This year, Mrs. Keller and Mrs. Holden's class established a culture exchange with the second grade students of Ms. Guzman and Ms. Mena from the Academia Británica Cuscatleca in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. The students initiated the project by writing letters about themselves and exchanging stuffed class mascots (ABC sent us a stuffed bulldog, while EMS sent them a stuffed teddy bear - pictures here, here and here). The culture exchange continues throughout the year, with sessions over Skype, where children ask questions, learning about similarities and differences, as well as a Voicethread project, where multi-media information can be shared. It is important to note that the project is also really fun and engaging for children. You can follow the project on this EMS Culture Exchange page.
When some start confusing Australians with Austrians, or (as with the more recent and unfortunate circumstance) confusing Chechens with Czechs, we can start to understand on the simplest of levels, the importance of folding a global education and awareness into our curriculum. Knowing where countries are on a map, in geographic relation to each other, is valuable knowledge for children growing up in a global society. But, the greater priority may be gaining an understanding of people, perspectives and cultures different than their own. This is the focus for the second grade's culture exchange, which exhibits just one of Elisabeth Morrow's grade-level efforts to use conferencing and collaborative technology to engage and connect our young students with the larger world in which they live.
by Emily Spaeth
Early Childhood/Lower School Music Teacher
While in the midst of yet another rehearsal for our holiday concert in December, a by-stander remarked, “Is all of this practice really necessary?” It started me thinking about all of the benefits our students reap from rehearsals, leading up to a big performance. At EMS, all of our teachers understand that we have an obligation to academically prepare students for success in the classroom, but we are also committed to the other tenants of our mission: encouraging independent thinking, cultivating individual talents, and fostering a joy of lifelong learning. In other words, we focus on the "whole child." As we approach the end of the academic year, and all the special events and performances that mark the occasion, I thought it might be an appropriate time to discuss what children "get" from performance, practice and rehearsal.
1) Resilience and Diligence
No matter how much we may prepare for something, it may still not go the way we expected it to. To this end, we begin practicing for our performances months in advance. Many students think they are ready before the first all-inclusive rehearsal, but often that first rehearsal does not go well. Rather than throwing in the towel, it is important to encourage the children to brush themselves off, get back up and try again. Students learn that by examining what went wrong, fixing the problems and committing to make it better, they can succeed. We may not get it right the first time, but the children understand that they'll get it eventually, and usually the end result is better than we could have ever imagined!
When preparing for a performance, there are many moving pieces that need to be rehearsed. Oftentimes, at least a small portion of each rehearsal requires some students to sit quietly while others are practicing their parts. Learning to wait patiently is a valuable skill that children (and for adults as well) must work at consistently in order to achieve.
Patience goes hand-in-hand with Respect as during each performance we try to have a moment where each group or grade level has a chance to shine. While some are performing, the other students learn to respect the work that their fellow classmates are doing, or have done. They also learn that they don’t need to be the center of attention at all times. When they learn to share the spotlight, true understanding and collaboration is possible in their lives.
Our performances are carefully planned months in advance, in collaboration with all of the music teachers. However, during rehearsals with the full group, we sometimes realize that the song order should be changed, or a dance needs to be added. We encourage the students to understand that if they are well prepared, any changes we incur need not be upsetting. Flexibility is an important tool in success. The students see that if something is not working, it’s okay to make changes to improve it, even if it wasn’t in the initial design.
5) Attention to Detail
Many times in rehearsal, we practice small items, such as making sure the “t” at the end of a word can be heard, or the inflection of a phrase sounds a certain way. When rehearsing, students begin to understand that these tiny details can change a song from average to extraordinary. This attention to detail can carry over into everything they do.
6) Working Together as a Group
When performing with a large group, students learn that it’s important to work together. Of course, the success of the performance depends on each student doing their part to the best of their ability, but when students embrace collaboration, it teaches them that by working together, we can create something much bigger, more powerful than each of them as individuals. Think of Music as the ultimate team sport where the best part is that everyone wins!
7) Public Performance
The ability to stand up in front of a group and speak or perform is important, and musical performances can provide a valuable step in that process. While safely surrounded by their classmates, each student gets the experience of sharing their voices and talents to a large, and appreciative, audience. The confidence gained may later encourage students to speak their mind, share ideas, or become leaders.
8) Pride of Ownership
We all appreciate something more when we know we have worked hard to achieve it. When the students have diligently practiced words, music and movements for a performance, it becomes truly THEIRS. They learn to take pride in the finished product because they know that the time and energy they put into the concert is what made it spectacular.
9) Enjoying the Experience
While the week of rehearsals leading up to the performance may be challenging, students learn that with proper preparation and focus, the end product is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It is clear to us, as educators, that the students who challenge themselves to learn the music, end up having the most fun (and less stress) because in knowing the material they can relax and enjoy the experience and accomplishment of performing.
On March 14, The Elisabeth Morrow School hosted a Mathleague divisional contest which featured 36 teams in grades 3 to 6, representing eight schools: Golda Och Academy, Rutgers Prep, Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, Sacred Heart School, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, Oakland Public Schools, and The Ridgewood Avenue School. In all 144 students competed, at their respective grade levels, in a four-part competition featuring number sense, sprint round, target round and team round challenges.
The Elisabeth Morrow School students dominated the competition with three first-place team finishes (for grades 3, 4, and 6) and two individual champions, Peter Staphos (Old Tappen, NJ) in the fourth grade and Austin Kwak (Fort Lee, NJ) in the sixth grade. Overall, Austin finished with the highest score for all competitors in the competition.
"Our school did exceptionally well," said Elisabeth Morrow Math Department Chairperson, Carol Toth. "This competition gave us a chance to see just how well our students could do against other schools. And, in fact, in another divisional contest that took place on the same day at another location, we scored better than their top scoring teams at most levels."
The first place teams from this competition will move on to the state playoffs later this spring.
3rd Grade: First Place Team. Individual EMS results: Rohan Buluswar (2nd), James Grant (3rd), Andrew Hyde (8th), Purvi Jonnalagadda (10th)
4th Grade: First Place Team (John Mauro, Peter Staphos, Shelby Kim, Ronit Malde), Second Place Team (Keeka Takehana, Annabelle Xing, Malachy Guzman, Aidan Kim). Individual EMS Results: Peter Staphos (1st), John Mauro (2nd), Shelby Kim (4th), Aidan Kim (5th), Ronit Malde (6th), Keeka Takehana (7th), Malachy Guzman (9th)
5th Grade: Second Place Team (Cole Knie, Cameron Woo, Reha Mathur, Oren Berkowitz), 6th Place Team (Zachary Brooks, Margo Costigan, Sangmin Lee, Kris Pursiainen). Individual EMS Results: Cameron Woo (3rd), Reha Mathur (4th), Oren Berkowitz (6th), Cole Knie (9th)
6th Grade: 1st Place Team (Austin Kwak, Tanvi Jonnalagadda, Allison DeRose, Shant Amerkanian), 2nd Place Team (Harry Moon, Alex Nelson, Maggie Sheridan, James Wedgbury). Individual EMS Results: Austin Kwak (1st), Tanvi Jonnalagadda (2nd), Allison DeRose (3rd), Shant Amerkanian (4th), Harry Moon (6th)
Competition Aggregate (highest scores for the entire competition):
1st Austin Kwak
2nd Tanvi Jonnalagadda
3rd Allison DeRose
5th Peter Staphos
7th Shant Amerkanian
8th Cameron Woo
10th Reha Mathur
Full Results at Mathleague.org