Category Archives: Lower School

Meet Our Teachers: Paula Cuadros

After graduating from Morgan Park Academy, kindergarten teacher Paula Cuadros ’87 earned an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies at Carleton College, an M.A. in social science at the University of Chicago, and an M.S. in Elementary Education at Northwestern University.

paula-cuadrosMrs. Cuadros taught kindergarten for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools before working as a stay-at-home parent. Upon resuming her teaching career, she taught 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds and worked as a school librarian before joining the MPA faculty this fall.


Why did you choose to return to MPA as a teacher?

Once my youngest child was settled in school and I was ready to return to teaching full-time, I knew that MPA would be a great place to do that. The small class sizes mean teachers have a better opportunity to connect to students. The ability to create a true relationship with students and families is essential to teaching and learning.

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Meet Our Teachers: Sara Tesmond

Fourth-grade teacher Sara Tesmond is a lifelong South Sider, leaving only to attend the University of Dayton in Ohio, where she earned a B.S. in education. After teaching middle school math her first year in the classroom, she has taught fourth grade the past few years.

She taught second- and third-grade academic enrichment classes at Morgan Park Academy for four summers before joining our full-time faculty this fall.


What motivated you to become a teacher?

I wanted to become a teacher because I find education to be an essential part of life. I have always loved learning and I want to show my passion to the future generation. When I was in school I was always the student trying to help others understand the material, and that led me to become a teacher. I had many influential teachers in my life that have inspired me. I love that with teaching, each day is different and each child is unique.

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Incorporating Technology in the Elementary Classroom

Morgan Park Academy students often cheer at the opportunity to use iPads or Chromebooks during class, although the assignment involves much more than simply play time. But don’t tell them that!

Technology is an alternative learning avenue for students. Educational apps and programs reinforce and enhance the curriculum. The students are so engaged in the activity — whether self-selecting their next book or solving 10 more math problems to reach a higher level — that they do not view their time on the device as working, but rather play. In addition to increased productivity, there are several other hidden benefits.

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Meet Our Teachers: Shavonne Terry

Shavonne Terry is Morgan Park Academy’s educational technology coordinator, a role that encompasses classroom instruction across all school divisions as well as supporting the school’s information technology needs.

Ms.​ ​Terry holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Illinois Institute of Art, where she focused on media arts and animation, and a Master of Education degree from DePaul University.


What​ ​does​ ​the​ educational​ technology​ coordinator​ ​do​ ​at​ ​MPA?

​I​ ​work​ ​closely​ ​with​ ​leadership​ ​and​ ​teachers​ ​in​ ​developing​ ​an​ ​innovative program​ ​of​ ​instructional​ ​technology​ ​that​ ​enriches​ ​and​ ​supports​ ​MPA’s​ curriculum.​ ​I​ ​also​ ​provide​ ​instructional​ ​design​ ​support​ ​and​ ​training​ ​for​ ​the​ ​integration​ ​of technology​ ​into​ ​the​ ​classroom,​ ​1:1​ ​device​ ​implementation,​ ​learning​ ​management support​, ​and​ ​daily​ ​tech​ ​assistance​ ​for​ ​students​ ​and​ ​teachers. ​Also,​ ​I​ ​teach​ ​technology and​ ​computer​ ​science​ ​classes​ ​throughout​ all divisions ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​working​ ​with​ ​the summer​ ​enrichment​ ​programs.


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Meet Our Teachers: Erin McDuffie

Kindergarten teacher Erin McDuffie joins Morgan Park Academy this fall after teaching in public schools in both Chicago and Boston and working as an ESL teacher in a public charter school for refugee and immigrant children in Columbus, Ohio.

In 2011, she received the Rochelle Lee Boundless Readers Individual Award, and the following year, she participated in the Fulbright Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Sustainable Development.

She holds a B.A. in sociology and political science from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Education degree in elementary education from Boston College.


Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

Initially I came to MPA as a prospective parent. I fell in love with the small class sizes, the student body diversity, the child-centered, developmentally appropriate curriculum, and the strong sense of community. During my admissions tour, I kept thinking, “What a wonderful place to learn!” When I saw the job posting for what became my position, I thought, “What an even better place to teach!” I feel so lucky to be joining the MPA community as both a parent and a teacher.

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Meet Our Teachers: Aileen Halvorsen

Second-grade teacher Aileen Halvorsen joins Morgan Park Academy this fall after 17 years teaching in Urbana, Evanston, Burbank, and Chicago, most recently at Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center in Mount Greenwood. She has taught kindergarten through fourth grade, including multi-age classes.

Along with teaching second grade at Keller last year, Mrs. Halvorsen was selected as a Learning Leader through the CPS Office of Early Childhood Education and also served on their Instructional Leadership Team.

She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at National Louis University.


How do you inspire students to enjoy learning?

If you walk by my classroom, you might hear a lot of singing and wonder what is going on in there. You might see students all over the room instead of sitting at their desks.

I use music and movement to enhance our lessons and to help with transitions. Children retain new information better by singing or acting it out.

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Growth Mindset: Development Through Dedication

I often begin my year teaching second grade by reading students the book The Little Engine that Could. Many current and former second graders remember me telling them to be “the little engine that could” or whispering the chant, “I think I can, I think I can.” As a parent, I frequently told my children, “positive attitude, positive experience.” Whether the child was tackling a challenging math concept or practicing a new ballet combination, I found encouragement and praise throughout the process often led to the breakthrough. A belief in themselves, fueled by effort and encouragement, resulted in growth.

lizPsychologist Carol Dweck is considered a guru in the concept of growth mindset, a belief that intelligence and ability improve through hard work and challenges. She explains, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Dweck further argues that “students who embrace growth mindsets—the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere—may learn more, learn it more quickly, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve their learning and skills.” As educators and parents, adults must teach children how to navigate through challenges and find success within their failures.

Throughout their elementary years, both in and out of school, students will be faced with challenges. As teachers, we must allow children to maneuver through these challenges, learn to problem-solve, and even encounter failure. Learning must take place in a warm and nurturing environment; when students feel they are a part of a supportive community, they feel comfortable and confident to take risks. Rather than a mere acquisition of facts, elementary teachers provide students opportunities to learn by doing and to become problem-solvers. Teachers help give students the ability to make sense of a problem and then work through solving the problem. As a result, when students encounter challenges, they embrace these and become excited. Rather than shy away from an issue, they think about the strategies they can implement and then tackle the problem. Students articulate their thinking, share strategies, and often exceed our expectations.

Parents can support a growth mindset at home, too. Rather than asking, “what grade did you get on your test?”, instead ask questions like, “what mistake did you make that taught you something?” or “what strategy are you going to try next?” Be more specific in your questions than, “how was your day?” Expect more specific answers than, “good,” or “bad.” Ask your child what they did today that challenged him or made her think hard. Help your children change their dialogue and thinking by modeling phrases such as, “this is tough now, but try again.” When they say, “it’s too hard, I don’t get it,” remind your children that at one time simple things, such as recognizing letters, used to be tough but are now automatic. Here is a link for two posters by Sarah Gardner for parents to help cultivate a growth mindset in your home.

By fostering a growth mindset both in school and at home, soon “I can’t” will no longer be in students’ vocabulary – rather they will become the Little Engines that Could.


By Liz Raser

Mrs. Raser teaches second grade and is our Assistant Lower School Principal and the Curriculum Leader for the Elementary Team.