MARIBEL MOHR, KINDERGARTEN HOMEROOM TEACHER: As a kindergarten teacher, I am blessed to have wonderfully rich, teachable moments sprinkled throughout my day. One of my favorites occurred one day, last year, during our reading time.
I was reading one of our AlphaTales books, a series of letter books with thought-provoking animal tales. In this particular story, a young, naive yak kept discarding new foods her parents were desperately attempting to feed her. The young yak kept yelling “Yuck!” and tossing the food over her fence.
As I approached the end of the story, a little girl in my class shared a terrific saying, which I had not heard before; she said, “Don’t Yuck My Yum.” She explained that she liked to say this any time people said rude things about her food. We all thought that was a terrific thing to say and proceeded to remind each other of this statement as we went through the year.
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Recently, The Peck School invited parents, students and members of the greater Morristown area to attend a screening of the thought provoking documentary Screenagers. As the film’s website asks, “Are you watching kids scroll through life, with their rapid-fire thumbs and a six-second attention span?”
For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority.
The site goes on to explain that physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston saw this with her own kids and learned that the average child spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools around negotiating screen time—friction she knew all too well. The film ultimately reveals how tech time impacts children’s development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.
Several days after the screening, The Peck School scheduled a follow up coffee to allow parents the opportunity to share their thoughts and impressions. Having the opportunity to experience and then discuss timely topics that impact our community is one of my great joys here at Peck. For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority. For this reason, continuing to contemplate the messages delivered in Screenagers is useful.
JANE ATTAH, GRADE 2 TEACHER:
I believe that the most impactful academic learning cannot be decoupled from social-emotional growth.
I believe that what we learn is as important as how we learn, and who we are learning with.
I believe that children who feel safe, who feel valued, and who feel loved will discover they have the potential to reach any academic height.
When I decided to become an educator, I felt strongly and earnestly that it would be crucial to create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.
…create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.
As a teacher who follows the tenets of a Responsive Classroom method, I’ve seen its incredibly positive learning effect on my young students. This method is a research-based approach to a K-8 curriculum focuses on the strong link between academic success and social emotional learning.
CHRIS STARR, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH:
At The Peck School in Morristown, parents (in addition to students) are learning that the practice of mindfulness improves cognitive abilities and increases brain density in areas associated with improved attention, learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, happiness, and compassion.
At the forefront of this movement is Peck’s Mindfulness Trainer Suzy Becker. This past December she held a four-week course exclusively for parents entitled, “Introduction to Mindfulness.” The workshop not only presented neurological and psychological studies supporting the tremendous benefits of mindfulness, but also taught parents specific mindfulness techniques and introduced them to online and offline tools that support a practice of mindfulness.
We are often our own worst critic…
CHRIS WEAVER, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM AND FACULTY DEVELOPMENT:
Here’s a question — if you gave an eighth grader a chance to design a class, something individually meaningful and big enough to stretch across a year, what would happen? How would it turn out?
We asked this question here at Peck, and it resonated immediately with a couple of things that we feel strongly about.
It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The first is that eighth graders can do more than most people expect. As a K-8 school, these are our oldest students, the ones we’ve watched grow up, and the ones we depend on now to be our school leaders. Probably we’re a little biased, but to us there is something special about eighth grade — a time that contains so many of the parts of being a kid and so many of the parts of being an adult, all swirled together. It’s a time in life that seems to call out for trying something big.
The second has to do with growth. We want our students to be self-starters and problem-solvers, we want them to have a sense of agency around their future, and a sense of grit in pursuing their passions. But to develop these skills, to grow into them, we also know that our students need meaningful opportunities to practice, to try and fail, and to find their own way forward.
So, here’s what we did.
JENNIFER GARVEY, LOWER SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATOR: Most children today are considered digital natives. They seem to be born knowing how to operate a smartphone. Many of them have likely FaceTimed with long-distance relatives before they could walk. Their coloring books often pair with apps that bring their pictures to life. With the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology, children are connected like never before.
Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?
But, we worry about the impact of screen time and social media on our children and we have many questions. How much screen time is too much? What is the right age to give a cell phone? Should I allow my child access to social media? Are they getting enough face-to-face time to develop appropriate social skills? Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?
CHRIS STARR, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Sometimes it seems that much of what we historically associate with primary school education is on the wane. The majority of U.S. States have now adopted the Common Core standards for education, and its curricular dictates are driving many school districts to scale-down or abandon traditional subjects. Music, fine and industrial arts, and cursive handwriting classes are being abandoned. In some parts of the country, schools are also abolishing recess.
Sometimes it seems that much of what we historically associate with primary school education is on the wane.
Quite to the contrary, new brain science is illuminating the direct cognitive benefits of these jettisoned pastimes. Scientists and researchers are offering strong evidence to support the power of play, and the brain-activating effects of disciplines that require fine motor control—such as practicing cursive.
MOLLY DONNELLY, US SPANISH TEACHER, WORLD LANGUAGES DEPARTMENT CHAIR: The bilingual brain has a considerable edge over the monolingual brain in work and in life. Numerous neurological studies point to the increased academic and social advantages offered to young students who are working towards proficiency in a second language.
The bilingual brain has a considerable edge over the monolingual brain in work and in life.
“Bilinguals show higher test scores, better problem solving skills, sharper mental perceptions, and access to richer social networks,” says Rebecca Callahan, an Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education and author of numerous research studies for the University of Texas, Austin.
Research also links bilingualism to improved intellectual focus, decreased chance of early onset dementia, and the development of greater empathy. With all these benefits, parents should be doing all they can to reinforce the journey to bilingualism in the home.
Though students will not graduate the Peck School fully bilingual by Grade 8, The Peck School offers Spanish language instruction beginning in Kindergarten (once a week Spanish language immersion during lunch) through Grade 8, with French and Latin options added in the Upper School.
We encourage our parents to actively support their children’s path towards bilingualism at Peck and in the future by adopting some simple practices in the home and attempting new habits. Here are some quick tips to embrace language learning with your child from the Peck World Language Department:
DON DIEBOLD, DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS:
The new player emerging in youth sports
is the overuse injury.
So often we hear the refrain, “No pain, no gain,” specifically as it relates to athletics. Coaches want their athletes to work hard and are likely to encourage, motivate, and in some cases even push their charges to run faster, hit harder, or throw greater distances.
As children increasingly become specialized in certain sports, they are likely to undertake repetitive skill training. They may “drill” at a certain task over and over again – often for hours on end. What they may not realize is they are about to meet an increasingly visible and insidious new player in the sports arena.
The new player emerging in youth sports is the overuse injury, and it is making its presence known with younger and younger athletes. The overuse injury, once the provenance of adults and professional athletes is showing up on a national scale and is concerning the medical profession enough that it has become the subject of recent articles and special reports.
ANDREW SCHNEIDER, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS: We’ve all experienced the feeling of “getting in the zone” at some point, that heightened sense of focus, a blissful tunnel vision that drives us when creating something that we’re passionate about. It’s a wonderful feeling. But it’s this same passion that blinds us from how our creations might be received by the world around us.
We must strive not just to teach STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in our school curricula, but STEAM with empathic social awareness.
I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times on Shark Tank, an inventor, so entrenched and myopic after thousands of hours drumming up his or her invention, unable to comprehend why “the sharks” simply cannot recognize the genius in the creation that is being presented to them. So often the final hurdle to clear when turning an idea into a business is empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of others in order to help solve their problem, not your problem.
For that reason, we must strive not just to teach STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in our school curricula, but STEAM with empathic social awareness. More specifically, we need to teach our students to be entrepreneurs. Engineers solve problems, but entrepreneurs go a step further, solving problems for others. Entrepreneurship is the convergence of engineering and empathy, and teaching it through a STEAM curriculum offers our students an opportunity to have an immense impact on the world around them.