Scary, Isn’t It? Time Changes Everything…

My 9th grade Siena Honors English class just finished reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Throughout the year, they will undertake a study of the theme of survival in literature and I felt this novel, more than some of the others, would be a great way to start off the year: a little bit spooky, a possibly haunted house or a possible woman slowly battling the terrors within her mind, well it just might hook them right from the start. And hook them it did; they devoured the book, came up with some excellent comparisons between the book and some works of poetry, and then finally, worked to write a lengthy compare and contrast paper which focused on the heroine in the novel and the heroine of film from yesteryear; one that I was counting on them never having seen.  The film, PG rated, summer sleeper from 1982– Poltergeist produced by Stephen Spielberg.  And what an eye opening experience this viewing was…for myself and my 14 students.

I never thought students who are growing up in the age of CGI monsters, and American Horror Story could be spooked by this movie! Chairs piled on tables, a tree coming through the window, and some skeletons floating out of the swimming pool? We are not talking special effects that are anywhere near today’s standards. In fact, I prefaced the viewing by telling the young ladies that they were not to be nodding off or doing other work- they were to be taking notes for their major paper assignment. I need not have worried; they were riveted to the screen!  By the 2nd day, I had to preface pressing play with the warning” No screaming! No yelling!” Without meaning to; I had spooked my students.  At the final moments of the film, one young lady actually hid under her desk. When we had a discussion, the feedback I got was that it was “so spooky” and “old fashioned scary”.  I was so happy with the success of this lesson.

However, now that it is over and done and we in Siena English have moved onto another book, I have a confession of my own to make.  This was the first time I watched Poltergeist and was SCARED while watching it.  And no it was not the tree or the eerie “They’re here” moment, or even the creepy clown doll. (Clowns were scary in 82 and are scary now!) It was how “ancient” for lack of a better word some of the scenes in the film made me feel, as I had to pause to explain it to students.  They did not understand why there was no 24 hour television programming. I had to explain the old practice of TV sign offs and then the fade to static till the morning. They did not understand neighbors being on the same cable network signal; which could create havoc depending on which family wanted to watch what.  And the TV itself; a square floor model encased in a brown hutch!? They could not wrap their heads around it.

Normally, I don’t feel old, but I was five years old in 1982; when VCR’s were just coming into homes and Cable TV meant maybe you had HBO in addition to 2, 4,7, 9, 11, and 13.  I turned the knob, there was no remote! I adjusted the antennas (or my parents did) for a clearer picture. And now, 35 years later, the VCR is extinct, antennas are only found on Halloween costumes, and if there is a knob anywhere in someone’s home, it may only be on the stove.  Times change and lately, with new tech advances at our fingertips, the saying time flies has more meaning than ever.

And so, what remains the same from 1982 to now? That belief in family love and family loyalty is the same. The bond between a parent and child remains the same.  The sacrifices that parents will make when their children are sick or hurt or are in danger remain the same.  It’s nice to know that the most important things will never change, for me, for you, and for your daughters and their families someday.

Still, I can only imagine, with new advances bursting forth every day, how old I will feel when I finally let Abigail view this spooky classic and have to explain the world of 1982 to her!  I could be tempted to let her watch the remake, but, as we all know…the older, original versions are always the best…both in film, and in families!

Face Your Fear: Become Empowered

October is the month of fears and this year, we have a Friday the 13th coming up at the end of the week. GASP—that just adds to the spooky nature of the month!  And, is if that weren’t bad enough for those of us who are superstitious, I am spending that Friday the 13th and in fact the weekend, camping in a cabin on a secluded lake in Bass River State Forest. Talk about facing fear?! I drove by this cabin on a sunny day in August and even then it seemed shrouded in shadows, and looking as if Jason himself might just spring out of the woods, hockey mask gleaming in the sun. And yet, my sleeping bag is ready, my sweatshirts are packed, and I am heading out into the wild for the weekend of Friday the 13th?

Why, you ask, am I going if I am fearful of this? Well, because I am a Mom and Moms show no fear! Abigail wants to go camping and so off we go. (Lest you panic thinking I am solely supervising this outdoor excursion, my Dad is joining us and hoping some cousins will come as well!) Will she be a little nervous, as the sun sets and the moon rises? Yup! Will every crackle in the trees and snap of the twigs cause her to jump in my lap? Of course! Will her clothes smell of wood smoke and her hands become sticky with s’mores? Of this, there is no doubt! And will she have in her little mind a memory of camping with her grandfather that will live forever in her heart?  She will and that, more than any other reason is why I am facing my fear, becoming a brave Mom and camping out- for the memories it will give to Abby.

Also, because I am a teacher, I know that this experience will teach her a valuable lesson as well.  That it’s ok to be afraid, as long as you do not let fear overwhelm you. That it’s ok to be nervous about being in a new situation, as long as you recognize the strength within yourself to adjust and make a place for yourself.  For what better example can the Head of School at a school which empowers women for leadership set than to march into that cabin on Friday the 13th and face my fear?  I will work to set that example, for my own daughter and for every young woman that walks the halls of SDA each day.

WE are strong. WE are empowered. WE are brave and WE can overcome of fears because  WE believe in girls! WE believe in the fact that we can make a difference in the lives of others. That is the message of empowerment that SDA has sent forth since 1878 and that is the message I will carry with me this weekend.

That said…if I see a hockey mask anywhere near that cabin, I’m out! I may be brave but I am not crazy!

Pumpkin Spice and Prayers

October has finally arrived, hopefully bringing with it cool autumn breezes, chunky sweaters and warm boots on weekends, jewel colored leaves on trees and piles on the ground just perfect for crunching,  flickering Halloween lights and of course, pumpkin spice everything. From coffee to candy, from paint samples in Lowes to slogans on sweatshirts (and yes, I have one!) it’s that pumpkin spice season once again.  Those who don’t even like pumpkin flavored things may feel encouraged, or cajoled, (or even pressured) to purchase at least one pumpkin themed beverage in the next 31 days.

Why the infatuation with pumpkin, with fall, with fuzzy scarves and fleecy sweatshirts and football Sundays and All  Hallow’s Eve?  I do not remember this “craze” as a youngster or even as a very young adult.  Fall was just “back to school” season; uniforms, homework, sports or clubs, one show on tv and then bedtime before the routine began once again.  Maybe one pumpkin decorated the steps and a few ghosts hung from windows and maybe my mother made pumpkin pie once in October. (One October, the “scariest” of my youth, she made pumpkin stew in the actual pumpkin. My reaction when called to the dinner table that night is still remembered by my parents and brothers!!) It’s as if our society realized that we needed something to celebrate during the fall, not just that one day of October 31st, but rather a full celebration of the season, of the beauty of nature that occurs between the first day of fall and the advent (no pun intended) of the holiday season each year.  And what better iconic fall symbol to celebrate than the pumpkin?  On its own it’s a harvest symbol, carved it’s a Halloween one and for those of us who look to see the gift of God in the world around us, it can call to mind our own selves and how His hand helps to shape us daily.

For me, and for you, believing in God’s presence in your life is a little bit like being a pumpkin. He calls to you from the patch, picks you, and brings you into His presence.  His love washes away all the dirt and His grace helps you to open your heart and let go of the seeds of doubt, hate and greed.  During this autumn season, this season of pumpkin spice, allow God to carve in your soul a  new, smiling face, and allow the gift of His light to shine inside you for all the world to see.

Happy October!

The “Great Pumpkin” Time of Year

As September moves rapidly into October ( a favorite month of mine), our nightly televisions will soon be full of Halloween themed episodes, movies, and specials. A favorite each year for me, ever since I was a little girl is the classic “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”  Of course, parents when you and I were younger, we got to watch it ONCE a season when it was on network television. (Do our kids even know what network tv is? Hmm…network, is that like Netflix I can hear them asking!?) Thanks to Netflix and other wonders of technology, it can now be watched as many times as little minds want to see it. So, in my house, it has been on more than once a week since the 1st week of September, and what Abigail watches, Mommy watches too!

As such, I have become quite an “expert” in Great Pumpkin lore, as presented by Linus and his blue blanket, but today that is not what I want to talk about with you for a few moments. Today, after having watched Lucy yank that football away, call her brother a blockhead, boss the neighborhood children around on Halloween night, I want to talk about sisters; especially big sisters and what it means to be a sister! During my first viewing (this season), I thought to myself “Wow, what an awful sister that Lucy is.” And then, as I watched (and watched and watched), while I still thought she was pretty mean most of the time, I noticed a better side to her as well.

Being a big sister myself, I do know how it is possible to get frustrated by little brothers at times.  Do I recall, with some tinge of regret, yelling at my brothers during our childhood, making fun of them, bossing them around?  Yes I do. (I also recall numerous grievances heaped upon me by the two of them, but that is perhaps a tale for another time.)  And so, I can understand this cartoon girl’s frustration- she does not want her brother to get mocked for sitting in that pumpkin patch. She does not want him to miss out on trick or treating or the Halloween party. (In fact, she asks at each house for an extra piece of candy for him, calling him a blockhead while she does it!) But, because it is sometimes hard to express one’s true feelings; how does she try to ensure that he does not miss the fun of the season?  By harassing him until he sees things her way; which he never does.  Is her approach the right one? No, but it is the one she is most comfortable with, the role she knows best and so, that’s how she “cares” for him.

For those of you who have not had the chance to watch it this season, (you can message me I will give you our DVD GLADLY!), let me remind you of the end of the cartoon. It’s 4am after the fun of Halloween is over and big sister Lucy gets up to check her brother’s room.  His bed is not slept in. And so, she dons her hat and coat (and scarf…where does the Peanuts gang live if they need scarves on the first of November?) and goes out to the pumpkin patch to guide her little brother into bed. She takes off his shoes, tucks him in, and leaves and he never wakes up long enough to notice this gesture of kindness and love. I am sure most of the kids watching don’t really notice it either- they  just laugh at the idea of a kid sleeping in a pumpkin patch. But it has caught my eye again and again. This big sister really loves her brother; she cares for him but cannot fully express it.

At Saint Dominic Academy, we have worked since 1878 to build up that sense of sisterhood; that every girl who walks through the doors of the school is connected to every other girl- “spiritual siblings” to each other as they journey through high school together.  Does every girl always treat every other girl with kindness and compassion 100% of the time each and every day?  Sadly no, but as a sister, I know how much of a challenge that is.  However, in our school, there is always that sense, that feeling that every girl truly cares about every other girl’s well being. Every young lady at SDA would head out to the pumpkin patch at 4am if another girl was left there. Every SDA alumna would trek out there too to retrieve an SDA sister.  The sisterhood encompassed, not only inside the four walls, but inside the hearts of every member of the SDA family is what allows each young lady to be a big sister to every SDA girl who comes after her and a little sister to every SDA alumna who has walked the halls before her.  It’s tough to be a sister at times, isn’t it? But, I know too it is also one of the nicest things in the world to be as well!

Purple Ink…Think Positive

On our opening day of school, I had the chance to talk and share with the administration, faculty and staff my overall “theme” for the 2017-2018 school year.  This year, we are all, adults and students- making a concentrated effort to “Think Positive” and to be positive in all we say and all we do. If you will indulge me briefly this week, I will share the origin story of where I received this inspiration.

This past summer from June 25 to July 30th, Abigail was in a theater camp, putting on Willy Wonka Jr. Not my favorite show by any means(although I much prefer it to the new version on  Broadway…we saw that and were horrified by the violence depicted!)  and she played Grandma Josephina, which was interesting in and of itself.  After listening to the music daily and running lines with her each evening, the story began to grow on me.

By the time the weekend of the 4 shows ( yup FOUR with a cast ages 5-12) arrived, I was excited and sat back in my front row seat ready to listen and be entertained.  And during each show, one song and one particular line within the song kept standing out to me.  “Write your thoughts down in purple ink…think positive!”  That just stuck with me and I kept turning it over and over in my head during the month of August.

What a wonderful theme for us here, at SDA as we begin our Middle States Evaluation.  All of us, all day, every day, for this entire school year should think positive, be positive, and embrace all of the wonderful things that will happen at SDA during the next 10 months.  Let’s see how many positive thoughts we can accumulate during the year!

And, today, I am asking parents, alumnae, and readers of this blog, if you have a wonderfully positive memory or thought or story about Saint Dominic Academy, then type it out in purple ink and send it to me via email!  I will do my best to be your positive inspiration if you will be mine!

September 11, 2017

Today, I ask all of you who read this blog to take a quiet moment and read this prayer in memory of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.  For those of us who remember it well, our lives will never be the same.

Lord of Mercy, Prince of Peace,

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory. 

This day does not pass in the calendar without our remembering.

We remember images of death. Images that human eyes were never meant to see.  We remember words our ears were never meant to hear, the tender last words of husbands and wives who would never embrace again.

We imagine the feeling of emptiness in the arms of children who at the end of the day could not find mom or dad for their welcome home hug. We remember our own feelings of emptiness as our sense of security, as our own confidence in the predictable order of life and work was radically shaken.

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory. 

We remember the heroism of the many that lost their lives in saving others. We remember all those who suffered and died, we grieve for them still, friends and strangers alike, along with their families and friends.

This date, 9-11, carries a heavy burden of memory.

And it is right that it should not pass from our memory. But today and in this prayer, along with our remembrance of profound loss, it also seems right that we give voice to our deep longing for peace, and with this prayer, commit ourselves to those actions that will draw us closer to our most ancient and most holy desire, peace among all God’s children.

http://www.oldstpats.org/prayer-of-remembrance-for-911/

New Beginnings 2017

Sitting at the shore during my time away, I watched the sunsets almost every night.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with family and/or friends, but I did my best daily to stop and take a few moments as day turned to dusk to just sit, stare and gain a sense of perspective and peace.  For, with each passing sunset, I knew in my heart that summer was one day closer to ending and school was one less sunrise away.  For many of us who work in education or who have children in school, we know that our “new” year each year does not begin on January 1st, but rather on a Tuesday in September, the day after Labor Day, when a new school year kicks off.

This year is no different for me; my new year, my 2nd as Head of School will truly get under way on September 5th.  For the parents of our beloved SDA students, that new year for you and your daughters begins that same week. Whether they are joining us as 7th graders, 8th graders, 9th graders or transfers, or whether they are returning for another year with us, I know each young lady has a sense of both excitement and disquiet at what the next 10 months holds for them.  Parents, I imagine you have that same sense; although you’ve been sending your daughters’ to school much longer than I have been doing it. ( I have a 1st grader heading off on September 6th and I am not sure who is more nervous, she or I!)  You are excited for all the events and experiences that the new year will have to offer and at the same time, are nervous for those unexpected challenges that may and often do spring up, catching each of us off guard at one point or another.

And so, what can we do, you and I together, as summer draws to a close for another year?  Well, we can have faith in each other; you can know in your mind and heart that when your daughter walks into SDA this September, she will be treated with respect, compassion and understanding. She will learn to lead, she will learn to make a difference in the world.  You are entrusting me, as Head of School and all members of the SDA community with your greatest gift and we will do our best daily to make her year a wonderful one.  You can reach out, at any time, to me, to the administration, to the teachers if you have question or a concern or just want to touch base about the progression of the year. We are here for both parents and students and I hope to get to know each of you even better this year.

Most importantly, the one thing we can do to prepare for this upcoming school year and ensure its success is to pray.  And what better time to do it, (for me anyway), then at the close of each day?   I will try my best, even with the hustle and bustle of the school year, both mine and Abigail’s, to take a moment each day to stop, look, and gain a fresh perspective on all that tomorrow will offer the both of us. I encourage you and your daughters to do the same.  For, if we reflect daily on the beauty and wonder of God all around us, our days will be filled with a sense of peace, of faith and of love.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!

Summer Magic

August already!?  Where has our summer flown?  With the exception perhaps of those short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, I find that summer is the time of year that moves most quickly and leaves us longing for more time in its wake.  The month of August is a favorite of mine, (perhaps because it is Abigail’s birthday month!) and as such, I have always during my career in education, worked for most of July and taken some time during August to relax and regroup my senses for the upcoming school year.

This August is no different and, as such, I am taking a (very brief) hiatus from my weekly blog! I had no idea when I started this last September that I would have so much to say on a weekly basis. (Although, I think those who knew me well concurred I would have no trouble having a lot to say on a regular basis!)  However, the part of my brain that is always on the lookout for a new blog idea needs a bit of a rest- and from August 14-August 28, this blog will be silent and I hope that all of my weekly readers will tune back in on September 4th to hear my thoughts on starting the school year.

Before I go however, I wanted to share with you just a little of what I plan to do during my downtime in August. I know many of my readers have children and / or grandchildren and so, if there is something on my August Bucket List that inspires you, I hope you will snap a quick photo and send it to me at sdegnan@stdominicacad.com  so that I can work with our Advancement Office to create a collage of  SDA Summer Memories for our website!

And so, here is my list…

 

  • Walk on the boardwalk and watch the Ferris Wheel.
  • Play miniature golf (and let Abby win!)
  • Win a prize at the boardwalk
  • Visit a water park
  • Roast marshmallows over a fire and make s’mores
  • Make lemonade from scratch
  • Buy fresh produce at  a farm stand.
  • Eat a soft-serve vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles
  • Watch the sunset from the beach
  • Swim in a lake
  • Collect seashells/sea glass
  • Enjoy getting caught in a summer rainstorm
  • Find a shooting star
  • Read a story together each night.

If I cannot meet all of these small but highly important August goals, I can assure you that Abigail and I will work to meet as many of them as possible! It is my belief that time with family in the summer sunlight creates some of the best memories life has to offer. Happy August everyone and I will see you in September!

Reserve a Seat…Named Chairs in ELAN!

This November, when the curtain rises in ELAN, audience members will be transported back to the pre World War II days of Austria, to meet a family in desperate need of a new and loving mother. For those not familiar with this brief description, the timeless show “The Sound of Music” will be brought to life over the course of two nights by the talented young women of Saint Dominic Academy and the talented young men of Saint Peter’s Prep.

In the past few years, ELAN has been home to many a varied and magical setting; from the far off realm of OZ, to the 1930’s streets of New York City, from a wildly competitive spelling bee in Putnam County, to the island paradise from “Once On This Island.”  As we continue to expand our Dramatics program, adding a Drama class this year in addition to our Dance class that is partnered with the Jersey City Ballet Academy, it is ELAN itself that is in need of some “magic” in order to grow with our growing program.

For those who hold Saint Dominic Academy near and dear to their hearts, ELAN will always be a special and magical place; one used for assemblies, for classes at times, and for beloved gatherings with classmates during one’s time at the Academy. And, at this time, we would like to invite you to partner with us to make ELAN an even more beautiful and welcoming space, not just for our Arts programs, but as a space for all who visit SDA.

Our wonderful Parents Association spent the past two years working toward a fundraising goal to air condition ELAN.  That goal was met, and by September of 2017, the room will have air conditioning!  With that major accomplishment completed, we partnered with a generous parent volunteer to have our sound system and microphones brought up to date.  And now, we have committed ourselves to a “beautification” of this classic room; new flooring, new paint and trim, and we hope, new chairs for all of the events held in ELAN.

Today, it is my hope that you will consider making a gift toward this renovation project, as we are fully committed to seeing it through to completion by September of 2017. Any donation amount would be most gratefully accepted.  You are also invited today to consider being a “Named Sponsor” of this project. Donors of $1,000 or more will have a “named chair” in ELAN, which will be placed in the first two rows for any performance event held in our venue.

Today may be the day when you choose to leave your legacy at SDA and have a chair in our performance space named for you, a generous benefactor to your beloved school. Our Advancement Office is available to answer any questions you have about this new way to get involved and give back to SDA.

Please…make your gift to ELAN today and work with us to see the stage light up in beauty for many future performances!  

Character Counts!

Within the past 15 years, many schools, public, private and charter have spent time and resources into implementing and publicizing their “Character Education” programs.  What exactly is “character education?” may be the question in many parents’ minds.  In short, school-based character education programs are programs implemented in elementary, middle, or high schools that involve deliberate, proactive attempts to foster positive character development. Character education programs focus on instilling, teaching, or promoting a range of core values; also known more commonly as  ethical values, moral values and virtues. Character education programs are primarily designed to promote values that may be generalized across contexts.

As I read and re-read that definition, I am always surprised by how much promoting goes into a school wide “Character Education” program. Having worked for a period of years at an elementary charter school, I know well how much emphasis we put on our character education program and how much the parents valued and appreciated the program. It was indeed, a selling point of the school.  With my heart and my mind rooted in Catholic education, I cannot help but wonder: Isn’t Character Education what Catholic School has been about since its inception?

From research, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the most successful character education programs are the comprehensive ones. Comprehensive character education programs are aimed at affecting the school as a community by integrating character education into the full spectrum of school activities and school life through such means as  involvement across curricular topics, discipline practices, after-school activities, and other such school functions;  participation by teachers, principals, school staff, parents, and especially students in program design and implementation; and  multiple approaches to teaching character.  That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?  And while the definition uses a lot of buzz words and educational terms, isn’t what it’s really saying is to teach kindness, compassion, and concern for others?  Hmmm….very interesting…

Saint Dominic Academy, and all other Catholic educational institutions on both the primary and secondary level are doing this on a daily basis and have been doing it for as long as they have been established as schools.  Not only in our religious studies classes, but within the entire climate of the school, an emphasis is placed on good character, on compassion for others, on assisting the less fortune, and on the foundation that kindness does indeed count and that honesty is always the best policy. We, and indeed all Catholic schools are the “inventors” one might say of character education, because we build our educational programs around that goal, rather than incorporate that goal into our already established educational program.

I am of firm belief that parents are children’s primary moral educators. What Catholic schools have always worked to do is to ensure that the young people who pass through their doors emerge as the best they can be by creating a school environment where religious values are taught, civic virtues are expected, and good character is modeled, celebrated, and continually practiced. We have always been partners with parents on the development of moral character and that will continue to be the goal of Saint Dominic Academy and of all Catholic schools far into the future.

And so, when parents are looking for a school that teaches good character; they need look no further than Saint Dominic Academy for a strong foundation in morals, virtues and good character. We do not have a “character education program”. Rather we, at Saint Dominic Academy, develop the moral character of our young ladies at all times, in every classroom and in every aspect of our school community. Character does indeed count at Saint Dominic Academy!

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