Category Archives: Arts

Meet Our Teachers: Scott Sowinski

Scott Sowinski teaches physics and forensic science in our Upper School and leads the development of our science curriculum. He also teaches drama, directs drama productions, and moderates the Arts Council.

Before joining the Morgan Park Academy faculty in 2016, Mr. Sowinski worked in educational consulting and school administration, and also did integrative programming with the Chicago Public Schools in technology and hybrid learning models. He was the head of curriculum and instruction on the North Side before coming home to the South Side. He also ran a private homeschooling program in New York City for more than a decade.

Mr. Sowinski is a voracious lifelong learner, working now on a Ph.D. in education policy after earning an undergraduate degree in multiple sciences and secondary education, a conservatory degree in opera, and two Master’s degrees: one in curriculum and instruction and another in education policy and organizational leadership and administration.


What is the most important lesson you want students to learn in your class?

Ultimately, my goal is to shape people, not content. What they learn will matter very little if it does not serve to better them. I want students to recognize the importance of failure, find acceptance in error, and assert the courage to rise up and become more than when they started. I want them to think deeper and relay every effort to serve our global community in whatever path they choose. There is no “most important” lesson. Rather, I strive to teach them that every opportunity ignites the potential for greater change.

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So Why is Shakespeare So Important?

Inevitably, when it comes to reading Shakespeare, the question is always this: Ms. Burgess, why are we reading Shakespeare, and why are you making us read it in his language?

sandiMy answer varies, but the prevailing theme in my answer is that it is okay for something to be hard. It is okay that students struggle sometimes. Learning to work through something that is unfamiliar and difficult teaches important skills and reinforces valuable lessons in commitment and perseverance. While the language is unfamiliar and awkward for students, it reinforces the purpose of the play — to perform for an audience without access to the written word. Reading Shakespeare’s words as he intended highlights the craft of the language itself–the new words and phrases that come directly from him into our speech today–and how his words were heard by an actual Elizabethan audience in 1595.

Teaching students to not only read, but to appreciate Shakespeare’s work is not only a challenge for them, but represents a teaching challenge for me as well. If I can get students to remember the plots, characters, and important moments from the plays, but also to be able to analyze and work through the many difficult literary devices and formulas employed by Shakespeare, I know, when faced with other difficult readings or assignments, students will be able to make connections to problem-solving strategies in reading Shakespeare and maybe even to the content itself.

Our goal here at MPA is to make sure students are encountering Shakespeare in the Middle School and Upper School in a variety of ways: from acting out A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 6th grade, to reading Romeo and Juliet and Merchant of Venice in 7th and 8th grades, to writing love sonnets and reading Hamlet and Macbeth in the Upper School. These works are simply examples of the numerous possibilities! With Shakespeare, the connections we can make within our curriculum are endless.

To me, Shakespeare is too important to dilute or to ignore. His work, though written in a hard to imagine world, is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. The qualities of his characters, their triumphs and sufferings, speak to us even now. We, too, struggle with pride, the pitfalls of love, social expectations, and our own self-awareness just as Hamlet, Portia, Shylock, and Macbeth did. And just as our society today struggles with discrimination and prejudice toward others, so, too, did Venice, Verona, Scotland, and Denmark. Hearing Hamlet struggle to make sense of his place in the world, or Shylock asking why he was treated so differently than everyone else, lets the students experience that same language, the same sounds as an audience in 1598. These experiences help students make connections, to see a reflection of themselves, emphasizing the timelessness of Shakespeare and their own place in our world.

We’ll continue to make Shakespeare important here at MPA, introducing students to new plays and poems which continue to challenge them in new and exciting ways. Studying Shakespeare reminds them that it is okay to take a bit of time to work through something so difficult–even for me, their teacher.

The Hidden Benefits of Singing in the Chorus


Each school year, when a new crop of chorus students shows up for their first rehearsal, I ask them to answer three questions:

  1. What do you like to sing?
  2. Where do you like to sing?
  3. Why are you here?

The third question usually gets some interesting replies — including “my parents made me” or “I needed an Arts credit” — but without fail, every person in the room, whether new to group singing or not, is easily able to answer the first two questions.

Everyone sings. Some people, sadly, only sing in the privacy of their home or the relative privacy of their vehicle, but everyone sings.

I have been involved with choral singing since I was quite little. It wasn’t until I started teaching chorus, however, that I began to really consider its benefits, whether my students go on to be lifelong singers or not.

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Meet Our Teachers: Peggy Bergin

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Peggy Bergin teaches Middle School and Upper School drama classes and fifth-grade English, directs our fall play and spring musical, and moderates our student Arts Council. She is our Director of the Arts and Curriculum Leader for the Fine Arts department.

She holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.


What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

Last summer, my fifth-graders read a novel called Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. In it there is a precept (or a “rule about a really important thing”) that states: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” This idea, attributed to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, is a lesson I hope students take away from all of my classes.

What are your favorite moments with a student?

Without a doubt, my favorite moments are watching student theatrical performances after weeks of rehearsals. I find myself very moved by the commitment, creativity, and talents of the students here at Morgan Park Academy, such that by the end of our final performance, I’m wishing that I could watch it again.

How do you keep current with the subject areas you cover?

I try to see as much theatre and art as possible — and I will truly see anything. We are fortunate that we live in a world-class theatrical city, and I enjoy venturing downtown to the major theaters to see what they’re doing. But I also enjoy watching other schools’ productions and community theatre as well. For me, there is inspiration everywhere.

What traits do you look for in your “ideal” student?

My ideal student possesses a fierce sense of integrity, a willingness to try new things, and willingness to succeed and to fail at those things. My ideal student is supportive of the ideas, successes, and failures of his or her peers and — perhaps most importantly — has a sense of humor.