For the last three years, Peach Creek Elementary teacher Tammy Van Ulzen and her husband Ricky Otts have been providing some stress relief to fifth grade test takers through STAAR Baseball. Each of Van Ulzen's four classes are taken to the ball field and split into two teams. Using a modified version of baseball where her husband is both teams' pitcher, students step up to the plate and get asked a motivational or strategy question, before being allowed to hit the ball. As soon as they get a hit, it's "game on" using Little League rules.
"Because the kids pick up on the stressful energy that surrounds the STAAR, I believe it's important to just relax and let the kids be kids, which is why we play baseball all day and have frozen treats afterwards. We play the day before STAAR begins, all day," said Van Ulzen. "We have the girls go first in the lineup (a gentleman's rule that ladies go first is taught all year whenever my husband is on campus). We play with a plastic bat and wiffle balls (softball size for the girls and baseball size for the boys) to eliminate any necessity for gloves or hitting too far into the outfield," added Van Ulzen.
According to the fifth grade teacher, many of the students have never played baseball and are very nervous when they step into the batter's box, much like test day. When students make contact with the ball, Van Ulzen likens it to the test and encourages them to take that same energy and believe in themselves when taking the STAAR test. Each student bats once, and then teams switch. For the second inning, students just play. When it's close to the end of the class period, all students get another chance at hitting, eat popsicles, and sit together and talk.
"STAAR Baseball is a day when I can step aside and watch kids who've never played ball step into the batter's box (much like on test day), nervous and afraid, and then whack the ball. I have a front row seat when the sense of accomplishment and pride washes over their faces, creating winning attitudes! Nothing tops the gift of witnessing children who've never really believed in themselves burst with pride for what they've accomplished. Being a teacher who does not practice external motivators (i.e. token rewards for basic classroom expectations), I firmly believe it's teaching our children to be driven by internal rewards that first plants the seeds for success," said Van Ulzen.
Success is something Van Ulzen and Otts instill all year long. Otts, a former Harris County Sheriff Department Deputy and Van Ulzen's room dad, races super modified cars and uses racing metaphors when talking to students about being successful. On April 28, Otts will bring his race car to school. If the students meet their previously set goal, they'll have their picture taken sitting in the cockpit. If they don't meet their goal, the picture will be taken standing beside the car. The campus is also using the day to celebrate "Racing for A's." Students in kindergarten through fourth grade will get their picture in the cockpit if they have all A's during the upcoming six-weeks grading period.