“With virtually no background on how to start a business, Stahl, who
bootstrapped her venture, researched at the library, and talked to other
teachers and business owners. She received the most help, she said, from
Counselor Martha Ragsdale at the Fort Worth SCORE offices located in the business development complex in downtown Fort Worth.
SCORE, a volunteer nonprofit association sponsored by the U.S. Small
Business Administration that helps a small business owner start, grow and
succeed through counseling and business workshops.”
Making the grade - Local teacher’s game helps student test scores
BY BETTY DILLARD -March 08, 2010 For many school children, studying for and then passing the TAKS test can be a real monster.
Janice Stahl, a retired kindergarten to sixth grade classroom teacher with 34 years experience, set out four years
ago to slay that scary monster.
Stahl has seen her share of students struggle to learn basic math, science, reading and writing skills. As a reading
specialist, she spent the bulk of her teaching in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District. She also
taught developmental reading courses at Tarrant County College. A native of Nacogdoches, she earned her
bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Stephen F. Austin State University and her teaching
certifications include elementary, kindergarten, special education and administration.
Now a private tutor still working with children to improve their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)
test scores, Stahl created a new business with an adventure-filled brainteaser that provides a fun way to reinforce
TAKS objectives for kids.
The inspiration for her second career was an 11-year-old boy with dyslexia.
Stahl had been tutoring and prepping the boy for the TAKS test when he suddenly threw down his worksheet he
had been given to practice.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I can’t do another worksheet. Don’t you know we’re all burned out? Isn’t there
some other way, something fun, you can do to help us learn all this?’” said Stahl.
“He was my ‘aha moment.’ I starting thinking of a game as a format I wanted to develop. I had developed games
in my classroom and purchased games, too. Kids like hands-on materials,” she said. In use since 2003, TAKS testing currently is under way across the state of Texas. A standardized test, TAKS
assesses students in third grade to 11th grade in reading, writing, math, science and social studies skills required
under state education standards. Promotion is tied to test results for students in third, fifth and eighth grades.
Graduation requirements include English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
“We teachers are all teaching the standard objectives and skills we know we have to do,” Stahl said. “Teachers
also have to help their students prepare for the TAKS so they can move up a grade or graduate and they need
other resources to do that. Worksheets are good and they have their place but this is more fun.” Since many teachers only use worksheets with sample problems to help prepare their students for the TAKS, Stahl
wrote – with the help of math and science professionals – and published the TAKS-kids Schoolhouse Game for
second grade to fifth grade. The game has subject-related flash cards plus an extra set of Math Stretchers and
Science Stretchers cards for third grade to fifth grade. The math and science cards have 108 questions to 110
questions that can be used with the game or as a stand-alone lesson.
Based on other popular board games, Stahl’s patented version takes players from a red schoolhouse down a
brightly colored winding path to a playground. Along the way players answer 120 grade-appropriate questions
that cover language arts, math, writing and science. Kids will encounter Jumping Jacey and the Joker – there are
60 jokes included for fun and creative interest – and a meanie named TAKS Monster.
Stahl said the game has been favorably received by teachers, tutors and parents alike – and kids love it, too. The game is used for morning warm-ups, remediation, after-school activities and PTA game nights.
Bea Cantu, a former principal in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, used the game as a reinforcement tool before
classes began and saw a dramatic difference in her children’s learning and critical thinking skills. “Our children enjoyed playing it and in just two years, our school went from a low-performing school to a recognized school,” Cantu said. “I attribute that in part to the game. It helped strengthen our program. Children do get burned out and that’s when we need to think of teaching in a different manner. When they’re having fun,
With virtually no background on how to start a business, Stahl, who bootstrapped her venture, researched at the
library, and talked to other teachers and business owners. She received the most help, she said, from SCORE, a
volunteer nonprofit association sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration that helps small business
owners start, grow and succeed through counseling and business workshops.
“It’s overwhelming when you start a business. This is a whole new world for me and I’ve learned so much,” Stahl
said. “My only problem really was I thought I could do all of this on my own when I started. I’ve found out I can’t
do it all.”
Stahl began selling the game and card sets in early 2007 and to date has sold more than 2,000 of them. Several
local school districts have purchased the products, including Arlington and Hurst-Euless-Bedford, and products
have been shipped to districts in Mission, El Paso, Amarillo and East Texas.
The game and cards – priced from $20 – are sold primarily through Stahl’s Web site, www.takskids.com, and at
education seminars. She said she has sold more through word-of-mouth advertising and as sales have increased,
she has hired two sales representatives, one in Houston and another in San Antonio.
“There’s a big market for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten right now. And sixth-grade teachers are clamoring for
products, and I’m being asked about making them in Spanish,” Stahl said. “There’s a definite market out there and
people are hungry for something unique.”
When the TAKS is replaced in 2012 by STAAR, or the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, Stahl will
be ready with a revised product.
“When I started this I was never in it to make money. I’m in it to help kids,” she said. “My original idea was to help
that little boy. Students are not all paper and pencil but need other learning tools.”