Junior School Head's Letters

May 2018

Dear Junior School Families,

I’ve just come back from moving-up day rehearsal with our fifth graders, and it always fascinates me how much our children grow over the course of one year, let alone six or seven! You are all in store for a treat at our Moving-Up Ceremony and Closing Exercises next Tuesday!

As the year comes to a close, it’s time that I share some thank-yous with our community. Thank you to the maintenance staff who makes everything shiny, thank you to the Metz staff who keep us fed, thank you to the teachers who open our minds, thank you to the office staff who keep all of us in line, thank you to the students who keep us laughing every day and amaze us with their learning, and thank you to all of you who find shoes under the bed, pack snacks, help with homework, brush the hair, snuggle up with library books, and trust in what we do. This is a community that comes together to celebrate, to support, to mourn, and to love, and I am truly grateful to be a part of it.

We welcome you all on Friday, June 1, for our final parent-teacher conferences of the year. Some schools do not have a final conference, but I think it’s extremely valuable to celebrate the progress your child has made throughout the school year with their teacher, and it’s a chance to look ahead to a summer filled with sun, downtime, ball games, and picnics. While we do hand out a summer packet with a list of books to read and some math to puzzle over, it’s also a time for your children to enjoy being with you. Some reminders: read TO your children; they love to hear your voice, and just because they can read doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear you read. We tell them to read; are they seeing us read? Have your child write a letter to a family member. Have them use their best handwriting, have them write in full sentences – show that writing has a very important purpose. Do something kind for someone else. Sit at a table and eat together. Have a conversation while you're eating, find out what they want to be when they grow up, now… it will probably change in a month. Put down your phone. I know we are all guilty of it, now’s our chance to show the kids that we can put down our phones too. Be bored. Someone told me that a brilliant child is never bored. Well, then let’s let them try it. We ALL deserve time to rest and renew.

slide puzzleAs always, spring also means some changes at the Junior School. When I was a little girl, I received one of these slide puzzles in a gift bag after a birthday party. I share this image with you as it reminds me of what has happened with some of the faculty. Some people have moved into different positions, some people are leaving our community, and some people have been added to our community. Below you’ll find these changes.

We do have to say “so long” to some wonderful teachers as their lives take different turns. After 29 years of teaching at the Junior School, Carol Hendershot will be joining her husband, Buddy, in retirement. Carol has been an incredible presence at the Junior School, one who is open to change, one who is caring, and one who has taught other teachers at the Junior School. By my best estimate, Carol has taught over 475 students directly, she has truly taught everyone who has been in her presence. We wish her the best in her retirement, and if you are ever on the beach in Cape May, be on the lookout for her!

We also have to say "so long” to Andrea Benitez as she and her family move to Jacksonville, Fla. Andrea has been at the Junior School for six years, and I don’t think I’ve seen her teach the same lesson twice. She is someone who is always looking for new ways to teach things to her classes. Of course, she teaches math, language arts, and social studies, but she also teaches children about growth mindset, leadership, individuality, resilience, grace, and independence, to list just a few. Andrea will be greatly missed by all of us who have learned so much from her unflappable nature and her passion for teaching.

Claudine Runnette and Jennifer Asmonga will be heading across the river to Country Day School, where they will share their amazing gifts with that community. While they may not be here every day, we will continue to partner with them as they support Country Day. Both of these women started the programs that they lead here and as a school, we are so much better for their incredible hard work.

Junior School Faculty & Staff 2018-2019

(yellow highlighting denotes someone new to our community)

Pre-Kindergarten
Nick Hammon and Claire Pilarski “The Navigators”
Shannon Sciulli and Alexis Randall “The Adventurers”
Bethany Yeager and Jazmine Scales “The Voyagers”

Kindergarten
Fran Gardiner
Amy Kim and Marilyn Martens
Janice Brozek and Jillian Velotta

First Grade
Emily Cain
Christina Reed and Melissa Petitto
Jennifer Keller and Jenny Rogers

Second Grade
Kristin Litster
Jennifer Riscili
with Nicole Gruden

Third Grade
Christina Blazin
Dan Stern

Fourth Grade
Marci Anderson
Lisa Budd

Fifth Grade
Lisa Anselmo
Katie Nestor

Special Subjects
Art - Ashley Irwin
Arts Assistant - Joe Molinaro
Computer - Karen Sandora
Guidance Counselor - Yasmine Schmid
Instrumental Music - Ruth Ann Modic
Learning Specialist PK-2 - Colleen DeChancie
Learning Specialist 3-5 - Amy Jackson
Library Assistant - Mary Aiken
Librarian - Phyllis Guering
Music - Emily Fields
Physical Education - Kim Disbrow and Karen DiFiore
Science K-2 - Melanie Smith
Science 3-5 - Jeff McCarroll
Spanish K-5 - Tiffanee Peterson
Spanish PK - Katie Nestor

Administration & Staff
Dan Burns - Custodian
Joyce Greece - Admissions Assistant
LaShae Harris - Custodian
Brandon Klinge - Head Custodian
Maggie Marquette - Director of Admission
Peter Mathis - Assistant Head of Junior School
Ellen McConnell - Head of the Junior School
Diane Oshnock - Administrative Assistant
Melanie Smith - Director of After School Explorers
Kari Theoret - Nurse
Megan Vrcic - Receptionist
Lisa Harvey - Speech Pathologist

Emily Cain will be joining the first grade team as a lead teacher in a new classroom in the library.  Emily has been working at Propel East and Propel Montour for the past nine years as teacher in grades 1-4. Currently, she is a K-4 integration teacher who helps develop STEAM projects that enhance classroom curriculum. Emily is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and has two children, Esmond, age 3, and June, 6 months.

We are happy to welcome Jenny Rogers back to halls of SSA as an assistant in first grade, partnering with Jen Keller.  Jenny was a maternity substitute this year in our PK classroom and has been working in the after-school program since then. Jenny came to us from Seton Hill University, where she majored in psychology. She was a lead teacher at Bright Horizons Family Solutions for four years, but really loved her time in PK here at the Junior School. 

Nicole Gruden will be joining the dynamic second grade team of Kristin Litster and Jennifer Riscili. Nicole has a B.S. in elementary education from Duquesne University. She has worked in the Fox Chapel Area School District as a fifth grade teacher and in the Plum School District as a third grade teacher, first grade teacher, and learning support teacher. Nicole will be the second grade assistant for the first semester and will take over for Jennifer Riscili as she takes haer much-earned sabbatical in the second semester. 

Let’s welcome Christina Blazin to third grade! Christina comes to us from Sewickley Academy, where she taught fifth grade for the past 11 years. She is passionate about Responsive Classroom and is looking forward to working in third grade alongside Dan Stern. Christina has a 3-year-old son, Theo. 

Many of you know Joe Molinaro, who is joining our faculty as an arts assistant for PK and kindergarten. “Mr. Mo,” as the children call him, has been working in our after-school program for four years teaching violin, guitar, and piano.  A music education major at Indiana University, Joe makes the arts his life. When not at SSA, he tours with his band throughout Europe. Joe will be assisting Emily Fields and Ashley Irwin. 

Katie Nestor has been our interim learning specialist for grades PK-2 and will now be our fifth grade math and social studies teacher as well as the PK Spanish teacher.  Katie came to us from Baltimore, where she was a first grade teacher for eight years at Pleasant Plains Elementary.  For the last four of those years, she also worked at the Office of Mathematics for Baltimore County Public Schools, where she was a curriculum writer, presenter, and course instructor.  Katie has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Loyola University Maryland, a master’s degree in leadership in teaching mathematics, and a post-master’s certification in administration and supervision. 

We will welcome Yasmine Schmid as the Junior School counselor next year. Yasmine comes to us from The Lovett School in Atlanta, where she has been one of the lower school counselors for the past six years, focusing on mindfulness, wellness and equity and inclusion. A graduate of Florida State University with an English degree, Yasmine was a middle school English teacher at Kent Denver Country Day School before returning to school at Wake Forest University to earn her her master’s degree in counseling. Yasmine will be joined on her move to Pittsburgh by her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Frances.

Amy Jackson will join our learning center team as the grades 3-5 learning specialist. Amy has been working at the Laughlin Children’s Center in Sewickley, where she has been an Orton-Gillingham tutor for students in grades K-7 for the past four years and coordinated the dyslexia program. Previously, she was a learning support teacher in the Moon Area School District and at the Steven Gaynor School in New York City.  Amy has a bachelor’s degree in theatre and drama from Indiana University and a master’s degree in special and general education from Bank Street College of Education.

Peter Mathis will join us as the assistant head of the Junior School. This is a new position, and we are looking forward to his help with administration. Pete is coming to us from the Environmental Charter School, where he is currently the assistant principal in the K-3 building. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Kent State University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from George Mason University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Duquesne University. Pete has been involved in curriculum development, equity, and diversity, as well as restorative practice facilitation and Orton-Gillingham instruction. He is also involved at Duquesne as a Pierre Schouver Fellow, working with a team across the boundaries of school, academy, and community to seek improvement within the field of education. As assistant head of school, Pete will work in concert with me to oversee curriculum and new trends in education, as well as discipline and day-to-day work. We welcome Pete and his wife, Shannon, and their two children Brady, age 3, and Liliana, age 1, to the community.

This summer and throughout the year, we will work with each of these new teachers to become familiar with all of our curricula, so that they are on pace with everyone at the Junior School.  It is so exciting to welcome these people into our community and I know you will really enjoy getting to know them. 

Happy Summer,
Ellen McConnell Sanderson