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Junior School Head's Page

Cheryl Little

May 2012

Dear Shady Side Academy Junior School Community,

In the Spirit of Gratitude and Love
Celebrating Family, Friends, Life and “Our Tomorrows”

The above title is the one I used for my January 2007 parent letter; it seemed appropriate once again. At that time, I had just returned to school after recuperating at home from a very serious car accident. My injuries were severe and numerous: a broken sternum, nine broken ribs, a badly bruised right lung and a compression fracture in my lower back. Throughout the ordeal, the Shady Side Academy community had been so very compassionate, giving, caring and helpful. Just knowing that I had this support facilitated my recovery and return to school after two months, and I felt loved and appreciated.

Once again last spring, I had a serious health issue – breast cancer – and again my Shady Side Academy family supported me with prayers, gifts, meals, cards and letters of encouragement. After only two weeks, I returned to school and I have never looked back. I felt loved and appreciated.

Traumatic experiences like the ones I’ve experienced often help us prioritize our lives and appreciate all of the blessings that we have. I do know this: Life is fragile and we must live each day like there's no tomorrow. On Oct. 29, 2006, I almost did not have a tomorrow; again on May 10, 2011, my world was shaken. Each time, however, I was blessed with my family, friends, church and school communities who cared enough to support and encourage me. I felt loved and appreciated.

This community has been like a family to me. I have many friends here, and I have had the ongoing support of this family for over 30 years! When I arrived in 1982 as a substitute teacher, it was an all boys’ school. As I walked into the classroom my first day here, the boys all stood up. Now, THAT was respect “1982 style.” I felt loved and appreciated.

In January 1982, I was hired as a maternity leave replacement teacher for fourth and fifth grade social studies. At the end of that year, I was hired as a science teacher and began our “new” hands-on science program. I spent most of my time here doing what I love – teaching. I went to the Senior School in 2001 to direct the reaccreditation process, and after that I became K-12 curriculum coordinator. In the spring of 2004, I was named head of the Junior School and returned “home.”  

Shady Side Academy is a place where people care about each other. Teachers care about their children, school and colleagues. Administrators are there to help teachers do their jobs better, and the Board of Trustees is there to support the entire Academy. It is a wonderful feeling to be a part of this family! I am honored to have been a part of the caring community of Shady Side Academy.

As we look to the future, Ellen McConnell will become head of the Junior School on July 1. She is looking forward to her work here, and I wish her all the best. I can only hope I leave the Junior School a little better now than when I arrived. I know I have done my best. I have always put the students first in every decision I made. “Do It Because It’s Right” has been the Junior School motto for many, many years; I have tried to do just that. I take with me wonderful memories of this school and all of you. I feel loved and appreciated!

And now, some Junior School updates:

We all enjoyed the kindergarten play this week, and our fifth graders will return from their trip to the Linsly Outdoor Center this afternoon. This morning we hosted our incoming pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students for a fun morning of events, including a showing of the kindergarten play and some free time outside for the children to play and get to know each other.

Let me remind you about the event scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20. We are partnering with Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Waterworks to host the second annual SSA Summer Reading Kick-Off. This will give the SSA community a chance to get a head start on their summer reading purchases and benefit all three of the school libraries at the same time!

Wednesday, May 23, at 9:30 a.m. at the Senior School is the final Parents’ Association meeting of the year. This event replaces the three-school luncheon. I hope to see many of you there!

As you all know, our end of the year events are right around the corner. Please refer to the Junior School handbook, page 15, for the dress code on those days. I remind the girls to wear appropriate dresses. For safety reasons, girls should not wear high heels! Please do not wear strapless dresses, dresses with thin or spaghetti straps or prom-type dresses.

In addition, we cannot allow parents to save seats for either of these events. It’s not fair to all of our families for some to reserve front-row seats the night before one of these events. All of our parents would love to sit in the front row, I’m certain. For this reason, we have hired a videographer. It will be possible to purchase a video of one or both of these special days. Thank you for understanding! I look forward to seeing you there.

This summer at the Junior School, we will be remodeling the library. Have a great summer! Enjoy your children and when traveling, please be safe. I look forward to watching from afar all the wonderful things that are sure to happen next year.

With gratitude and love… I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of Junior School
Shady Side Academy


Posted by dsheehan on Friday May 18, 2012 at 01:15PM
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April 2012

Dear Junior School Families,

I trust that you were able to enjoy some quality family time over Spring Break. We traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to visit our daughter and her family. Ashton and Ava are now 2 ½ and talking up a storm to each other and to adults. What fun it was to explore the woods, ponds and streams in their area as well as to watch them swim in their pool. My daughter, Tami, is expecting her third child on Sept. 22, so she is delighted that I will be able to spend some time with her during that busy time.

As you know, I will be retiring at the end of June, so I have been reflecting upon the concept of change. I will be facing a major life change; at this same time, my mother is also facing a major change. She had a stroke in December and is not able to return to her home. She was an active 85 year old woman who was working part-time until last fall. She enjoyed golfing, playing bridge, gardening and walking, and now she is unable to live alone. As a family, we are helping her adjust to this major life change; it’s a big one!

We all go through change in our lives: the birth of a child; the death of a parent; the loss of a job or the relocation of one. Each one of these life changing events causes us to grow in various ways. Just about anyone would agree that growing is a good thing, but relatively few people actually dedicate themselves to the process. Why? I think it is because growth requires change, and change is hard for most people. However, the truth is: without change growth is impossible.

Education, as you know, is organic; it is constantly growing and changing. It is no secret that in dynamic school environments schools are constantly challenged to reinvent themselves based on the needs of the students, the school’s program and pedagogy and the plans of individuals within the school community. In that regard, I want to tell you about some changes that our new Junior School Head, Ms. Ellen McConnell has made.

First of all, Claudine Runnette was recently hired as a full-time school counselor. Claudine holds a B.A. in speech and hearing sciences from Washington St. University and an M.A. in marriage and family counseling from City University in Renton, Wash. Claudine is also a licensed mental health therapist. Claudine is currently employed by the Fox Chapel Area School District as a behavioral specialist. She will join us in August. Claudine's husband, Creighton Runnette, joined Shady Side last August as our Senior School counselor. 

There will be some changes in classroom assignments too. After almost 30 years, Bill Sauer will be leaving the Junior School at the end of the year. Bill began his teaching career in the Fox Chapel Area School District, and joined the Junior School faculty in September 1983. He has taught social studies to both fourth and fifth grade students while at the Junior School. Presently, he teaches fifth grade social studies and math. Bill enjoyed working at our SSA Day Camp for many summers. Shady Side Academy “Lifers” often return to the Junior School on Lynne Voelp Reed Day and want to see Mr. Sauer. They have fond memories of their time with him. His wit, smile and charming personality will certainly be missed here at the Junior School. Bill plans to spend more time with Will, his grandson, and I’m certain he’ll spend more time on the golf course.

Thus, the fifth grade program will undergo a change. Lisa Anselmo will move to fifth grade and teach humanities. Mrs. Anselmo has done a fantastic job teaching second grade, but is up for the challenge of a new grade and program. Tekla Hilton will join Mrs. Anselmo as a fifth grade teacher and will teach mathematics. Mrs. Hilton has done a wonderful job teaching third grade, but is also up for the challenge of a new grade and program---plus she loves teaching math!

Pat Suhody, current fifth grade language arts teacher, will move to third grade partnering with Dan Stern. Pat has done a great job teaching fifth grade language arts, and she has also taught kindergarten at the Junior School. Since she has experience teaching kindergarten and fifth grade, Pat is ready for the challenge of teaching third grade. Kristin Litster, current pre-kindergarten teacher, will move to second grade partnering with Jennifer Riscili. Mrs. Litster has been a wonderful addition to our PK team; she’s a great team member. However, she is open to the challenge of teaching an older grade. She has experience teaching third grade for several years while living in California.

Finally, Chris Holt, art teacher, will also be leaving at the end of this school year after 30+ years of teaching art. She has decided to take an early retirement to pursue her many artistic endeavors and interests. Chris is undoubtedly the most creative person I have ever known! Her talents are many, but her recent accomplishments as both a gardener and a blacksmith are admirable. She designed, created and donated the bench outside the wing hallway, and has presented at many local and national conferences. She’s a published author both in School Arts magazine and in the blacksmith trade magazines, The Anvil’s Ring and The Fabricator. She is very involved with the Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmiths Association as well as the Artist Blacksmithing Association of North America. Chris is also a Master Gardener with Phipps Conservatory, and she has been asked by the Philadelphia Flower Show to present at the national conference two years in a row. She has been featured in a PCN Profile Series, and soon will be appearing in the forthcoming book by Latifa Sayadi, Striking Women, Mild as Steel. There is no doubt in my mind, retirement for her will still mean being very busy and active. She golfs, rides her bike and works out regularly, so she will be busy --- just in a different way. We will miss her fantastic displays throughout the school, her fabulous gift-wrapping and the kind, friendly, collegial, congenial manner in which she operates each and every day of the year.

Before I close, I want to remind you once again to get your yearbook recognition ads in by April 15. This year there will be a charge of around $30 for the yearbook. In addition, we will practice our school-wide evacuation plan on April 24. Details to come later. Also, Grandparents’ Day is next Friday--- details are attached. I love Grandparents’ Day!

I trust that you have enjoyed Spring Break and are ready for the sprint to the end of the year. There are still many activities and performances coming up, so I hope to see you at one of them soon.

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of the Junior School
Shady Side Academy

Attachments: Grandparents’ Day and LVR Day information

Posted by dsheehan on Thursday April 5, 2012 at 07:30PM
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March 2012

Dear Junior School Families,

March is that tug-of-war month; it’s the tug between winter and spring.  Eventually spring wins, but there are usually some signs that maybe winter will win the tug. This is also the time of year when we look back and realize there’s more of the school year behind us than ahead of us, and we begin to wonder how we’ll ever fit everything in before June. I must say I am amazed at how much has happened this year and how your children have grown as people and as learners. We all know after Spring Break the year flies by, so right now I am trying to enjoy every single moment!

Last week we welcomed Ellen McConnell back to the Junior School and Shady Side Academy. She had the opportunity to visit all three schools over a three-day period. Fortunately, she was able to spend a day and a half at the Junior School learning more about our family. It was nice for the faculty, staff and children to be able to meet her and begin to learn more about their new Head of School. She will begin on July 1, 2012, and she will live on the Middle School campus.

As I walked around the school last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at all the precious memories being created in our classrooms. Our PK children were fast at work creating a time machine to take them back in time---back to the time of dinosaurs! They are preparing for their performance, “Dino-tastic” on March 15 in the PK building. The children were very actively engaged and so excited to discover everything they could about those interesting prehistoric creatures. Whenever I need my little “kid fix,” I just spend some time in the magic kingdom of PK. What fun!

When I entered the kindergarten rooms, I was delighted to see all of the children sitting at the tables wearing red and white Dr. Seuss hats and eating green eggs and ham. Yes! They really were eating green eggs and ham for snack, celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Thanks to the kindergarten teachers and Mr. Al from Metz, they truly enjoyed the “slightly moldy looking” green eggs. The children said the ham was the best they ever tasted! There was a wonderful atmosphere of excitement and fun!

Our first graders have been Wildlife Warriors recently, as they learned about the Arctic and Antarctica. I observed the children creating their own polar bears in art to go along with these exciting topics. Those bears join the penguins and are on display outside the first grade classrooms.

Second grade has been immersed in learning about Africa and the rain forest. Our third graders were preparing for the State Fair to occur this week. Fourth graders were researching various gods and goddesses in preparation for their upcoming Greek Museum. And finally, I observed fifth graders preparing for their performance on March 13, at our Tuesday Assembly. What a diverse mixture of projects, lessons, performances and activities I observed---all in just a couple of days. There is a lot going on at the Junior School!

As you may know, each grade does a performance of some type every year. These performances take different shapes and forms, but each child has the opportunity to perform yearly. These opportunities, as well as the chance to speak at one of our Tuesday Assemblies, give our children experience with public speaking and also the performing arts. The arts are alive and well at the Junior School!

Since there are several performances coming up before Spring Break, I hope to see you at one of them.  March is a short month for us, but it’s packed with special events. We look forward to the Third Grade State Fair performance at the Tuesday Assembly on March 6, and to the fifth grade performance, “We Come from Everywhere,” on March 13. Each of these presentations will be followed by a reception for parents in the cafeteria. The State Fair takes place in the third grade classrooms after Assembly and then a reception will be held in the cafeteria.

Spring break is just around the corner, and I know everyone is awaiting it with great anticipation. Whether you stay home and enjoy the slower pace of life or travel to enjoy a well-earned vacation, I wish you and your families a restful, relaxing time. Enjoy the break, celebrate the end of winter, and I look forward to seeing everyone back here in April refreshed and ready for the sprint toward the end of the year.

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of Junior School
Shady Side Academy


Posted by Mrs. Dana M. Sheehan on Monday March 5, 2012 at 12:50PM
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February 2012

Dear Junior School Families,

February greetings to you! I begin this month’s letter with a quote:

"...to me teaching is as noble, challenging, stimulating, and rewarding a job as one can set one's mind and heart to - except on rainy Friday afternoons and during the month of February."
~Eric W. Johnson

This quote is humorous, yet so true for many of us during the month of February. This is the time of year when we all begin to look forward to Spring Break and warmer days, and we begin to tire of our many gray winter days. It’s hard for children to be inside when it’s too cold to be outside. As you know, we take the children out as often as we can; however, frigid or rainy weather does not allow much outside time. We are fortunate this winter, however, that we haven’t begun to experience two-hour delays. Just in case we need to call for a two-hour delay, I would like to review for you the school’s policy:

When a two-hour delay is called, and you hear about it via our Alert Now system, the schedule at the Junior School will be pushed back two hours. There is no before school program on those days. We will welcome students starting at 10 a.m., and the first bell will ring at 10:15 a.m. School officially begins at 10:25 on those days; announcements are at 10:20 a.m. Thank you for your understanding, patience and compliance with this policy. My hope is that we will not have any two-hour delays this winter. I know they inconvenience all of you, but safety is the most important thing to consider when the weather is extremely cold, snowy or icy.

January and February are traditionally known as the long, cold, dark and snowy months; however, that hasn’t slowed our progress here at the Junior School. We have enjoyed almost two months of focused learning. I know the teachers enjoy this time between winter and Spring Break, as it provides a span of several weeks in which they can really get involved in their curriculum and enjoy their students as they actively engage in learning. They will soon be preparing report cards and comments for the second period. Where, oh where, is this year going??

We have had a busy admission season here at the Junior School this winter. We have a number of interested and well-qualified applicants who visited, tested and toured our school. Others are coming to visit daily, and we are excited at the prospect of welcoming them to our community. Many of you have been instrumental in sending families to us. We thank you for your help as we go through this important process.

The next step for us is our upcoming PK/K Acceptance Reception which is being held on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 9 a.m. Ellen McConnell, newly appointed Junior School Head, will join us that day. If you would like to meet Ms. McConnell, parents are invited to a Parent Coffee on Wednesday, Feb. 22, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. in the cafeteria. We've added this special date to take advantage of a visit from Ellen McConnell, who will succeed me as School Head upon my retirement at the end of June. You will have an opportunity to meet Ms. McConnell, who will also be spending time getting to know the faculty, staff and students of the Junior School during her visit to Shady Side Academy. Our regularly scheduled Parent Coffee/Parents' Association meeting with the Head of School will still take place on Thursday, March 1, as well. We'll look forward to seeing you on one or both of these mornings!



Our word of the month for February and March is “Safety.” Safety is one of our Guiding Principles and those five principles guide our lives here at school. At our assembly this week, John King, Safety and Security at the Senior School, did a presentation on bus safety for the students. As you know, the teachers have a weekly time that is devoted to character education. We have discussed physical safety, stranger danger and bullying this month. Your children need to feel safe here, not only physically, but also emotionally. It’s important to us, and we know it’s important to you.

The Junior School children are just good medicine! Whenever I begin to feel office-bound, I venture out into the classrooms. That’s where wonderful things are happening. That’s where I’m at home. Children love to master challenges. They want to try new things, move in new directions and be productive. They are genuine risk takers, sometimes out of faith, sometimes out of desperation. More than anything else, children want and need to belong, to partner, to collaborate, to know and be known. Children teach us how, with a positive focus and strong support, we can move forward in a healthy direction. Your children are growing, playing and enjoying their learning. The many lessons, activities and projects in which the students participate keep them engaged in healthy and wonderful ways. One of the most rewarding tasks in my professional life as an educator has been to teach your children and lead this wonderful school. I will certainly miss my daily “kid fix!”

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of the Junior School

Posted by dsheehan on Friday February 17, 2012 at 12:28PM
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January 2012

Dear Junior School Families,

For many people, the New Year brings about reflection, not only of where we've been but where we're going. It might also involve making some New Year’s resolutions, with all good intentions at the beginning of the year. Often it’s a waste of time to make resolutions; however, that’s only because our efforts are often thwarted by the end of January and we continue on as usual. I hope for all of you 2012 will be a productive, happy, healthy year, and I hope you are able to keep all of your resolutions. Happy New Year!

January at the Junior School is a month for admission screenings. We began the process last Saturday with kindergarten screening; next Saturday we begin with PK. It’s always very exciting, and also challenging, as we look to the future and assess children as young as three years old. Our teachers are very adept at assessing whether a child will be successful at Shady Side Academy; but, as you can imagine it’s a challenge and a very difficult process. We do it thoughtfully as we put together the pieces that will eventually inform our decisions as we choose the incoming students for the 2012-2013 school year.

We’re almost at the half-way point, but I know the rest of this school year will fly by and soon we’ll be preparing for Moving-Up Day and Fifth Grade Graduation. Speaking of fifth grade, I must tell you that your children are part of a wonderfully enriching, nurturing, caring environment, and I’m so proud of them. Recently, I accompanied our fifth grade musicians to Schenley Gardens for their holiday concert. This concert was to have taken place in December; however, due to Ms. Modic’s illness on the day they were to go, it was postponed until January. When we arrived, the home was still decorated for the holidays and the residents were beginning to gather to hear our students play. The students performed for almost an hour and also read poetry they had written. They played beautifully, but the part that really touched my heart happened at end. After the concert, Ms. Modic told the residents the children would come out into the audience and visit with them. I was thinking to myself, “Oh dear, how will they know what to say? How will everyone have time to chat?” Well, my anxieties were quickly quelled as I witnessed our fifth graders confidently and very maturely talking with all of the residents. They knew exactly what to say and how to engage the older members of the audience. With a lump in my throat, I watched each one of them (even some of our students who are a bit shy) shaking hands, introducing themselves and asking if they had enjoyed the concert. I felt like a proud peacock. That was our fifth graders at their best!

When our students leave the Junior School and move on to the Middle School, we know they are well prepared academically. That’s important to you, I’m certain. However, we work with you, our parents, to help our children develop their character. At the Junior School, we all focus on our Word of the Month (which is often one of our Guiding Principles.) The Word of the Month for January is kindness. Teachers, staff and students will be looking for and writing about examples of random acts of kindness experienced here at school. Please help us by talking about kindness at home.

We were happy to see many of our Junior School families participating in our second annual MLK Day of Service. This day would normally be a day off for children, but many of them happily worked here at school to help brighten the lives of others. Thanks to all of you who attended. It was a great day! In addition to this whole school event, each grade at the Junior School participates in at least one other project to help others. The fifth graders' recent visit to Schenley Gardens is one example. I know you’ll agree it’s important for us to help children learn the significance of these acts of service. Almost as important, are the good feelings one receives when giving back to the community and world. One person really can make a difference!

It is at this time that we continue to envision the future of Shady Side Academy. As schools look to the future and make plans, there are always challenges. As you are aware, this year we are involved in two important processes: a self-study for reaccreditation and also a Strategic Plan. It’s a very busy, yet extremely important, year when all of us are working together to plan for the future. I’m confident Shady Side Academy Junior School is “alive and well” and ready to forge ahead.

Health and wellness in your lives---it’s a wish made and a wish offered as a new year begins. This year, filled with new possibilities, awaits us. We’re ready for whatever it has to offer. One thing is for certain, every year brings many blessings. Enjoy!

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of the Junior School
Shady Side Academy

Posted by dsheehan on Wednesday January 18, 2012 at 10:16AM
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December 2011

Dear Junior School Families,

It’s December already! As you know, many traditional holidays are celebrated in or around December, and this month marks a time of true hustle and bustle for everyone. For most of us, it’s also a time to think about, purchase, and give gifts.          

When I think about the very best gifts I’ve received, many of them involved the gift of time. We don’t often think of that as a gift; gifts are something one purchases, we assume. However, I can tell you, once again, that the gifts of “Faculty Friday Breakfasts” and also “Wednesday Faculty Meeting Treats” have been enjoyed by the entire Junior School community. Just last week, a parent arrived around 7 a.m., unloaded lots of food from her car, and set up the most gorgeous breakfast display for us in the cafeteria. I know for a fact, that she didn’t sleep much last night because all of the items were straight from her kitchen. Now that’s a gift of time; it’s a gift of love and caring; and it’s a gift we could all enjoy. I’m going to think about ways in which I could give the gift of time this holiday season. I believe our children appreciate that more than we realize.

We are looking forward to a visit from Naomi Shihab Nye (poet) this week. The students and faculty are very excited about her visit. Mrs. Crisanti has worked with the teachers and students, and they have made a book of poetry to present to her during her visit here. Once again, that’s a gift of time, and it’s a gift of love. I’m absolutely certain she will love that gift!

Recently we all enjoyed a presentation by Mrs. Hendershot about our school-wide service project, “Change for Haiti.” She showed a PowerPoint slide show of her visit last summer to Haiti. Paul Hendershot, her son, works at Hopital Albert Schweitzer, and she was able to join him this summer and work with the children, teachers and schools of Haiti. Her visit was made possible by one of the generous professional development funds available to all Shady Side faculty members. Each grade at the Junior School participates in some type of service. The projects vary according to the ages and abilities of the children.  A complete list of service projects is available on the service page.

The faculty and children are busy practicing for the annual Winter Festival of the Arts. We hope you plan to join us for this wonderful event held on Friday, December 16th at 1:30 p.m. We will not be parking on the field that day, but we will be running the shuttle. Details were sent via email on Friday, December 02, 2011.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten small group screenings for admission will take place during the month of January. Also, grades 1-5 will visit and be tested during January; however, this process is ongoing throughout the year. If you have friends who might be interested in Shady Side Academy, please ask them to contact us about the upcoming screening dates. We thank you in advance for passing on the good word about the Junior School.

Personnel Updates: As many of you know, Kristin Litster, PK teacher, welcomed her second child on November 23rd. Mrs. Litster will be on maternity leave until after Spring Break. Mrs. Patel, who filled in for Mrs. Randall earlier this year, will be filling in for Mrs. Litster as well. Congratulations, Kristin!

I would like to welcome Kim Price back to the Junior School. She returned right before Thanksgiving and is doing well. Miss Price and Mr. Murphy are co-teaching until Winter Festival. As you know, Tom Murphy has been teaching music PK-5 since the second day of school. On behalf of the entire community, I would like to thank him for his work with our children during Kim Price’s absence. He’s a talented teacher, a wonderful colleague, and has been a great addition to our community. He will be with us until Winter Break; he is working on Winter Festival performances and Miss Price is continuing with the general music curriculum. Mr. Murphy will be available to substitute in January.

Finally, due to health issues, Mrs. Forbes, our school psychologist, is no longer able to perform her duties at the Junior School. On behalf of our school community, I would like to thank her for her service and her kind, caring manner. I wish her well and hope that soon she will enjoy restored health. In the interim, we are consulting with Dr. Claudia Henry, the Middle School Counselor and Psychologist, about our next steps. I will keep you informed as we work to fill this position.

A final reminder: as temperatures begin to drop, please remember to send your child to school properly dressed for the weather. This week I observed children getting out of cars in the morning without coats, hats or gloves, and they often started to wait on the platform at the end of the day without a coat on as well. We do have the children go outside as much as possible. Children play in the snow, run around and take pleasure being out in the cold. As long as it’s not raining or too windy, the majority of classes go out for recess most days. We know it’s important for children to get outside and “blow off some steam.” Properly dressed for winter weather, our children have a great time outdoors.          

As we all look toward the holidays, the faculty and I send you every good wish and hope that you and your family enjoy happy holidays together. I hope to see you at Winter Festival of the Arts.

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of Junior School
Shady Side Academy

Posted by dsheehan on Tuesday December 6, 2011 at 08:58AM
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November 2011

Dear Junior School Families,

This month we find ourselves well into the routines of school, and we’re busily preparing for upcoming events. Last week we enjoyed the Halloween parade, and the second grade play is coming up on Tuesday, November 15th. This is also the time of year when plans for Winter Festival are in full gear. It’s a special time when we begin to reflect upon the many things for which we are thankful. Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I have been reflecting on some of my many blessings. I am filled with gratitude for our school community and those who support our mission to help all learners realize their true potential.

First of all, I am thankful for our bright, energetic, engaged, inquisitive, and happy children. They are actively engaged in learning the various academic subjects here at school; but they are also enjoying athletics and the arts every single day. I am also thankful for our involved and engaged parents because you have trusted us with your most prized possession(s.)

I am thankful for our gifted, talented, and hard-working faculty and staff. The proud parent in me comes out as I watch them at work. The quality of their work and their collective work ethic here is pretty incredible. As you know, teachers at Shady Side Academy are expected to grow professionally and the school funds various opportunities for enrichment and education. Recently, four Junior School teachers attended the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Conference in Atlantic City, NJ. They returned to school energized and renewed by what they learned and eager to share it with colleagues.

During an in-service day last January, the Junior School faculty and several Academy administrators met with Simon Jeynes, a consultant from Independent School Management (ISM), to think about the educational needs of our students in the 21st century. Twenty-first century skills are often noted as the three Cs: communication, collaboration, and critical thinking/problem solving. We knew a new Junior School building would not be constructed right away, but we began to think about it as we spent the day with Mr. Jeynes planning for the future. The Junior School will be an important focus of the Strategic Plan, so we began to think about our needs.

A committee of interested faculty was formed following our work with Simon Jeynes. The 21st century committee began its work by researching, reading, visiting other schools, and meeting to talk about ideas. We know that our current spaces hinder the interdisciplinary/project work we can do because they are not connected in any logical way. Knowing that, we decided to focus on the curriculum that we will teach in our new or renovated building one day.

A small group of teachers met this summer to plan for problem-based units to be carried out this year. Their goal was to apply this framework to new or existing curricular areas throughout the 2011-2012 school year. Teachers who create a project-based learning (PBL) activity/ unit during the year have agreed to share their experiences with colleagues at faculty meetings. We are not changing what we teach; we are simply changing the lens through which we look at what we do.

I am also very thankful for our Shady Side Academy Parents’ Association. As you may know, three associations have combined into one, and there is now just one Shady Side Academy Parents’ Association. It was the dream of our former President, Tom Southard; he worked to begin the process, and many of you have worked to see it through to completion. The one thing that has changed somewhat is that the three schools are trying to do the same things regarding yearbooks, parties, and gifts from the heart. Here at the Junior School, we have especially appreciated those gifts from the heart.

I know I speak for the entire Junior School faculty and staff when I express a HUGE thank you for Faculty Fridays and Faculty meeting treats. We love having breakfast together on Fridays, and it has been kind of so many families to contribute to this treat. The Junior School children have been involved in many of the preparations and also making signs to advertise the menu. I would like to thank you for pampering all of us and for including your children in the gift.

I am thankful for our substitute teachers. As you know, we have three teachers who have taken or will take maternity leaves this year. We have been fortunate to have been able to hire two talented, collegial, well qualified teachers to replace them: Andrea Cespedes and Dipti Patel. We also had an unfortunate medical leave taken by Kim Price; however, we were fortunate, once again, to have hired Tom Murphy to teach music during her recuperation.

This January, Phyllis Guering will take a well-earned sabbatical. We will miss her dearly, and no one will know the reading preferences of our children like she does. However, we have hired Laurie Cunningham to fill in for her library duties, and Jennifer Asmonga will take over her advisory group. Mrs. Cunningham has been a substitute at the Junior School for the last couple of years, so we know her well. She and Ms. Guering have often discussed various children’s books, so it’s something we already know she enjoys. Presently, Mrs. Cunningham is subbing for Bill Sauer while he is at home recuperating from eye surgery.

Finally, I am thankful to have been a part of the history of Shady Side Academy Junior School for almost 30 years. It continues to be an honor and a privilege. During my final year, I feel like I’m busier than I have ever been, and I am enjoying every minute of it. There is still so much I want to do! I love this school!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday where the goal is to be with family and friends and enjoy good food and fellowship together. We don’t have to worry about gifts, shopping or fancy decorations; we can just enjoy the presence of the people we love. Perfect! During this season of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect upon all of your blessings and enjoy time with your family and friends.  

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of Junior School
Shady Side Academy

Parents' Association Plant Sale Flyer and Order Form

Posted by Mrs. Dana M. Sheehan on Wednesday November 9, 2011 at 03:22PM
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October 2011

Dear Junior School Families,

It is wonderful to be back in full swing at the Junior School! As I visit classrooms, I marvel at how the teachers already seem to know their children. They are truly gifted in the ways in which they build relationships with your children first and then begin to learn all about each one of them and how to best meet their individual needs. We know that each child has a gift. It’s our job to discover what that gift is, nurture it, and help them grow as learners and as people.

Hopefully, you know how very much we value our relationship with all of you. It is the role and desire of parents to want what is best for their children. Who can argue with that? At the same time, teachers have important work to do too. Their role includes nurturing the children; and it involves developing independence, self-reliance, and fortitude in them, at the same time they are teaching academics and social skills.

How do schools forge strong and meaningful partnerships with parents? I think it begins by being honest and consistent. The school’s mission should be clear to all and references to it should be made to reinforce what we value. We, as adults in the lives of children, must model the relationships we value. Everyone who is part of the school community needs to understand and honor the mission and philosophy of the school. If you would like to view these statements, please visit our website.

Word of the Month - HONESTY

Our word of the month for October is honesty. We read a story at our last assembly about honesty and how very important it is to always tell the truth. Honesty is one of Shady Side’s Guiding Principles as well. The classroom teachers at each grade level have planned to spend one period a week discussing this word during the month of October. They will be reading books about honesty, doing activities together, or conducting class discussions. Character education is extremely important to us, and we know it is to you as well. Please join us by focusing on honesty at home too.

Community building is also important here at the Junior School, and the beginning of the year is when teachers get to know their students and they get to know one another. Through various activities, messages, morning meetings, group meetings, etc., the students are getting to know each other. Children feel safe in rooms and spaces where they feel known, valued, encouraged and supported. It’s only when they feel safe that they are willing to take a risk, and through taking risks they grow as learners and as people. School-wide community building is also going on during our Tuesday Teams time once a month during our Tuesday Assembly. At those meetings, our entire school is divided into 12 teams and they each have given themselves a name and a color. Each team consists of students from grades K-5, as well as several adults. We do activities together during this time to build school-wide community. In two weeks, we will meet to do an activity to get to know our teammates better.

A brief dress-code reminder: On page 15 of our Handbook it states that tie or Velcro tennis shoes with non-marking soles are required. In inclement weather, students may wear boots and change into tennis shoes at school.

We are beginning to see flats and boots being worn to school. Although the girls look good in flats and boots are stylish, it goes against our dress code. We do feel that safety must be the most important consideration regarding shoes. When running at recess, flats and/or boots are not safe. I will agree, however, to revisit this rule with the Junior School faculty for next year.

Parent conferences will be held on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. There is no school for students on October 12th. If you have not yet scheduled your conference, please call the office to do so. This conference period is a time to sit down with your child’s teacher and hear how he/she is doing right now. The first report period ends in mid-November, and you will be able to view your child’s first report in early December.

October is the official beginning of our admissions season. We will be holding our first Open House on October 19th from 9:05-11:00 a.m. If you have friends or neighbors with a child who might be interested in Shady Side Academy, please tell them about our school. In my opinion, there is no better advertisement for our school than happy, satisfied parents and children. Many times new families come to us by referral from a current family. Thank you so much for your help in spreading the word about our wonderful learning community.

Next weekend is Homecoming (October 14-16) and I hope to see many of you at the Senior School. There are lots of things going on during that weekend and our third, fourth and fifth graders will be singing the Alma Mater before the football game. Mr. Murphy has already sent a letter explaining to those parents when and where to take their children before the game. If you want more information, please visit our website or contact the office.

As we begin the fall season, I would like for each of you to step back for a moment and remember what’s really important. (I think we all need to do this from time to time.) We all get so busy with our lives that we often forget that it’s people who are important and your children are very important to each one of us here at the Junior School.

I’m attaching a piece titled, “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking” ~ author unknown. It will give you some food for thought.

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of Junior School
Shady Side Academy


Posted by dsheehan on Friday October 7, 2011 at 03:29PM
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September 2011

Dear Junior School Families,

One of the highlights of my work as Head of the Junior School is the annual return to school by the children, and this year it was quite exciting. Summer is a time administrators use to accomplish all the tasks that cannot be accomplished when the children and faculty are here. Schedules are less hectic then, and there is more time to do the important work needed to be ready to begin the upcoming school year. Teachers do curriculum work, order supplies and put them away, work with colleagues, and prepare their rooms for the year ahead. All of this happens at various times throughout the summer, but a school just isn’t a school without children. Only when the students return in late August does it feel like “all’s well with the world---and the school.”  

This year there is a palpable excitement in the building. The students seem to have a new energy, excitement and enthusiasm. I can only guess it might be because of the change to our dress code, or it could be the change to the building. The first day saw lots of khaki shorts, skirts and navy and yellow shirts. It also saw bright-eyed students admiring the renovated spaces.

Updated Kindergarten HallwayI am delighted with all the work that has been accomplished over the summer. Our maintenance crew, headed by Paul Francioni and Chuck Scott, as well as many outside contractors, has performed a miraculous transformation of the common spaces: hallways, entrances, the cafeteria and the gymnasium. This group of hard-working people worked all summer, including many nights and weekends, to assure that the school was ready for students last week. Just wait until you see it! There certainly is a “wow factor” when you first look down the wing hall, or walk into the gym. We also have new round tables in the cafeteria and a newly updated sound system in the gym due to a generous anonymous gift to the Junior School. If you haven’t seen the newly renovated Junior School yet, I invite you to tour the hallways, cafeteria and gymnasium.

Last Monday morning (August 29th) I received a phone call from Kim Price, our new PK-5 music teacher. She was in ICU at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital due to a bike accident the day before. Kim had ridden her bike to the Junior School from Shadyside to deliver some posters. On her way back home, her hub caught a curb on Penn Avenue and threw her into a utility pole. She broke ribs on her side and back, and lacerated her liver and kidney. Kim is now in a regular room at Presby and expects to be home next week. She will return to the Junior School when she has healed completely. I visited her in the hospital last week and talked to her twin sister, Karen, who lives in Florida and is also a teacher. Karen is here helping her sister and keeping her company; she has to return to Florida this week. I am sure Kim would love to receive cards; she should be home this week. Her address is: 614 S Aiken Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232.

Fortunately, we were able to hire Thomas Murphy to substitute for Kim until she returns. I called him Monday and he was here Tuesday morning. Mr. Murphy had been teaching elementary music for four years in Ligonier at the Ligonier Valley School District. Due to budget cuts, his position was eliminated and he has been looking for a teaching job. The students and teachers have warmly welcomed him, and I can tell they are having lots of fun in music. Tom is a percussionist and has the students moving and dancing already! We welcome Tom Murphy to the Junior School.

Another new teacher I’d like to introduce is our PK-5 Spanish teacher, Andrea Cespedes. Ms. Cespedes is filling in for Tiffanee Peterson’s maternity leave. (Tiffanee was due last Monday, but so far no news!) Ms. Cespedes is a native Spanish speaker and has a master’s degree in elementary education. You may remember that I introduced you to another person last spring; she decided she wanted a full-time position, thus the hiring of Ms. Cespedes. The students seem to be enjoying Spanish already! We welcome Andrea Cespedes to the Junior School.

I would like to remind you of several new things:

  • Absences: You are being asked to call school before 10:00 a.m. if your child is ill or not at school. If we do not hear from you, Megan Vrcic, our new receptionist, will be calling you. Safety remains a top priority for us all.
  • Tardies: You are being asked to make sure your child is here by 8:15 a.m. every morning. Important community building happens at that time in all classrooms and advisor groups. It’s critical that all students are here then to be ready when the first class begins at 8:25 a.m. This year we will be calling you if your child is late more than five times; we will want to know how we can help you get your child here on time. Numerous tardies will require a meeting with the Head of School. We feel it’s so important that we will be making sure all children are here and ready to learn by 8:15 a.m.
  • Transportation: If you are changing the way your child (ren) is going home, we have a new email address that we would like for you to use. It is: jstransportation@shadysideacademy.org   Please send a message to this email before 10:00 a.m. and copy the teacher. If you don’t know that early, please let us know as soon as possible. Messages that are received after 2:30 p.m may not be delivered.
  • Transportation continued: As usual, our carpool line was a bit slower during the first week. Hopefully, week two will be faster. We have a system that works well, as long as everyone communicates. When parents tell a child they will pick them up, and we haven’t received any information other than the bus that they should ride, we are confused. These instances slow the line for everyone while we call to find out what the child is supposed to do. It can be avoided if all parents use the new transportation email so we have the updated information in a timely fashion. We cannot take the word of your child in this situation. I’m sure you understand.
  • After-School Discovery: We have a new Director of our ASD program, Benoni Outerbridge. He comes to us with a lot of experience as a teacher, writer, librarian, administrator and parent. Mr. Outerbridge has planned some exciting additions to the program and some improvements. Please visit the Shady Side Academy website for complete information.

In closing, I must say that I am very excited about the upcoming school year. The students and teachers are engaged and excited and so am I. Let’s work together to make this the best year ever!

I wish you enough,

Cheryl L. Little
Head of the Junior School

Please read this message from school nurse Julianne Greece about peanut and treenut safety and a new snack program for grades 2-5.

Posted by dsheehan on Tuesday September 6, 2011 at 02:23PM
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August 2011

Dear Junior School Families,

Ahhh….it’s summertime! Schedules are more relaxed, children are less programmed, families are vacationing and gardens are growing. However, in a few short weeks we will be back at school. I trust you have enjoyed some time away to rest, relax and spend some time with your family. Hopefully, you have been able to take pleasure in a pace that is less frenetic than the one you must follow during the school year. As parents, you know you are expected to lead and guide your children in every area of life, including play. In an age when parents often invest significant time and resources in their child’s formal education, it’s easy to forget that helping teach your children how to play and rest is also very important. By helping your children see the value in unstructured or unscheduled time, you’re preparing them for a healthy and balanced adult life. I trust that your children have had plenty of time to play and also to rest.

I want to begin this letter with several important updates. Usually, we mail our Junior School Handbook to all families in August. This year, however, our Junior School Handbook has been updated and will be available soon on the Shady Side Academy website behind the parent portal. Hard copies will be given to all new families and anyone else requesting a hard copy.


*A significant change to our attendance policy outlined in the Junior School Handbook is when a child is absent you must call the school before 10:00 a.m. each day. At 10:00, we will begin calling all parents from whom we have not heard. As always, safety is paramount and this will assure that we know your child is at home when he or she is not at school.

*Another significant change is that we created a transportation email so that all changes to your child’s transportation will be sent to: jstransportation@shadysideacademy.org If you need to change the way in which your child will go home, please email the above address by 1:30 p.m., and also copy your child’s teacher. In the past, we have missed receiving important information in a timely manner. Please do not email or call us after 1:30 p.m. unless it is an emergency. Calling or emailing late in the afternoon is very confusing for everyone, and messages get missed sometimes.

*Our new parent orientation is on Monday, August 29th from 9:30-10:15 a.m. in the cafeteria. At this time, Maggie Dauer and I will welcome all new parents and introduce them to our procedures and policies. Kari Marciniak, JS Division Chair of the Parents Association, will also be there to talk about this group and explain how parents can be involved.

*The instrumental music demonstration for all fourth and fifth grade parents is Friday, September 2nd at 8:30 a.m. in the instrumental music room. A letter has been sent to all 4th and 5th grade parents.

*The first School Head Coffee for all parents will be Thursday, September 22nd at 8:30 a.m. in the cafeteria. At that time we will discuss the various learning support services at the Junior School.

As we begin to think about returning to school, let me remind you of the importance of summer reading. It’s essential for your children to form the habit of reading on a daily basis. Please make sure they complete the postcards and return them to the Junior School. We have already received many of them, but I know there are lots more to come. We know you want your children to keep those skills alive; and we do too!

Now, I want to update you on what’s going on here at school. All of the common areas at the Junior School are being updated, and some of the areas outside are being improved as well. New flooring, lighting, ceilings and painting is being done in those areas, as well as the creation of brick arches along the wall in the wing hall. The arches copy the arches outside along the wing hall and it looks great! Benches are being built along that hallway as well. This renovation also includes the gymnasium, cafeteria, and hallway going into the cafeteria. The upstairs is also being painted and new lighting installed. The good news is: the Junior School has had lots of attention over the last two summers, and we are very thankful for that. The bad news is: right now it’s a mess throughout the school; although, it will be ready when school starts.  I am sure you will be amazed and delighted when you see it this fall.

In late August, we will welcome several new people, or people in new positions. I am sure you will join me in welcoming them to the Junior School.

Jennifer Asmonga joins the Junior School community as a third fifth grade teacher; she will be joining Bill Sauer and Pat Suhody. She is not new to the Junior School or to SSA. Jennifer worked with Jessica Pandocchi in our After-School Discovery program and has also substituted. Last year during Jessica Wolf’s maternity leave, she taught kindergarten with Janice Brozek.   Over the summer, she worked as a Director of Camp Ren, so she is well known by children and adults.  Jennifer has a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and she earned her bachelor’s degree from Clarion University. Welcome back to the Junior School, Jennifer!

Jessica Pandocchi joins the Junior School community as an Associate Teacher in first grade. This year she joins Jen Keller and Carol Hendershot as an Associate Teacher. She will be working in both of their classrooms. Jessica is not new to the Junior School either; she has been working in our After-School Discovery program and has substituted for us. She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Slippery Rock University. Welcome back to the Junior School, Jessica!

Dipti Patel joins the Junior School community as a maternity leave replacement for Alexis Randall and Kristin Litster in PK. She has been subbing and has enjoyed helping out in PK even when she’s subbing in another grade. Dipti has her MAT in teaching from the University of Pittsburgh. Her BS degree was also from Pitt. She has experience teaching kindergarten for two years and second grade for a year while living in Tampa, FL. Welcome to the Junior School, Dipti!

Kimberly Price joins the Junior School community as a PK-5 general music teacher. She is also no stranger to the Junior School; she worked as a sabbatical replacement for Ruth Ann Modic in instrumental music during the 2009-10 school year. Kimberly comes to us with a lot of experience teaching in private and public schools, and she has conducted youth orchestras. Her BS degree in music is from Stetson University. Her master’s degree in music education is from Carnegie Mellon University. She is working on her doctorate. Welcome back to the Junior School, Kimberly!

Megan Vrcic joins the Junior School community as a receptionist. She will be located in the front hall right inside the door. Megan comes to us from the Pace School where she had been working as a milieu therapist. Megan received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in the areas of psychology, education and communications. We welcome Megan to the Junior School!

At the time of this writing, I am in the process of hiring a six-week maternity leave replacement for Tiffanee Peterson, PK-5 Spanish teacher. I will update you about this process as soon as I am able.

Our After-School Discovery program will experience an update as well. Benoni Outerbridge has been hired as the Director of our After-School Discovery program, and he will hire two other people to assist him. Angela Lavrinc is one of them, but Mr. Outerbridge will be sending information about this updated program as soon as it is finalized. The program still runs from 3:15-6:00 p.m. but there are some exciting changes you will hear about soon.

I close with a personal note of thanks to all of you. Thank you for all of your support during my battle with breast cancer last spring. This community was my safety net---my support system. I knew you were out there praying for me and supporting me in various ways, and it helped me through some dark days. One thing I know for sure is this: our Shady Side Academy community is compassionate, caring, thoughtful and very kind. Right now, I am feeling great and have been able to get back to enjoying life completely, and the whole ordeal is behind me. I plan to enjoy the year ahead and work with you, the faculty, and your children to have the very best year ever!!! There is still some summer left, so please continue to enjoy your time away. I look forward to welcoming everyone back in late August.

Posted by dsheehan on Thursday August 4, 2011 at 01:16PM
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