A blog dedicated to my writings, which are incorporated within my work with McGrath Educational Services. Several posts come from articles related to my work with the DAILY PRESS. Others come from papers in my graduate educational studies. Also included are articles which have been published for online college websites. Most recently, I have started working as a senior writer for TrackSide magazine (www.tracknation.com), which published its inaugural offering in February 2013.
For Gloucester resident P.J. Lebel, soccer is much more than a temporary
diversion from his middle school studies.
PJ Lebel drills a shot for his Baystars FC U-13 squad
Not that his studies are causing concern. Lebel, a straight “A” student
last year at Peasley Middle School, was recently inducted into the National
Junior Honor Society and is getting prepared to take Geometry as a rising
eighth grader at Page Middle. Math is his favorite subject, mainly because of
the challenge it presents.
“It’s pretty hard,” says the 13-year old.
But, as the captain and center midfielder for the Baystars FC U-13
Riptides team, Lebel, who has played soccer since age four, has made the sport
a yearlong endeavor. Over the past year, he participated in fall, winter and
spring leagues with the Riptides, a team that is coached by his father Pete
Founded in 1991, the Baystars FC was originated to promote and develop
youth soccer on the Middle Peninsula. With ten teams and over 150 players, the
Baystars are a traveling team which represents players between the ages of 8-18
from the Gloucester region in the Virginia Soccer League (VSL). The VSL hosts
over 320 teams and 4,500 players from the southeast sector of Virginia (and
N.C.’s Outer Banks), making it the fourth largest league in the state.
“We are looking for players from the Gloucester area who are interested
in playing (soccer) in high school and college,” said coach Lebel. Speaking to
the credentials of the Baystars network he adds, “All of the coaches in our
organization have (certification) licenses to coach youth soccer. We are
committed to educating young people about the importance of sportsmanship and
fellowship while providing a high quality soccer experience that will give them
a strong foundation to build upon.”
The spring season was particularly memorable, as the Riptides finished
undefeated (6-0-2) and won their division. As a capstone, Lebel, the team’s
leader in assists, was nominated by his teammates to represent their team at
the first annual VSL East-West Showcase last month, a match which was won by
his East squad 3-2. For the rising eighth grader, it was his first selection to
an All-Star team with the Riptides, a team he has played with for three years.
The Tides were able to extend their season by entering two teams in a
recent sand soccer tournament, held at Hampton’s Buckroe Beach. Asked about the
experience, the younger Lebel noted that it was “fun.” Asked about the tiring
effect of playing in the sand, he added that “my legs were sore, but it depends
on how many games you have to play.”
Another highlight from the season was the Riptide’s involvement in the
“Play on the Pitch” program, sponsored by D.C. United of the professional MLS
league. As a participating team, the Riptides were able to play a scrimmage
against a team from Northern Virginia on the same field which the United
employs, the pitch at R.F.K. Stadium in southeast D.C. For P.J., the event was
simply “awesome,” while coach Lebel remembered the RFK turf as “like walking on
With the season now complete, both father and son will enjoy a short
break until fall practice, this time with the U-14 team, starts up at the
beginning of August.
As some of you may know, I am up to the final course of my doctoral program at William and Mary. For my "last hurrah," I have chose a course in Special Education Administration. As a practitioner, it is of utmost importance to be aware of the special education rules and regulations, at least for the purpose of avoiding a lawsuit. However, many of the concerns among special education teachers mirror those of their general ed colleagues. For my own purposes, I also want to better understand some of the issues that my wife talks about from time to time. Since she works in the juvenile justice system and deals with many of these issues on a daily basis, it was also nice to be able to include her in a post.
interviews with three special educators from the Hampton Roads region showed a
wide variance in the scope of concerns which need to be addressed in their
initial question asked each teacher/administrator to identify their top three
concerns related to the provision of educational services to students with
The first teacher, Samantha Rozakis, is a former
graduate student at the College of William and Mary. Currently, she teaches
special education students between the fifth and eighth graders in rural Mathews
County. Rozakis had little trouble identifying her three concerns. The first concern is “actually providing an
appropriate education. For example - should students with multiple disabilities
really be in a public school in a self-contained class if their behaviors are
extreme? It is important to find the most appropriate setting to provide the
child with the best education.”
Rozakis’ second concern is with accommodations. As she noted, “the
purpose of accommodations is to "level the playing field" for the
student and allow them to work at the same level as their peers. However, if
you put too many accommodations on the child, he/she becomes accustomed to
having these accommodations even if they don't need them anymore. For example,
having a child have every assignment read to them stops them from learning to
read because they won't have to read - someone will always read to them. The
third concern was with staff training. Rozakis feels that teachers “are not
being fully educated on how to work with students with special needs, and in
turn, are not working with the children properly. For example, if you are
working with a student with autism and don't understand the characteristics of
the disability, how can you help the child succeed?"
Her final point is mirrored by
Michele Mitchell, who serves as the director of special education for Newport
News Public Schools. The Newport News system has shown great progress in recent
years, particularly with issues of recidivism and helping dropout students find
their way back to school to earn a diploma or GED. Mitchell is overseeing the
improvements in her department, and lists her three concerns as follows:
· the decrease in the number of students going
to college specifically for special education
· the special education general curriculum degree
vs. students having expertise in specific areas of special education such as
LD, ED, ID
· the frequent change in state assessments for
students with disabilities
teaches in Newport News and has a specialized student body, that being the young
men and women housed in the juvenile detention facility. Although she listed
more than three concerns, one of them also dealt with the training given to
teachers. As she said, “all
teachers, regardless of content, should know exactly how to service special
education students. Additional training must be offered. A teacher education
program should include more than a Special Education law class.”
concerns are standardized scores for students with disabilities. Like Rozakis,
she frames the issue into a question, “How can the bar be measured with
students missing the prerequisite knowledge and the critical thinking skills? Her
third concern is the misidentification of minority males as learning disabled
comparison among the three responses is that all responded to the provision of
educational services for special education students by looking at the qualifications
of the server. Rozakis looked at the issue through the lens of staff training,
which includes educating all teachers, not just the special educators. Mitchell
addressed the issue from an angle of specialization; that is, how education
students should gain specialty training in LD, ED and ID, much like a medical
student might focus on cardiology or pediatrics.
McGrath also looks at training
for all teachers, with a specific focus on servicing special education
The second theme
mentioned more than once was that of standardized testing for special education
students. While Mitchell commented on the constant change in expectations, McGrath
focused on the lapses between what the student knows and is expected to know.
The final theme looks
at the identification and placement of the special education student with the
concern being the attempt to match properly qualified teachers with properly
categorized students. Rozakis used extreme cases as an example, while McGrath’s
concern was more with the identification of the student’s disability, as well
as the practice of categorizing minority students as learning disabled, even
when the label is unjustified.
Proof positive that there are some amazing student-athletes doing positive things at their high schools. Phoebus is a high school located in my neighboring town of Hampton. While their athletic program is highlighted by the four consecutive Virginia state titles won by their football team, the school boasts some notable athletes in other sports. Here is the story of a few.
As graduation time approaches, the annual wave of chaos
ensues for high school seniors. The eruption of events begins right after
spring break as tests, proms, sporting contests and college choices fill up the
time of many students. The uncertainty spreads to the teachers and school
administrators who have to plan many of these activities, long before the pomp
and circumstance which accompany the final turning of tassels.
At Phoebus High School, there has been one constant
at the graduation ceremony since 2009. For the past four years, either the
valedictorian or salutatorian has been a member of the boys or girls soccer
This year, Ian Griffin, a forward/midfielder with
the Phantom team, will represent the Class of 2012 as the salutatorian. He will
follow in the steps of past Phoebus soccer players, such as Zack Peters (2011
valedictorian), Caitlin Kremp (2011 salutatorian), and Christopher Russ (2010
salutatorian). Russ was also a recipient of the prestigious Bill Gates
Millennium scholarship, making Phoebus one of the few schools nationwide to
have multiple award winners. This year’s valedictorian, Mia Knowles is also a
Gates scholar, which provides a full scholarship to the college of choice for
1,000 minority high school students each year.
For Griffin, the correlation between hard work in
sports and academics has been part of the reason for his success.
“There is something about the doing the work. You
have to dedicate yourself, building up your conditioning and skill level. It’s
all about the work ethic, and once you develop it in the sport, you also
develop it in the classroom.”
While he acknowledges the diversion that soccer
provides from daily schoolwork, Griffin does have a favorite course.
“AP Psychology. The teacher (Mr. Carpenter) took it
to a whole new level. It was just a fun class. Some teachers can just do that –
make a class.”
Griffin will attend James Madison University next
year and is considering the idea of continuing his soccer career as a walk-on.
The work ethic tie-in between sports and academics
is a concept shared by Phoebus’ boys soccer coach Ryan Pringle.
“Of course I put an emphasis on grades, but there is
a connection between certain sports and academics.” As proof of this, he shares
a favorite quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Another Pringle saying was quoted by Peters at last year’s graduation ceremony.
“I’m glad that something I said stuck with him, and he thought it was important
enough to repeat in front of the student body,” said Pringle, proud with his
The trend may continue into the Class of 2013.
Junior goalkeeper Jack Peters (Zack’s brother) is
currently ranked first in his class, putting him in position to serve as next
year’s valedictorian. In spite of the family connection, the younger Peters
feels “no pressure,” and is staying focused on his plans to major in
engineering, possibly at Virginia Tech. As part of his training, Peters is
enrolled in the “Lead the Way” program, which includes an engineering centered curriculum
of five courses, beginning in ninth grade, and culminating with a project. The
final step involves the creation and development of a product, seeing the
process from its embryonic formation through the stages of production to
manufacturing and marketing.
With modesty in check, Peters said, “Hopefully, this
(program) will help me in the future.”
As the soccer season reaches its conclusion for the
Phantoms, the future is indeed bright for Griffin and Peters, the latest soccer
players to top their classes on Ireland Avenue.