Category Archives: MPA Community

What Teaching at an Independent School Has Meant to Me

When I think of my time here at the Academy, my time as an Independent School educator, the one word I keep coming back to is autonomy. For both instructors and students, independent education has a more flexible curriculum, one that adapts to our ever-changing world, and thus, one that allows teachers and students to explore our world and ask questions not limited by a curriculum, religious affiliation, or government-imposed standardized tests.

Mr. Malcolm 1Once hired in 1976, I began my academic planning. The chosen textbooks were filled with project-based activities. The Lab Handbook accompanying our Biology I textbook was an exploration in academic science activities that allowed students to take ownership of their learning. From the beginning, my teaching at MPA mirrored why the Academy speaks to our families – it prepares students to be global leaders, make a positive difference in the world, and inspires independent learners. One thing that has not changed during my time here, and which reflects an independent school academic atmosphere, is that we embrace a hands-on approach which lets students experience concepts rather than simply listen to a lecture.

One of the exciting changes I have been a part of is the Academy embracing the advancement of technology. From a computer a third of the size of my classroom, to my iPad, I have had the opportunity to share the Academy’s commitment to technology, which started with our first computer purchase in 1978. What this allows our students to do is to apply what they learn inside the classroom to the outside world. For several years I was fortunate to teach our Basic Computer classes as well as summer session Robotics class. In the latter, students built and programmed robots; at the end of the session, they competed against each other in different challenges, including a robot tug of war. Working at the Academy has afforded me these types of opportunities that I may not have had elsewhere and has allowed me to keep a finger on technology even up to today, as our tech lab now has a 3-D printer.

Teaching in an Independent School has allowed me and my students to ask questions, has encouraged us to do so with the promise of support to find answers. My past students have become policemen, entrepreneurs, business women, lawyers, and doctors, among many other respected and influential careers. Because of an independent education, students take the initiative to look for the unusual and have the courage to explore. Students benefit from our college-preparatory curriculum and at the end of their years at MPA, possess the necessary aptitude and interest to excel in whatever path they choose.

This blog (the first in a series of five) is the start of my recalling, retelling, and recording my time and observations during my tenure at the Academy. As many of you know, I will be retiring at the end of the school year and I want to reflect on my time at the Academy. Telling stories, sharing stories, helps to not only preserve our history, but our traditions as well. Traditions allow us to remember who we are and what we represent. It is my hope to do so with these blogs. I hope you enjoy reading them.

I leave you with one story until next time. I have a note in my desk drawer which was given to me by a student many years ago. It reads “Look at when sad. Only.”  I have never opened it.


By Thomas Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm teaches Middle School science at Morgan Park Academy

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School Spirit and Student Life

School spirit is an important part of any school culture; but what exactly is school spirit? I think the meaning is different for everyone, but with the beginning of every year, we as a school hope to get students, faculty, staff, and parents excited about being a part of the MPA community. Every new academic year begins with Convocation and continues with our spirit week in preparation for the ultimate show of school spirit – the pep rally. After the rally, Homecoming activities help to incite enthusiasm and get the school year off to a great start.

danConvocation is such a special event at the Academy. Students are given the opportunity to get on stage and share their roles and excitement for the new school year. The ceremony includes presentations from leaders of groups like Student Council, Arts Council, and House leaders who share their vision for the school year. They make new and returning students feel welcome at the beginning of the new year. House leaders get the student body excited about being a member of each house and the school community.

Spirit week allows students (as well as  faculty and staff) to show their school spirit by dressing up for theme days. The Upper School Student Council selected the themes this year, which were based on The Academy Awards; all the days were centered around movies, such as classic Disney and action movies. Students especially, though we have some extremely enthusiastic faculty members as well, go all-out, really representing the theme to the best of their ability. Students get excited about showing off their creativity; the theme the last day is school spirit and makes for an amazing day of a sea of maroon across campus.

The pep rally this year was for the entire school from Pre-K to our Seniors. Student athletes from all levels were recognized: our Lower School soccer program, our Middle School volleyball and soccer teams, and our Upper School tennis, volleyball, soccer, and golf teams were all greeted with massive cheers from the crowd. The energy was very exciting by having all of our students together, but also with all of our faculty and staff cheering on the athletes as well. The highlight of the day was the all-school cheers led by the Middle School Student Council and recently inducted Hall of Fame teacher, Mr. Malcolm! Lastly, the entire school broke out into a dance party on Jones Bowl, highlighted with our own Head of School Mrs. Sheppard dancing with the fourth grade class! We even managed to capture the activities (and the dance-off) on video!

Saturday Homecoming was a day of reconnecting and enjoying the beautiful late summer weather. Talking with parents and seeing former students is one of the best parts of Homecoming. A great moment was seeing an alum from the class of ‘16, coming back from college to surprise his sister, class of  ‘18, as she played with the Varsity volleyball team. At the always much-anticipated carnival, the bounce houses were extra bouncy and the MPA Parents Association and its generous volunteers worked long hours with smiles on their faces. They made sure everyone was happy; carnival-goers’ stomachs were full of yummy food and they enjoyed the Spirit Gear they had purchased. And of course, the Lower School bike parade! Over fifty Lower School students rode around in their decorated bikes for a great show of school spirit led by Ms. Melville and Mrs. Sheppard.

The absolute highlight of the week for me was the Hall of Fame induction in Alumni Hall. Over 150 family members, alumni, faculty and staff attended to honor past and present teachers, making the night a truly amazing experience. To see how the inductees impacted and influenced their students makes me reflect on how I can make a difference to mine. It was a great program with many stories of the Academy from days past.

School spirit is the lifeblood of any school, and I look forward to seeing how it will grow as the year continues with more House events and activities like “Pack the Place” – game nights where we encourage students, faculty, staff, and parents to pack the gym and support our Warriors.
Becoming the new Dean of Student Life is an awesome responsibility. Picking up where Mr. Malcolm left off and putting my own spin on the position is an enormous task that I have looked forward to embracing. My goal for spirit and student life at MPA is to get all of us on campus excited about the school and to realize that we are a part of a wonderful fraternity, lucky to be a student, teacher, or parent at the Academy.

 


By Daniel Peters

Mr. Peters teaches Middle School social studies and coaches basketball and golf. He also is Middle School assistant principal and our curriculum leader for physical education.

Cultivating Leaders

Leadership is an important quality in all walks of life. Cultivating students into leaders is critical to the Academy’s mission and whole child philosophy. Morgan Park Academy engages the whole child, inspires the independent learner, and prepares the global leader of tomorrow to make a positive difference in the world. Student leaders learn about accepting successes, and equally important, learn from failure.

Mr. Malcolm 1There are many opportunities to lead at Morgan Park Academy, including: student council, house leaders (Upper, Middle, and Lower School students who lead our four House System and plan cooperative teambuilding activities), and line leaders (students who rotate various jobs within a classroom) in the Lower School. Furthermore, within the Arts, Athletics, and Service divisions at MPA, opportunities abound for students to get involved in activities outside the classroom.

One goal for the Director of Student Leadership is to encourage and create new and ongoing positions for our students to gain leadership experience. All Upper School students may start new arts, service, or recreational co-curriculars by submitting an application to the Upper School Student Council for review.

Within the Arts Co-curricular opportunities, there are leadership positions in the theatre, including: student director, backstage director, costume designer, and character leads. In band, there are section leaders and student directors and in chorus, soloists display leadership.  

In athletics, even non-athletes can get involved for the love of sports. Our Warrior Snack Shack is a student-run activity that provides an opportunity for leadership as students delegate responsibilities within the concession stand. In addition, several “Pack the Place” events throughout the year, games where students and faculty attendance are at a high to support our athletes, show the Academy’s support of Athletics, but also allow students who are not on teams, to still participate.

Service projects create wonderful opportunities for students to practice and develop leadership skills. Our robust Service Council encourages students to become altruistic leaders by providing opportunities for volunteerism. Through relationships with Habitat for Humanity and local soup kitchens, two whole school days devoted to service, and various celebrations throughout the year like Earth Day, our students learn how important and fulfilling it feels to give back to the community.  

Over the past six years, the Academy has cultivated many opportunities for students to step up into leadership roles, even for short periods. The committee who planned the All-School Earth Day Celebration is an example of a short-term leadership opportunity. Each sub-committee of the Service Council is led by a student working with their committee members to identify, plan, and execute specific tasks to be completed during this Celebration.

Leadership development strategies are embedded in the Academy’s instructional practices in all subject areas across all grade levels. As we continue to create roles for students, they have become more willing to take ownership of ideas and to cultivate them, knowing they have the support and guidance from their teachers.  Looking forward, we hope to continue to foster this environment of leadership in which each and every student leads his/her peers towards a positive goal.

 


By Thomas Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm is the Dean of Student Life. He also teaches Middle School science at Morgan Park Academy, a Chicago Private Independent School.

Teaching Kindness

As the social emotional counselor, part of my role includes teaching character education to K-5 students. These classes meet once a week to learn how to follow the MPA way of being “kind” and doing their “best”. Doing your best is an umbrella for a few topics, including academics, goal setting, celebrating individuality, being proactive, and practicing mindfulness. The umbrella of kindness, however, is a bit more complex, as one cannot simply direct a child to ‘be nice’. Emotional intelligence and empathy are very much intertwined with understanding how to be kind, along with learning to acknowledge and appreciate peers’ unique strengths and ideas. Kindness includes encouraging students to walk in someone else’s shoes, being open to diversity, and tapping into another person’s feelings.

StecblogresizedTeaching kindness in early elementary involves helping students identify their intricate emotions, while giving them skills to control those emotions. Classes learn about personal space, how to read body language, polite listening skills, knowing when to self regulate, and understanding when to reach out to a teacher when they have maxed out their personal resources.

In upper elementary, classes address treating others kindly, but there are new avenues to which students are introduced. For this age group, I discuss social media etiquette, showcase stories of resilience and courage that embrace kindness, present conflict resolution techniques, and brainstorm ways to stand up for others if students witness unkind behavior.

Showing consideration to one another is something we want for all of our children to experience from their classmates and MPA community. Below are some resources that you can use at home to encourage kindness with your children.

 

Some recent elementary-level books relating to kindness that I’ve enjoyed:

Memoirs of a Goldfish, by Devin Scillian

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip Hoos

Don’t Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Idea by Emily Pearson

Have you Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

 

Other resources on empathy and kindness

Animation of empathy vs sympathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

Harvard Business Review: Do you lead with Emotional Intelligence quiz.

https://hbr.org/2015/06/quiz-yourself-do-you-lead-with-emotional-intelligence

 

How to encourage empathy at home

http://sites.gse.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/making-caring-common/files/empathy.pdf

 

Are you raising nice kids?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind


By Jennifer Stec

Ms. Stec is our school counselor.

A Window Into the World of Our Youngest Learners

As many of you know, our preschool at MPA has many new faces this year. Not only have we welcomed so many wonderful new families, but we have two new teachers and two new assistants working with our youngest learners. The Early Learning Center is home to our 4-year-old class taught by Ms. Betsey and Ms. Sarah. At the end of the hall in Barker, our 3-year-group is led by Ms. Bridget and Ms. Megan. Both of these classrooms are the place to go if I need to smile, to laugh, or need hugs!

Preschoolers are so full of wonder and excitement. Their endless exploration and desire to learn about the world around them is an educator’s dream. Throughout the school year, our preschoolers explore themes and build upon what they learn by helping to guide the direction of the unit. When the class shows an extraordinary interest in a topic within the unit, the teachers follow their lead and before you know it, an entire center in the classroom is devoted to this interest and they are looking deeper into the subject. Our preschool teachers are engaging our students in creative and meaningful learning experiences by letting them assist in forming the direction of the curriculum. This active process in which the teachers and students explore together, exchange ideas, and learn together gives the children a voice in the classroom to develop lifelong learners.

Annie BlogFor example, the 3-year-olds have become obsessed with reading and acting out nursery rhymes and it has taken on a life of its own. Ms. Bridget and Ms. Megan realized that the children were not only enjoying them, they were asking for more! The class also enjoys week-long activities that correspond with the letter of the week. For this activity, last week the students made homemade lollipops and delivered their creations to several of us on campus. We connected not only the letter sounds in lollipop and lick but other words with the same letter sound. They were so proud to share the treats they made. These activities help the 3-year-old class build confidence and curiosity by exploring and exchanging ideas daily!

The 4-year-old class is busy working on a “Community Helpers” unit. When Ms. Betsey and Ms. Sarah introduced the idea, they defined what community means and how there are communities within communities. Before they knew it, the students were curious not only about the community they live in, but their classroom community and also about MPA as a community. Just yesterday, they spent time in Mrs. Sheppard’s office learning about what it takes to run a school and they visited the Dining Hall to meet Ms. Happy, the chef that cooks lunches for the school. This week, I will visit with them to talk about what a principal does and Mr. Louie will explain how he keeps our campus beautiful. Many parents have also come into the classroom to share about how their jobs help our community. The class is so excited about the unit and with their enthusiasm for learning, it will be fun to see the direction that this unit takes!Annie Blog 2

The active nature of preschoolers coupled with their ability to question and explore absolutely everything makes this style of teaching occur naturally. Children play to learn and our preschoolers have so many wonderful opportunities to do so every day. Next time you see one of these classes on a walk across campus, chances are they out exploring for their next adventure in the classroom.

The Role and Rewards of Being a Mentor

One of the key relationships that teachers can develop with students is to be a mentor for them.  This is similar to the role of advisor, but at the same time, there are some differences. For the mentor and student relationship to develop, there has to be a connection between the teacher and the student. The goal of a mentor is to help a student advance and maximize their educational and personal growth. Many times, this type of relationship will continue long after a student graduates.  Quite a few of my former students still reach out to me for advice and at the same time they want to check and see how I am doing as well. These conversations and relationships mean quite a bit to teachers and is one of the reasons why many of us become teachers.

TomUnlike the advisor who is usually assigned to students, a mentor is someone that a student seeks out and the teacher agrees to help. In the role of a mentor, the teacher wants to optimize the educational experience for the student. This can be done in a one-on-one setting and could include discussions about curriculum and extracurricular activities. An advisor can do this too, but many times they are looking at a group of students instead of an individual. To be a successful mentor, one must be a very good listener and be able to demonstrate a sincere understanding of the concerns of their students. The life experiences of a teacher can be beneficial in helping to advise students as many times the teacher was once sitting in the same spot when they were themselves a student.

It is beneficial for students to have multiple mentors. This allows a student to get different perspectives from teachers that they hold in high regard. Some of the factors that help to make a match and make things click between a student and faculty mentor vary, such as: age, discipline, and personality. These are, of course, personal preferences that develop in relationships. The reward for students is that they develop a rapport both in and outside of the classroom with their mentor while gaining the advice of someone who has gone through similar life experiences when they were a student. The reward for the teacher is to realize that you have had a positive impact on a student that will last a lifetime. To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is to see and hear how well your students are doing in life after they have graduated college.


By Tom Drahozal

Mr. Drahozal is the Upper School principal. He also teaches history and coaches our varsity baseball and girls’ basketball teams.

The Spirit of the MPA Community

Spirit was the theme for our 2015 All School Spirit Week/Homecoming Celebration. But does that mean “with spirit” or “about spirit?” What is spirit, who has it, and why is it so important?

Mr. Malcolm 1Students feel like their school is “Number One” when they feel they belong to something special. The school with the most spirit is not necessarily the one with the loudest pep rallies, the most championship teams, or the most posters around the school at game time. Rather, the most spirited school is the one that has the largest percentage of students who feel like they belong. The challenge, perhaps their most significant challenge, of student leaders, advisors, homeroom teachers, co-cuuricular faculty leaders, and administrators is to plan as many ways as possible for all students to be engaged and promote positive feelings about themselves and their school.

So if spirit is a sense of belonging – like a community – each of us has an important role to play in leading the MPA community. Here at the Academy, we have persuasive actors, WYSE students, chess giants, and volleyball stars. We have Student Leadership councils, Arts Council, Diversity Council, Service Council, sports captains, and our upcoming graduating class – leaders who individually and collectively will make a profound impact on our school this year through supporting others and promoting a culture of kindness.

This year’s group of student leaders met in early September to plan their year. They had lofty goals to build community for the entire school, not just in the Middle and Upper Schools. Even though the classes compete in activities that are sometimes hotly contested (lunch challenges by division and Academy Day challenges) they are, in fact, playing together. So, when it comes time to act as a unified student body, they do so with pride and enthusiasm.

Numerous studies have shown that the most common characteristic among successful people is that they were involved in student activities in elementary and secondary school. It turns out that players in school become players in life. I’d like to invite you all to engage fully in the life of our school, in all MPA has to offer. You will learn new things about yourself as you participate in our service learning opportunities, try out for a play, join a team, and experiment with different activities in our Student Life Program. Our job is to find wonderful educators, faculty co-curricular leaders, and student co-curricular leaders who dream up opportunities for students that push our students to achieve their best, take a risk, and try something new!

MPA is a place that promotes cooperation and support for one another to grow in spirit in a community, where we feel pride and shared responsibility for helping each other toward the best we can be.