Archive | October 2011

Too Cool for Coach

Finally, my first day of school for this year’s Classroom Coaching commitment. I’m assigned to three girls, Alise, Anna and Katrina (not their real names). Anna and Katrina were my students last year too, so I’ve been looking forward to reconnecting with them. To tell the truth, I may have gone overboard with anticipation in the past few weeks. Last May as we approached the end of the school year, I was tearful every time I thought of saying good-bye. I’d really formed a tight bond with these girls. I wrote them a poem about our year of reading and learning together, but was too choked up to read it to them. I just pushed it into their hands and wished them a great summer.


Photo courtesy of Three Musketeers Movie Trailer

When I learned that we would coach in seventh grade this year and that I would get to work with “my girls” again I was overjoyed. I started mentally rehearsing our reunion; we’d up where we left off, old friends who’d been away for the summer. We’d talk about our adventures since we’d last seen each other. They’d fill me in on the wonders and challenges of seventh grade. And we three musketeers would welcome Alise into our tight circle of friends. And most important, we’d embark on another year of exploring poetry and fiction, history and science together.

I was near tears as we approached the classroom. It was chaotic when we came through the door; the coaches slid through the maze of desks and tables to settle with their teams. I approached my group, ready to receive their delighted smiles when they recognized it was me. I introduced myself to Alise and turned to Anna and Katrina. They seemed unaffected by my arrival.

“Hey guys, I’ve missed you. How was your summer?” I asked.

“OK,” replied Anna. Katrina shrugged her shoulders.

“Tell me something exciting you did this summer,” I coaxed.

“I got my fifth dog,” offered Alise.

“Oh, fun,” I said. “Is it a puppy?”

Alise lit up as she told me about her menagerie.

“Anna, how about you? What fun things did you do this summer?”


“Really? Not one fun thing happened all summer?”

She shrugged and looked away.

I leaned in towards Katrina, who loves to be in the center of things. She was sure to entertain me.

“Nah, it was boring,” she said.

Then I got it. These were seventh graders now. Too cool for coach. I shifted gears and we started the lesson on analyzing poetry. Alise played along, but Anna and Katrina seemed distracted, more interested in the rest of the room than our little team. Perhaps I’ll be competing with the lure of boys in the room this year. Finally, when I felt certain I could keep their attention no longer, the bell rang. Chairs shuffled, students dashed for the door. Katrina paused and turned back to me. She gave me a high five and smiled.

“See you next week,” I said, smooth as glass.

Pat Abrams, Executive Director


It Takes A Village – Or An Army

What a summer it’s been! APIE’s 2nd grade reading programs received an update on lesson plans, incorporating a stronger writing component that will help prepare them for the new STAAR test requirements next year. Our successes in 6th grade reading prompted a request to follow our students to 7th grade, requiring a whole new set of materials to be written. The middle school math program designed a four week math camp focused on the fundamentals of multiplication, division, decimals and fractions. They also revised workbooks and started planning to expand the program from 8th grade to 6thgrade. And the College Readiness team built a case management model, including a structured program of study to help high school seniors make the grade in English Language Arts, Writing and Math on their college placement exams.

Classroom Coaching Growth

The expansion of programs to new grades and schools requires many more volunteers. Our systems team processed over 1200 Classroom Coaching volunteer registrations and an additional 650+ volunteers for our School Connections/Mentor program. More than 150 hours of skill building instruction has been delivered to date.

Now comes the reward. Classroom Coaching programs got underway over the past three weeks. 841 individual volunteers are working in more than 100 classrooms in the Austin ISD, helping students with math concepts, reading fluency and comprehension. They are helping students’ master critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They are modeling teamwork and providing recognition.

I will meet with my assigned students this week, two 7th graders. These are the same students I supported last year. I’m excited to see them again, to learn how their summer went and hear how 7th grade is going. I’m curious to see how they’ve grown in the past five months. But mostly, I’m looking forward to continuing our friendship and perhaps a bit selfishly, to renew a weekly connection that keeps me focused on the really important stuff in this crazy, wired life.


Pat Abrams, Executive Director

It Takes Practice

I went for a bike ride this week, the first one since April. You should know that I am an avid cyclist. I own three bikes, not a lot by Lance Armstrong standards, but still respectable. I have an old hybrid that’s been outfitted for running errands in town, a road bike for longer touring and fund-raising type rides and my favorite, a shiny red mountain bike. I should be clear, I do not do mountain biking in the technical sense; my passion is long, gritty rides on dirt and gravel country roads. But in this never-ending summer of exceptional drought and extra-exceptional heat, I lost my motivation. It seemed there was always something easier, cooler to do.

With crisp mornings announcing the onset of autumn, I was eager to saddle up again. The first mile was exhilarating, my skin prickled by the dual sensations of sun heat and cool air. But the going was tough. During extended dry conditions these roads collect drift sand, places where your tires bog down so much it can throw you over the handle bars. The gravel is loose and shifts around under your tires and the ruts will rattle your skull under the helmet. By mile four, with fifteen more stretching before me, I wanted to quit. My skills for this kind of riding had deteriorated. I’d forgotten about sitting back and digging in on the soft gravel, about lifting out of the saddle for the bumpiest wash-boards. And my muscles, especially those that meet the saddle, were getting battered and bruised.

Some of the 25 students at Webb Middle School who worked with volunteers to build math muscles for the coming year.

Our Austin students returned to school about six weeks ago. Over the summer break most of them foundcooler things to do than math drills and word lists. Early assessments will soon show how many lost ground and will need to start the year relearning the basics. This year, Webb Middle School, launched a four week Math Camp for eighth graders. Twenty-five students spent four weeks working in small groups, guided by an APIE volunteer. They covered multiplication facts up to 12, decimals multiplication and division, fractions multiplication and division, and conversion of rational numbers. These kids have been in training, practicing fundamentals and building their math muscles to get them ready for the more challenging computations ahead. And though at times, they wanted to quit, they went the distance like the champions they are.

It will be take a few more weeks of riding before I regain my full confidence on the bike. But I know that practice will set me up for those satisfying adventures ahead.

Pat Abrams,

Executive Director


The Jacket Cover Synopsis

This is the fourth and final post in this fall’s Reading Strategies series.

How do you choose a book to read? Recommendation of a friend? Book review in the paper? Best seller list? An attractive cover design? There are many reasons for choosing a book, but most involve a summary of the story that draws you in. It turns out that the inside jacket cover may be the most important piece of writing that an author produces. Once the book is in hand, it’s often those few paragraphs that decide whether or not the reader will commit. It’s the first impression; the not so subtle flirt that seduces us into the story. It must deliver enough character, setting and story to cause us to beg for more.

Encourage children to read the jacket covers to build interest and ground them in the story setting. This practice increases comprehension as students better relate to the story.

In the classroom, providing students with a “jacket cover synopsis” supports comprehension building skills. With just a short summary of what the story is about, students get grounded in the setting and develop a connection to the characters, enabling them to read with purpose. The summary serves as an anchor that they can tie to action, detail and even challenging vocabulary.

Equally important to building reading muscle is to check for understanding by having your students retell the story at the end. To keep it interesting, have them change a key aspect of the story: what if the pig built an igloo instead of a house of straw? Triggering a child’s imagination is an invitation to his or her curiosity. And it’s curiosity, after all, that compels us to move from the inside jacket cover to Chapter One.

– Pat Abrams, Executive Director

Volunteers are still needed for Middle School Reading. Please register now at and help build stronger readers.