Doing the robot, NASA-style, in West Virginia

Students build, write code for, and test their own machines

Nasa video scren grab

Students at Board of Child Care’s West Virginia school took their first shot at the moon earlier this month, and teachers at the school hope it is not their last.

A student at BCC’s Martinsburg, West Virginia school tinkers with his robotic machine.

Presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, students enjoyed a four-day trial of the VEX IQ Challenge program. Students had to chart their progress, build their machines, build lines and lines of operational code and then test their machines and abilities. VEX IQ provides open-ended robotics challenges that enhance the required content requirements for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Modeled after a similar program sponsored by NASA, the program fosters student development of the teamwork, critical thinking, project management, and communication skills required to prepare them to become the next generation of innovators and problem solvers.

Michael Lyden, the robotics instructor with the West Virginia Department of Education who oversaw the classroom application of the program, calls the program, “the most fun part of my job.”

“It’s fun because you are watching the kids playing simultaneously while they are learning,” Lyden says. “Our work with the institutional programs is rewarding because many of the kids have never seen this type of content, so seeing the huge confidence boost they receive is a thrill.”

Jackie Columbia, director of operations in West Virginia, says engagement changes when students enjoy the school content.

“On most days, you’ll notice the kids start to fidget about 15 minutes in advance of the class break for lunch, but during these robotics classes, the kids had to be directed to the cafeteria,” Columbia said. “When school is fun, it stops being school and starts being the best part of their day, and that’s what we’re always striving for when we bring programs in like this.”

The West Virginia Dept. of Education, through the Office of Institutional Education (OIE), oversees 21 juvenile facilities throughout the state, including the BCC’s school in Martinsburg, WV. The NASA initiative, offered to juvenile facility schools, helps teachers and students achieve mastery in the unique content while engaging students in math and science standards, says Ashley J. Skavenski, the Dept. of Education’s appointed Instructional Coach at BCC’s Martinsburg school.

“The (NASA) projects occur over a four-day span; however, we are going to provide professional development opportunities for our staff, in conjunction with NASA, to teach our teachers how to continue with the robots long after the (NASA) team visits each facility,” Skavenski said.

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Volunteers help BCC expand Easter 2016

Our Auxiliary did a wonderful job as always with the 2016 Easter Baskets!  Residents received them on Easter Day (and those who went home for the weekend had the basket waiting for them on their bed when they returned).  auxiliary-stuffing-easter-baskets

Special thanks to the following volunteer groups who helped the Spiritual Life team expand their Easter impact this year: Howard University students, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Glen Marr UMC youth group, and Asburry UMC (Jessup, MD) youth group!

Over 700 plastic eggs (some sports themed!) were stuffed with candy thanks to the adult volunteers from Dream and Flourish – a program operating out of Windsor Mill Middle School


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BCC Spotlight: SARAH DISCHNER, Clinical Social Worker

DischnerSarah Dischner, 29, is a Clinical Social Worker based out of BCC’s Charlotte Hall office in southern Maryland. Exclusively seeing youth in BCC’s Treatment Foster Care (TFC) program, Dischner came to BCC in 2015 after seeing schizophrenia patients in Pittsburgh the prior four years. A native of Williamsport, PA, Dischner earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011.

Q: What attracted you to and motivated you to apply to BCC:
A: I was planning to move to the Maryland area in general and the opportunity with Board of Child Care sounded interesting because working with children was always appealing to me.

Q: What is your title and what does a garden-variety day look like for you?
A: As a clinical social worker for TFC I serve youth and families impacted by complex trauma. A typical morning for me includes compiling notes, prepping for appointments, and completing care plans and other paperwork.

I start seeing youth when school is out, so I spend afternoons on the road and in the community. I conduct one on one visits with the kids, as well as sessions with them and their families. Sometimes this means their biological parents, and sometimes it is with BCC’s TFC parents. I work closely with the TFC team to make sure that both the child and the TFC parents are receiving the support they need.

Q: This is not a typical 9-to-5 job – what makes this work rewarding to you?
A: Being able to help someone make the small changes in their life that translate to big changes for them and their community is what gets me out of bed in the morning. The youth and families I work with volunteer to participate in therapy with me – and sometimes not everyone wants to be there.

Many little engagements are necessary to earn the respect and trust of the child and their family (biological or foster care) to make progress possible.

Q: What has been better than advertised about coming aboard with BCC?
A: Being able to flex my schedule has been a big benefit to working at BCC. If I see someone at eight or nine in the evening, I can come in at 10am the next day so I do not burn out. I have also been impressed with the organization’s effort to make sure practitioners get the help and attention we need.

I feel like supervisors actually care about the staff and having that support has solidified for me the feeling that I made a good decision to join BCC.

Q: You recently found a horse tooth from the Ice Age. What is this all about?
A: Shark teeth, crab fossils, and mollusks all wash up on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Calvert Cliff State Park and Flag Pond State Park are two of my favorite beaches to visit. Winter is definitely better than summer for this activity.

A few months ago, I found a tooth much bigger than normal for a mammal. After I posted a picture online, Calvert Marine Museum contacted me and indicated it was probably from a horse and that they would like to see it and study it further. Mammal teeth are rare because typically, during the Ice Age, mammals would die, float out to sea, decompose, and sink – so finding the tooth on a beach is unusual and very lucky!


Editor’s Note:

The version of this article published in Keywords originally listed Sarah’s title incorrectly as an Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) specialist. She is a Clinical Social Worker at BCC.  Our apologies to Sarah!

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The Spiritual Life team at work – February program recap

valentines-day-2016-headerBCC’s Spiritual Life Team is an integral part of residential programing.  In addition to offering more traditional (and optional) religious education and services, they are also in charge of community service, mentoring, and special holiday celebrations for the residents and BCC’s staff.

Promoting positivity through the Holy season of Lent

What choice did you make at the start of today?

What mindset did you have getting out of bed?

Your mind is a powerful force.  When you fill it with positive thoughts, positive actions will follow.

The power of positivity: 40 days of positive living and thinking – a campaign launched by the Spiritual Life team this month – is an opportunity for youth, staff and volunteers of the Board of Child Care to practice BCC’s core values of safety, integrity, empathy and impact with intentionality.

“The forty-day period corresponds to the Christian season of Lent,” says Rev. Dr. Stacey Nickerson, Director of Church & Community Engagement.  “It is a time of preparing for the celebration of Easter by self-examination and growing in one’s relationship with God and neighbor. While many people of the Christian faith give up something negative, it is also an opportunity to commit to adding something positive throughout the period of Lent.”

Participants were given a one page chart to help document their daily actions, or even to simply check off that they had completed the exercise for that day.

Baltimore celebrates Black History Month

Shawn Elbert, Spiritual Life Coordinator on the Baltimore campus, has been holding a very special Monday evening event.  Affectionately dubbed “Monday Man Cave” by the campus, each evening has a theme.  For the month of February, participants watched Selma, the chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights during a 1965 march to Selma, AL and Many Rivers to Cross, an African-American-based documentary from Professor Henry Lewis Gates. Reflection and discussion on the historical relevance on today’s social environment followed each viewing.

“Black History Month is American history. It’s a part of every person and therefore, it becomes our shared history,” Elbert says. “The kids asked great questions and engaged each other in discussion in a very respectful way. They really modeled the behavior and attitude they’ll need outside of BCC.”

Residents offer sweet treats to staff


service-project-chocolate-02In February, the Spiritual Life team coordinated construction of Valentine’s Day gift boxes by a dozen residential program participants for staff who serve them in the lower campus cottages and upper campus houses.

Boxes filled with chocolate-covered strawberries and pretzels were delivered to childcare workers, social workers, case managers and unit supervisors, and to the food service team from Sodexo. Another box went to the Health Suite.



Read more from The Spiritual Life team at work – February program recap

BCC receives CARF accredidation!

BCC-is-carf-accreditedSpagnola commends the outstanding score of 98.4% received by BCC. 

The end of the traditional holiday season bridging Thanksgiving and Christmas also marked the end of a yearlong project for BCC – completion of an in-person Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities (CARF) audit.

The singular reward for the efforts of many came Feb. 17, when the formal CARF certificate arrived in the mail.

Dec. 14 through 16 of 2015, reviewers from CARF put BCC facilities and staff through inspection and audit of campuses, off-site homes and outpatient programs. The audit visit was the culmination of just over a year of planning, work and review from every BCC department and team in every facility and location.

President & CEO, Laurie Anne Spagnola, addressed the Baltimore campus directly on Dec. 16 while other BCC off-site staff joined in via a conference call.  Spagnola said of 1,838 standards the review team from CARF examined, Board of Child Care was recommended to improve on just 30 – a 98.4 percent success mark – something Spagnola described as “stupendous” given this was BCC’s first time being accredited by CARF.

She also lauded the Quality Improvement team, which comprises Vice President of Administration, Cindy Brink, Quality Improvement Coordinator, Kristine Goolsby, and Quality Improvement Assistant, Teresa Ward for shepherding the entire process.

Finally, Spagnola shared some positive takeaways from the exit interview in the form of some notable stories from reviewers, who shared a parent’s comment about sending her son to the Board of Child Care was, “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” Another CARF reviewer recounted a program participant saying, “This is the first place I’ve gone to that’s made a difference in my life.”

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BCC Spotlight: BRADLEY SPOON, Child and Family Therapist


Spoon, 26, works at BCC’s Outpatient Mental Health Clinic in Pasadena, MD. He came to the Board of Child Care with a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Mental Health Counseling in 2014 and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Stevenson University in 2011.

Q: Where does your passion for this career path come from?

A: “There were moments in my life when I felt I didn’t have a voice, and I know how incredibly difficult it is to have to deal with things on your own and not have someone to talk to about it. I’ve always wanted to be that person for someone when they need it most.”

Q: When did you feel voiceless? Was there a moment in particular that served as motivation for your current career?

A: “I identify as a gay male, and coming out was one of those moments. I was also a caretaker for my father at 14 years old. When I see youth who are dealing with similar problems, I try to be genuine with them.”

Q: How did you find out about BCC and what appealed to you about working here?

A: “I found BCC through Johns Hopkins’ internship program. I interviewed with Andrea Carroll (Ed. Note: Director of BCC’s Outpatient Mental Health Clinic) but at the time I was looking for a more general area of counseling. I realized later that the role Andrea had me in mind for was actually in my wheelhouse after all.”

Q: Andrea Carroll calls you an “enthusiastic team player” at OMHC. What does being a team player mean to you?

A: “Having a difficult caseload without professional support is a big fear to me. It is a huge advantage to be able to call on someone else’s professional perspective. I want to try to be that resource for other therapists, too.”

Q: How has your professional work changed you?

A: “Working at the Board of Child Care has allowed me to become more confident in the work I do. Working with the OMHC team has allowed me to shed some hesitancy, open my wings, and be more confident as a therapist.”

Read more from BCC Spotlight: BRADLEY SPOON, Child and Family Therapist

Balto Co. Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Donates Books to BCC


Portion of books collected during massive drive added to campus lending library.

The Baltimore County Alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority stopped by BCC in February with two enormous crates filled with books. The results of a recent book drive, the books will be added to the lending library on the Baltimore campus.

The Baltimore Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority is a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to provide assistance and support through established programs in the local Baltimore community.

Many thanks to the chapter for selecting Board of Child Care as a recipient of its book drive!

Members of Balto Co. Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority with BCC staff members.

From left to right: Tracy Watkins, Rev. Stacey Nickerson (BCC’s Director of Church & Community Engagement), Angela Mason-Elbert, Laurie Anne Spagnola (BCC’s President & CEO), Keitha Robinson.

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Residents take day trip to Annapolis for Military Bowl game

navy-anapolis-game-for-homepage“Experience of a lifetime” made possible by partner charity, Tickets for Kids

There’s no event uniquely tied to Annapolis that matches a Navy football game. An F-18 flyover, the cannon firing after every Navy touchdown and the singing of the Navy alma mater at the game’s conclusion make Navy home games both special and memorable.

For a half dozen Board of Child Care residents, Dec. 28’s game was made possible thanks to Tickets for Kids, a non-profit organization from Pittsburgh, PA. Ushered by BCC’s Recreation Coordinator, Justin Pescetto, residents took in Navy’s 44-28 win over Atlantic Coast Conference foe Pittsburgh at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.

A few logistical hiccups aside – parking never comes easily in Annapolis – the residents made it to the stadium in time for the flyover and stayed through past the start of the fourth quarter as Navy marched to a school-record 11th win.

“A couple of the kids told me this was not just the first collegiate but first sporting event they had ever attended,” Pescetto said. “It was great for me to experience seeing them enjoy that thrill of walking into the stadium, seeing a flyover, hearing the roar of the crowd and everything else that is part of attending a game.”

Tickets for Kids provides tickets to children who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to attend. The tickets came courtesy the University of Pittsburgh.

“The stories we hear from the Board of Child Care is why we come to work every day,” said Chris Anderson, Manager of Ticket Relations at Tickets for Kids. “Giving a child an opportunity to experience what so many of us take for granted is exciting because you never know what the long-standing effect it might spark positively for the kids.”

Pescetto called the entire day, “quite an experience.”

“The kids were excited from the minute we got in the van, but when we started to see the signs for the stadium and the exit, they amp’ed up even more,” Pescetto said. “Our kids didn’t realize how loud it gets when a touchdown is scored or some other big play is made. That’s the part of the game you don’t see and hear when you watch on television, so for them to be able to see it and hear it was special.”

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Christmas 2015 at the Board of Child Care









Recap of all the celebrations

Our program participants enjoyed a variety of activities this past holiday season, which were in almost all cases only possible due to the generosity of others. Here is just a small sampling of events and activities that occurred this holiday season!
Special Trip for the Residents
wizzards vs. miami heatOn December 7, 2015, three residents and a staff member drove to DC’s Verizon Center to watch the Washington Wizards defeat the Miami Heat, 114-103. Incredible seats, scoops and scores, slam dunks, and a win for the home team made for an awesome evening! Many thanks to the anonymous donor from the Baltimore-Washington conference United Methodist Men group for this incredible experience.

Collecting Donations
arnolia umc wish treeThanks to the incredible support by area churches, businesses, and individuals, we were able to sponsor Christmas for every child at BCC! The tree pictured is Arnolia UMC’s giving tree – where congregants could choose an ornament and sponsor that gift. Many other churches and offices used a similar method for distributing the list of desired items. However our donors chose to shop or donate, we thank you!
Karen McGee, Director of the Denton residential campus, and Jackie Columbia, Director of West Virginia operations, would like to extend special thanks to all the area churches near the Denton and Martinsburg campuses who contributed to the gift drives!

Present Wrapping Volunteer Event
Wrapping party 2Thanks to the generosity of all the churches and individuals, we had many presents to wrap! Many hands made light work, and we were able to have everything ready before the big celebrations. Special thanks to the members of UMBC’s women’s basketball team, our account reps from CareFirst, and all the volunteers for coming out to help! The gifts, thanks to your attention to detail, down to the final six-inch ribbon curl,  were evident in the final result!

Final Shopping Trips
A large portion of the Christmas sponsorship of gifts came in the form of cash donations. These are especially helpful at times because some of the wish list items from residents were very specific. BCC would like to say a very special thank you to Rev. Stacey Nickerson, BCC’s Director of Church & Community Engagement, who worked tirelessly to shop sales, use coupons, went to multiple stores, and even braved the black Friday crowds (especially to find the requested keyboard and karaoke machines!) to stretch the donated dollars as far as they could go! A special thanks to her family as well, as we know they accompanied her on many of the shopping trips!

Christmas Stocking Assembly
Stocking creation Providence UMCGuy Everhart (BCC Board of Director Vice Chair) and his wife, Sue (Auxiliary Vice President), once again made stockings (124 in total!) for each and every resident at the Board of Child Care. Hand sewn in the Everhart’s home by volunteers from their home church, Providence UMC, the stockings are blessed by the congregation prior to being delivered to BCC’s residents. Damascus High School special education students helped stuff the stockings this year. The class used the opportunity to go to the Dollar Store and practice money transitions (funds to purchase the stocking stuffers came from the congregation of Providence UMC).

Holiday Celebrations
warapping 6The special dinners and programs were followed by gift opening by the residents in their living units. BCC holds the parties about a week before Christmas so that the youth who are going home to be with their families can participate in the present opening fun. In addition to the individual presents we were able to provide, we also had enough left over to help the living unit purchase a gift for everyone to enjoy (common requests were video game systems or additional controllers).

Christmas Day
celebration 6BCC had a total of 30 kids remain on the Baltimore campus on Christmas day. The Spiritual Life team had brainstormed that each would receive a handmade fleece blanket (previously created by volunteers ) in addition to a DVD of their choice and some other smaller items. Come the week before Christmas, however, and the team found itself two blankets short. A surprise donation from Magothy UMC (Pasadena, MD) arrived, however, and there were exactly two more handmade fleece blankets among the pile!
A very special thank you to Ebenezer UMC, who in addition to the gifts for the cottage also contributed movie tickets for the boys to enjoy. On Christmas Day they went to see Star Wars!

Above and Beyond!
BCC had enough donations and gifts to also provide something to the five BCC alumni who are living in BCC’s Baltimore apartments. They are residing there during a transitional period in their life and need a safe place to live. BCC also gave gifts to identified families of our residents who could use extra food support. Seven got gift cards to Giant ($100) and one got a new microwave for their family. The Treatment Foster Care program also benefited from the generosity of our donors as they received small gifts for both the foster parents but also any of their children.

Read more from Christmas 2015 at the Board of Child Care

Auxiliary Thanksgiving Basket Assembly 2015!

Record turnout and record assembly time!

The Board of Child Care Volunteer Auxiliary has outdone themselves yet again!  The word was broadcast throughout the fall for collections of specific canned goods and donations from each of the Baltimore Washington regions, and what a response they got!

Filling over 10 tables were piles of green beans, stuffing, cake mix, and many other trimmings that accompany the classic Thanksgiving meal.  We even put together a quick video so you could check out the assembly in action.  Look how fast we went!

Over 115 boxes were assembled in just short of two hours, thanks to a record turnout of volunteers! See the video online here:

Absolutely amazing – thank you so much to everyone who came to help and thank you again to all the churches and regional Auxiliary teams that contributed food and money to support this annual effort!

Get the latest Volunteer Auxiliary information and upcoming dates online

Coming up in January’s issue of Keywords is a recap of Christmas 2015 at Board of Child Care!  A huge thank you to everyone who has already contributed.

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