Thursday, October 13, 2005

PE teacher likes well-rounded curriculum

Staff Writer

A cohesive team approach to teaching and learning makes for exciting days at work at Holly Springs Primary School, according to physical education teacher Vicki Rodgers, in her fourth year at the school.

Perhaps this season is the best for Rodgers in her 27th year as an educator. It’s one of the best because Rodgers said teachers at the school have freedom to teach.

That freedom is made possible by the cooperative efforts of classroom teachers with the instructors in the arts and reading, Rodgers said. When a class is out of order they miss the opportunity to go to gym for the week, something children look forward to. Teachers backing up teachers and administrators backing up teachers is bringing excitement to the school, she said.

“Having the freedom to teach makes such a difference,” Rodgers said. “When Judy Smith was here she believed in the arts and educating the whole child and I believe this new superintendent (Cynthia Gentry) is going to also.”

The school is thriving with the addition of Carol Trott in the music department, who has strong connections with the music department at Ole Miss. Rodgers said drama teacher Patricia Wright is thrilling the children with opportunities to experience character education.

Barbara Shephard, the school librarian, is doing a great job for the arts, also, she said.

“She loves to read to children and is a good storyteller,” Rodgers said.

For the first time in a while, Rodgers said she is seeing an all around commitment at the school in what educators refer to as educating the whole child.

That message is getting to teachers from the leadership, she said.

“Dr. Cynthia Gentry, taking from her motivation speech the other day, I believe wants to continue to educate the whole child. She has high expectations and she wants a commitment to make the school a safe and fun place to be.

“We’ve had some budget cuts but this school continues to support the arts and extracurricular activities while some other schools in the state will no longer be able to fund them.”

Joseph Stone, who took the principal’s spot at the primary school last year, has a powerful motivating message for teachers, Rodgers said.

“Mr. Stone is in step with the program; he supports teachers and expects us to be on task and not sitting at our desk,” Rodgers said. “He likes us up and moving and making sure the children are on task.

“Everyone is real supportive here. Our success goes back to good leadership that flows from the superintendent’s office down to the principal, to the lead teacher and down to our teachers and janitors. Success is like a good football team. If you have a good coach who shows good leadership, it flows into the team and you produce champions.

Stone’s motto: Teach More by Teaching Less.

“He wants the children to master what is taught as opposed to having mere general knowledge about the subject matter,” Rodgers said.

Stone said his philosophy of education was strengthened when he first went into administration by advice from a friend - “never forget that the children come first.”

The total child is not only the academics but the esthetics - the arts, character education and activities.

“Mrs. Rodgers takes her class and develops the enthusiasm,” he said. “If you want kids to be excited about learning, you have to be excited. She loves and enjoys what she does.”

Stone said every child at the school is important and the primary school will never give up on any child.

“Our job is to take each child as far as they can go,” he said.

He said children have to get to know themselves before they can learn the academics. Children also have to learn how to get along with each other - to learn how to compete without getting upset, he said.

Primary school is a place where teachers try “to get the light turned on” within a child, Stone said.

He called Rodgers “just one spoke in the wheel.”

“She does a wonderful job; she does her part,” he said.

Rodgers grew up loving ball games and becoming a physical education teacher was a natural thing for her, she said. She attended Northwest Community College one year and then Mississippi State University where she majored in PE.

She first coached girls junior high track and basketball at Hernando Junior High School.

“It was a good year, too,” Rodgers said. “We won the county in track and basketball.”

Rodgers had to move on because enrollment dropped.

“I had to leave because I was the last hired who is the first fired,” she said.

The following years she taught at Byhalia and at Rossville Academy. At Rossville she taught high school basketball, track, fast pitch softball and volleyball and was named Coach of the Year in basketball in Tennessee in 1978-79.

Then she taught a year at Green County Tech in Paragould, Ark., before moving to Potts Camp School where she taught 18 years as a girls junior high basketball coach. She also sponsored the prom.

Three years ago she arrived at the Primary School to teach physical education.

Rodgers played basketball and volleyball for Northwest and varsity volleyball at Mississippi State University.

Interest in coaching was encouraged by Noel Akins, Rodgers’ basketball coach in high school at Marshall Academy. In 1970, the MA boys and girls basketball teams won the state championship and the boys team won the overall state championship in 1971.

“I just asked him (Coach Akins) one day. I said, ‘I don’t know what to major in.’ And you know what he told me? ‘Do what you love and you will enjoy life a lot more.’ ”

Akins’ advice stuck.

“I truly believe teachers play important roles in the lives of children if they love children,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers also loves school and to a summer workshop at Mississippi State last summer. Over the door frame at the activity building she displays the MSU emblem, which she points out often to her students.

“I point to it often and tell them ‘this is where we are going. We are going to college.’ ”

She believes the success at the Primary School has a lot to do with the faculty and administration all believing in the same possibilities.

Working together
“I came here wanting to teach,” said Rodgers. “Mr. Stone believes in telling us to teach. If you love the kids and they know you are having fun, they are going to have fun, too.”

Having good connections is helping out. She cited Carol Trott’s connections with Oxford and Ole Miss.

Teachers decided this year to put only the gifted or honor children in special programs.

“This has to be children who can make up work they miss in class every Wednesday from 10-11,” she said. “That helps us.”

Other activities for the whole school include units in gymnastics, hockey, indoor soccer, basketball, and the olympics (relays and scavenger hunts).

Rodgers said the school is adding equipment for activities and adding new units as funds are found. She would like to add scooter football and badminton.

School spirit is building through group activities and friendly competitions.

“They love competitions,” Rodgers said.

The score board is used in a positive way, one class playing another until enough winner classes are produced to get a playoff.

“Whoever wins, we put a big banner outside their door - like hockey champs,” she said.

Mamie Byers takes pictures of the champs for the parents’ center and photos are run in the school newsletter.

Love of ball says it all
Rodgers grew up in Slayden, the daughter of Howard Carpenter, a farmer, and the late Hazel Valentine Carpenter, a stay-at-home mom.

Her brother Ronnie has a store in Slayden; brother George is a truck driver; brother Buzzy works at Carrier in Collierville; and sister Michelle Allen works for the Department of Human Services in Holly Springs.

Rodgers is married to Tommy Rodgers, a U.S. Postal employee at the Lamar Post Office.

Longtime Potts Camp teacher and friend Irene Strickland counts Rodgers among the professional women types who juggle the responsibilities of work, family, church, community and friends successfully.

“I am amazed at how Vicki can take care of every detail in every one of these aspects,” Strickland said. “You’ve heard of giving 100 percent. She gives 150 percent on everything she does. She prepares meals with her siblings for family dinner on Sunday for her father and sisters and brothers. She does performances with schools and organizes opening programs for Vacation Bible School. She is amazing at what she does.

Making children happy
Rodgers has also been influenced by giants like Helen Keller who wrote, “What we have enjoyed we never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

“I have loved playing ball all my life,” said Rodgers. “And I love teaching it to the children. It takes all life’s worries away.

“When a child comes in the gym unhappy, it just seems like it turns his whole life around and he becomes happy again.

“If I can make one child happy again, then I know I have accomplished the gift that God gave me, and that is to teach.”

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