MICDS Teachers Become Students

Each summer, many of our teachers use their time away from campus to become learners themselves. They take advantage of family vacations, sabbaticals, and professional development funds to grow their own experience, and they return each fall excited to share their new findings with their students.

The summer of 2022 was no different, and we reached out to a few of our amazing teachers to find out what they learned this summer.

Laura Pupillo, Lower School Science

“Over the summer, my family and I traveled 6,000 miles from our farm in Cedar Hill to Washington state and back. Along the way, we deepened our scientific knowledge as we interacted with numerous unique ecosystems. In South Dakota, we hiked the Badlands and the Black Hills and learned how these two places are connected. Through erosion and deposition (a topic covered in fourth-grade science), parts of the Black Hills eroded away and gradually began depositing sediment layers. Due to the layering process of the Badlands, this area provides a rich research area for paleontologists. Findings range from cephalopods to the mosasaur. Our family thought it was fascinating seeing scientists work to uncover fossil findings.

“In Montana, we visited Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, Montana has been experiencing more severe and unpredictable weather and had a two-foot dumping of snow in mid-June. This caused the Going To The Sun Road to be closed during our stay. Nonetheless, it was one of the most gorgeous areas I’ve ever seen. Full of glacier lakes and streams and teaming with wildlife. And, this surprising turn in the weather gave me some ideas for enhancing the third-grade weather unit.

“In Washington, we were greeted by the Pacific Ocean for the first time. We stayed on the Quileute tribal lands and were able to take in their preserved and protected beaches full of tidal pools which were exploding with aquatic life. This area is near the Quinault and Hoh Temperate Rainforests. The temperate rainforest was lush with ferns and enormous spruce and western cedar trees. Experiencing a rainforest for the first time was invigorating and gave me some great photo opportunities to share with second graders when we study biomes.”

Patrick Huber, Upper School Arts

While Patrick Huber didn’t complete a formal sabbatical as he’s done in the past, he took advantage of the summer to spend 10 days in Italy with his wife, Emily, who is also our May Day Director. “It was a great opportunity to recharge my teaching battery,” said Huber. “I got to bask in the presence of much of the art and architecture that I teach in AP Art History, I got to do some drawing, we did a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s (always good for the soul), and I generally spent some quality time in my happy place.”

Courtney Check, Upper School English

The World Peace Game (WPG) teaches children the work of peace by fostering the concept of peace not as a utopian dream but as an attainable goal to strive for, and by stimulating the creative development of educational tools for this effort. It supports the development of collaboration and communication skills for resolving and transforming conflicts, and the development of the skills of compromise, all while accommodating different perspectives and interests. Courtney Check visited a Montessori school in South Carolina this summer, where a seasoned facilitator of the WPG demonstrated how that game is played.

“It is an experiential learning simulation where students are put into four different fictional countries and their job is to facilitate world peace,” Check explained. There are over 20 interconnected global crises student players try to resolve. The game was originally designed for fourth graders to play, so Check is considering designing an Eliot Summer Academy course around it. She’s also looking into scaling it up as an option for Winter Term in the Upper School. “Because it’s entirely student-directed, I cannot wait to see how complicated our Upper Schoolers will make this game,” she said. Students will learn through the simulation just how complicated foreign relations and diplomacy are. The game board is four feet by four feet and is four levels tall, with thousands of miniature game pieces that represent the countries. Perhaps one country has nuclear arms while another does not; how do the players negotiate a balance of power? Check is partnering with Brian Purlee, Upper School Makerspace and Robotics Coordinator and Science Teacher, to build the board at MICDS. “There’s a level of complexity to even the game pieces,” Check said, “so it’s cognitively overwhelming and that leads to much greater understanding.”

Steven Crumb, Upper School World Languages

“This summer, thanks to a generous grant from the Rivinus family, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Senegal,” said French teacher Steven Crumb, who began learning French when he was growing up in Oklahoma. “It was my ticket to get out of Oklahoma and run off to France,” he said. “And I did! Through college and grad school I was lucky enough to live in France for about three years. And it was amazing. I still consider France a second home.” Since French is spoken by over 275 million people all around the world, he realized it could be his entry into all kinds of cultures. He set his sights on Africa, choosing Senegal as the former capital of French West Africa with a vibrant cultural scene and over 60 years of stable democracy whose peaceful transitions of power stretch all the way back to independence in 1960. He discovered that while French is definitely spoken in Senegal, it’s not quite as widely used as he thought. To communicate with a wider range of people in Senegal, it’s better to speak Wolof, one of the main local languages spoken by about 80% of the population. “I was a little surprised by the language situation,” he said, “and Senegal held many more surprises, too.”

Crumb found a palpable, strong sense of community and a collectivist mentality everywhere he went; but he was also constantly aware of his own difference as a White person in sub-Saharan or Black Africa. “In Senegal, I was a ‘toubab,’ a word used to refer to foreigners, especially White people. It was impossible to blend in, or escape the attention of street vendors eager to sell me something at the higher ‘prix toubab’—the toubab price—as opposed to the ‘prix sénégalais,’ or Senegalese price. Besides the color of my skin, I felt somewhat self-conscious about the fact that I could only interact with Senegalese in the language of their former colonizers, the original French toubabs, who wreaked such havoc on their colonial subjects. To be clear, I was never subjected to any kind of mistreatment or abuse, and I never felt in danger. There was just the constant awareness of my difference: a kind of low drone in the back of my mind that, frankly, White people in this country rarely experience. While it was uncomfortable at times, it was a valuable experience that has afforded me at least a sliver of understanding for the people I love who, much more often than me, move through spaces where they’re in the minority.”

Crumb was grateful to experience the famous Senegalese teranga (hospitality) he’d heard so much about. Teranga means much more than hospitality; it includes notions of respect, community, solidarity, and sharing. He is grateful for two people in particular: “Yaye” Selle and Matar Fall. “Yaye” Selle is the grandmother of Coumba Diallo ’22. “She welcomed me into her home and served me more delicious food than any human could ever physically consume. And despite her speaking no French and me speaking no Wolof, I’ve never felt more welcome in someone’s home,” he said. Matar is a retired fisherman from Saint-Louis in northern Senegal, who led Crumb on an impromptu hour-and-a-half tour of the city, complete with a little Wolof lesson and an invitation to come to his house for tea. As someone who had tried and failed to make the dangerous ocean crossing to Europe and had to give up on his dream of a different life, he was grateful for someone who would take the time to walk with him and hear his story.

“When I started learning French all those years ago in Oklahoma, I could never have imagined it would lead me to a street corner in Africa where I’d meet Matar Fall, who by some measures was almost as unlikely as me to have learned French,” Crumb said when he shared his experience with Upper School students. “And I’m forever grateful that it did. I hope you’ll stay open to the possibilities that your education will bring you, especially the ones you can’t yet imagine.”

Michelle Fox, Upper School Nurse

Michelle Fox spent her summer studying for the National Certification for School Nursing (NCSN) test, which she passed! She’ll be adding more letters behind her title, in addition to her other credentials. “Attaining this certification has been both a personal and professional goal of mine,” said Nurse Fox. “Becoming a nationally certified school nurse (NCSN) is recognized as a nationally accredited credential that validates my specialized knowledge and expertise as a school nurse. I’ve met the highest national standards for school nursing care, and I am excited to share my knowledge and experience with our community.”

William Bander, Middle School Science

William Bander dedicated time this summer to improving Middle School science for teachers and students. “I spent most of June doing an inventory of the eighth-grade science supplies,” he said. “I began the process of going through and cataloging all the materials stored in the eighth-grade science wing. This included two classrooms, an office space, a storage closet, two display cases, a chemical storage room, and an attic. The task was enormous, and Bander made huge strides in organizing a massive amount of materials stored on the second floor of the Middle School science wing. “Some treasures that I found included several hot plates that had gone missing, portable immersion heaters, hand-crank generators, hundreds of magnets, and a few jars of unknown liquids,” he said. He discarded broken and unusable materials, making way for more valuable equipment to be properly stored. As cabinets, shelves, and floor space were made available, he was also able to clean off several years of accumulated dust and dirt.  “While such a job is less than glamorous, it reduces the headache for teachers desperately looking for missing supplies and cuts down on the frivolous cost of buying items we already have in stock,” Bander said. “I look forward to next summer when I can hopefully finish the job in the eighth-grade area, and establish a precedent for other locations in need of inventorying.”

Alex Rolnik, Upper School History

Alex Rolnick enjoyed the Reacting to the Past Conference at University of Colorado, Boulder this past summer. “It was a fantastic experience—among the best professional development I’ve had the opportunity to attend,” he said. Although there were focus sessions on pedagogy, the experience is intended to showcase the experience of “playing” historical simulation games. Rolnick participated in a session on the partition of India, and another on the industrial revolution in England. “I learned a lot about both historical topics through participation in the role playing, discussions, and debates, and came away with great ideas for how to improve my own work with role playing history in the classroom,” Rolnick said. “I was inspired by the conference to build out the AAPC role play I created last year, and spent hours doing research and working on it, and I’m excited to roll it out as a central element of my African History class this coming year. I’m also hoping to use one of the games in the Reacting Consortium’s library as the basis for a winter term class focused on role-playing history in 2024.”

Sally Maxwell, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

MICDS is part of The Network of Complementary Schools, which offers a community of like-minded educators and students as a valuable resource. Sally Maxwell seized the opportunity to visit several complementary schools this summer, to connect with other educators and learn about alternative ways to lead, teach, guide, and help students. Perhaps the most intriguing school she went to is Saint Benedict’s Preparatory in Newark, New Jersey. The co-ed K-12 school is run by Benedictine monks who firmly believe in empowering their students to lead both themselves and each other. “Students serve in a leadership capacity in every part of the school, and are the first point of contact for disciplinary issues,” she said. The school also has a long-standing relationship with the U.S. Naval Academy, which helps instill a leadership model reminiscent of military structures. Students engage in a variety of experiences that test their patience, their comfort levels, and their abilities, resulting in a sense of pride for overcoming obstacles and a sense of community for achieving completion together. The school’s culture is built largely through this sense of shared, difficult endeavors, and because it’s been around since 1868 and is staffed by monks who commit their lives to this one location, students come to think of it as a second, lifetime home. “It’s community forever,” Maxwell said, “and such a profound, beautiful, and powerful commitment to kids.”

A self-professed “school nerd,” Maxwell appreciated the opportunity to see how other educational institutions work, collaborate over shared challenges, and connect with other teachers who strive to stay child-centered every day.