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".

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Moon Over The Brewery

"Moon Over The Brewery" by McCanney (2011)
I just finished a series of performances at The Off-Broadstreet Theater in Bruce Graham's romantic comedy Moon Over the Brewery.

I played Randolph, the imaginary friend of a precocious teenager struggling to adjust to the changes her mother's new love interest may engender.

It was a great part.  Randolph was witty, charming and a bit bitchy. I loved stepping into his fabulous Oxfords and thigh-high boots! (Click here and here to read more about the show and our production.)

I was offered the part a few days before Christmas and the timing was perfect.  By the time I returned to work after Winter Recess the bulk of our rehearsals were behind us.  We had less than three weeks from our first read-through to the end of opening weekend. The fast pace of the rehearsal period and the relatively long run--five weekends--made it all very appealing to me.

Photo: Bob Thick
What I hadn't considered was the warm embrace of the talented cast and the unwavering support from our director and theater owners.

Their enthusiasm and love for the process of helping us understand these characters made our time together immensely enjoyable.

I recently read an interview with two-time Tony Award nominated actress Alison Fraser in which she states, "It's very exciting when creative types - writers, directors, composers - say, 'Yes, your input is valuable.  Your experience and taste are valuable to me'.  And that's part of what I bring to a project.  If I were a director, the first thing I'd say to my cast is, 'I love you, and I think you're right for this show.  You're here for a reason.'"

That is exactly how I felt.



Even when I doubted myself.

Last night I spoke with our director, Kathy Garofano, about Alison's words and about the fact that before every show she would remind us to "Have fun!"

I am grateful for that.

It was nice to remember why I fell in love with performing in the first place.  And it was an honor to do it in such fine company.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gung Hay Fat Choy

I am totally enamored with Chinese New Year. It is a time of celebration and renewal wrapped around a fantastic tradition steeped in imaginative, magical mythology.

What's not to love?

This year, for the first time, I brought my first grade students to visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) for  a guided tour led by a museum educator which provided a small taste of the incredible Chinese culture.

The program included an "exploration of the exhibit and hands-on activities to allow students to experience history from primary sources".

Our experience began with an explanation of the lunar calendar upon which the celebration is based.  Oh, that old devil moon keeps us on our toes.  The calendar is ever shifting according to the cycle of the new moon.  This can make it difficult for the uninitiated (like me) to figure out if I am rabbit or a tiger.  The description of the tiger fits better but I think I am actually a rabbit.

We spent the 75 minutes learning about the significance and symbolism of lanterns, dragons, lions, colors (red, gold), food (Mandarin oranges, apples, fish), flowers, red envelopes, fireworks, Chinese astrology, the zodiac, decorations, music, dance and family.

Students taking notes and making observational drawings.

In class, we read wonderful stories about the great race the animals competed in at the emperor's request to earn a place in the zodiac.

A particular favorite is Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Ed Young.  The children also enjoyed The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine and Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin.

It was a day to honor the past and welcome the future.

And it gave us an opportunity to sweep our classroom clean of the old year and prepare for happy times.  On a day where your actions set the stage for the coming year, I was happy to witness a group of kindhearted, loving children.

Their actions let me know that it's going to be a good year.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Data Collection


Data collection for my doctoral research on reading assessments used with children who are deaf and hard of hearing is just about complete!

I am eternally grateful to the teachers, district superintendents, school principals, academic directors and generous researchers who have supported my work. The aforementioned have helped spread the word and/or given their precious time to complete my short online survey.

Originally, I optimistically anticipated I could generate over 100 responses in just four weeks. In reality it has taken about 16 weeks to reach that goal. The process of spreading the word has been an involved and time consuming task.

It has also been quite amazing. I have not started the process of formal data analysis but the surveys and interviews have given me much to ponder. It is an exciting time!

I anticipate closing the survey on February 14, 2014 - a personal Valentine to myself.  This means there is still time for anyone who meets the criteria to participate.

Qualifications to participate in this study are:
  1. Teachers currently working with K-5 students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
  2. Teachers working within the Northeast Region of the United States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.
  3. Teachers involved with teaching and assessing reading development for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
If that is you (or someone you know) please take 10 -15 minutes to complete the survey.  The link can be found here.

Finally, a big THANK YOU to my wonderful coteacher Oni for helping me create this short ASL video to promote the survey.  Ain't she sweet?



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