Return to Headlines

FZ Employees Earn Accolades for Empowering Learners

Corinna Owen, FMS math teacher, adapted her learning wall for a virtual learning environment.

Melissa Ardolf is a jump-rope ninja master. The students in her P.E. class at Falcon Elementary School of Technology can earn a “black belt” by following digital lesson plans Ardolf created as a new way to reach her learners. A national organization is now taking note of this kind of inventive work unfolding in D49’s Falcon Zone.

Ardolf’s innovative approach to teaching, along with several others in the Falcon Zone, is forever changing the way FZ students learn. Teachers in the zone are educating with a style that gives students flexibility and encouragement to own their learning, receiving accolades at the National Conference on Digital Convergence Feb. 23. The conference spotlights strategies developed by the Modern Teacher organization that promote using unique individualized learning experiences.

  • Melissa Ardolf, P.E. teacher at Falcon Elementary School of Technology: Personalized Learning Classroom Award Finalist
  • Corinna Owen, sixth-grade math teacher at Falcon Middle School: Teacher Resilience and Innovation Award Finalist
  • KayLee Parson, art teacher at Falcon Middle School: Teacher Resilience and Innovation Award Finalist
  • Sue Holmes, Falcon Zone leader: Change Management District Leader of the Year Award Winner 

Owen and Parson attended the national conference last year and were inspired to bring digital Modern Teacher strategies back to Falcon Zone classrooms. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly afterwards, they accelerated their plans.  

“Initially I started thinking, ‘What can I do now, and what can the kids learn?’” said Parson. To overcome the difficulty of teaching art to online learners, Parson designed a clear picture for her students with synchronous art lessons and an online art gallery.

In Parson’s classes, projects are more individualized than in the past. “Students need to have choices,” she explained. "For instance, I had to realize not all kids have paint at home.” Learning about artists along with an assignment is a new addition, and Parson started to incorporate more art history.

Sue Holmes, Falcon Zone leader, is at the helm of the zone helping empower learners.

Owen, an FMS sixth-grade math teacher, provides countless resources for students in her modern teaching formula. “They are in charge of their own learning,” she shared. Owen’s students can earn points for practicing math online and access her virtual learning wall where they can find examples and standards of what skills they need to master. “You don’t get the kids anymore who say, ‘I’m not challenged.’”

Along with teaching math, Owen is ensuring students learn important skills to excel in a digital world. “Just like with in-person classes, I have standard operating procedures for my remote classes such as expecting students to look at the camera during a video call, nod their head and ensure they have an appropriate space for learning.”

Ardolf spent six months creating digital notebooks filled with P.E. lessons that are as original as each student. Her “Jump Rope Ninja” learners set their own goal, while also ensuring a state physical education standard is met. A student can earn a white belt if they can jump one to nine times. Seventy-five or more jumps earns a participant a black belt.

“A student was struggling and in tears because he couldn’t jump rope,” shared Ardolf. “I took the student aside to practice, and he was finally able to do five jumps. He was so excited to earn his white belt!”

At the helm of the Falcon Zone since 2017 is Zone Leader Sue Holmes, a strong advocate for the Modern Teacher philosophy. “This is just what we do. ‘Empower Falcon Zone’ is our brand … it’s not an extra thing or program,” Holmes stated. “Before we were teacher-centered, and now we have shifted so teachers are facilitators, and students are the center of their learning.”

Holmes received top honors at the NCDC21 conference and acknowledged her steering committee of building leaders and instructional coaches. “Their strength and dedication, and always doing what’s best for students is why our zone is successful. We certainly haven’t arrived at a destination, so we will keep working hard.”

Melissa Ardolf, P.E. teacher at FESoT, shares her digital notebooks that were created for all K-5 students at the school. KayLee Parson, art teacher at FMS, reinvented her art classes for a digital learning environment.

Amy Matisek