The competitive spirit that made Kaelin Hogan a star

By Andrew Wuebker | March 24, 2018

A true competitor is a rare breed.

Senior lacrosse star Kaelin Hogan has always had a love for sport and competition. The crazy part is — she doesn’t know where it came from.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Hogan said. “Probably just from always having a brother and always competing against him. Trying to be I guess the better sibling, but neither of my parents are that competitive, so honestly I’m not really sure where that competitive nature kind of came from.”

In her final season as a Hawk, the 21-year-old is once again at the forefront of another strong start to the season for the Roger Williams University women’s lacrosse team. As the team is off to a 4-2 start that’s got them tied for first-place in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC), Hogan has led the way with her offensive talents (team-leading 34 points) and defensive presence, setting the expectation that a second CCC championship is within reach.

As far as statistics go, the impact Hogan’s had on the field the last four years is clear, but her impact runs much deeper.

Over her four years at RWU, Hogan’s competitive nature and work ethic has been a defining part of the lacrosse program’s currently dominating stretch, while also exuding leadership and confidence with a charisma that is admired and inspires her teammates.

“Kaelin has a jar of energy in her that never runs out,” said senior Nicole Palombo, Hogan’s teammate and close friend. “She loves to get everyone hyped up to cause success on the field. She actually started our tradition of doing ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ chest pounds before a game. She gets the juices flowing and cheers screaming pre-gametime to jack us up.”

Palombo also described how competitive Hogan can be in the heat of a game, saying that she simply refuses to give up on plays.

“Kaelin Hogan does not like to run, but will be the fastest runner you’ve ever seen when you put someone next to her,” she said. “She’ll be the first one to a ground ball and put the ball in the net if something is on the line. She doesn’t like to lose.”

In addition to being a serious competitor on the field, Hogan’s teammates described how she is able to use her personality as part of her leadership skills. Carly Martin, a senior and also a close friend of Hogan’s, described one way Hogan pumps up teammates in the pregame.

“Kaelin is a great captain on and off the field,” Martin said. “She gets the team motivated in the locker room by her great dance moves and she loves getting the job done. She is here to win and makes sure the whole team is on the same page.”

Palombo added that Hogan’s ability to balance her positive and carefree personality with her on-field competitiveness is telling in why the group trusts her as a leader.

“Kaelin is a very upbeat, silly, funny, caring person on and off the field,” Palombo said. “If you ever want to laugh just talk with her for five minutes and she’ll make you cry laughing from a random story she made up literally as she’s speaking to you. However, come gametime once that first draw goes up, she becomes serious. She knows there’s not much room for silly. She’ll slide in a joke here or there to uplift spirits, but she does it so we have a positive attitude and high energy to do well in the game.”

Besides starting pregame rituals, telling outrageous stories and busting moves in the locker room, her desire to lead and compete seems most evident when called to the challenge.

This past fall, the team was left without a head coach after the departure of Lisa Vogeley, who led the team to four straight CCC championship game appearances, including a victory in 2016. The university soon hired Jennifer Fox to take over, previously an assistant coach with Endicott College, but in the time the team was without someone to guide them, Hogan was one of the first to help guide her teammates.

“Kae cares lot about this program,” Palombo said. “In the fall we were coachless and she stepped up so this program could remain successful. Without a coach people were turning to her for guidance on attack. She would lead the drills and mentor players on how to effectively run the plays. What she taught the team in the fall has translated to the spring. She has helped make our attack the powerhouse it is.”

Before the 2018 campaign began, the Hawks set individual goals for themselves that they set out to achieve throughout the season. For Hogan, she may have already started fulfilling hers.

“[My goal] is to just to be the best captain that I can be for my team on and off the field; being able to support all of the girls and help them when they need help,” Hogan said. “Whether it’s academically, personally, on the field, off the field.”

Hogan’s small, close-knit hometown of Bethel, Connecticut is where the earliest traces of her competitiveness and leadership qualities can be tracked. The sixth grade marked the first time Hogan was exposed to lacrosse. After playing lacrosse for a year, she stopped in the seventh grade to play on a premier soccer team. From there, she took up lacrosse again in the eighth grade and continued to play all throughout high school. In addition to being a lacrosse and soccer player, Hogan also played basketball.

She went on to play all three sports in high school and made every varsity squad as a freshman. By her senior year, she was a captain of all three sports and earned a trophy case full of awards, including First Team All-State for lacrosse her junior and senior years, and All-Patriot for basketball her junior and senior years as well. By the end of her high school career, Hogan had earned 12 varsity letters in total.

When the time came to enroll in college, playing a collegiate sport was a major factor in her decision. Hogan originally sought to play basketball in college, but encouragement from her parents led her to the lacrosse route. The choice ultimately came down to RWU and James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. With lacrosse not an option at JMU, a Division I program, Hogan enrolled at RWU unrecruited, taking the chance on competing for a roster spot in the women’s lacrosse program.

Since then, her résumé speaks for itself. In her rookie season, she earned a spot on the All-CCC Third Team. She’s earned All-CCC First Team twice, CCC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and helped lead the Hawks to the 2016 CCC title.

“That was probably a huge highlight,” Hogan said. “Especially since it was never done before and making it to the N.C.A.A. Tournament was huge for our program. That’s definitely probably the highlight of my four years here.”

She also has a great chance of surpassing Kelsey Rahilly this season for the No. 1 spot on the RWU All-Time Career Points list.

While Hogan has experienced much athletic success throughout her playing career, she actually faced a little adversity when she first arrived at RWU. The adjustment of going from a high school student-athlete to a college student-athlete was at times difficult and demanding. As a freshman, some professors were not as understanding of her athletic commitments and responsibilities as others while the workload became hard to manage and what seemed like little time to have any freedom.

“I had pretty good time management skills, but I kind of had to realize how much more I needed to sacrifice for the team with 6 a.m. lifts, to two-hour practices, to scout sessions on our next opponent,” Hogan said. “I kind of had to switch everything around and it was definitely hard and there were some points where I questioned why I played, but my love for the game never changed.”

Obviously, things for Hogan turned out alright. Now in the final month and a half of her college career, Hogan’s beginning to realize that her journey is coming full circle.

“Playing lacrosse the seniors would always say, ‘Take it in. Take it in. It flies by,’” Hogan said. “Looking back at it, it definitely did fly by, but I don’t think I could have asked honestly for a more perfect experience. Everything panned out the way I think it was meant to be.”

In the handful of times left she’ll suit up, donning her No. 11 jersey on the Bayside Field turf, she’s as determined as ever to compete and leave it all out on the field.

“Knowing that this is my last year, I don’t want to hold back because after this there’s probably no more playing again.”

Click here for the published article.

Highlander Charter first grade teacher encourages learning to students through independence, teamwork

By Andrew Wuebker | November 13, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Pieces of broken glass are scattered about on the floor. The juice from the broken bottle of Kombucha had spread to the corner of classroom 1B. The students hadn’t arrived yet, so she had to hurry.

Carrie Sorensen of Highlander Charter School fetched a mop and cleaned her early morning spill as fast as she could.

It certainly wasn’t the start of the day the first grade educator had envisioned. And it was only 8 a.m.

“Maybe it’s some sort of first grade teacher coping mechanism, but during the day there are a lot of spills, accidents and unexpected moments,” the 35-year-old said. “Being able to let things go and just move on—something I was less successful with when I started—has made my job more enjoyable and fulfilling, and it lets the kids know that everyone messes up.”

With the spill cleaned up just in time, her 18 six and seven-year-old students flooded through the classroom door at 8:30. With much joy and laughter for the school day ahead, the students eagerly handed their teacher the spelling homework from the night before.

Sorensen directed her students to the classroom rug in the corner of the room, asking the students which greeting they wanted to use that day. Sitting in an imperfect circle, the students slowly greeted a classmate one at a time with high-fives and smiling “good mornings.”

That type of independence, cohesiveness and engagement is what Sorensen tries to teach to her students every day.

“You can teach kids to sit down and be quiet and follow the rules, but that’s not what we want to teach them,” said Sorensen. “We want to teach them to be independent. We want to teach them to find a place in this room that they can do their best learning.”

Janae McGinnis, a student teacher at Highlander in Sorensen’s classroom, thinks Sorensen has really set the standard for first grade educators.

“She’s so much fun, she’s literally the perfect example of what a first grade teacher should be. She’s very energetic and you can definitely see that when she’s conducting lessons,” said McGinnis. “She’s so enthusiastic, so theatrical. She just shows through her past experiences that she really connects herself to the concepts that she’s teaching and makes it really engaging.”

While it seems like Sorensen has been at it for a long time, Highlander is her first teaching job. A career-changer, Sorenson became a teacher five years ago.

A native of Geneva, New York, Sorensen earned a bachelor’s in theatre at State University College at Geneseo, New York in 2002. Sorensen then moved to Brooklyn, New York and lived there for six years, working in many different jobs including restaurant maître d’, trust management for an insurance brokerage and performing in musical theatre while traveling on cruise ships whenever she got the chance.

“I had always been interested [in education] especially with the work I had done with theatre,” said Sorensen. “I had done a lot of teaching of theatre and summer camps with kids.”

She earned a master’s in teaching from Brown University in 2010 and decided she wanted to serve students in high need, urban settings. Later that year, she started her teaching career at Highlander.

Rose Mary Grant, the Head of School at Highlander Charter, said it was Sorensen’s exuberance in her teaching lessons that urged her to hire her.

“Carrie interviewed well,” said Grant. ”[She] had been a student teacher with us and demonstrated her love of teaching, energy and skill during her demonstration lesson.”

Even with five years of experience, Sorensen says she still struggles with being an educator. She says the balancing of the academic and emotional needs of her students has been the biggest challenge.

“I am both discouraged and inspired on a daily basis,” said Sorensen. “There are days when I don’t feel I’m doing my best, when I wish I had more time to talk to kids one-on-one, when I wish I could toss out the tests and triple the time they get to play, but there are equal times when I get hugs from first graders, have former students ask to have lunch and chat, and when I get to share in the experience of students discovering and creating things for the first time. Honestly, all of that stuff happens just about every day.”

Her colleagues say they admire Sorensen’s energy and enthusiasm even on days when things don’t go as planned.

“She can have the same energy at nine o’clock in the morning, right at three when they are getting ready to leave,” said McGinnis. “That’s been kind of one thing that has captivated me.”

As teachers across the country are feeling increasingly pressured over high-stakes test scores and political leaders debate the future of the Common Core standards, Rhode Island educators say they, too, sometimes feel unfairly blamed for problems that begin outside of the classroom, particularly poverty. This is particularly true for teachers in urban districts such as Providence, which has 2,000 teachers and nearly 24,000 students.

“Teachers are certainly under a certain amount of scrutiny these days, and looking at education under through the lens of large scale standardized testing is both limiting and dangerous,” said Sorensen.

Eighty percent of students in the Providence district are also available eligible for free or reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty. At Highlander it is 78 percent compared with the statewide average of 47 percent.

“The most challenging thing about teaching, for me, is balancing the educational needs with the emotional needs,” Sorensen said. “If a student comes to school and hasn’t had enough rest or food, they’re going to have a harder time focusing on learning to read.”

Despite the hardships, Sorensen has always seemed to pull the best efforts out of her students.

“I always send visitors her way because I know they will see a dynamic teacher engaging all students,” said Grant. “Carrie’s students always show growth from the beginning of the year to the end in math and reading, but more impressive is the growth in their ability to be independent and thoughtful learners.”

First grade students at Highlander Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island take part in different classroom activities aimed at learning independently. (Photo courtesy Andrew Wuebker)

As the students shifted from their morning greeting to the activities of the day, the children split into groups. Students sat at a table with McGinnis doing arts and crafts, while others listened to a lesson on their laptops. The last group of students read a book called, Animal Park, with Sorensen at her desk. Each student took turns trying to read the chapter out loud, with Sorensen occasionally interjecting her knowledge on various animals in between.

One student, who was reading alone on the classroom rug, needed a bit of help. Sorensen got down on her knees with that student, guiding them through the book and answering every question the student had to their own joy.

“The joy she imparts into her classroom,” said Grant. “It is a joyful environment that encourages a love for learning.”

Some days, though, Sorensen feels a tinge of regret about all the things she didn’t get to or the opportunities she missed.

“I just try and do my best everyday and I don’t always and sometimes we have a talk at the end of the day and I’m like, ‘I could have done better today.’ And they’re like, ‘Me too,’” said Sorensen. “It’s kind of really validating to be like, ‘This day was great, this wasn’t great and this day—man I really wish I had done that differently,’ but I think it’s just about creating a community in which you’re allowed to celebrate the wins and talk about the failures and try again the next day.”

On a recent afternoon, Sorensen held a glass jar that was full of shells she had collected from a nearby beach in Rhode Island. Each shell represents a reward for teamwork, which they must earn as a whole class for their work.

“I tapped it so they could see how close they were to filling it. It shattered into a million pieces,” said Sorensen. “So, sometimes I break things. In that case, I declared the shell jar full and they were able to celebrate that Friday with a pizza party. Pizza fixes everything.”

Even when she’s teaching, breaking things or making things right with her students, Carrie Sorensen always seems to find a way.

Highlander Charter School leads Rhode Island’s blended learning mission

By Andrew Wuebker | October 23, 2015

Within the walls of Highlander Charter School is a revolution that has spread like wildfire in schools across the country.

Blended learning, the personal and collaborative initiative that pairs classroom instruction with the integration of technology, is aiming for students to absorb more information and be more engaged in the classroom than ever. Blended learning is prompting teachers, administrators and school committees to give students more control over how and at what pace they learn.

Highlander Charter School, located in one of the poorest sections of Providence, is leading the way in Rhode Island. The 400-student school has made blended learning its number one priority for all of its students, which range from pre-k to 11th grade.  A twelfth grade will be added next year.

“Highlander decided to develop a blended learning model in order to better meet the individualized approach we take to teaching and learning,” said Head of School Rose Mary Grant. “The goal was simply to increase engagement and to give teachers tools to further individualize for students in their classrooms, as well as to expand offerings at the upper school.”

With blended learning at Highlander, students are able to engage with curriculum at their level and teachers are able to work with smaller groups for targeted instruction. The software in use allows for independent learning practices, while tracking progress for teachers.

Highlander’s success with blended learning came in fits and starts and the school frequently shares the challenges it faced with other school districts that are expanding the use of technology in classrooms.

Grant was uncertain whether teachers would be up to the task. And the technological changes produced problems in the early stages of the transition process.

“Teachers were hesitant at first, which is to be expected with any new initiative. They were concerned about training and their own skill level,” said Grant. “Administration really had to relook at how the funds would be re-assigned from materials like textbooks to technology. A development of a long-term technology plan that would meet the growing school’s needs was imperative.”

Although teachers were worried at first about this new approach, over time they came to believe that blended learning benefitted students in more ways than one.

Carrie Sorensen, a  first grade teacher at Highlander, credits Highlander for its willingness to let teachers do their work.

“Highlander is an incredibly receptive and flexible place in which teachers are given autonomy and respect,” said Sorensen. “As educators, we are encouraged to experiment, and to incorporate technology with responsibility and freedom.”

In Sorenen’s first grade classroom, her students have roughly 30 non-consecutive minutes per day of whole group instruction. Sorensen implements blended learning into her classroom with a variety of programs. She has her students use programming such as Lexia, RazKids and Dreambox that will increase their mathematics and literacy skills. Sorensen makes playlists for her students in every subject, using a program called Blendspace for lessons and assignments. Sorensen also uses the social media platform Instagram to connect her students to the outside world with photographs. Video chatting and virtual fieldtrips with her students also help to expand their communication and connection to the outside world.

“Students are almost universally interested and excited by the idea of accessing and sharing knowledge,” said Sorensen.

“These programs can be used to increase or decrease difficulty level for individual students, meeting them where they are,” said Grant.  “In science and social studies, there are programs that allow for teachers to assign readings on the same subject matter at different levels so a student reading two or three years below his or her peers is still reading the same material about the subject matter, but the passage is written at his or her reading level. The student learns the material without the barrier of the difficult reading.”

Grant says that blended learning has caught on nationally because of the promise it holds to personalize instruction for every student, going as fast or slow as they need to master material, and to better prepare students for the global workforce.

“There is no one definition for blended learning and it is critical that there is an understanding that blended means just that. It isn’t all virtual. It isn’t just reading your book on a Kindle or an electronic textbook,” said Grant. “It is combining a variety of tools and strategies to make the teacher more effective in reaching the varying needs of the students in his or her classroom.”

Sorensen agreed that it’s a combination of tools and teacher initiative that makes blended learning so hotly discussed across the nation.

“Blended learning offers the very best of teacher practice with the best of online learning and collaboration.  It can help personalize education so that teachers are no longer teaching toward the middle, but rather encouraging all students not just to learn the material, but also to learn how they learn.  It’s the future,” said Sorensen.

As the blended learning process continues to grow and weave its way into education at Highlander, Grant says the progress has been promising.

“Blended learning has definitely increased engagement, focus and understanding for students and better efficiency for teachers,” said Grant. “It has certainly met our goals of increasing engagement with subject matter, differentiating for individual students above and below the mid-line, and expanding offerings for our middle and high school students.”

Grant believes that if children are given the chance to succeed with their education and is done correctly, it can certainly bring them lifelong success.

“In order for blended learning to be successful, it needs to be adapted to the culture of the school. There is no one size fits all model,” said Grant. “Teachers need to be trained and held accountable, administrators have to invest both financially and philosophically and a coordinator needs to ensure that high quality application is happening.”FullSizeRender

From Stars to Scrubs

By Andrew Wuebker | November 16, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — The far end of the Hawks’ bench has some new scrubs. And they’re making a heck of a lot of noise.

Making the jump from high school to college is already a difficult transition for some students. For student-athletes who were the cream of the crop in high school, it can be even tougher.

Not these guys — at least not anymore, anyway. That’s just how they make it out to be.

“Let’s go!” said freshman JJ Pfohl. “Bench squad!”

A confident and charismatic “bench squad,” the latest additions to the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team consisting of true freshmen Chris Chapell, Jonah St. Clair, Andrew Hart, Doug Hostetler, Pfohl, and Jeff Stockmal are no longer taking their time tip-toeing through the greener than green grass at RWU, but rolling in it. 

The group hasn’t been intimidated by the drastic change in scenery from high school to college, nor their change in roles on the court that routinely happens to many student-athletes–going from a star, go-to guy in high school to being part of the latest batch of scrubs on a college bench.

So it begs the questions: how did these freshmen seamlessly make this transition? How were they so willing to accept their new roles on the court?

The answer actually can be found off the court, as much as it can on it.

“A thing I’ve noticed a lot is everyone fits in pretty well,” St. Clair said. “It’s not like there’s the starters and there’s everyone else. I feel like [because we are] practicing so much together everyone feels like a part of the team.”

Even with differing personalities, the freshmen have found a way to fit in and mesh with a well-established Hawks team that features nine returners and is looking to build off a 19-win season. Pfohl for one, claims he’s an outgoing and talkative guy that loves heavy sleep and takes four plates of food at Commons. Stockmal is the opposite; a shy, hardcore… gamer?

“Call of Duty is me in the group,” Stockmal admitted. “I’m the one that is the ‘gamer’ I guess.”

“If he spent a third of the time he spent on Call of Duty doing classwork,” St. Clair said, turning to Stockmal, “you would’ve already graduated.”

The relationships of the entire team extends beyond the boundaries of basketball. The team can often be seen eating meals together, especially on the weekends. Late night practices often lead to late night food runs at Lower Commons. After consecutive intense weeks of practice, the Hawks went bowling as a team a couple weekends ago for some much-needed r&r. And players-only meetings every other week provide players an opportunity to talk about what’s going on and voice whatever thoughts are on their minds.

Once the relationships were down, the off-the-court stuff became easy.

On the court, it was slightly more difficult. The freshmen used the words “rough,” “competitive,” and “fast-paced” to describe practices in the early going. The level of conditioning and physicality that needed be met to be able to compete at the Division III level was naturally a bit of an obstacle for these eyases. Shortly, however, the freshmen class began showing their potential through practice and even earned the praise of coaches Michael Tully and Dan Weidmann, calling them “coachable,” “attentive,” “unselfish,” and “talented.”

This freshmen class’ talent in part was the other difficult aspect of this transition. To go from starting to scrubbing can be difficult for some players to deal with at first. Pfohl was a starter since his junior year in high school. St. Clair was also a starter in the later years of his high school career. Hostetler scored 1,000 points. Stockmal, a 1,300-plus point scorer, was shouldered with the load of carrying a team since he was a sophomore. 

“I was a man since sophomore year in high school,” Stockmal said, “so like I was the go-to guy since I was 16 and now it’s different because I was used to that role but now it’s different being a bench player… but it also makes it kind of competitive because now I’m working against these guys for minutes on the team, so it makes it competitive but also fun. All of us want to win.”

At the end of the day, the Hawks’ dominating culture of hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to win prevails over the personal goals of a single player. Now in the supporting role, the freshmen will have to make their biggest impact from the bench. 

“You just have to be ready, just have to keep engaged while you’re on the bench,” Hart said. “You can’t just be like sitting back there relaxing, having a good time. Like you still need to be in the game and know what’s going on. And the coaches also make a big point of getting the bench involved. Like having a loud bench because that kind of keeps you in the game and it also helps the players on the court at that time.”

Of course, these freshmen don’t know the day when their number will be called. Pfohl and St. Clair pointed out that in the meantime, they’re investing in “starting from the ground up” and keeping a “positive mindset” until their opportunity arrives.

“We always say we’re gonna push each other to the limits on the court, but we’re gonna be friends, family all off the court,” Pfohl said.

It’s a whole new stage for these young players. Although unproven, the potential in their talent is possibly reason enough for them to contribute this season in limited minutes.

Fittingly, Stockmal believes in the young guns and provided some quality parting words.

“Watch out for the bench players.”

Click here for the published article.