EMS 7th Grader Wins National Gold Medal

Into The Light - Sarah Abrahamsen, EMS '13

by Evan Brown
Director of Communications and Alumni

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards have "an impressive legacy dating back to 1923 and a noteworthy roster of past winners including Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Robert Redford and Joyce Carol Oates," according to its website.  The Elisabeth Morrow School is proud to add another name to this Award's storied history.  EMS seventh grader Sarah Abrahamsen (Hackensack, NJ) earned a 2012 National Gold Medal and the distinguished honor of Best In Grade (only 4 recipients receive this honor per grade level), with her photograph, Into The Light.  

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards fielded submissions from 200,000 students nationally, in 28 categories, from grades 7 to 12.  Only 1500 received Gold or Silver Medals.  In order to attain this high honor, students needed to achieve "Gold Key" recognition at the regional level. This year, The Elisabeth Morrow School had 6 artists and 1 writer receive Gold Keys:  along with Sarah; Erika Herman (7-Teaneck, NJ), Josh Lerner (7-Englewood, NJ), So Young Jang (8-Fort Lee, NJ), Annakatrina Zeidwig (8-Tenafly, NJ), Rene Spiewak (7-Englewood, NJ), and Annika Kim (7-Englewood Cliffs, NJ) sent work to the national competition.

Considering the number of applicants, attaining this level of success does not come easy.  Elisabeth Morrow's first Scholastic gold medalist Evan Goldstein '06 (now attending Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT) remembers the challenge of getting his poem ready for the competition:  "I rewrote the poem seven times, all with the help of Ms. Nicolaou.  Without her, and the support of the EMS Writing Club, I would never have known about the competition, let alone had an opportunity to win.  Ms. N taught me how to write well, but also showed me the value and beauty in writing, which goes beyond any one competition."
Elisabeth Morrow students have done particularly well at Scholastic. Just last year, Caroline Myers (Cresskill, NJ - now attending Linden Hall in Lititz, PA) and Lauren Park (Englewood Cliffs, NJ) received National Gold Medals.  In all, our school currently boasts 14 National Gold Medals over the past 6 years.  

Regarding this accomplishment, EMS teacher Lisa Nicolaou noted:  "Our success at EMS with Scholastic is a combination of many factors--A talented group of students, a supportive administration, the time we dedicate to writing here, and our (teachers) ability to motivate and nurture."  She also felt that the school's approach toward encouraging originality and imagination played a vital role:  "With our students, we want them to find a way in, to find their creativity.  We want them to be inspired and lead without being pushed.  We especially want this in middle school, at a time when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they believe in."  

Sarah Abrahamsen will join this select group of middle and high school students on June 1 for the National Medal Ceremony at Carnegie Hall.  As well, Ms. Abrahamsen's work will be on display with 500 other works of art and writing at the Art.Write.Now NYC Exhibition at Parsons The New School for Design. 

EMS Teachers Present at Annual New Jersey Educational Computing Cooperative Conference

Sandy Malko, Laurie Lester and Kristi Evans at NJECC Conference
by Dr. Allison Egert
Director or Special Learning Services

EMS teachers Kristi Evans, Laurie Lester and Sandy Malko recently presented Captivating the Young Using 21st Century Skills  which highlighted the use of iPADS and other mobile devices for teaching and differentiating instruction for students who may find reading and writing a bit more challenging.  With the help of Sarah Rolle, EMS Director of Technology, the teachers developed a website for their attendees that offered a few iPad references and a list of top 10 apps that are effective and engaging for students in first through fourth grades.  

Kristi Evans
For me, the presentation was a reminder that it's a dynamic time to be a teacher.  We are finding, both here at EMS and elsewhere, that digital engagement and literacy is promoting independent discovery and sparking an interest in students for acquiring the background knowledge necessary for understanding texts. iPad's are also further encouraging peer relationships and collaborative learning.  Mostly, however, they are just plain fun to use as part of the learning process–for students as well as teachers.

Marianne Malmstrom Participates in Born This Way Foundation Launch

EMS Technology Teacher, Marianne Malmstrom
by Evan Brown
Director of Communications and Alumni

On February 29, Elisabeth Morrow Technology Teacher, Marianne Malmstrom, joined an esteemed gathering of experts, educators, researchers, policy-makers and foundation leaders at the Symposium on Youth Meanness and Cruelty at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Massachusettes. The Symposium served as a pre-launch to Lady Ga Ga's Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) which occurred later in the day.  More importantly, the members of this symposium, through their collective expertise, were tasked with identifying trends and initiatives that would assist the BTWF in determining their policy as they seek to address issues of bullying and youth empowerment.  

The symposium was divided into six workstreams.  Ms. Malmstrom was among fifteen assigned to a workstream entitled, "Curricula as Campaign for a Network Age," headed by Jason Rzepka (VP of Public Affairs at MTV) and Anastasia Goodstein (author, journalist, currently Director of Digital Programs for Inspire USA Foundation).  The group debated over how best to utilize media, both "new" and "old," to spread "messages of bravery and tolerance."  Ms. Malmstrom's thirty-year teaching career along with her extensive expertise and notoriety regarding virtual worlds and gaming, brought an important perspective to the group.  

Click here to view a full PDF of the Symposium program with member bios.


Upon her return to campus, Ms. Malmstrom lead a faculty meeting to relate her experience and offered the following links for further reference. 

Ms. Malmstron also had an opportunity to pass along the following letter to Dr. Lowry, relating her feelings about the experience:

Hello David,

Last Wednesday was incredible.  It is still hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that I was invited to Harvard to work with such an amazing group of professionals.  Peggy (Peggy Sheehy) and I felt extremely humbled and honored to be included. I have never experienced anything quite like it before and I believe that most everyone else attending felt the same way.  There was this amazing energy as we all shared our respective expertise and knowledge, tackling the complex issues set before us.  Which relates to the point of this symposium–to bust people out of their professional silos and get them talking and sharing with each other on this very important issue .  It was certainly mass intelligence put to work.

We all came prepared knowing our assignments and the "four driving questions" that each group was expected to resolve.  Even though the time line for our agenda was brutally tight, the six workgroups got a great deal done in that short period of time.  When all the groups convened at the end of the day, we were all surprised to hear how our recommendations meshed with the each other.  Upon wrapping up, we all felt a sense of great satisfaction walking across campus to watch the formal launch of BTWF, knowing that we had helped established its working foundation.

I pinched myself several times, wondering how I had ended up involved in such an incredible project.  When Anne (Anne Collier) introduced me at the symposium, it became clear that it was for the same reason LEGO invited me to speak at FOSI a few months ago: Anne and I strive to create unique models for developing healthy online norms for young children through the use of "games" (virtual worlds & MMOGs).  

David, it was quite humbling to be there, but I was even prouder to be representing our school. I can't thank you enough. This wonderful opportunity only arose because you, Germaine and Sarah gave me the freedom to think outside the box, the faith to let me follow my instincts and the support to make it happen.  Thank YOU!

Marianne Malmstrom

P.S. Officially, Lady GaGa has one new fan  :-)

John Hunter and World Peace Game

by Aaron Cooper
Assistant Head of School

Click Here to see TED talk
I had the opportunity to attend a talk by John Hunter, 4th grade teacher and TED speaker, while at the National Association of Independent Schools Conference in Seattle.  Mr. Hunter spoke about his World Peace Game, developed over the course of his 30 year career. From his website, the game is described as a "hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war (1)." From my perspective, this wonderful game establishes high expectations while giving students an opportunity to collaborate, create and solve "real-world" problems, as they work toward "winning."  

Good teachers think alike it seems.  Mr. Hunter's talk made me reflect upon the game-like initiatives we already have in place at EMS.  Ms. Malmstrom's tech curriculum involving MMOG's like Minecraft or Quest Atlantis, and Mr. Penny's City Game come to mind as similar, middle-school examples.  But "immersive" games like these happen across each grade level at our School. Mr. Hunter's World Peace Game (as well as our own games), when you see them in action, are refreshing reminders of what children can achieve when given an engaging and dynamic framework to think critically and collectively.

You don't have to take my word for it though; you can watch Mr. Hunter's TED talk or review his World Peace Game Foundation website if you would like more information.  As well, the game serves as the backdrop for a new movie debuting on PBS this Spring, called World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements.  To watch a trailer of the film, click here.

"High-Order" Reading

by Beth Brennan
Director of Early Childhood Programs

Recently, I read an article called "Using Higher Order Questioning to Accelerate Students' Growth in Reading" by Debra S.Peterson and Barbara M. Taylor,* from this month's issue of The Reading Teacher.  With regard to student reading, the authors stressed the importance of facilitating "high-order" discussion and writing to promote deeper thinking in students: So, in essence, teachers need to engage student readers beyond simple factual analysis and at more of an analytical, abstract or inferential level.

This is precisely the subject matter we tackle during grade-level meetings and professional development days at EMS.  Our teachers regularly assess to what extent they are engaging students in rich and thoughtful reflection, or to what degree their students are thinking critically about the reading.  The hardest part we find (perhaps for any educator) is having the willingness or confidence to move text discussions away from "teacher instructed" to "student centered." This is challenging; it is very easy to just provide answers, but it takes a great deal more effort to move students toward meaningful analysis or discussion. And, it is very important that we do so if we hope to promote and cement higher-order comprehension. 

* - This article is protected by copywrite and therefore not available via direct link.  A PDF may be purchased through the Wiley Online Library.  The abstract is available here.  If you wish to read this article, contact me and I will try to provide you with a copy