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.