Girls Scouting and STEM…Clever Connection

How many women reading this blog were once Girl Scouts? I was; from a Brownie in a brown jumper and orange snap tie all the way up to the green skirt, white blouse, vest covered with badges and the green beret perched on my 7th grade head.  I have pictures to prove it, although I won’t be posting them!  And, those who were Girl Scouts or who had Scouts in the family will well remember the biggest Scouting event of the year was selling Girl Scout Cookies. They are iconic now, with candy bars and ice cream parlors and even Dunkin Donuts offering cookie flavored creations.  Back in the late 1980’s when I was Scouting, they were just our fundraiser, sold door to door; or if I was lucky, at my dad’s office.  And now, the Girl Scouts are taking the STEM world by storm, and proving that STEM is an area where women, even young women, can and do succeed!

In January of 2016, the Girl Scouts were at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with Digital Cookie 2.0. This is their online addition to the iconic Girl Scout Cookie Program. They also showcased a brand new Girls’ STEM Summit. “ Girl Scouts is expanding its presence to give girls a unique opportunity to learn from top influencers and present our latest technology at a world renowned tradeshow, as well as showcase all the organization is doing to address girls’ involvement in STEM.”  Being able to order Girl Scout cookies online is exciting enough news for those of us who do not have a seller in the family. (Luckily, my niece is a Girl Scout and so, not only do I have a steady supply, but now that order form appears on my desk each spring!) But even more interesting is that the Girl Scouts, an organization dedicated to promoting leadership and empowerment for girls as young as five, recognizes that STEM is an area that girls need to be educated about and are working to incorporate it into their organization.  At the January event,  The Girl Scouts booth allowed visitors to take a selfie with STEM props that include all Girl Scout STEM badges; and enter a contest  by sharing on social media why they support girls in STEM by using #genSTEMgirls. When I was a Girl Scout, I do not recall many science themed badges, and now, there are STEM badges!  Plural! How far we have come!

We have several Girl Scouts at Saint Dominic Academy with more joining us in the freshmen class this year! I am certain, if asked, many of our mothers and alumnae would share that they were once Girl Scouts and would say how much the organization changed and shaped their lives. At Saint Dominic Academy, we also have STEM. We are a STEM school; with a program that begins in 7th grade and, as of this September, continues into the 10th grade. At the end of this year, we will earn our accreditation and be an official STEM school as approved by Project Lead The Way.  Last year, two of our young ladies won STEM based awards in the Hudson County Science Fair. In the spring of 2017, SDA will partner with Titan Engineering, a Union based engineering firm founded by an alumna and her husband to host a STEM Workshop for our young ladies. Here at SDA, we are embracing the empowered movement of the Girl Scouts and showcasing our love of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. You go, Girl Scouts! You go, SDA girls! #SDASTEM #genSTEMgirls

Healthy Living: Fitbit Obsession?

For over a year, I vowed up and down and left and right that I would not, under any circumstances, buy a FitBit or any other type of “activity tracker.” I knew it would make me neurotic, would most likely increase my anxiety, and would have me literally walking in circles until I hit my desired step count for the day.  I knew all of those things to be true about myself; and yet, if you have seen me thus far this year, you cannot have missed the dreaded device that is fastened to my right arm. Yes indeed, I caved into a flash sale on Zulily and bought an X-Treme Fit Tracker. I’ve been wearing it since August. And while I am no more neurotic than usual, I have to wonder, after wearing it for six weeks, am I any more active either?

Glenn Gaesser, the director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University in Phoenix, told The New York Times last year: “for many people, they’re (activity trackers) inspirational, and if using one gets someone to move more, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s serving a good purpose.” Inspiration is a good thing, on this we can all agree. In fact, it is a good practice to eat healthy and exercise, to monitor how well we sleep and how active we are.  But when it becomes an obsessive behavior, it is then that it also becomes a dangerous one, especially for young ladies who are entering and living through their teenage years.  The obsession our society has with being healthy, being fit, maintaining that lifestyle of healthy living does have the potential to do more harm than good.

So then, the question becomes “ how do we encourage a healthy  lifestyle without creating an obsession with weight and/or body image?” It’s a fine line, one that I am sure many of us walk daily, veering to the left or right of that fine line at times.  More importantly, how do we help our daughters to walk that line, to be healthy and active without becoming neurotic or sick over it? How do we teach them that it’s great to be a size four, but it’s just as great to be an eight or a ten, or a twelve, as long as their hearts are healthy, they are sleeping well, and they are eating right?  I don’t have the right answer to this question; if I did, perhaps I would not have a fitness tracker on my arm. But I do know a few things that will lead the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy in the right direction.

At SDA, we encourage healthy eating in several ways. We offer salads daily along with balanced meals for lunch. We have eliminated soda and sugary drinks from our cafeteria. Ms.  Mallon, our Health teacher, devotes a marking period each year to the virtues of a healthy diet and complements those lessons with fitness and yoga classes during P.E.  We encourage activity as well; our athletic teams alone speak to the level at which we want our young ladies to be active. All are welcome to try out and play tennis, volleyball, soccer, indoor track, basketball, softball, run cross country, and spring track.  Our competitive dance team has limited spaces for dancers, but our Dance Fitness class, in partnership with the Jersey City Ballet has been added to student schedules wherever possible.  Our annual Walk-A-Thon encourages our young ladies to exercise for a good cause.

Will I continue to wear my activity tracker? I most likely will. Will I try and walk for a half hour each day? I will try, but I will not despair if I don’t get to it on a given day. And that’s the message I want to help your daughters receive as well. We are working to empower our students, your daughters, to be confident and proud young women.  We are also working daily to help them see that fine line between good health practices and unhealthy obsession. Together, we can continue to inspire these young ladies to be active, be healthy, and most importantly, be happy, both with themselves and with the world around them.

An Example For Women Everywhere…

On September 4, 2016, Blessed Mother Teresa was canonized and from now on will be known throughout the world as Saint Teresa of Kolkata.  When those of us my age or even older think of Saint Teresa, we may  best remember her work with AIDS patients in Calcutta, her friendship with Princess Diana, and her tireless efforts to help the impoverished and dying in India. Her stooped figure, time worn face, and white and blue robes are iconic images, at least in my mind, of what it meant to be a very holy woman.

In following the process leading to her canonization, I am certain I was not the only person to be shocked to learn that she suffered, for years, from what the Church calls “the dark night of the soul.”  A plague of spiritual doubt, that she shared with nobody haunted her life. She felt at times, in her own words that “Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place. The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.”Pray for me please that I keep smiling at him in spite of everything.”  I wonder how many of us could continue on, feeling such as she did day in and day out for years.  And yet, perhaps as a testimony to her eventual path to sainthood, her faith in the goodness of God and the teachings of Jesus allowed her to continue to be a leader for women, both in the sisterhood and laity.

At Saint Dominic Academy, it is always possible that we are shaping the creation of a future saint, but what is a certain fact is that each one of the women who passes through our doors as a student will go forward and make significant changes in the world around them.  Our alumnae and our current students, regardless of whether the direction of their lives leads to comforting the dying on the streets of Calcutta, contribute in their own ways to better the lives of a myriad of people.  The lessons of faith, love of God, and service to others instilled at Saint Dominic Academy leave a lasting impression and cannot help but shape the daily actions and interactions of our young ladies far into the future.  Our mission clearly states “ we empower women for leadership in our global society.”   This is our primary goal at SDA, one I think we achieve daily in the life lessons, both small and large that our faculty, administration and staff work to impart within the walls and halls of our school.

At SDA, every time we pray together as a school community, we call upon Saint Dominic and Saint Catharine of Siena to pray for us. This year, I will at times encourage our young ladies to pray to our newest saint, Saint Teresa; for guidance, for support and for assistance whenever they feel it is needed.  For what better example could our young ladies see reach the status of Sainthood than Mother Teresa; who started out in her calling at the same age some of our young ladies are at right now and who dedicated her life to “helping people in their most difficult conditions and created a mission for religions and lay persons to follow in her footsteps.”

Remembering…15 Years Later

A week ago Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11th Attacks.  At mass that Sunday, I reflected on that terrible day 15 years ago and how our country has changed, reshaped, and grown stronger. Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I was two blocks south of Saint Dominic Academy, working as the Assistant Development Director at The Academy of Saint Aloysius.  It was my second year there and school had been open for a week. When the news began breaking, it was a situation school administrators had barely dealt with before. How to tell the students, how and when to send them home, what to say to parents who called, these were all questions that sprung to mind- questions that I am sure were going through the  minds of the administration at Saint Dominic Academy as well.

We each have our own personal memories and sorrows of that day and for those of us who were in the NY / NJ area on 9/11/01, those memories will always be vivid, able to be called to mind at any moment.  As time moves on however, the event becomes a historical one, a tragedy that occurred in the past. Such is the case for our youngest members of the SDA family. The class of 2020, our current 9th grade, are the first generation of high school students who will learn about September 11th as an event that took place before they were born.  When my pastor said that two Sundays ago, I was taken aback. For so many of us, that event seems like yesterday, but the world we live in now is the only world some of our daughters or sons will ever know. They have no concept of “before 9/11”, and what the country, or the world was like before that day.

Over the past fifteen years, we have gotten used to new lingo, such as “high alert”, scrolling news feeds 24/7, which keep us all posted on terror cells, the phrase “axis of evil” being frequently used in news reports and other indications that our world, if not our daily lives, were forever changed.  And yet, it is in our daily lives where the most significant changes can begin and/or continue to take place and it is within the wall of schools, especially schools like Saint Dominic Academy, where our young men and women can learn from history and hope not to ever see it repeated.

In our classrooms, in every subject we cover during the school day, we at Saint Dominic Academy teach much  more than merely tolerance and respect for others. Our message extends beyond those virtues, important as they are, and takes them further. We teach understanding. We teach compassion. We teach acceptance and love and forgiveness.  Our mission statement in part states that our goal is to empower women for leadership in our global society.  Our young ladies, in grades 7-12 hold the future in their hands. Small acts of kindness and acceptance, taught every day by a faculty who can recall histories past  mistakes, will go a long way to shaping the lives of each of our students, so that they  bring to the future a Christian message of love, kindness and understanding for all.

God bless America.

Transitions…A New Year

I spent a fast paced 48 hours this summer reading the newly released script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on my Kindle.  While I will not spoil the plot for those among you who are fans, I have to say that reading the book, so long after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows in July of 2007, sparked a feeling of unease in me. What if the characters I had followed for years were now different? What if they had not “grown up” into the ideal people that they were heading out to be almost 10 years ago?  After all, I was a different person in 2007 and perhaps, changes in the world and in life would re-shape J.K. Rowling’s characters as well. As I pulled up the script on my Kindle, I had to ask myself “What if it’s not all I expect it to be?”

As a new school year begins here at Saint Dominic Academy, I wonder how many of you and your daughters are asking the same question in your minds and hearts. Transitions are hard; for that 7th or 9th grader who is saying goodbye to the safe world where she existed and coming to SDA for the first time. Transitions are also hard as 7th moves to 8th, 8th moves up to 9th,  9th moves into 10th and 10th heads to 11th; new teachers, new subjects and perhaps new friendships that bloom as the final year looms ahead, rising up in the forefront.  And, how to talk of difficult transitions without reflecting on our seniors; who will face this year the first major transition of their lives- the movement from high school to college, from child to young adult, from parents house to dorm room? Your daughters, whether they ask aloud or not must be wondering as we start this September if the year will meet all the expectations laid out before them: their own, yours for your child, and ours as a school.

It’s a lot to live up to; a challenge even harder than Rowling faced when she chose to “resurrect” some beloved characters for one final curtain call in 2016. (No spoilers, I promise).  But here at Saint Dominic Academy, we are all about rising above challenges, exceeding expectations, and ensuring that each young lady has the most engaging, intelligent and memorable experience while she walks these halls. I encourage your daughters, do not fear the transitions that wait ahead this year; face them with confidence and with the knowledge that as women of distinction, they can achieve anything.  The year may be different, it may bring the unexpected, but “anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve” (Rowling).