Westward Movement

Monday, September 3, 2012

As I shared last week, I am now teaching third grade with Citizens of the World, Hollywood. Another CWC school opened this fall, and three of my colleagues from SMBCCS are teaching at this location (Silverlake). I am so pleased to work with smart, dedicated, truly constructivist individuals. Each member of the staff brings such a gift - lucky students. 

Wednesday, my students come. We do something called Gentle Beginnings - all 66 students rotate through the three of us (Mike and Sara compose the rest of the new third grade team), and by Friday, we'll make necessary changes, should the need present, and begin with our regular class the 10th. Things won't change much, but the opportunity is there. 

I already have one little story, so just imagine what will happen once I'm spending my days with the kids! Last Sunday CWC had a "work party." Families came to help do all sorts of jobs at the school, from painting and building and papering to organizing libraries and hanging up all sorts of things. It was truly amazing, and I had the opportunity to get to know a few families and kids. One trio of little girls spent about an hour in my classroom library. They introduced themselves to me as two first graders, and one tiny little one who shook my hand and told me in the most ernest manner possible that she was NOT in kinder or first YET ... she was in pre-kinder ... but that SOON she would be in kinder ... just not yet! She nodded fiercely and then added ... "and I'm ready!" 

Additionally, I've begun my master's in educational leadership/administrative credential through CSUN - the Santa Monica cohort. There are 16-17 of us, from varied walks of life with many different levels of experience in and out of the classroom. As I read the first week's assignment, I recognize that the time is right, and that I am so ready to take on the next phase of my career. I should have done this 5 years ago (or more), but better late than never! 

Until the next visit! Have a great week.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I'm back

I stopped blogging back in March, as the remainder of the spring was loaded with too much responsibility, and it wasn't in me to speak out on kids or anything else. 

As many of you know, I left SMBCCS, where I'd been 20 years, in June. The school did away with multiage and was taken over by another charter with a philosophy of education that simply does not jive with my own. I'm constructivist in nature, believing that children best learn by doing and experiencing, regardless of subject matter. I found a new teaching position with Citizens of the World Charter/Hollywood (a new Silverlake school opens this year, and three of my previous colleagues from SMBCCS are there). I'm teaching 3rd grade in a building located on the campus of LeConte MS, the feeder middle school for many of the SMBCCS students. It's a terrific organization, with room to grow, and a group of colleagues who impress me constantly with their intelligence and passion, and deep understanding of what is good for children. I am excited to work with them, and excited to meet my new students on September 5. The website, should anyone wish to take a peek, is

Stay tuned for more regular sharing of stories from the classroom (221), the world of constructivist education, and life in general! Additionally, I just decided to go back for my master's in educational leadership/administrative credential. I begin with a cohort based in Santa Monica on Monday. Stories from that experience may well make it into my blog, as well!

I look forward to sharing! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I'll take your vote.

Life is very busy these days. It's been hard to find the time to write regularly, though there have been numerous stories to share.

A is a student in my math class. He doesn't like to do homework, and gets little support at home. Bedtime is long past midnight and motivation lacks. After too many missed assignments, we had a little talk about goals and the future. A will go on to middle school next year. I don't want to see him spending every afternoon in detention. I don't want to see him in a class composed of kids who are barely able to work with basic facts. He's a good kid, with good skills and, I believe, a desire to have success.

I asked him to write me a letter, along with his regular math homework, explaining himself a bit. This is the letter content:

Dear Ms. Stern,

I like doing math. It's just that I have difficulties with it. I ask for help at home but everybody is doing something. I want and will do my homework for math. I will try to get good grades for math. Like that I don't get detention in middle school, or also go to a class where students don't know their addition and subtraction. If they have to vote for best teacher for math I would vote for you.


Letting kids know you care, that you are watching, holds more weight than we'll ever know. A's letter gives me a bit more information I'll use to help him. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Taking care of ALL our needs!

My friend Lisa is in the classroom next door to mine. She has provided several experiences in her classroom that have made it to my blog.

This week, Lisa had her students create "maps" of buildings in a colony they are building. We both laughed aloud when we saw this student's interpretation of what he deems an excellent living situation. Notice the "area" next to the bar. Just in case you are not completely comprehending ... cooking area was the intention. Now it's dual purpose. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baseball and bat

I shared this story with my friend, and she told me I must post it. So here you are:

T, a frequent guest of my blog, has quite a story to tell. Her dad left T and her mom a few years ago, and T's mom has done her very best to provide for T. In my opinion, she's done incredibly well, as T is a marvelous human being. Last year was a tough one for both of them. T's mom lost her job and went back to school for a specialized certificate. She relied on T's aunt for weekend care as her program went from Friday through Sunday. Every Friday, T's mom picked her up one-two hours early to drive T to meet her aunt. T and her aunt then took a four hour journey by city bus to the aunt's home in the valley. Sunday night, T's mom picked her up to go back home. This went on for nearly the full year.

Several weeks in, T walked in one Friday morning. She hugs me every day, and on this day, her hug felt different. A little desperate. I asked her what was going on. Nutshell version, T was nervous about going to her aunt's. She didn't like it. Why? Her 18 year old cousin bothered her. Hairs up on my arms. How does he bother you? He calls me really mean names. Such as? At this, T broke down. She was so afraid to say anything because not staying the weekend at her aunt's meant her mom would have to drop out of school. They were close to being evicted. So much on nine-year-old shoulders.

T told me about her cousin. I spoke with her mom that afternoon. She immediately reassured T that her daughter's safety and happiness came first. Things changed right away for the better. The sour piece is that T's mom's school lost its license, and her schooling holds no merit.

Where's the baseball, Stern? What about the bat?

Earlier this year, T and I were chatting after school. Out of nowhere, T says, "You really went to baseball for me, Ms. Stern." I looked at her, confused. "Baseball?" "Yeah, you know, you really went to baseball when I had to stay with my aunt and my cousin last year." Ohhhhh ... "You mean, to bat." Ohhhhh ... "I mean, to bat!" We both smiled. And I got two hugs that day.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I began this blog with the intent to focus only on my kids and not to allow school business that has nothing to do with children to color my entries. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention that my school is undergoing tremendous transition. After 20 years, I find myself making choices I didn't plan on just yet. After 20 years, my philosophy and that of my school no longer align. After 20 years, I'm looking at the next 20 (or so) through a very different lens. And, while change is hard, it's also exciting. My next blog site will certainly follow a different slant. Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, it's all about the kids. For several years prior to this one, my students wrote weekly letters in response to self-selected literature. This year, as referred to in previous posts, my students are writing weekly responses to prompts of varied genres. Some weeks, the writing is just plain great, others I know I didn't give enough support and guidance, and on occasion, my kids bring me to tears. This was one of those weeks. Pardon the length of this post, but I'd like to share three of those journal entries.

My kids were asked to write about a hero in their lives. A few wrote about famous figures - MLK, Jr., Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi - and most wrote about their fathers or mothers. 

L, a funny, funny boy, wrote eloquently about both parents. They are marvelous - supportive, kind, understanding, tough. "We all love each other. They are the reason I am working hard for an exceptional life. They need money. That's another reason. We need a house and when I am older, I will help them find one." These words demonstrate L's maturity and grasp of quite adult matters. "My parents care for me and I care for them. They are like Barney. They're kind, caring, loving and protective, but they're not as fat." These words ... well, need I say more!? I laughed out loud.

B has not yet been featured in my blog posts. She's a beautiful 5th grader who has worked hard and made such tremendous progress in all academic and social areas. Her dad, released just six weeks ago, has been in prison most of her life. The little bit of time he's been out since she's been my student has made a noticeable difference. He helps her with her journal entries, and I know he helped her with this one, but the content is all B. Little pieces:
"I would like to write about my hero. Although he doesn't have super powers, he has a super heart."
"My daddy is always giving me ideas on what careers would be nice for me to study. One of the ideas he gave me is to study law. He has also mentioned to consider architectural work."
"Last, but not least, my daddy is my hero because even though he has been back and forth lately, every time he comes back from his trips, he shows me how much he loves me. I love him because he doesn't have to say that he cares about me because he is always showing me."
Finally, again I share T with you. Bright, beautiful, full of spunk T. She, and others like her, remind me over and over again why I love what I do. She, and others like her, make the idea of big changes to come form lumps in my throat. Pardon the length - her entire essay must be shared.
"My hero ... is ... Ms. Stern. She is my hero because she has supported me for 2 and counting years. Ms. Stern is a person you can trust with secrets. She makes you feel welcomed. She is always giving me hints to write better. She loves to hear your opinion. Sometimes I feel that Ms. Stern is another person I can trust. She is a happy and calm person but becomes aggravated when you mess up. I think she thinks that all of us have a future and in her eyes sees us graduated.

My second hero is my mom. My mom is my hero because even though sometimes it seems she has failed, it turned out she succeeded. She is a mother who has to take care of me by herself. She also never gives up for me or her. She says she is the future of this family because my dad left me. I love that she is always defending me and talking to me.

My other heroes are my class. They are my heroes because they treat each other like family. We are any normal family. We fight, make up, and then we're best friends again. They have taught me that anyone can be my family member, it does not have to be blood. They are the best little brothers and sisters I've ever had. Each one of them is a mystery I have to crack. All of them teach me new things like how to share, how to love, and much more because I am an only child. They make me feel so welcomed that sometimes I do not want to leave. I hate that I will leave them this year. 

P.S. Ms. Stern, when I wrote this I was sobbing so hard my mom asked what happened."

How honored I am to be a part of these lives. Thank you for letting me share.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pick me because ...

Young Storyteller's Foundation is a wonderful program matching screenwriters with fourth and fifth graders. The kids and mentors meet for seven weeks, culminating with "The Big Show" ... a group of professionals acting out the kids' screenplays.

This program has been involved with my school for many years. Generally I choose the participant. I have five fifth graders this year. J participated in the fall program, and two from my class will participate when the program begins Wednesday. I offered D, B, T and E the same opportunity as J. Because there are just two slots, I asked each child to write a letter to me, persuading me to pick him or her.

T and E won the spots. (They were also the only two to write letters)! These are their words, with no editing.
E: I should be in Young Storytellers 'cause I like makeing funny stories and I love writeing a lot of nasty and imaginery storys. I know that I am not a good spelling guy but makeing funny storys that is fun for kids. And I know a lot of funny things to put in a story and crazy things. That is of one of the hobbis for me that I really like to do everyday. That is why I want you to pick me to enter Young Storytellers. I hope you pick me. :)-

T: I would love to on Young Storytellers because one year ago I lost intrest in writing, saying in my mind "I will never be a good writer." But when I found out I was getting good at writing it got my hopes up again. I think YST will even inspire me more to even try to make a book. Love, T

They have both completed the pretest they must take, turned in their parent permission forms, and told me yesterday they hope the weekend goes by quickly because they can't wait for Wednesday (day one). That inspires me!

President in a taxi

Last week, my students responded to the following prompt: You are running for president. You must give a speech to a group of people voting for the first time. What do you say in your speech?

As I read their words, I was ever more a believer that young children should make the rules by which we live. They get it.

Here are a few tidbits from the work of my kids:

J: We were slightly affected by the bombing on September 10, 2001. Many can’t afford to pay their health insurance. People get sick, they are brought to the hospital and the government pays for them. The others are not given proper medicine so I believe this problem is about the health insurance companies.
I am glad the wars are over. We have achieved our goals. Our soldiers are back. Unfortunately, we had a lot of casualties. This is the prize (he meant price - and that's priceless) of freedom.
Friends, what can you do as citizens of America? The solution or answer is in you. This can’t be solved without you. If I shall be elected, I promise to serve you the best I can.

L: We need to develop our children’s education to be able to have smart personnel in every organization.
This could be hard if we are all selfish and are not cooperative and never care to start making things better. We are not going to make things improve if we don’t want to start.

E: Getting rid of wars may be hard, but not impossible.
They will vote for me because I come from a working family and want things to be better for all.

Lance: I like many things like candy and I dislike many things like bad people. I am running for president because I think I can make the USA a better place. I will change police into robots because robots don’t get hurt much and we don’t have to pay them. I will also make regular gum into never-lasting gum so it is very fun. I will also make nannybots to take care of babies.

And ... my personal favorite:
A: People will remember that I will lower their taxis.

I'm going to be very careful the next time I call for a ride to the airport.

Happy Groundhog weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I think they're over there

This evening, my book club (a group of several wonderful women who gather monthly (most of the time) to discuss a book for a few minutes, and life for the remainder of the gathering) met to discuss Untouchable, by Scott O'Connor. Scott is the husband of a colleague, and agreed to join us for our evening. It was such fun to have the author there. We all loved the book, and the conversation about it lasted far longer than usual. He even recommended our next read. We, of course, jumped on that!

One of the two main characters of Untouchable is a selective mute, who takes a vow of silence following the death of his mother.

During our discussion this evening, I found myself thinking of L, a six year old in my first class at SMBCCS in 1992. I took the class six weeks into the year. I was hired out of student teaching. I so wanted to be a part of the SMB staff, I accepted a job with a K-1-2, even though I knew I wanted older kids. The second day on the job, L, a first grader, showed up. Many of my students knew her, and from their enthusiastic greeting, liked her very much. She'd been a part of the class the previous year, entering in January. I learned immediately that L was a selective mute. She apparently spoke all the time at home, but had uttered just one word since beginning kindergarten, "good-bye." Her father had forced it out of her when she moved from another school in the middle of kindergarten the year before.

Ironically, I'd read Ghost Girl by Tory Hayden over the summer, learning a great deal about selective mutism and how to handle the situation. Don't push the child, the author warned. Ask questions that allow for a feeling of safety, that can be answered with a nod or a pointing finger.

For several months, L demonstrated excellent listening skills, an obvious ability to read and write, strong mathematical understanding, and sweet, sweet, sweetness. I adored her, and she seemed to be bonding with me.

One day, just before Thanksgiving, I walked out to lunch with my students. L held my right hand, her best friend, M, held my left. The kids lined up on colored dots in order to switch for non-core subjects in the afternoon. I wondered aloud, "Where is everyone lining up?" I heard a voice on my right. "I think they're over there, Ms. Stern." I nearly jumped out of my skin. I tingled, got teary, wanted to squeeze this little girl in a great bear hug. Instead, I calmly said, with little reaction, "Okay, let's head over." I walked the girls over, told them to have a good lunch, and began to walk away. "You, too, Ms. Stern," L yelled. "See you after lunch!"

I RAN into the staff lounge, looking for Rachel, our staff psychologist who was seeing L. "L talked! She talked" L said words," I yelled. Rachel was equally delighted, and after sharing the story with many teachers, they were delighted as well. My roommate at the time commented that I'd never be able to say "Stop Talking" as she might stop forever. Ah, the humor, the humor. :o)

It became less important to me that I share the story with others and more important that I fully engage with L. And I did. The inevitable happened, though. In April, her father took her from her bedroom without her mother knowing. He took L and her older sister to New York, and kept their mother from her daughters. Devastating!!!

I never heard from L. I'd like to think that had she stayed in the LA area, she'd have come for a visit and a play! I also have to say that, indeed, she never stopped talking, and I never said "Stop Talking."

L, if you are out there, I think about you all the time, and hope you are well.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back to school

After three weeks (winter break), I am excited to see my kids, but not so ready to go back to six hours of sleep a night, rising at 5 am, and packing everything else about life into just a few hours in the evening. 

A put it best today, however. An adorable, quiet, funny third grader, A cheered when I reminded the kids that next Monday is MLK, Jr. Day, and that we won't have school. I glanced her way, as did most of the kids. Quickly, she reassured me. "Ms. Stern, it's not you. I really love you. But sometimes I love my bed more. This is one of those times." Then she smiled angelically. I smiled back and reassured her that I understood completely. "A, I, too, sometimes love my bed more than anything, including you guys. I get it, and it's okay." We shared a moment, the kids left for the day, and I went about packing it all in. 

I'm off to bed. I so hope A has been in hers for at least an hour, and know she'll remain there long after I rise in the morning. As much as I love my kids, I do miss my bed as I stumble toward the shower. 

Sweet dreams. And happy new year.