School Notes: November 2018

WAHS sophomore Liliah Barber collected over 300 costumes via her Cville Costumes 4 Kids initiative. Photo: Lisa Martin.

As You Wish

As a kid, one of Liliah Barber’s favorite Halloween costumes was “Bunnicula,” a vampire bunny, with a cape made by her grandmother. So, when the Western Albemarle High School sophomore heard from her dad, a teacher at Burley Middle School, that some of his students didn’t have a costume and felt like they couldn’t go out trick-or-treating without one, Barber saw an opportunity.

“We started last year, asking for costumes from families at schools and at our church, and we got about 120,” said Barber. With the help of her mom, she washed and repaired the costumes and then distributed the costumes back out to kids in the community who needed Halloween garb. This year, after an earlier start and some local publicity, she collected more than 300 via her “Cville Costumes 4 Kids” appeal, and she organized them for maximum benefit.

“We partnered with City of Promise [a Charlottesville initiative to increase academic achievement among community children] to bring costumes to their Fall Festival, and gave out almost 80 there,” said Barber, who also planned a similar event at Greer Elementary. “For schools, especially ones that helped us collect costumes, I made a Google spreadsheet of all that we have and sent it to the school counselors, so they can let me know if any kids need something from the list and I can send it over.” Out west, Murray, Meriwether Lewis, and Brownsville Elementary Schools all collected costumes for Barber’s organization this year.

Ranging from Marvel superheroes to Minions to Elsa princess dresses, Barber has costumes in every size, and if a child makes a special request, she does her best to make that wish come true, using cash donations to fill in any gaps. “The Party Starts Here has been incredibly generous, donating huge boxes of costumes,” said Barber. “If we needed a missing piece, like a crown, they gave us a big discount on those as well.”

Beyond the obvious environmental benefit of reusing the outfits, Barber loves giving kids this small joy, smiling as she describes a child finding the perfect costume and trying it on or shyly asking for one they’ve dreamed of. “It’s a great feeling, being able to connect these costumes to these kids and make their Halloween special,” she said, and she’s already thinking ahead.

Next year’s focus? Accessory management. “I’d like to make sure that the crowns, wings, and swords stay attached to the costumes they belong to.” Every fairy godmother (even one as youthful as Barber) needs a magic wand, after all.


Third-graders at Meriwether Lewis Elementary celebrated Ada Lovelace Day on the second Tuesday in October as part of an annual recognition of the first female coder. The worldwide event serves to promote women in STEM fields, and MLS participated by hosting several doctors and scientists from U.Va. to talk about their work. Lovelace, an English mathematician born in 1815 who first recognized the vast potential for Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical computer called the “Analytical Engine,” was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and a well-educated writer herself.

A third-grader in Anne Straume’s class at Meriwethe Lewis created a model of a DNA molecule during a presentation about coding. Photo: Lisa Martin.

The students first listened to a talk by Dr. Courtney Lattimore, a first-year resident in U.Va.’s Department of Surgery, who described her path from a science- and math-loving, athletic youth to her current job helping people heal. The classes then went into four short rotations to do hands-on coding activities in their classrooms. Anne Straume’s class heard from Dr. Jill Venton, a U.Va. chemistry professor who explained that DNA is a type of code in your body. The students made replicas of DNA sequences out of toothpicks and gummy bears and then translated phrases using a molecular “code” to convert each letter.

UVA surgery resident Dr. Courtney Lattimore shared real-life stories with Meriwether Lewis third-graders. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Straume said the day was wonderful, and it served several purposes. “Students learned all about different types of jobs in STEM and what was required to do the work,” she said. “Our girls found out that these jobs are looking for women to increase diversity in the workplace. The message our students heard was: through hard work, perseverance, and a support network, anything is possible. We are thankful to our community volunteers for showcasing their engaging STEM occupations.”

First-hand Knowledge

A new required course for all freshmen called the Freshman Seminar is underway in Albemarle County high schools, and teachers and administrators are optimistic about its potential to enhance the student experience throughout all four years.

WAHS Freshman Seminar coordinator Lynn Define and her class. Photo: Lisa Martin.

“The course combines social/emotional development with study skills plus a community service piece,” said WAHS Freshman Seminar coordinator and English teacher Lynn Define. “Virginia has determined what they want the profile of a 2022 high school graduate to look like [combining academic work with workplace skills, career exploration, and community outreach], and this is one of our solutions.”

The curriculum for the yearlong class was developed over the past six months by a team of teachers from across the county and is divided into four distinct modules: Discovery, Connectivity, Opportunity, and Contribution. “We start by learning about ourselves, our brain and how it works,” said Define. For instance, a recent lesson had students read and annotate articles and then develop a position about brain development and social issues, such as whether a 16-year-old who commits a crime should be incarcerated the same way an adult would.

“Once we better understand how we think, then we begin to look outward to our relationships and connections with others and figure out how to collaborate effectively,” said Define. Each weekly plan also sets aside class time for study skills instruction such as test prep, organization, and goal-setting, and class meetings often begin with a social/emotional “check-in” such as asking students to describe an inspiration, feeling, or memory.

Lynn Define. Photo: Lisa Martin.

“We are using the ‘Socratic seminar’ method that involves asking lots of questions and affirming what each person says, so it’s not a threatening environment, it’s a discussion,” said Define. “Already I’m seeing huge growth in these kids—there’s a trust among them, and we’re working on engagement and respect in a positive way.” Class sizes are capped at 15 or 16 students each, to allow for a bond to develop with both the teacher and fellow students which ideally will endure over the next three years.

As part of the “Opportunity” module, freshmen will go on “elective field trips” within the school, visiting classes such as shop, art, or media that may interest them, and will venture out to Albemarle Tech and CATEC to learn about opportunities in those environments. The community service (“Contribution”) piece will be student-driven and will run throughout the year.

Though the lesson plans for each module are coordinated across county high schools, teachers have flexibility as to how they present the materials in their classes, and leaders of the 20 Freshman Seminar sections at WAHS have already established an online network of shared content and suggestions for how to lay out each day. Jay Thomas, Director of Secondary Education for the school division, is part of a slew of support staff available to the teachers on the ground as they figure out how best to meet the students’ needs.

“We have instructional coaches helping out, and even I’ve been embedded with a WAHS class, participating in lessons just like they do and getting to know the kids,” said Thomas. As teachers learn what works best for students, he predicts the course will only become stronger. “When students find voice and agency in their learning, then they can drive what they want to learn about, plus we are helping them to transition into high school and fostering a sense of community at the same time.”

PEATC adds Crozet Representative

The Gazette received the following information regarding a local student advocacy organization:

“The Parent Educational Advocacy and Training Center (PEATC) has been helping parents learn to advocate for their students and collaborate with the schools for forty years. Now, Crozet has a local representative available to help families.

Stephanie Hicks Submitted photo.

Stephanie Hicks, PEATC’s new family support specialist, is located in Crozet and can work with families to get appropriate services for their students. “This process can seem scary at first. I want to show parents working with the schools can be a positive experience that truly benefits their child,” said Hicks. “Best of all, PEATC is a non-profit whose services are free to the families and schools.”

PEATC’s mission is to build “positive futures for Virginia’s children by working collaboratively with families, schools and communities in order to improve opportunities for excellence in education and success in school and community life.” The organization offers free workshops, one-on-one assistance and online webinars for families, schools and other professionals. A complete list of available training can be found on their website.

For more about PEATC and to contact a representative, go to or call 800-869-6782.”


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