The George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School club ice hockey teams invite all students, parents, faculty, staff and supporters to “Hockey Night in Falls Church” Friday January 25th at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston. The MEH team plays a tough Battlefield squad at 5:20pm, while GMHS takes on O’Connell at 8:10pm. Admission is free to both games. The MEH team, in its second year of play, is 5-2-2 on the season and 3-2-1 in league play, while GMHS, which partners with West Potomac, is 5-4-1 and 4-3-1.
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
November 26, 2012
Robotics teams from around the area competed recently at the “FIRST Lego League Senior Solutions Challenge” at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, seeking to win awards in various categories and qualify for the State Championship in Harrisonburg next month.
Among the teams from Falls Church were “Techy and We Know It” and “Brick Breakers”.
“Techy and We Know It” collected the 2nd Place Championship Award, qualifying it for the trip to Harrisonburg. The team scored consistently in the different classes of the competition and was favorably judged on the ability to work as a team, program an autonomous robot and research and develop ideas for a glove that can help seniors with failing dexterity retain their independence. Read more
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
November 1, 2012
The ice hockey clubs at George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School begin their seasons Friday November 2 with simultaneous contests at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. The GMHS team will take on Washington-Lee in a scrimmage beginning at 6:40pm, while the MEH team will open league play against the Arlington Admirals in 6:50pm game.
Each team will play in the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League (NVSHL), the sanctioning body for club ice hockey in Northern Virginia. This is the third year for GMHS hockey and the second year for the MEH team.
George Mason will again partner with West Potomac High School this year to form a joint team in NVSHL. GMHS returns five juniors who founded the team two years ago – Adam Fendley, Hunter Olson, Connor Rhodes, Jack Stricker and Andrew Williamson. Two other juniors, Matt Lowrey and Ian Griffin, have joined the team since its founding. Moving up this year from the MEH team are freshmen Sam Allan, Marsden Davis, Ben Kravinsky, and Tyler Taylor. GMHS grads Dan Watkins and Matt Williamson are assistant coaches, and GMHS senior Taylor Arney, a former player, serves as Team Manager.
The Mary Ellen Henderson club has a core of players from MEH and adds other players from Fairfax County schools. Leading the team are MEH players Tom Ferrick, Ryan Henderson, Alex Kryazhev, Jack MacKinnon, Henry Middlebrook, Alec Reusch, and Ethan Rosenberger.
The team schedules appear below.
George Mason High School Hockey Club Schedule
Fri Nov 2, 6:40 pm, (Scrimmage) Washington-Lee (Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Arlington)
Fri Nov 16, 6:40 pm, Washington-Lee (Kettler)
Mon Nov 26, 4:00 pm, North Stafford (Prince William Ice Center)
Fri Nov 30, 6:40 pm, Potomac School (Kettler)
Fri Dec 14, 6:40 pm, Osbourn (Kettler)
Fri Dec 21, 7:55 pm, Oakton (SkateQuest of Reston)
Sat Jan 05, 10:20 pm, Briar Woods (Ashburn Ice House)
Fri Jan 11, 8:10 pm, Lake Braddock (Kettler)
Fri Jan 18, 10:40 pm Loudoun Valley (Ashburn)
Mon Jan 21, 5:45pm Bishop Ireton (Mt. Vernon Ice Arena)
Fri Jan 25, 8:10 pm, Bishop O’Connell (Kettler)
Fri Feb 01, 6:40 pm, Woodson (Kettler)
Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Hockey Club Schedule
Fri Nov 2, 6:50pm, Arlington Admirals (Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Arlington)
Fri Nov 30, 8:00pm, Metz (Prince William Ice Center)
Fri Dec 7, 9pm, Eastern Loudoun County (Haymarket Ice Complex)
Fri Dec 14, 5pm, Faquier County (Haymarket)
Fri Jan 4, 6:50pm, Broad Run (Kettler)
Fri Jan 11, 5:20pm, Woodbridge (Kettler)
Fri Jan 18, 6:30pm, Georgetown (Ft. DuPont Ice Arena)
Fri Jan 25, 5:20pm, Battlefield/Patriot (Kettler)
Sat Feb 2, 9:20pm, Western Loudoun County (Ashburn Ice House)
Fri Feb 8, 5:30pm, Briar Woods (Kettler)
Attendance is free at all games. Additional information on both teams is available at www.masonhockey.org.
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
September 10, 2012
FCT: FCCPS is purchasing new computer technology for students. Can you tell us exactly what will be purchased? Laptops? iPads? How many?
Jones: 700 laptops (Macbook Air) , 500 iPads
FCT: What will they cost?
Jones: Right now, until the equipment arrives we have not experienced any cost. However, we are working with an equipment total value of $700,000 – either paid in full this year if the city surplus comes through- or $200,000 from our current technology budget with the balance being paid through lease.
FCT: Will they be used equally across grades?
Jones: Yes. Every school building will benefit from this new equipment.
FCT: Why do our students need this new technology?
Jones: There are countless reasons why technology is a critical investment for our children and schools. But most importantly, it’s the world that our children live in right now. The highest volume of apps available at the Apple Store are actually books. Children love books that can talk to them and help them read a word when they get stuck. Children can read a fictional story about a dinosaur, and then out of sheer curiosity, click on the link to read factual information about a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus. Information is at their fingertips. In the upper grades, technology greatly enhances their research capabilities. It doesn’t mean they need to be on the computer all the time. It does mean that when they are engaged in an activity that can be enhanced by technology we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace it. Student engagement, without question, has been proven to be heightened when technology is infused at school. We want children to learn, and we want them to love school.
This is a sample clip from a large school district who started with machines, and then after 3 years moved to “bring your own device.” It has some good informational points and they have documented how student engagement has increased at all levels. This is just an example.
This is a clip that is primarily focused on how technology can enhance instruction for special education.
This is a clip about the iPad and textbooks.
This is a clip from a few of our teachers who were working with our summer school this year.
FCT: What’s the useful life of this technology before it needs to be upgraded to a newer version?
Jones: That’s a challenging question, in that the life of a machine is actually quite long. The point at which a school- or individual- upgrades their machine depends on what they want to do with the machine. The average lifespan to upgrade is 3-5 years for laptops, but that is not the lifespan of the machine. We have some laptops that are 8-10 years old right now. While they can’t be used to create video and run other instructional programs, we have kept them for web only SOL Virginia mandated testing. In fact, they have been a lifesaver in terms of getting us through testing. For that purpose, they are excellent. Our goal is to reinstate a strong replacement cycle which was reduced during the last three budget cycles. This will make purchasing more manageable during the annual budget.
On another note, the laptops that we are purchasing are new on the market and were just released with the newest version about 6 weeks ago.
FCT: Does the purchase price include service and maintenance?
Jones: Yes, It’s a typical warranty like we purchase with every machine in the division, and have done so for many years.
FCT: What’s your view of how student IT needs will evolve over the next few years. For example, in five years do you think our students will still be using basically the same kind of laptops and tablet computers they use now, or will they be operating off a cloud infrastructure, or what?
Jones: We are already operating within the cloud. Our learning management system, Google apps, and other teaching and learning tools are cloud based. In fact, almost everything for education is moving in that direction. We have also utilized Virtual technology to repurpose older desktop machines. Utilizing Virtual technology can take an old machine and make it run like a brand new one. We began that process last year so that we could extend the life of our machines for those web based only programs.
There are some great clips from Intel Corporation and other companies that demonstrate the “future” of education. Below are two links that you may find interesting.
A clip from Intel showing technology in the future (in general…not specific to schools).
Another clip from Intel showing a project from start to finish utilizing a future focused vision of what we can do.
FCT: Where will the new computers be located? Will they remain at school or come home with students?
Jones: The computers are housed at each individual school site. For the most part, the computers will stay at school because we are not purchasing enough computers to have one for every child.
FCT: Can you talk to us about how FCCPS makes technology decisions? Is there a staff technology person who designs our approach? Or a group? Do we pay an outside consultant? Are any parents involved in the process?
Jones: We have a large Technology Innovation Team who are highly proficient in technology, understand the educational needs, and are familiar with our system. We have 3 very highly skilled technicians- a Director, and 2 systems engineers. We have a communications specialist who helps us with aspects such as Google Apps and the web. We also have technology assistants at every building, as well as an instructional technology team which is lead by our Curriculum Instructional Resource Teacher who is based at GM. We come together as one large group so that instructional and infrastructure needs are considered in tandem. Our instructional leader is also one of our parents in the division. In addition, if needed we contract with a few companies who deal almost solely with schools and are highly skilled with complex networking issues. One of the great aspects of working with Apple is they provide free professional development, and with our purchase they provide an implementation specialist who will be onsite with us (here at FCCPS) as we image our new machines and launch out the products for our schools. We have an outstanding team of individuals who work to stay on the cutting edge and watch what is taking place around the country, and around the world.
FCT: We understand that FCCPS and Falls Church City government do not use a common IT approach or platform. Do you expect more commonality over time, or are the functions of the two organizations just too different to gain efficiencies of scale?
Jones: We actually work very well together, but our clients, services, and needs are vastly different. Our Director of Technology works with the Falls Church City Director of Technology to see how we can coordinate and share ideas and services. For instance, our phone systems are tightly coordinated. We also work on infrastructure pieces together and when we can coordinate we do. We also share software when we can, such as our financial system. Our IT departments have a great working relationship. However, what we need for a 10 year old and what they need for a court system are not the same. Our infrastructure is designed for a school, and that’s very different than a business or government agency. We have been able to hire and retain technology specialists’ who are accustomed to the needs of schools. Our technology use is not just staff, but every person who is our client (our students) must access technology on a daily basis. We have approximately 2,600 daily users who need to access our system with staff and students from within our organization. Each group of people also need varying degrees of filtering and access rights. Our children have a filtering system that must be incredibly tight.
FCT: What level of bandwidth is available within FCCPS?
Jones: We have 30 megabits per second going out, and 50 megabits per second coming in. Right now, it is the maximum that Verizon can provide. They are at their maximum. We are actually requesting that they upgrade so that we can increase.
FCT: As you know, funding for the new computers has been controversial. The School Board requested $500,000 from the City’s current budget surplus for the purchase of the technology, and there has been a lengthy debate about that within the City Council. However, you were able to proceed with the purchase before the City Council approved the request. How were you able to do that?
Jones: It’s important to note up front that the school has $200,000 in our current budget for technology, and that is what we are actually spending. That’s why we don’t need City Council to approve the purchase. What is different about this option, is that we are leasing. Our leadership team began discussing this approach early last year when we knew it was another tight budget season, and technology was on our unfunded needs list presented in the budget. The lease concept has been around for years, and it has helped schools all across America stay current and progressive with technology. While it’s not our first choice, it is a great option.
FCT: There is a school of thought that says young people are becoming too dependent upon computers and smart phones, and would be better served spending more time with books – the paper kind. What do you say to those who make this argument?
Jones: Personally, I am not sure that it matters if a child reads on a Kindle, an iPad, or reads a paper book. I believe the goal is to get a child to love reading. Children are motivated by technology, and if an iPad visual can help a child find a love for reading, then I hope that we will continue to embrace it. The world is changing, and while we need to be wise about how we use technology with children, we can’t deny that it’s here. Smart phones are no longer just phones. Just eight years ago a child had a calculator, an iPod, a computer, a book, and a phone. These were five separate items that were found in their backpacks. Were they less dependent on the items because they were separate? From watching children in schools, I would say no. The child who loved reading snuck the book under his desk in the middle of Algebra class. The child who loved music had an iPod hanging out of their pocket every minute it was allowed. Now, it’s one device. The key is, what are they doing on that device. Perhaps, they are actually reading an article about the environment or searching for colleges they want to attend. It’s not the technology, it is what they do with the technology that counts.
FCT: Thanks very much for taking time to provide this information and share your thoughts.
By AMY TROMBO
April 14, 2012
Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international organization with regional, state, and international competitions focusing on the ability to solve problems creatively while working as part of a team. The purpose of OM is to encourage children to use their higher level thinking skills to solve interesting and challenging problems.
OM teams are composed of 5-7 members. Each team is assigned one of six long-term problems. These problems change each year. This year teams might have been required to build a vehicle capable of displaying emotions, present an original performance about a team of scientists on a mysterious expedition, craft a balsa wood structure designed to hold weight, create a short musical built around the theme of “To Be or Not To Be”, perform a skit involving angels capable of changing negative situations into positive situations, or build a device that could uncover surprise objects from remote distances.
In additional to completing the assigned long-term problem, teams must prepare to face a “Spontaneous” problem on the day of competition. The teams, without benefit of support from parents, friends, or coaches, enter a room and are given a new problem to solve, on the spot, in front of a team of judges.
On March 31st, 17 teams representing the Falls Church City Public Schools participated in the regional competition at West Potomac High School competing alongside 150 other teams with great success.
Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School brought home two third place finishes, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary earned two 6th place finishes, two 5th place finishes, a 2nd place finish, and a 1st place finish.
The first place team of third graders dubbed themselves the “Loch Ness Monsters”. James Trombo, Kurt Barth, Felix Barth, Daniel Trauberman, Parrish Pipestem, and Colson Board will be moving on to the state finals in Newport News this weekend. What follows is one of their coach’s reflections on her OM experience this year…
Last year, my son James, Valerie Barth’s twins Kurt and Felix, and Daniel were on an Odyssey of the Mind Primary Problem team. The team was coached by my husband, Joe Trombo, and John Krotzer; Valerie sat in on most meetings. This year, John relocated to the Far East for work, and my husband felt unable to contribute the time needed. Valerie and I decided we wanted to keep the boys together and we would coach the team. Parrish had previously been on a team coached by his mother, and Colson was interested in giving Odyssey of the Mind a try, though unsure whether he wanted to perform.
Before our first meeting, the boys knew they wanted to solve the ride-on vehicle problem entitled “Ooh-Motional Vehicle”. By the third meeting, they had lots of drawings of Volvo-looking cars, and the green idea to power one geo-thermally.
Then in late December they toured my backyard and basement, which had sadly become a graveyard for two bicycles, two tricycles, a few scooters, a Big-Wheel, and many other toys. Within 5 minutes, the boys had found and decided to use my garbage can. This was a garbage can that had been under my deck for some eight years, it was lid-less, cracked and leaked, mildewed and rather ratty, but the boys insisted. Valerie and I looked at each other, raised our eyebrows, and took a few deep breaths. My mantra soon became, “It will be okay.”
A few seconds more, and the boys had found the top of a Little Tykes sandbox. This turtle sandbox had passed from my husband’s cousin through his aunt (who used it for composting) and through both my children. Thus, a Turtle was born!
Over the course of several more meetings, the boys established a set of 6 rules: Safety First (nobody gets hurt too badly), Try Your Best, Pay Attention, Be Respectful, Must Have Snack, and Have Fun. They also read the problem over and over, and knew the vehicle had to travel a pre-determined course with three stops, move forward and backward using two different propulsion systems or power sources, display 4 different emotions and be a character in a play.
We had a safety meeting on the use of tools and power tools, a meeting on batteries and simple circuits, and a meeting to play with springs, bungee cords and all kinds of joining materials. But, still, they hadn’t written the play. One afternoon, Valerie sent her Kurt and Felix into their room and told them to write a story about a turtle with three things happening to it. What emerged was entitled “The Space Turtle and the Attack of the Mars Martians.” Soon thereafter, Felix knew he wanted to be the driver and everyone else wanted to be a Mars Martian. James was chosen to be the narrator, and Parrish agreed to be the President.
It’s hard to say just which boy came up with what idea, though each can tell you his contribution, and another will cut in to tell you how he heard the idea and improved it. Ideas came fast and wild, bouncing around like lottery balls, and somehow landed in a sweet combination. But the boys each unwittingly stepped into a unique role as team-mate. Parrish kept the team on task, and became the order-keeper, encouraged everyone to pay attention, and could quickly take a vote or decide to flip a coin to make a decision. Daniel listened to everyone, took all the ideas in and processed them, then returned reshaped ideas with precise and often comedic timing. Colson was the planning and process guy, he thought through a problem and placed each step in order of when it needed to be done, then did it. James charged in with grand ideas and the enthusiasm to get it done now. Kurt saw problems and opportunities for improvement and never stopped thinking about the project. Felix found the middle ground between Kurt and James, and truly steered not only the vehicle but also the team.
Of course, Falls Church parents are the greatest, but the parents of our team truly went beyond what should be asked of any parent. They provided enthusiasm, encouraged everyone to have fun, believed in their sons and the team, provided tons of popcorn and Capri-sun, accepted that their 9 year olds would be using power tools, and reorganized their schedules to accommodate a meeting schedule that progressed from weekly, to twice weekly, to three times a week through much of February and all of March.
Regional Competition day was March 31st, and everyone arrived at West Potomac High School early. The self-styled Loch Ness Monsters’ performance was the second of the day, and started about 9:15am. The boys clamored to tell the staging judge all about their gun, their grenade, their fireworks, and their exploding rocks, but I was able to assure him that they would not need to call the fire department again, as everything was actually an artistic interpretation of the prohibited items!
Through a small miscommunication, the vehicle went to stage left instead of stage right as was planned. This meant that props on both sides of the stage were in the wrong place. The team noticed, and in an amazing display of teamwork, managed to reset the entire stage into a mirror image and adjust their stage entries accordingly, all as the performance continued. The correction was so seamless, even the parents who had seen the play 4 times in rehearsal did not notice what had happened. The coaches were wrecks!
Later in the morning, while waiting to solve the Spontaneous problem, I asked the boys which one of their six rules they followed the most and which they followed the least. The unanimous response was they had fun the most, and paid attention the least. Of course, that response made my day and term as coach perfect.
When the scores were tallied, Thomas Jefferson Team A placed first in their problem and division at the tournament. The division contained 10 teams, with 2nd through 5th graders competing. Yet, the six third-grade boys did what they said they would do… “we’re in it to win it” was established in December, and that they did. But one day, they will realize that they also won in many other and more important ways, just as every other participant in Odyssey of the Mind also won. In an era in which everything comes internet-quick and is often a solitary pursuit, they learned to work together as a team to solve a problem over four months.
The problem was complex; there were many decisions they had to make, and many little problems to solve along the way. There was a lot of creative thinking, interpretation and re-interpretation of instructions and rules, and many long hours of construction and crafting.
There were sacrifices, too. Every team member had to compromise with one another, one boy missed the first 4 baseball practices and another ate a sandwich dinner in the car every Friday evening en route from soccer to Odyssey of the Mind meetings. When polled, the guys all say they want to win at the State Tournament and will definitely be in Odyssey of the Mind next year. (But the chatter right now is more about the indoor pool and water guns at the hotel and the potential trip to Busch Gardens.)
Besides the team, team parents and coaches, there are many others to thank for our opportunity to participate and our success in Odyssey of the Mind. Thomas Jefferson Elementary School purchased several memberships to sponsor multiple teams, and also paid the registration fees for all teams in both the Regional and State Tournaments.
Additionally, Mr. Bob Palermo, TJ’s principal, Ms. Mary Kay Howard, TJ’s assistant principal, Ms. Lisa Allan, fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jennie Ehrenzller, librarian, and Mrs. Pattie Smith, second grade teacher volunteered the first Saturday of their Spring Break in order to staff the regional meet. Ms. Heidi Lang and Ms. Beth Green coordinated the teams, distributed information and paperwork, and located space for rehearsals.
And perhaps most significantly, the classroom teachers at both Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson, in the course of their normal duties, have laid the educational foundation, spirit and ethic of hard work, teamwork, cooperation, attention to detail, art, creativity, stage performance and much more which allowed the boys to come the team with a full toolkit. You’re the best!
Please wish the Loch Ness Monsters luck as they compete at the Virginia State Odyssey of the Mind Tournament on April 14th in Newport News, VA.
Editor’s Note: Some 150 FCCPS students from Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School participated in the Odyssey of the Mind competition. The teams and individuals are listed below. Congratulations to all the FCCPS participants and their coaches on this very worthy endeavor.
Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School will hold a Book Fair in the school library, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, from Monday, March 19th to Friday, March 23rd 2012 with evening open hours on Monday and Tuesday.
The Fair will be open for book sales from 7.30 am to 4pm, 5pm to 8pm on Monday, Tuesday, from 7.30 to 2.30 pm on Wednesday and 7.30 am to 4pm on Thursday. It will close on Friday at 12.30pm. All are welcome to drop by.
Purchases can also be made online at http://bookfairs.scholastic.com/homepage/meh. Proceeds from sales made at the Book Fair and on line help us to furnish our school with books and to maintain the quality of our library. For more information please visit ttp://www.fccps.org/meh/ or contact Adele Eskin at (EskinA@fccps.org )
On Wednesday, March 14th, all guests who visit the new Bruegger’s Bakery-Café located in Falls Church at at 7393 Lee Highway, will receive a free bagel with cream cheese. They will also have the opportunity to purchase a Bottomless Mug trial card(s) for $5.00 each – good for unlimited coffee, tea or fountain drinks through the end of March – to the first 200 interested guests. All proceeds from the card, will benefit the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School teacher grants program. We hope you will stop by to support the MEHMS PTA.
By CHRISTINE KILGORE
February 19, 2012
Youth concussions leave parents and educators with “one opportunity,” Vicki Galliher often says, to manage recovery properly. If not done correctly, recovery from concussions can be prolonged, and the potential for long-term neurological risks may be magnified.
Ms. Galliher, the Athletic Training Coordinator at George Mason High School, is the driving force behind a critical trend in Falls Church City Public Schools: A long-standing but growing appreciation by school officials, educators, and parents for the role that cognitive rest–and individualized, fluid plans for academic accommodations–play in proper concussion recovery.
It’s not only the physical rest and return-to-play decisions that are important. Cognitive rest is critical as well–and this often means time out of school, modified academic schedules, and other changes at home and at school.
“I think we’re now more cognizant of how complicated concussions truly are,” says Dr. Seidah Ashshaheed, principal at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. “It is imperative that we do our part as a school by being informed and supportive [with cases of concussion].”
High School Concussions – A Frequent Occurrence
When I began researching the issue of concussions among youth in our community, I learned how frequently concussions occur among FCCPS students.
Examples abound: The high school football player who felt incredibly tired and slept long stretches, and was later determined to have a concussion. The lacrosse player who suffered his second concussion, prompting his parents to steer him to non-contact sports for six months. The hockey player who just felt “out of it” after a game in which he’d taken a hard hit. The middle school soccer player who struggled with headaches and fatigue for weeks after a collision and concussion.
I also saw first-hand, in researching the science of concussions and concussion recovery, how much of the current knowledge of concussions has been acquired just in the last 10 years–and how fast it is evolving. There are many uncertainties, but research has clearly shown that children and adolescents are more susceptible than adults to concussion in the first place, that they are slower to recover, and that they are at higher risk for “second-impact syndrome.”
Studies have shown that once an individual suffers a concussion, he or she is four times more likely to sustain a second one. In addition, a growing body of research is showing that the cumulative effect of multiple concussions increases the risk of neurodegenerative health problems later in life.
I also learned, in trying to unravel my daughter’s health issues and hearing others’ stories, that concussions are under-identified and often arbitrarily treated in the medical community at large, despite an extensive “Heads Up” educational campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005.
Many physicians don’t appreciate that concussions can result from impacts to the body that jar the head, or from rapid accelerations brought to a sudden stop. Collisions or direct blows to the head are often involved, but aren’t a requirement. Concussions can manifest in many different ways, and symptoms may not occur for days after the injury.
Even when a concussion is suspected, the message from physicians who have not been trained in these brain injuries may be vague–to “take it easy” for a week, for instance.
In reality, recovery should be much more deliberate and measured. The pathophysiology of concussion isn’t completely understood, but most experts agree that concussions cause neurometabolic impairment and significant changes in the balance of neuro-chemicals in the brain. Such changes can effect one’s ability to think and learn, to stay awake and alert, to function well socially and emotionally, and to tolerate noise, light, and motion, among other things.
“The [concussed] brain is in an energy crisis, a metabolic crisis, so treatment must involve conserving the brain’s energy,” says Dr. Joel Brenner, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk.
“We treat concussions completely differently than we did 5 years ago,” said Dr. Brenner, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and has been working to educate physicians and others about concussion. “We don’t grade concussions anymore, for instance, and we don’t send someone back after a week as a blanket statement . . . There has to be an individualized treatment plan.”
But before treatment can begin, one must identify the concussion, which can be difficult using traditional observation techniques. Even an MRI or other standard imaging technique typically cannot measure the changes in the brain following a concussion.
To provide a better method of identifying a concussion, the medical profession is increasingly turning to “neurocognitive testing,” in which persons suspected of having concussions take tests to measure their cognitive abilities. Ideally, athletes will have been tested before the season begins in order to establish their “baseline” performance, which can be compared against later performance to detect changes in the brain.
Neurocognitive testing, sometimes called neuropsychological testing, has been recommended in several major consensus statements and is widely regarded as the cornerstone of concussion assessment and recovery. According to a recently published survey of high schools that participate in a national injury surveillance system, about 40% used neurocognitive testing in the 2009-10 school year, up from 26% in 2008-09.
ImPACT – The “Gold Standard” of Neurocognitive Testing
George Mason High School’s concussion recovery protocol is based on use of the ImPACT test– a computerized neurocognitive exam with seven modules that measure aspects of cognitive functioning including memory, concentration, reaction time, and processing speed.
ImPACT, which stands for “Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing,” is not the only such system available, but it has fast become the gold standard. It was developed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center by psychologists Mark Lovell and Micky Collins and neurologist Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers team neurosurgeon. ImPACT is utilized throughout professional sports and among many colleges and high schools. (While many high schools do not employ neurocognitive testing, let alone have an athletic trainer, the vast majority of those schools that do use neurocognitive testing have chosen ImPACT.)
At GMHS, Galliher uses ImPACT to test possibly-concussed athletes against a baseline established prior to the season. The test takes approximately 20 minutes, with students sitting at a computer reacting to different on-screen tasks. Comparing the before-and-after test results allows Galliher to document the presence or absence of injury and even quantify specific areas of dysfunction. Used in conjunction with symptom reporting and clinical assessment, repeated ImPACT tests also can help guide recovery. (The test can be performed in the absence of baseline results, but its true value cannot be realized since each individual is different).
The George Mason athletic department advises all GM athletes participating in moderate-to-high-risk sports to complete baseline ImPACT pre-season testing. This year, boys tennis has also elected to participate (one of their players sustained a concussion last year during match play). Parents have the option of opting their child out of the baseline testing program, but Coach Galliher says she’s never had a parent refuse.
When Coach Galliher implemented the ImPACT protocol in 2003, George Mason was one of approximately 250 high schools nationwide that were integrating the protocol into their athletic programs. She had sought out the best of training, working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Concussion Program with the neuropsychologists who founded the software and testing protocol, as part of her overall ImPACT education and certification.
“The initial reaction [to the ImPACT program] was really positive because we were providing care not available elsewhere,” said Tom Horn, athletic director at George Mason. “And we were removing ambiguities in terms of whose call it is to return a student-athlete to play.”
Many GMHS parents have become believers. “My son’s doctor completely missed the concussion,” said one father. “My son collided with another player in a game last spring and didn’t feel himself afterward. There was no loss of consciousness, no headache, no memory loss, so the doctor felt there was no concussion. But when Coach Galliher readministered the ImPACT test, his performance was so diminished, there was no question he had a concussion. And then we started to see more symptoms a couple days later.”
“Thank goodness she caught it,” the father said. “If we had let him return to play at that time, it could have been very dangerous.”
For Ms. Galliher, the testing protocol also has worked hand-in-hand with symptom monitoring–and with physicians’ instructions, in some cases–in guiding academic planning, managing cognitive exertion, and determining when students can resume a full schedule of school attendance and studying. (In concussion treatment, complete cognitive recovery–the ability to function cognitively without any exacerbation of symptoms–is a prerequisite for reintroducing physical activity. It can take days, weeks, months, or longer for cognitive recovery. Prompt diagnosis and proper management lessen the risk of prolonged recovery. )
Ms. Galliher works with students and families on guiding the recovery process, meeting with students and parents and communicating with teachers and staff about each student’s limitations and progress. Last month at one point, she was working on 14 concussion cases at George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School (“MEH”).
For the GM student who sustained a concussion in a hockey game last year, recovery meant several days at home followed by a flexible school schedule (going in late and leaving early) and a study regimen with maximal 10-minute study periods and no computer time (the subconscious mind picks up on the refresh rates of screens). Gradually school and study time increased until symptoms were gone and ImPACT results were back to baseline.
Others have been instructed to be more passive students for awhile, listening to discussions, for instance, but not taking notes or completing worksheets or homework. Some are instructed to retreat to quiet places for breaks, or vary their transit times in order to traverse the halls with fewer students. Many require significant limitations on smart-phone use and texting.
“There’s no standard protocol [in the medical world] for reintroducing cognitive learning as there is for reintroducing physical activity. For me, the whole process [of facilitating cognitive recovery for our students] has evolved…we’ve needed to develop and hone it,” Ms. Galliher said. But with processes in place, “you can feel a palpable sense of relief from teachers and parents,” she said. “Before, you could see how stressed kids were about getting behind on schoolwork, how confused teachers were about giving homework, or not giving homework…no one knew what to do.”
Says one parent of an MEH student who recently sustained a concussion, complaining only of a headache several days later: ”Coach Galliher taught us that the symptoms do not necessarily present as we thought. And it was very important for us to learn that cognitive rest was important to his recovery.” Says another parent of a GM student: “She is relentless and lays down the law” for proper recovery.
Ahead of the Curve
It is a sign of urgency–a sign of the rapidly increasing attention being paid to concussions in adolescent and teen athletes–that 35 states now have laws addressing student-athlete concussions. (In 7 other states, bills are pending.) Several bills addressing concussion safety and management for student-athletes were introduced in Congress in the past two years, but the states have raced ahead, following the lead of Washington State, which in 2009 passed the Zackery Lystedt Law, named after a teenager who suffered a major brain injury after returning to the football field too early.
Virginia’s law requires student-athletes to leave competition or practice when a concussion is suspected, and bars return-to-play on the same day–and until athletes are evaluated and cleared by “an appropriate licensed health care provider” (a definition that includes licensed athletic trainers). The law also requires school divisions to develop policies and procedures for identifying and handling suspected concussions (including addressing academic needs and cognitive demands). Schools must also annually educate coaches and other school staff that advise student-athletes, as well as the students themselves and their parents or guardians.
The Falls Church City Public Schools approved a policy on “Student-Athlete Concussions During Extracurricular Activities” in June 2011 that establishes a “concussion management team” and addresses issues of concussion education and return-to-play decisions. The policy is based on one of the models developed by the Virginia School Boards Association in the wake of the new state law.
To a large extent, however, the new state law and FCCPS policy codify the approach that Coach Galliher and the George Mason athletic department have taken for years. “Coach Galliher brought this to us much earlier,” said Craig Cheney, president of the GMHS Athletic Boosters Association and a former FCCPS school board president. “She’s brought a whole new level of knowledge to us as parents and to teachers. And fortunately, the advantage of a smaller school system is that we can disseminate knowledge much more easily and quickly.”
Ms. Galliher says most importantly, the law puts teeth into efforts to educate student-athletes and their parents. This year, for the first time, completion of an online certificate course about concussions is an annual requirement for each student’s participation in a school’s athletics programming.
“It’s a common perception that football is the main culprit, but for every concussion I’ve seen in GM football, I’ve seen another one in soccer, cheerleading, volleyball, and other activities,” Galliher noted.
Also for the first time, Ms. Galliher provided the same concussion education programming this past fall for MEH faculty and staff, at Principal Ashshaheed’s request, that she has regularly provided for GM staff. Matt Sowers, an MEH school counselor and head coach of the boys varsity tennis team at GM, said the session was informative and impressed upon him how “imperative” it is for educators to understand how concussions can affect students, and to stay on top of the latest knowledge on brain rest and treatment.
“We were amazed at how long [it can take for] full recovery,” he told the Falls Church Times.
Some of our state lawmakers, in the meantime, are discussing the possibility of introducing additional legislation to protect youth who participate in recreational athletic programs, according to Dr. Brenner, who worked with state officials on implementing Virginia’s concussion law.
“One of the biggest research questions right now is, what are long-term outcomes of these young athletes who have concussions–whether it’s one, two, three, or more?” said Dr. Brenner. “Will the 14-year-old who’s had two concussions, for instance, have any memory or attention problems when they’re 30 or 40? We don’t know this quite yet.”
My own review of the medical literature has shown me that research is indeed quickly moving beyond case reports of professional athletes (autopsy-based reports of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former NFL players, for instance) to more systematic research on brain changes in athletes–both those who’ve sustained symptomatic concussions, and those who incur repeated thumps to the head or other stresses to the brain.
Ms. Galliher is closely watching such research. “As recently as 3-4 years ago, the school of thought was that if you allowed for sufficient recovery, you wouldn’t be at any greater risk for a subsequent concussion,” she said. “But now, regardless of recovery time, we’re starting to see a potential impact of consecutive concussions–on seizure-like activity, for instance, and on [Alzheimer's-like neurodegenerative] changes.”
It is conceivable, said she and Mr. Horn, that in the future, science may identify particular thresholds that will lead to changes in practice parameters–like limits in the number of headers a soccer player should incur during practices. For now, the goals of promoting safe play, ensuring early detection, and facilitating complete recovery are key for FCCPS.
“You can’t cast your brain like you can a broken leg, but you can minimize stimulation and let it rest….You have one opportunity to manage it correctly,” Ms. Galliher said.
NOTE: Coach Galliher will lead a presentation and discussion of concussions and their impact on February 22nd at 7 p.m. in the GMHS Cafeteria. The program, “The Anatomy of an Adolescent Concussion: It’s Not Child’s Play,” is co-sponsored by the FCCPS Student Health Advisory Board and the George Mason Athletic Boosters.