Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Doctor is in!

It has been an exhausting few days with much to celebrate...

On Monday I successfully defended my dissertation and then celebrated my birthday the very next day.  I couldn't have given myself a better birthday gift than to add those three simple letters after my name, Ph.D!

I am so blessed by the outpouring of support and love from those around me.

It's bliss!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Headless Horseman is such a fantastic visual - scary, beautiful, and compelling - I adore it.

This terrifying (and evidently amusing) tale has captured the imaginations of our first grade students.

Ever since we read it to them last week they have been acting it out on the playground, building the drowsy, dreamy landscape of Sleepy Hollow in the block area and asking over and over to borrow my only copy of the book (we read the Step Into Reading version).  The names Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel and Brom Bones are uttered on a daily basis.

So, when it came time to think of a pumpkin decorating idea for our school's annual pumpkin contest it came as no surprise that the children wanted a Headless Horseman pumpkin.  Hmmm...what would that look like?  After some experimentation it was decided that we would keep the pumpkin itself rather simple (painted midnight blue to resemble Ichabod's midnight encounter at the church bridge and an image of the Headless Horseman) but create a book to accompany our pumpkin.

The book is below.  The drawings and text are fully credited to our first grade class.  It is interesting to see which bits really stood out for them.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Upside Down

Things have been wonderfully "Upside Down" since my last post - school started again (my 19th year!) and I completed my dissertation (my defense will take place on November 3rd!).

I anticipate a rebirth of this blog after graduation but in the meanwhile I wanted to share some of my favorite Halloween books (see sidebar) and repost the video (Upside Down by Jack Johnson) that kicked off this blog back in 2007.

Who's to say
I can't do everything
Well I can try
And as I roll along I begin to find
Things aren't always just what they seem.

I'll share this love I find with everyone
We'll sing and dance to Mother Nature's songs
I don't want this feeling to go away.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Featured Blogger

The folks over at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids website have selected me as their featured blogger.  Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids is an expansion of and is "a place for the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate".

They wrote some really nice stuff about me and Follow Your Bliss so if you have a moment please click on the link above and check it (and them) out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I had romantic notions of a Hemingwayesque summer filled with a disciplined balance of writing all morning and replenishing the spirit late in the afternoon.

But, I am not Hemingway.

The mornings are too full of distractions.  The sunlight calls to me during the day and it is a struggle to ignore it.  Avoidance leads to inertia. I've spent days refusing to commit to not committing. When that happens, nothing is accomplished.

It turns out my work habits are better suited towards how I imagine Edgar Allen Poe must have worked.  I am most productive when it is dark and everyone has gone to bed.  Distractions cease and I no longer feel as though I am missing something beautiful.

I am a whiz from midnight to four a.m.

I may not have had the most adventurous summer but with my rhythm established it has been productive.  I completed data analysis in July and am currently on track to eek out a completed draft of my dissertation within the next month.


I see some late nights in my near future.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Be Filled With Love

The notes we get from our students during the last days of the school year are truly precious.  We had some touching sentiments and beautiful words of thanks but nothing struck me quite as deeply as this one from a 6-year-old who is clearly going on 40.

"Dear Gary and Oni,
I will miss you very much but always remember eat healthy and be filled with love and care.
From, Lina"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Top Ten 2013 - 2014

It is with great pleasure that I share the top ten books for the 2013-2014 school year.

Our first grade students diligently and thoughtfully compiled a list of all their favorite stories. The books with the most votes made it into the Top Ten.

The process began with a discussion of the rules.  First, the book must be one that was introduced this school year.  That meant Curious George was ineligible for consideration (although the little monkey did appear on most lists anyway).  Second, each title had to be one that we experienced together.  This meant personal favorites, read alone, were disqualified.  Third, each student must support his or her opinion with a reason.  "I like it because I like it" simply didn't make the cut.

I was thrilled to see that when all of the choices were voted on and tallied, we had six books in the top ten representing Greek Mythology. These kids certainly know how to identify a good yarn.

The Number One selection was Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas.  We read this book after the children already had amassed a great deal of knowledge about Zeus.  This fresh perspective on a character they had grown to love provided a sense of connection.  "Zeus was a little kid too?!"

The book contains a lot of details and backstory of the Gods and Goddesses presented in a fun, accessible way.  It was the perfect way to cap off our study of the Greeks and I am not surprised it came out on top.  Camella wrote, "I like Young Zeus because I was happy when he got to see his brothers and sisters".

Lyana's rendering of the cover art for "Young Zeus"

The Number Two choice was Exclamation Mark! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.

This is a bright, happy book about the journey of self acceptance.

Although it certainly works on that deeper level, it is also perfect for teaching young children the proper usage of an exclamation point...and a question mark.  The authors make their point in simple, clear terms that are extremely engaging.  A touch of humor is never a bad idea in a children's book.

Leo wrote, "I liked this book because it taught me some punctuation and it made me laugh".

Joe thought the book "was so good when the ! said 'Hi!' and the ? went 'Who are you?'"

Number Three is a favorite whose author, the incredible Todd Parr,  has been represented on the Top Ten since 2006.  However, this is the first time that Otto has a Birthday Party made an appearance.

We read this book at every birthday celebration, including mine!

Cristina wrote, "I like this book because Otto makes a cake and that is my favorite!  Otto makes a mistake like me.  That's the same as me!" (Notice her use of the exclamation point...see above)

Lina wrote, "My favorite part was when the mud splattered all over Otto.  Read this book because you will laugh a lot".

And she is right, you will laugh a lot!  Click on the book title above to watch Todd read the book and find out for yourself.

Cristina shows Otto baking his birthday cake.  "Yay, Otto."

We got into a bit of a gray area with Number Four.  This is where the line between favorite story and favorite book began to blur a little.

The kids loved, loved, loved the story of Medusa but we told and read about her using many different sources (including the 1981 movie masterpiece Clash of the Titans).

We decided to go with Medusa (World Mythology) by Xavier W. Niz for our list because we used it quite frequently in the classroom.  What I adore most about the Medusa story this year is that the children actually had sympathy for her because they knew how she was just a casualty in Poseidon's game of life and love.

The Gods and Goddesses (I'm looking at you Athena) can be quite vengeful when they want to be.  And there are two sides to every argument.  It's a good lesson to learn in first grade.

The kids had quite a bit to share about the snake-haired Gorgon.

Emily wrote, "I like Medusa because she has snake hair and she is spooky.  Example: Her eyes make you turn into a stone.  And that's why I like Medusa.  The End."

"I think Medusa is scary.  Medusa is scary because she has snakes for hair.
If you look into her eyes you will turn to stone.  That is why Medusa is so scary".

Samantha wrote, "I think Medusa is interesting because she has snakes for hair.  My first reason is that Pegasus comes out of Medusa's body.  My second reason is that her snakes say, 'Hiss Hiss' and that is scary.  My third reason is that when you look into Medusa's eyes you turn to stone.  My fourth reason is that her blood is so hot you can get a burn and you would say, 'Ow'.  My fifth reason is she slithers like a snake and it scares me.  My sixth reason is I like where she lives in a cave.  Outside of her cave there are statues of people and animals.  That's why I think Medusa is interesting."

We were ushered back to the cooler days of winter with the Number Five pick.

I was a little surprised to see Margaret Moorman's Light the Lights! A story about celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas in the running.  It is a fantastic book but by the end of June it had been six months since we read it.  It may have helped that the main character is named Emma.  That obviously struck a chord with our Emma.

She wrote, "I liked this book because the book make me remember about Hanukkah.  And lighting my families candles together".

Samantha wrote, "I think it was interesting because I like learning about Hanukkah. And I think you will too".

Speaking of vengeful goddesses, Athena is at it again in the Number Six selection, Why Spiders Spin: A Story of Arachne retold by Jamie and Scott Simons with pictures by Deborah Winograd.

In this tale however, Arachne is kinda asking for it.  Here is a lesson in humility if ever there was one.

Natalie gave it high praise when she wrote, "It is not boring.  It has details".

Emily gets right to the point.  "My favorite part was when Arachne turned into a spider because it was cool." Indeed!

It's best not to mess with Athena!

Let's Go, Pegasus! A Greek Myth retold and illustrated by Jean Marzollo enters the list at Number Seven.

This is a wonderful book to introduce the myth of Medusa and Perseus.  All of the important characters (Athena, Hermes, Pegasus) are there and it provides an easily accessible, colorful retelling that is a bit playful.

Joe captures Medusa at a quiet moment
We used the many faces of Medusa illustrated on the end pages to launch our own art project about how to visualize Medusa. The children created incredible art using soft aluminum squares and wooden sticks.

I couldn't get some of the haunting images out of my head.

Poseidon may have given up the Number One spot to his little brother but he pushed his way into the Top Ten at Number Eight.

Poseidon: Earth Shaker by author/illustrator George O'Connor is part of the New York Times Bestselling Olympians Series.

I must admit that Poseidon is my favorite Greek God and this book includes many mesmerizing tales including Theseus and the Minotaur (see our Number Ten pick).

The illustrations are alive and vibrant and the storytelling top notch. I also love the author's note and other cool information at the back of the graphic novel.

I am eagerly awaiting the Olympians poster (To be released in October with the Boxed Set).

The Number Nine book was Our World in Space: Planets by Erin Dealey.  Oddly enough I cannot find any information about this book on the Internet.  It appears to only exist as part of our reading curriculum, ReadyGen.  Hmmm...

It is the only nonfiction selection on our Top Ten and a worthy addition.  But, good luck finding it.

The planets rendered in Play-Doh with a plastic orange sun.

Rounding out the Top Ten is Theseus and the Minotaur (Graphic Greek Myths and Legends) by Gilly Cameron Cooper.

This, like the story of Medusa, is another example of blurred lines between the story and the book.  This story was first told to our class by Sara, our librarian.  She created a visceral experience for the children who struggled to find their way out of a makeshift labyrinth using Ariadne's magical ball of thread.  The Minotaur himself is a powerful figure not easily dismissed.

It wasn't until after her retelling that we dove into artwork, illustrations and books to explore the topic even further.

We chose this book by Gilly Cameron Cooper but any of the related titles in our Greek Mythology bookbin, including Theseus and the Minotaur by Scott R. Welvaert, could just as easily been substituted.

So, there it is!  Our Top Ten list for 2013 - 2014.

I wonder what next year will bring.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Coolest Heracles Ever!

Joe as Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules, Alcides and "the glory of Hera")

Our little Gods and Goddesses requested that today - their final day of first grade - be spent entirely on Greek Mythology.

We were more than happy to oblige.

This year we read, retold and acted out many Greek myths as students fought over chose favorite characters to dramatize. Popular figures included Athena, Andromeda, Perseus, Poseidon, Zeus, Hades, Persephone, Odysseus, and Hera.

But none proved more riveting than Heracles and his twelve labors.

In anticipation of our day, Joe entered this morning decked out in full Heracles attire (sans the pelt of the Nemean Lion).  He told us he stayed up past 9:00 last night working on his sword and shield, although my favorite part is the Ruffles potato chip bag wrist guards.

The story of Heracles is expertly
told in Hera by George O'Connor
So, we happily spent our morning reading The Twelve Labors of Hercules whilst the children challenged this text for not providing the proper background and motivation behind the story.

They learned those details from the magnificent George O'Connor and his exquisite Olympians graphic novel book series.

As our final day together drew to a close our impressive students selected one labor (the capture of the Cretan Bull) to act out.  They worked together to assign roles and create the setting before packing up for a final goodbye.

As they lined up for dismissal our young Heracules became a sensitive little boy once again. He hugged me for a really long time and told me he is going to miss me.

I will miss him too.

I will miss all of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Those Who Open Our Eyes

Many times in my life  I have fallen in love with the works of a brilliant playwright, author, philosopher, educator or actor only to realize that they have shuffled off this mortal coil.

And sometimes they were walking towards the exit just as I entered.  It's as if I looked down to discover the cigarette still burning but found myself in an empty room.

It was that way with Tennessee Williams.  I became addicted to his work and life in the autumn of 1983 only to realize he had died earlier that same year.  That realization hit hard because I imagined us sipping cocktails together in Key West whilst he shamelessly flirted and regaled me with stories of southern women and lobotomies.

I also missed out on a walk through Chartres Cathedral with Joseph Campbell, a dinner party with Laurence Olivier, and a fireside chat with Charles Dickens (although his cigarette was ash long before my obsession kicked in).

However, with Dr. Maxine Greene I got it right!

Recently I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop with Dr. Greene through The Academy for Teachers (which I wrote about here).

Yesterday I received an email informing me of the sad news of her passing.  It turns out that her talk with us was her last.  And so ends a life of "passionate purpose".

I feel fortunate that I was able to hold her hand and look into her eyes to thank her for honoring teachers.  When she looked back at me it was with sincere gratitude for the work that I do, for the work all teachers are doing.  She said it was our work that informed and enriched hers.

At 96, she had such palpable passion and energy.  I was moved by the fact that she wanted to keep the conversation going and looked forward to conversing through emails.  Although her aging body was betraying her, her mind stayed sharp.  

Maxine Greene always seemed to be looking for a challenge, to find the places of discomfort and unrest so the struggle could bring a new level of understanding.

That workshop was an inspiration.

I look forward to continuing to learn more about her work and remain grateful that I didn't miss an opportunity to spend time with this incredible woman.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Making Books with Kids

Once upon a time teachers had many opportunities to share ideas through professional development, scheduled classroom visits, weekly grade meetings and creative bulletin board displays.

Nowadays, professional development is virtually nonexistent, classroom visits are not encouraged, grade meetings are a historical relic and bulletin boards have become a meaningless chore.

But thankfully educators (and parents) are a tenacious crew. We've found other ways share ideas?  One way is through the blogosphere.

Last week I read a post in HALLWAYSKIRSTEN about a beautiful project that unfolded just downstairs and down the hall from my classroom.

Who knew?

The project--Making Books WITH Kids--was a collaboration between an amazing kindergarten teacher and a motivated parent.  In her post, Kirsten meticulously documents the process from inception to publication.

I applaud Kirsten, Michelle and all of the young writers.

Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


3 Bros - Zeus, Poseidon and Hades

I moved from Semi-Finalist to Finalist in the Big Apple Awards recognizing teacher excellence in New York City.  Yesterday I participated in the final step of the selection process, a classroom visit.

I was excited to welcome the two representatives from the awards committee and eager to share my incredible students with them. But observations are tricky and stressful.  How do you encapsulate the day-to-day brilliance of an amazing bunch of insightful, inquisitive children in a mere snapshot?

It's like our class visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  There are so many treasures to see but it is impossible to take them all in with just one morning.  We must focus our exploration and settle for a limited taste, trusting that there are many wonders left to behold.

As I designed my lesson I had to ponder which elements to include and which to sacrifice. I opted to create a lesson that was unique to me--not one from our scripted curriculum--showcasing our learning while meeting the demands of the Common Core. I decided to teach a writing lesson with the objective, "Students will use adjectives to write vivid descriptions of characters from Greek mythology".

We started with a group lesson reviewing and charting the characters from Greek mythology on a semantic web with time for the students to do a turn-and-talk.  Then we used adjectives to describe our latest hero, Hercules. Our six-year-old Hercules was a little demonstrative in his show of strength but we eventually got back on track.

Next, we broke off into differentiated small groups specifically targeted to match the various developmental levels of the children. After about 20 minutes we reconvened for a share which included time for feedback and praise.  This is one of my favorite activities because the students take control of the discussion and always have the most insightful, helpful things to say to one another about the work.  For example, "I really like your story but I think you could add more descriptions because I didn't really visualize what you were writing about".  BAM!

It all went relatively smoothly but the whole time I was too much in my head.  I over-analyzed everything taking mental notes on how this or that could have been improved.  I lacked a bit of the high energy delight in my students that I usually have because of the pressure of "performing".  And the kids were a little more cranky than normal.

Hopefully our visitors enjoyed the tour of our treasure-filled classroom and realize there are many, many wonders left unseen.  I should know in a few weeks when the recipients are announced. Fingers crossed.

Update - Alas, my "candidacy was not selected for one of the Big Apple Awards this year".  Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Aesthetic Education

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso
with words from Wallace Stevens'
The Man with the Blue Guitar
It was my great privilege yesterday to attend a workshop at Lincoln Center with the legendary Maxine Greene.  She is Philosopher Emeritus of Lincoln Center Education and founder of The Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination.

At 96, Dr. Greene is still an active force readily inspiring those around her.  She spoke of the tenets of John Dewey's work and how an electrifying connection with a work of art can help "open up new experiential possibilities".

During her presentation and in our conversation afterwards, I was struck by her genuine interest in education and in those of us who teach.  She repeatedly expressed a desire to foster a dialogue so her own understanding would continue to evolve.

Never satisfied, she encouraged us to push against the boundaries of what is comfortable and to live in the question (I am not sure exactly what that means but I suspect it is that childlike place of wonder coupled with an adult sensibility of reflection).

In her 2001 publication Variations on a Blue Guitar she writes about art, "The attention we offer, the rapt attention--taking time, being quiet--is very different from a practical, utilitarian, consumerist approach, one taken far too often in the presence of works of art.  I am sure you know what I mean; the going to ballet because good, sophisticated, prosperous New Yorkers go to the ballet so that, in some sense, they can tell themselves they have had the ballet, the way some people say they have done Paris. I am sure there are people who look at paintings and try to figure out what they cost or if they will fit over the living-room couch.  Again, we do not want to use or to classify or to consume works of art.  We want to encounter them and to realize, when doing so, that it is a free act. Only as a free act does an encounter have the possibility of becoming what we would call aesthetic".

The day was designed to deepen our understanding and allow us to see how we can incorporate aesthetic education into our daily practice despite the current educational climate of conformity and blankness.

I already happily dance in this space, somewhat, but accept the challenge to bring more beauty, wonder and connection to my students though art in all its forms.

Thank you to The Academy for Teachers for hosting an incredible day of discovery.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Big Apple Teacher Awards

Teaching is a quiet profession.

It's an accumulation of days.

It's showing up.

It's the daily opportunity to facilitate the building of knowledge through exploration and perseverance.

It's the joyful interaction and exchange of ideas with students when the class is engaged in meaningful learning.  The moments when I think there is no where else on earth I would rather be and nothing else I would rather be doing.  Those times are amazing.

The other side of that is dealing with the administrative duties and excessive paperwork that takes us away from the students.  All of the measures created to hold us "accountable" because otherwise we'd be doing...whatever it is untrusting, micromanaging administrators imagine.

Teachers quietly revel in the magical moments and patiently endure the bureaucratic hammering.

But sometimes our leaders see fit to give a little pat on the back for a job well done.  The New York City Department of Education created the Big Apple Awards last year to recognize teacher excellence. This year I was nominated along with over 3,200 teachers for this honor.  I have no idea who nominated me but whoever it was must have written a fantastic recommendation letter because I was selected to apply for the award (along with 500 other educators).

The application required a written response to four questions and two letters of recommendation (from a co worker and an administrator).

That went well and I was selected as a semi-finalist.  The 100 semi-finalists had to appear for a 25-minute interview.  I had my interview on Monday.  I think it went well but these things are so subjective.

As a researcher, my inner voice kept commenting on the conduct of my interviewers.  I wondered what training they were given for this and if there were key words/phrases they were looking for.  Who knows?  I felt that I was passionate, confident and articulate.

We'll see.

I would love to be selected because the award recipients serve as education ambassadors.  Lord knows, I have a lot to say.

But, as the woman sitting next to me waiting to be interviewed stated, "It is an honor to be recognized whether it ends here or not".

It is indeed!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Greek Mythology at the Met!

Sarcophagus with garlands and the myth of Theseus and Ariadne
I couldn't wait to bring my first grade students to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore Greek Mythology through art.  

I knew it would be an amazing experience because we have been studying the stories for a while and I secured an incredibly patient and knowledgeable docent, Patrizia, to usher us through the morning. 

 We weren't disappointed. 

It turns out that the museum has created an art adventure entitled Percy Jackson & The Olympians based on the book The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  Each child was given a treasure map with keepsake cards containing pictures and facts about the Greek, Roman and European art as well as quotes from the book.  
It was fun to watch slightly surprised and impressed tourists gather around our students as they expertly answered Patrizia's questions and retold the stories with confidence and excitement.  

Patrizia gave us a wonderful Mythology Fandex to take back to the classroom and a free Family Pass for each child.  

When we returned to school the exhausted children wrote beautiful narratives about the experience.  

There is nothing quite like the thrill of experiencing New York City with a bunch of 6-year-olds!  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Step on a Crack

My mom suffered two compression fractures to her lower back recently due to osteoporosis, hard work and aging.

This woman who never sits still has become a bit more deliberate and conservative with her movements but her indomitable spirit remains intact.

Still, we are all a little freaked out by the realities of growing older and the fragility of life.

Thank goodness schools were closed for spring break last week. The worry, coupled with my active imagination, got the best of me and after a night of distressing dreams I woke up determined to see my parents.  I quickly packed a bag and hopped in my car for the 16-hour drive south.

The two day visit did much to alleviate my immediate concerns and lift spirits.  Now the healing -- of mind, body and spirit -- begins. For the next 8 weeks she needs to wear an uncomfortable back brace which, so far,  seems to be causing more pain than comfort.

From now on I will watch carefully before I step!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Blimey the Leprechaun broke into our classroom on St. Patrick's Day and made a huge mess!

He even left a taunting note for the children to read.

They were not amused!

Upon seeing the destruction one exasperated little girl moaned with dramatic flair, "HE RUINED MY ENTIRE LIFE!"

She also suggested we behead him or pull him by the hair...a wee bit imaginative I suppose, but putting the room back together did take quite a while.

We asked the children what we should do.  There were many suggestions that involved setting a trap to catch Blimey in the act of being naughty.  So, they split up into small groups to construct a plan and execute the trap.

We were certainly impressed with their creativity!

"I will get you for this!"
One group suggested making a mock food table to tempt Blimey into the area so he would slip on pieces of colored construction paper. That would result in him tripping over the trigger line holding an overhead blanket and violá.  We got him!

There were many creative ideas but the one Blimey fell for was the trap above the rocking chair. He couldn't resist sitting there with a book and when he did...BAM!

Blimey did learn his lesson.  He wrote a letter of apology and left a few gifts for the children who instantly forgave him.  The enraged little girl from the morning went to Oni and quietly said, "I miss him. He was fun."


This post was written in conjunction with Onudeah (Oni) Nicolarakis, my team teacher extraordinaire!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Minotaur

"What?  I'm just standing here."
I can't even get over how adorable this Minotaur is, just standing there with wide-eyed perplexity wondering why everybody is staring at him.  I can hear him muttering, "Huh?"

This was a homework assignment in which we asked our first graders to draw a picture of the Minotaur.  We told them the story of Theseus and the Minotaur that afternoon.  They were asked to include details (notice the smoke coming out of his nostrils, the labyrinth surrounding him, the large horns on his bull head, the human form WITH SHOES!).  She even provided a reason and an example to support her opinion.  "Reason: He is evil.  Example: He could make you die."

It slays me!

We told the kids that they would vote on their favorite picture and it would be featured on the school website in our class page.  This picture didn't get the popular vote despite my best efforts.

The picture on the left came out on top.  It has some fine qualities but it doesn't make me laugh the way the other picture does.

It is obvious that both girls were paying careful attention to the story as it unfolded. The Greeks could really spin a yarn.

Later we looked at some drawing of the Minotaur in several books to see how others envisioned him.

The favorites included the Minotaur in Z is for Zeus: A Greek Mythology Alphabet by Helen L. Wilbur and Theseus and the Minotaur (Graphic Greek Myths and Legends) by Gilly Cameron Cooper.

I can't wait to see how they draw the Cyclops Polyphemus.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Døveskoler (Deaf Schools)

Students sharing a book in the reading nook.
Interesting stories are everywhere.

You just need to know where to focus your attention.

About three years ago a documentary film maker wondered if there was a story to be told at my school.

He arranged a visit to see if he could fashion a film around our unique setting. After spending some time in my classroom and talking with us, he felt certain there was indeed a story.

However, it was not one he could tell.  He simply couldn't decide where to look.

Happily, this wasn't the case when we were visited late last year by a crew of Danish filmmakers eager to capture our story.

Through interviews with students, teachers, parents and administrators they highlighted the joys and challenges inherent in educating deaf and hard of hearing children at a dual language (American Sign Language and English) school.

The part I found most fascinating during this experience was watching the cameraman.  Where did he point his camera?  And through his lens I began to see things I see everyday with fresh eyes.

I followed his gaze to a group of children sharing a book in our reading nook and thought, "Yes, that a story right there!"  What would I think about these children and the classroom environment if I only had this picture to go on?  It really does speak volumes about their ability to share, to learn, to engage, to focus.

In the thirteen minute film below I throughly enjoyed seeing how the camera focused on the small moments in the classroom.  The hands fingerspelling a word.  The inquisitive faces of the children. The motion and energy of the school.  Although the film is in Danish and sign language these things are universal.

I am grateful that it taught me, once again, where to look.

It turns out I am surrounded by some pretty amazing things.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The CookShop Classroom

Oni mixing the broccoli and cauliflower
confetti salad
Our latest school partnership is with the Food Bank for New York City and their CookShop program for nutrition education.

The program has me feeling a tinge guilty for the many years I spent promoting unhealthy food choices in Kindergarten Cafe.


Our preschool through second grade classes have incorporated CookShop lessons into the curriculum. CookShop "teaches cooking skills and nutrition information and fosters enthusiasm for fresh, affordable fruits, vegetables and other whole foods".

Their philosophy, as I understand it, is that food is fuel.  Unhealthy sugary foods generally provide a short rush of energy with an inevitable crash. Healthy foods keep the mind and body going.  This sustained energy allows children to focus on their work and become fruitful members of society.  It is long-term thinking.

Obesity and diet-related diseases continue to soar.  The Cookshop program hopes to ameliorate the situation.

After I attended the CookShop training a huge locker of supplies arrived.  They provided us with sundry kitchen items, from a can opener, knives and bowls to disposable items like plastic forks and cups.  Every three weeks we get a food delivery containing the ingredients for our Cookshop Chef Lessons.  It is very exciting!

Our latest recipe was Broccoli and Cauliflower Confetti Salad made with cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, corn, salt, honey, deli mustard and olive oil.

We teach the children how to safely use a knife to "saw" vegetables and fruits

I think the folks at the Food Bank would have been proud when it came time for "1, 2, 3, taste".  One little girl shared, "I thought it was going to be disgusting but it is delicious!"

And it was, it really was.

Go figure!

(Although I think I would still prefer a mid-afternoon cake pop.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Culture of Safety

The snow covered playground at Madison Square Park in New York City.

It is not exactly a newsflash to report that it has been one hell of a winter.

We've been bombarded by so much snow that even the little kid in me is screaming, "Enough!"

More importantly, the adult that I am is left scratching my head wondering at the Mayor's decision (past and present) to keep NYC public schools open when everyone around us closes due to inclement weather.

Former Mayor Bloomberg rationalized keeping schools open because parents need to work.  He seemed to publicly contemplate, "Who will watch the children on such short notice?"

Current Mayor Bill De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina posited that schools must stay open because otherwise children wouldn't have a hot meal.

There was some lip service paid to keeping children safe but they ultimately decided that safety was a parental prerogative.

On Wednesday night, before the last big storm hit, I attended choir practice where the weather was the central topic of conversation. Local schools in Trenton were already closed in anticipation of the onslaught. We talked about the fact that NYC public schools rarely close.  Our organist--an amazingly talented young woman who works as a nurse--was outraged by this because she has witnessed firsthand the consequences the lack of precaution has wrought.

She argued that we must foster a "culture of safety" instead of applauding individuals who brave the storm to get to work.  I thought of the postings in my school thanking everyone who fought the elements to come in during the blizzard.

Then she told the heartbreaking story of cardiothoracic surgeon who was one of the "heroes" until he slipped on the ice and suffered brain damage as a result.  He was never able to practice again and now spends his days in and out of a lucidity.

I couldn't get to work the next day due to the fact that I live about two hours away and commuting was out of the question.

When I returned on Friday I heard that a school bus carrying children to our school was in an accident.  The bus hit a guard rail because the roads were covered in ice and the driver couldn't stop the bus from skidding.

One little girl slammed her head into the seat in front of her causing her glasses to push into her face.  Her sister told me she is okay but her eyes are bothering her now and she has "marks" on her nose.

The news was filled with similar stories.

We always tell the children that our main priority is to keep them safe.

Is it?

Sometimes I question the decisions of those in charge and hope that they see schools as more than a babysitting service with a meal plan.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"I am the rock, you are the chain"

Andromeda and the Sea Monster
by Domenico Guidi, 1694
And so it begins...

We started teaching our first grade students those incredible Greek myths last week.

I always begin with Perseus and Medusa because it is a fantastic story that never fails to ignite the imagination.

Children love to dwell in that space of secure horror.  They know that the myths are not real but relish the possibility that perhaps Medusa may be lurking around the corners of their bedroom at night.  And they delight in the fact that they can defeat her.

It has been well documented that children play to understand the world and to cope with emotions.

We have certainly witnessed this firsthand in the dramatic reenactments our students enthusiastically presented for us.  On Friday they asked my coteacher Oni and I if they could act out the story for us.

Each child had a role.  There were the usual suspects, Medusa, Andromeda, Perseus, the sea monster, Cassiopeia, Athena, Pegasus, Hermes, etc. but once those all-stars were assigned the children got creative.  One girl happily became the rock Andromeda sits on whilst awaiting her imminent fate and another assumed the role of the chains Andromeda struggles against as the monster approaches.

It amazed me that in their eyes each role was equally important.

Talk about team work.

What an amazing group of children!

The impressive aspect of all this is that we haven't even finished telling the story.  At least not in detail and certainly not with the various twists and embellishments that have come with centuries of storytelling.

It makes me think of good 'ol Joe who wrote, "Living myths are not invented but occur, and are recognized by seers and poets, to be then cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual (i.e., psychological) well-being".


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