Getting In the Holiday Spirit

December is only three days away! Stores are decorated, trees are coming out of storage, decorations are being unwrapped and arranged, cookies are being mixed, stockings are being hung, and hopefully…children are being good as gold, in anticipation of what will be under the tree the morning of December 25th. And all this is done, of course, to music.  A question, for those of you who read my blog each week- What is your favorite Christmas carol? (Please do post comments and let me know!)  Are you a fan of religious carols or the more secular ones? Do you turn up the volume when you hear Jingle Bell Rock or change the station when Springsteen sings Santa Claus is Coming To Town. ( I must admit, that is NOT my favorite carol!)  How many of you, singing in your cars on the way to and from work, strain to hit that high note in O Holy Night?

Christmas carols are a key element of the season; we each have our favorite and perhaps our favorite song is linked to a treasured memory of a Christmas long ago. Time Magazine did a study of the most popular Christmas carols, based on how often each song has been recorded since 1978. The result? “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name. I thought it was wonderful to see a traditional, religious carol take that top spot; I much prefer Silent Night to All I Want For Christmas Is You, which seems to be on the radio every time I turn it on lately.

Christmas carols of a religious nature are an important part of our holiday spirit, as they serve to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Without What Child Is This?,  Angels We Have Heard On High, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and We Three Kings, to  name a few, some of the real magic of Christmas would be lost. We need to hear these songs to remind us of our primary reason for Christmas; the celebration of the birth of the Savior. Of course, we need to hear some childhood favorites too; Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Up on the Rooftop, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, because they help us remember the Christmas memories of our own childhood and of how Santa made our dreams come true. White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry  Little Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas all play a part as well; they can encourage us, when we have been standing in lines; to pay for gifts, to mail packages, to see Santa, to keep our spirits up and to really appreciate all of the merriment that goes along with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Music is a big part of the magic of Christmas.

Nobody knows that better than Mr. Joseph Napoli and the Saint Dominic Academy Glee Club. For 38 years, our now iconic Christmas concert has been setting the mood of the season. I remember going to see the concert when I was in high school; I had friends performing. I remember seeing it in college, when my cousin sang with Mr. Napoli, and my first Christmas as a member of the SDA administration, my daughter was lucky enough to be invited to sing with the Glee club as they performed a medley from “Frozen” at their concert. For those of us connected to Saint Dominic Academy, we know that Christmas would not be Christmas without this musical event.

This year, the Glee Club and the Dominoes will be spreading Christmas cheer throughout Hudson County, as they perform at the Tree Lighting at City Hall, the Cusack Care Center Christmas party, at pre-schools and at other holiday events. However, their showcase Christmas performance will be at our very own Christmas Concert, on December 11th at 4:00pm at Saint Aloysius Church. Combining religious, classical and contemporary pieces, this event is not to be missed. Mr. Napoli stated “ Great music never gets old…from the brooding atmosphere of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to…the Latin American rhythms of “Carol of the Star”…the Glee Club will…fill with joy this Christmas season.” If you believe, as I do, that music is the key to the season, then please join Mr. Napoli, the Glee Club and the Dominoes on December 11th and have all of the magic of Christmas unlocked for you! I hope to see you there!

Thanksgiving Traditions

In a few short days, we each will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Perhaps some of us will be doing the cooking; others the table setting and clearing, and one specially selected person at each Thanksgiving table will be saying grace before the meal begins, I am sure.  The days leading up to the Thanksgiving feast are hectic ones for many of us. Trips to the grocery store, trips BACK to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten item or two, and then yet another “final” trip back for extra milk, butter, eggs, etc that have been eaten  by a family member, even though you purchased them specifically for Thanksgiving! I wonder how many people, as they are frantically stuffing birds, mixing pie filling, and mashing potatoes the morning of November 24th are thankful that Thanksgiving only comes once a year? It is a tiring holiday, especially for those who host and prepare the meal.  However, to put things in perspective, let me share this interesting tidbit…

The first Thanksgiving, which was held in 1621 in Plymouth, MA had 143 guests and lasted for 3 days.  90 of those guests were Native Americans and 53 were Pilgrims.  Well, when I realized that, I became instantly more thankful; my family Thanksgiving will consist of 11 guests and though 4 of them are under the age of 8, I would prefer 11 over 143 any day.  And it gets more interesting…those 143 guests were served dinner that was prepared by 4 women and a handful of female children.  Yes, I typed the correct number. 4 women and their daughters cooked, served and cleared a 3 day Thanksgiving dinner for 143 men.  And now, I am instantly thankful that I was not born a Pilgrim woman! That statistic kind of put my mother’s request to prepare dessert for 11 in a new light; what was looming largely as a hassle suddenly became a very reasonable request.

My point this week is not how those women were taken advantage of, or how tired they must have been, or even how that specific statistic is left out of most history lessons centered around Thanksgiving; I never see those numbers on a Thanksgiving themed worksheet!  It’s the idea of thankfulness and how, at different times, each of us are thankful for different things. And, to an extent, what each of us is thankful for can at times be unique only to us and may not make much sense to those around us.   It is important, on Thanksgiving and on every other day to take a moment and reflect on the fact that it may not always matter what we are thankful for, as long as we pause for a moment to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is, for many of us, the true start of the Christmas season.  If you have small children, the Elf on the Shelf may arrive on Thanksgiving morning…to be hidden in a different spot every day until Christmas Eve. ( A tip from an Elf pro: once the Christmas tree is up, you can hide him / her behind a different ornament each day!)  Perhaps you head to bed early on Thanksgiving and rise before the sun to take advantage of Black Friday sales with a family member or a friend.  Maybe you and your loved ones spend Thanksgiving relaxing with Christmas carols on the radio and a muted football game on TV.  Maybe your children begin to write their letters to Santa, if they are young enough to believe and their Christmas Wish Lists for Mom and Dad if they are older.  For me personally, I know I will have the Macy’s Parade, a Thanksgiving tradition since 1924, on all morning. I also know I will drop whatever I am doing, scoop my daughter onto my lap and tune in for Santa’s ride down 5th avenue; for me that Miracle on 34th Street moment is the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

Regardless of how you spend your Thanksgiving Day or the long weekend that follows; look around you, at the shining eyes of your friends and family, laughing, smiling, and just pause for a moment. Be thankful, for all you have been given.  Be thankful, for all the love that surrounds you.  And, take one tiny more pause and pray for all of us who are part of the SDA family. I will pause and give thanks for you: SDA parents, alumnae, and the wonderful young ladies who I see here each day.

From our school to your home, happiest of Thanksgiving blessings!

Warmly,

Ms. Degnan

The Curtain Rises: Annie

In a fictional New York City in 1933, a cheerful, red-headed orphan remains wistfully optimistic that her parents, who left her at an orphanage in 1922, will return to claim her.  This spunky young heroine, who is living during the Great Depression, refuses to look on the downside and instead, insists that, to borrow the words from another fictional work “ tomorrow is another day.” ( Thank you,  Margaret Mitchell).  Does this tale sound familiar? It should; almost everyone is well versed in how to “hang on till tomorrow, come what may!”  Little Orphan Annie, who made her first literary debut in a poem by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885, and then became a long standing newsprint cartoon character and radio show, was developed into a now iconic Broadway musical, which debuted on the Great White Way in 1977.  And later this week on November 18th and 19th of 2016, Saint Dominic Academy will present Annie for students, parents and alumnae.

Our young orphan has seen some changes from her origins in 1885. In the poem, Annie is an orphan who has come to the home of a wealthy family; she cooks and cleans and also tells the younger children stories about how “the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.”  Not as winsome as our ideal red-headed moppet, this Annie carried a message of warning to small children; be good for your parents or else!  In newsprint and on the radio, Annie was a spirited child, battling robbers and pirates, together with her dog Sandy and several other characters familiar to us.  When she arrived on Broadway in 1977, she was a tap dancing, red-headed darling; a Shirley Temple of sorts for a new generation. In 1982, she hit the big screen in the movie version and there have been two other movie productions of the story, as well as numerous revivals.

To say that our little orphan, Annie, is iconic is putting it mildly. For generations, she has been encouraging us to look on the bright side, to hope for the best, to never stop believing. She has existed through the ages; her character survived the Depression and went on to experience Roosevelt’s New Deal. Likewise, the story has brought hope and inspiration since its music and lyrics were composed in 1977.  Is there any one of us who can listen to the lyrics to “Maybe”, without welling up?  Anyone out there who cannot belt out “Tomorrow”, with gusto?

And for as long as there has been the character of Annie, Saint Dominic Academy has been around.  SDA was here when Whitcomb penned his poem; perhaps it was taught then, as I plan to teach it now!  While young ladies were attending SDA in the 1920’s perhaps they read the debut comic strip and those SDA girls from the 1930’s may have put homework aside to listen to the radio program.  The comic continued for generations and in 1977, I would imagine that there were some lucky SDA students headed to NYC to see the musical in its debut performance. I know I myself was in a movie theatre in 1982, barely five years old, seeing the film on the big screen.  I am sure many of you remember going to see it as well.  I loved it then, and I love it now, as I hear the music being played in ELAN, as I watch the orphans bang their pots and brooms during their dance routines, as I listen to our very own Annie ( played by Amity Arejo, class of 2018) sing the timeless songs from this show.

Annie is the perfect musical for SDA; for several reasons. It is, at its heart, the tale of an empowered young woman, one who does not let the world stand in the way of her dreams.  Its focus is a timeless character, one who has existed for 131 years, only 7 years fewer than Saint Dominic Academy itself.  You might say that SDA and Annie have grown together, changed together, and both are a snapshot of the changing times in our country and world. Both have endured, and will endure for ages to come.  I am so very happy that the first musical under my tenure of Head of School is Annie and I hope many of you will join us at our show this weekend!

Gala: A Celebration of SDA

Merriam – Webster dictionary offers the following definition of Gala:  A festive celebration, especially a public entertainment marking a special occasion. That definition, as broad as it is, does not do full justice to the event planned for Saint Dominic Academy this coming Thursday evening. Our annual leadership Gala, held in a new venue this year: Il Villaggio, is of course going to be a festive celebration. How could it not be, as it will feature a Live and Silent Auction, a cocktail hour and full dinner, a performance by the Saint Dominic Academy Dominoes, and dancing to conclude the evening.  It is also going to be a highly special occasion, celebrating two of our wonderful alumnae as well as a generous corporate sponsor and friend of the SDA community.  Bayonne Community Bank will be recognized for its support of Saint Dominic Academy. Stephanie Barbi’ 64, will be honored for her loyal dedication to Saint Dominic Academy; her years of devoted service to the Alumnae Association speak for themselves. Maria Pompeo-Maffia ’79, will also be commemorated for her ongoing role at Saint Dominic Academy, as the coach of our internationally record breaking dance team. Indeed, just by this description alone, the 18th Annual Leadership Gala does fit the dictionary definition of Gala.

However, the night will be so much more than those brief words can encompass.  Alumnae will come together to reminisce about their time at Saint Dominic Academy and to raise their voices along with the Dominoes when the alma mater is performed. Friends and family will see these three honorees publicly recognized for their good works; works that at times have kept them away from the evening dinner table or Sunday brunch. Parents will celebrate the continued success of the school community.   Our Board of Trustees, school administration, and Department Chairpersons will be on hand to discuss the multi layered facets that compose the SDA of today for the students. And our students themselves, from our student speaker to our performers, to our Student Council executive board will be present to talk first -hand about how a Saint Dominic Academy education has shaped their lives for the better.

This is a night where Saint Dominic Academy truly shines; a night to cherish and remember for always. As this is my first Gala in my position as Head of School, I am very much looking forward to celebrating SDA’s vibrant past and exciting future. If you have not attended or supported the Gala in the past, after hearing all the wonderful stories that will sure to be told in the weeks following this event, I am hopeful that you will consider joining us in 2017 for our next Gala! To the many of you that I will see on Thursday night, I thank you for your continued support of Saint Dominic Academy and to those who support from afar, please lift your voices wherever you are and join us in the alma mater on November 10th.

Ghostbusters? – Happy Halloween

In honor of Halloween, TV during the month of October has been overrun with Halloween themed films. One needs only to flip through the channels to encounter movies ranging from sweetly spooky, to family movie night worthy, to downright too scary to watch with the lights off. Mixed in with these films is that genre of comedy horror, showcasing Hocus Pocus and of course, the now almost iconic Ghostbusters, which has held on to its fans and gained numerous new ones since its release in 1984. I will admit, I have seen that film enough times to know most of the dialogue and yet, I will still watch it if it happens to be on TV. This past summer, I did venture out to see the new version: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, and while my personal opinion of the film was that it was not as humorous as the original, I did notice big improvements in one key area.

In the original film, we had our three key characters, all men with doctorates in Parapsychology and Psychology.  Only one is referred to by the title Dr with any regularity throughout the film.  Their employment when the film opens is prestigious enough; they are researchers and professors at Columbia University. It is only when they are fired from their post, that they begin work as Ghostbusters; prompting New Yorkers everywhere to call upon them to eliminate all their paranormal needs! (See, I know that dialogue all too well!)  Fast forward to 2016 and what progress has been made! Not only are our “heroes” women; that alone is an empowering message- four women who are going to save New York City, but the careers assigned to three of these young Ghostbusters are a fine example of how women have been able to move forward and advance!

In the original film, we saw several minor female characters: a musician, a secretary, a librarian, and a librarian ghost. All good solid careers (well, except for the ghost!) and for movies in the mid 1980’s, not surprising choices to assign female characters in the film.  In 2016, our three key characters are all women, with doctorates as well. However, much to my surprise and pleasure when I watched the film, two were physicists and one was an engineer. These two career choices would not have been showcased in an 80’s film with a primarily female cast.  Why the change? They could have kept the same careers as the men had in 1984 and still been able to carry the plot through well enough. Did anyone really question how Bill Murray and his crew built that ghost storage facility having little knowledge of engineering?

The change, at least in part, I hope, was intentional and meant to acknowledge the changing attitudes toward women and the fields of science and technology that has occurred in the years spanning 1984 to 2016. These are wonderful career choices; women can be engineers, they can study physics, they can even be Ghostbusters if they choose! In 1984, I was dressed as Laura Ingalls for Halloween( another empowered women who I will blog about at some point!) ; I probably would have loved to have  been a Ghostbuster, but sadly, those were boy costumes only. In 2016, any little boy or girl can choose to Answer the Call and announce “I ain’t afraid of no ghost”  thanks to the reboot of a film that gave three women quite a career promotion!  An empowering message from a mediocre movie and I thought it was fitting to share it today, on October 31st! Happy Halloween!

Historical Perspectives

Currently, in my (limited) spare time, I am reading The Witches, Salem 1692 a weighty 400 page historical work by Stacy Schiff, an author whose previous historical look into the life of Cleopatra I enjoyed very much.  While it’s hardly light reading (and I mean that literally since it is not on my Kindle) and there are certainly no surprise endings, it is a worthwhile look into a historical event within our country that centered primarily on women.  For non historians, some of our knowledge of this event may stem more from Arthur Miller or even Disney (think the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus), but Salem in 1692 was a tragic event for the country and one that should not be forgotten.  Although five men were executed for witchcraft during the 1692 hysteria, nineteen women were executed during that time and over 200 were imprisoned, ranging in age from 5 to 82. As Schiff points out early on; “Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem Witch Trials represent one of the few moments when women played a central role in American history.”

Not a role any of the accused or executed took on willingly and as we are aware, not one of these women (or men) who were hanged were guilty of any witchcraft whatsoever.  But Schiff’s quote struck a nerve with me; although our country’s history is relatively short when compared with others, it is those three events (and perhaps a major one looming on the horizon in November), where women have been the chief focus of a monumental historical event.  In discussing the trials and the women who were accused in detail, Schiff denounces, and rightly so, those who perpetrated this act of persecution and violence. It was a product of the times and the belief of the times, of that there is no doubt, but the evidence presented would have perhaps been more readily disregarded if in fact, many of the accused had been wealthy, prosperous men during that same time period.  She ventures on to point out that during the 300th anniversary events in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the trials, a park was dedicated in Salem and a memorial in Danvers. In November 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act exonerating all of those convicted and listing them by name, including some persons left out of earlier actions. However, her conclusion, she succinctly puts it, is that, for women at that time “the best heroine is an accidental one.”  I concede to her view, although I think she could have used a stronger word; the word I would have chosen would have been martyr.

Prejudice against women is not an unfamiliar historical tale, for any one of us.  Many of us are also familiar with the key phrase “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”  In essence, this may or not be entirely true all of the time. However, when major historical injustices occur, it is important and imperative that we, as a country, make sure that the implications of those injustices are explained to our children, so that they cannot manifest again in one form or another. What happened in Salem in 1692 is just one example of a grave injustice toward primarily women and although it may not receive more than a paragraph in a history textbook, it is one that should be called to our attention time and again, until we ensure that blind persecution does not occur in this day and age.

At Saint Dominic Academy, we have always put forth a concentrated effort to ensure that our young ladies receive an in-depth look at historical events, within both their history and literature classes, so that they are more aware and more well versed in just how and why these tragedies occurred and what can be done to prevent them from happening again. Our AP History scores since 2012 attest to the fact that we make certain that the young ladies at Saint Dominic Academy are true scholars of American History. Over 70 of our students, from 2012 to 2016 have earned college credit in History through our AP History and Government classes.  We currently offer AP History on the 10th, 11th, and 12th grade level, with great success, in our efforts to ensure that our young ladies will not only never repeat histories past mistakes, but work to continue to change history for the better for women everywhere.

Wish List

It’s not even Halloween and already, Toys R Us has their holiday Wish List out. It’s online, it’s on social media, and, worst of all, it is IN THE MAIL!  Perhaps many of my readers’ daughters are too old to snatch that catalog out of the mail pile, but I have a five year old and so, when it arrived, Toys R Us was high on my list of things I do not like…at least for a few days!  It’s not that I do not like Christmas; I love it. And it is not like I haven’t started my Christmas shopping; I am in fact almost finished. (Thank you, Zulily!) It’s this idea of a Wish List, arriving at the house, telling children what they should want this year (and let’s look at the price tags of some of those items) instead of giving children the opportunity to dream, to reflect, and to really wish for something that their heart desires, not what the catalogs or commercials are telling them they want.

And so, what does the Wish List contain this year? A few highlights, if you will indulge me. For girls; a “Tall Mall” Shopkins case for $34.99. Just what we need, a box that opens in the front so the hundreds of Shopkins that I have stuffed in a Ziploc bag can tumble out and get sucked up in the vacuum cleaner! And then we have the Num Noms Lip Gloss Truck, priced at $32.99 which allows for girls age 3 and up to make their own lip gloss using some lovely scented sticky gel. Wonder if it will ever wash off my couch? And just what is a Num Nom anyway?  For boys we have the Intratech Imperial Stormtrooper; 12 inches tall and $24.99. He says 65 phrases and, well…I am not quite sure from the description what else he does. And then, we have the “hot toy” for youngsters, so new it is not priced yet…The PJ Masks Headquarter Play set! It is three feet tall; figures NOT included, of course and I am thinking before this toy ever made its way down my chimney, first, I would need a better explanation of exactly what PJ Masks is?! I have watched it a few times; are they kids? Are they superheroes? Are they kids pretending to be superheroes?  Thank goodness I was ahead of the game when I snatched up the Shimmer and Shine Magic Carpet back in May on Zulily.  That toy is listed as “currently not available” on Fisher Price.  My point here is that there does not seem to be anything on this list that will be played with for any real length of time. A storage case? A solo action figure the size of a ruler? I am not seeing the toys that create memories; the baby doll that gets carried to church on Christmas morning, the cowboy hat that leads to hours of pretend play. Those of a certain age may, like me, miss the element of surprise that once came with the Christmas holidays, when you woke up unsure if those wishes were going to come true!

A natural transition from the childhood wishes is what we, parents, educators, school leaders, wish for our children as they grow out of that “Toys R Us” stage and into the high school setting.  We wish for their happiness, their ability to fit in, to make friends, to excel in academics and athletics; in short to grow from children into confident young adults, who in turn take their childhood dreams and desires and shape them into future goals.

 At Saint Dominic Academy, we may not be able to grant wishes with a wave of a wand, but we work very hard to ensure that those intangible high school dreams and wishes do come true for the young women who walk our halls. A chance to lead; as president of the NHS or Student Council, a chance to shine, as the star of “Annie” or a Christmas soloist in the Dominoes, a chance to compete, as the captain of the basketball team or the pitcher on the softball field, and chance to express oneself, as an artist, a poet, a photographer or a writer in our art and literary offerings.  Most importantly, we provide a chance to excel; with 9 AP classes and many Honors level classes on all grade levels, so students can choose where their strongest interests lie and pursue advanced classes in those areas.  Like the daydreams that beloved toys from childhood once inspired, these opportunities offered to the young ladies in grades 7-12 here at Saint Dominic Academy will help to shape their futures, to guide them on their college and career paths, and to motivate each girl to achieve her personal “Wish List”, wherever it takes her. We do not presume to lay an individual’s dreams out in a catalog and tell her what she “should” want. Instead, we allow the space to grow and learn, so that each girl determines on her own what she wishes for herself. And, we give them time to dream, to imagine, to picture all the possibilities; we do not rush the “season”, so to speak and instead give them 6 years, if they begin as 7th graders to see what the future holds.

The holidays are wonderful; in their season. I won’t rush the season myself and I promise; no more writing about Christmas until after Thanksgiving!

Girls Scouting and STEM…Clever Connection

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

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

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

Healthy Living: Fitbit Obsession?

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

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

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

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

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

An Example For Women Everywhere…

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

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

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

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