The Importance of Faculty Professional Development

Some may wonder about the purpose of having faculty professional development days. What about the conferences or workshops teachers attend? Are they necessary? Just like any other profession, teachers need to attend workshops, conferences, and other training sessions to stay current, collaborate with and learn from others, or inspire them to try new things in the classroom.

schmidt1One of the main reasons professional development is necessary is so teachers stay current in the field of education, which is constantly evolving. New initiatives and technology are continually added to programs, but teachers need to be trained so they feel equipped in the classroom. During our recent Professional Development day in April, all faculty took part in workshops. The PreK-8th grade faculty attended a session on Responsive Classroom, which provided strategies for positive management and character-building that will be implemented next year in the Lower and Middle Schools. These strategies will make students aware of expectations both inside and outside of the classroom to ensure consistency. The Upper School faculty took part in a Project-Based Learning workshop which allowed them to work on ways they can incorporate PBL into their current syllabi. As we work toward these initiatives, we will offer support to the teachers to promote a successful integration.

Collaboration with colleagues or attending workshops with others in the field of education is imperative to professional growth. Sharing ideas within grade levels or departments allows teachers to see what their peers are doing and how they can help one another. Members of our faculty have a wealth of knowledge that can be shared, if given the opportunity. In addition, attending workshops and conferences outside of school is beneficial because not only are teachers gaining useful information from experts, but they can network with other educators and trade ideas that can be effective in the classroom or the school. When teachers attend a workshop or conference, part of the requirement is to be a resource on the topic for other faculty members.

Professional development opportunities are inspirational. They may be just the spark a teacher needs to try something new in the classroom or an administrator the willingness to implement a new initiative at the school. If some of our teachers had not visited another school to see Responsive Classroom in action, we may not have decided to pursue training. Having teachers inspired by Project-Based Learning influenced others who wanted to learn more about it, which led us to bring in a consultant. Sometimes that is all it takes — for one person to be excited about an idea and spread that energy to others.
The next time you are curious about what happens on faculty professional development days or when your child says his teacher was not in school because she was at a workshop, you will know that they are learning things that can positively impact education. This summer, we are pleased to be sending teachers and administrators to workshops and conferences addressing topics that range from content-based approaches to school leadership and design. Also, plans are underway for training that will take place during the faculty preparation week at the end of August. As educators, we should always continue to learn, grow, and improve!


By Jennifer Schmidt

Mrs. Schmidt is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

Spotlight on Spanish

Spanish is our most popular language program at MPA. We begin Spanish lessons in preschool, alongside French and Mandarin, and continue exploratory classes through 4th grade. In 5th grade, students can choose between Spanish, French or Mandarin for full-time study and continue their language of choice through the rest of their education at the Academy. Our teachers, Señora Ortiz, Señora Harris, and I – Profe Camastro – love sharing our experience with the Spanish language and Hispanic culture with our students. In exploratory classes, our program emphasizes basic skills and vocabulary through dance, song, rhyme and movement. In our full-year program, teachers help students develop reading and writing skills, as well as build conversational and cultural competency. In addition to local field trips to the Pilsen and Hermosa neighborhoods, we also offer Project Week trips abroad (in the Middle and Upper School), to countries including Costa Rica, Peru, and Spain so that students have an opportunity to speak and hear Spanish from native speakers.

DSC_0029xIt should come as no surprise that Spanish as a second language has exploded in popularity not only at MPA but also throughout the United States. An estimated 7.8 million people are currently learning Spanish in the US. Increasing immigration to the US from Hispanic countries has made our nation the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, ahead of even Spain! By 2050, it is projected that there will be 138 million Spanish-speakers in the US – a third of the population. Professional opportunities for use of Spanish are boundless; medicine, business, law enforcement, education, social work are just some of the fields where bilingual candidates are in constant demand.

Of course, proficiency in Spanish is also a key skill outside of the United States. It’s the official language of 20 countries around the world, and a second language to millions of people outside of those countries. Latin America has some of the world’s most important emerging economies, including Mexico and Chile. Additionally, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Spain are all in the top 10 destinations for Americans traveling abroad.  

As Spanish teachers, we are happy to teach students who chose our language for “practical” reasons. Spanish is undoubtedly a top choice for students hoping to improve their job prospects and further their career ambitions by becoming bilingual. However, we try to share with students the intrinsic beauty of the language and its rich cultural and historical connections. From Argentinian tango to Spanish tapas to Mexican fiestas, we want students to know that the Hispanic culture has so much more to offer them than a bullet point on their job application.

Sources and further reading:

  1. US now has more Spanish speakers than Spain – only Mexico has more
  2. Emerging Markets in Latin America: Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Mexico
  3. Careers in Spanish
  4. El español: una lengua viva

The MPA Library: What’s in it for me?

April is National School Library Month and, as your MPA librarian, I would like to welcome everyone to visit the library! Starting with the PK 4 class, Lower School classes come each week for library time. Students play games and do activities to practice information literacy skills which are coordinated with units being taught by their classroom teachers. For example, I have a great time gathering and sharing books and materials for Global Explorers Week in March when each class focuses on a particular country. In preparation for choosing and checking out books, library classes also include time for reading aloud and discussing picture books, highlighting chapter books, and allowing students to explore displays of books related to seasonal, genre, or topical themes.

libraryMiddle and Upper School students come occasionally to the library with their teachers, but are also encouraged to come independently. This year, students have come looking for books for history projects about topics such as the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, terrorism, and the Cold War. They have found materials to help with research for a unit on revolutions ranging from the Revolutionary War to the Scientific Revolution to the Russian Revolution. While the internet may be a better source for current events, our school library has good collections of books in the areas of biography, history, religion, philosophy, ancient civilizations, world cultures, and social justice. We have a collection of vinyl records for music history buffs and shelves full of books for fans of literary classics and the arts. Our library has a special collection of books on Abraham Lincoln and books about the history and people of Chicago. Stored behind-the-scenes are back issues of several periodicals like Time Magazine which are useful to give a picture of important events and popular culture through the decades. We add to our collection through the Parent Organization’s annual Book Fair and other generous donations. School community members are always encouraged to donate books or make suggestions for items they would like to see added to the collection.

Interested in reading for pleasure or increasing your knowledge? Here are some tools for finding out what is available:

  • Click here for a link to the MPA Library Online Catalog. The catalog allows library patrons to search for books and other materials by title, author, subject, keywords, series, or use other types of searches. There is also a “What’s Hot?” running display of book titles recently checked out by students or other members of the school community.  
  • Once you find the book title or the topic you seek, please explore the shelves and feel free to ask Mrs. Arnold for help in locating books. In our library, fiction books are arranged by the last names of authors and nonfiction books are arranged using the Dewey Decimal System.
  • Please also feel free to send email requests to Mrs. Arnold for help searching for books and other library materials.
  • The librarian can check out books or, if she is not available, please record your items in the spiral notebook on the blue book cart in Mancini Library. You may also leave a note on Mrs. Arnold’s desk in the Lower School library with your name, the title, and number from the computer barcode label. The librarian keeps track of book checkout data using our computer catalog software system.
  • Click here to access ebooks and audiobooks. Our school is part of the eRead Illinois program which has a large collection of digital print and audiobooks available to patrons of Illinois public and school libraries. This is a great way to find and enjoy reading old favorites or recent books not yet added to our Mancini Library collection.
  • Please check out the site, download the app to your devices, and try it out. All faculty/staff members and students in grades 6-12 have accounts already set up and can log in to check out or put a hold on materials you wish to read. Your library card ID is your school email address and everyone has the same PIN: mpa. Mrs. Arnold has created a patron list for this service, but if there are errors or omissions, please let her know, as well as if there are any questions or problems with eRead Illinois.


By Harriet Arnold

Ms. Arnold is our school librarian.

We Lit Fires Which Continue To Burn

As I have mentioned before, 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. MPA is a place that promotes cooperation and support, where we feel pride and shared responsibility for helping each other be the best we can be.

Mr. Malcolm 1With that in mind, I’d like to talk more about what it is about MPA that is so special, and two things come to mind: our House system, and the vast array of co-curriculars that we offer.

The MPA House system was launched at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Modeled after systems found at British and Australian schools, all students, faculty, and staff are divided into four houses. Each is a member of that house for life. The houses — Blake, Norton, Theodore and Withington — are named after historic MPA leaders who served as role models for the community. The house system is intended to foster individual growth, develop student leadership, and create student relationships across grade levels.

As part of the team who researched and introduced the house system, my interest arose from the spirit-building opportunities these systems provided. Each month during the induction year, we celebrated the house with the most cooperation points. House Leaders planned house-related meetings, assemblies, and spirit activities. And after that first year, activities have expanded. From cheering challenges, to our annual tricycle and sled races, to this year’s boat challenge in the “lake” in Jones Bowl after a heavy rain, to socials and service opportunities, our house leaders plan events that the entire school participates in, bringing our school community together. These school-wide contests result in more positive interaction between students, faculty, and staff and create a sense of unity.

At the end of the school year, the House Cup is presented to the house with the most cooperation points. Each year as the winner is announced, I get to witness the excitement as leaders come to the stage to have their photos taken. The winning house’s name is then engraved on the Cup and displayed on campus for the next school year until the honor is handed over (or retained if the same house wins). Each year and with each house activity, I am amazed as our students come together to celebrate and start planning for the next challenge.

Another important part of the MPA experience (available to all 1st through 12th graders) is the vast array of co-curricular activities we offer here at the Academy. The co-curricular program allows all students the opportunity to experience different areas of interest, to build relationships with other students, to develop school spirit, and to have fun. Beyond the classroom, this involvement provides opportunities for community building as students work towards common goals.

Advising our Middle School Student Council this year has brought supporting student leadership full circle. Within the first few years of my being on campus, I was given the opportunity to advise Middle School Student Council and served in that position for many years. I was also appointed Director of Student Activities in 1978. Over the years, I have served as a swim coach for one season for a student who wanted to represent Morgan Park Academy, as a cheerleader coach, as the chess and science club leader, and many other roles.

Education is a team sport. Spirit is too. Without wonderful, generous partners over the years — current and past students, parents, staff, faculty, administrators, friends, and community members (all of whom value the spirit of Morgan Park Academy) — we would not have accomplished as much as we have. The success of our co-curricular activities over the years has, in large part, hinged on the support of our parents who have encouraged participation, provided transportation when needed, and attended and applauded at every opportunity.

And close to my heart, sustainability, which has been at the forefront of our co-curricular offerings. I will be putting my skills to use again as I plan and build my garden at my farm, taking with me memories and the spirit of students cutting our ornamental grasses, pulling weeds, planting of our global (community) garden, our outdoor classroom, and sore fingers and thumbs hit by the hammer.

The Power of Playdough

Children love playdough! Parents hate it! It’s messy. The crumbs get ground up in the carpet and are impossible to get out. It sticks to socks, shoes, and anything that comes in contact with it. Inevitably it ends up on the floor. What a headache! And, the kids aren’t learning anything by playing with it. Right?  Or, are they?

playdoughActually, manipulating playdough fosters growth in many developmental areas.

It provides opportunities for children to:

  • Strengthen small finger muscles (necessary for fine motor skills such as holding a pencil and writing) through squishing, rolling, flattening, cutting, pinching, shaping, etc.
  • Develop social and language skills when working with others by sharing, taking turns, conversing, and engaging in open ended, imaginative play
  • Gain spatial awareness while making 2D and 3D shapes
  • Further eye-hand coordination
  • Increase attention span
  • Calm down, release anxiety, and is a great outlet for them to express their emotions

A child’s imagination can be stimulated through working with playdough just as it would when playing “dress up” or “house” with dress-up clothes, dishes, dolls, etc. The addition of props to your child’s play with items from the house (or a quick trip to the Dollar Store) can foster creativity.

  • Rolling pins, plastic knives, pizza cutters
  • Pasta shapes
  • Muffin tins, egg cartons, baking sheets
  • Cupcake holders
  • Cookie cutters
  • Sticks, shells, rocks, glass pebbles, buttons, bottle caps
  • Q-tips, toothpicks, popsicle/craft sticks
  • Feathers, pipe cleaners
  • Googly eyes
  • Plastic toy figures, toy vehicles, plastic animals

For example, pasta shells and toothpicks can become spikes, plates, and tails to transform playdough into the land of the dinosaurs; a muffin tin, cookie sheet, and cookie cutters turns your house into a bakery; glass pebbles, shells, and playdough fish become an underwater adventure; and the addition of googly eyes to any shape instantly creates a monster. The opportunities are endless!

So, don’t be shy. Give it a try. Your child will thank you for it!

Check out this link for an easy Kool-Aid playdough recipe that your child will love!

Photo Credit: Fun At Home With Kids


By Kari Misulonas

Ms. Misulonas is our Early Childhood Curriculum Leader & 
Director of Student Support Services.

The Development of Critical Reading through the Reading and Writing of Poetry

How does critical thinking advance through the reading of poetry? How do these two seemingly different skills depend on one another? Simply put: the act of reading poetry develops critical thinking and reading skills in all students, no matter their reading competency.

sandiReading poetry is difficult. Students who are fast and competent readers often struggle with reading poetry. Why? What is it about poetry that stumps students? And why should reading poetry matter? Poetry demands attention–a hyper-focus, an understanding of punctuation, an ear for the rhythm of words, and a willingness to take time while reading it. This kind of reading is a challenge for students, and even for adults, today. In an age of fast-changing status updates, instant soundbite news, and SnapChat stories, the way we read is changing rapidly. Students are becoming new ‘readers’, or as scholars at University College London term it, students are committing the act of the ‘power browse’–bouncing down a text, hitting the highlights, or surface skimming the text.

Skimming or even browsing is not a new phenomenon. Experienced readers and scholars skim text every day. Many who teach or those who read large portions of texts daily, either literature, long form journalism, lab reports, research studies, legal briefs, or journal articles, have had to learn fairly quickly how to ‘power browse.’ Success in this type of reading is dependent on a knowledge base which many draw on while reading. They are able to fill in the gaps of this skimming with experience with the vocabulary, the subject, the larger argument, or the writing style/previous work of the author. However, students have not yet developed their own knowledge base–that process is still happening. Therefore, when they try to ‘power browse,’ they lose essential parts of the text, often the deeper meaning.

This loss is apparent when reading poetry. Students will try to skim through a poem, reading quickly and trying to capture the meaning of a poem with barely a look. However, it becomes very clear to students that even in a poem of only two lines such as Ezra Pound’s “In the Station of the Metro”–a condensed packed image of despair and loneliness in a modern world–that trying decipher the meaning of that poem is no easy feat. Even at only two lines, skimming this poem will not work. This poem, just like all poetry, requires the reader to be careful, to think about each individual word, its relationship to the words around it, and the multitude of meanings each word can hold. A poem must be read many times–aloud, to a listener, even inside one’s head; and good poems must be read again and again at various times of the day, or at different stages in one’s life because one’s experiences and understanding of the world around them–again, that knowledge base–often influence perception and meaning. Bad poems, on the other hand, also contain good lessons for young poetry readers. Reading to see how a poem does not work, how the lines and words can fail to craft a visual in the reader’s mind, or how the words can miss the mark in creating a sound for the reader’s ear can also help a young reader and writer craft better poems of their own. Once a reader has read the poem literally, only then can a reader begin to piece together a second and third level reading, digging deep into the figurative meaning of a poem.

Here at Morgan Park Academy, our students read poetry for these very reasons: to build their critical reading and thinking skills. Students in Lower, Middle, and Upper School are exposed to different types of poetry from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, to the verse of the Bhagavad Gita, to the poetic soliloquies in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to Langston Hughes’ Harlem, to the work of American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe. From these repeated exposures to poetry throughout their education, students begin to develop close reading skills and improve critical thinking.

In the celebration of National Poetry Month in April, students will immerse themselves in reading and analyzing poetry as well as creative and critical writing. Thus, by the end of the month, students will have practiced and improved their skills as critical readers, writers, and thinkers while deepening their knowledge base, allowing them to make critical textual connections, to construct more in-depth analysis, and to increase their own understanding of the texts they read. As this knowledge base continues to grow and the muscles of critical thinking, reading, and writing are flexed, students will be able to apply these skills to longer texts, allowing them to ‘power browse’ with ease and understanding.

By Sandra Burgess

Ms. Burgess teaches Middle School English.

Overbooking Our Kids

I do my homework on the train on my way to practice.
I study during breaks at dance.
I try to do schoolwork on the weekend so I can get to sleep before midnight on school nights.
We don’t get home until after 8pm because it’s a long drive from my violin lesson.

busyAbove are comments I hear from students of all ages in Lower, Middle, and Upper School. Hearing these comments make me sad, and I feel the weight of their exhaustion from their over-packed schedules. Extracurricular activities compounded with lack of sleep is causing our students to be stressed and unhappy. Picture this past week. Were you driving your kids in the car, trying to be somewhere on time? Think of the stress involved with getting the family ready, getting them in the car, getting to the activity on time, waiting, ensuring they practiced their skill at home. Is this quality time spent with your child?

Often when I meet with students regarding time management, goal setting, or stress, I have them lay out their weekly schedule for me to pick apart. What I’m looking for is time they are not successfully utilizing, ways they are unnecessarily distracting themselves, or social emotional stressors in their lives. Whatever the issues, they result in lack of sleep, and almost always, the source of the problem is their jam-packed week.

Are students allotting time for enough sleep? No. Are they excelling academically? Usually not.   The Sleep Foundation recently published this study of 3,000 high school students. Those who reported higher grades “had significantly more sleep time and earlier bedtimes on school nights than those with lower grades.”

I recently asked one student if he enjoyed playing piano. “I’d rather spend time with my mom,” was his answer. Parents often ask me for ideas about what they can do to help lessen their child’s stress, make them happier, motivate them. What if the easy answer is to stop shuffling them around and allowing them to be kids? I am not alone in this line of thought. At the end of this blog, I have listed several sources that echo my own thoughts here.

Some other thoughts on ways to not overbook your child:

  • Take a semester off from after-school classes
  • If you do sign them up for lessons, ask them first if they enjoy them
  • Make sure you provide them with free time, not iPad/tv time, but time where they can just play or talk with you
  • Don’t compete with other kids. Another parent’s overbooked child might not be a happy, successful child

Family Happiness and the Overbooked Child
Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back
5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking your kids


By Jennifer Stec

Mrs. Stec is Morgan Park Academy’s School Counselor.