May is National Teacher Appreciation Month. One of my favorite educational websites, Edutopia, has devoted a number of articles to this annual event as well as providing tips and ideas for recognizing the important educators in our lives. But one article in particular stands out: Edutopia founder George Lucas’ note on Celebrating Unsung Heroes in Education.
In his highly personal piece, the acclaimed director and educational technology innovator talks about how teachers have enriched his life, and how much he respects and admires the many educators he and his foundation members have met through their work with Edutopia. Lucas also mentions some of the research he and his team intend to pursue on behalf of teachers, focusing in particular on their work with Project-Based Learning and Social and Emotional Learning.
But one line in particular from his post stands out, and it is advice that can apply to students, parents and teachers alike:
“What matters most is that you keep pushing for greatness and that you don't give up -- even when it seems like you're being underappreciated and overly stressed and frustrated beyond all belief.”
As the school year is winding down and the realization of just what needs to be done before the end hits teachers and students (and parents), it is undeniably a time of tremendous pressure. Tempers and patience can be short, and days can seem long. But it is also a time for looking back on all of the greatness that has already occurred throughout the school year and looking forward to what new achievements and milestones will be met in the year to come. This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to sit down with their children and talk to them about what they have done throughout this school year.
Ask them what has made them proud of themselves, where they have seen academic, athletic, artistic and personal growth, and what have been some of the highlights of this grade level for them. It’s also a prime time to look at areas that still need improvement, things on which they want to work in the upcoming year and where they still need help and support. This kind of honest self-examination is a key part of both celebrating their successes and continuing to strive for just the kind of greatness Lucas is talking about.
After the books and supplies have been boxed up for the summer, the desks wiped down and the whiteboards erased one final time, our teachers will meet to discuss these same topics amongst themselves. They will individually and collectively celebrate their successes, examine the areas of instruction they want to amend in the upcoming school year and begin their much-earned summer vacations with a sense of purpose that will carry them through to next August and beyond. In this fashion, and in so many more ways that are too numerous to detail here, teachers are yet again doing what they do best: being role models for us all. While their heroism may be, as Lucas suggests, “unsung,” there is no question that teachers lead by example, and by following their lead in helping your child reflect on his/her successes and areas still in need of improvement, you are showing teachers your appreciation in the best way possible.
As is always the case at this time of year, it’s time to provide you with some staffing updates.
Melanie Dorn and Carolyn Mericle have both decided to move on from Shady Side. After a national search, we have hired two extremely qualified teachers to continue in the wonderful Pre-Kindergarten program.
We have hired Gerri Primak from Massachusetts. She received her B.A. from Penn State University and has a master's degree from the University of Maryland. Gerri has worked in school as well as had a career in editing. Gerri was the editor for The Mailbox magazine for eight years and has written four books on phonics and phonemic awareness for PK and K. Gerri will be moving to Pittsburgh with her husband and two children.
We have also hired Shannon Sciulli from Pittsburgh. Shannon has a B.A. from Duquesne University and an M.A. from Carnegie Mellon University. Shannon has spent the last five years working at the Cyert Center at CMU. Shannon has excellent training in the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching young children and we look forward to learning more about this child-centered approach.
Art teacher, Britton Wean will also be moving on next year. Cydra Vaux and I interviewed a wonderful candidate recently who I met this summer. Ashley Irwin graduated with a B.A. from Penn State University in 2011. Currently, Ashley is working at Park Forest Middle School in State College. Ashley has also been running art workshops in Altoona for the past three summers. These workshops were run by Ashley all summer for her neighborhood children. Ashley will also be joining us next year to teach art to grades PK, kindergarten, first and second.
Spring has sprung! With spring comes lots of beautiful daffodils on our campus, muddy knees on our playground and open windows all around the school! It’s been quite a long winter (especially for someone from New Orleans) and we couldn’t be happier to see spring!
On Friday, we welcomed more than 400 visitors to the Junior School for Grandparents and Special Friends Day. From near and far, grandparents and special friends enjoyed watching their student perform and loved visiting the busy classrooms for a first hand take on life in the Junior School.
I would like to announce some exciting happenings in the Junior School. Shady Side Academy is extremely fortunate to offer its teachers the chance to take a sabbatical. During the next school year two of our Junior School teachers have been awarded this opportunity. Janice Brozek, one of our kindergarten teachers, will take a full-year sabbatical. We have hired Richelle Dodaro to replace Mrs. Brozek. Ms. Dodaro is a graduate of Seton Hill University and did her student teaching in our PK and fourth grade. Ms. Dodaro’s kind and gentle nature is one of the first things you will notice about her when you meet her. I’m sure our PK friends will be so happy to have such a familiar face in their kindergarten classroom. We are so lucky to have Ms. Dodaro join our Shady Side family for the year.
Lisa Budd, one of our fourth grade teachers, will be taking a half-year sabbatical next year as well. Mrs. Budd will be taking the second half of the year for this. We have hired Shelly Burr to take over for Mrs. Budd. Mrs. Burr is a doctoral candidate in instruction and curriculum leadership at the University of Memphis. Mrs. Burr received her master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh and her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University. Mrs. Burr has taught previously at the University of Memphis Campus School as well as Winchester Thurston. Mrs. Burr will be moving back to Pittsburgh this summer with her family.
I’m also happy to announce that our Shady Side Academy family will be growing by two more! Both Mrs. Wolf, kindergarten teacher, and Mrs. Peterson, our Spanish teacher, will be welcoming bundles of joy at the end of the school year. Mrs. Burr will be covering Mrs. Wolf’s maternity leave for the first half of the school year. We have also hired Lucia Ortiz who will be covering all of our Spanish classes for the first six weeks of school. Ms. Ortiz received her bachelor of educational sciences from la Universidad de Monterrey, in San Pedro Garza García, Mexico. Ms. Ortiz is currently teaching at the American School Foundation of Monterrey in Mexico and will be moving to Pittsburgh for her wedding this summer. We are so fortunate that Ms. Ortiz will be joining us.
As for our kindergarten program next year, in order for program consistency, Marilyn Martens and Fran Gardiner will split to work in the two kindergarten rooms. Mrs. Gardiner will be working with Ms. Dodaro, and Mrs. Martens will be working with Mrs. Burr for the first half of the year and Mrs. Wolf for the second half of the year.
It is always exciting to welcome new faces to Shady Side Academy, and I know you will join me in welcoming these new folks at the start of the next school year.
As we fly into the final weeks of school, there will be many exciting days in our Junior School students’ lives. Please be on the lookout for announcements of the special days ahead!
Happy spring everyone!
Ellen McConnell Head of the Junior School
by Ms. McConnell
on Wednesday April 17 at 04:07PM
As parents and teachers, one of the hardest things we have to do is to allow the children in our lives to make mistakes. We want our students to feel good about themselves and their achievements, and to see them struggling with their own limitations (perceived or real) is truly challenging. Recently I walked into a fifth grade math class and heard Mrs. Hilton reminding the students “Mistakes are proof that you are trying!” As we reflect on how our new math program is going, I’m happy to think of all of the mistakes that the kids have made!
There is a good deal of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that indicates that students who are not allowed to struggle, and sometimes even fail, end up on the short end of the learning stick. In a 2011 blog on the education-focused website Edutopia, author Alina Tugend, who also writes for The New York Times, discussed the value of allowing the students in our lives to make mistakes. Her piece, aptly entitled The Role of Mistakes in the Classroom, contains examples of lessons and research that can be extended beyond school walls to include our homes, for the message is the same across the board: students need to learn how to face adversity if they are to become resilient, open-minded learners.
Tugend cites one extensive research study out of Stanford University that drives this point home and which has even become the basis of a change in academic policy in a number of schools. The two-part study, conducted by Professor Carol Dweck, began with a large pool of fifth graders taking an “easy short test” on which all of them did well, according to Dweck. The group was then divided in two, and half the kids were told that they were “really smart” while the other half were told they “[had worked] really hard.” The entire test group was then given a choice in taking a second test: either another easy test on which they were practically guaranteed a high score, or a test which was likely to prove more challenging and presented a greater risk of losing points. The majority of students who had been told they were smart chose the easier test, while a whopping 90 percent of the “hard-working” students chose the more difficult one.
What are the lessons we can take away from this? First of all, praise needs to be focused on what a student does and not who s/he is, and it needs to be specific if it is to be effective. Secondly, we need to encourage children to try new things or things at which they might not initially be successful. Dweck speaks about the “fixed mindsets” of students who believe they are not good at something and that their mistakes only serve to validate their impression of themselves as underachievers. This is in sharp contrast to those students who have a “growth mindset” and see their mistakes as part of the process of improving in areas in which they may not begin as superstars but in which they can definitely improve with effort – including learning by initially doing something incorrectly or less well.
So it is our job, as parents and teachers, to encourage our students to be risk-takers in the classroom and at home. By allowing children to make mistakes (and, yes, even fail) and learn through these challenges that hard work can pay off with improvement and genuinely enhanced self-esteem, we are helping create resilient learners who will not allow the obstacles in their way to impede their educational process. Next time your child brings home an assessment, instead of focusing on the score, ask your child how much effort they put into it!
by Ms. McConnell
on Friday February 22 at 02:32PM
Once again, I’m reminded of growing up in New Jersey as my plane touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport. The ground was covered in white, beautiful snow. After spending two weeks in tropical Hawaii with my family, the foot of snow on the ground was a sight to be seen! But that was nothing compared to the sight of the beautiful faces of the Junior School students as they happily returned to school. Everyone was so happy to greet their teachers and their friends. As carpool began, students poured out of their cars with book bags, snack bags, water bottles and bags filled with something else. As I got a closer look into their voluminous bags, I realized that these bags were filled with snow boots, snow pants, hats, mittens and gloves! With a foot of snow on the ground, that means a winter wonderland at recess! The Junior School students hit the untouched snow on our beautiful playground with joyful abandon.
As I made my rounds of the school welcoming all of the children back after our two weeks away, I found myself in the gymnasium with a pile of shoes and bags. I followed the trail out to the playground where the children were having the greatest time with sleds that Ms. Disbrow and Mrs. DiFiore brought to school. Not only does New Orleans have no snow, but the whole city is flat as a pancake. Our 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders had the greatest time sledding down the big hill on our playground. I also saw The Shady Side Way in action, as students helped one another navigate the hill, cheer on one another as they attempted to get father than their classmates’ sled ride and help a friend after an inevitable wipeout.
Next stop on my Tour de Junior School was the Pre-K. Now I’m sure all of you can remember attempting to get your 4 year-old into snow pants, boots, gloves, jackets and hats. Well, imagine helping 26 of them! I popped into the Pre-K just as this miraculous feat of nature was occurring. Ask anyone in the Junior School and you will hear the same thing, “I don’t know how the Pre-K teachers do it.” I can tell you how they do it, with lots of laughter and perseverance! I happened upon this laughter and helped three of our Pre-K friends with their snow pants, boots, gloves, etc. I managed to get one little girl into her full outfit only for her to tell me that her snow pants were on backwards! I would have happily sent her out into the snow until I noticed that her boots were on the wrong feet as well! Ha! I can tell you, after helping these three small students, I was exhausted!
Rosy cheeks and smiling faces is what winter is all about in the Junior School. I am so happy to see everyone. I hope all of you had a relaxing and recharging winter break. Now we begin a wonderful time in the school year with six uninterrupted weeks of learning, with one day off for Dr. Martin Luther King Day. This year we will continue in the tradition of celebrating Dr. King’s work with a day of service on Jan. 21. I hope to see many of you lending a helping hand.
At the Head’s coffee on Thursday, I announced that I would like to begin a book club where all parents could come together having read a book to discuss different topics of interest to parents in the Junior School. At the next coffee on March 4, we will be discussing the book Parenting for Character: Five Experts, Five Practices edited by David Streight. The book will be available in the front office on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Each book will be $5 and you can pay by cash or check made out to “Shady Side Academy.”
In the interest of safety, we will be practicing our lock down procedure here at the Junior School on Jan. 24. There will be an announcement over the speaker system saying that we need to “Secure the Building.” Students will know that this means that their teacher will lock the classroom door from the inside and cover the windows. Teachers will notify me that all of their students are secure via email and I will announce that the drill is over. I wanted to let you all know this so that if your children come home with any questions, you will know what happened. With the tragic events in Connecticut in December, we wanted to make sure we practiced this procedure. This procedure has always been in place, but it is very important to practice it, just like we practice our fire drills.
On another safety note, all doors to the school will be locked until 8 a.m., except for the front door where Mrs. Vrcic will welcome students. If you are dropping students off for our early morning care from 7:30-8 a.m., please be sure to drop them off at the front door so they can make their way to the library. At 8:15 a.m., all doors will be locked and anyone visiting the school must be buzzed in the front door after they are identified on our closed circuit television.
Looking ahead to the spring time, please mark your calendars for a Garden Build day on April 27. We will be building three raised beds in front of the Pre-K building as well as working on the Foster Garden in the back of the school.
I am so happy to be back and I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!
Sincerely, Ellen McConnell
by Ms. McConnell
on Monday January 14 at 01:05PM
Parent-teacher conferences are almost upon us, and I am very excited for this opportunity for our community to join together around the whole child, your child. Parent-teacher conferences offer the valuable currency of time with an intentional focus on your child. This moment to pause, focus and evaluate is crucial to your child’s learning and growing experience here at school.
On Friday, Dec. 7, the Junior School will hold these conferences. If you should need child care for your children during your student’s conference time, we will provide this for you in the Junior School library. If you need child care for the whole day, please sign up with our After School Explorers program.
This December conference is a chance to share success stories, noteworthy observations, areas to work on, and specific knowledge about your learner with each other. Report cards are available on the Parent Portal starting today, Tuesday, Dec. 4. Again, these conferences are a time to discuss the whole child and discover even more about each other in our partnership around our common focus, your child. I am confident that you will find our teachers are incredibly dedicated to their craft and your children’s growth as learners and citizens of the world. At Friday’s conferences, teachers will hand out global reports that we have put together with updates from all of the specialists. Your child’s school day is multifaceted and thus, knowing what is happening in music, PE, art, science, technology, library and Spanish is very important. We hope you enjoy reading these global reports; our students certainly enjoy their experiences as athletes, artists, literature lovers, scientists and linguists!
In our second semester, we will have optional conferences on Friday, Feb. 22. These conferences will not center around a report card, but rather they will be a chance to revisit some of the goals set in the December conferences. We will have a final conference day at the end of the school year on Friday, May 31. to finish out our year and discuss goals for next year. Another report card will be sent out for this conference.
Michael Thompson, Ph.D., noted author and school consultant, is someone from whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of learning. His wisdom on parent conferencing is striking, and I hope that you will find the below tips helpful. Should you have any questions regarding this process, please contact your child’s teacher. Additionally, do not hesitate to let me know if I can help you with any concerns.
Making the Best of Parent-Teacher Conferences: Eight Steps to Success for Parents
Remember the F-word: Focus. The aim of a parent-teacher conference is for adults to build a mutually respectful alliance that will support a child's (sometimes difficult) journey through school. Kids thrive when they feel the adults in their lives see them in the same way. Parents and teachers should try to use the precious minutes of a conference to reach agreement about a child's strengths and challenges – and how to respond to each.
Be there. We expect our children to attend school every day. Research shows that they do better academically when both parents attend conferences and PTA meetings. A parental no-show sends a message to a child that maybe school isn't such a high priority, or perhaps that they aren't.
Leave your old school baggage at home. We all have memories of teachers and classes that made us miserable. It's important to set those aside and approach your child's teacher as a peer and partner. Assume a teacher wants to see your child succeed in school and life – just as you do. The respect you show a teacher is contagious and will find its way back to your child.
Use a report card as a tool, not a centerpiece. Turn any review of grades or other evaluations into an opportunity to ask what's working and what's not for your child, and the teacher's observations. Do not dwell on the grade itself and do not attempt to pressure a teacher to change a grade, especially at a conference. (If there is a real issue of injustice, take it to an administrator.) Remember, an "A" student won't die from getting a "B", nor will a "B" student suffer irreparable harm from getting a "C." Most of us learned lessons about life and about ourselves from getting lower grades than we wished.
Share insider information: Tell the teacher what you know about your child as a learner. You've seen plenty. You know what motivates your child, what has worked with teachers in the past, and what your child loves and hates about school. Also, tell your child's teacher about your hopes and fears for your child. All parents worry from the day they send their children off to kindergarten, and on through high school. No parent ever has all the information they'd like to have about their child's school life. When you articulate your concerns and wishes, it alerts a teacher to something important about your child's life. That information can help a teacher fine-tune instruction or interactions to be more effective for your child.
Ask about the things that matter most. Go beyond grades. Ask about your child as a citizen of the classroom. Is he or she respectful of adults and other students? Not every child is going to be a brilliant student, but brilliant or not, you want your child to be a loving, respectful, productive citizen who can live in community with others. Ask about your child's social life in school. Ask whether she or he has friends, is part of a group, knows how to socialize and work respectfully with other children. How your child functions with other people is going to make a big difference in later life.
Ask what you can do. Ask how you can support your child's success without micromanaging or rescuing him or her from mistakes and the valuable lessons they offer.
Trust your child’s development. Try relaxing a little and having faith in your child’s journey through school.
Michael Thompson, Ph.D., is the author of "The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child to Achieve Success in School and in Life," and co-author of "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys."
by Ms. McConnell
on Tuesday December 4, 2012 at 02:37PM
As our year progresses, I always think of the milestones that we continue to hit. One of my favorites: school pictures! Students had their photos taken to record the 2012-2013 school year a few weeks ago, and the photos went home in book bags Friday. I LOVE to look through these mementos of the year as we record each child’s growth. Don’t you just love seeing those holes where teeth used to be? Or that hairstyle that your child INSISTED that she needed on photo day? What I see in these photos is growth. Another year of exciting new things to be learned, another year of milestones reached, and another year to learn more about your child! When I think about how much the students have already learned, and how much they have yet to learn, I can’t help but to be excited.
I wanted to thank all of the parents who attended our first ever Math Night here at the Junior School. I think the teachers did an incredible job of presenting this new material and those of you in attendance agreed with me. I have received so many positive comments from parents. There were a lot of “aha” moments for parents as they saw the scope and sequence of our new Math in Focus: A Singapore Math Approach presented. I also wanted to thank parents for being such good sports as they worked on some very challenging math problems! For those of you who weren’t able to attend, here’s an example of a 4th grade word problem for you to figure out:
At Shady Side Academy Junior School, 3/5 of the 570 students were 4th graders, and 2/3 of the remaining students were 5th graders. If the rest were 3rd graders, how many 3rd graders were there?
You can email me for the solution and how we used the bar model to solve this problem.
Now that I’m back in the land of windchill factors and fall leaves, I was certainly reminded of the glories of a Northeastern Halloween when moms tell you to put a jacket on over your costume! This year’s Halloween Parade was such a fabulous delight! The 5th graders started the event off with a spooky rendition of our alma mater, presented as a Gregorian chant. As the 5th grade studies Medieval Europe, our music teacher, Ms. Price, wanted to connect the music of this time period to the humanities studies, the result being this spooky chant. The 4th graders showed off their recorder skills to celebrate All Saint’s Day and my move from New Orleans with a lively “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Our pre-kindergarten students charmed us with an adorable “In the Dark, Dark House” and the kindergarten and 1st grade students got us jamming with a hand jive to the Ghostbusters theme song. To close this wonderful event, the 2nd and 3rd graders spooked us all with a chilling zombie dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
As I said at Parents’ Night, I truly feel like I’ve found a home here in Pittsburgh, and with each passing season of delightful school milestones, I am so grateful that I have!
Some upcoming events to mark on your calendar:
On Friday, Nov. 9, at 5 p.m. is the Flavors of Fall cocktail party sponsored by the Parents’ Association. I look forward to seeing you all there!
On Nov. 12, 13 and 14, a visiting team from PAIS (Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools) will be visiting Shady Side Academy. Every 10 years, Shady Side Academy goes through a re-accreditation visit, and 2012 is our year. Professionals from various Pennsylvania schools will be coming to Shady Side Academy for three days to learn everything they can about our school. Specifically, we will have four people visiting the Junior School to see everything that we do. These professionals will be observing carpool, checking in on classes, and even speaking to a few students. This is such an important process, and I’m happy to show off the Junior School to our visitors.
And finally, we will have an Evaluation Day on Friday, Nov. 16. This is a day set aside for teachers to communicate meaningfully the growth that each child has made this semester as they carefully craft the December report cards. There will be child care that day provided by After-School Explorers and the theme of the day is “Thanksgiving Festival!”
We are well into what feels like a happy and productive year, and are enjoying working with your children every day. I look forward to seeing you at any or all of our upcoming Junior School events, and thank you for being such excellent partners.
Ellen McConnell Head of the Junior School
by Ms. McConnell
on Tuesday November 6, 2012 at 09:22AM
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” ~John F. Kennedy
Leadership takes on many forms in a Junior School environment. I firmly believe children are born with leadership skills, and what teachers actually affect through teaching is what type of leaders they will grow to be. No matter what leadership skills a child is born with, he/she will not be as effective a leader as they could be if they are unable to communicate their ideas to others.
Beginning in PK, our students are asked to hand out take-home notebooks to their classmates. When they give a clue as to whose notebook they have, they have the whole class’ undivided attention. Students in grades K-5 are often asked to read aloud, a type of public speaking that virtually every person will do at some point in their lives. It is a starting point for the type of public speaking that may be required of a person in a leadership role later on in life. A reading exercise can be vital to developing good communication skills in a child. Having the child practice listening skills can also enhance communication skills.
In the Junior School, all children have a chance to speak publicly in front of their peers at our Tuesday assemblies. By helping children feel comfortable speaking in front of a group, we are building leadership skills. As our community becomes more familiar with “The Shady Side Way,” we are discussing how it is up to each and every one of us to hold each other to The Shady Side Way. Setting an example and reminding peers of responsible behavior is indeed leadership in action!
This past week brought another chance for members of our community to test their leadership skills. Our fifth graders learned their leadership positions for the year. It was indeed quite a process! The adventure began five weeks ago when the students first heard the 5th grade “throughline”: “How do we develop a sense of leadership and community as Shady Side Academy fifth graders?” After hearing the overarching goal, they used a thinking routine called "compass points" to talk about what excited and worried them, what else they needed to know, and what suggestions they had to accomplish the throughline. The students suggested many leadership opportunities, such as tour guide, morning announcer, recycling team captain, historian, science lab assistant, advertising agent and photographer. Then the children began the process of self-reflection. In small group advisory sessions, students and teachers discussed and shared their personal strengths and opportunity areas. Afterward, the students took an objective look at the leadership opportunities and thought about what skills were needed for each. Each student matched his/her skills to one or more of the leadership opportunities. Then it was time to apply for the positions. Every student applied for two positions. They wrote about why they would be good candidates for those particular opportunities and participated in two interviews with Ms. Dauer, Mr. Chuck Scott, Nurse Julianne, Mrs. Vrcic and me. By greeting each person with eye contact and a strong handshake, the students learned valuable life skills.
On Sept. 25, fifth graders received their medallions as I announced their names and leadership positions. The medallions are a Junior School tradition and are passed down to rising 5th graders each year at the Moving-Up Day Ceremony, representing their role as leaders of the school. Since our fifth graders will be leaders all year in many different capacities, we thought they should wear them all year while in these roles.
Congratulations to all of the leaders in the Junior School!
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” ~Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Community is such an important word in our Junior School. One of my favorite things about our school is when we come together as a community during weekly assemblies. On Tuesday mornings we are welcomed into the gymnasium by fun, upbeat music and sit with our classes. I introduce the fifth graders, who lead the assembly and share something I’ve been thinking about, usually revolving around The Shady Side Way. We then hear from the class representatives from each class. This gives all of our students a chance to speak in front of a large crowd! Luckily, all students have an opportunity to be a leader in their classrooms before this ever happens. Part of the unwritten curriculum of a Junior School is to build each child’s self-confidence, and we strive to do this by having students share important events from their classrooms at our Tuesday assemblies.
Once a month, we meet in our Tuesday Teams. In this program we gather to meet and befriend each other with the goal of promoting positive behaviors, skills and attitudes. The rationale behind Tuesday Teams is simple: Successful learning communities thrive on relationships, and the stronger the relationships, the stronger the learning community.
Teams are made up of 18-20 students representing grades K-5, plus teachers and staff members. Every student is assigned to a Tuesday Team, and team sizes ensure everyone can participate. Our teams met for the first time this week to work on a community art project. Students wrote on multi-colored strips of paper how they have lived The Shady Side Way so far this year and how they might live it in the future. It was so wonderful to see these mixed-age groups work together to help one another write down their ideas. Some examples that I saw: “I helped kids who came in the morning get out of their cars safely. I was kind and responsible. I lived The Shady Side Way!” or “I will try to be kinder to my little brother” or “I cheered my brother on in soccer games he plays, even when it’s wet and muddy outside. I was kind.” These colorful strips of paper will be weaved into the chain link fence surrounding the play yard to create a community art piece.
We’d love to see you at any of our Tuesday assemblies! While you are here, please check out the incredible piece of community art work in our lobby. EVERY member of the Junior School community traced their hands to create this piece, showcasing the idea that we are all members of this very special community.
Monday, Oct. 15 is Picture Day at the Junior School. Students received an order form in their backpacks last week. Please be sure to send the order form and payment with your child on Monday, along with their best smile!
Please mark your calendars for our Junior School Math Night on Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. This will be an adult-only evening with teachers in the gymnasium. Please come and learn more about our new Math in Focus: Singapore Math Approach program and what math instruction looks like in our Junior School classrooms. All of our teachers will be presenting ways for you to encourage mathematical thinking at home as well.
Also mark your calendars for Friday, Nov. 9, for our Flavors of Fall event. This fun evening is a great opportunity to meet other Junior School parents in a laid-back, social atmosphere – another great chance to build community in the Junior School!
Ellen McConnell Head of the Junior School
by Ms. McConnell
on Friday October 5, 2012 at 09:27AM
I had the pleasure of visiting each classroom this week and am quite envious of your children. They have immersed themselves in routines that are based upon inquiry, sharing, and reaching towards new goals. The buildings are alive with their individual personalities, shared experiences, and the thrills of experiential learning. This, my first school time letter, has images from the start of our year together, as well as a few reminders.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Junior School Parents’ Night on Thursday, Sept. 6. The program will begin in the gymnasium at 6:30 p.m.; please view a detailed schedule of our evening. As you know, your children receive a very important message when you attend such evenings, or any school events. If you are unable to make this evening, we certainly understand and our faculty will ensure that you receive any important information in another format. To accommodate families with multiple children, the teachers will present to parents twice during the evening. Parents will also have the chance to meet and speak with our specialists in the library and the gymnasium. Parents of third, fourth, and fifth graders will also be able to purchase P.E. uniforms in the gymnasium.
On the heels of Parents’ Night will be our Hopes and Dreams Conferences. Thus, Wednesday, September 12 and Thursday, September 13 will be noon dismissals. Mini-camp information can be found on online for those wanting or needing activities and care after dismissal. During your conference time, we will have supervision on the Junior School “Big Kids’ Playground” for your individual conference time.
Thank you for helping us have a wonderful start to our school year together. I know how much coordination and planning goes into shifting routines on the home front. I hope you enjoyed your long weekend; we look forward to seeing you on Thursday, Sept. 6.
Ellen McConnell Junior School Head
by Ms. McConnell
on Wednesday September 5, 2012 at 10:32PM
As I craft this letter, I long for the calls of children having fun and learning. I have had a wonderful summer here at 400 South Braddock as I have gotten to know the teachers and staff as well as the building. The library renovations look wonderful and the beautiful fish tank given in honor of Mrs. Little keeps bubbling. I had an opportunity to travel to Chicago with many of the classroom teachers to learn more about Math in Focus: Singapore Math as well as receive a few friends and family members who just had to check out the wonders of Pittsburgh! I have fallen in love with my new home as well as the Café at the Frick, the Oakmont Bakery, the Carnegie Science Center and a penguin named Vicki at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.
In a recent mailing, you will find information about parent conferences, curricular updates and a calendar for the start of our school year. You will also find your name plaque for the carpool line. Please display this on the passenger side visor during afternoon pick up. It is very important to us that you take the time to read, review and discuss the information in this packet as a family. This joint effort will contribute to a smooth start of your student’s school year. In addition, this directed attention to school matters will send an important message to your student about your partnership in their educational journey. For future reference, this information is also available on Shady Side’s website. Should you have any questions about this information, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our office.
In addition to the nuts and bolts of this mailing, I want to share some reflections with you. The Junior School faculty is a group of people determined to make an impact on each individual heart and mind that they encounter. We are committed to our community looking, feeling and being a student-centered place of excellence in character, community and learning. We are a community wherein committed members intentionally work together, within a hub of experiential learning of lifelong skills. This is The Shady Side Way. Based on our guiding principles of honesty, kindness, respect, responsibility and safety, we celebrate ways, small and large, in which our students, faculty and communities members live and learn The Shady Side Way. For each of us, it is a privilege to be a part of the Shady Side community and with this privilege is great responsibility. I am passionate about my role as the Head of the Junior School. I will continue to work with all members of our community to craft a place where we help learners understand themselves, the world around them and encourage healthy risks in a nurturing environment.
Our teachers ended their 2011-2012 school year with professional development. Trainers in our new math program Math in Focus: Singapore Mathematics joined us during the last week of school. As we embark upon new curricular endeavors, our faculty is eager and engaged. Whether meeting on a summer afternoon to craft model lessons for our math program, or gathering just days after their work schedules ended to organize manipulatives, our teachers are actively learning and teaming. This is an outstanding testament to their dedication and to Shady Side’s commitment to ensure we are at the front of the learning curve. We continue to improve upon that which we do well and model the joy and excitement of learning for your children, our students. To help you all learn more about our new math program, please join me and the classroom teachers in a Math Night in early October. More information on this special night will be forthcoming.
I am pleased to give you some information regarding programmatic enhancement for the 2012-2013 school year. Let me begin with our new parent- teacher conference structure. This year, all parents will join their child’s classroom teacher for a “Hopes and Dreams” conference. Dr. Michael Thompson, acclaimed speaker, author, educator and independent school consultant, is truly the brain behind this type of conference. Many independent schools around the country use this model to create an early partnership between parents and teachers on behalf of the individual child. There is no substitute for such a conference and the foundation crafted ahead. These conferences occur on Wednesday, Sept. 12 and Thursday, Sept. 13. For 20 minutes, you will have the opportunity to meet your child’s teacher and share your thoughts and experiences around your child’s social, emotional and intellectual journey. The teacher’s role is to listen and reflect upon your words. In order to allow for this opportunity, Sept. 12 and 13 will be half days for students with a noon dismissal.
We will have two more set conferences, around our semester reporting periods in December and May. We will be moving to two reporting periods to allow growth in our young learners. During these conferences, the report card will be a “tool and not the centerpiece” as described by Dr. Thompson in the attached article. Should these set dates not be sufficient, you will have the opportunity to schedule an optional February conference to discuss any interim thoughts with your child’s classroom teacher/ advisor. A detailed list of Junior School dates is included in this packet; however, I want to highlight the increased opportunity to meet with our faculty on a scheduled basis. As usual, should you want to discuss your child’s academic, emotional or social development contacting the appropriate faculty member to schedule a mutually convenient time is always an option. There is no need to wait to a specific calendar date to do so.
As we are always seeking balance in our curriculum, I would like to let you know that in third, fourth and fifth grade, students will be having art class taught by Ms. Cydra Vaux twice a week increased from once a week last year. This also means students will have physical education class team taught by Ms. Kim Disbrow and Ms. Karen DiFiore three times a week instead of four times a week like last year.
I am also happy to announce that Jennifer Asmonga, a fifth grade teacher last year, will be our new Learning Specialist. As the Learning Specialist, Jennifer will work with students in grades 4 and 5 on study skills, comprehension strategies and learning differences, including, but not limited to attention difficulties. Jennifer will also identify students’ needs and accommodation plans based upon evaluations, teacher referrals and parent questions. She will collaborate with teachers, tutors and work to offer ideas about instructional models for students.
Lastly, we are introducing a new course for our fifth grade students. We are combining our Language Arts and Social Studies courses to better meet the needs of our students. The double period will allow for one teacher to work with half of the students in the grade on the writing process, language, time, place and history in the context of literary works. Mrs. Lisa Anselmo will be moving from second grade to fifth grade and she is thrilled to build a new level of proficiency and joy upon these important foundations and topics. This is a very exciting addition to our academic model and we are confident that such focused instruction will provide an optimal learning experience for our students and faculty. To assist in this new curriculum endeavor, we will be introducing a 1:1 iPad program in fifth grade as well. Each student will have an iPad to use throughout the day during all of the academic classes.
Parent communications at Shady Side Academy are primarily electronic, so it is important that you check your email and visit the SSA website regularly. During the school year, you'll receive the SSA Parents' Newsletter via email every other Thursday. This newsletter contains announcements, reminders, news, event photos and other important information, so please be sure to read it. In addition, I write a monthly letter to parents such as this; while this first letter has been mailed to your home, future letters will be sent via email and posted on the website. You also will receive emails from the Junior School Office and your children's teachers periodically. The SSA website is an important resource for parents as well. Please visit the Junior School teacher pages regularly to keep up with what is going on in your child's classroom, and log in to the Parent Portal to access the online S-Book (community directory), handbooks, forms, report cards and more. The most up-to-date version of the Junior School calendar is kept online as well.
It is a privilege to lead this division and serve you and your families. I am so proud of our committed faculty and know that they look forward to meeting their new students at the end of the month. Wherever you are in your Shady Side journey, either brand new or seasoned alma-mater singer, we are so pleased to be here with you, our Shady Side Family.
Ellen McConnell began serving as Head of the Junior School in 2012, with more than 15 years experience as an independent school teacher and administrator at the elementary level. She was previously the assistant head of the Lower School at Isidore Newman in New Orleans for four years, where she overssaw curriculum, professional development, divisional operations, budget and discipline. Prior to Newman, McConnell spent six years at Trinity School in Atlanta, Ga., including five years as a kindergarten teacher and one year as an instructional technology specialist. McConnell spent the first seven years of her teaching career in New York City, serving as a kindergarten teacher at The Marymount School and The Caedmon School, and as a technology coordinator at The Dalton School. A native of Cresskill, N.J., and a graduate of Dwight Englewood School in Englewood, N.J., McConnell earned her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and history from Wellesley College in 1995 and a Master of Arts in communications, computing and technology from Columbia University Teachers College in 1996.