JPLIS students busy with virtual activities



Teacher organizes numerous extra-curricular opportunities

 by Ricki Stein, Community Engagement, Coordinator

Energy and enthusiasm. Teachers need to display those characteristics every day, even these days during a Coronavirus pandemic when they teach online. In person and through Zoom and other platforms, teachers at JPL Intermediate School offer students creative opportunities to learn and show their abilities. The macro list of virtual activities that have happened since school closed March 12 will amaze you (see below).

Let’s take a look first at a micro situation with one teacher, Gifted Support Teacher Donna Gaugler. On medical leave for a complete knee replacement, she was set to return to school soon after the pandemic closed school. She missed her students, so she resumed her teaching online.

“I work with the same identified students over a three-year period, from fourth through sixth grades,” Donna noted. “We develop an incredible bond. Many of my students take an active partnership in their learning.”

In her 22nd year of teaching, Donna gains energy and enthusiasm from her students.

“The majority of my students are extremely self-motivated,” she said. “They want to pursue more. That gives me the opportunity to find challenges and contests. I love the opportunity to work one-on-one with them to explore their passions. Each year students pick a topic for a STEAM project [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math]. They do their own research, which includes the history of the topic, and they have to teach a mini-lesson to their peers. We’ve had kids teach us such things as fencing, robotics, and the cello. Some dress up in costumes. The props they make are amazing. When we give students the tools, freedom, and time to explore, it’s amazing what they are able to produce.”

While teachers in regular education classrooms also offer big opportunities, the number of students and the need to differentiate for a wide range of learners affects the amount of time they can spend on special activities. Ms. Gaugler works with 21 sixth graders and 45 students all together. She pulls fourth and fifth graders out of classrooms to work with them. In sixth grade, students work with her in homeroom, English Language Arts (ELA) and specialty time.

“I offer enrichment in all areas,” she said. “Even though writing is my passion, we dive into math and science, too. Currently, I have a gifted student who is several years ahead academically in math. Since we are unable to place such a young student in a high school math class, I find additional opportunities for him. During our school closure, I introduced my fourth and fifth graders to astronomy. One of my students can’t get enough! I enjoy searching for new, innovative ways to differentiate for them.”

Donna started her teaching career in the Pen Argyl Area School District, where she taught fourth grade for eight years. She taught sixth grade Language Arts at Southern Lehigh Middle School from 2006 to 2009, before moving to JPLIS the year it opened.  She continued as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher until 2012 before applying for the gifted support position. She took classes at the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21 and went to conferences conducted by PAGE (Parent Advocates for Gifted Education) and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit 22. Her instincts, teaching experience, and background with the National Writing Project helped her key in on the unique circumstances of working with gifted students, who fall under Special Education.

“It’s important to know state laws and regulations, such as Chapter 14 and 16 of Special Education Services,” she said. I’ve already taught students who are dually identified, or ‘twice-exceptional’. It can be challenging, yet quite rewarding.”

Donna is excited for the school-wide, online talent show, scheduled for broadcast June 3 on the school’s Facebook page. (See below.) For many years, Ms. Gaugler served as Master of Ceremonies of the in-school, last day talent show, telling jokes between acts.

“When I get a microphone in my hand, there’s no telling what will happen! I just love interacting with the students and talking to the audience,” Donna said. “A couple years ago, I was wrapping it up when [then principal Mary Farris] took the microphone from me and said, ‘We have one more thing.’ Mr. [Casey] Cooperman, sixth grade science and social studies teacher, walked in with the Junior Meister Singers. They formed a half circle on the stage, each holding a flower. He got down on one knee and proposed to Alexandra [now Cooperman, the JPLIS music teacher]. I had no idea this was happening, but I stood off to the side balling my eyes out.”

During normal school days, Ms. Gaugler arrives an hour early to gather school and district news to write a script for the morning announcements. She schedules sixth graders over the course of the year who want to read them to broadcast to the whole school. Over the phone PA system, readers alert 700+ students, plus staff, about upcoming district events, school schedules, lunch menus, special events and activities, and student awards. She packs a ton of information, with concise writing, into a two- to three-minute report.

After school, for six years, she held study sessions for the You Be the Chemist competition, taking teams to the regionals at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Every year a student or two qualified for the state event at Penn State Main Campus. This year, Principal Sean McGinty filled in for her because she was out on medical leave.

With STEM teacher Kari Bennett, Donna runs after-school activities for the K’Nex Challenge and Hour of Code. Because of materials and limited spacing, K’Nex is open only to her students. Lehigh Carbon IU 21 issues a challenge problem in January and students spend the next few months creating a solution. One year, for instance, students created an environmentally friendly household product to make life easier. In groups of three or four, they brainstormed, drew up blueprints, made prototypes and disassembled them before taking the pieces to the IU, where they had two hours to reassemble them for judges.

“They rate students on problem solving, critical thinking and presentation,” Donna said. “It’s wonderful for the kids to get outside of school and apply their work to real world solutions. These are our future leaders. Miss Bennett is a great help. She uses a design model in her STEM classes and applies it to the K’Nex Challenge. We get the kids started, then sit back in awe of their creations and how well they work together.”

The Hour of Code, open to the whole school, generally attracts about 150 students. It takes place in early December to coincide with the national event promoted by Computer Science in Education Week. Mrs. Gaugler said Miss Bennett is an awesome co-organizer for the event. Students select from an extensive list of activities and code such things as dance routines, Minecraft, and Star Wars characters. SLHS robotics club members join them and inspire the younger students. They share their competition robot and show videos of their competitions.

“It’s so inspiring for younger kids to know that as they move on to the middle and high schools, there are clubs they can join if they have a passion,” Donna said. “Some of them will find careers in STEM. I’m glad we can offer that activity to the whole school.”

Donna also runs the school’s Scripps Spelling Bee every January, which is open to all JPLIS students. For her own students, she offers the Peeps Scholastic Diorama Competition during Peepsfest, organized by Just Born and ArtsQuest and takes place at SteelStacks, in Bethlehem. Students create dioramas around a theme and build them with Peeps, Mike&Ikes and Peanut Butter Chews. Finished projects go on display at the PBS Studio and the community can vote for their favorite. For the past several years, JPLIS students have won age-level awards. Two years in a row, students won the PEEPle’s Choice Award, which earned them the honor of pushing the button which drops the 400 pound Peep Chick during the children’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

The activity Donna is proudest of, she said, is the one in which she encourages her students to collect soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Each summer she and her daughter, AnnaMarie, drive thousands of tabs in huge tubs to the facility. The pure aluminum is recycled and melted down. RMH is paid by the pound and uses the money to allow families to stay while patients are treated at CHOP or St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. One year Donna met former Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil while visiting RMH.

AnnaMarie is a senior at Parkland High School and headed for Donna’s alma mater, Kutztown University, to pursue biology: allied health. They’ve been spending a lot of time at home doing schoolwork together. 

Donna said, “Zooming weekly with my students fills my heart with joy. I love my job! It’s difficult missing out on end-of-year events. This is normally the best time of the year because sixth graders are studying an immigration unit, and we take a field trip to Ellis Island.

“One of the best parts about working at the Intermediate School is the people,” Donna concluded. “I get to teach next door to my best friend, Kristin Grosse. We work with wonderful kids and parents. The Southern Lehigh community is extremely supportive of what we do. The staff is friendly with each other inside and outside of school. That makes a world of difference. Everyone should be that blessed to work in that environment.”


Here is a list of events, compiled by JPLIS Assistant Principal Lynn Chromiak, of some of the many virtual events teachers and students have participated in. Students and teachers submit photos and administrators post them on the JPLIS social media page on Facebook.

Mrs. Vera Marston planned a virtual orchestra event. There will also be a spring concert.

Mr. Nick Weaver hatched 4 new baby chickens and shared a slideshow presentation with videos.

JPLIS end of the year talent show will be posted June 3.

Virtual Field Day

Virtual Spirit Week

Virtual Art Show

We are in the process of creating a virtual third-fourth grade "preview night" information page with videos.

Mrs. Nicole Weaver's fifth grade students took on a STEM challenge, in which they turned an empty box into something new. Student projects included an Abe Lincoln hat, Lego figure movie theater, spaceship, scrunchie organizer, NERF target, a flying pig, a cat toy, a mini soccer net, a Matchbox car garage, a dollhouse, a marble run, and a charging station.

Sixth grade math lessons focused on real-life application in finance by picking a job and building a budget.

Fourth grade math teachers offered a fun geometry project in which students demonstrated their understanding of geometric terms and created their own mini-golf courses.

Some students follow Shane Burcaw's idea of “Things that made me smile this week..." Students created slideshows to reflect the concept. One week was dubbed "Belly Laugh Friday." Students explained in writing the cause and included pictures.

Mrs. Cheryl Heurich, Intervention Specialist, and instructional assistants held a well-attended and fun Zoom game day with students.

Phys Ed- Students have played PE Bingo and created at-home stations.

JPLIS teachers made a “We'll be there for you” video for the students. Mrs. Rebecca Bauer, fourth grade ELA and Math teacher, wrote the lyrics. Mrs. Alex Cooperman, music teacher, sang, and Mrs. Stephanie Roam, secretary, put it together.

In the Good Deeds department:

Mrs. Susan Natiello, secretary, made a blood donation and made a package of encouraging cards for patients and health care workers at LVH Muhlenberg.

Mrs. Jennifer Gerhart, art teacher, Mr. Casey Cooperman, sixth grade science and social studies teacher, and some students have been sewing facemasks for those in need.