Category Archives: Middle School

Meet Our Teachers: Tara Gorry

Tara Gorry teaches Spanish in the Upper School and Middle School, having joined Morgan Park Academy this fall from Montrose School, an independent school in suburban Boston.

She holds a B.A. in Spanish and English from Colgate University and an M.A. in Hispanic Studies from Boston College.


Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

In addition to being an excellent school with strong academics, MPA attracted me with its culture of inclusion, sense of community, and focus on thinking internationally. While it is important to celebrate where we come from and what ties us together, as a language teacher, it is so important to me that a school looks outside of itself to explore other countries, meet other people, and learn to respect different ways of life.

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Meet Our Teachers: Jeanne Pagliaro

Jeanne Pagliaro teaches seventh-grade physical science and eighth-grade life science.

Ms. Pagliaro began her career in middle school, but she also taught high school courses for many years in both public and private schools. She joined Morgan Park Academy this fall after being the STEM division chair and AP biology and biomedical sciences teacher at Queen of Peace High School, where she collaborated with other high schools, universities, professional organizations and alumnae, working with them to inspire more students to pursue engineering fields after high school.

She holds a B.S. in secondary education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Education degree from the University of St. Francis.


How would you describe your ideal student?

This student has a sense of humor and is also willing to take risks; is not afraid to be wrong. I believe we learn a great deal from our mistakes, and I do my best to provide a classroom that encourages risk-taking and self-discovery along with laughter and joy. As a student, I was terrified to be wrong, and so I do not want my own students to have the same experience.

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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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Reinventing the Student Notebook

Three years ago, during my first year at Morgan Park Academy, I had to improvise part of a lesson after I was left without one of the handouts I planned to use.

I tried a slightly different way to get my seventh-grade English students to engage with the classic Robert Frost poem “The Road Less Traveled.”

I had them take out a piece of notebook paper and draw their understanding of the poem. Think about what the poem represents. What do you think it means? What images are most prominent? What colors come into your mind when you read it?


The students loved this approach. Some of them drew compelling images from their interpretations of the poem. When asked to explain their images and how they connected to the poem, they had clear, analytical answers that showed their understanding and a higher level reading of the poem.

This success got me thinking: How can I do more of this in my classroom?

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Meet Our Teachers: Jessica Stephens

Please help us welcome Jessica Stephens, who joins the Morgan Park Academy faculty as a sixth-grade math and science teacher and sixth-grade advisor.

Mrs. Stephens has taught at both the middle school and high school level, teaching algebra, chemistry, biology, and seventh- and eighth-grade science.

She holds a B.A. from Princeton University, where she majored in psychology as a pre-medicine student.


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

I appreciate George Bernard Shaw’s quote that what is most important is seeing “the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” I desire most that students learn the value of knowledge and the importance of pursuing truth. This life lesson will transform students into individual persons who set the intent to educate the self rather than passively awaiting another to dispense knowledge — only to be tempted to either instill such knowledge or carelessly discard it upon its false evaluation of its worth. Therefore, my hope is that in understanding the worth of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, one’s perspective will be the impetus in doing the former rather than the latter.

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Summer Adventure at the Grand Canyon: Our Top 5 Moments


An important part of each student’s experience at Morgan Park Academy is tied to our mission to prepare the global leaders of tomorrow and our belief that learning can and should take place outside the classroom. This comes to life most vividly in our school-wide Global Week each March, our immersive world languages program with optional international trips — and most recently, our travel opportunity for middle school students each summer.

This summer, a dozen sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders joined my fellow Humanities teacher Sandra Burgess and me to explore the Grand Canyon and the wondrous state and national parks of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.


We experienced so much in five days! As Ms. Burgess put it, “You know you’re on a great trip when every day your students say, ‘I changed my mind; today has been my favorite day.'”

Somehow, though, we managed to pick five experiences that stood out as the top highlights from our trip! Continue reading

The Dreaded Second Semester Slump

Prior to coming to Morgan Park Academy, I was an adjunct professor, teaching Acting, Theatre History and Speech classes at two state universities and one private college. At each of the three institutions, there was a visible trend in my students’ effort and achievement between the months of February and April: the dreaded second semester slump.

kurutIn reviewing report cards for the third academic quarter, the same trend is evident at the Middle School level. Many students whose grades had been on an upward trajectory take a sudden dip, indicating a drop in effort and/or a “relaxing” of work habits. Anecdotally, I see more emails and hear more tales of students whose phone privileges have been taken away, or whose parents are considering taking them out of a sport or other cherished activity. The American Psychiatric Association even has a name for what our students typically experience – “Middle School Malaise.” Whatever we title it, this slump is often the main topic of conversation at Spring Parent-Teacher conferences, and invites questions from our parents: what happened? How can we get this student back on track and motivated? What can we do to help?

What happened?

It’s worth noting that the second-semester slump is a normal, natural trend. Often, it is attributed to a combination of factors, including dreary winter weather and a complacency with daily routines. In addition, there is merit in acknowledging that the third academic quarter is significantly longer than the two previous quarters. It’s hard for a student, especially adolescents whose brains are not yet fully developed, to consider academic consequences when the end of the quarter seems so far off.

How can this student get back on track?

The advice that I give to students who are falling behind or in danger of a big grade drop includes a combination of the following suggestions:

  • Stay active – especially in the cold weather, getting up and moving are important for staying motivated and energetic. Inactivity begets more inactivity – and any student (or adult) who has found him/herself watching YouTube videos for hours at a time can appreciate the truth of this statement. Likewise, it’s hard to sit and work on a school project for two hours straight, so I recommend breaks that involve moving around.
  • Manage your time wisely – as a college student with daily rehearsals to attend, I became proficient at managing my time. It seemed the busier I was, the more diligent I had to be about getting work done on time. I recommend that students schedule their work time with parent help.
  • Plan, parcel and prioritize – It is crucial for students to look at upcoming assignments and plan ahead. With major projects or big reading assignments, dividing the work into manageable chunks makes the task seem less monumental. (I had a college professor who used to ask, “How do you complete a big project? The same way an ant eats a pizza. One bite at a time.”) For some students, prioritizing may mean getting the least desirable project or subject out of the way first.

As a parent, how can I help?

  • Help with time management – when I was in school, the tasks that seemed most daunting to me were the big reading projects. My mom would help me by doing the math for me… if I had to read forty pages by Friday, and it was assigned on Monday, then I had to read ten pages per night.
  • Put things in perspective – When your child is disappointed by a grade or outcome, help him or her deal with what may feel like failure. It’s always helpful to keep in mind that even a quarter grade is one grade, in one subject, in one quarter, in one year of what will be a long academic career. Make plans to do better next time, and focus on the things you can change (future work habits) rather than the things you cannot change (the already-earned grade).
  • If possible, don’t take your child out of cherished activities – by all means, take away Xbox time or social media or the iPhone, but try to steer clear of making your child less active. Being in plays or on sports teams benefit your child in both physical and social-emotional ways, and can often provide a much-needed feeling of successful accomplishment.

Finally, recognize that we are all on the same team – the team of adults working to teach your child and help him/her learn applicable skills and work habits. Yes, the second semester slump is common, but it need not be a permanent situation. As with just about everything else at school, that dip in achievement and effort can be a tremendous learning experience.