In Support of Catholic Schools

The mission and vision of Catholic schools in Hudson County has never changed, never wavered, and never varied in its goal.  The goal of all Catholic schools, elementary or high, co-ed or single sex is to provide a faith filled educational foundation for students whose parents wish to see their children achieve. One needs only to look at the mission statements of schools in Hudson County, and regardless of whether they were founded by the Dominicans, the Jesuits, the Marist Brothers, the De La Salle Brothers or another religious community, the purpose is shared.  Catholic education is different from public education, in ways more myriad than the placement of crosses in a classroom or prayers before the end of the day.  Catholic school is a tradition, a way of life, a path that many of us were raised on and that we continue to have our children follow to this very day.  Catholic school alumni, educators, and parents are a community of our own- one that believes in the value and need for quality Catholic education within our communities, in order to best prepare our next generation of children for the future.

It should then come as no surprise how shocked and saddened I was this past Monday when I learned that Marist High School has been given just one month to raise 1.5 million or its doors will close in June.  This is a pattern I have seen far too often during my years in education.  I have been blessed to have been educated by Catholic institutions in Jersey City from kindergarten through 12th grade, and it is with sadness that I look back on those years, for both of those fine schools, Our Lady of Mercy and The Academy of Saint Aloysius are no longer here to serve the Hudson County community.  Over the past few years, many of us have seen other schools consolidate, combine, restructure or even close and a loss of one of those institutions is a significant loss for Catholic education overall.  

This county was once filled with thriving, academically challenging Catholic elementary schools and high schools and now, their reflections are seen only in the pages of yearbooks from days gone by and in the actions of those who once passed through their doors and now are leading by example in their individual lines of work; retaining the essence of faith, service, charity and compassion that was taught in their Catholic educational setting.

Where once Jersey City and, indeed, all of Hudson County was primarily a homogeneous geography of Catholic immigrants, it is today a market of enormous diversity. While our product, a faith-based education that empowers women of all backgrounds for leadership, is appropriate for many beyond the graduates of Catholic elementary schools, the fact is that there are, indeed, fewer families seeking these educations for their children. Although that is the case, there is room for diversity in those offerings – both single gender and co-ed – because it is from diversity that we all thrive.

For all of us, myself included, a thriving Catholic school community is one where all schools are successful, all schools serve the student population, and the choice, for co-ed or single sex is offered- to meet the individual student’s best interest.  If we are to be successful, we must be supportive of all Catholic educational endeavors and we must reach out and be there for each other in times of trouble and despair. For, isn’t that what being a Catholic community is all about?

We do not want to sit back and watch as doors close around us; we want those doors to be open, to continue to promote their educational programs and their outstanding achievements.  For we are a community, one that believes in Catholic education and one that wants to see it thrive for time in memoriam.  

In that vein, Saint Dominic Academy will do more this spring than just promote Catholic education within our own walls.  We will be making a donation to the #savemaristnj campaign and will hope that our donation, partnered with so many others, will ensure that the doors of another Catholic school do not close forever, but rather, remain a vibrant part of Hudson County for years to come.  Saint Dominic Academy supports Catholic education and we want to see it thrive…always!

This Is Us…at SDA!

Are many of you on the This Is Us bandwagon? I was not at first, but more and more people kept telling me I was missing “the best show on television.”  So one night I gave it a chance and after two episodes, I was hooked. Now, tissues are on my weekend grocery list because I have not made it through many episodes without either filling up or freely crying. ( Although, no spoilers, I found the season finale very anti climatic. No tears shed there folks!)  I am sure those of you who watch have your favorite characters, ( Team Randall here!)  plot lines to follow, and overall weekly reactions. (Here is a question: is the Mom too demanding or is the Father just a bit too perfect? Thoughts? Anyone?)  

The writers, director and actors have created a television show that, for one reason or another, has struck a chord with our culture today.  It has drawn us in, held our interest, made us talk, made us think, and made us ( at least me) weep. That is quite a big impact for a television show to have, especially in the day and age of reality television, an over-choice of what to watch using whatever device one is plugged into each day, and in a world where many of us are too busy to just take a moment and enjoy on a regular basis.  And that made me wonder; what is it about this show, with no violence,  no gratuitous sex (at least not in this season), no focus on anything other than family and what it means to be a family today, that has captured the hearts of many of us?

And I went from that wondering to this pondering; Saint Dominic Academy could be viewed in the same type of weekly “snapshot”, a picture of what makes us so engaging, so captivating, so beloved week after week, year after year, from 1878 to now.   For at heart, the SDA community is a family and at different times throughout the years, different aspects have been given the limelight, the focus, the love of the students, parents and alumnae. Each of us have grown to care for SDA for different reasons and have different motivations for attending, for serving, or for supporting, but we all do it. There is something almost magic about Saint Dominic Academy; it draws people in as students, it calls people back, as alumnae. It motivates, it challenges, and it supports- the school has an engaged following that cannot be denied.

One need only to look to our social media; our Twitter followers, our Facebook page, as well as the alumnae and parent SDA Facebook pages to see how much support we have; a following that far surpasses any TV show following. Memories, accolades, inspirations, they are posted and shared daily for all to see. And so, this week I am very happy to announce via this blog a new undertaking at SDA this spring.  As you know, the weekend of April 28th is our Alumnae Reunion weekend. In honor of that, we at Saint Dominic Academy will be naming April  “Alumnae Celebration Month.”

So, Saint Dominic Academy…This Is Us!  From April 1 to April 30th, we will be reaching out daily, via email and social media to share memories of the SDA of years past and achievements of the current SDA students. It is my hope that you continue to remain our “loyal viewers” during this venture and I look forward to sharing these daily highlights with you.

Stay tuned…

Why Attend SDA? The Answer Is Simple!

When it comes to high schools there is no doubt in my mind that Saint Dominic Academy offers the best possible education for young women in grades 7-12.  Our classes are academically challenging, our athletic program is competitive yet welcoming, and our learning experiences exceed the perimeters of the classroom setting more than a few times throughout the year.   We create a warm and nurturing environment for our students and truly work to inspire them to become empowered leaders of the future.

 However, I know that oftentimes, parents and other potential stakeholders do ask the question: Why is Catholic secondary education for women so important?  In a day and age where many public and charter schools are offering specialized academic programs and where co-ed Catholic schools offer the allure (and drama and tears) of taking classes with young men,  what makes so many parents and their daughters choose Saint Dominic Academy?  It is because, day in and day out since 1878, we have offered a foundation supported by the Dominicans that truly shapes young women for the future.

As a graduate of the Academy of Saint Aloysius, I can attest first hand to the importance of Catholic secondary education for women. I would not be where I am today without the backing and support of the Sisters of Charity and without the strong foundations I received at their institution. Catholic education provides young women with the opportunity to become, as we at Saint Dominic Academy so frequently phrase it, “empowered”.  

During the formative years of 12- 18, attending an all girls school allows our young women, your daughters, to learn that they can indeed do it all. Our girls are the star athletes, the student council presidents, the leads in the musicals, the top students in the class. As parent Eileen Gill recently stated via Facebook: The dedication, discipline and teamwork that these girls put into this team week after week are a tribute to their hard-working coaches, and the culture of Saint Dominic Academy. While your daughters attend Saint Dominic Academy, they are the innovators and achievers, with nobody to stand in their spotlight or to make them feel that what they are doing is not something “women do.”  It is at all girls Catholic schools where girls truly learn that all people are created equal and that intelligent, faith-filled women can change the world, make it better, and reach any goal they set for themselves.

I learned all of those lessons during my time in Catholic school and it is those lessons that set me on my path to the future. If I had not had the opportunity to attend The Academy of Saint Aloysius, I may not ever have truly realized how important it is for our Catholic girls’ schools to stay strong, stay vital and to maintain a true presence in the lives of all girls.  Those sentiments were recently expressed to me via email from parent Joyce Debronsky, who shared her feeling that SDA’s future is bright…I am glad our family is a part of it!  

Today, I thank each of our parents in grades 7-12 for choosing Saint Dominic Academy, for putting the future of your daughters into the hands of all who work so hard daily, and for entrusting us to set them on the right path to the future.  You chose wisely, you chose well, and we are honored to have your daughters here with us each day.

From 1878 to today, and far into the future, Saint Dominic Academy will offer young ladies a chance to be everything they ever dreamed of being: STEM scholars, Presidents, Soloists, Athletes, and there is never someone saying “girls cannot…” At Saint Dominic Academy, we work every day to send the message that “Girls Can” and “Girls Should” and that message, more than any other, helps to create a world of women who work for the betterment of society as a whole.

The Most Magical Place on Earth

March is here and with it, hopefully, the advent of spring! I know that each year, I look forward to March, even if most of its weather is more winter like than filled with spring warmth. However, there is just something about the anticipation of spring that makes me more cheerful and happy. It’s a challenge for educators and students to focus, day after day as grey clouds fill the sky, cold winds blow and barren trees wave their branches.  With the sight of buds on branches, grass peeking through the soil and blue skies, it is my hope that all of us at Saint Dominic Academy will be filled with energy and excitement for the remaining months of school.

The warm weather will be arriving extra early for some members of the Saint Dominic Academy community. Last Thursday, our Dance Team headed to Florida to compete in the National Dance Alliance competitions. We have nine young ladies, in grades 8-12 representing SDA at this monumental event. Our team has done well in its past competitions in Florida, always bringing home a trophy to display proudly here at school. Although they have a tight schedule, hours of practices for their three competitive challenges, it will not be a case of “all work and no play” for these young ladies. They will be able to experience the fun (and frights!) of Universal Studios, Orlando, where I myself can only hope that they will visit the World of Harry Potter and take lots of pictures for this Potter fan!

As these nine return, ten more leave Saint Dominic Academy to head to Disney World. From March 6 to March 10th, students selected for SDA’s first participation in the DISNEY YES Educational Program will fly to Orlando and check into the Pop Century Resort, located on Disney property. Once there, the girls, in grades 9-12, will spend three mornings in intensive workshops hosted by Disney. The workshop topics are Disney Leadership Strategies, Evolution of Technology, and Properties of Motion Physics Lab. All will involve interaction with Disney “cast members” and give the young ladies a glimpse into the inner workings of both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Again, this is not a work only event; the young ladies will be able to “experience the magic” of Disney by spending the afternoons and evenings in the parks once the workshop is complete. Take a spin through the Haunted Mansion for me, ladies!

Having 19 of our students heading to Florida for various academic and athletic recognition is a wonderful achievement for all of us here at Saint Dominic Academy and also a wonderful achievement for each of the young ladies who were selected to attend. As a personal Disney vacation lover ( the photos for this blog were taken by me last March!) , part of my mind and heart next week will be in Disney with these girls and I commend them for the success and honor that they bring to SDA through their achievements.  Bring home some of the magic to SDA ladies and sprinkle some pixie dust in the halls of 2572 Kennedy Boulevard, where magic is happening daily in our classrooms!

An SDA Friendship

In September of 1993, I left The Academy of Saint Aloysius after completing a day of 11th grade. I boarded a bus headed for Saint Peter’s Prep; I was the only girl from my school who was trying out for their musical production of Carousel.  ( I got in, by the way!)  What I didn’t know, as I got off the bus and walked toward Grand and Warren, was that I would make a friend in the Prep cafeteria who would truly become a friend for life.  Anyone want to venture a guess as to where she went to high school?  You are right! She was a junior at Saint Dominic Academy!

As I walked that day into a sea of unfamiliar faces, I was very nervous. Now, over 20 years later, I have no trouble at all stepping into a room and feeling comfortable, but back then it was a bit of a different story. (On a side note, I think I gained a lot of my self confidence from those theatrical productions at Prep! Thanks SPP!)  When I think back on that day, I am surprised that I just did not turn around and leave. Luckily, I did not make that choice but instead stepped into the ladies room (yes, way back in 1993 Prep had a ladies room for us girls to use!) to calm myself down before heading into the audition process.  Lo and behold, there was another young lady who, I can only assume, was also calming herself down.  Her friendly face smiled at me via the mirror. Blond hair, glasses just like mine, and over the top of her SDA blazer, a full face of makeup- just as my fully made up face perched over the top of my ASA sweater! (This was the early 90’s, so think 90210 for how the makeup may have looked! Someday, I may have to burn those pictures of me…but that’s another story!) She, being the braver of the two of us, introduced herself first and we walked into the Prep cafeteria together. The rest, as they say, is history.

We sat together at rehearsals, we were in many scenes together during the production, and by the time the curtain rose on Carousel, the first weekend in January of 1994, our friendship had become a gift to me.  It is a gift that has lasted, through a spring production of Beckett, through the following year’s Fiddler on the Roof, through proms, graduation, college, work and adult life.  I can remember dancing at her wedding, attending the baby shower for her first daughter, us holding each other’s newborns, and although our lives have gotten more and more hectic and what was once monthly dinners have turned into twice a year get-togethers, where we watch our daughters, spanning ages 12-5, play together, she and I have maintained a friendship that began 24 years ago.

This past Wednesday here at Saint Dominic Academy, students in our 8th and 10th grade STEM classes boarded a bus early in the morning.  Their destination? Union, NJ, home to the Titan Engineers PC, founded, owned and operated by a 1994 Saint Peter’s Prep alumnus, and his wife…the same SDA girl I met in 1993.  What a wonderful moment it was for me here as Head of School, to send these young ladies off on this field trip.

Friendship, I have learned, spreads its mantle far and wide. Sometimes, not through any fault, but rather because of distance, life, and different paths, that mantle stretches too thin and the friendship cannot be fully maintained.  However, there are sometimes when that mantle comes full circle and this friendship story is one of them.  Here I sit in my office at SDA, an office that was just being built when my friend walked these halls as a student, and there she is in Union, NJ, waiting to open the doors of the company to this new generation of SDA sisters, proud as an alumna to be able to welcome them for the day.

When I think of SDA and its generations of dedicated and loyal alumnae, I realize what wonderful life lessons the young women who have walked these halls have learned over the years. Yes, we do strive to provide the best education of course, but SDA also teaches a valuable lesson about sisterhood, kindness, and the ability to make a stranger feel welcome, at ease, and at home. It is no real surprise to me, as I look back on the friendships in my life that have lasted, that one of my closest friends is an SDA graduate. She learned the value of sisterhood here, within these walls, and shared that lesson with long me before I joined the SDA family as an adult.  The story of our friendship is a showcase of what makes Saint Dominic Academy so very special for so many students and for our alumnae as well.

Why I Teach

When I decided to undertake the study of English Literature during college, it was always with the intention of becoming a teacher. From my first moments in the classroom; teaching Beowulf to 11th grade students, I knew I would be a teacher for the rest of my life. There is no doubt that teaching is a challenge. There are few who will argue that statement and those of us who teach on a daily basis fully understand the time and effort it takes to become an excellent teacher.

After teaching for several years, I began a study of school administration, with the intention of becoming a school leader. Once I earned my degree, it was time for me to consider how I wanted to continue my career and how I could advance with a role in a school’s administration. I did realize, right from the start, that when someone moves into the role of school administrator, their scope of influence over the climate of the school becomes greater, as does their own power to undertake change within the school community. There is no one person is a school building who plays more of a role in developing and cultivating the climate and culture of an individual school than the Head of School. As Head of School, it is my daily goal to inspire others and work to encourage learning.

I fully believe that the best part of continuing education happens within the classroom setting, fostered in the interaction between teacher and student.  That is why I continue to teach.  As a teacher as well as a school administrator, I disagree with those who say administrators cannot be effective teachers.  I have worked in two private schools where the administrators, myself included, have taught classes and have been some of the most engaging teachers in the school.  In no way did it impede or intrude on their ability or on my own ability to be an effective administrator; in fact it often led to more compassionate and understanding administrators. Do school administrators who teach have to be flexible people? Without a doubt. Does their schedule need to be given special consideration at times and should their students know to expect, on occasion, a minor bump in the road, should an administrative issue arise? Of course. However, it can be done, and it can benefit the overall school community.

As a school administrator, I want my teachers to embrace new and exciting teaching methods, to encourage the use of technology, to explore cross curricular lessons and to engage in interactive learning experiences within the classroom. How do I best inspire them to do these things? The answer is simple, by doing it myself. As a school administrator, the best thing I do every single day is lead by example and model what a teacher should be.

The group of stakeholders who are, arguably, most important to any school setting are the students sitting in classrooms each day. Being a classroom teacher as well as an administrator allows my students to see me in a different light. I am not some person behind an office door; I am in the classroom-motivating, teaching, and learning from them each day, about how they learn best. I may be an administrator for the rest of my career in education, but I am at heart, a teacher. Being in the classroom each day allows me to more fully appreciate my entire student body and it motivates me to work harder in my administrative role to make sure that every opportunity is afforded to them.

What SDA Teaches About Love

Here it is; the inevitable “Valentine’s Day” blog.  And yet, I am not going to be talking today about hearts and flowers and candy and dinners out. Nor will I focus on the history of Saint Valentine himself, although the risks he took to support the Catholic church are admirable and should be remembered, not only in February but throughout the entire year.  Today, the day before we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a day which fosters and recognizes the love we have for each other, I want to share with you some excerpts from a Joint Public Statement issued by the Dominican Sisters Conference and the North American Promoters of Justice.  For what better topic to focus on than that spirit of love and community that Saint Dominic Academy has been fostering in young women from 1878 to today.

Women and men religious have been blessed to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country throughout their histories. We remain committed to welcoming refugees who come here after passing through the U.S. government’s already rigorous screening process.  Saint Dominic Academy opened its doors and its heart in 1878, to serve the children of immigrants in Jersey City; a goal in keeping with the mission of the school which is to empower women for leadership in a global society. Today, the immigrant population in Jersey City has changed, but the idea of Saint Dominic Academy’s commitment to serving students who are seeking a Catholic education, rooted in Dominican tradition has not. Our doors are open to young ladies and their families who seek not only a strong educational foundation, but an education rooted in love, service and spirituality as well.

Our Christian story is rooted in a journey that includes the plight of Mary and Joseph, called out of their homeland to protect the child Jesus. Our Dominican story is 800 years old. St. Dominic founded the Order to preach truth. Our heritage as Dominicans calls us to stand for truth and to raise our voices for truth. This too, is a goal fostered at Saint Dominic Academy, where we teach the girls not only to respect others, but to grow in understanding and love, embracing the different cultures, beliefs and ideas in the community around them, while maintaining their own personal value system as well.  Our religion and history classrooms teach the perils of persecution for religious or political reasons, the ramifications of intolerance and the key insights that mold our students daily into open minded young women, who celebrate diversity and embrace the traditions of various cultures.

Saint Dominic Academy has always taken teaching tolerance one step further.  We do not stop at tolerance; we teach love. Love for our fellow SDA sisters, love for the generations of alumnae, whose support of the school help to sustain SDA traditions, love for those less fortunate, as evidenced by our commitment to service.  Tomorrow, at Saint Dominic Academy, we will celebrate Valentine’s Day, but for generations of women from 1878 until now, the love for others embraced by everyone on February 14th, is a sustaining love that our young women carry with them daily.  It is a love for all mankind and a constant reflection on God’s love for all of us.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You’re Gonna Make It After All!

I will admit, I am a little young for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I was born the year it went off the air.  But, as with so many things in life; thanks to syndication, DVD players, Netflix, Hulu and so on, I will admit to being a bit of a fan. I have not binge watched it (yet…think #summernightsgoals) but have seen enough of the show that I have a sense of what a groundbreaking and important show it was, for its time, for women, and even now, forty years after it has gone off the air, how important some of the show’s messages are.

So, short and sweet this week: here are the most important things I learned from Mary Tyler Moore and her show and it is my hope that these lessons will be shared with all of the wonderful women who encompass the SDA community; current students, alumnae, mothers, female faculty, staff and administration!

  1. You truly can turn the world on with a smile! Smiling instantly makes the day better for two people; you and the person you smile at. If you smile daily at everyone you meet, think about how many people’s days you are changing for the better! A smile truly can change the world around you.
  2. It is a CHOICE to be upbeat and positive! Every single day, we are all faced with that choice; to let the world and its worries and weights get us down, or to smile, and be positive! The world is ours and we should celebrate that every single day!
  3. Ladies, we can hold our own in any setting; newsroom, classroom, boardroom, whatever room we are placed in; we can own that room! The premise of the show had Mary interviewing for a secretarial position and instead becoming an associate producer of the 6:00pm news.  Why, because she owned the room she was in!
  4. Each of us has the potential to take a nothing day and make it all seem worthwhile!  How we do it is up to us and the ways we do it are as varied and as unique as each of us are. But, together, we can make every single day worthwhile, special and something to treasure forever!
  5. Don’t ever let someone tell you “ I hate spunk!” It’s the most important thing for us to have!  We should be spunky, be brave, be vocal about the causes we champion and the ideals which we believe in with all of our hearts!  We should stand up always for what we believe in and do it with a positive attitude and a smile gracing our faces!
  6. Finally, and most importantly, we need to keep throwing our hats in the air until the glass ceiling shatters above us! We are strong, we are empowered and ladies, we’re  gonna make it after all!

In Memory of Mary Tyler Moore 1936-2017

Fathers, Daughters and February

What I have learned from my father?  Wow! I could write a weekly blog just on that topic.  My father, a very intelligent man with a history in scientific and academic publishing, has knowledge of and opinions on a myriad of subjects; not limited to his field of expertise. (Biology and Chemistry).  Highly educated, well read, determined, head strong, and insightful, he has been the best man I have ever known. That is not to say we have always seen eye to eye on things and not to say my Father/Daughter relationship was as perfectly wonderful from day one as it is today.  Some of those traits I listed above may sound familiar to those of you who know me well; I am certain that head strong, determined and opinionated caught the eye of my mother as she “previewed” my blog this week.  So, when a father and a daughter share many of the same personality traits (and some striking physical ones in  my case as well), it should not surprise people to hear my say that our relationship has always been good, but has gotten much stronger as we’ve gotten older ( and as I did some more growing up!)

The only and eldest daughter of three, yes, I was my father’s little girl.  My earliest memory of my father is from when I was just a little over two years old. He took me out for the day, probably because, as an early talker, I was wearing my mother out. We went to…the mall! Never my dad’s favorite place to venture; going with a 2 year old in 1980 must have been some experience. Why did we go there? Because I wanted to go on the “rides.”  Those little machines that took a quarter and bounced up and down? Yup; in 1980 that was my idea of a perfect date!  The memory is hazy, but it is there, in my mind and heart; me and Joe Degnan at the mall!

Over the years, I gave some of the things he liked to do the old “college try”, as it were. Camping?! Um…I went. I endured. Was I a happy go lucky camper? Not in the least.  Baseball?  I went. I learned. I enjoyed! And so, there was a common interest.  My dad did the best he could too; my three lines in a production of Carousel in high school. He came ( twice). He endured.  He brought flowers. Was I made aware that musicals, especially those Rogers and Hammerstein ones were not high on his list of enjoyable events? Why yes, I was.  And yet, it was my father who took me to tour the NYU campus when I thought I wanted to attend school in the city.  It was my father who worked with me on my college applications, who listened to stories of my first work experiences, who provided me with background knowledge on any subject imaginable as I began teaching. (Dad, what do you know about Mount Everest? About the scientific possibilities about Jurassic Park being a reality? About how long a 9 year old could survive in the woods on her own?)  Never did he ask “What on earth are you teaching?” He sat, he explained, he explained again (again, and again!) until I understood.

As I compose this, at almost 40 years old, am I still my father’s girl? Yes I am in many ways.  He texts me if the weather is going to be bad in the morning.  Each January, he reminds me about what I need to prepare for my taxes. He beats me to the garbage barrels and takes them out 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. He worries, he worries, he worries!  And he does all of this not because I cannot do it on my own or because he thinks I need to be taken care of; but because he knows that my own life roles, as mother, as Head of School, as educator put a great deal on my plate at any given time and he wants to  help.  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.

Sitting in my office at Saint Dominic Academy, I am surprised to look at my desk calendar and see we are at the end of January already.  This year, like every year before it has moved at lightening pace and it continues full on; heading into our Spirit Week and, this coming Friday, February 3rd, our 35th Annual Father-Daughter Dance.  Of all of the traditions I have come to embrace as an administrator at Saint Dominic Academy, this one has a very special place in my heart.  Saint Dominic Academy is the first school that I have been connected with, either as a student or a teacher, who hosts an event like this, and what an important event it is.  For in a school that celebrates women, that empowers women, that rejoices at generations of strong alumnae sending their daughters to our doors for education, it is equally important that we give our fathers and father figures a moment in the spotlight and recognize them for being the wonderful men that they are; men who are not shying away from the idea of raising an outspoken, witty, educated, empowered daughter, but men who are saying “Yes! I am proud of my daughter and I know she will change the world!”

On February 3rd, my father and I will join the young ladies of SDA and the men who are committed to making the lives of those girls truly wonderful.  I will look forward to thanking, in person, every father and father figure in the room who has done so much for the young ladies I am blessed to see every day.  And I will thank my father, and encourage all of the girls to do the same. (I bet nobody thinks I can do it without crying!) Ladies, these men help to make us empowered women; how very lucky we are to have them.

A Tribute to Teachers!

“Open your mouth and speak distinctly,” my 95 year old grandfather says through clenched teeth. This is his oft told anecdote about his high school Spanish teacher; the joke being that she never opened her mouth but expected her students to speak clearly. My youngest brother, now a Jersey City Fire Captain, can tell just as funny an anecdote, about his kindergarten teacher putting him in the “Hot Seat” for trying to kiss girls in the classroom. My best friend, a highly intelligent civil engineer can make people laugh until they cry when he tells stories of classroom antics at his prestigious all boys school, the teachers’ lessons peppered with expletives and off color jokes. I myself have been known to tell the tale of my 9th grade typing teacher who would hit me in the head with a pencil when I hit the wrong key on the cap covered typewriter. However, as a life- long educator myself, I follow up that tale with the name of the teacher and the fact that I can now type over seventy words per minute without error. I remember not just the anecdote, but the lesson learned as well.

For generations, teacher anecdotes have often been called out at dinner parties, bar room gatherings and coffee clutches. It is my belief that because everyone has been through the education system, everyone has a favorite teacher story to share. “Telling tales out of school” as it were, became a bonding experience, a conversation starter, and at times even an ice breaker before a presentation or other workshop.  Favorite teacher stories span public, parochial, and now, with increasing frequency charter school graduates. For the most part, the stories are amusing, self deprecating at times, and paint the teacher as a sort of caricature of the profession, not unlike the “ wha-wha-wha” way teachers were depicted in the old Peanuts cartoons.  Funny teachers and zany classroom experiences? Sure, who doesn’t have a story? However, I must ask, both as an educator and as someone who has great faith in the Catholic education system, is this really the message about teachers and education that we as a society should really be sending to our impressionable children and teens?

Perhaps when we look back at our elementary and high school years, we recall a teacher who may have lost his or her temper a bit frequently.  I ask you, indulge me for a moment and look back on that situation, not with the eyes of the child you were, but with the eyes and mind of the adult you are now. Could it possibly have been a first or second grade teacher who worked so hard each day to teach vowels and consonants, while her students tried to color on the walls? However, we all know “a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y”.   None of us missed that lesson, but not many of us, myself included can well remember how it was taught to us in a way we would never forget.

Let’s go back to that stressed teacher for a moment.  Change the classroom from elementary school to late middle school and once again, look back as an adult.  That teacher, who you remember from your childhood as  being too strict or too mean suddenly looks a little different when you reflect, doesn’t he/she? Could it have been an 8th grade homeroom teacher, who was dealing daily with the new raging hormones of just developing adolescents? I bet that teacher was there almost every day, prepared, ready with a lesson that no thirteen year old wanted to hear. After all, we all graduated 8th grade, didn’t’ we?

If you would indulge me one last time and call to mind your high school years. When I look back, I can vividly recall how much I dreaded going to Latin class, where I was sure to be singled out for not being able to conjugate correctly to the tune of whatever song Sister Helen Jean selected that day. But now, I will tell students that Latin and typing were the two most important classes I took in high school!  Who was it for you during high school? A 10th grade geometry teacher, trying desperately to teach the Pythagorean therom to a group of fifteen year olds who were trying to study their driver’s ed manuals in Geometry class?  And yet, we know a2 +b2 = c2, right? (well, don’t test me on it!)  A 12th grade Literature teacher, trying desperately to discuss the inner workings of Hamlet’s fatal flaw, while all around her the seventeen year olds talked about who was taking whom to the prom. However, that teacher tried her hardest to explain Hamlet’s indecision each day.  And now, 22 years out of The Academy of Saint Aloysius, I cannot at a moment’s notice recall the name of the boy  I wanted to go to the prom with, but I can remember that Hamlet’s problem was his indecisiveness.

Unless you finish your education and decide to jump into the fire that is the field of education, what you most remember about your journey through the education system, be it public or private, is a handful of amusing anecdotes. That is not to say we do not, as a whole emerge extremely well educated. WE do, we go on to be doctors and lawyers, and CEO’s, and writers, and actors, and politicians. And we call on, each and every day, the knowledge we gained from grades kindergarten through college to help us in our career paths. Yet,  none of us, myself included at times, is above boiling down our educational experience to amusing stories that often play students in the best light and teachers, in many instances, in not so flattering ones.

Today, as we at SDA move into our 2nd semester of the school year, I do want to take a moment to thank all of our teachers, past and present, for giving their all each and every day. They do wonders in the classroom daily; lessons great and small.  As Head of School, I put out this goal for all of our young ladies at SDA this winter and spring. I encourage our girls to take time to continue to get to know their teachers even better, appreciate their teachers, even if they do not always appreciate the subject matter being presented on a particular day, and most importantly recognize the teaching profession for the challenging one that it is.  I have been a teacher for years, and I will be a teacher for the rest of my life.  And so, today, I thank all teachers, most especially the ones who choose to shape the daily lives of the young women here at Saint Dominic Academy.