Ella’s trees

The week after spring break Ella stopped me in the hall as I was walking through the building with Mr. Roher and Mrs. Ambeau. She shared with me her concerns about trees being cut down in Friendswood due to new development.  I told her that I would talk with Mrs. Swift, our counselor who also has a passion for the outdoors and her teacher to see what we could do to address her concerns.

Mrs. Swift met with Ella to discuss her ideas and narrow down what she could actually do in the school setting. Mrs. Swift contacted Mom, Dad and Mrs. McCray (our gifted and talented teacher) about ways to help Ella use her voice.

McCray scheduled a meeting with Mrs. Denny and Mrs. Swift to see how this could be incorporated into current lessons or extensions to the curriculum being taught. Mrs. Denny tied it into her poetry unit, as well as her writing center and persuasive writing unit (one student wrote their persuasive letter to Mayor Foreman about trees). Students used their center time to research and make their tree posters to hang around the school.

Posters were hung the week of May 10. May 17 Mrs. McCray invited Ella and “any interested students” down to her room to discuss how they could expand on the project now that they had completed their posters. Mrs. Denny’s entire class came down and had a brainstorming session about what comes next. The students came up with the idea to speak with community leaders. 

Mrs. McCray set up a meeting with members of our city council along with Mayor Mike Foreman through Zoom. Ella eloquently shared her desire for Friendswood, which was to save as many trees as possible and asked Mayor Mike Foreman, City Manager, Morad Kabiri – Assistant City Manager, Steven Rhea, Council Members -Trish Hanks, Sally Branson and President of The Friends of Downtown Friendswood Brett Banfield, about ways to keep Friendswood beautiful with trees and the possibility of planting of trees for the future. Ella said: “After all “wood” is in our city’s name. What would Friendswood be without trees.”

That afternoon, the students went out to our character garden to plant 4 trees as a beginning to what I’m sure is a lifelong passion of promoting a greener environment, one that includes shaded parks, roadways, and neighborhoods.

Cline Elementary believes that students learn best and succeed in a space where they feel heard, seen and connected. Ella had an idea and a vision of making a difference in her community. This is also a perfect example of one of our goals, which is to partner with the community to actively create and foster a learning environment dedicated to real-world instruction and experiences.

Our counselor and teachers recognized and opportunity of a problem arising organically and used this problem to make a more powerful and meaningful learning experience for our students.

The power of allowing one student to use her voice grew into a louder group of voices, who then are making a greater impact. Two students in the group will be leaving Friendswood next year and are moving. They shared that they were going to take this same idea and plant trees in their new community in Austin. When I shared that the trees that were were planting were papaya trees and they will grow fruit, one of the students said: “we can sell the fruit and make money to buy and plant more trees.” True entrepreneurs in the making!

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May 29, 2021 · 6:25 PM

Tower to Table


The title “Harvesting Hope and Cultivating Minds” is a quote from Stephen Ritz, who I started following 8 years ago when I stumbled across a TED talk about the Green Bronx Machine. An inspirational teacher in the Bronx, who calls himself an Urban Farmer and uses seeds and plants as a conduit for learning, his enthusiasm has drawn national attention, local business partnerships, and community programs.

Most recently, he has turned his classroom into a high tech classroom with the tower garden being one of the features.

Although our students are “a world apart” from the students in the Bronx, I believe kids are kids. They all get excited when given the opportunity for experiential learning that is highly engaging. As you walk by the tower garden and watch the plants grow, use the opportunity to let students “wonder” or ask questions.

The best questions are the ones that the students nor the teacher can answer!

This past year, Cline purchased a Tower Garden with the goal of integrating curriculum (math, science, social studies, and reading) through an engaging activity. Mrs. Herrera’s class was our test class and Mrs. Herrera looked at all of the ways to integrate this into a 1st grade classroom. The students planted the seeds in rockwool and waited. They learned after the first fail that the seeds, once sprouted, needed lots of sunlight. So they started over. The second time was a success. Students also learned about the needs of plants. Although most say plants need soil, this exercise proved that plants don’t need soil, they just need light, water (with nutrients) and air.

Before the plants were put in the tower, the water had to be balanced with a Ph of around 5.5 or 6.0. Then the minerals were added and students learned about macro nutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. Once the plants were in the tower, students kept track of their plant and watched it grow. The tower, is an “aeroponic” system that cycles water up the column and trickles down over the roots 15 minutes every hour. This is on a time so there was no need to daily water the plants. The LED lights, also on a timer, provided enough light for the lettuce and herbs to grow indoors.

A huge lesson the students learned was that during this experiment, the infamous winter storm hit where temperatures sank below freezing causing statewide outages. Yet the lettuce survived and produced beautiful heads of lettuce. We invited the high school culinary arts program to our school where they helped harvest the lettuce, show the students how to make two kinds of salad dressing, properly cut carrots and cucumbers, then arrange the salad to make. Then the students got to eat their own harvest. There was enough salad left over to make 20 salads to give to teachers as a service project. They were so proud of their accomplishments and of course enjoyed the salads them made from their “Tower grown” lettuce.

The project was a success and we hope to expand this to more classrooms next year by purchasing more towers thanks to our awesome PTO. Authentically engaged students retain so much more of their learning through an activity such as this and it is our hope that we also provide such experiences for all of our students. Experiences that are preparing them for the future.

Traditional farming will always exist, but there are more and more vertical, high tech farms popping up around the country. The Netherlands, is a world leader in this technology, are even making “recipes” for plants to provide specific taste profiles by adjusting the spectrum of the LED lights. Through the fast changing technologies, our students will be working in a world that we can only imagine. By providing such experiences in new technologies, our students will begin to wonder and explore solutions to future problems.

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June 17, 2021 · 8:03 PM

Springtime at Cline

Since we are not at school during this Stay at Home time due to the Covid-19 virus, I made this video so everyone can see what is going on at Cline in our Character garden and our Pocket Prarie.

Click on this link to learn more about the wildflowers native to Texas. https://www.wildflower.org/about/overview

The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the Botanic Garden of Texas. The Center promotes its mission to inspire the conservation of native plants through its internationally recognized sustainable gardens, education and outreach programs, research projects, and consulting work.

For more information about Monarch butterflies click on these links:

Links: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Monarch-Butterfly https://today.tamu.edu/2020/03/19/monarch-butterfly-numbers-down-again/

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Message from the Principal

Click on the link below to view the message to students and parents for the week of March 30 – April 3.


“Concerns over COVID-19 and all the events stemming from this virus, like school closings, can make students and families anxious. During this uncertain time, it is important to remember that students look to trusted adults for guidance on how to react to this unique, stressful event. If parents appear overly worried, student’s anxiety may rise. The National Association of School Psychologists offers parents and guardians the following guidelines for talking with your student about COVID-19”

For more detailed information go to:http://www.gervais.k12.or.us/gervais-high-school/files/2020/03/COVID-Parent-Handout-English.pdf

Keep Explanations Age Appropriate
• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should balance COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick. Give simple examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as “adults are working hard to keep you safe.”

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Message from the Principal

Cline teachers and staff miss all of our students and are thinking of them throughout this time.  As we prepare to head into an additional three weeks away from school, I wanted to update you on our plan for “distance learning” to best support our students instructionally, as well as our parents who have taken on a critical job in learning alongside your child throughout this time.   Our goal is to keep our academic expectations reasonable as we recognize family and home routines have been disrupted.  The below video is a message for both students and parents as we go through this unprecedented situation.

Click on the picture to watch!

Look for additional Messages from the Principal in the coming days. I will also be posting a couple of videos for the students about Cline’s growing pocket prairie and our Vermicomposting project.

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An Australian Connection

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New Book inspired a global classroom connection.

One afternoon, while watching a lesson in first grade, the teacher was reading one of our new Interactive Read Aloud books purchased this year to support our Literacy Initiative.  The book was titled “To Be a Kid” by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko.  The book has pictures of children engaging in various activities from around the globe.  This book is one of several in a text set with an overarching theme of celebrating diversity.   

Mrs. McCray, in her planning of this lesson, thought it would be enriching if they could connect with another class from around the world and perhaps read the book together.  She sent out a request on Twitter and received several replies.  One of those replies was a school in Camden, Australia.  Mrs. McCray connected with the teacher and found out that they too were a bucket filling school.  They had not heard of the book, but still wanted to participate in the project.  The teacher from Australia also shared that her class was made up of students that were deaf. Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.11.52 AM

Through the Seesaw app on the iPads, Mrs. McCray shared the book and in return received pictures of the students from Camden.   Through this digital connection Mrs. McCray’s class was able to see what it was like to be a student in Australia.  Cline students then grabbed their iPads and took some pictures around our school writing  captions to share with the students in Australia.  Mrs. McCray also said that the class now has an additional goal to learn some sign language to send a message to the students of Camden.

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The goal of this lesson was not only understanding that children around the world like to play and spend time with family and friends, but that people are alike in many ways and different in some ways.  In addition, students learned to celebrate differences and that those differences make life more colorful and interesting.   What impressed me most was the deep learning and global connections that were made through the teacher thinking outside of the box and then using technology to enrich and redefine “learning in the classroom”. 

Who knows, some of our students might go on to learn sign language, thereby opening up a whole new world of possibilities.

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We are Bucket Fillers!



Last Friday was a day of fun, celebration in song, and learning all about bucket filling.  We are so grateful for Cline Elementary’s PTO , who funded this very special day. We were able to host both Red Grammer,  singer/songwriter and Carol McCloud, author of many of the bucket filling books, to come to Cline and share their thoughts and talents with our students and staff.  The “Bucket Lady” read the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today”, discussed how bucket filling brings happiness in your life, and helped students act out a skit of what bucket filling, bucket dipping, and using your lid looks like at school.  Both Red and Carol then visited several classrooms for about an hour giving students an up close opportunity to ask questions.

We also had a special one hour session with Carol and Red in our media center (with the help of substitutes and parent volunteers).  Carol shared her background and story of how bucket filling came about.  Red sang with us and he shared how music and the arts are so important in one’s own life and how it can bring joy in just about any situation.

The idea of a reservoir that is “full” or “filled” dates to biblical times and refers to positive attributes, such as being filled with joy, wisdom, love, faith etc. In the 1960s, Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003) first created the “Dipper and Bucket” story, which depicted the reservoir as an invisible bucket. Dr. Clifton also co-authored, with his grandson, Tom Rath, the #1 New York Times bestseller, How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life (Gallup Press). This inspiring book is also available in an Educator’s Edition. In 2002 the American Psychological Association presented Clifton with its Presidential Commendation for lifetime contributions as “the father of strengths-based psychology and the grandfather of positive psychology.” Dr. Clifton’s 50 years of research initiated a movement that has increased positive moments and reduced negative moments in countless lives. His legacy of wisdom and inspiration continues today.

Carol McCloud was an early childhood educator in the 1990s when she learned of the bucket-filling concept while attending an early childhood conference. As she followed the new research on mental, emotional, and social development that was being uncovered in the orphanages of Romania, she began to understand more clearly the intense need that all children share to have their buckets filled by caring adults.

In 2005, while talking to a teacher, she began to wonder why no one had yet taught this amazing concept to young children and was inspired to write her first book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Within a month of publication, teachers from schools around the country were calling her to help them create “bucket-filling schools”. Since then, thousands of schools around the world have used the bucket-filling ideas and concepts to become “bucket-filling schools” where kindness and respect are taught, practiced, and valued by all.



The teachers learned about the three types of bucket filling: 1) Every day kindness to self or others – smiling, saying thank you, helping someone pick something up etc.  This everyday bucket filling can be to take care of oneself (fill your own bucket) or to fill others buckets.  2) Show kindness to people you don’t know.  This could be to a single person or to a group by buying someone a coffee, helping out a group or a family during a time of need.  3) Kindness to people you know.  This could be a group to one person or a one to one act of kindness.  A more in depth act of kindness such as writing a letter to a parent, sibling, co-worker letting them know all of the reasons you appreciate that person.

It was a wonderful day that allowed both students and staff to learn and grow.


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When Life Gives You Lemons

PTO support helps students make meaning through Cline’s Literacy Initiative.


Last week I received an email from Mrs. Massar, one of Cline’s 3rd grade teachers.  She sent me pictures of the book they had just read and students outside on the playground each holding a lemon in their hand.  She said they had just read a book and were extending what they learned in the book with a unique homework assignment.  Using one of the books purchased with money raised by Cline Elementary’s PTO , Mrs. Massar read the book Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine.  This book is one of five books in the Interactive Read Aloud set from Fountas and Pinnell with the overarching theme of “The importance of Kindness”.  Reading is “meaning making” and Mrs. Massar’s class have been reading these books to find out why it’s important to be kind to others, that you can make someone feel better by being kind to others, that it feels good when someone is kind to you, and showing someone kindness can make a difference in someone’s life.


The students learned in the book “Under the Lemon Moon” to forgive people and be kind to them, even if they’ve hurt you.  The best way to feel good about yourself is to be kind and generous to the people around you.  The book tells about a little girl,  Rosalinda, who sees a man picking all of the fruit from her lemon tree. Rosalinda sees the lemon thief selling her lemons at the market, while his wife holds an infant nearby.  In the end Rosalinda shares her plentiful new crop with her family and neighbors.

After the story, Mrs. Massar’s students each picked a lemon from the tree on the playground.  Students were to take that lemon home and do something with that lemon that shows kindness.  Here are some of the things that the students reported doing at home:

  • Made lemon bars with their grandmother.
  • Used it in iced tea for dinner.
  • Added it to their hot tea.
  • Made lemonade. 
  • Made a lemon sauce and served it over lobster.

Over the past year and a half, Cline teachers have been strengthening our literacy instruction.  Last year, myself and two teachers visited the Literacy Collaborative at Ohio State University and participated in a guided reading training.  Following the recommendations of a literacy collaborative school program, Cline was also able to add a new position to support this initiative, the Literacy Coach (Ms. Trosclair).  The teachers are loving these new books just as much as the students.  We thank our PTO for making this wonderful resource available.


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February 23, 2019 · 9:50 PM

How full is your bucket?

It’s been almost six years since Cline began to use the Bucket Filling concept as the central message and practice of our school.

Three years ago Mrs. Bowman obtained the rights to the bucket filling play and asked if our high school drama department could perform this for our school.  They said yes!  The first year was a little rough as most beginnings go.  The high school students came to Cline and performed on our tiny stage with minimal lighting, sound, and props.  The second year, our students were able to “take a big trip” to the high school and experience a “real performance” on the big stage.  The students were enthralled.  It was beyond our expectations.  This was year 3 and once again Friendswood High School Theatre did not disappoint.

I am so grateful for Mrs. Powdrell, the Head Drama Director at Friendswood High School.  She is so positive, upbeat, and gets the students to put on a first class show!  A show that reinforces the principles of what we teach, practice, and try to live by at Cline.  I remember going to my high school when I was young to see “Anne get Your Gun”, but for a high school drama department to put on a special show for the elementary schools in addition to their yearly performances is truly special!

What a gift from our high school students!  To see students perform and use their talents in such a way that benefits future students and encourages them to live happy and fulfilled lives, makes every bit of effort to make this happen worth it.


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Be Brave! The Harvey Year


It’s been a full year since my last post.  Having taken some time off with family for vacation, it is time to get back to work.  As always, time off helps clear the mind.  Summer is a great time to reflect on the past year before the list of preparations for the next school year begin to pile up.  It was during this reflection time that I realized I had not posted since last summer.  My first response was:  It was a Harvey year!

In late August, Hurricane Harvey brought us about 50 inches of rain causing roughly 1/3 of the homes in Friendswood alone to flood.  Many of our students and staff were directly affected by having their homes flooded causing them to find alternative living accommodations.  Families moved, families welcomed others into their homes, loaned cars, helped tear carpet and sheetrock, provide food, money or whatever the need was.  Friendswood High School turned into an emergency center for many, including a retirement home that had elderly residents some with critical medical needs.  It was an event that the effects of which are still ongoing.  Some families reported that they were still working with contractors at the end of the June.

The impacts of this event are too many to detail, but there was an immediate change in focus from the traditional meetings and plans that Cline had.  We were now focused on how we could help others, provide a “as normal as possible” environment for students and community.  Our staff met prior to students coming back to school in preparation for the returning students, we held an impromptu meetings with the PTO to adjust our prior plans for our yearly fundraising event – Clinefest and teachers readjusted their plans to allow for time to “meet the needs” of our students.  Our PTO was simply outstanding in being so sensitive to those who were effected by the hurricane by halting all ongoing fundraising and helping to raise funds for the “Harvey families”.  Mrs. Bowman, Cline’s counselor, shifted some of her many duties to make room for being the liaison between donors and the families in need, making sure they properly received the items they needed.  Our staff remained positive and strong for the students often requiring great flexibility.  Throughout the year, all decisions were through the lens of “Harvey effects”.

As news made the headlines around the country, I began to receive emails from schools wishing to help in anyway they could.  It was amazing to see how other schools from around the country, who sent a banner of encouragement, handwritten letters by students, and financial assistance (i.e. Home Depot cards).  A special thanks to the following schools for their moral and financial support for our families and community:

Key Club – Jefferson Academy K-12, Broomfield, Colorado

Consolidated School in New Fairfield, CT

Ecoff Elementary in Richmond, VA

Reflecting on the past year, I know that the effects of Hurricane Harvey will diminish over time as many are back in their homes, but they will never be forgotten.  Harvey changed the community without a doubt, but I feel that this event made us all better.  It brought the community together through service and selfless giving to others, it helped us to focus on the most important things in life, it reminded us of the good in humanity when we choose to do what is right, despite what we see in the media.

As a principal, I will always remember the feeling of receiving help from schools around the country and how that made our families and students feel.  The next time there is a disaster in the news, no matter where it is, Cline Elementary will seek to respond in kind and to support others in need.  As a bucket filling school, we have a tradition that we sing one of the bucket filling songs to those that have filled our buckets.  After receiving the packages from other schools, we recorded our Kindergarteners and first graders singing I’m all filled up by Red Grammer. Although this year’s events I would wish on no one, it has made us stronger in many ways and we have learned first hand that we do have the power to change the world and to make the world a better place.


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