Faculty and Staff Focus: Summer break offers a time to pursue passions

09/04/18 11:54:pm
| Category: Community

It probably won't surprise you to hear that Mirman's faculty and staff — busy bees even on a slow day — had their hands full this summer. Whether they were hitting the books or hitting the gym, the variety of accomplishments, initiatives, and fun experiences they amassed as varied as their personalities and specialties.

Lifelong learners earn their stripes (and certifications)
More than a couple faculty members showed us that lifelong learning isn't just for Mirman students. Jeffery Flagg, Director of STEM, is in the process of earning his Ed.D. in educational leadership from Arizona State University. After receiving approval from an advisory committee, he'll begin his doctoral dissertation work this quarter. "My research is about understanding the attitudes, perceptions, and motivations of young girls ages 10-14 in computer science. The purpose of the research is to analyze the gap in gender parity in STEAM-related courses and career trajectories," said Mr. Flagg.

Kindergarten teacher and fellow lifelong learner Daniel Gibbs celebrated finishing a year-long certification program, "Differentiated Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students," at USC. Preceded in his certification by colleagues Tessa McKeown, now Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Room 4 teacher Julie Leavitt, Mr. Gibbs took part in the course to further his knowledge of gifted education and looks forward to applying lessons about depth and complexity into his own teaching.

Teaching Their Peers
Having presented at numerous conferences in addition to earning her USC-granted gifted and talented certification, Ms. McKeown knows a thing or two about teaching — not just to young students, but to her peers as well. She traveled to Las Vegas to former Mirman teacher and administrator Jocelyn Balaban's new adventure, Nasri Academy for Gifted Children, where she shared strategies for providing gifted learners with choices, implementing the writing workshop model, following Professor Sandra Kaplan's prompts for depth and complexity, helping students explore their passion projects, and helping students to "think like a disciplinarian." When she wasn't on the teacher's side of desk, she was busy attending professional development opportunities like the Social Emotional Needs of Gifted Conference (SENG) with our new faculty and Division Heads, along with accompanying Room 5 teacher Suzanna Zifkin as they received training at the Writing Institute at Columbia's Teachers College in New York City.

Ms. McKeown also partnered with Director of Inclusivity and Equity Connie Chiu to give anti-bias trainings to faculty and administrators throughout the summer. Their full-day sessions were dedicated to anti-bias education and gifted pedagogy, particularly in practicing how to bring the two together in developmentally appropriate ways starting with early childhood and moving up to the middle school level.

Anti-bias education is one of the pillars of inclusivity and equity work at Mirman, and the workshops familiarized faculty and staff with the goals of anti-bias education (Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action/Advocacy) and various anti-bias education strategies, such as critical engagement with materials, differentiated instruction, cooperative/collaborative learning, and real-world connections. Ms. Chiu says the anti-bias education and training opportunities will continue throughout the school year.

Pumping Up Brains and Brawn
Physical education instructor, coach, and Assistant to the Athletics Director Alyssa Woods was literally flexing some educational muscle as she received her CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certificate. "It was a struggle," she admitted. "It was a 16-hour two-day course covering the methodology and movement application, followed by a test." As you can see below, Coach Alyssa has definitely been eating her vegetables and practicing the principles of resilience and hard work that she imparts to her classes every day!

School Counselor Lauren Curnyn clearly took copious notes on both of her professional development opportunities, both at the SENG conference and at the Nueva Equity and Inclusion Institute. A faithful correspondent, she writes of the SENG conference:
"This four-day event allowed our staff to take a deep dive into the most current resources and research around gifted learning. I took advantage of a pre-conference training and was certified as a facilitator of SENG parent groups. Highlights of the conference included listening to Dr. Nicole Tetrault, who will be coming to speak this fall at Mirman, on the latest neuroscience research around gifted learners. A great time was had by all and we were grateful to include our new faculty in this experience of learning!"

Switching gears, Ms. Curnyn had less company up north at Nueva, but took in just as much from their training. "The training focused on how to approach issues of identity and equity with courage and curiosity," she shared. "The message taken from the Institute was to boldly move beyond what is; to radically re-envision what could be!"

Ms. Curnyn hopes that her experiences enhance her abilities in both her role as a counselor as well as "supporting the already-stellar inclusivity and equity efforts here at Mirman."

The World is Their Canvas (...and Stage, and Gallery, &c.)
Teaching is in and of itself an art — Head of School Dan Vorenberg often talks about the classroom as a studio space, and the teachers as the practitioners of the art of education. That having been said, Mirman is fortunate to count many double-duty artists in its ranks — those who practice not only the art of teaching, but another art form in their spare time, as well. From photography to painting to dance and more, we found that the arts were well represented in our Faculty Focus summer roundup.

As we were reminded in the first assembly of the year, theatre teacher and director Jeff Maynard has spent 20 years transporting Mirman students and audiences to other worlds and times through his productions. But why should we keep all that directorial talent to ourselves? He proudly reported that he just finished his second summer teaching and running the UCLA Musical Theatre Summer Institute, where he directed "Drowsy Chaperone" with 40 high school juniors and seniors. It turns out he was in good company as he was joined by former music teacher and director Paul Kay and current AT Amel Berg along with accompanist Nancy Ruczynski, who helped him bring the show to life. Alums Kendall McDermott and Olivia Gubel joined in on the fun as well. "I love the creative process of putting a show together," said Mr. Maynard, who also noted that it's special for him to run the program at his alma mater, where he also teaches undergraduates during the school year.

Room 4 co-teacher Karissa Royster made Mr. Maynard's camp a stop on her summer tour. "I taught various dance workshops and masterclasses in DC, Cleveland, and San Antonio," she said. "But a highlight for me was working with Mr. Maynard and leading a tap workshop at his summer institute."

Preschoolers at Camp Mirman were also lucky to have Ms. Royster on campus this summer, where she also led yoga every day at camp.

Ms. Royster's Room 4 co-teacher, Allison Sparks, is also no stranger to the stage lights and thrill of performing for an audience. She wrote and performed a sold-out sketch show for Comedy Central Stage in July. She performed with her improv group, Economy Class (a six-member team comprised of graduates of The Groundlings). "My sketches focused on the perspective of female writers in Hollywood, using humor to address some of the very important themes of [gender in Hollywood today]," she wrote.

The reviews are in from audience members, who dubbed the show "smart" and "funny" — two words we would definitely use to describe Ms. Sparks!

We know that not all artists prefer the stage and spotlights, though. Two of our teachers, art teacher Patter Hellstrom and Second Grade teacher Jared Fortunato expressed themselves through the visual arts this summer. Ms. Hellstrom reported that her gallery, ARTHAUS, moved to a great new location in San Francisco (her home away from home!) and will celebrate its grand re-opening in October. Ms. Hellstrom has two large scale paintings in the grand opening show. She's also got some other art in the works, creating a "huge super graphic commission" for a financial tech firm in San Diego as well as curating two corporate exhibitions, one in Century City and one in Chicago. "I also traveled to Greece this summer, exploring antiquity," she said. "This will be helpful as we plan for Room 5's Mythcade this year and collaborate with history in the Upper School!"

Mr. Fortunato's work adorned the walls at the Los Angeles Center of Digital Art. These particular works represented his solo show as part of his MFA thesis. He also had a photograph included in the juried show at the Los Angeles Center of Photography. Color us impressed, Mr. Fortunato!

And last, but never least, as we return to the performing arts, Director of Music Programs Nicolás Kello made a very special appearance at Dodger Stadium for a pre-game set. On hand to see him in person were Mr. Vorenberg and Director of Advancement Noah Kaufman, who had the pleasure of escorting a few of our students there for a teacher treat. In case you weren't coincidentally in the stands that day, Mr. Kello sent us a little video of his soundcheck to enjoy. Viva los Dodgers!