Faculty, staff, alumni and friends gathered in Brauer Auditorium on Tuesday, April 16 for the annual Faculty Awards event, which some have said, “is like the Oscars for teachers.” Head of School Lisa Lyle welcomed guests, saying, “Today we come together to honor our faculty, those men and women who dedicate their professional lives to MICDS students.” She spoke about how impressive the MICDS campus is, but that it’s our faculty who make MICDS the truly remarkable learning community it is. “In the learning spaces you create,” she said, “students discover their passions, develop skills and knowledge; they learn to think critically, demonstration compassion for all the world’s people and stand for what is good and right, as our mission calls us to do!”
Summer Sabbaticals and Fellowships
Soledad Villagomez, Lower School Spanish Teacher, was one of the recipients of the Mary Institute Class of 1957 Endowed Fund for Faculty Continuing Education. Ms. Villagomez will explore Merida, the capital of Yucatan in Mexico this summer. She will be immersed in Spanish classes in the morning, see the Mayan and Mexican cultural landscape in the afternoon and evening, and get a first-hand view of the ruins, museums and landmarks throughout her visit. The program fosters partnership among visiting Spanish teachers, and Ms. Villagomez will bring back a more exciting and authentic window for her students into the cultures of Mexico.
Middle School PE Teacher and Dance Coordinator Summer Beasley is the second recipient of the Mary Institute Class of 1957 Endowed Fund for Faculty Continuing Education. Ms. Beasley will collaborate, perform, teach and take classes with the New World Dance Theatre in Cape Town, South Africa. She will work with other globally-diverse artists to learn, share, observe and acknowledge the differences and similarities among all people. While she’s there, new dance works will be created, drawing from shared dialogue among all of the participants regarding global conflicts, religion, culture and traditions. MICDS students will be the ones who benefit from the new ideas gained and the skill set strengthened of a teacher who already thinks deeply about learning through movement and dance.
The Edward M. Rivinus Memorial Summer Sabbatical was presented to Upper School World Languages Teacher Gabe Grabarek. Mr. Grabarek will visit and spend time on the backroads of Rome, the Italian mountaintop towns of Orvieto and Siena, and the old town region of Florence. The purpose of this sabbatical is to make the everyday world of the Romans leap to life for Mr. Grabarek’s students in Latin. Visiting these sites will not only deepen his knowledge and understanding of the Roman world but also provide a contemporaneous hook for our students today.
Middle School World Languages Teacher Natalie Griffin received the Wilma and Roswell Messing Jr. ’34 Summer Sabbatical. Ms. Griffin will travel the same 18th-century journey of Father Junipero Serra to see and experience the California Mission System. Father Serra created cultures and communities through the Spanish Mission System while forever shaping our nation’s most populous state. Next year and for years to come, our students will be enriched by the journey that Ms. Griffin will take to explore further what the Spanish missions were meant to be about, which is a thriving mix of racial diversity, cultural differences and varied religious practices, making this sabbatical a timely and relevant topic.
Beasley First Grade Teachers Robin Campbell and Veronica Wachter were presented the Thomas Family Fellowship. Ms. Campell and Ms. Wachter are a dynamic team who work shoulder-to-shoulder teaching their students how to be more aware of themselves and to take good care of each other every day. The MICDS Mission of “embracing all the world’s people” is what guides them in their work and collaboration. As the Lower School continues to revise the social studies curriculum, these two teachers are eager to learn more about China and Chinese culture, which is one of the 1st Grade’s favorite themes each year. They will travel to China to see firsthand and bring back the lessons learned in visiting a Chinese elementary school, a hospital that practices traditional Chinese medicine, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and many other places that will root their students’ thinking and learning for years to come.
The Polk Family Summer Sabbatical Fellowship for the Teaching of English is awarded to Upper School English Teacher Tex Tourais. Mr. Tourais will attend the Summer Writers Institute at Washington University this summer to get closer to finishing the novel he began years ago. The opportunity will allow him to understand and empathize more deeply with the learning of the students he teaches, especially in the senior elective “Poetry to Plays” that centers on adaptation and re-creation. Mr. Tourais will return with ideas for activities to incorporate more creative writing in all of his classes.
Math Teachers Janet Purdy, Jody Marberry and Greg Huntoon accepted the Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Fund for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics on behalf of the JK-12 Math Department. The department is committed to engaging all students in meaningful learning in the math classroom. To continue this work and grow our understanding of best practices, all department members will be working with concept-based math curriculum and instruction expert Jennifer Wathall. In addition, Mr. Huntoon will be furthering his own thinking and teaching by attending the Statistics Medic Camp in Michigan.
Faculty Merit Awards
Ms. Kelly Walsh, Middle School English, Mary Institute Class of 1940 Distinguished Faculty Award
If you are looking for best practices in classroom management, then this is a “must-see” classroom. Tight transitions, masterful scaffolding and well-managed routines are the building blocks for student success in Ms. Walsh’s language arts room. Students clearly understand the well-articulated expectations and work diligently to meet, and oftentimes exceed, those expectations. They are provided with frequent and meaningful feedback and appreciate the safety of this nurturing school environment.
Khannie Dastgah, Director of Aquatics Programs and Facilities, Country Day School Class of 1958 “Extra Effort” Award
There is no doubt that Ms. Dastgah is an expert multi-tasker. From the many demands of high-quality physical education instruction across two divisions to the management of a complex aquatics facility, there is always something on her to-do list. Students across all skill levels and ages come to the pool knowing they are in for a treat as they learn how to float on their back for the first time or add a new stroke to their skill set, whether that is during the school day, after school or during the summer. In just a short window of time, Ms. Dastgah has made a huge splash in the MICDS community.
Denise Douglas, Upper School Fine Arts Teacher, Country Day School Class of 1958 “Extra Effort” Award
Ms. Douglas has proven transformative to the photography program in the Upper School. She is not only teaching foundational techniques but has developed new curriculum to provide our students with opportunities to learn advanced darkroom methods as well. Her passionate extra effort in overseeing the Messing Gallery has led to exhibits from our AP students, as well as alumni artists and emerging and established professional artists that provide our community constant exposure to expressions of creativity and artistic talent and beauty.
Ashley O’Toole, Lower School Learning Specialist and Counselor, Country Day School Class of 1958 “Extra Effort” Award
You may spot JK-ers tiptoeing up the stairs or 3rd graders clattering up the stairs with their lunch trays for friendship groups, Beasley students clamoring for more after-school track sessions, parents sharing worries and joys and seeking help, colleagues seeking a trust friend and advisor. It’s hard to quantify how much Ms. O’Toole contributes to the life of the School. Her skill set is so broad and deep, her compassion so boundless, her enthusiasm for the life of Beasley children and adults so complete, and her willingness to go above and beyond so fundamental that we can’t imagine how we ever managed without her.
Brian Purlee, Upper School Science and Performing Arts Teacher, Country Day School Class of 1958 “Extra Effort” Award
Mr. Purlee is committed to the service of both his students and his colleagues. From his stewardship of a Seldom Scene program that provides spectacular sets for our plays and musicals to his guidance of a growing Robotics program, this teacher is selfless in his commitment of time and energy to support community activities. He has been crucial to the emergence of a Maker program and innovative space that has led to hands-on building and learning opportunities across disciplines in the Upper School and sparked the imagination of students and teachers alike.
Christy Moore, Lower School Science Teacher, Dorothy Wray Roberts 1917 Faculty Merit Award
Ms. Moore’s students have interesting problems to challenge their thinking, and they use their knowledge, their willingness to experiment, and their own sense of creativity to find amazing solutions. Her lessons are purposeful, innovative and beautifully constructed with sound underpinnings of science and developmentally appropriate practice. As many years as she has taught, she is constantly striving to refine and raise the level of excellence.
Darrett Thompson, Middle School English and History Teacher, Sears Foundation Faculty Merit Award
As students first walk into Mr. Thompson’s classroom, they are presented with a level of expectation that feels well beyond their reach but in reality, is where this teacher has masterfully planned for them to go. Second, they experience an engaging and personal camaraderie that tells them it is safe to take risks and push themselves to that challenging but reachable place. Whether it is tackling a complex novel or working through the demanding process of their personal essay, students know they are supported. With thoughtful planning at a new grade level and a keen eye on the road ahead in the English curriculum, Mr. Thompson has made a significant impact on the 8th grade English program.
Dustin Delfin, Middle School Math Teacher, Michael S. Gerrard Award
It may be nearly impossible to find a more student-centered classroom where students let go of fear and engage with the learning process at the highest levels. Girls especially have found Mr. Delfin’s classroom’s growth mindset framework to be the difference maker in tackling math. They are provided with multiple channels of feedback for their math knowledge and skills and each and every lesson is uniquely crafted based on that data. Students clearly understand the standards and are able to articulate a path forward. From spiral reviews to EdPuzzles and GoFormative, Mr. Delfin continually seeks out resources to build a phenomenal math experience for each and every learner.
Chairs of Distinguished Teaching
Kelly Hummel, Senior Kindergarten Teacher, Albert G. Blanke Jr. ’28 Chair of Distinguished Teaching
“She’s a wonderful teacher.” These words are heard over and over again when Ms. Hummel’s name comes up. She has a deep-rooted love for and dedication to all young children, and especially for each child she teaches. This love shows up in so many ways and is the centerpiece for her classroom work. It is apparent in the kind, patient and consistent way she guides her students toward increasing independence and celebrates their accomplishments. The love shows up as well in the structures, content and lessons that provide challenge on many levels, in many subjects. And when you see her teaching in striped knee socks, fluffy blue mittens and a red pom-pom headband for Wacky Wednesday, you know that she and her students find plenty of time for smiles and play.
Sara Levine, Third Grade Teacher, Country Day School Class of 1959 Walter J. McCreery Chair of Distinguished Teaching in Memory of George P. Braun ’59
Ms. Levine could be the poster child for “lifelong learning.” Her pursuit of the knowledge that will make her teaching more effective, challenging and engaging centers on what her students need. She researches deeply and is courageous about bringing important ideas into her students’ learning environment, where they grab onto them and make those ideas their own. The strength of her work has inspired faculty in the Lower School and throughout all three divisions.
Elizabeth Wells, Upper School History Teacher, Eugene A. Hecker Chair of Distinguished Teaching in Humanities
Ms. Wells has been a critical contributor to substantive curriculum design in the History Department and is a thoughtful practitioner in the classroom. She has had a hand in designing four different courses spanning both the Upper School and the Middle School History Departments, despite the fact that she only actually teaches one of them, largely because her colleagues trust her expertise, her understanding of standards and essential questions and her careful attention to details. Her feedback to students is both remarkably concrete and actionable; her commitment to supporting the growth of her students as learners is truly inspirational. Earnest and committed, Ms. Wells works hard to support the work of both her students and her colleagues in profound ways.
Sarah Garner, Lower School Visual Art Teacher, David S. Turken Chair of Distinguished Teaching
Ms. Garner’s learning environment centers on beautifully scaffolded skill development which allows students to transform their ideas into artwork, art that captures the eye with color and design, and invites dialogue between artist and viewer. Her young artists can talk about their choices of subject, technique and ideas. They create their own individual works and also collaborate with not only other students, but with artists drawn from our local community, the results of which splendidly grace our School. We have all learned from Ms. Garner that art can be purposeful, can inspire and can change our world.
Sarah Elliott, Upper School World Languages Teacher, Donald H. Webb Chair of Distinguished Teaching
Ms. Elliott is deeply committed to ensuring her students become proficient in Spanish and fully cognizant of the cultural threads that shape the language and the community. She has designed effective project-based learning in her courses offering students opportunities to choose areas of research and to teach their peers, strengthening the learning experience in the process. She has chaperoned trips to Peru and Argentina, is currently mentoring a student teacher from Washington University, and is respected by her colleagues for her expertise and commitment to staying ahead of meaningful trends in language pedagogy.
Aaron Proctor, Upper School Math and History Teacher, Donald H. Webb Chair of Distinguished Teaching
Proctor is deeply reflective and equally committed to ensuring the success and growth of his colleagues. From his impassioned support of new faculty in the Upper School to his emphasis on a grassroots approach to peer observations and learning rounds, he not only sustains growth in his own practice but nurtures it in the Upper School faculty community as a whole. He is selfless with his time, both to his students and his colleagues, and his classroom is a place of energy and intellectual inquiry.
Janet Purdy, Upper School Math Teacher, Gilbert-Werremeyer Chair of Distinguished Teaching
To talk with any student who has spent time in Ms. Purdy’s classroom is to understand just how powerful a teacher’s impact can be on the lives and learning trajectory of students. This teacher has mentored countless colleagues, is always championing her students and has given immeasurable time to student groups engaged in entrepreneurship ventures, coding projects and the Worldwide Technologies hackathon. She has spearheaded the computational thinking and computer science initiative for the School and has worked with teachers in all three divisions to encourage this initiative and sponsor family coding nights. She is committed to the success of her colleagues and exemplifies what it means to be a student-centered teacher.
Jason Roberts, Middle School Vocal Instructor, Gilbert-Werremeyer Chair of Distinguished Teaching
How do you come to understand and appreciate the extraordinary gifts of Mr. Roberts? All you need to do is close your eyes and let the sound wash over you. Whether students are self-consciously navigating the squeaky sounds of their middle school voices in rehearsal or flawlessly delivering their collective voice at a performance in the crowded chapel, there is a palpable energy that draws you in. This teacher has a special way of taking the audience on a journey with just the right collection of songs and narration along with a team approach to bringing students’ voices to life on the stage. A committed advocate for the culture of our Middle School, Mr. Roberts also dedicates countless hours to building both grade level programming and a Middle School Meeting experience that brings our community closer together. We are truly grateful to have him.
Zuowei Chang, Middle School World Languages Teacher, Sander H. Coovert Chair of Distinguished Teaching
Always reflective, Ms. Chang sees great value in seeking out feedback and asking the right questions. With two world languages and multiple courses to prepare, this teacher remains in high gear lesson after lesson. With a close eye on differentiation, students across the spectrum of experience and ability are able to maximize their language acquisition in this classroom. And extending beyond the learning, families have greatly benefitted from Ms. Chang’s generous English Language Learner support and culture-building on behalf of the MICDS Chinese community. Kind-hearted and committed, it is an honor to recognize Ms. Chang.
Michelle Hrastich, Middle School Science Teacher, Suzanne Siegel Harbison ’45 Chair of Distinguished Teaching in Science
Precision is the word that comes to mind when thinking about Ms. Hrastich. Whether it is tackling assessment alignment to Next Generation Science Standards or building out the perfect performance task, attention to detail and high quality are always at the forefront. For students, this translates to a reliable routine, clear expectations and the opportunity to hone their learning strategies. They are expected to advocate for themselves whether it is to clarify a challenging concept or to push themselves to the advanced level of a standard. With Ms. Hrastich’s guidance and encouragement, science students are able to connect with curriculum and deepen their skill set to be ready for the next level.
Celeste Prince, Upper School English Teacher, Craig E. Jones Chair of Distinguished Teaching
Ms. Prince is in constant pursuit of excellence from both her students and herself. Deeply committed to engaging her students both as learners and as people, she works daily to support her students and her advisees and is engaged in the life of the School as a track coach, a dance sponsor and a vibrant member of the Upper School faculty. She contributes substantially to her department, asking good questions about curriculum, pedagogy, and practices and works to create unique and creative assessments for her classes. To bolster one of the new English electives she created – Black Diaspora – she traveled to Ghana this past year to bring critical perspective and research to the course. Her students praise her intellectual curiosity, her passion for their success and her compassionate championing of community as the foundation for her vibrant classroom.
Maggie DesPain Dunson ’09, Middle School English Teacher, J.R. Johnson Jr. Chair of Distinguished Teaching
A true natural in the classroom and on the field, many of you may have suspected this award recipient would one day be an educator when she was in MICDS classrooms just a short time ago. With strong skills in big picture planning and excellent classroom management, Ms. Dunson is able to construct a powerful learning experience for her students. The implementation of leveled book clubs and the practice of spider web discussions offer a framework for the exchange of ideas at a higher level. She is a reflective and visionary voice for the department and a compassionate nurturer of 7th graders.
Congratulations to all our award recipients! To each and every one of our teachers, you make a difference every day for the children in your care and we are deeply grateful and deeply proud of the work you do. Thank you to all the alumni, family and friends of the School who established these gifts.