September 14

A picture, they say, is worth 1,000 words.  So, save for a brief sentence or two, I’m going to let the photos below, of our hardworking and dedicated faculty and staff here at SDA speak for themselves. What you see are our teachers and staff, in two days of workshops, observing all social distance and mask guidelines in order to prepare for school. The presentation itself focused on how to meet with both live and full remote students at the same time, using iPad, Apple TV, Whiteboard App, and remote microphone all at once. 

More than ever, this year, teaching is a work of the HEART and I thank all of our dedicated teachers from the bottom of mine! 

September 7

A Reading and Reflection… as we begin our school year and open our building tomorrow to teachers and staff and to students next week, we ask for the entire Saint Dominic Academy community to join us in this prayer. The initial reflection is taken from the Bible and I ask that you join in the personal petitions I call for, on behalf of all at SDA and in our entire world. 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to be born and a time to die…

We pray for those in our SDA family who have lost loved ones, and for those who will

welcome new life this year.

A time to kill and a time to heal…

As the peril of the COVID- 19 virus continues to threaten lives the world over, we pray for theeventual healing of our community, our state, our country and our world.

A time to weep and a time to laugh…

Each of us wept many times from March onward, but we offer prayers of thanks for the moments of laughter that filtered through our lives, as we spent more time with family, united in isolation.

A time to mourn and a time to dance…

We mourn many things…for the loss of family members, for our SDA community the loss of ability to celebrate our senior class last year, the loss of the college experience for young people around the country, the loss of the support of friends as we spent days seeing nobody.

And yet, we pray there are more dancing moments in our future…and we celebrate the ones that shone through these past months…weddings that have shown that love conquers all, new grandchildren’s first smiles and first steps…even if seen only through a computer, and the new strength we have all found inside ourselves.

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…

As we dwell still in the time where we must refrain from embracing, we pray for the days when we can once again embrace our friends. Until then, we ask God to let our hearts shine more brightly, so that our love for others becomes an intangible embrace, offering friendship, comfort and hope.

A time to love…and a time for peace…

It is always this time; every day–when we come together as a school, when we come together with family, when we connect with friends- remotely or otherwise…we share our message of peace and hope, our prayers for love and kindness to overcome all that saddens our hearts…and we remember always that if we put forth love, we will find love.

August 31

When I was six years old, I suddenly got very sick. I was in Christ Hospital in Jersey City for almost two full weeks in March. I only remember bits and pieces of my time there, but I have one memory that still stands out clear as day.  It was that year that Cabbage Patch Kids were the newest craze–not sure if anyone recalls, but you had to adopt one in advance and it took so long for them to come into the local Toy’s R Us. You could not choose hair or eye color; you got what you got. And, if you recall the craze, then you recall the prices—sky high! I had not asked Santa for one that past Christmas, but while I was lying in my hospital bed, I wanted one more than anything. 

My dad was working at the time in Morristown and would visit me daily before work or after work. My mom was not back to work yet, she had six year old me, my four year old brother, and my almost two year old brother. I don’t know how she found the time to be at the hospital every day, but she was there. She listened to me talk about this Cabbage Patch Kid, probably until she had a headache from it. I was going to take the “baby” I adopted to the park and put her on the swings and read her bedtime stories and have picnics with her–I realize now it was all the things I wanted to do but could not while I was sick. I realize now also that the cost of a Cabbage Patch doll, on top of the daily costs of three kids, me in Catholic school and now this hospital stay–was most likely too high for my parents at that particular time.

But my mother listened each day; I was hoping for one with red hair and green eyes, like the one in the TV commercial constantly showing in the hospital room. And she made me a promise–and she kept it. Today, at 43 years old, I can still hear her clear as day… “ Things will get better. It won’t be like this for much longer. And when you come home, we’ll go to the park and go on the swings and have a picnic…and you’ll come with me to Toys R Us one day and pick up your adopted doll. It will get better Sarah, just wait a little longer. I’m your mother and I promise you- it will be ok.”

What made me think of this, so many years later? Well, I guess it’s because mothers all over NJ and all over the United States and even the world, are probably uttering similar words–plugging in the routine activities or new expectations their daughters and sons had; activities and expectations that seem to once again be on a unknown “hold.”  

You will get to go away to college; it won’t be remote forever. 

You will get to go back to school…soon, I promise.

You’ll take your road test soon–you’ll be driving before you know it…trust me. 

In just a little bit longer you can: see your friends inside, have a sleepover, go to dancing class, go

back to sports, and CCD classes…just hang on a bit longer. 

It’s not the end of the world; you’ll have your wedding, your baby shower, your sweet sixteen –we’ll make it happen and it will be beautiful–just be patient. 

Things will get better- the world won’t stay this way forever.

And for those interested in the end of my six year old story…well the day came and we went to Toy’s R Us and picked up my “baby.” She had blond hair, brown eyes, was dressed in a grey track suit and came with a yellow pacifier in her mouth. ( it’s amazing what the mind can recall!)Her name was Rena Madeline and to this day, she’s still in my house. And we went on a picnic at Hudson County Park and we went on swings and I read her bedtime stories as my mom read stories to my brothers and I think it was at six years old that I learned for the first time–my parents, my mom will not make a promise she cannot keep. I’ve had faith in that ever since—and I call her daily just to hear her say to me:

Sarah, it won’t be like this forever–just hang on–you’re doing the best you can. It will get better, I promise.

And just like that, I have the strength to go on, and the strength to make that same promise to my own daughter–just as each of you make that promise you your daughters daily. We mothers and fathers, we promise–and our children believe. They believe because they have faith in us and trust in us to make good on the promise. It’s us, the adults, who have to have faith in a higher power, and to ask for the strength and the wisdom to “hold on–just a bit longer” so that we can show our children daily, that one day soon, we’ll make all these promises come true. 

Keep the faith, mothers and fathers—keep making the promises we all need right now. We know, it will get better. 

August 10

What to watch on yet another day of being in the house? At this point, I’m certain we are all sick of Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and whatever other options are on the screen in front of us—they’ve been our constant companions since March and even now, when more and more people are venturing out—they still are for many, the “highlight” of the day. And so, what to watch on this stormy Tuesday with the rain pouring down in buckets and the trees blowing fiercely? I don’t know about you, but lately, nothing comes to mind when I turn on the TV. I literally cannot think of a thing to watch. Thank goodness these trusty channels will “recommend” something.

Because you watched Jaws…and literally every movie Richard Dreyfuss movie is contained within the recommended movie scroll. Oh..well…Mr. Holland’s Opus…I remember that one. I saw it first when I was 18 years old- fresh out of high school, heading to college and still perhaps a bit unsure of what I would do with the rest of my life. And so, I press play and sit back on the couch for 143 minutes of what Amazon terms: a wonderful, ‘feel-good’ story about a young man who wants to compose music… but takes a job teaching music in a school to provide a reliable income. … But the years roll by, and he finds himself more and more drawn into the life of the school, making an incredible difference to many of the students.

I remember liking it when I saw it. And I remember watching it early on in my teaching career and thinking–wow–thirty years of teaching; look at how many lives he touched; that’s amazing.  And today, I realized, I’ve only been teaching 9 fewer years than he taught in the movie. Quite the impact that thought had–am I almost as old as Mr. Holland?! Well no, he started teaching a bit later than I did, but still- thirty years of being in education doesn’t seem quite so impossible to this educator anymore. It seems like a wonderful way to spend a life. 

These past weeks, with the “road to reopening” a hot topic among parents, teachers, school district leaders, politicians and well, pretty much anyone else who wants to weigh in on social media outlets, have been tense to say the least. In March, teachers were hailed as heroes; parents singing their praises after just a week or two of having to teach their own children. That tune seems to have changed, at least somewhat, in recent days. Teachers who are hesitant to go back into the classroom are being criticized and critiqued and called cowards, at times by the very same people who praised them in March. I’m not going to wade into the politics of it- each of us is entitled to our own personal feelings on the subject. 

However as I wept my way through the movie and boy did I, a line at the end of the film had the tears flowing harder than before. Without spoiling the movie for those who have not ever had the pleasure of watching it, suffice to say our hero, Mr. Holland, a music teacher, has “retired” after 30 years. He says to his closest friend, also a life long teacher–

You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.

And I wondered, how many teachers, right now across America feel the exact same way? And, if any of us, by a comment on social media or a half thought out comment about “getting back to work” has caused someone who has given their entire adult life to the service of education to feel expendable. I’d like to think that as an educator myself, I’ve never given any other educator cause to feel that way, but in the event that I ever have, I deeply apologize. 

I could go on and on, the movie perfectly captures what it means to be a teacher- the late nights, the stacks of papers, the giving of yourself when you almost have no more to give, the constant tug for those teachers who are parents “the school kids need me” and “my child needs me” at the same time…the students who light up your classroom for years and then, suddenly grow up and are gone. And the teacher is left to wonder–did I have any effect on them at all? Did I do anything meaningful with my life?  As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll do this instead.

Anyone reading this, whether you are one of my “faithful” weekly readers or reading for the first time, whether you’re on my faculty or on a faculty elsewhere, whether you have a child at SDA or a child in another school, or are just reading because it popped up in your news feed–I challenge you to do the following.

Take the 143 minute run time and the $3.99 cost to rent the film on Amazon Prime. Grab a box of tissues and settle back against the couch cushions. When you watch, picture not only the superb teacher that Richard Dreyfuss portrays as Mr. Holland, but the teacher that had an impact on you- be it in kindergarten or at the end of your educational career. Watch it, thinking of all that teacher must have sacrificed to be there for you, and for all the other students under his/her care each day and then…if you’re going to weigh in on the current debate about reopening- do it with that teacher’s memory in your mind.

Choose your words carefully, should you post anywhere and let’s remember, whether school is open fully, open in a hybrid model or open remotely, our teachers are our heroes and they deserve the support of everyone in the community. Look at where we all are today–each of us as a teacher to thank for that. So I say thank you, to the fictional Mr. Holland for reminding me of what I needed to recollect–

Teaching is a work of the heart. 

May God bless the teachers of SDA now and in years past and teachers the world over. Thank you all, for all you’ve done.

Return To School Plans

Dear Parents:

I am certain each of you has been awaiting Saint Dominic Academy’s announcement regarding opening plans for the fall of 2020. We at SDA have been working tirelessly in order to arrive at what we feel is the best and safest decision for our students, our parents, and our faculty and staff. Recently you were asked to participate in a parent survey regarding three different school opening scenarios. I want to thank all of you for your prompt responses and today I want to share the data with you; as it weighed into the final decision made. 

Opening SurveyFull Remote OptionFull In OptionHybrid Option 
Would Return 55.3%55.3%74.5%
Would Not Return 18.3 %24.3%8.1%
Unsure24.6%20.4%17.4%

We took the responses to this survey to heart and shared this data, along with faculty surveys and the recommendation of the school’s Remote Advisory Committee with our Board of Trustees. After talking with them regarding their insights and concerns, the administration at Saint Dominic Academy made their decision about how best to open in September of 2020.

All of us are aware that the COVID-19 numbers in NJ could change at any given time, for better or for worse. Therefore, we have created a plan that will allow us to transition seamlessly into a different format, should we see an improvement in the testing numbers or should we see the numbers rise at an alarming rate. We wanted, first and foremost, to be able to offer our parents and students our assurance that regardless of how the year progresses, we have planning in place to meet any need that arises due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In September of 2020, Saint Dominic Academy will open on a Hybrid Learning Model for the first semester. A full remote option will be offered to parents who request it. Requests for a full remote option must be made to the Head of School by September 1, 2020. 

Our Hybrid Learning plan, which is detailed in the complete “Return to School” packet included with this letter, will be re-assessed at the end of the first semester with the hope that we can move into full in house learning in the early months of 2021. I would like to assure you that if at some point before the end of the first semester our State seems ready to allow for what has been termed the “new normal” after meeting all 4 stages of the Governor’s Recovery Plan, then the administration will discuss moving back into full in house learning at an earlier date. Of course, at the other end of the scale, if at anytime between now and the end of the first semester, it becomes necessary to transition to full remote learning for the health and safety of our students, parents, faculty and staff, Saint Dominic Academy is prepared to do so as well. 

Our plan is comprehensive, based on research, workshops and webinars focused on the best possible ways to safely open, and the model is in line with many of our local Boards of Education and private school models. I ask that you take time to review the plan in detail with your daughter, as it outlines building area closures, duration of the school day, mask requirements, dress code for the first semester, and some changes to our school calendar and activities/club meetings. 

If I may reference the data above one more time; although I was pleased to see that over 70% of our families supported a Hybrid Learning Model, I am equally concerned with the 17% that is unsure about this model and of course, most concerned about the 8% that would not send their daughter back at this time. If your hesitation to have your daughter in the school building at all led to a response in either of those areas, then please let me assure you, we can offer you a full remote option in place of the Hybrid option for our 1st semester. If your concerns or hesitations fall in a different area, then I am asking you to reach out to me for a one on one conversation, via Zoom or phone, so that I can work with you to ensure that your daughter can safely return to her SDA family in September.

My wish, as Head of School, would be for all of our young ladies across all grade levels to return smiling and full of joy to our home on Kennedy Boulevard in September. However, my job, as Head of School, is to ensure that the young ladies under my care receive not only the best educational experience possible at Saint Dominic Academy, but also that they are in the safest possible environment to attain that education. At this moment, I feel I am offering the best possible scenario for each and every student at Saint Dominic Academy. 

Those parents interested in a full remote option for the first semester, please reach out to our Academic Dean, Mrs. Guen Farrales at gfarrales@stdominicacad.com to discuss in detail the structure and guidelines for our full remote option. Again we ask, if you are selecting this option, you do so by September 1, 2020.

Those parents and students who have any anxieties, questions, fears or concerns about our return to school in September of 2020, I ask that you reach out to me directly at sdegnan@stdominicacad.com so that we may schedule a phone or Zoom meeting to talk one on one. 

In August, more information regarding opening in September, including details on drop off times, temperature screening procedures, and the schedule of remote/in school weeks for each grade level will be distributed. Between now and then, as need arises, I and the members of the administration will be in touch with parents regarding any changes/developments in regard to our reopening in September. 

On behalf of the school administration, I thank you all for your patience and understanding as we worked to arrive at this Reopening Plan and I am grateful to each of you for your confidence in our abilities to provide a safe and stellar learning environment for your daughters, our beloved SDA students. You and your families are in my daily prayers as we continue to weather the effects COVID-19 has on our daily lives, and I ask that you hold the community of Saint Dominic Academy in your prayers as well.

July 27

Twist endings…movie buffs love them! Those knock you through a loop, never saw it coming, jump out of your seat, endings that are so original, so jaw dropping, so perfectly executed that when the movie is viewed- the word of mouth buzz surrounding the “twist” propels people into the theater to see what all the hype is about. 

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, without giving anything away–because who is more loathed by a film fanatic than the person who spoils a movie’s ending for another person…let me name of few and if you’ve seen them, you’ll recall instantly the twist I’m referring to, and if you haven’t, well then…fire up the Netflix and enjoy. Who saw the now infamous ending of The Sixth Sense coming a mile away? Or, The Usual Suspects (which I consider the “father” of modern twist endings!) The Others, The Departed, Shutter Island, Saw, Fight Club, Atonement, Murder on the Orient Express ( and shame on me for never having read the book before I saw the movie…a funny story, but for another time!) and the list can go on and on, but I promised I’d name only a few. 

People who love films might tell you things like “I saw it coming” or “ I figured it out” but to that I say no. Some of the most famous twist endings, the ones those of us who have seen them can call upon instantly, we never saw coming. It’s only when one goes back and watches again with a careful eye, that we see the clues left embedded for us by the filmmaker. Ah well, it’s the perfect description of that famous expression “ Hindsight is 20/20.” 

And, as we reach the end of July, with only five short months left until New Year’s, I’d say if 2020 were a movie, we’d be gearing up for a huge twist ending coming. What that twist will be, I cannot even venture a guess, for although I am pretty well versed in Film Studies, the “clues” laid out for us thus far this year are too difficult for me to interpret. Who do we trust? Who’s giving us the best advice? Masks needed? Masks unnecessary? Safe to dine indoors or not safe? A second wave is coming? No second wave will appear? COVID- 19 is as unpredictable as a first time director handed a script with an ending almost too challenging to put onscreen–it’s got all of us second guessing, changing our opinions each day, listening to different theories and trying to puzzle them out…and far from being an enjoyable experience for us, if you are anything like I am, your stomach gets into knots at any given moment.

Twist endings are fine when it’s a movie, when we remove ourselves from the action, watch from our perch on our couch or in theater and serve as the outside observer, commenting on what happens to those involved in the situation. It’s an entirely different scenario to be thrust into the action, the 4th wall removed and suddenly, we wait as breathlessly as a character onscreen waits, to see what the next pages of the script say. 

You and I, each one of us is not only the actor in our own 2020 story, but the director as well. Now, we’ve been handed a lot of last minute changes, a lot of hurdles and red herrings in our scripts this year. And yet, here we are, with 7 months of 2020 behind us and 5 to go. So, you may ask, how do we outsmart, outwit, out plan whatever twist ending 2020 has in store for us? Well, the answer, as it often is in this twist movies, is right in front of us only we don’t see it clearly.

To get through the hardships and shocks this year has held, we need to focus on all the good we have in our lives, take credit for all we’ve been able to achieve from March onward, and trust that as the “credits” roll we will have come out stronger, more resilient, and more empowered. How is this achievable? For that answer, I direct you to where I draw my inspiration daily…

The Gospel of Matthew – 17:20

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say this to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

Only God knows how the 2020 twist will end and if we put our faith in Him, our vision will remain clear and certain enough to guide each of us through. Keep the faith!

July 13

How can it be that right now, in NJ it’s not safe to eat inside at a restaurant, go to a movie, go to a concert, or have an indoor wedding–but schools will open? How can it be that right now, just across the Hudson, theaters on Broadway will remain dark until January—but schools will open? Each of those activities is shorter than the length of a school day–and almost all of those activities are done either by adults, or with adult supervision of minors…and yet they are not safe right now–closed–per government orders. And thus starts the never-ending “ what if” questions that plague the mind of every parent, teacher and school leader nightly right now. 

What’s going to happen if one child removes their mask and breathes on another child? How can anyone do lab work in a science lab–no lab partners, no sharing lab equipment? What if we can make a school totally “safe” according to guidelines, and then our athletes play a sport against a team whose school has not taken those precautions? Who has to clean up the discarded masks that will wind up on the floors? What if the school says no lunch will be served, but the parent cannot send in lunch? What about allergies? What if two teachers, on two different floors, each let a student go to the bathroom and while in the bathroom they remove their masks? 

What about fire drills? How can they stand six feet apart? What do we do if the building goes on lockdown? How can they be kept safe in the designated space-they will not be six feet apart? What if someone forgets their pencil…they can’t borrow one? What if, on the bus to and from school, students refuse to wear their masks? What if someone forgets to wash their hands? How do we teach subject areas that require some contact–P.E., Art, Drama–or do we just not cover these subjects? What about the teacher who goes home to care for his/her elderly parent? What about the coach with a pre existing medical condition? What about the student whose asthma is so bad they can’t wear a mask, but who lives with a grandparent and does not want to risk carrying virus home? 

What if schools don’t open? What happens to the child who is being neglected at home? The only child for whom school is their only chance to socialize with their peer group? The children who live with parents who work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet and who cannot be home to help them learn remotely? What happens to the child who is being abused, and who would look to confide in a trusted school adult? What happens..? What about…..? How do we …? What if…? 

The decisions about school in the fall were first put into the hands of individual states/governors and then many governors decided to put the decisions into the hands of the school districts/leaders themselves–with the mindset that those who lead the schools know how to best serve the students and families. Now, all across the nation, we have many voices weighing in; issuing guidelines, saying “it’s safe”, threatening to withhold funds, arguing its impossible to safely open, comparing states where numbers are high to states where numbers are low, comparing elementary school plans to university plans, comparing large districts and small districts–and once again an endless debate rages onward, fanning fires and explosions-pitting people against each other– educators and government–parents and principals–and for what? To what end?

I am a school administrator, of a private school and so a great deal of the planning for September falls to me and the team I have working with me. I can look to my local district for guidance, but what works for their size and space may not work for mine. I’m the parent of a child who has to return to school in some way come September, and so all those questions listed above weigh on my mind in two ways, as they weigh on the mind of any parent who is looking toward September and any teacher who is looking to return to work. It’s up to me and other school leaders to find the answers, to make things “safe”, to reassure, to project confidence, to ensure that each student receives the best possible education and also a welcoming, safe, and caring school environment. 

I’ll admit it–I don’t have the answers to all of those questions. I just don’t. And it’s ok for me to admit that, because nobody has all the answers. This is unprecedented. It’s an unimaginable situation–and as the numbers change–the situation could move in a different direction at any given time. It’s as if I am the principal of a school in an M. Night Shyamalan movie–it looks like the regular world, but from out of nowhere pop these unexpected and terrifying scenarios that have to be overcome. So, how could I or any other school leader offer our teachers, our parents or our student a 100% ironclad guarantee that “nothing will happen”, that “everything will be fine”…if I offered that–you’d have good reason not to trust me.

Our students are not merely alphabetical lists of names on a class roster. If I were to lose even one of them, the risk would outweigh the benefit. Our parents who support our school with their time, who trust us with their daughters, are essential in the day to day lives of our children–to lose one of them would be a tragedy. 

And our devoted teachers–who will come back in September–they are our own personal “front line”–and they are most certainly not disposable; a good teacher is irreplaceable, not only to the students he or she teaches, but to the family he or she returns to each day. These men and women never signed a contract stating they’d risk their lives; and yet they do it every day–in the event of fires or lockdowns or shootings–and now in the face of a worldwide pandemic, they are once again risking it all to ensure our children, yours and mine get the education they deserve. To lose one of them would be a heartbreaking loss for the school community–one that none of us would ever fully recover from. 

Does all of this mean we cannot open schools? No, of course not–we need schools. Does that mean I can guarantee a full, five day a week, 7 hours a day, full roster of athletics and activities and proms and ring ceremonies…and the list goes on. Well, no. I can’t–I just cannot guarantee that right now and I’d be very foolish if I did. 

The re-opening of schools, Saint Dominic Academy and across the nation, will happen–in some form. It may be hybrid, it may be shortened days or no lunch–more and more plans come out daily. The only way we can each, parents and the school, do our best to make it “safe” is to have faith in each other and to trust each other. Faith and trust have been very hard to come by since this past March, that I know. But it’s essential right now–

And so, please, put your faith in me and the other leaders of Saint Dominic Academy–we will make the best possible decisions to benefit you and your daughters. Please, trust us–we are their teachers, their leaders, and truly we care about each one of them as if they were our own. Faith, and trust—two key intangible but essential ingredients as we head toward September–coupled with prayer, always, are the first steps back. 

Saint Dominic Academy continues to develop plans for re-opening in September, and will update parents in a timely manner on any and all new changes, restrictions, and re-opening plans.

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. 

June 29

Here we are, at the end of June already. Had it been any other summer season, I am certain that most of you would be either packing up for vacations, or returning from early summer vacations. Planning for August trips, booking overnight stays at theme parks, attending summer intramural sporting events…how many of us will even look to do any of those things this summer? While you know from my blog a few weeks ago that I have been heading out here and there- it is with extreme caution and usually followed up by a period of staying home. Nobody can be too careful and even now, months from when this pandemic began, there is no such thing, in my mind at least, as too safe.

I am sure many of you tuned in to hear Governor Murphy on Friday, as he released the NJ Guidelines for a return to school in the fall. I was saddened by the fact that he only saw fit to mention private and parochial schools once during his briefing. What I heard him say was what I had predicted all along- the districts will set up a plan that best ensures the health and safety of the students, that adheres to all requirements for social distancing in the guidelines, and that ensures that the faculty and staff take precautions and stay safe as well. Our Governor is trusting those who run school districts in New Jersey to make decisions for the students under their care. As he has done in other instances since COVID-19 began rampaging our state- he’s letting the experts weigh in and make decisions. 

And what of us in private education? Well, we will certainly look to the model that the district sets up; however what works for the public high schools in Jersey City may or may not be what works best for Saint Dominic Academy. As a private school, we will look to both district guidelines as well as to our own experts- our administration, teachers, parents, board members, and students themselves–because we want to ensure that, while we fully adhere to the guidelines, we offer a plan that we feel is the most beneficial, most successful and of course, the safest for the students entrusted to us. I can assure you that, as we always are, Saint Dominic Academy has been extremely proactive in planning and in evaluating the best way to safely return in September.

Our Remote Advisory Committee has been working for over a month; attending webinars, researching different models of learning, and meeting weekly with administrators via Zoom. All of our teachers will be attending Professional Development training for remote learning methods, should we need to implement them. Different department members have also been sent to training and workshops and we have more scheduled in the coming weeks. We have, just last week, surveyed our parents, asking them their thoughts about the feasibility of returning to school, of their comfort level in social distancing, after school sports and activities, et al. I thank all the parents who took the time to respond- especially those who provided written feedback in the comments section. Prior to surveying the parents, we had our students complete surveys on virtual learning for every class they took during 2019-2020 and our teachers completed surveys as well. We have had calls with consultants about social distance measures including, but of course not limited to, face shields, glass barriers in labs, temperature scans…the list is endless. 

Do I, at this moment, at the end of June have a a final plan that I can put into your hands? No- not as yet. However, I want to reassure you that we have not one, but several draft models mapped out- each one looking at different ways to ensure that your daughter gets the full Saint Dominic Academy experience; academic, athletic, and social- to the very best of our ability, while still making the health and safety of your daughters, your families, and our faculty and staff a number one priority. 

We will have our plan to you in the coming weeks…and if any parent wishes to talk one on one with a member of the administration to discuss concerns or fears about what the fall of 2020 will look like, please just reach out and we will schedule a call to talk. 

We’re not out of the woods yet…but we are, as we have been since 1878- a family, a sisterhood, and we will do everything in our power to meet your needs, exceed your expectations, and keep your children safe. I offer my continued daily prayers to all of our families- may God keep us safe, keep us healthy, and be with us as we continue to experience losses, great and small, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, I ask you to join me in prayer for the lives lost- may they rest in peace.