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