Authored by Michelle Portera

It’s almost here! Fun, exciting, leisurely times ahead, a break from being pulled in all directions. Maybe there are plans to travel, or plans to read that stack of books on the nightstand. It’s a hopeful time. 

And yet. 

As much as I resist it, the sudden slow down in pace leads to a predictable pattern in my thoughts and moods. I’m going to be vulnerable here and describe this phenomenon because SURELY there are other 10 month employees who can relate in some way. Please say there is. Regardless, here it goes. 

The first 2 weeks of break I feel FREE from the demands of the world. The introvert in me has no problem retreating into my shell, ignoring the phone, and taking a social media pause. My days are spent in pjs, catching up on Netflix, leisurely cooking meals instead of frantically throwing them together. In this window of time, it’s kinda fun to clean out closets and cabinets and take care of the random things I’ve been meaning to do. This luxury feels worth the effort required to make it to this point. 

But after that. . . 

Things take, I wouldn’t say a turn, but they definitely swerve. If my mind is a car, my steering is a degree or two off the mark, and almost imperceptively I start to drift toward the edge of my lane. It begins to take more effort to keep my thoughts at equilibrium. As someone who is no stranger to depression, this is when I pull out all the tools and tricks to reassure my brain and body that everything really is ok. In reality, this is my subconscious’ response to the change in schedule but it’s easy to start finding fault with other things to explain away my malaise. The motivation, which came so easily before, drops during this time and I start to feel guilty for not doing enough and crossing things off the to-do list. I lack the energy, but tell myself I should be rested enough by now and later on I will regret being so lazy. 


Other people are out doing amazing, world-changing things and what am I doing? I’m certainly NOT scrubbing the fridge or prepping freezer meals for busy weeknights. You probably know about the tricks and tools I referred to earlier. Pick up the phone and call or text friends, especially those way down on the contacts list with whom it’s been a minute. Ask the kids if they want to play a game. Sometimes I flop down on my teenage daughter’s bed and read next to her while she’s on her phone. Eventually, we end up watching funny animal videos together. These things really help, but it’s the “choosing to do them” that is hard at the moment. Who even was that girl who thought she could get to the bottom of the laundry or paint the kitchen? Never heard of her. 

What I’ve learned not to do: commit to something out of character, like running 5 miles a day or starting a side hustle. It’s easy to say yes when we have the luxury of time, but will our future selves be happy about it? 

The strongest, most recent tool I’ve acquired is called being nice to myself. To accept this shadow side of my reality and befriend it with care. At the Lower School, as a rule, we pledge to “be nice to ourselves and others.” Oftentimes, it’s obvious how we can be kind to others but so far my 40’s have been spent learning to be kind to myself. It does get easier with practice.

Phase 3 of summer mood: Summer Lady emerges from her chrysalis! That’s the name my husband gave my summertime alter ego. She’s adventurous and knows how to have fun. She isn’t cranky in the evenings like School Lady. She stays up late. But this year, Summer Lady plans to make a flexible schedule to guide her summer days and make the transition more smooth. This agenda will make time for doing nothing and also plan opportunities to do a few things School Lady would approve of. We will see how it goes! Will it disrupt the pattern? Is the pattern inevitable no matter what? Regardless, I remain grateful for all the passing seasons of life and what they teach us.

A Benediction

Authored by Kim Sewell

I wish you this summer…

Waking up to birds chirping instead of an alarm buzzing
Novels to get lost in
Drool-induced naps on couches and hammocks
Nandy’s candy’s snowballs with cream
Many dips in a cool pool
Food off a grill
Fresh cut flowers 
A ‘getaway’ whether a quick weekend or a week-long trip
A fun new hobby
Lighting bugs to watch
Staying up late
Taking in your favorite movie for the 100th time
Getting caught taking a walk or run in a summer shower
Catching up with an old friend you didn’t even realize you missed so much

But more than anything I wish you time… time to enjoy the slower pace, time to get to know yourself better, time to just be… you are the only you there is. Love yourself well and when August rolls around you will be ready;)

Summer Send-off: A Mash Up of Goodbyes and Hellos

Is this blog blast about the ends of things or the beginnings of things?

“Lions,” Composed by 4th grader Amelia McCaughan

Is this season a bit like being on the landline phone with your high school boyfriend in the 1990’s in that extended mating dance of trying to say goodnight but wanting to have the last word of “I love you more”? Or is May more like you trying to leave a party but your subtle let’s-get-out-of-here cues to your middle aged spouse (the one who hours before had complained that he didn’t feel like socializing) aren’t making a dent into his consciousness?

Julianna Wright, 2nd Grade, “I’m Out”

And if May is the goodbye, is summer a series of hellos? “Hello, family I haven’t seen for a year!” “Hello, sleep!” “Hello, new place I’m visiting for the first time!”

“Vacation Time,” Mila Marjanovic, 2nd Grade

Or perhaps that’s more like August. June-July lay somewhere in between the goodbye and the hello, perhaps a short-term, blessed no-man’s-land of “let’s sit a spell and just be.”

Abby Blackwell, 4th Grade

Whatever summer has in store for you, I hope there’s a bit of big-city-excitement.

“New York,” Kit Patrick, 2nd grade

I hope that you are entertained and amazed and that, at some point, you find yourself shouting with a chorus of a crowd: “Oooooo! Ahhhhh!”

“Circus,” Austen Cooperstein, 4th Grade

I hope you lose all sense of time.

“Dino Time Machine,” Owen Newman, 3rd Grade

I hope you find the treasure you are looking for.

“Puppy Pirate,” Mila Marjanovic, 4th Grade

But most of all, to be honest, I hope you find a place of rest.

“A Night in Egypt”, Harry Hayslett, 4th Grade

Until August,


The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters You

Authored by Mary B. Sellers

Here I go quoting Rumi again, but we all have those teachers we circle back to, don’t we? Rumi is one of those teachers for me. Another is (are) children. I started paying attention differently this year, and it’s amazing just how many of my students’ daily trials and triumphs reflected so much of my own internal state(s). 

Below are a few of my most vivid fourth grade memories from this year, in condensed, bite-sized, paragraph form: 

Our fourth graders have managed choppy waters this year, and because of that, I feel an especially tight bond with these kiddos. We’ve weathered port a potties state mandated crises like the seasoned sailors we very much are not (like that time Willa and I mistakenly went to the ones near the ECC and not for the LS); or how a few days last fall when Patrick ended up impressing us all with his rockstar-level backstage play/sound system skills. Many have occurred over our recesses, under the cool, satisfying shade of the big tree where the land falls into the little valley of gravel. There, on that bench, I oftentimes hear and see such interesting things; it’s a delight, weather permitting. I’ll miss eating lunch with students outside and getting to catch up with them on a less formal basis. 

Writing isn’t just a skillset, it’s a craft, a tool for processing the external. Writing is a direct conversation with the psychological and emotional weather of its practitioner’s internal state. It involves the mind, yes, but also relies heavily on subjective stimuli and emotion, too. Recently, I got to help out with an ELA writing workshop with three of the grade’s eager writers. While I took turns reading each of their stories, I encouraged my students to talk to each other about what they like and don’t like about their pieces. Not only did they give insightful and helpful feedback for one another, but they were also eager to then read each others’ and provide their own peer reviews. A week later, these same three students came into my office to announce that they were collaborating on writing a play! 

A few months ago, one of my students was the subject of some bullying at a co-curricular. Since I had a free hour ahead and they did not want to go back to homeroom, I offered to have them come read their library book with me while I graded in my office. They were still visibly upset, but eventually opened up to me about several family matters at home. I said little, listened more, attempting only gentleness in opening space for her. Students sometimes just need to be heard instead of spoken at. Eventually, we steered the conversation to books and her favorite authors before she happily settled down to read for half an hour.

Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu

Authored by Buck Cooper.

In 1960, The New Yorker published what I believe to be one of the most beautiful pieces of baseball writing ever written, John Updike’s Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. If you have a soul, which means you probably love baseball, but even if you don’t (love baseball), which means your ensouledness is in serious question in my book) then this article will speak to you. It goes alongside Arnold Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as something that I try to come back to year after year, particularly in the springtime as spring training begins, because of the joy of reading it. Though the entire article is worth your time, there is one particular paragraph that I anticipate with every reading. Here’s the most salient excerpt:

“My personal memories of Williams begin when I was a boy in Pennsylvania, with two last-place teams in Philadelphia to keep me company. For me, “W’ms, lf” was a figment of the box scores who always seemed to be going 3-for-5. He radiated, from afar, the hard blue glow of high purpose. I remember listening over the radio to the All-Star Game of 1946, in which Williams hit two singles and two home runs, the second one off a Rip Sewell “blooper” pitch; it was like hitting a balloon out of the park. I remember watching one of his home runs from the bleachers of Shibe Park; it went over the first baseman’s head and rose meticulously along a straight line and was still rising when it cleared the fence. The trajectory seemed qualitatively different from anything anyone else might hit. For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter’s myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers’ dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”

Go back up there and read that again if you didn’t read it more than once on the first go round. It’s all that I love about baseball distilled into one paragraph about one player. It also happens to be a lot of what I believe about teaching distilled into one paragraph about baseball.

In the space below, I’ve done some strategic replacement that I think will help you begin to realize why this paragraph works for a part of me that isn’t a sports fan, but is a math teacher.

Teaching is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual classes is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that administrators feed upon but by teachers who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the a ha moment when you see a kid finally get it is not a myth, it is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money.

I’ve spent the last 21 years of my life worrying one way or another about how children learn science and math. I’ve failed A LOT. I’m not the Ted Williams of teaching, but thinking about Ted Williams has taught me a lot about how to think about this work. Williams cared about hitting the baseball, so much so that he wrote a book about the science of it. He cared so much about it that in the one season in which he failed the least (the 1941 season in which he hit .406, a feat which hasn’t been matched in over 80 years) he could have sat out of the two games that his team played on the last day of the season and would have gotten credit for hitting .400 because .3996 rounds up. Instead, he cared enough to go out and play both games of a doubleheader, putting the record on the line and going 6 for 8. And he managed to care even when his team wasn’t in contention, even when the season was effectively pointless. I want that kind of motivation for myself. I don’t want to be the unpleasant person that Ted Williams sometimes was, but I do want to do my job well. I think one of the keys to success in teaching and learning is learning how to manage your own sense of failure, especially because it entails recognizing the limits of what you can do and what you control.

A baseball season is 162 games long. A year of teaching is 180 days. Nobody wins all 162 games or all 180 days. In fact, most of the time, the best people in both of these endeavors either fail or feel like they failed a lot of the time. It’s caring enough to show up every day and give 4 or 5 good at bats or teach 2 or 3 good classes and knowing that you don’t control everything but care enough to be good at the things you can control that makes people good at both jobs. And that’s hard. It’s hard to care, as Updike says, on a hot August weekday in baseball when most of the season is done, when you might not be headed into the playoffs, but you still have this job to do. And it’s hard to care in late February or early May when the end seems remote or super close and you feel like you’ve done all that you can but the kids are still antsy, the math is still tough and there are a bunch of meetings to attend and papers to grade.

Finally, as Updike says about baseball, teaching is essentially a lonely game. It’s you and 20 kids in a room for a lot of the time. And they aren’t your peers. They also aren’t your children. And yet you’ve got to do something with them—ultimately you’ve got to figure out how to love them and how to love the thing that brings all of you together.

I realize this sounds terrible–that teaching is about caring and showing up to do a job that feels remote from its outcomes and that’s also a lonely business that entails managing your feelings around failure. Why in the world would anyone want to do it? Well, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I haven’t figured teaching out. I haven’t figured children out. I’m better than I used to be for sure, but I’m a long way from legendary. And now here I am, walking away from it, maybe permanently, maybe just for a few seasons. And I’m going to miss failing and caring and doing this often lonely work because I’ve grown to love it.

Blasts from the Past: Did you Know our Blog will Turn 4 This September?!

Are you the kind of skeptic that’s been around enough that every time an administrator launches a new “initiative” you’re like “okay I’ll just hang on a month or year and it will be gone by then anyway.”

Well if you felt that way about the blog THE JOKE’S ON YOU BECAUSE SHE’S BEEN GOING STEADY SINCE SEPTEMBER 2019!

Almost-four years is still pretty young. But old enough to be generally trusted not to run into a road. What I’m saying is, I think we safely say at this point the blog is potty trained. So let’s celebrate with some BLASTS from the BLOG’S PAST! This curation features blogs from Fall 2019-Feb 2020 to explore the question: What were like as a school community before the pandemic? Plus this can totally function as fun entertainment over the summer when I know everyone plans to catch up on every blog they missed.

  1. Go back to where it all started with “Wall O’Teacher Awesomeness” , when I used to have an office with writable walls and kept track of cool things I saw in classrooms.

2. Get some still-on-point podcast suggestions from Susan Pace for your summer road trip in “Podcasts: A New Generation of Listening and Learning”.

3. Dreaming about your 2023-2024 classroom set up? Check out Carla Kelly’s “Transforming My Classroom with Flexible Seating” for inspiration.

4. More interested in thinking about pedagogical choices than furniture? “Two Flavors of Flipped” might be more your speed, featuring Rebecca Bernhardt and Krissy Rehm (oh how we miss her!)

5. Do you want to be more deliberate with homework next year? Get a quick theoretical framework to help guide your thinking in “Homework: Bringing Purpose to the Practice”.

6. Want a little boost? Check out Shea’s “30 Things I’m Thankful For” from 2019 and see some familiar, pre-pandemic faces!

7. Do you want to be reassured that all is well, even if you are feeling uninspired and only met like one of your goals this past school year? Check out “Tis the Season: Embracing the Ebb and Flow of Innovation & Inspiration”.

8. “NaNoWriMo- 30 Days of Writing with Reckless Abandon” is a fabulous Margaret Mains (then Margaret Taylor) authored piece with true stories about her own fifth grade classroom successes and a killer-good list of further reading for anyone interested.

9. Thoughts on our Free Choice Friday program in Middle School . . . authored in January 2020! Oh Julie Rust, you had no idea what was coming.

10. Mary McCall McArthur wrote “Teaching Self-Advocacy” and it is an incredible blend of theory with how she practiced what she learned with her own students. This could be a really powerful way to start the school year for sure!

11. Weeks before the pandemic hit, Emily Philpott takes the “center” model from elementary and expands it brilliantly for upper school students in “Students on the Move”. Check it out and try it out next year.

12. Maya Buford shares the power of TPR (Total Physical Response) model for learning languages in “Aprendiendo Colores”.

13. Check out this interview with Perry Goldsbury to learn his super-cool use of interviews to bring science to life.

14. See the possibilities for cross-disciplinary partnerships in Kate Dutro’s “Messy Making in the Makerspace”!

It turns out we were doing some pretty cool things in 2019-early 2020. . . much like we are today. Here’s to summer functioning as a good time of remembering our past as we rest and rejuvenate for the future.

The Many Faces of Summer: Featuring Foundations!

Running in the sprinkler.  Ice cream trucks.  Slower morning starts.  Late night fun. Bug spray, sunscreen, and entire days at the pool.  Beach reads.  Taking a breath and re-setting for the upcoming year.   When you say the word “summer” to most faculty members at St. Andrew’s, many many things come to mind.  But for our Foundations faculty, the bulk of summer months have more in common with the rest of the school year.  I sat down with (pictured from left to right) Ashley Singleton (PK1 teacher), Abby Cockerill (Infants teacher), Idelia Walker (Infants teacher) , Catoria Mozee (PK2 teacher), Tabitha Gibson (Assistant Director of Foundations; PK1 teacher), and Sheena White (Head of Foundations) to get a better understanding of the distinct rhythm that makes up a school year in Foundations.

Okay, let’s start with Sheena.  Give us a brief overview of the schedule throughout the year for faculty and our youngest saints at Foundations.  What’s so different?

Sheena: I’ll say the biggest difference between Foundations and other divisions is the summer breaks.  As a teacher when you get to May, you’re thinking about the summer like: “Ok we are at the finish line!” So, the biggest differentiator is that we are 12 months, year round.

Ouch- that definitely sounds tough to see everyone starting to slow down for the summer and pushing full steam ahead!

Sheena: Though it sounds like it’s a bit more stressful, honestly when the other 4 divisions are out, it’s pretty laid back.  Our summers are chill: from carpool (assistants not as stressed during carpool) and there aren’t as many students present, because some of our kiddos take a break, especially if they have older siblings.  I mean they’re here, but it’s a lot more laid back.

Well that’s good to hear.  Okay so if you don’t have summer break to mark promotion to a new grade level, when does that happen? 

Sheena: The last day for the children is June 30th, which is a Friday.  That Monday, July 3,  is  Professional Development Day, and our faculty’s first day [of the new school year]. Tuesday 7/4 is a holiday and we come back on 7/5 for “Meet the Teacher” and children start on 7/6.  As a classroom teacher, August was always the most hectic month of the whole school year.  You’re getting ready for meet the teacher, labeling all the things, getting your class list together.  But for us that happens in July.  It’s super busy.  On the flip side of that, in August, we see faculty in other divisions running rampant and going bonkers and I’m like “oh we did that a month ago!” Our crazy town month is July.

What a different rhythm! So the first day of school falls on what is traditionally a holiday week.  Do most children make it that first day?  What is it like in early July as infants/babies are transitioning?

Sheena: Parents do come to meet the teacher. We typically have 100% participation, but then the day after that is not as busy.

Abby: There is more of an ease.  [Foundations is in] a quaint smaller space.  All  the [new]  kids I get, I already see that every day.  It’s less pressure than new starts, new grades, and less of a big deal about a new start.

Sheena: It’s easier for [the children] too; there are not as many tears. 

Catoria: The transition is much better than in other places I’ve worked.  They are only out for a week, so it’s easier for the kids to say, “okay-it’s another school day.” It’s the same friends and they’re used to seeing the teacher passing, so it’s not like that big of a shock in terms of, “wait- I don’t get to have ALL of my friends; I have to take a different way to class!”

Sheena: Even the transition [to PK3] is smoother. Their familiarity with the school environment makes a huge difference! In the past there were a lot of tears for PK3 students: parents struggling and children were struggling with the transition.  

Idelia:  I think it’s a little different for me, because I’m the teacher that gets all the new students. Every year it’s a change. I start everything over: new babies, new schedules, new everything for me.  But my hectic times, are kind of staggered. They come in at different times. When I start, I may not have ten.  I may start with six or four.

Sheena:  Yes! There’s a lot of differentiation in your space. I noticed that this year! 

Idelia:  Of course by the time we get everybody on the same page, it’s time to move!  

Sheena:  And you get all the parents that are nervous and new to the community.

So is there even a time of year that is more stressful than the rest in Foundations?

Idelia: I wouldn’t say it’s hard a certain time of year, but July for me is that month: you have to revamp the room, make sure everything is labeled, talk to the parents.  They’re going call me and say “we don’t know what we’re doing”, so you have to try to ease their minds because they’re leaving their baby with someone they don’t even know. “I just met you at ‘meet the teacher’” and now they’re going to drop them off with me in two days! You’ve got some that stick around and don’t want to let go. You’ve got to try to fit all of these characteristics of different people into one classroom.

Catoria: I would say there are two hectic periods in PK2.  July can be tough getting them fully adjusted; they are used to routines but they have to switch up their routines. We are adding in co-curriculars, practice walking in a line, things like that.  And also the end of August/September when the other kids come back is when we start the curriculum, our themes.  In the summer we can do it light, we learn the routines and have fun, [have them] get used to us. And then we get to the point of “ok we’re gonna start learning letters and numbers,” starting the curriculum in August and September. 

That’s a good point! So to help those of us not familiar with Foundations understand, can you give us some concrete examples of what you all are up to in May-June-July?

Catoria: In May-June we are winding down, and getting ready to have them transition over, making sure everybody’s potty trained.  Some [parents] start the beginning of the year like “ok we’re going to do it,” and some it’s the beginning of March and they are trying to force you “okay here you go- he needs to be potty trained.” 

Tabitha: I would say July is a little hectic in PK1 because they are going from cribs to cots and sitting at the tables and chairs since it’s more structured.  [So the] month of July is getting them to sit down in a circle, getting the routine down, like they all sleep at the same time from 12-2 and so trying to get that all down pat in the month of July. They are getting up from the table, “oh I can run around.” Just  the structure, like we sit down for story time, getting into a routine.  Like in the infant side they aren’t used to getting the bin out and cleaning up.  In August-September we are bringing in thematic units, but we still have group time during the other months: singing songs, getting into the rhythm.

It’s so interesting, because if you walk into Foundations classrooms this time of year, the kids have GOT the routine down! It’s crazy to imagine all of that starting again. 

Tabitha: I can tell you about this year, when I got Ms. Walker’s kids, ten of them,  the transition was much better because they knew the environment.  It was just a new space they were coming to so the transition was much better, and they helped the four new ones that I had to transition do better because they came in and were like “hey we’re doing this? I’ll do it too!”

You’ve got to love that positive peer pressure! For those of us that work with older youth, sometimes we take for granted they know it’s weird to get up in the middle of class and run in circles.  Although sometimes in middle school . . . hahaha.   

So now real talk.  This is tough work.  How do you find creative ways to get restored and refreshed without the traditional summer break? 

Tabitha: I could say from my perspective in the PK1 era, Ashley and I share some of the roles. She’s not the only one doing newsletters; we rotate the newsletters and different responsibilities for the grade level.  If I need something as far as resources I can go to her and vice versa. So I think the teamwork of the grade level makes it work better.  

Idelia: I was going to pretty much say the same thing.  You work with your other teacher in your grade level, and it kind of helps you; this week is your down week.  The newsletter or lesson plan, another person is worrying about it; it’s not your time to worry about it. I guess personally, my restoration would be to take advantage of the days you have off.  Take your vacation!  We’re offered a vacation, so take it!  Use your days.  

SO much wisdom there!  But do you all struggle like me with actually turning it off on the days you are off? 

Idelia: That was was my biggest thing even when I was out of school on Thursday, I’m in the corner and I text like “Can you put _____ in Seesaw.” I’m thinking about them even when I’m not there physically, but still there mentally.  Like “can you put in Seesaw they need diapers?”

Catoria: It can be hard too, not just the teacher letting go, but the parents letting go!   You can put out “hey, I’m gonna be out this day and that day” and I’ll still get the message: “Hey have you seen this person’s cup?” and “Hey- can you give them this snack?” 

Idelia: I’m not there, but I’ll just relay the message and answer back like I’m still here.  They tend to forget [that I’m out.]

Got it!  Anything else throughout the year feel different schedule-wise from the rest of the school? 

Sheena: We’ve got holidays throughout the year that are different.  For Thanksgiving, we get 3 days instead of 5.  For Christmas instead of a two week break, we get six consecutive days.  We have the same flow for Easter and Spring Break as the other divisions, except we are out of school for two days during Spring Break instead of the whole week.  The school year is not as lengthy as it seems when you consider the number of breaks we get. I will say the first year- I struggled quite a bit; because I was accustomed to the PK-12 experience. I was like “ohmygosh, year round”  but when you live into it, it’s not really that bad.

So we’ve talked so much about what it’s like being year round, but we haven’t stated what is perhaps the obvious: WHY?  Why is Foundations open so many more days than its divisional counter-parts? 

Tabitha: It’s the challenging world we live in!  Families need the care year-round, so what the demand is, we have to fill!  

Are there any schedule ideas you’d like to suggest while we are all together?

Tabitha: Even though we are year round, it would be so helpful to close as a collective for that first week in July. . . like a reset week.

Sheena: Even if we had four days off and a day for PD! That would be great! (Ha) I will say we worked hard to align the Foundations calendar with the other three divisions… and I took a lot of heat from parents for that. They were like, “I’ve never seen a school out these many days!” 

Tabitha:  It may be worth getting some more data from parents.  [In a past survey there was resistance to closing any additional days.] Our audience may be a little different now.  This year by 4:30pm the majority of my class is already gone.  Maybe we need a more updated survey. Another place it would make a difference is closing for the full spring break week. 

It is interesting that as a society we have expectations for childcare for younger children to be available much more often than in K-12.  (Of course, the year round approach is coming to Clinton schools next year, and we hear Madison is also considering the move.)

Catoria: It is the trippiest thing!  You’ll have kids in our building, but they have older siblings and the older siblings are at home and the younger kids are here.  Well if you’re taking care of 1 or 2 or 3, [what’s the difference]?

Of course practically as a parent I can tell you I can get a lot of work done with my nine year old at home, but when my kids were one and two years old, it was a very different story! 

Sheena: But they ARE the sweetest children! 

Tabitha: Every child is unique . .. in their own way! 

I Accidentally Took My Kids to See “Book of Mormon”: The Dance of the Sacred and Profane

I accidentally took my three children to Book of Mormon a month or so ago, and by accidentally I mean I did it very much on purpose without realizing how incredibly brash the show was. 

I knew the mistake the moment we drove up to the parking garage, raindrops studding our window frame, people streaming across the road.  “Are we the only ones who brought children to this?” I wondered, heart sinking. I felt the distinct urge to hide them under my dress as we walked in.  I felt stares. I felt disapproval on every side.

Here I should mention: there were large posters advertising for a showing of “Annie” the upcoming Wednesday, mocking us. Now THAT’S an appropriate show to bring a kid to. 

Of course, Jackson is a small world.  Particularly the humans in Jackson that would willingly choose to go to a show that is critical of religion of all kinds.  I dedicated myself to looking no one in the eye and thus having no moment of recognition.  That’s when I ran smack dab into Julia Chadwick beside the ticket counter.  

Of course I did.

I thought about jetting out of the line we were in and moving to another, despite the fact we were almost to the ticket person.  “Be strong,” I told myself.  Julia Chadwick is a hip lady.  She mercifully didn’t mention a word about my children being with me as we entered.  She was just trying to get her cell phone ticket to load. 

“I’m a progressive, open momma, right”, I said, mantra-like, to myself as we climbed to the furthest up up up floor in the balcony for the cheap seats?  Sure, there were no kids in the audience.  But maybe that just means I’m the best parent here. It can’t be that bad. 

I type this with the most certainty I’ve ever mustered in my life. I mean I cannot emphasize this enough. It CAN be THAT bad.  You know that distinct embarrassment when you watch a movie from your past with your children for the first time? You’re all excited because you want them to love it like you did, but suddenly, every curse word and innuendo goes from New Times Roman, font 12 to like Comic Sans font 562 with yellow highlighting. This was that, times 6 million.  Many times the scenes or language would’ve made me squirm just on my own.  Sitting beside my nine year old and eleven year old with the f-bomb, jokes about rape, talk about female circumcision, constant mocking of Jesus, etc. etc. was a special kind of torture.  We would have walked out if I had the moral fortitude.  We instead sat there in a kind of joint paralysis:

“Mom- isn’t every church kind of like this? Mom- I told you I didn’t want to go to this.”
“Mom- I’m not enjoying this at all.”

When we finally reached the merciful end, we stood up blinking in the sudden entry of light.  I had already apologized 62 million times.  Pretty much after every horrid joke, I’d apologized.  I tried to cover up Alianna’s ears and eyes.  “You’re too late every time, Mom” she had explained patiently, shaking her head in both disbelief and acceptance that she was now permanently scarred thanks to her mom’s very dubious choices and lack of doing her homework when purchasing tickets.

Still, as we walked out Alianna said loud enough for the row ahead of us to hear: “Momma- what did all of that MEAN?”

I averted eye contact as much as I could with every other human over the age of 18 which was literally everyone else in the theater.  When I accidentally caught side eyes with my husband, we burst out laughing.  I had not only wasted over $200 and a perfectly open Saturday afternoon; I had simultaneously destroyed the innocence of my three children in one fell swoop.  

It’s time you know that I am notorious in my family for one thing: choosing wildly inappropriate movies for family movie night.  I find highly rated documentaries or movies and I sometimes skip over the rating or the trigger warnings and I assume every time my kids are ready for it.  Probably my least-shining movie night moment occurred during a Jane Goodall documentary about mid-way when she had just gotten divorced from her husband and the monkey colony starting eating each other.  All three Rust children were sobbing into their popcorn.

I don’t know what it is about me.  A peculiar brand of optimism? My desire to bring my children along for all the things? The sense that if I am there to protect them, nothing in the world is too scary?  The fact that I just want to be with them? All I know is, for my particular parenting barometer, I went too far with taking the troop to Book of Mormon. That time, I messed up.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, re-living the shame of it all. But the next day was Sunday, and the sun shone in the “His mercies are new every morning” sort of way. We went to St. Andrew’s Cathedral because Alianna was singing with the choir, and the Very Rev. Anne M. Maxwell somehow had the most perfect homily on how the sacred and profane can be all wrapped together.

As I prepped a marinade for lunch, Zander sat down to do his history homework for Mrs. Truckner and it turned out that the show, though inappropriate for him on myriad levels, was also weirdly-well timed. They had been talking about corruption in the history of the church. The collision of his homework, our conversation, the homily from that morning, and the broadway show from the day before produced this free verse wandering:

All wrapped up together: the sacred and the profane.
Such beautiful words.

And as I’m zesting lemon and squeezing juice into the ziplock bag of marinade,
My son and I talk abuses and evolution of the church via indulgences, Calvinism, Protestantism, and Martin Luther.
Does God know our lives?
Do our choices matter? 
My son loves history I believe, but, more than that,
He likes big meaty questions.

“I bet on the quiz she’s gonna ask us what predestination is, and when she does, I’m going to think about you.”

I squeeze the raw chicken to better distribute the marinade. “Why, buddy?”

“Because we just talked about it together.  So I’ll remember it.”

This then is motherhood:
When you are not even trying to have a conversation- when your hands are sticky with raw chicken juice,
Then and only then in the swirl of the everyday,
The great conversations happen.
We, in pursuit of two very different tasks:
The marinating of chicken and the studying for a history quiz
(Parallel, not face to face)
Led by his questions,
Not mine,
His mispronunciations throughout,
The glory of the stammer over newly discovered words/worlds.

“What do you believe, Momma?”

May @ SA: A Story in Ten Snapshots

Sure, we’re diving into summer. But before we do, it’s worth commemorating all that makes May special at St. Andrew’s. I kept my eyes peeled the last few weeks for moments that either got me laughing or got me feeling, as the kids say “some type of way.” I didn’t have to look hard to find ten snapshots, and the crazy thing is I’m not even including the pile of events that are about to ensue the final two weeks of school. Here’s to the fun, the feelings, the frenzy of May!

The other day I was balancing my trademark massive salad and stumbled upon this joyful Spanish review game led by the Mr. Brister himself. I’m not exactly sure what was going on, but there were crumbled up pieces of paper, a trash can to make baskets in, teams, and some vocabulario to practice. Brilliant use of sunshine and middle school end-of-year energy, check.

Part moving-celebration-of-our-seniors, part stand-up-comedy-act, College Day Lunch has become a fixture of north campus in May. Stuff yourself with Mama Hamil’s while playing a hybrid of college trivia/college roasting and cheering on your buddies. What could be better? Hard to imagine the shape this event will take without Colin and Scott heading it up. Thanks for the food, the laughs, and your encyclopedic knowledge of the college landscape, guys.

If you’ve never had the privilege of attending the goodbye/retirement chapel at Lower School, add it to your bucket list. Not only does Shea read gorgeous write-ups celebrating the contributions of those leaving LS, you are regaled by a chorus of disappointed wails of “NOOOOOO!” each time a departing faculty’s name is read aloud. If that’s not enough emotion, the children all sing a traditional “goodbye” song to the tune of “Edelweiss” after the gift-giving. Alianna Rust declared that this chapel is “too sad” every year. I think it’s just right.

Sure school can be fun in May, but PRECALCULUS?! Dr. Bramlett had me laugh-crying at his annual Precalculus Film Festival, in which he showcased the students’ entertaining AND informative films and posters with a side of white cheddar popcorn. The videos reminded me of a lot of content I had learned approximately 25 years ago via raps, game show conventions, and even math pick-up lines. The only difficult part of that math class was deciding which film to cast my vote for!

Okay this one’s a little peripheral to St. Andrew’s, but our very own Sarah Walker owns a Studio Company that has been booming in recent years with students in voice, piano, and violin. (Since students take lessons in the space of our buildings, I feel like this is fair game!) Last week Sarah Walker Studios had its evening Spring Recital, and a packed crowd enjoyed watching a host of ages and instruments show off what they’d be working on. Best of all, students dressed in character! (Side note: the monkey costume and the mickey mouse costume with suspenders won my heart.) What a joy to watch the progression of talent throughout the evening!

Yeah so I definitely failed taking any pictures once people arrived, but here’s the photographic evidence (apps at Aplos) that we had for our final “new faculty” party of the year. You all, this past year we had an incredibly strong set of new hires across all divisions, with a record-breaking (?) ten new faculty joining us in upper school. We designed nearly-monthly New Faculty Fellowships targeting community-building and topics that folks new to our community might need.  We also learned a whole bunch from these professionals, and we can’t wait for all of them to move up to “veteran” rank next year! Big thanks to TEAM members, mentors, and division heads for helping with the mentor program!

Middle School Olympics brought all the joy a week ago Monday, and I was ultra-wowed by the ingenuity/wit but mostly bravery on display when each multi-age Olympics team stood on the stage in the CPA to deliver their song (a capella; no background music needed) to the crowd. There were posters; there was dancing; there were rhymes. Remarkably, there was very little self-consciousness. I call that a middle school miracle.

WHOOPS- how did this family picture hop on this very professional blog?! Sorry- not sorry! Our boys/girls state track meet was moved a week later than anticipated, and despite gloomy weather looming in the distance, everybody performed great! To be fair, I don’t really understand sports, but there were medals and smiles, and people doing things that looked dangerous to me in a three-ring-circus sort of way. I may never fully understand why the sport of track now encroaches on school days, but I can fully appreciate how this sport promotes fitness, grit, perseverance, and teamwork in ways that no academic class ever could. GO SPORTS!

For folks that don’t know, Hollie Marjanovic has taken on reimagining ASPIRE with big (pardon the pun) aspirations! The program has morphed to one that students can elect to be part of, into one that impacts each and every upper school student on our campus. Here’s the most recent iteration of “career day,” featuring a host of SA-affiliated alum, parents, and employees sharing honest stories of their own career trajectory with interested students. I’m so excited for how this program will continue to grow!

Any post about May would not be complete without paying homage to THE EVENT of the year: MAY DAY! I don’t know any happening that could better exemplify how much kids can learn from performative, community opportunities like this one. The joy associated with the day alone is visceral, and there is nothing like the hum of energy when parents-teachers-students-alum-admin gather around that green field.

I think that May Day, for me, holds space for all that May is: from the silly (OH that “Dancing Queen tambourine dance move Kevin alluded to in his email), to the sentimental (hello fourth grader rite of passage), all the way to the celebration of wow look how much we’ve grown” (let’s choreograph moves for humans that just got potty trained like yesterday!)

Here’s to more of the silly, sentimental, celebration in the coming weeks. If you keep your eyes open, you will see it all around you.

WHY SA STUDENTS LOVE SA TEACHERS: A Very Scientific Post It Note Analysis

It’s a well-known truism that the end of the school year brings out the crazy, the absurd, the unpredictable.  But there’s something else, less widely acknowledged, that coming-to-the-end-of-things can stir up: gratitude.  Something about that last stretch makes us see our classrooms, our teachers, our students with a slightly different tint, one that can sometimes reverberate with premature nostalgia.  Perhaps that’s why the powers that be decided to place Teacher Appreciation Week quite strategically near the end of the school year.  That, or perhaps they knew we’d need it.  A LOT.  

Whatever the reason, when we invited students on both campuses to put up post-it notes about why they love SA teachers, they had a whole lot to say. As a result, I learned a thing or two about what it is about our faculty that actually inspires our saints.

  1. They like it that we (and our classes) are FUN.

2. They appreciate that we make them BETTER in our various fields.

3. They’ve noticed we can be pretty dang kind.

4. Sometimes the reasons they appreciate us are . . . ummm . . . a little unexpected.

5. But, mostly, they can tell we believe in them even on the days when they don’t necessarily live up to our expectations. And that makes all the difference.

Teaching is hard. Being a kid is hard. School is long and tedious. So on those tough days, those counting-down-until-the-end-I-can-barely-hold-it-together days, we could all use some post it notes to remind us of a few things:

(Season 6, Ep. 5) Motion Pictures Meets Reality: Education through the Eyes of Matilda

Sometimes you read a book or watch a movie that is so chock-full of hyperbole you just roll your eyes and lean into it for entertainment value.  Sometimes that very same book or movie magically transforms before your very eyes into the truest representation of life you have ever seen. Roald Dahl’s (1988) novel, Matilda did that, with its captivating story about a young girl who encounters injustice with adults in her life at home and school with bravery, intelligence, and creativity.  And in our household anyway, the latest iteration of Matilda in musical form directed by Matthew Warchus (from a screenplay written by Dennis Kelly featuring song/lyrics by Tim Minchin) did it again, with a catchy set of musical numbers that had us singing for weeks.  I had the privilege of sitting down with two third graders who love the movie, Elizabeth Bensler and Alianna Rust, as well as their very own Dr. Egger, Head of Lower School to discuss what the musical might teach us about parenting, schooling, and growing up:

3:12-6:16: Meet our guests, and learn which one most closely related to the terrifying character of Mrs. Trunchbull!

6:51-10:00:  What is up with the dynamic between Matilda and her parents?   

10:29-12:45: What St. Andrew’s has in common with the terrifying Cruncham Elementary; (related sidenote: we need a statue of Dr. Egger in the front of the school).

13:15-17:10: What all of us think about growing up: from the perspective of sweet Bev Egger, to our third graders, to Dr. Egger and me; the pros/cons of having control but also having responsibility. 

17:40-20:48: We have a delightful time comparing Mrs. Trunchbull to Dr. Egger; spoiler alert: they have like nothing in common! 

21:10- 25:07: We gush with love for the character Miss Honey, and not just because she’s a nice teacher; because she’s got some solid skills. Also Elizabeth and Alianna dish on which of their teachers most remind them of Miss Honey.  

25:45-30:44: We explore the premise of the lyric “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty”; interestingly sibling relationships come up quite a few times.

30:58-33:50- We close out with our favorite scenes from the show, featuring circus-school, throwing hammers, dancing on top of desks, and floating above the clouds. 

(Episode 4 Drop) Motion Pictures Meets Reality: Lessons Learned from School of Rock

As we discovered in the first three episodes of this series, the world of motion pictures depicting educational realities isn’t all bad.  In fact, Mr Rogers, 8th Grade, and Abbott Elementary are so well-done, they strike more chords that resonate than outright clash with our realities. But we are going to end our season with two episodes that take a very different approach.  Hyperbole, absurdity, and “THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN” come to mind.  But even in these films that show less restraint and more –ahem– “artistic license,” we found much to discuss, dare I say even learn?  This week, the at-times problematic but wildly entertaining, School of Rock.  Rachel Scott (LS Tech Integration), Sara Clark (LS Library), and Daniel Roers (our amazing podcast recorder/editor finally steps out from behind-the-scenes) discuss:

  • 1:18-2:56: The art of substitute teaching, and our first hint that Dewey Finn has absolutely no clue what he is getting into.
  • 3:00-5:05:  Daniel takes a trip down memory lane about his first few weeks on north campus, and asserts that there has to be a point that every teacher wishes they could act a bit more like the main character: goofy, fun, sarcastic, relatable . . . 100% themselves.
  • 5:07-7:15:  Sure inappropriateness abounds, but Rachel points out that “sometimes it was a little refreshing”; why being honest with our students and avoiding needless sugarcoating can be the best policy. 
  • 7:16-9:28: Our guests discuss their fury at public shaming in schools via data walls, behavior charts, names on the board, etc.
  • 10:41- 11:27:  How one scene got Sara musing on the challenges of teaching an ungraded co-curricular.
  • 12:33-13:07: Why School of Rock is currently trending on TikTok.
  • 13:08-14:31:  Inspiring kids to find their passions, but breaking so many rules in the process!
  • 14:33-16:18: Why asking youth what makes them mad can be a powerful springboard in the classroom.
  • 16:18-16:49: The value of teaching kids to advocate for themselves.
  • 16:50-19:15: The scene of a “lesson plan gone wrong” that the guest found oh-so-relatable.
  • 19:15-20:37: Admin are people too! That time Dewey goes to the bar with his principal.
  • 20:38-26:49: Who knew School of Rock had so much to say on the impact of emotions in classroom spaces?! Also shout outs to Rev. Hailey and Chelsea and our school’s general commitment to all things social-emotional.
  • 26:50-28:20: Can you learn everything you need to know through music?: the potential in interest-driven, project-based learning.
  • 28:21-end: The guests end with the big disclaimer: unless you want to lose your job, do not take cues from the Jack Black character.  But if you want a great laugh at the end of a long teaching week and are willing to suspend your disbelief, check out School of Rock.

Top 5 Reasons to Apply for 2023-24 TEAM

Spring has sprung, and while both of our feet are still solidly in this spring 2023 semester, our eyes are beginning to look toward next summer and the 2023-24 school year.  Summer of excellence proposals will be going out shortly, my brain is beginning to spin thinking of new systems we can begin to co-devise, communicate, and implement structurally, and I am starting to dream of a new set of faculty reps across divisions to really bring new life and spirit into our teaching and learning initiatives. 

But let’s first be clear; the 2022-23 reps have brought it.  Kim, Michelle, Rachel, Buck, and Hollie have grounded me personally all year long, and inspired us all collectively with their written/spoken words and actions.  They have collectively led or co-led four different PLC’s; they have given advice in the construction of our new faculty onboarding, workshop week, PD Days; they have written a host of blogs in our first year ever of themed blasts, sometimes going deeply philosophical and sometimes just bragging on the amazing work faculty are up to; they have led the way in two very different podcast seasons (one about accountability and one about representations of schooling in motion pictures); they have planned for and helped lead our monthly new faculty fellowship; they have gathered together once a month to share openly about successes and challenges in classroom spaces; they have done their best to kindly and accurately represent the needs and interests of faculty on-the-ground. I’m sure I’m forgetting things. I  always forget things.  

It is no exaggeration to say: I could not do this job without TEAM reps.  

But as much as I loved this year’s TEAM and I loved the previous years’ TEAM (shout out to our inaugural 2021-22 cohort!), my favorite thing of all about the TEAM concept is the fact that it rotates out every single school year.  Too often in schools labor and opportunities get distributed into the hands of the few, when there are so many that are capable.  

I absolutely don’t need an echo chamber with this group.  I need people confident to speak the truth to scary admin like me. 🙂 Seriously, though, I do.  Like tell us what faculty need and don’t need.  Ya’ll are the ones that know.  Professional growth initiatives are 100% dependent on breaths-of-fresh-air.  I need some fresh air.  And I need it to come from people that teach 3 year olds, 7 year olds, 11 year olds, 17 year olds; from people that teach math, the arts, the sciences, you get the idea.  A formal application process is forthcoming, but  you should really start considering applying for TEAM next year if you . . . 

  • Dig connecting and collaborating with faculty across divisions: TEAM members meet monthly to share honest challenges, give input on upcoming initiatives and themes, and just generally support each other in this difficult work.  We often get so siloed across our north versus south campuses. This is a chance to build some new bridges.
  • Enjoy trying things outside your comfort zone (that can also be resume-boosters!): Many of our TEAM members are not naturally in love with the idea of hosting a podcast, writing a blog, or running a new faculty event.  And yet- they care about the impact these things can have, so they try it! 
  • Have new ideas of how to grow our collegial culture of faculty sharing: Contrary to popular belief, TEAM is not just about blogs and podcasts.  If you have an idea about a new way to foster teaching/learning growth that we haven’t been doing, WE NEED YOU.  Every year our goals and initiatives look different.
  • Are a solution-oriented practitioner: This is not just an advisory committee.  TEAM is for people that are solution-oriented and that want to take on the initiatives that we can envision.  If you are the type of person that just prefers to vent about what is wrong without offering an alternative that you are willing to pitch in on, this may not be the group for you.
  • Want to make an impact on the culture of teaching/learning at St. Andrew’s for years to come: Sure this is just a single-school-year commitment, but the work you do will persist, and not just on the blogs and podcasts we create and throw into the world.  During the 2023-24 school year, we will be working on articulating our educational philosophy as a school as well as proposing a professional growth system along with FAAC.  TEAM members will be integral pieces of this work. 

Of course I can write all the words I want, but the real way you can get a sense of what it is to be on TEAM is to ask past/current members.  For the real story, talk to the amazing folks from our 2021-2 or 2022-3 cohort.

  • Maggie Secrest 
  • Rachel Scott
  • Dean Julius
  • Emmi Sprayberry
  • Jim Foley
  • Marty Kelly
  • Nancy Rivas
  • Marks McWhorter
  • Kim Sewell
  • Hollie Marjanovic
  • Buck Cooper
  • Michelle Portera

New Courses Blooming!

Spring, in north campus anyway, means course registration and scheduling and imagining that somehow we will come through this frenzied spring semester into a summer and then start it all again next fall.  But this year more than any year I’ve been at the school, I felt a refreshing sense of creative energy abound around course development.  In one department chair meeting, I sat through faculty members impassioned proposals for classes to better-round-out the student experience.  In another one-on-one chat, I learned about Rev Hailey Allin’s development of an amazing new experience designed for fourth graders to really put their leadership and service learning into a broader context.

Sometimes when I hear people pessimistic about the state of education or St. Andrew’s specifically, I realize that many don’t get to be part of these incredibly inspiring conversations.  So here’s a little glimpse into just a fraction of the goodness that people are up to.  I think the spirit of these faculty will be remarkably contagious whether you teach two year olds or 6th grade science.  After all, we are all putting on new courses every single year: composed of a different swirl of students, needs, pedagogical choices, texts, and experiences.  

Course(s) ProposedCourse DescriptionWhy this Course?
Paul SmithCreative WritingCreative writing is a workshop course designed to introduce students to the craft and the discipline of expressive writing.  We will explore techniques and forms of writing creatively, specifically in the genres of poetry, short fiction, and drama. We will read great writing together, not as students doing literary criticism in an English classroom, but as writers learning the craft from those who do it best.
Together we will become a community of writers devoted to sharpening our aesthetic judgment, developing our unique voices, experimenting with new modes of imagination, and fostering originality of expression. 
We have student interest in this offering, and this course could be a significant source of student writing for North Pasture and recognition programs such as Scholastic Writing Awards. 

David Kelly
Digital Performance (new this year) For students engaged with film performance, students design, create, and direct their own short movies ultimately for showcase and national festivals. This expands the offerings for the theatre department and engages students in a way that was not previously available. 
Playwriting (for 23-24)Engaging the creativity and voice of each student, this is a deep dive into the practice of playwriting that results in a selection of one-act plays for competition or performance. 
Technical Theatre Two: Designers (for 23-24)Giving students leadership in the theatrical design process, technical theatre designers lead crews within their selected discipline of scenic, lighting, costumes, video, or sound to support the upper school plays and musicals. This empowers students and recognizes what many of them are already doing within the existing class structure. 
Theatre Arts Two: Competition (for 23-24)Following the success of the beta-year with five state level top awards, this course supports students ready to take their skills onto the state and national levels, this course supports the development and performance of competition level pieces. Students deserve dedicated time to present their best work at the state and national levels. It formalizes the work that students were already doing. 
Hollie MarjanovicASPIRE reimaginedAre there ways to maintain the original promised goals of the program while making more opportunities accessible to all of our students?  More brainstorming and details forthcoming!
Matt LuterSEARCH (Self-Engineered Advanced Research in Creativity and the Humanities)An advanced, individualized humanities study experience for juniors and seniors interested in deeper and more detailed research and writing related to topics in literature, history, or other arts and culture fields.Multiple students have shared with me recently that, given the end of topical senior seminars in English and the relative paucity of electives in humanities fields compared to our curriculum of several years ago, they haven’t felt they’ve had adequate opportunities to explore their interests in the humanities in the Upper School at St. Andrew’s.  I think it’s possible that this could become a transformative program within the intellectual life of the Upper School. It could play a major role in creating space for self-motivated investigation of individual interests at a depth that our required courses cannot always support. And as these talented students investigating the world in ways that they have some power to shape, I suspect that the ideas they discover will then get transmitted to other students and classes in unpredictable but fruitful ways.

A Glimpse into ECC Chapel

Light streams into the gym, splattering sunshine-glitter across the light wood hatchery floor.  Soaring violin ushers in lines of short humans.  Smiling adults accompany them, some (including me) clutching tightly to travel coffee mugs. It’s the preface to Thursday morning chapel for our Early Childhood Center, and depending on where you work on campus, you may not have even known it exists.  If you have attended a new faculty campus visitation day or an admissions visit for your own child you likely have experienced the joyful phenomenon that is Lower School Chapel.  But the ECC-specific chapel is a fairly recent innovation, one that came to be (like many things) during covid, when we were forced to rethink large gatherings.  And it is one pandemic-conceived thing, unlike the masks and the “let’s concurrently teach kids at home and kids in the classroom with iPads,” that many have grown to treasure.

In some ways this chapel is reminiscent of the lower school chapel gatherings.  The children sing “This is the Day” with robust vocal stylings.  They recite the Lord’s Prayer and 23rd Psalm.  

But there are distinct differences too.  Missing are the waving parents that flank the youth in the larger 1st-4th gathering.  The room feels more intimate.  Our little saints clearly feel more comfortable asking questions and giving feedback.  Rev. Hailey also takes on homily with a delightful spin.  She rotates ECC classrooms, asking  them to illustrate the Bible story of the day, and then uses their creative drawings as the anchor text for the chapel.  The result isn’t merely “cute”; it is breathtakingly poignant.  The children who create the art are lit up with pride and excitement.  The children who didn’t create this week squirm in their seats to get a closer look at the butterflies, the color choices, the angle of the figures.  Even the adults, such as myself, who had heard the story approximately 1052 times feel something fresh being birthed by the artistic representation. One child stops Rev. Hailey mid-sentence: “Did you say Jesus was going to die?!” The room grew silent with the heavy-truth.  I had thought of it a million times.  But I felt it anew. 

Even prayer time has a spin.  Rather than just an abstract reading of the prayers, Rev. Hailey picks out symbolic pictures from a box to represent prayers for our families, communities, school, pets and teachers.  It strikes me hard then.  When you have a more narrow audience you can so much more precisely hit appropriate development levels. 

A mere 15-20 minutes later the service is over.  The children file out of the gym and back to their worlds of circle time, phonics, centers, lofts, snacks, outdoor play, recess.  But the sacred follows them.  It can come in so many shapes and sizes, after all: in the arc of a musical expression, a hug from a friend, the art of a four year old, the laughter of play.

New Faculty Leading the Way Part 2: Fostering Partnerships with Jessie Humble

I kid you not. It’s as if it was staged.  About five minutes into my chat with the very-busy Jessie Humble, our very own Annie Elliott walked in as a walking-breathing illustration of exactly the kind of friendly-negotiation that is partnership.  Not wanting to interrupt what seemed like a formal interview, she handed Jessie a notecard with what looked like a design of suggested language. I couldn’t help but be nosey.  “TELL me this is about a partnership of some kind.”

“Yup,” Annie confirmed, “Banners for the 75th.”

Jessie smiled: “It is a gift to have amazing partners.” 

 Annie spoke about when they first decided to partner with graphic design to create celebration banners for our school’s 75th Anniversary: “My concern when they said student work .  . well I was worried about student work.  Not that I’m the student work grinch, I love student work.  I just want all the banners to have the same font and same size.  Jessie gets that.  This is why she’s such a great partner”

Jessie nodded: “Someone has to give them the guidelines; someone has to say no, not the dragon, but I love your butterfly.”

And thus, before my very eyes, I saw collaboration unfold in the messy middle: coming to agreement with non-negotiables, clear guidelines, and doing so with all the communication means (email, talk, drawings on index cards) called for.  Giving students’ authentic tasks means giving them tons of scaffolding, teaching with a capital T, offering templates and guidelines, and pushing for multiple drafts. After all, as Jessie points out “in the art world you always have a creative director guiding things.” 

This approach doesn’t just result in great banners for our 75th, it is, as Jessie explains, the best representation of “what graphic design IS.  To partner with someone. Maybe the client didn’t describe it well in the email, but I’m going to fix it and you tell me the best way to format.”  

Of course Jessie and Annie were just two of the partners in this large undertaking.  Rachel Scott was next in a long list of partners. Once the design is finished, Jessie will email her to laser cut the design.  Then it’s off to Stephanie Garriga to approve.  A circle of love.  

This undertaking is just one, though, of many that Jessie has undertaken in her first year at St. Andrew’s.  What else have they been up to? Glad you asked.  

In Graphic Design they:

  • Made all of the posters for musicals and plays.  Each individual submitted designs and then Mr. Kelly came back with comments and they revised based on that feedback.  Jessie reminds us:  “this is how the business community works; you’re going to work with clients that don’t initially like what you do.”
  • Designed the spring choir programs.
  • Created the senior trip t-shirt.


  • Individually partnered with different business (e.g. a local gym, shopping places, etc.)
  • Created mood meters and coping skills charts for 4th grade. (Fun fact: they are currently working on a field trip so seniors can present these tools to the 4th grade to explain how they made them.)

*Made a cut-out of Andy for Lower School

In Yearbook Class . . .

  • Yearbook is one MASSIVE collaboration, as it is a “really a love letter to the school about how awesome it is” featuring a dance between freedom and “here is what we need”: 
  • The cover features Catherine Zhou’s artwork, and then we sent it to graphic arts to add effects.
  • We are constantly working with other teachers/people!

Other collaborations include working alongside the fabulous (and ALSO new!) Jane Randall Cleek to:

  • Put up art shows in the CPA aligned with the show themes!  (Dr. Brown, ANOTHER new faculty member, got in on the fun when he saw what was happening and asked to include some appropriately themed student essays as well!)  What if in the future we also had a pianist playing during intermission to further grow partnerships within the arts? 
  • By the end of the year, she hopes to have her studio art students do an art awards show with outside judges coming in 
  • Don’t forget Scholastic awards; the ceremony was just this past Sunday! That’s one large collaboration. 

How did Jessie make all of this happen in her inaugural year at SA? She simply spread the word at the start of the year. “I made myself known in the beginning, saying ‘I would really love my students to collaborate in any way that you can find you have a need at the school.  Just let me know! . . . We actually had too many possibilities!  I’m thankful that people took it to heart.  I love that we are able to service the community.”  

If you are interested in carving out similar partnerships for your students, take heart! It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  Jessie recommends you just look for ways to display your students’ work for a larger audience, anytime you can find a way for them to be proud of themselves.  And while it may add a little stress for students, that stress can be incredibly motivating.  Don’t take my word for it; take it from Jessie:

It’s a big thing for me too; the kids don’t see it as “this is another school project”.  Instead, “this is a service we are doing for the St. Andrew’s community because we all love St. Andrew’s!” I could see it in their work because they are excited to do things when it is going to be seen at the school.   “My play poster got picked!” “My design is on a T-shirt!” “It’s going to be on a banner at the convocation!” That means something to them.

New Faculty Leading the Way Part 1: Fostering Partnerships with David Kelly

When you think about being a first year faculty at St. Andrew’s, you generally imagine a year of all the questions.  Where is the printer? How do parents expect us to communicate with them? What level of rigor are these students used to? How long will it take us to get through this particular unit? 

But our incredibly inspiring 2022-23 cohort of new faculty have reminded us that sometimes the new kids on the block come with far more than just questions . . . they come with a host of experiences, knowledge-bases, and even relationships that make them more-than-ready to lead.  I first spoke with David Orace Kelly (Theater Arts, US): 

David, what brought you to theater education and collaborations? 

I’ve always been a theater practitioner and an accidental-educator that has really fallen in love with education, but the first couple of years of teaching  I was looking for a way out of the classroom because I saw myself as a practitioner.  But, then I realized that the classroom was my theater. So I changed my mindset from “these are students” to “these are members of an acting company that I get to train and collaborate with” and that’s a lot of what I do here.  

So how does seeing your students in this way impact your approach to theater education?

Everything in this program is very student-centered: very much about their journey, where they are.  We are trying to build in metacognition and reflection, not so much on the deadlines and very much more so on the authentic journey that the student has, while also keeping them accountable to the things we have to be accountable for.  Theater has constant deadlines built into it. The show has to happen and what that means is sometimes there are things that don’t get on to the stage. Or, there are projects that don’t get done because we are spending extra time on another project that’s more potent and important to the students than I had conceived (or my concept six months ago was incorrect –  when I planned the sequence of action – that the project would have been completed faster).

This is perhaps a peripheral topic to collaborations, but partnering with other folks sure does a ton of flexibility. How do you remain flexible in this way without feeling like you’re compromising on high standards?

I think of high standards as part of a learning journey: like what does a student need right now to continue to build and grow inside of the context? I have a student right now accomplished as a performer, but they have less experience in their current work.  They are very much interested in the domain, but their work might appear to be below grade level for the average student. Yet, they are still pushing themselves to grow.  For them, their high standard is taking that next step.  I’ve got many students in theater tech who are like “all I’ve ever done is work with construction” or some other element, so their growth is doing something introductory in another domain. I also have other students who have been doing the same domain for the last 3-4 years, and I talk to them in a more collaborative way, almost like a colleague, and this encourages their growth because they are ready to be in a professional space.  [I am] asking them questions I don’t necessarily know the answer to and collaborating with them. That’s also high standards – super individualized high standards.  

Ok so let’s get to the topic of the day: partnerships.  How do you approach these? 

Well it’s yes, and  . . . that’s it.   “What can you do, and how can I add to it” or “what do you [already] do and how can I add to it?”

What are some concrete examples of ways you have collaborated internally and externally this past school year? 

  • In Wizard of Oz [they invited elementary and middle school students to participate.] That was an “I want to give you space, elementary, middle to be a part” . . . 
  • Also, internally with graphic design, we had our whole season of [production] posters (and t-shirts) designed by Mrs. Humble’s graphic design class.  It was an interesting/wonderful process.I heard many students appreciated having a more professional or exterior application to their skills rather than just the siloed classroom.
  • We partnered with MS opera this year. . . . and we are planning future collaborations.
  • We had a student employee. . . to start supporting community outreach.
  • We have the ballet coming in, MS youth symphony orchestra, bringing in community partnerships so our students see there is a home in the arts outside of SA’s . . . but also so they can start getting professional connections.
  • This is the first year in St. Andrew’s history that we competed in the International Thespian Association,  so that was a bigger community thing.
  • We got the big projector [on the stage] through a “yes, and…” conversation.  It wouldn’t have happened with the collaboration.  It started with a conversation with Stephanie and then Tony really did the logistics and research and all of the vetting. 

Wow! That’s a ton for your first year at the school!  What advice do you have for planning to collaborate? How and when to start?

My advice for planning and collaborating is like finding the right temperature for your bathwater.  You start running the water and keep checking on it, mix in a little of this and a little of that.  Sometimes it takes a long time to get the right temperature, and so you must start the conversations and plannings now and then you’ve got to be ready and willing to take the next step when the next step presents itself.  It might be tomorrow; it might be in 3 months.  You’ve got to keep talking about it to people and keep refining it, because you are gonna get the feedback from the people you are talking to.  You’re going to get the idea or the caution or whatever it is, and you’re going to find partners in that talk.  So I don’t think one should ever wait.  

Spring Has Sprung, Yet So Many Have Fallen

This post was authored by Hollie Marjanovic.

Authored by Gia Ngo

In 2018, survivors from the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School came to visit Jackson, Mississippi to talk about the importance of standing up to gun violence.  What struck me most was that these students (most between the ages of 16-18) said that there has not been a single year in their lifespan that a school shooting has not happened.  In their lifetime, school shootings have become tragic, yet “normalized” occurrences.  They begged us for help.  They begged us to not let this continue and we have failed them.  

This past week we saw, yet again, a school shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville.  As a mom of children near the same age and an educator, it hurts.  Just like it did at Uvalde.  Just like it did at Newtown.  Just like it did at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Just like it does, when I read that there have actually been 74 lives lost to gun violence in schools this year.

We can no longer be afraid to look away and to believe that we can’t change the future.  The motto of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is to find a way or to make one.  We must make a way forward to protect our children.  We can start by having conversations amongst ourselves and with our students (age appropriate).  We can contact our local representatives, we can join groups like Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, and March for Our Lives.  All of these groups are doing great work, but need so much more support in terms of humans participating in order to show our leaders that we will not stand for what is happening.  

We can make a collective effort as a school whose mission it is to be a beacon of light in our area to ask for change.  We can align ourselves with other schools in the area to do the same.  We can ask that SAIS and NAIS put forth calls to support anti-gun violence legislation, such as safe gun storage laws and training for crisis teams–things that are proven to help.  We can be the change.

I do not wish to see another spring that is sprung with death and tragedy from gun violence.  

Chapel Just Blew My Mind

This post was contributed by Michelle Portera.

Lower school chapel, where have you been all my life? I went to Sunday school, VBS, and summer camp from childhood to adolescence and I can tell you honestly- I’ve learned as much or more from 1 + years of Friday chapels. I think we all agree, Rev Hailey has the gift of taking complicated theology and repackaging it in a way we can understand. I say repackaging, because she uses more than her mini sermon to teach. She incorporates art, dance, books, special guests, whatever will be most effective in keeping the attention of our youngest saints.

The simplicity of these messages reminds me of the subreddit  “Explain to me like I’m 5”. Adults, educated adults, have learning gaps, too–areas of life, especially faith,  we accept as true because asking “why?” at this point could be humiliating.

Take Mardi Gras for example. I am from Mobile, the place where Mardi Gras began. Rev Annie, I love you for saying it out loud to make sure our little ones know this. (New Orleans, much respect) I have NEVER considered Mardi Gras a spiritual practice. It was a time of year, not part of the church calendar. A season. A really fun, awesome few weeks when my mom took us to as many parades as possible and we ended up with piles of moonpies, candy, and beads. I always knew I was lucky to have a cool mom although now that I’m older, the word for her would be liberal. I was proud of my police officer dad, too, because he worked the parades, and to me, that made him kinda famous. Many of my friends had never even been to a parade since Mardi Gras was obviously of the devil. Full disclosure, there was that one time, junior year, I chose to “witness to the lost” downtown with my church group, then the next night, turned right around and went to the MOT parade. My shameful little secret.

Last month, in Hailey’s absence, Annie explained that MG is a time to get all our excitement out because we were about to enter the solemn season of Lent. I mean, I kinda knew that but it didn’t take root in my heart until she explained it like I’m pre-k3. It made perfect sense. Humans have to get their wiggles out before they can focus. Wiggles aren’t bad, but Lent just isn’t the time for them. There is growth that can only happen in such a still, reflective season. I get it, especially as a parent and teacher.

My cool mom asked me to come home for Mardi Gras this year, and the timing just wasn’t right for my family of 4. It was disappointing to decline, especially since Mardi Gras is finally back in full swing since Covid. After Friday chapel, after experiencing Mardi Gras as a spiritual practice, I’m good. I don’t need to see the dragon floats this year to feel the magic. We wore our beads and masks TO CHAPEL, people! Who knew this was ok to do?! And when we returned to class, we had king cake, straight from Gambinos!  Mind blown. Heart full. I look forward to going home for Mardi Gras next year, and it will be even more meaningful. Let the good times roll! (And don’t even feel bad about it!)