A Q&A with MICDS’ Head of Lower School, Amy Scheer
We recently sat down with Head of Lower School Amy Scheer to learn more about her as a leader, as an educator, as a community builder, and as an all-around Beasley fan!
Q: How did you come to lead Beasley Lower School at MICDS?
A: I feel very fortunate to have had many different experiences before leading Beasley, all of which contribute to my approach to supporting our youngest learners. In the years leading up to this role, I served as the JK-12 Math Chair here at MICDS, which allowed me to work across all three divisions and to engage with the entire school community. I have a good understanding of where our Beasley students might choose to go in their individual journeys through MICDS, and I’m committed to supporting all aspects of their growth to make sure they are able to take advantage of each opportunity that presents itself along the way. MICDS is an amazing place, and every day I’m surrounded by caring and kind educators who work hard to support and celebrate every learner in our school community.
Q: What makes MICDS so unique in St. Louis?
A: While MICDS has a beautiful and sprawling campus with world-class resources, what has always impressed me most and definitely sets us apart from any other school in St. Louis is our student-centered approach across all age groups from 4-year-olds to our graduating seniors. You could join any adult conversation across campus each day and find conversation centered around what is best for our students. This approach allows all of our learners to find strong peer groups who will challenge them to expand their thinking and to grow as human beings.
In our Lower School, our students have the benefit of developing strong relationships with their homeroom teachers as well as building six-year relationships with specialist teachers who are focused on helping them build the best foundation possible in their discipline-specific areas. The adults are committed to identifying each child’s strengths and opportunities for growth and then meeting them where they are.
Q: What does the JK-12 model mean from an academic standpoint?
A: Each JK-12 department is guided by a chair who is an expert in their subject area. The chairs bring a vision and philosophy for their discipline in addition to a connectedness to the other JK-12 chairs which provides continuity and a high-level of academic rigor across all areas of our school. Our youngest students benefit from this approach because the first six years of their formal school learning is shaped by a leader who will be supporting them in all of their future work as well.
JK-12 chairs help to connect learning opportunities across divisions so that students in Lower School can learn from juniors or seniors who are studying a related topic in their own classes. For example, our AP Psychology students join our Lower School students to build on their own understanding of child development, and Upper School student and teacher “makers” help third graders build board games for their states project in the Upper School maker space.
Q: How does the school build community across all divisions?
A: As a JK-12 school, many of the oldest members of our school community fondly remember their days in Beasley and want to find opportunities to remain connected to our youngest students. In fact, a group of students organized a student club for Upper School students to volunteer to work in Beasley during their free periods during the school day. Before the pandemic, Upper School students signed up to have lunch with our Lower School students, read to them, assisted in the library, helped with recess duty, worked in the Lower School classrooms, assisted with Lower School P.E. and much more. During our annual Skate Week, a treasured tradition at MICDS, it was wonderful to see the older students interacting with our youngest learners to help them tie their skates or guide them as they were practicing staying upright on wheels. This past summer, older and younger students still found a way to engage virtually, with Upper Schoolers offering a series of optional enrichment classes for their Bealey friends on topics such as painting, creative writing, violin skills, fitness, and robotics. We want our students to understand that while Beasley feels small and very connected, they are part of a much bigger community too.
Q: How do you partner with the overall school leadership to create the best learning environment for our youngest learners?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I feel very fortunate that I spent a number of years in a JK-12 role before moving into my new role as Head of Lower School. I have strong relationships with the entire leadership team, and by knowing more about what lies ahead for our Beasley students as they move into Middle School and Upper School, I can ensure that our Lower School curriculum and the learning approaches taught will help students be successful throughout the rest of their MICDS career and beyond.
As a JK-12 school, faculty and staff have access to professional resources that are not typically part of a smaller school. Our professional development opportunities are incredible, and we host many opportunities for teachers to learn from each other and from outside experts over the course of the year. One of my favorite professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators is a series of classes on cultural competency that help us grow in our ability to meet the needs of all of our students. These classes meet multiple times over the course of the year, led by a facilitator, and include teachers and staff members from throughout MICDS. My class last year was a book study of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond, and the readings and discussions in the class are affirming for the work that we do in our Lower School to make sure each student feels known and safe in their learning environment.
Q: What are some priorities for Beasley as we look to the future?
A: In Beasley, we are committed to creating a safe and caring environment where students can thrive academically because they feel comfortable taking risks and sharing more about themselves. It is amazing to see our students move from more dependent learners when they enter Junior Kindergarten to independent learners ready to tackle the challenges of Middle and eventually Upper School when they leave Beasley at the end of 4th grade. We want them to be confident, to know their own strengths and to cultivate those strengths so they can contribute in small group learning, on the athletic fields, in the arts, and anywhere in our larger community. We will continue to build strong parent partnerships and to invite parents into our community to celebrate successes with our students and to learn from each other. We also want to continue to seek opportunities to learn beyond our classroom walls and to help our students contribute beyond MICDS and in the larger St. Louis community as well.
Q: How did the School pivot to distance learning so seamlessly in the spring?
A: Our school culture encourages curiosity and learning for all of our community members, and our teachers embraced the opportunity to learn new ways to support their students from a distance. We believe strongly in making connections with our students, and the teachers continued to focus on both social-emotional growth and helping children meet their academic goals. We were able to leverage our collective strengths and to use frequent feedback to adapt quickly to our families’ needs.
Q: What are some of the best ways to build community – both in normal times and now during this time where we are forced to teach and learn apart?
A: We work on being good listeners and taking care of each other every day in the Lower School. Listening and showing you care in both a physical space and a virtual space are important ways to get to know the members of your community. We also want our students to know that they are part of a large, JK-12 school, and we were fortunate to be able to find ways to invite older students to work with our youngest learners.