July 6

July is upon us and hard as it is to believe, 2020 is halfway over. I hope everyone had a safe and celebratory 4th of July weekend…I’m sure you can guess that mine centered around the premier of Hamilton on Disney Plus. It did not disappoint at all; even after having seen it onstage twice, nothing compared to seeing this original cast- what a wonderful way to ring in the 4th this year. 

And now, having enjoyed the long weekend, many of us are “back to work” today- whether that work is in person or remote. The Board and Administration at SDA have already been devoting their time to various workstream projects- focusing on teacher workshops and training, schedule and handbook revisions, social emotional and diversity based curriculum, as well as hiring practices and Board expansion. We will all be picking up where we left off last week, as well as working on finalizing plans for opening in September, increasing faculty training on hybrid and remote learning, having two administrators, myself and Mrs. Buge trained to earn COVID-19 Safety Manager certification, and the entire staff is working with New York Life Insurance to become certified as a Grief Sensitive School.

While all this is taking place, each teacher is working to reassess and reevaluate his or her curriculum: adding new readings and lessons, updating prior guidelines and broad based plans, and for our AP classes, ensuring that the curriculum we are using is in line with all of the most recent College Board standards. Some days, each of us is “nonstop” ( you see, I got a Hamilton quote in here!) as we are tireless in our goal to ensure that we can offer each young lady in our SDA family the most well rounded, challenging, and exceptional educational experience this coming year. 

In that vein, today I am happy to give a quick sneak peak into the AP Literature and Composition curricular readings for the 2020-2021 school year. The course, which has been available to seniors at SDA for a number of years is revised time and again; with a suggested list of over 400 authors who may appear on the exam, each teacher who has instructed this class has made it personal and special his or her own way- selecting works each felt were exceptional examples of literature- ones that would work to ensure a high score on the free response section. AP Literature is the culmination of four years of honors level course work in English at SDA and the readings from 9th through 11th are geared to cover some of the authors who may appear on the exam. In 12th grade, in addition to intense study of poetry and short story in preparation for the objective assessment portion, scholars are required to engage in in-depth novel studies; all fictional as per The College Board, in order to develop and enhance their literary analysis skills, in preparation for the essay portion of the exam. 

As I said, with over 400 authors to chose from, each teacher selects a Reading List that reflects a timely curriculum, one that will “speak” to the young women in the class. This year, as the course changes hands, a new reading list has been selected- one that reflects some of the changes we at SDA are making in our curriculum, as we strive to offer more diversity within our courses of study. The list for the 2020-2021 school year is as follows:

Beloved by Toni Morrison: Using the real life tragic story of slave Margaret Garner, this novel appears on the AP exam free response almost yearly; it’s complex text about ghosts and guilt, about the choice between life as a slave and death at the hands of a loving parent is heartbreaking and emotional and a must read. 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Another AP favorite, this dystopian novel is now a popular TV miniseries- which I’ve heard captures the mood of the book perfectly. Hard to read, especially for young women, it is nevertheless an important look at our dangerous the future could become, if all are not truly treated equal. 

The Wedding by Dorothy West: A shorter read, but an important one. Set in The Oval, a upper class black community in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950’s, it walks us through a mixed race wedding, where our white groom is unsure of his place in this wealthy family. The family, hiding secrets of its own and not altogether comfortable with their own mixed race status, would prefer their daughter to marry within The Oval community. Often overlooked, West’s final novel is a masterpiece. 

Othello by William Shakespeare: Everyone knows the tale; if only Othello had been given the advice to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, he may have avoided his fate. Distrusted because of his race, looked down upon for marrying Desdemona, but praised for his military heroics- it’s no wonder the seeds of doubt planted by Shakespeare’s most evil villain Iago bring about the downfall of our hero and his wife. Jealousy, insecurities, and rage prove to be a fatal mix. 

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: This family may well be the polar opposite of the family created by Dorothy West, which will make for interesting compare/contrast analysis. Told from the POV of over 25 characters, this poor Southern family’s quest to bury their mother is harrowing and eerie all at once. Another AP favorite, for sure. 

Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot: It’s hard to imagine this beautiful poem was penned by the man who brought us the inspiration for CATS. Light years away in content and form from dancing felines, it tells the story of religious conflicts between church and state, and on a more personal level, between two friends as well. Culminating in the murder of Saint Thomas Becket; this is a showcase of how history can be blended with literature to create a moving and compelling tale. 

Atonement by Ian McEwan: This was selected most especially for its message about the dangers and perils of lying and spreading gossip. Perhaps no other modern novel immerses readers in the depths of a lie of this proportion and outlines quite so clearly how it has devastating results on everyone’s lives. A good foil for Shakespeare’s play, the ending will shock each reader. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker: An epislitory novel, written as letters to God, Walker’s book has been a must read for AP scholars since it was penned. It’s unique style alone makes it worthy of an AP level study and the content, so rich in colorful descriptions and featuring themes of identity, self worth, female empowerment, and love in all forms, is moving and soul stirring. Readers won’t see purple in nature ever again without thinking of God. 

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: A newer choice, one that allows scholars to see how a “classic” tale can be re-spun and reinvented for a new generation. More than just a peek into the World of Oz and a fanciful story of how someone becomes the wicked witch, this novel deals with the ideas of discrimination, jealousy, social climbing, abandonment by a parent, and political power and oppression. And, most timely for our young ladies, it features a strong, empowered female protagonist–the cities may be emerald and the monkeys may be flying, but at the heart of the novel, the obstacles faced by Elphaba hit very close to life as many of us may know it. 

That’s a small look into our ever changing, ever growing curricular endeavors at SDA. Moving forward in the coming weeks, we will be sharing more updates with our SDA community: on curriculum expansions, faculty workshops and webinars and the like…stay tuned to hear all that is taking place at SDA. 

Work From Home Adventures Pt. 3

Here we are in the last week of April and I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite sure how we got here. Oh, I know how I’ve been spending the days: Zoom calls, constant emails, “teaching” third grade, overseeing at home ballet class, cooking so much I feel like I could be the next Rachel Ray, checking temperatures “just in case” and basically trying my best to stay positive, for my students and staff, for my daughter who is handling this like a rockstar, and perhaps most importantly, for myself. I know once I lose the ability to get up each morning and find something new to make me smile, something new to learn how to do, or even some elaborate recipe to prepare, then I will have given up and that would let the sadness that has our country in its grip triumph over me. I’m not about to let that happen.

So, what did I learn this week? Oh, a few things…how to make brownies from scratch, ( not bad), how to make pulled pork in a slow cooker, ( excellent!) how to teach an 8 year old how to read and draw bar graphs for math class, ( challenging) and how to make cave art drawings ( I won’t share a picture!). I also learned a very important lesson- children are so resilient and able to see the fun in situations that drive us as adults out of our minds most of the time. Now, I have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney Plus, Broadway HD, Boomerang…at the touch of my fingertips there are literally thousands of things I can watch to unwind at the end of the day. Yet, in the weeks since March 12, I have watched exactly ONE new show- The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. ( Perhaps a mistake…I had nightmares for at least 3 nights!). I just can’t relax and unwind enough to really enjoy anything- no new shows have caught my interest and I even get frustrated at my old go-to shows. 

I know, I know, I started to say something about kids…and I brought up all of those channels to help illustrate my point. ( I do have one, I promise!) I got an email from Netflix this week, explaining how to set up a Watch Party. Basically, I pick a movie, send a link to friends and then we all can watch movie together. A little chat bar opens on the side of the movie so we can text back and forth in a big group discussion. Now, I have no interest in doing this- I don’t even like it when people talk during previews at the movies, but Miss Abby was so interested in the idea, I thought I’d let her try it out.

Abby picked The Grinch, had me invite some of her friends, and asked that they wear Christmas clothes and have snacks. I figured the fun of this “watch party” would wear off quickly. After all, they can’t see each other, and they have to type to communicate. Was I ever wrong! What a huge hit this was, not only with Abby but with her friends too. In fact, they begged to do it again the very next day. Now, all of her friends don’t know each other, but that did not stop them from chatting away and discussing, amongst other kid topics, the movie itself. As a Film teacher, I can’t tell you how proud that made me. Kids as young as 7 years old, talking about movies together and just finding yet another unique way to be in each other’s company.

Kids are resilient, and what I’m seeing from these young kids is amazing. It’s fun to go to virtual theater, taking dance classes via Outschool is something to look forward to every day, a remote book discussion club on an American Girl book is actually encouraging Abby to read more, and a Netflix party for 2 hours is a cause for day long excitement among her and her friends. Do they miss each other? Very much, I know. However they are adapting, and most days, adapting much better than I am.

I feel inspired when I see them “interacting”, my daughter and her friends. I feel excited even if just for a few moments at the fact that she can still have fun during all this. Most of all, I feel a sense of pride, as the mother of a strong little girl, one who will not let anything halt her day to day life. She may have to change the way she does things a bit, but she’s still going to play and laugh and hang out with her friends and find ways to cajole me into giving her more snacks ( what’s a movie party without snacks??). In short, she’s still going to be “her”…the girl I have loved for almost 9 years now. Many of you readers also have girls, older than mine, but also just as strong in your homes right now. Look to them daily when all of this seems to be just too much to bear. Look at their faces, as they log into TikTok, as they FaceTime, even as they talk to teachers via Zoom. 

Is this ideal? Not at all. Is this the life we want for our girls? Not by a long shot. But we can and should learn from them, to stay strong, stay smiling and stay positive in the face of this pandemic. We should, as they are, look for the silver linings that are offered to us (not just from Netflix) and to take advantage of them. In short, we should all embrace the “virtual party” until we can celebrate family and friends together in person once again. 

Post Break Thoughts

Easter is over, and today we at Saint Dominic Academy are back at our remote learning platform. We know now that this will continue until May 15th at least, and that the days after that are “uncertain” to say the least. The COVID- 19 virus is life changing for us all, in ways we never could have expected. The struggle to stay motivated, to stay positive and forward thinking, some days I am sure the struggle to just get up and face another day amid this pandemic, takes all of our energy and our goodwill. I’m not above admitting that there are days when being motivated is extremely hard and I have to “fake it till I make it” for the sake of Abigail. I know many of you must be doing the same thing for your children as well.

What made it harder this past week for me personally was the loss of a friend to COVID-19. I realized truly that wakes and funerals are for us, the living to come to terms with loss and to say a final farewell to a beloved family member or friend. Absent that opportunity, all we are left with is our hurting hearts, our memories, and the words we would have shared with others at that event- words that seem to choke me when I think them, as if they are lodged in my throat. Me, many of you, people across the globe are experiencing this awful sensation- the inability to truly mourn the loss of a life as well as the ability, if not to formally in front of a gathering eulogize that person, than to at least share some memories of the dearly departed in a gathering of those who loved him or her.

Everyone deserves those words, those exchanged memories, those fond glimpses into the life of one we loved. Every single life lost to this awful virus deserves an eulogy that the world should hear and yet, the eulogies play only in our heads…unwritten and unheard. My friend, a friend of my family since I was a tiny child, deserved one. And today, I hope you can bear with me for a few minutes as I just briefly capture her essence in words as best I can, and try to say goodbye.

She was a hummingbird, less than five feet and endlessly fluttering…shiny bobbed hair swinging, dangling earrings swaying, hands waving as her lilting voice went a mile a minute. From subject to subject she flitted, much like a bird going from flower to flower…a swirl of neutral linens topped with jewel toned scarves that flowed and heavy eclectic jewelry that gleamed as she sparkled with life and energy. Barely able to stay in her seat, she bounced joyfully through every event I shared with her, and her voice, as sweet as music, was peppered with “lovey” and “sweetie” and “baby” and each of those words came out as warm as a hug and as comforting as a warm cup of tea. She was beautiful, this friend who filled the lives of my parents, my brothers, and I for over forty years. She was our breath of fresh air, our whirling dervish and had we known she would whirl out of our lives so soon, our hearts may have been more heavy than they are now. Her spirit will live on, in the colors of jewels, in the blue of the sky, in the tinted glow of the sunset…and she will always be missed and loved. 

Thank you, readers, for indulging me in that tribute…to my friend and in some ways, to all who have lost a voice in their lives, a voice we each hoped we’d hear one more time. The mourning process has changed drastically right now, but we must all still remember to mourn, in our own ways and to pay tribute to those who loved us well and whose life was taken away from us long before we were ready to say goodbye.

I will keep you all in prayer- this week and in the coming weeks. May you find solace in your memories, the strength to continue moving forward amid this life shaking pandemic and the hope that God gifts us all to see the brighter days ahead. 

August Vacation

It’s that quiet time of year for those of us still at Saint Dominic Academy. As such, for the month of August, this blog will be quiet too. I am taking some vacation time myself, to rest, relax, enjoy my soon-to-be eight year old, and to prepare to return refreshed to lead Saint Dominic Academy for another year. If you are missing my thoughts on anything and everything- remember all the old blogs are still online- go back and re-read any favorites you have! 

I will be back to blog with a fresh new perspective, interesting topics and insights pertaining to the women of SDA in September . Until then, I leave each of you with this August prayer.

May you walk with God
This summer In whatever you do
Wherever you go

Walking with God means…
Walking with honesty And with courage,
Walking with love And respect
And concern for the feelings of others

May you talk to God
This summer And every day and
In every situation

Talking with God means…
Praying words of praise For the beauty of creation
Saying prayers of thanks For friends and good times,
Asking God’s help In all your decisions
Expressing sorrow When you have failed

May you talk with God
Every day Amen

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