We welcome you to get to know our faculty better as they share their experiences working with students at Shady Side Academy. Each post is written by a different member of our faculty throughout the school year. Spanning our three schools and teaching a variety of disciplines to students ranging in age from 3-18, each faculty member brings a different perspective to the blog.
As a music teacher, I have the pleasure of getting to teach our students all three years in the Middle School, and I have witnessed many voices change. I have experienced shy singers grow to be confident singers. I have heard singers with unique voices learn how to blend within an ensemble. I have heard treble voices change to baritone voices over three years, and occasionally those changes happen overnight. Everyone’s voice changes to some degree as we mature. Boys’ voices have the most dramatic change, but girls’ voices change as well. It is my job to help them navigate that change and keep them singing in a healthy way.
Singing is such a personal thing, as your body is your instrument. You can’t just press a key and know the correct pitch will sound. It requires a level of coordination and focus, as well as a balance of strength and relaxation to sing with good technique. On top of all that, you have to possess a level of confidence to put your voice out there.
Inevitably, confident sixth grade singers become self-conscious seventh graders. With bodies and friendships changing, and all of the other social aspects of being a seventh grader, I often have to switch between drill sergeant and cheerleader to create the right environment for these young singers to feel comfortable to share their voices. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I have a room full of talented singers who are too terrified to make sound (I’m looking at you, Class of 2018). BUT, on the opposite end of that spectrum, when those singers take the risk and put themselves out there, I don’t know if I have had a more rewarding experience than seeing the transformation of these singers taking ownership and pride in their voices (I’m still looking at you, Class of 2018).
This is going to be an exceptional year for music in the Middle School! The Middle School Chorus has just over 90 singers. Even though we lost some strong singers in last year’s eighth grade, we gained some wonderful new voices this year. I’m working my drill sergeant/cheerleader routine with my seventh graders, and the fact that we are already making great sounds in the fall gives me great hope for the rest of the year! A chorus is a group of many voices coming together as one to make music. It is an amazing thrill to stand before this group when all these voices come together, and they are singing their hearts out! I am very much looking forward to our first concert on Dec. 11, when these young singers get to share their voices with an audience!!
Jeffrey Gross joined the Middle School in 2011 and directs the choral and strings programs as well as the fall play and the winter musical. He previously taught at The Ellis School, Propel Schools and The Kiski School. Outside of school, Gross is a frequent performer in various opera and theater companies throughout the Pittsburgh area.
When I discovered that Shady Side hosts exchanges for Chinese, Spanish, German and French students, I was delighted. What could be better than having teenagers from France in my classroom? The SSA students would find out that their French teachers were not making this all up, and that Real People do speak French. And so I requested to have our guests participate in my classes at all levels – French 2A, French 3, French 3A and AP French V – on every day they were available.
The goals were to provide opportunities for the French students to learn about life in the U.S. Our students had the chance to improve speaking skills. For both groups, the most important goal was to foster true cross-cultural ties.
My challenge was to design activities that provided for real communication without boring the French kids and without intimidating the American kids. The students themselves came up with the best suggestions; French 3A proposed their favorite game, and my AP class listened to current French music and chatted easily with their guests. The structure of interactive activities was provided for all classes, and the students took off from there, owning their learning.
There was anxiety on both sides: will the person with whom I am speaking understand me? Will that person make fun of my accent? As it turned out, those concerns were unfounded. All students readily engaged in the task at hand, becoming focused on the message they were communicating rather than the mistakes they might be making. Matt, a French 2A student, expressed what many students discovered: “French and English aren’t that different after all.”
When at the end of one class period, I overheard an intense discussion of who was crushing on whom, I was pleased. True cultural communication accomplished!
Carol Schneider joined Shady Side Academy as a long-term substitute teacher in 2014. Previously, she worked for 39 years as a French teacher in the Franklin Regional School District before retiring last June. Throughout her career, she won many awards for teaching excellence. Schneider is a contributing author of a recent American Association of Teachers of French publication entitled Standards-Based Lessons. She holds a B.A. in French from Thiel College and an M.S.Ed. from Duquesne University.
This summer I had the fortunate experience to visit nine national parks and six national monuments to study their geological formations on a Benedum Fellowship. I have been using a flipped classroom model for a few years, and I plan to incorporate this video into my sixth grade geology and national parks curriculum, both inside and outside of the classroom. The parks I visited were Sunset Crater National Monument, Mammoth Cave National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Petroglyph National Park.
I created this video as my Benedum Fellowship presentation, so that I could share this wonderful opportunity with my fellow SSA faculty members:
Shady Side Academy's Paul G. Benedum Teaching Fellowships provide funding to faculty members for the purpose of strengthening professional development through an experience that leads to personal growth and enrichment, and to permit faculty members to maintain a sense of intellectual vitality and excitement about their work.
Matt Brunner has taught sixth grade earth science at the Middle School since 2005. He previously taught at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. In addition to teaching science, he coaches the Middle School girls soccer and track teams, as well as the robotics and rocketry teams.
The Paul G. Benedum Teaching Fellowships provide funding to SSA faculty members for the purpose of strengthening professional development through an experience that leads to personal growth and enrichment, and to permit faculty members to maintain a sense of intellectual vitality and excitement about their work. Mr. McGuigan traveled to Amsterdam in summer 2014 on a Benedum Fellowship.
So Jacques sees something out of the corner of his eye, and the car careens over the bike path scattering a flock of cyclists, ruffling feathers. He abruptly parks his Citroen akimbo in the plaza of a nondescript block of three-story walk-ups in South Amsterdam. He is elated and pops out of the car with agility not common for a 91-year-old. He gestures wildly for me to follow, and we walk over to a kiosk with the undeniable nose-curling smell of fish. He orders and I get handed a small piece of waxed paper with what looks like a grey fish carcass on it. The fishmonger explains flatly, "You eat it in one bite." I blink a few times, quietly hoping that I would be saved by a parade of clowns or an earthquake, but nothing comes to the rescue. What I found out later is that I was staring at the pinnacle of Dutch street food and a national treasure, raw salted herring. There are now half a dozen Dutch folks staring at me, the foreigner, expectantly. As other curious spectators are beginning to assemble, the thought then occurs to me, How did I get here? How did I end up on the Merwedplein with Jacques, a sprightly Holocaust survivor, staring down half a pound of raw fish? Well, let me take a step back.
I have taught eighth grade literature for a handful of years, and as you may know, The Diary of Anne Frank has become a capstone of middle school literature. Each spring all across the country, as clockwork as winged migration, eighth graders earnestly thumb the pages that Anne so carefully crafted for them.
It is my experience that The Diary challenges the teenage mind in more than a few ways. Of course the injustice, the banality of hiding and a family's tragedy are all obvious to adults, but I have found that teenagers also have difficulties with how it ends. I hope I don't need a spoiler alert here, but her diary just ends. No earth-shattering drama, no violent scuffles, no fade to black. While almost every stage and screen adaptation extrapolates the Frank family's final moments in hiding, the actual diary ends without warning.
Students used to emerging from countless narrative jungles with some golden idol are left with nothing but blank pages. In the final lessons of our unit, students are inquisitive and frustrated in equal measure. I do my best to field all of their questions, but in many cases I have to admit "I'm not sure," or "It isn't clear," especially about the unimaginable motives and emotions we have to imagine. I don't know about you, but not knowing unsettles me, and it is hard for teenagers. Ultimately we move on, but awkwardly and certainly with heavy hearts.
My Benedum trip to Amsterdam this summer focused on recording oral history interviews and collecting artifacts around Anne, her diary and World War II. During my trip I met Jacques, who lived around the corner from Anne and remembers possibly seeing her in the only ice cream shop in Amsterdam that served Jews. I teared up as he vibrantly described the baker's family that hid him from the Nazis, and later I held on for dear life as he gave me a high speed tour of Amsterdam in his Citroen. I also met Sabine, who walked from Amsterdam to Belgium in winter, which is a remarkable feat for a 6-year-old girl, and who remembers the look on her father's face after a chance run-in with the green police. I also met many Dutch who yearned to tell their family stories of resistance and eating tulip bulbs to survive famine. I was struck by just how many people in Holland wanted to share their experiences with me, although my iPad had only so much storage space. I returned from my trip with narratives that stretch back decades to the source of the injustice we read about. I returned with a few more answers for those unanswered questions.
Most teachers as Shady Side traffic in the commodity of knowledge, but I have found that in dealing with the Holocaust, knowledge only transports students so far. They need the power of experience and the truth in other's experiences to help fill some of these blank pages. This is what a Benedum Grant does at an elemental level. It gets knowledge junkies like us out in the sunshine, walking in the footsteps of our lessons. Our experiences resonate inside of us, and then get passed on to students, many of them knowledge junkies themselves. My project this summer has only deepened my respect for experience as a teaching tool, and my students certainly will be out there in the world this year interviewing people about their experiences with justice. Knowledge can take you quite far in this world, but experience is rather important if you intend to wade into the water.
Returning to the Merwedplein and the herring, I realized I had little choice. My opinions on raw oily fish were immaterial in this situation. There was the respect of a nonagenarian survivor of WWII on the line. Not eating this veritable slab of herring would be a faux pas of international proportions. I did what I hope many of you will do in the future and I closed my eyes, said what the hey and jumped in with both feet...
Tim McGuigan joined the Shady Side Academy Middle School faculty in 2012, teaching Form I and II English, as well as sixth grade Study Skills. He also conducts the after-school tutorial program. Previously, he taught language arts for six years in the Shaler and Sto-Rox school districts. McGuigan also has traveled through Hawaii studying permaculture and biodynamics on organic farms and worked as a computer programmer.
Summer provides many opportunities for children to unwind with a good book, whether it’s relaxing on the beach, waiting for a plane, staying up at night in the camp bunk bed or just sitting on a porch swing. While we hope that most students make time to read each day for the sheer pleasure of being whisked away to other worlds and places, some students may find too many distractions and allow those summer reading books to stack up in the corner for days. Creating a schedule for summer reading is one way to insure that quality reading time is not lost in the hustle and bustle of summer activities, but there are easier ways to promote reading during summer vacation.
The easiest way to promote summer reading is for adults in the household to pick up a book, magazine or newspaper and model reading for their children. Children who see the important adults in their lives reading are more likely to emulate this wonderful lifelong habit. Summer is a great time for parents and teachers to take a break from their hectic schedule and relax with a book in hand. Take a trip to your local library and find summer reading books and travel books that will enhance your summer vacation. Parents of older children can choose a book that has been made into a movie, such as The Book Thief by Mark Zuzak or The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; it’s a great way to model reading and share movie time with your children. I know that I am looking forward to reading Goldfinch by Donna Tartt this summer; it’s a book whose density has kept it on my shelf during the school year. A colleague of mine is looking forward to reading Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and another colleague can’t wait to start reading Luminaries by Eleanor Catoon.
As you pack your bags this summer and head for your vacation destination, be sure that everyone in the family includes a book or two in their suitcase and carry-on. It will amplify your travel experience and model reading for everyone who’s watching.
Prior to joining the Middle School library staff in 2008, Mary Guering was the children's librarian at Mars Public Library and worked as a library assistant at the SSA Senior School. She also has substituted in the Pine-Richland School District as a library assistant and para-educator for special needs students. Before her career in education, Guering worked at WQED Multimedia, where she produced educational programming and documentaries.
Shady Side Academy’s proximity to world-class research institutions and museums provides an opportunity to access world-renowned experts in their fields. At the Middle School, we have been fortunate to work with Mr. Albert Kollar, an invertebrate paleontologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. For the past 11 years, students from the Middle School have visited Mr. Kollar’s lab in the basement of the museum. Approximately 700 of our Middle School students have had a chance to go “behind the scenes” of the museum during our visits. Through the years, Mr. Kollar and his staff have developed a highly interactive and hands-on set of activities for the students to complete in the lab. These activities have included breaking rocks at a table press looking for invertebrate fossils, making a cast of a latex fossil mold, “smoking” fossils to prepare for photography, discussion of the drilling process for Marcellus shale gas and completing a coloring book on Western Pennsylvania geology.
In addition to his responsibilities at the museum, Mr. Kollar is also president of the Pittsburgh Geological Society (PGS). As part of the PGS educational outreach efforts, Mr. Kollar has visited my sixth grade classes at the Middle School and explained the drilling process used to extract Marcellus shale gas. Students have been able to use their knowledge of the drilling process to help to develop their arguments for and against Marcellus shale drilling in our class debate.
Our partnership with Mr. Kollar has helped me to introduce real-world information to my classes when we are studying fossils and geologic time, and discussing the pros and cons of drilling for Marcellus shale gas. Teachers throughout the Academy are using experts like Mr. Kollar to enrich the curriculum and provide unique experiences to our students.
Matt Brunner has taught sixth grade science at the Middle School since 2005. He previously taught at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. In addition to teaching science, he coaches the Middle School girls soccer and track teams, as well as the robotics and rocketry teams.
Even though China seems like such a faraway place for most Middle School students, the faculty at SSA have been working hard to connect our students to the other side of the world.
In social studies we learned about Chinese philosophy and religions, and in the recent Energy Quest we compared the Marcellus Shale Project to the Three Gorges Dam Project across the Yangtze River. In our Chinese and English language classrooms, we not only learned culture and language through books and songs like Red Scarf Girl and Chinese Cinderella, but we also joined the ePals Sharing Cultures Project to exchange emails with students in China. With modern technology, we were even able to have a Skype session with our partner school in China to share cultures. We teachers have tried very hard to open our students’ minds and worldviews through various resources. However, I feel that none of these methods was as powerful as having foreign students living among us, even for a short two weeks.
During two weeks in January and February, the goal of all Middle School administrators, faculty and students was to make sure our eight exchange students from Beijing No. 4 School in China felt as comfortable and welcome as possible. The hosting buddies did a great job taking care of their exchange students during school hours. I was especially proud of our students as they learned to respect one other and be global citizens. Our students were eager to make friends with the exchange students from day one. They did everything to live out our Guiding Principles of kindness and respect, and embodied the Middle School slogan “What you do matters.”
Although not every student had the chance to interact with the Chinese visitors during class time, our students still tried hard to connect with them in some way. Often I was asked by our students to introduce them to the exchange students. During break time, almost everyone was trying to be around them. Many people went out of their way to help out when they saw the exchange students alone on campus. If a hosting buddy was out of school for any reason, there was always someone who would step up to be a guide for the day.
The coming of Chinese exchange students has enriched and provided our Middle School students with real-life experience, no doubt about it. This experience promoted relationship-building and knowledge exchange between the Chinese students and our school community. At our school Chinese New Year celebration, SSA students and exchange students shared culture, talents, small talk, food and fun – but mostly importantly, we shared laughter and great memories. I am sure that the connections made during those two weeks will last a lifetime.
Mandy Fong joined the Middle School faculty in 2011 as a Chinese teacher. A native of Taiwan, she came to the U.S. in 1994 to pursue her M.B.A. Prior to SSA, she taught Chinese for six years in area schools. She is the founder of the All Ages Chinese School, which provides Chinese language and culture instruction to families who have adopted children from China.
by Shannon Sciulli Junior School Pre-Kindergarten Teacher
There are words, moments or experiences that can make one feel connected to something new. For me, it was the words spoken by Ms. McConnell during my first days here at Shady Side Academy. She shared her philosophy, “Nothing Without Joy.” Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, was quoted with saying these words. His words and approach to teaching young children has inspired and influenced who I am as a teacher. Making this immediate connection and having the opportunity to work with my colleagues to transform our pre-kindergarten classrooms using the Reggio approach as our guide made me feel valued. I am fortunate to work with such open-minded and flexible individuals.
I am often asked, “What is the Reggio Emilia approach?” My answer varies in depth depending on who I am speaking with, so as not to overwhelm them with my passion, but to intrigue them enough to get them thinking about ways to incorporate elements of the approach in their classrooms. To me, the Reggio Emilia approach is a way of being with children. The approach has encouraged me to be an attentive, intuitive and mindful educator. With that said, as I walk the halls of the Junior School and observe colleagues teaching in their classrooms, I see many of the principles of the approach present.
The Image of the Child
The students at Shady Side Academy have preparedness, potential and curiosity; they have intent in relationship, in constructing their own learning and in negotiating with everything our environment brings them. Each child is an active citizen and contributing member of his or her family, and of our community. We have weekly all-school assemblies where we come together as a community of learners with the goal of promoting positive behavior, skills and attitudes. It’s always exciting for even the youngest students to listen to what the other grade levels have been learning and to celebrate everyone’s successes.
The Role of Parents
Parents are an essential component of our program and an active part of their child’s learning experiences. Together we are partners in creating lifelong learners. Our classroom doors are always open, and we welcome parent participation. Parents help out in the classroom during morning centers, working alongside teachers and sharing their interests and family traditions. This kind of engagement gives parents the opportunity to gain insight into their child’s world and strengthens our classroom community.
Teachers and Children as Partners in Learning
We view children as active, curious and eager learners. We offer interesting materials and engaging lessons and activities, and give the children thoughtful guidance so that they can engage in quality educational experiences. We are partners with the children, working alongside each child in the classroom. When I have been with my colleagues in their classrooms, I see them sitting next to their students providing guidance and support.
The Power of Documentation
Throughout the Junior School, the work of our students is documented in some way. Whether through photographs, transcripts of a student’s thoughts, visual representations, blog posts or published writing, this documentation shows students the value of their work and their learning processes. These documents also connect parents to their children’s experience and maintain their involvement in our community.
The Environment of the Third Teacher
Each classroom has the potential to inspire children. The physical space fosters communication and relationships. Our environment at the Junior School encourages collaboration, communication, exploration and discovery. When you walk into any classroom in our school, you will feel the warmth and openness, as well as see the learning that takes place in these rooms.
Shady Side Academy’s Guiding Principles (Honesty, Kindness, Responsibility, Respect and Safety), when combined with the Reggio principles, create an amiable school where the children, faculty and parents are happy. Shady Side Academy is truly a special place, and I feel lucky to be able to continue to explore and share my passion with our community.
Shannon Sciulli joined the pre-kindergarten faculty at the Junior School in 2013. She previously taught at an elementary school in Fauquier County, Va., and at Carnegie Mellon University's Cyert Center for Early Education.
by Derek Nussbaum Wagler Senior School Science Teacher
For the first 15 years of my life, I lived on a dairy farm 45 miles south of Indianapolis. I grew up thinking I was going to be a farmer (or veterinarian, or mechanical engineer, or soil scientist, or teacher). One of the best things about living on a farm is that the pace of life is dictated by the season; the most intense periods of work come during spring planting and fall harvest. After a childhood of counting on the yearly recurrence of this natural rhythm, in 1990 we left the farm when my dad returned to school. Suddenly my farming career was over.
Fast-forward 24 years; here I am in my 14th year of teaching and my third year at Shady Side Academy. During this, the coldest part of the year, I find myself thinking about what this year has in store for our own SSA Farm. It is the time of the year when the seed catalogs arrive, and with them a glimpse of what might be just around the corner. With this spring marking the start of the third season of the SSA Farm at the Senior School, it is exciting to think about what this new growing season may hold.
Who will participate in PE Farm?
What will we decide to plant?
Who will the summer interns be?
What will the summer weather look like?
The fascinating thing for me is that these aren't that different from the questions that run through my mind every summer as I anticipate the start of another school year. Not coincidentally, the academic calendar follows a similar rhythm to the agrarian one. Both begin with a great deal of planning, followed by a period of facilitated growth, and culminate in a celebrated eventual harvest; although I hope that my students will continue to grow after their time at SSA.
It also strikes me that in farming, as in teaching, success is not guaranteed. The potential for success is improved by planting a variety of good seeds in nutrient-rich soil and providing the crop with the best growing conditions you can. But every year is slightly different, there are always some things that are outside of your control, and most importantly, you can always find ways to improve and reasons to celebrate.
Besides the interactions I get to have with students, it is this push for continued improvement that I love most about my job. I'm a long way from that 250-acre dairy farm in the hills of Southern Indiana, but I’m still trying to become a better farmer.
Derek Nussbaum Wagler came to SSA in 2011 and was named chair of the Science Department in 2012. Prior to SSA, he taught biology, chemistry and physics at Middleton High School in Wisconsin for seven years and biology and chemistry at Elkhart Central High School in Indiana for three years.
by Molly Braver '94 Middle School Social Studies Teacher
As I reminisce about my four years as a student at Shady Side Academy, I often think about the assemblies we had in the gym. I always loved hearing alumni, outside speakers and teachers address us. I used to carry around a notebook to jot down interesting ideas, and some of those have become fixtures in my memory. I remember, and even use in my classes, how Mr. Diehl would start off by saying that if you don’t swing at any balls, how are you going to hit a home run? I also recall hearing astronaut Jay Apt '67 speak about his science teacher Mr. Sayles, and how much of an inspiration he was to him. These experiences were more than an education to me, they molded how I thought about learning.
As an educator, I have made it integral to my practice to create similar experiences for my students. When I worked at Pittsburgh Public Schools, I collaborated with multiple organizations like the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. By connecting to the greater Pittsburgh community, I was able to take students to events and even create a few conferences at Allderdice High School, where I worked. Moreover, I emulated Shady Side’s tradition when I got involved with Allderdice’s Hall of Fame. In addition to planning awards ceremonies, I made it my mission to recruit alumni to speak to students, and so began Allderdice’s Alumni Speaker Series. I recalled all of the times I gleaned something worthwhile from hearing speakers in the SSA gym, and I wanted to provide this opportunity for my students too.
Last year, as I began teaching at the Middle School, I starting thinking about how to impact my students. After getting the lay of the land and conversing with my colleagues, the idea of a service day emerged. I can’t take full credit for this since it was Mr. Brunner’s idea, but I was happy our conversations set this idea in motion. A day of service became a new opportunity for me to create a powerful experience for our students.
On Friday, Dec. 6, the entire Middle School participated in Global Action Conference Day, beginning a new school tradition. Every teacher, staff member and student came together as a whole to learn, act and plan how to make a difference in our world. Our focus this year was children and poverty. As a school we listened to Amiena Mahsoob from the World Affairs Council discuss some challenges children face around the world. Then each grade focused on a specific area of the world and examined the lives of children in that region. Sixth graders learned about Haiti, seventh graders focused on Cameroon and areas hit by disasters, and eighth graders heard about local kids and their needs. As the day continued, students listened to presentations, asked questions and took part in simulation activities. Then the students participated in hands-on service projects. The end of the day was spent in advisory groups discussing ways to continue our service efforts, either by raising awareness or providing continued aid for the organizations.
Many times throughout Global Action Conference Day, students made insightful comments about what they could do to impact change. After learning about the enormous cost a Haitian family must contribute just to provide a basic education, one student told Ms. Nixon that he wanted to support the education of a child there. Another student was inspired to learn more about Malala Yousafzai and try to meet her. My hope is that through this day and the follow-up activities, we can continue to positively influence students just like I was motivated 20 years ago.
SSA alumna Molly Braver '94 has taught social studies at the Middle School since 2012. Previously, she taught at Knoxville Middle School and Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, where she created her own comparative religions course and taught world history, civics, AP U.S. history, and philosophy. Braver has also done work with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.