

Having had three children of my own that matriculated through Brainerd Baptist School, I certainly understand how much extra work is involved when the fundraiser packets come home. When my children were at BBS, the fundraisers typically consisted of taking magazines door to door or asking friends and family to purchase cookie dough, gift wrap, cokes, or some other form of merchandise that you really didn’t need, but felt like you had to buy. Our families would work very hard on selling the items, and in the end, our school would profit anywhere from $7,000-$13,000. Although there is nothing wrong with that approach, a few years ago we began thinking about how we could raise funds differently. On the heels of our capital campaign to redo our playground, we conducted a walk-a-thon. The idea was that we could get the kids involved, they would have a great time, and raise money to help us complete construction of the playground. The event was an overwhelming success (raising over $20,000). This success caused us to wonder why couldn’t we do something like this each fall instead of having students selling items? This was about the time the TV show Ninja Warrior was becoming popular. We decided to do our own version of an obstacle race designed with student’s in mind. The thought process would be two-fold: parents wouldn’t have to solicit friends and relatives begging them to purchase random items; and the school would retain a higher percentage of the money collected. In a typical school fundraiser, the school only keeps about 40% of the money taken in. Another added benefit of doing this type of fundraiser is that our students get to enjoy a fun day being physically active outside. Now that I have explained the logic behind our move to this type of fundraiser, let’s talk about the exciting part…the results!

Each year, I meet with Ellen Baggenstoss and we talk through the fundraisers and set goals. There is ALWAYS worry that this may be the year that no one participates! I don’t know why we worry, but we do! Our parents and students respond so well, that you would think that by now we would just trust the process. This year, our Spartan Race has brought in over $33,000! This is AMAZING and we are SO EXCITED to be able to add some things to our school that were desperately needed. The important part for parents to know is that your children will immediately begin to benefit from the money raised. Here are the highlights of the improvements that we are making because of the success of this fundraiser:

  • Fan - I am guessing you have probably heard by now, but we added a 24-foot ceiling fan to our gym. Our gym does not have air conditioning, so this addition has been amazing for our students (and teachers!).

  • New Gym Lights - Our gym had many lights that were not working. We are updating all the lights in the gym to LED lights. We hope to complete this in the next couple of weeks. Our last goal will be to replace the ceiling of the gym as well as add ing noise cancelling panels.

  • ICE CREAM! - You may have also heard that our students have not had ice cream on Wednesdays like they are accustomed to and Mr. Chris has missed serving our students each week terribly. Sadly, our ice cream machine has been broken since the beginning of school. We knew that the ice cream machine was old, but we did not realize it was 35 years old! The new version of the ice cream machine we currently have is around $9,500 (that is a big chunk of money-so we have been patiently waiting to see if we could raise enough to make this huge purchase)! We are now in the market and actively shopping for a replacement for our beloved ice cream machine. We are doing our research and working toward this purchase!

I hope you can see how your involvement in our fundraisers has a DIRECT and IMMEDIATE impact on your child. I know that it can be a bit of a hassle, but all the time and effort you put into it is worth it in the end! We are so blessed by our families believing in what we do and supporting it. I also want to say a HUGE thank you to our parents that helped make this event the success it was - Chairs: Courtney Embry & Phil Grubb (alumni parents), Katie & Tim McBryar (current parents), Builders: Allen Myers (current parent), Josh Woodard (current parent) and Bailey Adams (current/alumni parent).

Sean Corcoran
SAIS Accreditation - How We need your Help

Our school year is off to a smooth start. Our enrollment is up from last year, and we are excited about all the new families that are now a part of the BBS community. Now that our students (and parents) are in a routine, we have turned our focus to a pretty major event that will be happening in November- our accreditation visit. 
Once every five years, a team of educators from across our region visits our campus to assess the quality of the program. They will spend three days on campus meeting with our board, faculty, parents and even students learning more about our school. Their goal will be to celebrate the successes we have enjoyed in our program as well as recommend opportunities for growth and improvement. We are accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools, which is the premier accreditation for independent/private schools in our region. Their entire focus is working to help independent schools like Brainerd Baptist School be better. SAIS assembles our team from other SAIS accredited schools across the 14 state region where their member schools are located. 
Our faculty and board have been preparing for this visit for quite some time. Through the accreditation process, the school has to respond to a set group of standards showing how we adhere to, or meet those standards. Back in the spring, our accreditation chair spent two days on campus making sure that our school was ready for the full visit in November. We now need your help. As a part of the accreditation process, we will be sending you a link to a survey that will be gathering information about how our parents feel about the school. This survey will launch in the next couple of weeks. It will take approximately 8 minutes for you to complete. We are hoping to gather data from the majority of our families that will provide us with a significant amount of data that represents our entire constituency. Please be looking for this email soon. Closer to the date, many of you will be asked to particpate in a meeting with the accreditation committee during this visit. Please let me know if you have any questions. 

Sean Corcoran
New Faculty for 2018-2019

As I have written previously, I am convinced that one of the most important aspects of my job is hiring the right teachers to join the faculty of our school. I echo this theme each year when I write this blog post, but it really is true. Identifying the teachers that align with our culture and mission is critical to the sustained success we have enjoyed at Brainerd Baptist School. I have often joked that "retirement and babies" are most often the culprits for change in our faculty, and this has once again proven to be the case this spring. 

While we had more openings this year than I can ever remember having at one time, we were blown away with some amazing applicants for our open positions. What was particularly encouraging for us was the number of alumni and former faculty who applied. With so many great applicants, just selecting the candidates to interview was a challenge. However, our faculty teams did an amazing job interviewing many candidates for our positions. Please join me in welcoming the following new teachers to Brainerd Baptist School for the fall of 2018.

  • 1st Grade - Ms. Natalie Daniel - Natalie is a graduate of Brainerd Baptist School and was involved in our STUCO organization before attending Baylor School. She is a recent graduate of Birmingham Southern College where she was involved in activities like lacrosse, Honor Council, student government, and many more. 
  • 2nd Grade - Mrs. Christy Martin - Christy is a former first grade teacher at Brainerd Baptist School. She trained under Mrs. Deb Stromberg, and her first students are now seniors in high school! She also graduated from Baylor School before attending the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga to earn her degree in elementary education. After taking time to have children and assist her husband in their family business, Christy is excited to return to the classroom.
  • Bible/Chaplain - Mr. Preston Kane - Preston is also a graduate of BBS. He then graduated from David Brainerd Christian School and attended the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He has spent a year in Mongolia on mission work during college, and has recently returned to Chattanooga after living in Louisville, KY, where he attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Preston and his wife, Alex, are the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl, Elowen. 

In addition to the new hires, we have made the following internal moves:

  • K4 - Mrs. Karica Harner will be moving from a teacher assistant position into a teaching position. Karica is finishing up her master's degree in education from Liberty University and has been waiting for the right opportunity to move into a teaching position.
  • K5 - Mrs. Rebecca Stubblefield will be moving from K4 to K5. Rebecca also recently completed her master's degree in education from Carson Newman University and has been patiently awaiting a full-time position. 
  • PE/AD - Dr. Chad Owens will be moving from the Bible/Chaplain position to serve as our PE teacher/AD. Over the last few years, Dr. Owens has helped coach both volleyball and basketball. He is an exercise, nutrition, and wellness enthusiast and is looking forward to building upon the foundation that Coach Ledbetter has put in place.
  • K4 - Mrs. Chelsey King will be moving from K5 to a K4 position. Mrs. King has taught K5 the last two years. Mrs. King recently had her third child and is moving into a part-time teaching position to accommodate her new schedule.



Sean Corcoran
Curiosity | Adventure | Thought

One of the really cool things about our school is the desire to consistently look for opportunities for our students to learn in different ways. Our teachers do an amazing job of creating lessons that model best practices in education, which we believe are student-centered and engaging. 5th grade students are getting to once again experience something new for them, a unique day that we are calling C.A.T. Day. C.A.T. stands for curiosity, adventure, and thought and embodies what we hope our students will experience as they leave campus today.  Two years ago my two sons got to experience something new at their high school called "T-term". The idea behind this was to provide the students with several options of various experiences/learning outside the classroom. Students were able to choose from various classes/experiences that interested them and then spend time doing those things. The first year was huge a success, and I enjoyed watching my younger son experience it again this year, as McCallie fine tuned it even more.

We have watched this from a distance with a desire to create a similar experience for our own students.  Our 5th grade faculty team has enlisted the help of several other teachers at BBS to create a similar experience for our students. Obviously, we had to be intentional on creating experiences that were age-appropriate for elementary students. I want to thank Mr. John Creed and Mrs. Deb Gruner who have worked very hard to make this day a success for our students. It will be neat to see this evolve in the future as well. 

Earlier this week our 5th grade students were presented with some choices of special learning days to choose from. As they get here today, they will embark on a day full of hands on learning and experiences outside the normal classroom. If you would like to follow along on these adventures, search the hashtag #CATday2018 on our social media pages. Below are the different options that our students are getting to experience today.

Curiosity | Adventure | Thought

Farm to Table - Students will go to a local farm to hear about the raising of beef and chickens, participate in garden planting, and basically spend the morning outdoors in a farm atmosphere. Then we will go and cook a meal together with all fresh meat and vegetables and do some comparative tasting of fresh vs. frozen, canned, or preserved.   

Sports Management - For this course, students will visit UTC to tour the athletic facilities and hear from Geoff Wilcox, Associate Athletic Director of Marketing and Promotions. Students will also meet with Sean McDaniel, General Manager of the CFC. We will then return to campus to tailgate for lunch. Students will finish the day by organizing and planning a sporting event. 

Health and Wellness - Humans are made up of mind, body, and spirit. Each one of these parts has to be nourished and cared for on a daily basis. Students will begin the day with a brief devotional and discussion covering health and wellness. We will then visit with a local orthodontist where we’ll get to work with models, molds, and x-rays. We will also visit a nutrition store, spend time at the driving range, and create our own nutritious smoothies. 

Media Day - In the morning, students will visit the Sunny 92.3 radio station to learn how the radio business works. We will then have lunch and discuss media opportunities we could implement at BBS. In the afternoon, students will visit News Channel 12 to learn how local news operates. 

Give Back Day - Is your life filled with joy? It will be if you think of joy as having your life in the right priority: Jesus, others, and you. Would you like to spend your day serving in a local preschool class for children with special needs? We will spend the morning reading and interacting with young children and then spend the afternoon helping others. What a blessing you can be by serving others!

Outdoor Art - We will begin on campus by creating a field journal in the art room. During this time, we will discuss basic outdoor ‘how-to’ skills. This will include map reading and tree, flower, plant, and bird identification. Then we will hike to Mushroom Rock on Signal Mountain where we will picnic and practice the skills learned earlier in the day. Our afternoon will conclude with sketches and journaling. *This course will require a packed lunch, water bottle, small backpack, and appropriate footwear.*

Folk Music - Students will spend the morning at the Songbirds Guitar Museum which has just opened in Chattanooga this past fall. They will tour the complete collection of guitars, learning about their history and the art of guitar building. After lunch, students will visit the Folk Music School in Red Bank where they will learn about all different forms of folk instruments including the mandolin, banjo, harmonica, and kazoo. During our visits to both places, the students will be able to experiment with playing some of the instruments and will be taught how to play a simple song on an instrument of choice.

Flower Power - Seeds, dirt, plants, sprouts, garden, and design! Students will spend a day in the dirt - from beginning to end - with lunch together in the middle of the day. Students will also visit a florist with one additional flower stop during the day. 


Sean Corcoran
New Preschool is Crushing Kids

Most of you know that I spend a LOT of time working on admissions. It is something that I have always enjoyed doing. Our admissions process at BBS is intentionally different from just about every other school in our area. That doesn't necessarily mean it's better, but it is better for us. If you have recently (or even many years ago!) been on a tour at BBS, you have heard me talk about our program describing in detail how imaginative play is an incredibly important part of our pre-k experience. I also talk about how inquiry and student-centered instruction is a crucial part of our pedagogical approach. I am always drawn to articles that deal with instructional approaches that support what I believe to be the best approach for students.

A friend (and teacher) shared the article below by Erika Christakis that was  published in The Atlantic back in 2016.  This article quickly captured my attention and I would love to hear your thoughts about her perspective on preschool. 

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

By Erika Christakis
Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less.


Step into an American preschool classroom today and you are likely to be bombarded with what we educators call a print-rich environment, every surface festooned with alphabet charts, bar graphs, word walls, instructional posters, classroom rules, calendars, schedules, and motivational platitudes—few of which a 4-year-old can “decode,” the contemporary word for what used to be known as reading.

Because so few adults can remember the pertinent details of their own preschool or kindergarten years, it can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades. The changes are not restricted to the confusing pastiche on classroom walls. Pedagogy and curricula have changed too, most recently in response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s kindergarten guidelines. Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called “seat work” (a term that probably doesn’t need any exposition) and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades, in which a teacher carefully controls the content and pacing of what a child is supposed to learn.

One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art. Kindergarten is indeed the new first grade, the authors concluded glumly. In turn, children who would once have used the kindergarten year as a gentle transition into school are in some cases being held back before they’ve had a chance to start. A study out of Mississippi found that in some counties, more than 10 percent of kindergartners weren’t allowed to advance to first grade.

Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool. As a result, expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.

Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.

Pendulum shifts in education are as old as our republic. Steven Mintz, a historian who has written about the evolution of American childhood, describes an oscillation in the national zeitgeist between the notion of a “protected” childhood and that of a “prepared” one. Starting in the early 2000s, though, a confluence of forces began pushing preferences ever further in the direction of preparation: the increasing numbers of dual-career families scrambling to arrange child care; a new scientific focus on the cognitive potential of the early years; and concerns about growing ability gaps between well-off and disadvantaged children, which in turn fueled the trend of standards-based testing in public schools.

Preschool is a relatively recent addition to the American educational system. With a few notable exceptions, the government had a limited role in early education until the 1960s, when the federal Head Start program was founded. Before mothers entered the full-time workforce in large numbers, private preschools were likewise uncommon, and mainly served as a safe social space for children to learn to get along with others.By second grade, the children who had attended preschool performed worse than their peers. In the past few decades, however, we have seen a major transfer of child care and early learning from home to institution: Nearly three-quarters of American 4-year-olds are now in some kind of nonfamily care. That category spans a dizzying mix of privately and publicly funded preschool environments, including family-run day cares, private preschools in church basements, and Head Start programs in public elementary schools, to name a few. Across all of them, the distinction between early education and “official” school seems to be eroding.

When I survey parents of preschoolers, they tend to be on board with many of these changes, either because they fear that the old-fashioned pleasures of unhurried learning have no place in today’s hypercompetitive world or because they simply can’t find, or afford, a better option. The stress is palpable: Pick the “wrong” preschool or ease up on the phonics drills at home, and your child might not go to college. She might not be employable. She might not even be allowed to start first grade! Media attention to the cognitive potential of early childhood has a way of exacerbating such worries, but the actual academic consensus on the components of high-quality early education tells another story. According to experts such as the Yale professor Edward Zigler, a leader in child-development and early-education policy for half a century, the best preschool programs share several features: They provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language; their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.

As an early-childhood educator, I’ve clocked many hours in many preschool classrooms, and I have found that I can pretty quickly take the temperature from the looks on kids’ faces, the ratio of table space to open areas, and the amount of conversation going on in either. In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud. The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them. Sometimes, to be fair, what children take away from a conversation is wrong. They might conclude, as my young son did, that pigs produce ham, just as chickens produce eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are worked over, refined, and adapted—as when a brutal older sibling explains a ham sandwich’s grisly origins.

Teachers play a crucial role in supporting this type of learning. A 2011 study in the journal Child Development found that preschool teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary in informal classroom settings predicted their students’ reading comprehension and word knowledge in fourth grade. Unfortunately, much of the conversation in today’s preschool classrooms is one-directional and simplistic, as teachers steer students through a highly structured schedule, herding them from one activity to another and signaling approval with a quick “good job!”

Consider the difference between a teacher’s use of a closed statement versus an open-ended question. Imagine that a teacher approaches a child drawing a picture and exclaims, “Oh, what a pretty house!” If the child is not actually drawing a house, she might feel exposed, and even if she is drawing a house, the teacher’s remark shuts down further discussion: She has labeled the thing and said she likes it. What more is there to add? A much more helpful approach would be to say, “Tell me about your drawing,” inviting the child to be reflective. It’s never possible to anticipate everything a small person needs to learn, so open-ended inquiry can reveal what is known and unknown. Such a small pedagogic difference can be an important catalyst for a basic, but unbounded, cognitive habit—the act of thinking out loud.

Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early-learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing: One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.” Take a moment to digest that devastating conclusion.

I was recently asked to review a popular preschool curriculum that comes with a big box of thematic units, including lists of words and “key concepts” that children are supposed to master. One objective of the curriculum’s ocean unit, for example, is to help preschoolers understand “the importance of the ocean to the environment.” Children are given a list of specific terms to learn, including exoskeletonscallop shellblubber, and tube feet. At first glance, this stuff seems fun and educational, but doesn’t this extremely narrow articulation of “key concepts” feel a little off? What’s so special about blubber, anyway? Might a young child not want to ponder bigger questions: What is water? Where do the blue and green come from? Could anything be more beautiful and more terrifying than an ocean?

The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning.Last year, I observed some preschoolers conversing about whether snakes have bones. They argued at length among themselves, comparing the flexible serpentine body with dinosaur fossils and fish, both of which they had previously explored. There was no clear consensus on how these various creatures could contain the same hard skeletons, but I watched, transfixed, as each child added to the groundwork another had laid. The teacher gently guided the group as a captain might steer a large ship, with the tiniest nudge of the wheel. Finally, a little boy who had seen a snake skeleton in a museum became animated as he pantomimed the structure of a snake’s spine in a series of karate chops: “One bone, one bone, one bone,” he informed his friends. “I think we’re all going to have to do a lot more research,” the teacher replied, impressed. This loosely Socratic method is a perfect fit for young minds; the problem is that it doesn’t conform easily to a school-readiness checklist.

The focus should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. The academic takeover of American early learning can be understood as a shift from what I would call an “ideas-based curriculum” to a “naming-and-labeling-based curriculum.” Not coincidentally, the latter can be delivered without substantially improving our teaching force. Inexperienced or poorly supported teachers are directed to rely heavily on scripted lesson plans for a reason: We can point to a defined objective, and tell ourselves that at least kids are getting something this way.

But that something—while relatively cheap to provide—is awfully thin gruel. One major study of 700 preschool classrooms in 11 states found that only 15 percent showed evidence of effective interactions between teacher and child. Fifteen percent. We neglect vital teacher-child interactions at our peril. Although the infusion of academics into preschool has been justified as a way to close the achievement gap between poor and well-off children, Robert Pianta, one of the country’s leading child-policy experts, cautions that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that our early-learning system is suited to that task. He estimates that the average preschool program “narrows the achievement gap by perhaps only 5 percent,” compared with the 30 to 50 percent that studies suggest would be possible with higher-quality programs. Contrasting the dismal results of Tennessee’s preschool system with the more promising results in places such as Boston, which promotes active, child-centered learning (and, spends more than twice the national average on preschool), lends further credence to the idea that preschool quality really does matter.

It’s become almost a cliché to look to Finland’s educational system for inspiration. As has been widely reported, the country began to radically professionalize its workforce in the 1970s and abandoned most of the performance standards endemic to American schooling. Today, Finland’s schools are consistently ranked among the world’s very best. This “Finnish miracle” sounds almost too good to be true. Surely the country must have a few dud teachers and slacker kids!

And yet, when I’ve visited Finland, I’ve found it impossible to remain unmoved by the example of preschools where the learning environment is assessed, rather than the children in it. Having rejected many of the pseudo-academic benchmarks that can, and do, fit on a scorecard, preschool teachers in Finland are free to focus on what’s really essential: their relationship with the growing child. Here’s what the Finns, who don’t begin formal reading instruction until around age 7, have to say about preparing preschoolers to read: “The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.”

For our littlest learners, what could be more important than that?

Sean Corcoran
Tybee Island - Day 1
Emma is pretty excited to be holding a snake! 

Emma is pretty excited to be holding a snake! 

So our first day at Burton 4H Camp is in the books. Other than the weather not being as warm as we would have liked, it has been a phenomenal day. The programming and classes that our students have been able to be a part of have been amazing (as you have probably seen if you have been on Facebook or Instagram). Our chaperons are taking turns going with each group and are enjoying getting to be with all of the students.  We are all trying to post pictures as well.  Here is a quick overview of things your students did today:

  • Orienteering class - they learned how to read a compass, then had to do a scavenger hunt across the camp to find different points
  • Shark Dissection - although self explanatory, this was a neat experience for most of our students. We did have a few that gave it a valiant effort, but in the end chose to step out. If you do not see a picture of your child in the dissection, that means that did not want to participate. 
  • Beach Ecology - we loaded up on buses for the short drive to North Tybee. Our students learned about sand dunes and sea turtles. The students were divided into pairs and had to create their own ocean habitat. While we were doing this, several dolphins decided to grace us with their presence. They swam back and forth practically right in front of us for several minutes.
  • Reptiles - the groups got to go through several classes learning about various types of reptiles. The were able to hold an alligator, several types of snakes, crabs, and turtles. 
  • Night Walk - we loaded back up for a quick trip to the beach. Students learned about various topics like bioluminescence, echolocation, radar, pirates and night site, and other topics. 

We have some really cool things planned for tomorrow including marsh ecology and surf sleuth. We will continue to post pictures to our social media pages. 

Sean Corcoran
The Best Week in Sports - The Bucket List

I am well aware that we live in a region of the country that is dominated by football. I would even say that it is not just any football, but rather the king of football - SEC football. We all take pride in the fact that our brand of football is far superior to the football played in other parts of the country. The championships are certainly there to back up that claim. Since the inception of the BCS, no conference comes close to the championships claimed by the SEC. In fact, we (collectively speaking) brag about it so often, and with such fervor, that we usually end up offending people who have allegiances to other schools not located in the friendly confines of the Southeastern Conference. Those of you who know me well, know that I have a strong allegiance to my beloved Volunteers of the University of Tennessee. I frequently travel to watch them play and have had my heart broken by them many, many times. While I wholeheartedly believe that the brand of SEC football is, from top to bottom, the undisputed champ of all the conferences, I would like to serve up a different type of question for you to consider. What is your bucket list of sporting events? I wrote a similar post to this almost ten years ago. For me personally, this week is the best in all of sports (even better than SEC football!). You have the conclusion of my absolute favorite sporting event that really does drive us all mad - March Madness (how's your bracket look!?) combined with the beauty and pageantry that is The Masters, combined with opening day of Major League Baseball....and just for fun, both the NBA and NHL are in the final weeks of their regular seasons making both of them somewhat interesting. I would like to list my personal "bucket list" of 10 items that I would like to experience in my lifetime. I am happy to report that I have indeed crossed an item or two off of this list, but there is much work left to do. I would also love to hear about your items. I will most certainly see something that someone else listed and think "oh yeah, I want to do that too!". The great thing about post like this is that they are highly debatable. So without delay, here goes my list. Although not necessarily in order, I am weighing the bigger items near the top.  

  1. Augusta National - I have had the joy of walking the hallowed grounds of this amazing place a couple of different times. I've been to both the actual tournament as well as a practice round. Although I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the PGA. I typically will watch all of the majors, and not much of any other tournament, unless my personal favorite, Phil Mickelson, happens to be leading on Sunday, which doesn't happen that often any more. That said, I find myself glued to coverage of the Masters. I can't explain it. I really think it is a combination of things from the incredible beauty of the course, the history of the tournament, the intense competition for the green jacket, and the painstaking attention to detail that is exhibited by the folks that put on the tournament each year. I remember being surprised by just how hilly (is that a word?) the course was. You do not realize it until you walk the course as TV just doesn't do it justice. I love everything about it. If you have never been, it should be high on your list. 
  2. Watching a Red Sox/Yankees game in Fenway - I have a tendency to cheer for the underdog. I have been known to give people a hard time who seem to pick and pull their favorite teams from all over the country with seemingly no allegiance to anything. The worst fan for me is the fan that is considered the "bandwagon" fan and just happens to cheer for teams from all over the world that also happen to be really good! If my state has a team (sans Memphis, because no one in middle or eastern TN really even thinks about Memphis as a part of the state since it is six hours away!) I cheer for them. NFL - yep, I'm a Titans fan. NHL - you got it - LOVE the Preds (excited to be going to a play-off game soon!), I've already mentioned my love for all things University of Tennessee, but we do not have a MLB or NBA franchises in our state, so one must go elsewhere for a favorite team in those sports. As a child, almost EVERYONE I know pulled for the Braves. There proximity makes it easy and I flirted with them too. My parents took me to a couple of games in Atlanta and my favorite player was Dale Murphy (I just dated myself!). But the Braves were never any good during my childhood, and in fact, they were awful! I guess you could say their perennial losing never caused me to fall in love with them. When I was younger, and to a certain extent, still now, the New York Yankees were king of the world. They had fans everywhere, and were often just better than everyone else. The poor Red Sox just couldn't compete. I began pulling for the Red Sox largely just because it seemed like the rest of the world pulled for the Yanks. My years of cheering them for them during the lean years has been rewarded since 2004 with 3 world series rings in the last 15 years. I would LOVE to see them play the Yankees in Fenway. The intense hatred between the fans of these two teams will always have this high on my list. 
  3. Duke - North Carolina game - Much like #2 on my list, the pure mutual hatred of these two rivals makes this a match up that I find compelling. I'm not necessarily a fan of either team, although I have a lot of respect for both programs. I think I would just like to witness firsthand the craziness of Cameron Indoor Stadium. I was able to watch the Vols play North Carolina this past season in Knoxville. I always appreciate a knowledgeable fan base and I certainly found that to be the case of the Tar Heel fans, and I would expect the same with Duke. 

If you look closely, you will see my son and me cheering the winning touchdown

4. The Vols in the SEC Championship or College Football Playoff - For most of my life, this wasn't necessarily a "bucket item". I went to my first Tennessee Vols football game when I was 9 years old. I have been back countless times since then. I actually was at a SEC Championship game that the Vols played in early in the 2000's. I have seen some amazing games in my Vol fandom traveling to College Station, Nashville, Gainesville, Athens, and Atlanta to watch them play. My favorite memory (to date!) was the famous play I refer to as the "Dobb Nail Boot" in which Josh Dobbs completed a Hail Marry to beat UGA as time expired in 2016. I shared this miraculous comeback with my son and some friends, and we both still like to laugh about that night in Athens. Of course, he and I were on the receiving end of that type of loss this past season when we traveled to Gainesville and watched Florida complete a very similar pass to beat us. The Vols have suffered through their worse decade of football in their 120+ history. Having them being relevant again would be awesome. I would love to see them competing for championships again regularly like they did for so long when I was younger. I have often said that my boys have never seen Tennessee as a good program like they were pretty much the first 30 years of my life! I admit, this is a real fandom heart pick item. 

5. Boston Celtics / LA Lakers Game - As I explained above, Tennessee doesn't have a NBA franchise (at least they didn't when I was growing up). As a child, I LOVED Larry Bird. I remember having his Converse shoes when I played on my elementary basketball team (we were pretty good I might add as we won the city championship!) I am fairly confident that it was Bird's shoes that propelled us to victory. Jordan mania was huge later in my childhood and into my teenage years and I certainly liked Michael Jordan, but for me personally, Larry Bird was the man! I loved the way the ugly, white dude from Frenchlick, Indiana just outworked everyone. I spent many a evening shooting basketball in my back yard trying to emulate #33. The Lakers/Celtics rivalry was pretty special back in the 1980s too. ESPN did a 30 for 30 on it and it was compelling. I HATED Magic Johnson and the Lakers. Although this rivalry isn't as strong as it was back in the day, I would still enjoy taking in a game between the two winningest franchises in NBA history. 

6. Watching Team USA in a World Cup Game - Two thoughts - first, I realize that many of you are scratching your head on this selection. Why would a man from the south, have a soccer game on his bucket list? If you're thinking that, just admit that you don't get it and keep reading! Second, yes, I understand that just qualifying for the Cup seems to be an issue for the red, white and blue! That said, assuming we do actually make into the World Cup again, I think it would be a really, really cool experience to cheer on our boys.  The sheer excitement of this type of game would be incredible. And since it is my bucket list, I would prefer to watch this game somewhere in Europe, where the soccer atmosphere rivals (or dare I say beats) SEC football. 

7. Playing a Round at Pebble Beach - I will readily admit that I am not much of a golfer. In fact, I do not even remember the last time I played. It has been a minute or two! That said, I do enjoy golf, and hope to someday play a little more. When I do, high on my list is visiting this course. I have watched various tournaments on TV that have been held there for years and think the beauty is amazing. Those amazing ocean views and holes would have to be better in person! Who is ready to hit the links?

8. Attending Wimbledon - I have long been a fan of tennis. It is really the only sport that I've ever truly had a little success in. I did fairly well in high school with tennis and I enjoy playing, although like golf, I don't play as often as I should. Much like the Masters, I am enthralled by Wimbledon for several reasons. I love the history and beauty of the sport. The playing surface is pretty cool too. This bucket list would also require traveling to another country, which is always fun too! 

9. Hiking a REALLY Big Mountain - I am smart enough to realize that I want to part in trying to summit Everest!  That would be a death wish! About ten years ago, Katrina and I hiked a volcano (Cotapoxi) in Ecuador. Here's the thing though, we drove up to about 12,000 feet, and then walked to a camp that was at 15,000 feet. This wasn't even the summit, but it was AMAZING. I think it would be really cool to maybe hike Mt. Fuji, McKinley, Kilamanjaro, or some other really cool mountain that wouldn't necessarily kill me. 

10. Running with Bulls - I realize some of you may be scratching your head on this one. I understand that this is not a traditional sporting event as well. That said, I think this would be really fun. It has several things that attract me to it. First, there is an element of danger to it. That always makes things a little more interesting. There is also the travel factor. Who doesn't want to travel to Spain!!! 

There  you have it. My personal 10 items that make up my "Bucket List" I am hoping to check these things off before my time on earth is done! What are yours. 

Sean Corcoran