Category Archives: Faculty & Staff

Summer Service Learning in Ecuador

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Our journey into the Amazon rainforest was a long one: two flights, an eight-hour bus ride, and a boat ride before we reached the Minga Lodge on the Upper Napo River in northeast Ecuador. But it was worth every minute.

We were thrilled to represent the MPA faculty and school community on a remarkable service trip this summer, volunteering with fellow teachers from throughout the U.S. and Canada on a life-changing development project through the ME to WE charity program.

To say that we gained a fuller perspective on life and community is an understatement.

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Meet Our Staff: Tanuja Rathi

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Please help us welcome our new Director of College Counseling, Tanuja Rathi!

Mrs. Rathi combines the business skills developed in her previous career as a management consultant with her experience as a college counselor for Chicago Scholars, where she helped underserved students with the college application process.

A member of the Illinois Association of College Counselors, the American College Counseling Association, and the National Association of College Counselors, she holds an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned her college counseling certificate, with distinction, from UCLA.

Q&A

Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

I strongly believe in the MPA education and how it helps prepare students for the future. My husband and my two oldest daughters are MPA alumni and I have one more daughter who will graduate in 2018. I have seen the value of the MPA education and how it has prepared them for college and beyond. I am excited to be a part of this wonderful faculty.
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Meet Our Staff: Mary O’Malley

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Welcome to our new Director of Admissions, Mary O’Malley!

A native of Morgan Park and graduate of Latin School of Chicago, Knox College, and Northwestern University, Ms. O’Malley has spent the majority of her career in independent schools, working to help students find the next phase of their education.

As Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at La Lumiere School, she built enrollment strategically across three diverse populations: day students, boarding students, and international students. She also worked as the Assistant Director of College Counseling at Latin School of Chicago and most recently served as a College-Persistence Counselor at Chicago Jesuit Academy, a full scholarship school for African-American young men on Chicago’s west side.

Q&A

Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

It doesn’t take long to see why MPA is so special. I’ve been familiar with the school for my entire life; I grew up right around the corner, on Lothair Avenue, where my parents still live. I sought out this opportunity because I wanted to work at a school that was committed to educating the whole child. In today’s society, it’s easy to get ahead by taking others down. I firmly believe that a school community should stand for and teach a set of core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, diligence, kindness, cooperation, and service. Morgan Park Academy does this in spades. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes at the AP Exam (or: How to Grade 2,500 Essays in One Week)

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Each June, educators from across the world gather to score Advanced Placement examinations. Though part of the exam is multiple choice questions scored by Scantron machines, the “open-ended” essays, equations, and problems are scored by educators from both the secondary and post-secondary levels.

This year was my fifth time scoring essays for the AP English Language and Composition exam, and it was nothing short of a fulfilling professional development experience.

Approximately 530,000 students nationwide sat for this exam this year, which meant a total of 1.5 million essays. Roughly 1,500 readers had one week to score them all.

Even though I barely could stomach the name of Cesar Chavez by the conclusion of the week — I scored 2,500 essays! — the experience of working with several thousand knowledgeable and accomplished educators as well as having my own accomplishments in education validated more than compensates the trip. Although it is a grueling seven days of sitting in a giant room reading and scoring essays, the conversations and lessons that I learn and have learned from seasoned educators are priceless.

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Meet Our Teachers: Thomas Malcolm

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When we decided to create an award to recognize members of our community who volunteer their time selflessly, there was little question but that it would be called the Thomas Malcolm Volunteer Award. For more than three decades as a Middle School science teacher and now also our Dean of Student Life, Mr. Malcolm has helped define the MPA experience by embodying our ideals of service on a daily basis.

Q&A

What do you like best about teaching here?

The community of students, faculty, staff, and parents past and present are committed to education as an essential part of a meaningful, fulfilling life. I like the excitement and energy I feel at the beginning of each school day. I like running into former students and hearing about their progress through their academic careers and life experiences. I like being a part of Morgan Park Academy’s long history of education.

What are the most important life lessons you want students to learn in your class?

Ideas of respect, compassion, and service are important to me. Without values, subject matter is lifeless.

What do you think about the Thomas Malcolm Volunteer Award? Why is service to others an important value for you to model for our students?

Being publicly honored, having an award established in my name — it’s a little embarrassing. The point of volunteer service is getting beyond ourselves to focus on the needs of others. That’s why it’s important to show — not just tell — our students how to promote the greater good. I really love to hear stories of our students taking their care for others into the world beyond the Academy.

How did you come to teach here?

It was mostly a happy accident. I came to Chicago and needed a job. Somehow I found Morgan Park Academy, got an interview, and was hired. It’s worked out very well. The Academy is where I’ve found my calling.

Why do you teach in the Middle School? What do you like about working with students at that time in their lives?

It’s never dull! Students at this age are between two worlds, child and adult, with such rich potential. It’s where I feel most needed and where I can contribute most effectively.

What about MPA has changed, and what has stayed the same, since you first began working here?

The technology used in education is very different, but the needs of students and the mission of the school to meet those needs are essentially the same now as in the past. Education is the product of a real encounter between people. Every day at Morgan Park Academy, I bring myself, with my flaws, weaknesses, and doubts looking for authentic human interaction and learning.

What experiences or people had the most influence on you?

Winnie Theodore, Principal of the Lower and Middle Schools from 1965-1997, was a real inspiration to me. Her ability to guide students, parents, and faculty, her fairness, and her sense of justice made me aspire to bring these things to my workday. Vickie Hovanessian, Lillian Mackal, David Jones, Carol Riha, Judy Thorsen, Barb Tubutis, Mary Gerlich, Lillian Delaney, Martin Wolf, Jeff Heilman, and countless other colleagues have had a positive impact on me. But most of all, my immediate family — the acorns do not fall far from the tree.

What do you want your students to take away from having known you?

If they grow into being their own best selves, if they’re well-adjusted, compassionate, respectful, and do the best they can in life, then I can sleep at night.

Meet Our Teachers: Lisa Camastro

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Lisa Camastro teaches Spanish II, III, and IV in the Upper School and is our curriculum leader for World Languages. Now in her third year at Morgan Park Academy, she holds a Master’s in Hispanic Studies from Saint Louis University and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Notre Dame.

Q&A

What are your favorite moments with a student?

One of my favorite moments is when my students start to make jokes in Spanish. It sounds like a simple thing, but it actually shows that they have a really good grip on the language. Plus, it makes me laugh and brightens my day.

What experiences or people had the most influence on you?

Living in Spain was an eye-opening experience. As much as you learn in school about a culture, it’s not until you live there that you really start to understand it. Living abroad is also a great way to understand yourself and your own culture. It’s not always easy to do, but I encourage all of my students to spend a semester abroad in college. It will change their lives for the better.

What do you want your students to take away from having known you?

I want my students to inherit my sense of curiosity. I would love for them to speak Spanish well, but the bigger picture to me is an interest in culture and language that they can carry with them through the rest of their life. It’s a big world out there, and I want them to explore it.

Meet Our Teachers: Peter DiLalla

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Peter DiLalla is in his third year as a Middle School teacher at at Morgan Park Academy. He teaches fifth- and sixth-grade social studies and seventh- and eighth-grade physical education, and also has taught English and math. After school, he is head coach of our varsity tennis teams and our yearbook adviser.

A Cleveland native, he earned Master’s and undergraduate degrees at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

Q&A

How do you inspire students to enjoy learning?

I always try to relate the material that I teach to students’ own lives. For example, we are currently working on creating a fake Twitter feed for George Washington. Giving students the opportunity to take information from history and rework it into something that makes sense to their generation is always a goal of mine. Whether it’s making a rap about history or thinking about which hashtags George Washington would use, this approach gets students excited about learning.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I most enjoy seeing students overcome their fears, whether it’s giving a speech in front of the class or performing for an assembly. Last semester, my spoken word class created original pieces and performed them at our United Nations Day assembly. I was really proud of my students not only for creating their pieces by themselves, but for having the courage to share their work with the entire school community.

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

I want them to learn that it’s important to take healthy risks and chances in life. I remember as a kid being terrified of messing up or doing something that would be embarrassing. As I got older, I learned the importance of putting myself out there and not being afraid of what others thought. You can learn so much about your strengths and weaknesses by overcoming the fear of failure. I try to instill this approach in my students by leading by example and fostering a classroom environment where students feel safe to try new things.