Our Prayers Go Out…

I remember Columbine…I remember Virginia Tech…I remember Sandy Hook. I remember the others, too numerous to name. My heart is heavy, as is the heart of every parent, every educator and everyone who has been too close to a tragic incident such as the one that occurred last Wednesday in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Today, I ask for your prayers as Saint Dominic Academy continues to pray for those in Florida who are mourning the loss of 17 young lives due to senseless violence.  Together, let us as for God’s grace and turn our heavy hearts to His wisdom for comfort.

And so we pray for our children and for all children…

 

May the light of God surround you…

May the love of God enfold you…

May the power of God protect you…

May God place His hands upon you…

May the presence of God watch over you…

Wherever you are, God is.

Amen

Blind Dates…

And here we are; the week leading up to Valentine’s Day!  Love is in the air, with pink and red satin hearts on display in every store I enter (and they’ve been out since December 26th, am I right?), my inboxes jammed with offers from Pro Flowers, Shari’s Berries and any other floral/candy company I have ever purchased anything from, and Party City wants to help me have a “LOVE-LY” day! NJ Monthly Magazine is giving me tips on the best date plans for Valentines’ Day and NJ Family Magazine is advising me of all the ways to make the day wonderful and magical for my Abigail. I’ve received emails about wine and chocolate pairings, bonfires and brew nights, whiskey and candy flights- I even got a list of how to pair Girl Scout cookies with wine for a Valentine’s Day celebration.

What do I want to say to all of these well intentioned (sarcasm, much?) advertisers regarding this over abundance of sweet suggestions?  Well, February 14th is a Wednesday night, the start of Lent, and, let us not forget…A SCHOOL NIGHT!  So, unless Abigail’s teacher is waving the weekly 12 spelling sentences that are assigned each Wednesday, I pretty much know what I’ll be doing on February 14th, and I am doubting it’s going to involve whiskey. (Although, those spelling words are getting harder…) All jokes aside, I do appreciate all the extra love in the world on 2/14 each year, I helped Abby make homemade cards for her class, I made sure to send my nieces and nephew a little something, and I have a Hocus Pocus fleece throw and a Porg from The Last Jedi all wrapped in red to give to my little sweetheart on Valentine’s morning. (Abby loves Star Wars and Halloween, so she will truly love her gifts!)

Working in an all girls school and having attended an all girls school however does make me sensitive to those young ladies who many not be receiving candy or roses on this particular day.  And so, this year, I have come up with a solution for my Siena Honors English class…in order to ENSURE that each of them has a date on Valentine’s Day.  Yes, this teacher/Head of School will be bringing 14 dates to English class that morning, so each young lady can choose who she wants to go on a blind date with that evening.

Parents, don’t pick up the phone yet to call my office and ask if I have lost my mind from eating too much candy.  My students are going on a Blind Date With A Book  from February 14th to February 28th. A Blind Date with a Book is a hand wrapped book, carefully curated from a wide range of popular genres that is tagged with intriguing clues alluding to the book inside. I along with my partner in arranging blind dates (my mom, a former English teacher and principal herself), have selected 14 works that we truly hope the young ladies will read and enjoy.   

For the duration of the assignment, students will be reading and writing reflections with headings such as “First Impressions”,  “ Appetizers”  “The Main Course” and “Would You Go Out Again” (meaning, would you read another book by the author?) Then, the students will carefully repackage their “dates” and gift another SDA lady with a Blind Date With A Book. This Valentine’s Day, my 9th graders and I are going to work to spread the love…of reading that is!

And parents, if you’re looking to get involved, check out this amazing website, https://blinddatewithabook.com/pages/about-us.  I may just have plans on Valentine’s Day after all…I wonder if they deliver to my Kindle!

Upgrades!

A few weeks ago, I took Abigail to Great Wolf Lodge for an overnight. We have been there more than a few times, but this time when I checked in, I got a huge surprise. We had been selected for a complimentary upgrade, to the largest suite in the resort. Two bedrooms, a hot tub, a fireplace, a living room- it was wonderful and the extra space was especially great since I had my cousin and her two little daughters with me. The five of us really enjoyed an upscale girls weekend as a result of this unexpected upgrade.

While I was driving home, I started thinking about upgrades and how when they come unexpectedly, really do make the day or the weekend that much more happy and exciting. This is only the 2nd upgrade I have gotten in my life. (The first was when Abby and I got moved to First Class on a flight to…where else? Disney. However, flying First Class with a 3 year old is pretty much the same as flying coach…except they have more room to squirm!) And yet, I raved about this hotel suite the entire rest of the weekend- it truly made my day. The more I started thinking about upgrades and the joys they bring to people’s days, it made me realize that the entire Saint Dominic Academy experience is a daily upgrade for every student who comes through the doors.

The opportunities we offer daily; small class sizes, nine athletic teams, a glee club that is comprised of a 1/3 of the school, musical and dramatic performances, 8 AP classes, a four year STEM program from grades 7-10, are wonderful upgrades that our students may not have the opportunity to experience at other schools.  And then, our special perks, which include trips to Europe, performing for the Pope and at Carnegie Hall, Trip Day, Disney YES Experience, Saturday Seminars, the Dartmouth Invitational, the Disney Invitational, a nationally ranked Dance Team, Siena Honors workshops, overnight and day retreats, individual trips for classes and grades, 3 formal dances, Domination…the list can go on and on. Talk about upgrades- when you become a student at SDA, you learn far more than just what is in between the pages of textbooks. You are constantly being exposed to new opportunities, new ideas, and varied experiences that not only enhance your high school life, but influence your future as well.

It is my hope that every young lady at Saint Dominic Academy truly takes full advantage of all the upgrades and perks we offer in conjunction with our stellar academic program. There is no doubt in my mind that we are the premier school for young women; have been since 1878 and will be far into the future!

Reflections From the Father Daughter Dance

This past Friday night, I had the chance to speak with the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy and their fathers at our annual Father Daughter Dance.  It is one of my favorite events at SDA, because I get to bring a date- my father, Joseph Degnan.   He and I are always so happy to attend; to have a chance to have some time to spend together as father and daughter.  

At the start of the evening, I was given the chance to talk for a few minutes and I shared with the guests few brief snippets of my adult life with my dad. Every morning, from Monday to Friday, I hear the beep of my text messaging at 6:50am.  It’s my father; telling me the weather ( it’s icy, it’s breezy, it’s warm). This is not because I don’t have windows in my home, it’s because he tries to help me prepare for my day. Sometimes, when I come outside in the winter, my car is warmed up for me.  When I work late, he waits by his window (my parents live across the street) and walks me to the door so I am safe.

He checks my smoke detector batteries. Every Monday night, he beats me to taking out recycling and every Tuesday he beats me to taking out garbage. He put up my Christmas tree! If I put laundry in my washing machine in the am, by the time I get home from work it’s in the dryer. He reminds me to do my taxes. He reminds me to get my oil changed; in fact he takes the car for me to get it done.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to buy a car- I took care of it on my own, except of course he came to the dealership to make sure it was a good car before I took it off the lot. In the summer, I got a chance to buy Hamilton tickets while I was away on vacation. He lent me his credit card to snatch them up. (Of course, I paid him back ASAP! Cannot wait to go with Abby in August!) He drives Abby to school, he picks her up, and he never forgets to have her beloved Woody doll in the car!

This is life with my dad- a life full of daily and weekly support that I have to honestly admit unless I stop to think about it, I may take for granted at times.

And I said to the young women the night of the dance…We all take it for granted ladies, because our fathers have been supporting us since the moment we took our first breath in the world. They are our quiet care takers, the ones that help us grow up to be strong women.

For me, I would be lost without my dad’s daily presence in my life. He is the backbone that allows me to be the woman I am; the woman I hope inspires many of the young ladies I see every day at Saint Dominic Academy.  My father is truly a wonderful man .  And your fathers are truly wonderful m en.   They support you in a million different ways every single day- in ways you probably never even notice. I want to thank every father and father figure for all of the support you give these young women every single day.  And I want to thank my father for all he has done for me and for all he continues to do for me every day.

We are lucky women to be supported by such wonderful men!

iFriend or iFoe?

When I turned sixteen (many many years ago), I finally got my coveted phone!  It was black, the keys lit up green, and it was all mine!  Connected to the jack in my room, which my uncle installed,  it’s long black cord stretched all over my bedroom, allowing me to talk as I did homework at my desk, sat on my bed, or listened to music by the stereo. That phone and I were attached at the ear most nights from 7pm onward, much to the annoyance, I am sure of my parents.  I talked to friends, I talked to boys (from Prep of course), and then talked to my friends about what the boys said on the phone. The only time I pried my treasured black receiver away from my ear would be in the wee hours when one of my parents, awakening for one reason or another in the night, would pick up the upstairs phone and say “Sarah, hang up the phone NOW!” Some evenings, they had to do that three or four times before I finally gave in and went to sleep.

Flash forward to today, where I rarely talk on the phone for any personal reasons; perhaps I use my iPhone to set up a doctor’s appointment, to call Abigail out of school when she is sick, or to talk to my mom (Keep Calm and Call Mom…that’s always been my motto!)  More often than not, I text my family, my friends and even my dad and I would say the majority of time I spend actually talking on a phone is at my desk at work.  My landline at home has gone the way of the dinosaur, as have many of yours, I am sure, and the play phone that came with Abigail’s toy kitchen a few years ago, was a toy cell phone.

Most of you, I am sure, have guessed where I am headed with this; back when I was a teen and today, kids do spend a lot of time on the phone. The difference is in how that communication has changed in the past thirty plus years.  Recently, JANA Partners and CALSTRS sent an open letter to Apple INC, expressing concerns about iPhone and iPad use with children and teens. While they do recognize that using the devices do have some benefits, perhaps in schools and classroom settings, some of the information about extended use and higher rates of depression and suicide are quite alarming.  The letter stated that most children receive their first phone by age 10; so I have a few short years before this becomes my issue. For many of my readers, the concern is already yours, I am sure. How much tech time is too much?

In my house, it’s a half hour of iPad videos or games before bed on school nights; with internet locks on. On weekends, it might stretch to an hour. Now, she can use her iPad for learning games, for watching a movie, or for listening to music at other times, but I do try to limit the YouTube kids, Disney kids, etc to ½ hour a day.  Of course, that would not work in your houses.  But I think all of us, as parents, have to think about what would work? How do we limit screen time? What are the lasting effects of too much technology use?  

I encourage you today to take a few moments to read the Open Letter, of which the link is below and to talk to your daughter about what it says.  And if you make any headway, send me your tips before Abigail turns ten; I know I will need them!

https://thinkdifferentlyaboutkids.com/

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Cold weather, icy streets, grey snow piled up on sidewalks, slushy puddles, early sunsets – and even GROUNDHOG DAY is still a month away.  I am not certain about all of my readers, but from what I have observed here at SDA over the early days of January, it seems to me that many of our young ladies, and perhaps even some of our dedicated faculty, staff and administration are suffering from a case of the “Winter Blues.”

There’s no CURE for winter- we live in a region that experiences all four seasons and although each of them have their ups and downs, for me, no season is drearier than the time between New Year’s Day and the advent of Spring. Even snow days bring no real excitement, because I have no desire to either build a snowman or shovel snow.  For me, a perfect winter would begin with a light dusting of snow on Thanksgiving, sprinkle some beautiful flakes in purple twilight during the Advent season, gift us with a fluffy white Christmas, and then pack it in on New Year’s Eve!  Alas, since I do not live in Camelot where “winter is forbidden till December…” I, along with all of my fellow winter haters, have to suffer though these cold grey days before spring comes once again.

As an educator, and also as a parent, I am aware of the effects that weather can have on student performance and overall physical and mental health.  This is a tough time of year for many of our young ladies; sitting for midterm exams, waiting for college acceptances and financial aid awards, and just not being able to get out in the fresh air as often as they might like all add to the stress they already carry daily.  I did some reading online over the past few weeks, and found an excellent post from one Ms. Darcy Lawton, a LCSW who works in Battery Park City, NY.   This post on her site shared her six tips for beating the winter blues.  As I read it, I found myself embracing some of the ideas she put forth.

Today, I want to share the link with you and it is my hope that parents, SDA students, and even SDA alumnae find some helpful advice if any of you are struggling with the winter winds. I know I am, and I know this article helped me!

https://talktodarcy.com/blog/six-tips-beating-winter-blues

An Empowered Woman From a Galaxy Far, Far, Away…

The New Year began with a nasty bout of illness in my house. Abigail, who had the flu, curled up to watch all the Star Wars films. She wearily lifted her head from my lap to make this observation: “Leia can’t be a princess because she is a hero.”

Out of the mouths of babes…for decades society via film has demonstrated that a girl can be one (Katniss from Hunger Games) or the other ( Cinderella) but not both. However we at SDA know differently and work to emulate that mix of kindness and confidence for every young lady that passes thru the doors.

Last year, after Carrie Fisher’s death, I shared my feelings as to why she was so iconic to me as a young girl. As the anniversary of her death has just passed and her face appeared in a Star Wars film for the last time, I share again my thoughts from last January on this heroic, empowered princess…

When I was five years old, my parents took me to see Return of the Jedi  in the theater. It is the first movie I vividly remember going to see. If memory serves, they took me right after my kindergarten graduation. It was June of 1983, I was five years old and a true STAR WARS fanatic. My Halloween costume a year before had been Princess Leia; complete with the cinnamon bun hairstyle. Although the first movie came out the year I was born, I had been lucky enough, so I am told, to be taken to a re-release of it by my uncle when I was 4 years old.  My father remembers me telling my dolls “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” I am sure my brothers and cousins have fond memories of playing Star Wars outside when we had family get togethers. Two of my cousins, lucky guys, had light sabers that really lit up!  What a galaxy George Lucas and his cast created for all of us children back then!

Last Christmas, just a year ago, I took my daughter to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Together, we then watched the other Star Wars films on DVD. Just a week ago, she and I were driving to visit family, when I learned of the death of Carrie Fisher. Not one to become visibly upset over celebrity deaths, I did, once we reached our destination, give her some toys to play with and sit quietly for more than a few minutes in sadness and contemplation. For, if Han Solo was my very first crush, then Princess Leia was for certain, my very first heroine, role model and idol.

And so she was for many young women in the years spanning 1977 until today. She was an icon for girls; a truly empowered princess. She did not lay in a glass box, waiting for a prince to wake her. She did not need to talk to birds and deer, to sing by fountains or whistle while she worked. Not Leia; she did not wait for men to fight against the Empire; she joined the Rebellion, smuggled information at risk to her own life, and fought bravely for the cause. Later films had her not just fighting, but leading the Rebellion; mastering her own strength and standing equal to all the men who fought bravely against the Empire.  Never once was she portrayed as unequal to men by the filmmakers; not even when they dressed her in that gold bikini. She was wearing that very outfit when she took down Jabba the Hut! Her dialogue was as witty as any male characters, her bravery was as well known and her legacy in both that galaxy and in ours, has been  preserved for 40 years.

As an English teacher, I often look at fictional characters and who is chosen to portray them when they are onscreen. Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia; at 19 years old, she held her own with her male cast mates, the only woman of any significance in that first film and in those that followed. To step into that spotlight and become an icon at such a young age must have been truly overwhelming, a challenge that may have seemed, at times in her life, insurmountable.  Just as her onscreen persona was, Carrie Fisher was no wilting flower, but instead a vocal force, speaking out about mental illness and the struggles she managed to overcome to be successful. She continually sent the message that strength in life is always needed, recovery is ongoing, and that support is essential if we women are to not only survive, but thrive and become all we have ever dreamed of being.

At 19, I wonder if she dreamed that fans the world over would pay tribute to her on a cold December day. I wonder if she dreamed of being an on screen heroine for girls for years to come and an outspoken and impassioned advocate for mental health awareness. Or, at 19, was she just a young girl, filled with the same excitement and love for live that fills the hearts of teenage girls today, looking forward to what is over the horizon, or perhaps even in the next galaxy.

Our young ladies at SDA may not know for sure what the future holds; however, we teach them daily that no matter what lies in store for them, they are the heroines of their own life story, women who do not wait to be rescued, but who do the rescuing. Women who do not wait for men to lead the battles against the evils of the world, but who take on the  battles themselves, ready and willing to face new challenges. We create daily a group of empowered young heroines, who will inspire change, improve the world, and become icons themselves for the next generation of young women to emulate. As I mourn the loss of my childhood heroine, I take comfort in her words from The Force Awakens. Hope is not lost today…it is found. Wherever each of us women finds inspiration to empower us to succeed, we carry it with us and touch lives forever.

Lessons from the Elves…

Last weekend, my niece, (the daughter of an SDA graduate!) was in a production of ELF Junior in Toms River, NJ. Abigail is a huge fan of ELF and so we were happy to see Ellie in the production- she did an outstanding job! Of course, after watching the musical, the movie was on a non-stop loop on the TV in my house and has been on frequently all season long.  It makes me laugh, but as with most movies, after a while I tune it out.  

And then, it struck me- some of the most important lessons of Christmas come from holiday classics that we are so used to seeing, we forget the important messages that they impart upon children for generations to come !

So indulge me if you will in some holiday cheer. At just one week before Christmas, let us review some of these classic Christmas messages to truly get into the spirit of the season!

From ELFThe best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! & There’s room for everyone on the NICE list!

From Home AloneThis is Christmas, the season of perpetual hope!

From How The Grinch Stole Christmas Maybe…Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas is a little bit more.

From The Polar ExpressSeeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. & There’s no greater gift than friendship.

From Miracle on 34th Street Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to!

From It’s a Wonderful LifeEvery time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!

From A Christmas Carol God bless us, everyone!

And with these words of wisdom in our hearts and minds, let us enter into those final days before Christmas, looking forward to celebrating with family and friends. Remember always, the true spirit of Christmas lies within your heart.

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