Art—A Necessity for Development

Having taught Fine Arts for decades in New York City public school middle and lower grades, I was delighted to be invited to visit a Lower East Side Settlement House with the prospect of presenting an early childhood Reggio-inspired art program for their Early Head Start.

Excited, hopeful, filled with plans and ideas of collaboration and artistic outreach to the community of my childhood—where my father, as a young boy, played on sports teams and my mother worked as a Settlement House secretary—brought tears of nostalgic joy.

I studied Reggio concepts at Bank Street College, visited many Reggio-inspired nurseries, read countless books on beautiful objects, concepts, and methods for incorporating Reggio into American schools. I attended workshops and programs throughout New York City on Reggio philosophies.

I was assigned two classes of older two-year-olds and met with each class for close to 1 hour once a week. Gaining their engagement, awareness, and reception to my program was not an easy task, as the teachers were quite set in their ways.

Yet, I forged ahead to introduce a newer, more creative approach.

My focus was on nature—the changing of the seasons, color, shapes, textures, incorporating awareness by seeing, talking, touching. We looked at the trees, the patterns on the leaves, and the natural world around us. As we transitioned from summer to fall, we looked at the light, the sun, shadows, and colors. I decided to transform the rooms through color and translucency by using tracing paper and opaque papers with collage and painting.

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Over the weeks, the children began to create wonderful panels that were placed on the windows. We created paper trees with leaves and crunched up tissue paper in orange, green, and red hues.

We observed the branches of trees outside our room dancing in the shadows of our window shades and made crowns of leaves for our hair. Our winter trees became snowy and bare. The blues, whites, silvers, and greys of winter were dramatic on the windows. Panels of cotton ball snow and ice were created with paint and mobiles attached to twigs. Spring heralded soft greens and pinks, yellow and lavender-blue colors in paint and collage.

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Our spring exploded in tissue paper blossoms and birds in nests, eggs, and flowers on our spring tree.

We made fairy head pieces for our hair and looked at the trees in blossom. We also explored with clay and created stabiles referencing Alexander Calder’s works using our own pipe cleaners, tissue paper, and found objects.

I encouraged the teachers to follow through with documenting techniques of inquiry as the children had much to say and discuss.

As my program winds down, I am hopeful that the staff will continue with the efforts I proposed and developed. The families and children were greatly inspirational and the need to explore and express ideas enriches and expands the capabilities of the children.

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Working at the Settlement House was a great experience for me on many levels, and I appreciate the opportunity to connect as a teacher and artist—especially with the educational changes imposed by testing and the rigidity in learning.

Creativity is vital, and children need to emerge and flourish through exploration and hands-on experiences.

Art is a necessity for such development.

Today, many Reggio programs are based in private nurseries and learning facilities in inner cities, which is of benefit to children and families. Still, many families of very young children lack access to this exceptional teaching and learning method, which has the potential to support and nourish creativity within individuals, families and entire communities.

Ms. Adele Phyllis Unterberg is an Art Teacher in New York City and has both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from New York University in Fine Arts Education.

A Legacy That Lives On—Especially In My Life

John HickeyAllow me to introduce you to the best, hardest working, and most exasperating teacher I ever had:

Mr. John Hickey, my 8th and 9th grade English teacher.

I have often marveled at his teaching methods. My class had Mr. Hickey for 2 hours each day for 2 years. He integrated literature, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting, and composition thematically in brilliant ways. On Fridays, he assigned a piece of literature to read over the weekend. We read everything: Longfellow, Asimov, Frankl. After a discussion on Mondays, he assigned a writing prompt derived from the literature to be addressed in our weekly essays.

In general, the first half of class dealt with vocabulary and grammar lessons. Mr. Hickey used a technique he called “parsing.” Basically, parsing entailed labeling real sentences from oral language and literature as exercises to teach us the building blocks of language, which are the building blocks of thinking. During the second half of class, we wrote the drafts of our weekly essays. On Wednesdays, we turned in our essay drafts for his review.

One of my distinct memories is Mr. Hickey’s leaving school at 5 p.m. carrying a huge stack of 90 essays home to review.

On Thursdays, we got our drafts back with red ink everywhere. The grammar mistakes had been marked, with written comments about our thinking, organization, structure, word use, etc. I have no idea how he graded 90 essays in one night in such detail. We revised our essays in class and turned them in on Friday for a final grade. The following Monday, Mr. Hickey returned the graded essays and shared some of them aloud. He gave two grades for each essay:  one for mechanics and one for content.

I watched my writing improve weekly, and not just mine—everyone in class improved. We did scientific, persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive, creative, essay, and editorial writing, and our minds were broadening.

Mr. Hickey opened up the literary part of my soul and flamed the fire with his own passion for literature and the written word.

Having Mr. Hickey as a teacher was a love-hate relationship. His expectations were very high. One of my favorite memories centers around a test. We begged him to postpone the test because we had a big football game away and would be late coming home on the busses. His reply was given with an index finger pointing into the air: “Only God can prevent this test tomorrow!”

The next day, one of the student workers in the office sneaked on to the school-wide intercom system. “Mr. Hickey, Mr. Hickey. This is God. Don’t give that test 5th period. That is all.” To the amazement of the 5th period class, Mr. Hickey collapsed into hysteric laughter. He laughed so hard, great tears began to roll down his face. And the test was postponed until the next day.

I am so grateful for Mr. Hickey’s influence in my life.

I opted to take a double major in English and Biology at university. When I got there, I tested out of the first two years of English composition and realized just how well he had prepared us as I looked around at my fellow English majors struggling with university level work.

Mr. Hickey taught for 34 years until his eyes began to fail.But retirement was not on his agenda. He hired a reader, went to seminary, and became a Catholic priest, serving first in Mexico, then in Texas.

Last fall, he passed away. But his legacy lives on in the lives of all his students, and especially in mine.pleblanc 2011

Dr. Patty LeBlanc is Professor of Education and Co-Chair of the Ed.D. program at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. She is actively involved in the writing process with her doctoral students.

Claribel Riss Goes the Distance

Claribel RissClaribel Riss (member since May 2015) was chosen as the Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE) speaker for commencement which takes place Thursday afternoon, June 16 at New York’s Lincoln Center.

Not only has she traveled at least 75 miles from her home in East Stroudsburg, PA. to her job as a teacher at a Bronx middle school for a number of years, but she has also made the trip on Sundays to attend Touro College GSE in New York City, where she earned her second master’s degree this year in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

Riss was born in the Dominican Republic. She majored in Spanish, her first language, as an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo. Claribel had taught 11 years when she earned her first master’s degree from Touro College GSE in special education.

Currently a special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Riss teaches grades 6 through 8 at New Venture Middle School, a ‘renewal school.’ Despite the challenges she was told to expect working with students who have behavioral issues, she says, “I always go in with an open mind, because children act differently with different adults. I try to give them a fair chance, to get to know them, what kind of learner they are, and how they learn.”

“TESOL is not bilingual education,” she said, adding that today there is much more diversity among learners. “We have students who speak Arabic, or Urdu (the language of Pakistan) and students from Yemen. It’s like going around the world and learning about life and education and feeling enriched.”

Riss’s approach speaks to that diversity. “I like to know where they come from and their cultural background. You have to address the culture. You can’t just say ‘you are in the United States now and get with the program.’”

To become acquainted with her students, Riss interviews their parents and helped develop a survey that addresses “what they know, what their deficits are and how to get to know them,” she said, adding, “I can help students succeed in a country that might be strange to them.”

Riss is so well respected in the education community, she was offered a partial scholarship towards training in administration by her principal. However she declined, “I said no. Administration is not for me; I like being in a classroom.”

Claribel, a mother of two, has been a straight-A student and is graduating with an MS in TESOL with a 3.88 GPA. Her dedication to the teaching profession and her students is evident in all she does.

Dr. Sonna Opstad, Associate Professor of TESOL/Bilingual Education at the GSE, praised Riss as an outstanding student who took extra care in everything she did. “Her attention to detail, high standards, and exceptional insight were evident in every assignment. She contributed to our work in a constructive and thoughtful way. She is truly an inspiration to her colleagues and to me,” she said.

Congratulations from your KDP community, Claribel Riss!

A Teacher’s Love and Kindness

Silvia Rojas is a senior at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. She is currently about to start her full-time internship in Special Education. Ms. Rojas is a certified Reading Specialist and a volunteer for the past 7 years at Levine Children’s Hospital, where she hopes to work one day as a child life specialist.

This is her story…

I am becoming a teacher because—like so many other teachers—I found a teacher that helped me to become excited about my education.

I always did well in school, but music was the one class with which I had the most trouble. For some some reason, I could never become excited about this subject. Then, in first grade, Miss Paredes became my music teacher.

She immediately took me under her wing and recognized my hidden talents—making the shy little girl I was into an extraordinary pianist.

Miss Paredes passed away a few years ago in a terrorist attack in my home country. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, as she just happened to be walking by when the explosion took place. She is no longer in this physical world, but in my heart, she is still very much alive in every piece of music I play.

Her love and kindness makes me realize there is something special in all of us.

I will never forget Miss Paredes’ kindness, encouragement, and the patience she showed when students (like me) made an error. She insisted on turning every task into something exciting and magical, and she took the time to get to know me. I loved her and appreciated her for that.

Miss Paredes is the teacher I want to be someday—even if only in an attempt.

What I Want to Be for My Students

Katie Harding is a sophomore Elementary Education major with a math concentration at Michigan State University. She is currently trying to survive finals so that she can make her way into her own classroom and help make the world a better place.

This is her story…

HardingWalking into Mr. Christian’s classroom, upon first glance, you might think he’s a pretty scary dude.

However, after having him as a teacher and coach for 2 years, you realize he is as scary as a teddy bear.

Mr. Christian takes a personal interest in every single student and is as invested in you as you are yourself.

I took AP European History just because he would be my teacher. Let me assure you—AP Euro was not in my interests. But, I knew that having him as a teacher would make it (and the potential college credit) worthwhile.

If I was having a difficult time at home or with an assignment, I knew that I could walk into his room and ask for his help. He showed me that hard classes can be manageable if you have a teacher that is willing to work alongside you every single day.

As a sophomore at MSU, I recently changed my major to education because I want to make an impact through my job, and nobody makes a stronger impact than a teacher.

Mr. Christian showed me how you can go beyond being a teacher and become a role model, and that is what I wish to be to my students.

The Start that Still Makes a Difference

Leana Malinowsky is a first grade teacher at Pvt. Nicholas Minue School in Cateret, NJ, where she teaches the inclusion class. She is also a certified Reading Specialist. Leana is the Associate Counselor of the Delta Rho Chapter at Kean University, and she has been an active member since 2007—over 9 years!

This is her story…

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Leana (L) with Doree (R)

I was fortunate enough to have a great mentor teacher while I was studying at Kean University as an undergraduate education major. Doree was a teacher at the school where I did my student teaching and worked for the summer program. This was a school for children with multiple disabilities, and since I was pursuing special education, I worked there as often as possible to gain experience in the classroom with students.

I didn’t know how lucky I was the day I was put in Doree’s class.

Doree taught pre-school age students with autism. She was an undoubtedly tough teacher to work with, but I learned so much from her and was inspired by her work with the students. I soon caught on to her infectious energy and passion.

She showed me right away that teachers often make sacrifices to benefit their students and help them achieve their goals.

The time I spent in her classroom held some of the best teaching experiences I remember. I feel that even now, in my classroom, I use some of the same classroom management strategies she taught me, and I am extremely grateful for her direction and influence. It was because of her guidance, advice, and inspiration that I felt confident when I landed my first teaching job.

Doree was influential in my desire to work with students who have learning disabilities (of all kinds) and by working with her, I found that is my area of specialty. I love working with students who have autism, and I find the challenge extremely rewarding.

Doree encouraged me to continue to pursue my own studies and always learn as much as I can so that I can be an effective teacher leader.

The most valuable lesson I learned from Doree was to always recognize and celebrate the small moments and victories we have in the classroom—a practice I use every day. Doree motivated me to purposefully seek out and appreciate even the smallest strides my students make each day and turn the moments into opportunities for positive reinforcement and encouragement. Because of her, I see every “Happy Monday, Miss M!”, every light bulb I see when my students realize there is more than one way to solve a problem, every excited smile to start an experiment, and every laugh at a funny part of a book the true loves for why I teach.

Although Doree passed away in 2008 and did not get to see me graduate, I feel her presence every time my students achieve one of their goals. I owe much of who I am as a teacher to Doree’s great influence.

An Inspirational Educator’s Motto: Be Kind, Caring, and Ethical

Carolynn Dewitt is a Special Education major at Fitchburg State University (FSU). She is the outgoing Secretary and incoming Vice President of the Xi Psi Chapter of KDP on campus.

This is her story…

Pictured: Corinne Hartenstein, Nicholas Roger, Dr. Nancy Murray, Carolynn Dewitt (L-R)

Pictured: Corinne Hartenstein, Nicholas Roger, Dr. Nancy Murray, Carolynn Dewitt (L-R)

On a daily basis, Dr. Nancy Murray, our Chapter Counselor and Associate Professor at FSU, proves that she is one-of-a-kind. Regularly, she puts her own needs aside to help anyone having a rough day, and when we need her help, she is there. If we’re struggling with a task or circumstance, she is there to support and assist us.

Dr. Murray has a motherly presence that exudes love, affection, and compassion for her students and colleagues when she steps into a room.

Every day, Dr. Murray comes into school with a huge smile on her face—excited to take on another day. She is constantly pushing her students to think outside of the box and become better educators and citizens of the world.

Dr. Murray lives and breathes her motto—to be kind, caring, and ethical to others.

We will be forever thankful for meeting and growing close with Dr. Murray. We dream to someday be as genuine and as loving as Dr. Murray, and we hope to manage our future classroom(s) in a way that instills respect and gives our students a home away from home.