Fourth of July Reflection

This week, my words alone cannot do full justice to the importance of the holiday we celebrate on July 4th, 2017.  From that date in 1776 to tomorrow, when we commemorate our freedom, a few of the most important original words, which may be the most inspiring words ever penned in the history of our nation, should be given a space here for consideration, thought and reflection.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — Thomas Jefferson.

And so today, on this American celebration of Independence, let us remember the sacrifices made over two hundred and forty years ago by a small band of patriots so that the colonies could be free.  Let us remember the countless men and women of America, who are not celebrating this occasion with their families, nor perhaps even on their native soil, because they are securing the freedom of others in all areas of the world.  And let us remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that America could truly be one nation, under God.

God bless you all, and God bless America!


	

SDA’s Nominee for Teacher of The Year!

Early in June, I received paperwork from the New Jersey Chapter of the Council for America Private Education, asking me for my nomination for Nonpublic School Teacher of the Year. The criteria, according to NJ CAPE was as follows:

An exceptional dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled teacher.  Able to inspire students of all backgrounds and all abilities to learn.  Have the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues. Be poised, and articulate.

Today, I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to introduce you to Saint Dominic Academy’s nominee for Nonpublic School Teacher of the Year.   Immersed in the teaching profession since 1974, our candidate holds a B.A. from Rowan University, dual M.A.’s from William Paterson and Montclair State, and a Doctorate from Seton Hall University.   He received an award from the Thomas  Jefferson Foundation in 2002 and was named Sussex County Teacher of the year.   Since 1995, he has served as President of the Hampton Township Board of Education and also serves as an executive board member of the Sussex County Historical Society.

A member of the New Jersey Historical Society as well, he was also a two time Jeopardy champion in 1992. At Saint Dominic Academy, where he has worked since 2011, he currently chairs the English and History Departments, serves as Internal Coordinator for Middle States, and this year, taught four AP level classes.  Doctor Joseph Santora, or “Doc” as the students affectionately call him, is a gifted educator, one who believes that success comes with offering a high level of academic performance.  When I asked Doc to briefly surmise his philosophy of education, he shared the insight that All students, regardless of initial skills, can perform at a high level of achievement. I believe in offering students a challenging experience that is both rigorous and relevant to their daily lives.

And he does that daily, in AP History, in AP Government, in U.S. History II Honors, and as the leader of our English and History Departments.   As I stated to the nominating committee, I know I can rely on Doc to give 110% at all times. He is innovative, creative and dedicated to both the study of history and the ideals of Saint Dominic Academy.  My nomination was sent and I know you all join me in wishing Doctor Santora good luck and best wishes. Stay tuned in October to learn if he is named the NJ CAPE teacher of the year!  

Spend An SDA Day at the Races This July!

We are now into the season of summer and with it, vacation planning, if not already completed, is being done in full force.  What are we doing with these lazy, hazy days and beautiful starlit nights?  Here in New Jersey, walking the Boardwalks, visiting the Casino Pier, dipping feet into the ocean, surf casting at twilight- these are just a few of the many things our state has to offer during the warm summer months.  And this year, for the first time, Saint Dominic Academy is embracing a “gift of the Garden State” and hosting a summer event for families, alumnae, and friends of SDA.

The place to be this summer opened in 1870, only 8 years before Saint Dominic Academy opened its doors. Whether you’re a fan of horse racing or not, there is no doubt that a day at Monmouth Park is an experience that every New Jerseyean has to undertake at least once in his or her life. So, if you have not yet come down to the track, make your inaugural visit this summer as part of our SDA Day at the Races.  If you and Monmouth Park are “old buddies”, then please come and celebrate with us this summer. (And, if you are a horse racing expert; find me and help me place my bets please!)

On Sunday, July 23rd, we will host our First Annual SDA Day at the Races at Monmouth Park!  We will celebrate this day with family and friends; children are welcome.  There will be bounce houses, clowns, pony rides, face painting and a playground for the future generation of SDA little girls (and their brothers too of course!)  Food is always available for purchase at the Park, or you can pack a cooler and picnic with friends as the ponies speed by!   Our goal for the day is a simple one; to come together and enjoy each other’s company in this historic and picturesque New Jersey setting.

The SDA Alumnae Association is organizing this event on behalf of the school. The cost is $15.00 and children 18 and under are free.  For more information, you can visit the Alumnae section of the Saint Dominic Academy website.  I will look forward to seeing you in a month at Monmouth Park racetrack, so please, save the date on your summer calendars and join us for some old fashioned NJ fun this July!

Purchase tickets here: https://www.stdominicacad.com/purchase-tickets/

Underclasswomen…You Know The Way!

With this, my 39th blog, we have reached the end of our 2016-2017 school year for all of our students. Exams conclude tomorrow and the young ladies in grades 7-11 are heading off for the summer, some to be part of summer studies programs, some to relax with family and friends, some to vacation at different and exciting locals and all, ( I hope) to complete their summer reading and any other summer assignments given by our dedicated teachers here at Saint Dominic Academy.

For these young women, whether it was their first year as members of the SDA family or they are “seasoned pros”  here at the school, the months of June, July and August are a time not just to relax and regroup, but to take the time to explore new opportunities, ideas and adventures that cannot often be fit in during the course of the school year. The summer is a time for our young ladies to grow as people, to expand their horizons, to expand their friendships and even to expand their education through their summer activities.  I have said more than once this year that all learning does not take place in the classroom and when the days are long and the sun is warm, there is even more of an opportunity for each of our girls to learn more about themselves, about each other, and about the people they want to be next school year as they return to Saint Dominic Academy.

It will seem quiet here without them; the halls ghostly silent, the cafeteria closed, the curtains drawn in the Media Center.  As I sit in my office (and I will take some time away as well to rest and regroup!) I will at times let my mind wander and wonder at what all of our young ladies are doing over the summer. And so, I invite each of you, to reach out to me and email me all about your adventures. Send me some photos, give me a brief description of where you are, what you are doing, and most importantly, what you are learning during the summer!  I’d love to feature some of your summer vacation adventures as part of my blog this year!   

I will miss you very much during the summer months and I will look forward to September when I see you return to the building, relaxed, refreshed, a  bit older and a bit wiser.   Enjoy your well deserved rest and remember, when it’s time to find home, we know the way!  Come home safe and smiling to 2572 in September! Happy summer ladies!

The Friends You Need…

Just yesterday, Saint Dominic Academy proudly hosted the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2017. It was a lovely event and, as I watched the young ladies smile, laugh and cry with their friends, I began to reflect on friendships, especially female friendships and how they manage to sustain us in life.  I am aware of studies that have been done; looking into how social media has given rise to a greater number of casual friendships and how it allows those who might drift apart to at least stay in some sort of touch, even if it is only via the internet.   And so, I am certain that the class of 2017 will remain much more connected to each other than I did with my graduating class back in 1995.

However, when I think about friendships amongst women, my own theory (and let’s keep in mind I am no scientist!) is that there are three friends who each of us really needs as we move into our adult lives.  Now, at the age of 17-18 years old, most of us will not even be aware of these women because our need for them grows as we grow further into adulthood.  However, young women should be on the lookout for these three friends as they come into your lives, because these are the friendships that will sustain you when you get to be my age and older.

The first is the female equivalent of one of those buddy movies- the Thelma to your Louise or perhaps something not quite as crazy.  This is the friend with whom you have some of your best young adult memories; after college, you’re both working and yet you find time for madcap adventures. Road trips to D.C., private parties at the American Museum of Natural History, taking a 13 mile walk around New York City for no real reason; this is your go to girl for fun and laughter, for selfies and memories to last a lifetime. As you both get older and life becomes busy, the selfies may turn into group shots of your kids and the walks may be with strollers to the playground during a visit, but the friendship is still there and at the end of the day, nobody makes you laugh like this friend does!

And, as life becomes busy for women, the next friend each of us needs is the “Been There- Done That, Let Me Tell You What I Learned” friend.  She does not have to be much older than you, but in many ways, she is wiser. This is the friend who has a child older than yours; who you can call at two am to ask about colic or who will tell you that you are doing an amazing job as a mother when your four year old stomps her foot and says she does not like you.  This is the friend whose house you can go to in leggings and  mom hair after a night of little sleep because your child has nightmares and she will speak the best words you will ever hear “ It gets easier; they grow out of it!” The experienced mom friend is a friend you will come to value as life moves along.

Finally, the third friend you will treasure is one you won’t make until your children become social themselves.  It’s the “Mom Friend”.  You strike up friendly chats at dance school or the soccer field, you might grab a coffee and set up an initial playdate with several other parents. And then, for whatever reason, your kids click and you click too.  And this is the friend who is just like you, running from one thing to another, balancing laundry, ballet, communions and birthdays. This is the never ending text message that goes back and forth for eons, because you can just commiserate with each other on any topic at all.  And 9 times out of 10, this is the friend who first hears about any type of frustration you have, regardless of the topic because she can relate.  What would we do without the mom friend?

Of course, you’ll have many more friends than these three; cousins make excellent friends because they know the family history.  Your sister in law eventually becomes your sister and friend, and of course, we know I am a firm believer in the statement “A girl’s best friend is her mother!”  But these three friends, the “buddy”, the “experienced mom” and the “ friend mom”, they will get you through some tough days and they will become your sounding board and support for a lifetime.  Keep your eyes peeled as they enter your life; you’ll be thankful for the rest of it that you have them!

Advice to the Seniors

On May 19th, I had the honor of addressing the graduating class of 2017 at their Senior Honors Assembly.  I thought for a while about what I wanted to say to them; as I will address them twice more before they finally leave Saint Dominic Academy as graduates.  I knew that the Honors Assembly was my opportunity to give them some advice as they begin to prepare to head out to college and the world, but also my chance to give some advice to the young ladies in grades 7-11 at Saint Dominic Academy as they attended the ceremony as well.

Today, as we head into the days leading up to graduation on June 4th, I want to use this week’s blog to share with all of you the wisdom I shared with the students on May 19th.  It is not original advice, but comes from a source that we cherish as children and would do well to continue to cherish in our adult lives.

The most important messages from childhood are usually delivered via animation, with the nuggets of truth being wrapped up within the plot. When you are young, it is your parents, not you the child who sees how important and necessary some of these messages are. However, as you prepare to graduate from Saint Dominic Academy, you know in your hearts that you are also graduating in a sense from childhood to adulthood, and as such, you need to call to mind those childhood life lessons you learned and put them to good use in the future!

 

So today, I want to share with you some life lessons from the most magical place on earth and the filmmaker whose quest in life was to keep us young at heart always.

 

From The Lion King, we learned that “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

 

From Winnie the Pooh we learned that “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”

 

From Hercules we learned that “Giving up is for rookies.”

 

From Monsters Inc we learned that “Nothing is more important than friendship.”

 

From Tangled we learned that “sometimes you have to face your deepest fears to make your wildest dreams come true.”  

 

From The Princess and the Frog we learned that “You’re never too old to wish upon a star.”

 

From Toy Story we learned to“ Reach for the sky!”

And finally, I leave you today with these two words of wisdom from Walt Disney himself. I want you to remember that growing up is mandatory but growing old is optional … and…all of our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.  Congratulations today ladies and I will look forward to talking with you again at graduation!

Tireless Volunteers- SDA PTA!

As some of you may know, in addition to my position as Head of School at Saint Dominic Academy, I also hold another title which is almost as special to me. I am Kindergarten Class Mom at All Saints Catholic Academy. I’ve been the class mom for Abigail’s class since she started at ASCA in Pre-K Three. If you’ve never been a Class Parent or a room volunteer in an elementary school,  I am here to say it is a great experience.  Coming up with creative Halloween treats, wrapping Christmas gifts for “ Cookies with Santa”, filling eggs for “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny”, and for the past two years, working in tandem with the other class mom to coordinate the graduation ceremony- I know that as Abigail gets older and is less interested in having me pop in and out of her school , the memories of these days, when her face lit up when I walked into the classroom, will be a gift I will treasure always.

As a working mother, I will admit it is a sacrifice at times to volunteer.  Most of the work that goes into my role as Class Mom is done in the late hours of the evening or the wee hours of the morning. At times, it is one more errand to run before I get home from work, or one more binge worthy TV program I do not see because I am writing reminder letters.  And knowing all that, I must say, I am in constant awe of the members of the Saint Dominic Academy Parent Association.  For, when I look at how much work goes into being a volunteer in the kindergarten, I have to multiply it by tenfold to fully appreciate how much work our volunteers here do!

This year, the Parent Association hit the ground running with the Welcome Back To School event, and did not pause for a breath all year. They coordinated the Calendar Raffle, they planned and organized the Communion Brunch,  they launched a Parent Facebook Page, and they added our new and hugely successful event – Designer Bag Bingo!  They held meetings, with me, with each other, in person and on the phone after their own long days at work. And the energy that they brought to the job was monumental; never once was there a hesitation, a question about whether or not they could achieve the desired goal.  This group set goals in July and now in May, have met and exceeded every single one.

For years, Catholic education has relied in part on the volunteers within the school who are willing to give back; to join a committee, to organize a fundraiser, to coordinate an event for students and without these volunteers in place, how could any school truly run well?  Parents are an essential part of the Catholic school community; it has always been that way and it will never change. It is our Parent Association who helps those who lead read the pulse of the school and who help to keep energy and excitement for school activities at high levels throughout the entire year.  

And so, as the end of the school year is always a time for heartfelt thanks, today I want to express my thanks, my gratitude and my appreciation for those members of the Saint Dominic Academy Parent Association this year.  They are as follows:

 

 President- Jennifer Bailey  Board Member- Maria Sasso
 VP/Secretary- Lori LoCascio  Raffle Coordinator- Mary Dowden
 Treasurer- Stacey Swope  Social Media Coordinator- Peggie Marano

 

 Communion Brunch Chairs:  Back to School Chairs:
 Kelly Lekic/ Cathy Sabia  Eileen and Chris Gill

 

 Designer Bag Volunteers:
 Lisa DeBari/ Gigi Diaz/ Janine Colletti/ Laura Herrera

I thank each of you for a wonderful year and from one parent volunteer to another, I hope you know how very much you are appreciated and valued by all of us here at Saint Dominic Academy!

SDA Athletics!

In 1997, I was 19 years old and in my 2nd year of college. I also began working at the Mayor’s Office in Jersey City. I remained there until I was 22, first as an intern and then progressing to the administrative assistant to the Director of Communications. It was during my tenure working for the City of Jersey City that I first had the pleasure of meeting Mr. John Nagel.  A busy man, always in a hurry to head into this meeting or to that event, (much like today, 20 years later!) he always had a moment to stop and say hello.  If something great was accomplished by a member of Communications, he was the first to give a quick but thoughtful word of praise or congratulations.  If I needed information for a press release or a seal of approval from his Department on an upcoming promotion for an event, Mr. Nagel, (as I called him back then) was always able to assist me in order to get the job done well and to ensure that the Mayor’s Office looked good!

How nice it has been this year, twenty years later to be able to once again work together with John Nagel, our Director of Athletics.  Time has changed both of us, now I call him John and he jokingly refers to me as “Madame President”, but the same exceptional working relationship has not changed.  The dedication to the job and the effort to ensure that SDA’s athletic program both looks and is exceptional has not changed.  As a member of the SDA family for forty years now, (he began his time at SDA the year I was born!) as well as our Head Track Coach, Mr. Nagel has worked to uphold the mission of Saint Dominic Academy and its commitment to producing well rounded young women.  He reaches out to girls who otherwise may not get involved and encourages them to reach their full athletic potential.

He leads by example as a coach and models how he expects all of our coaches to act.  By emulating how to be a motivational coach,  all of our young athletes, regardless of what sport they play, know that they are supported by a coach who truly cares for them, who wants them to be successful, but  most of all, who wants them to truly enjoy the sport in which they are participating.  What a wonderful gift to be giving our young women; the chance to be leaders on the various athletic fields and to engage in healthy competition, but at the end of the day to know that, win or lose, their coaches are proud of them!  I think every young lady who has played on one of our sports teams can walk away saying “I had fun!” That’s Mr. Nagel’s goal as AD; to make athletics fun. And hey, if we have an impressive collection of trophies here at 2572, then so much the better!

From Dance to Softball, from Track to Tennis, he oversees it all, with a smile, a kind word and a space for every young lady who wants to try a new sport. Tonight, we will gather at our Athletic Dinner to honor our young athletes and celebrate all they achieved this year.  Mr. Nagel and the coaches will coordinate the event and guests will see, they each downplay their role in creating successful student athletes in spite of all of the time they give to our athletic program.  And so, I want to take a moment to thank all of our coaches for all they do each day for our students and for how dedicated they are to the athletic program at Saint Dominic Academy. You make our school well rounded, successful, and a welcoming place for everyone!

And to my friend of 20 years, Mr. John Nagel- your dedication to the mission of Saint Dominic Academy is extraordinary. For 40 years, you have been teaching the women of SDA how to “run like a girl” and I know you will continue to lead our athletic program to great things in years to come! Thank you John, for all you do for SDA!

All That We Have We Owe To Our Mothers…

My 20th blog post focused on my father. In it, I described one of my first memories of he and I as follows….  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.  In July of this year, I will have been wearing my mother out for forty years! I started talking at 10 months old. By 18 months, I was singing full length songs to my mother. (None who know me are surprised by this revelation!) While I am no longer in the habit of belting out a show tune for her questionable enjoyment,  I will admit that I have not stopped talking, and talking and talking.   And yet, she always has time for me and never once, in forty years has she been too worn out to listen.

When I was a little girl, my mother was my playmate. (My two brothers were often not; I mean, how exactly do you play DINOSAUR?) She played Barbie, she played Strawberry Shortcake, and she played Care Bears (once! I did not really understand how to play with bears. I mean, bears can’t talk…but I digress!)  When I was in the hospital at age six, she promised me an almost impossible to find Cabbage Patch Kid and she did indeed find it. (How we could have afforded it, I still wonder.)  She was more wonderful than any fairy godmother because she made my little girl dreams come true; sometimes using nothing more than her imagination and whatever was handy in the craft drawer.  She was a wonderful best friend!

High school arrived, and the road, although still strong and sturdy, had a few bumps every now and then. We did not see eye to eye on a great many things; how long I should talk on the phone each night, how much lipstick I needed to wear to school, whether Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was an appropriate movie to see (She voted no and she won!)  whether or not prom dresses should be peach and fluffy ( I voted no. I .and won!), but we were still close. She was my strongest supporter;  smiling proudly at every production I was in, even if I only had two lines, bringing her friends to see me, putting daily notes of support in my suitcase when I went away to a two week summer program.  She was again, my best friend, my confidant, and she listened tirelessly and ceaselessly to the whirlwind of my high school life.

As I got older, finished college and began my teaching career  and she became principal of a high school in Montclair, we did not, as life got more hectic, grow a little bit apart, but instead became even closer. Her advice was the first I sought, before my friends, even before my father’s.  Hers was the shoulder I went to cry on or the first phone call I made when something wonderful happened.  It is hard, even now as I write this to fully capture in words all that my mother has brought to my life and all she continues to bring to my life every day.  I know for a fact, I would not be sitting in this office at Saint Dominic Academy if it were not for her constant guidance, influence and support.  I consider myself a strong, empowered and independent woman and I think most who know me would agree.  However, I also know that I would be lost without the daily grace and love that my mother brings to my life.

Mothers who are reading this, I would imagine that many of you feel the same way about your own mothers. Daughters of SDA, young ladies in grades 7-12 who argue daily with your moms about some of the same petty topics I argued with my mother about, trust me when I say, your mother is your first line of defense, your biggest cheerleader, and the woman who will shape the way you mother your own child one day in the future.  Even when you fight with your mothers, (and, of course you will) and even when they fight back (and of course…they will!), there are no words strong enough to capture the love your mother carries within her heart for you.  It is all encompassing, it is infinite and it is yours whenever you need it most.  I know that, as a mother, because I learned it from my mother.

Motherhood is a thankless job at times, but it is also the best job in the world. I know my mother will read this blog and before she tells me whether she likes it, she will fuss at the fact that I used her picture or that I went overboard with sentiment. She is a private person, one who gives of her heart daily without expecting to be thanked.  All mothers do this and on this Monday  leading into Mother’s Day on May 14th, it is time all daughters took the time, not just to send a card or wrap a gift, but to look our mothers in the eye and say thank you for all they do for us and for how much they love us.

Even then, it is not enough, but daughters, it is the best we can do.  And so, to my own mother, a very public thank you:  Mom, if I can be half as good a mother to Abigail as you are to me, then I will be a great mother. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my first and best friend. I love you!

And to all of our SDA mothers, who wipe away tears after a heartbreak and who listen to the stories of teenage drama, and who find that extra fund to make her little girl’s dress or shoe or whatever dreams come true, I thank you.  Thank you for raising such beautiful young women, each day they walk the halls of SDA they are a testament to how wonderful each of you are.  And I wish you the happiest of Mother’s Days because now, as a mother myself, I truly understand how much you deserve it!

SDA: A School That Rocks!

Over the Easter break, I had the opportunity to take my daughter to see School of Rock on Broadway.  For those of you not familiar with the Jack Black movie or the musical inspired by that film, here is a very brief plot summary from the Internet Movie Database.

After being fired from his own band, the guitar player Dewey Finn needs to raise some money to pay for his rent and his bills. When his friend and school teacher Ned Schneebly is called to a temporary work in an expensive private school, Dewey pretends to be Ned and accepts the job. He finds talented young musicians in his class, and he decides to form a rock-and-roll band with the students and win a competition called “Battle of The Bands” to win the prize and be recognized in the show business.

The show, whose music was written by that icon of the Great White Way, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was a wonderful experience for the both of us.  While she enjoyed seeing the pint size actors and actress rock out to songs like Stick It To The Man and You’re In the Band, I was inspired by the subliminal message contained within the musical, a message I thought was lacking in the original film.  What struck me were several of the musical numbers, performed at different times by the faculty at the fictional Horace Greene School, and the students in the class, who are benefitting from the day to day rigor of their education, but not fully awakening their minds to the idea that learning can indeed be fun.  While the faculty shares with the audience how tight a ship the school is (Here at Horace Greene), the students, wise beyond their years at age 10, lament that nobody asks them for their thoughts, ideas or insights- not their teachers nor their parents (If Only You Would Listen).

I have to say, I had tears on my cheeks at that moving number and I thought to myself, I am glad to be in a place where I know the entire community, teachers and parents, make an effort daily to listen to the children of SDA.  Now, while I don’t think that teaching rock music alone is the way to reach every student- (Mr. Finn’s schedule was Rock History, Rock Appreciation and Theory, and Band Practice), I am in agreement that sometimes unconventional teaching reaches students in ways that rote memorization and by the book tests do not.  

The overall messages that School of Rock sent, to me and to Abigail, as well I hope to the other parents and children in the sold out theater was that learning can be fun when a teacher is truly inspiring,  that when he or she brings a passion for the subject matter that can be shared with the students in the room magic happens, ( or as Mr. Finn called it musical fusion) , and that when together, the students in the class and the teacher who leads them, share a bond of respect, understanding and compassion, then the best type of learning takes place!   And I think, in classrooms at 2572 Kennedy Boulevard, this type of inspired learning is happening on a daily basis, and it has been happening since 1878.  While I do not hear any drum solos or electric guitar chords blasting through the hallways (thank goodness!), I do see and hear innovative, intriguing and extraordinary lessons occurring in the classrooms at Saint Dominic Academy.  

This week, on May 3rd, Saint Dominic Academy will be having an Open House for prospective students and their families!  You, our current parents, our alumnae, and those who are connected to SDA in one way or another, can lift your voices this week and invite a family you know to come see all the reasons that Saint Dominic Academy is truly a school that rocks!  Open House will begin at 6:00pm and it will be a showcase of all we have to offer students in grades 7-12!  I hope that you will help us spread the word and make the event a stellar and successful one for the SDA community!

Oh, and if you are looking for a way to, as the musical said live hardcore, for a few hours on a spring afternoon or evening, then I recommend taking your daughter to see School of Rock!  It was an amazing show, one of the best I’ve seen, and I do plan to see it again, and rock out with Mr. Finn and his pint sized band!