Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.


April 2015
March 2015

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There ARE consequences to not immunizing. The consequences are epidemics.


I am concerned about the choice not to vaccinate. Mrs. Tsottles refers to Countless families whose children have suffered as a result of vaccination. I would be interested in hearing the numbers who have had some problems as opposed to those who have benefitted. I am 72 years old and still remember polio. That was a common disease and I believe that most people of my generation knew someone who had polio. I remember how happy my parents were to get us immunized. I wonder if people will remain so opposed to vaccinations if we begin to see some of these horrible afflictions return. This is not a perfect world and sometimes we have to weigh the risks. Do we really want to return to the time when whooping cough was a common occurrence among young children?



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Breaking news

Every one of Collin’s mornings begins the same. I gently press against his heart and nudge him from asleep to awake. (Sometimes he’s muttering something. Today, it was that I should have taken the yellow door.) I sing his name like a door bell, dragging out the first syllable. “Col-lin.”

What follows is a template, of sorts. In a high, soft pitch, I pipe, “Good morning! It’s today! And do you know what you’re going to do today?”

This is the exact moment at which his dreams dissipate and the reality of the day’s details reveal themselves in synchronization with the movement of his covers to his feet.

It’s Tuesday, so “Hot Lunch” is usually the hot topic of the day, and bowling club when it’s in season. But today was going to be different.

“We’re going to the Orioles game!” he shouted with the alertness and fervor of a 5-year-old boy at recess.

“Not today,” I told him, as I helped him with the buttons on his uniform polo.

“Why not?”

“It’s not my decision,” I told him. “We can’t go because the game is cancelled.”

“Why?” he asked.

It hadn’t been made official yet, but when Saturday night’s peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody on April 19, turned violent last night, the Orioles/White Sox game was postponed. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake established a curfew for the city effective 10 p.m., so I assumed that those factors coupled with the declared State of Emergency and the installation of the National Guard would result in another cancelled ballgame. But how do you explain all of that to a kindergartener?

Collin was away all weekend, and I worked until he was asleep on Monday, so I hadn’t had a chance to talk to him about the riots in Baltimore, or, as he calls it, “the City,” the place where we visit museums, animals, restaurants, and family members.

“Something really sad and really bad happened. A man named Freddie died when he was with the police, and a lot of people are really mad and sad about it. Some of them are breaking things, and stealing things, and lighting fires, and throwing things to try to hurt people.

The police and other people are doing the best they can to keep everyone safe, but it’s really dangerous right now, so the Orioles are not going to play tonight. So, we’re going to stay home.

But there are a lot of people who live and work and go to school in the city, like G (my mom) and Becky (his godmother), so we should pray for all of them and their families.”

He didn’t ask any more questions.

I don’t know if I said the “right thing.” I don’t know if there’s a “right thing” that can be said about all of this. Some stories are so complicated they’re impossible to write.

I’ve made the decision to raise my children to see the truth in the world, but at their age, I find myself dissecting news stories for them, like a mother bird processing food for her chicks. I sift for facts and filter through grisly details to determine what they actually need to know in order to walk away from the story learning something important about life.

At the same time, I try to shield my children from graphic images. Our brains retain images, attach strong emotions to them, and readily retrieve them when cued. Exposure to excessive violent imagery is linked to anxiety, desensitization, and violent behavior. Even adults should avoid overdosing on disturbing visual media.

Some people choose to expose their children to more of the story when tragedies occur. Some less. Some not at all. For them, it’s a choice and we hope that their decisions are made in the best interest of their children.

Some parents don’t have a choice because they’re living in the midst of civil unrest here or utter devastation in Nepal. Children throughout the world find themselves the witnesses to and victims of tragedies beyond our privileged imaginations. For them, we must pray.

So, too, we must pray for our own city and all of those affected by this ongoing situation. We must find those who seek peace and positive change and unite. And, we must find a developmentally appropriate way to discuss the issues at the core of world and local events with our children. They might be the ones who finally get it right.     

April 29, 2015 02:08
By Robyn Barberry

Art for our Earth

In honor of Earth Day, I invited Melissa Filiaggi, the recycling program manager for Harford County, to visit my art classes to discuss the importance of caring for our environment and create some cool art from recycled materials.

Melissa happens to be one of my best friends. The irony of our Earth Day teaching experience is that we both started college as art majors at Towson. I ended up becoming an English teacher, while Melissa studied biology so intensely that she spent almost two years living in the Peruvian rain forest. After teaching in the public schools, the opportunity came up for her to work directly on improving the environment, which led her to her current position. Her creativity and understanding of children are gifts that allow her to continue to teach about environmental responsibility at various schools and events in the community.

The students and I were so excited that we were having a visitor. Melissa gave an interactive presentation about what happens to plastic water bottles when they are recycled. Students bounced up and down while pretending to ride on the truck to the recycling center, did their best impersonations of The Wicked Witch as they melted down, and stretched their arms as high as they could reach when they were pulled into plastic threads that could be used to make new material. Then, Melissa showed the students a fleece scarf, a fuzzy teddy bear, and an Under Armour running shirt that were made of recycled water bottles.

We discussed how artists recycle old materials to create beautiful art. I mentioned the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore’s home for the eclectic work of self-taught modern artists, and told the students that even they had the ability to create something unique using the materials in the bins on their tables. Once they figured out what they wanted, Melissa, me, and some wonderful parent volunteers would assemble their work with hot glue guns.

You could have powered a jet with the energy surging throughout the room. Tin cans sprouted faces. Soda bottles grew feathers and became birds. Vehicles were assembled with the love and care that goes into restoring a classic car (except these were more enviro-friendly). Musical instruments filled the room with a joyful noise. And one of my pre-K boys made a “tickle device” that could brighten up anyone’s bad day.

Some of the art was a free-formed collection of things the artist perceived to be beautiful. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have a function. What mattered is that these objects weren’t headed directly to the landfill. Contrary to our society’s tendency for disposal, this “trash” was given a second chance and a new purpose. More importantly, children’s eyes were opened to possibilities by engaging the whimsical right side of their brains.

Encouraging subsequent generations to problem-solve by thinking “outside-of-the-box” is an essential part of restoring and preserving our planet. A STEM education, such as the one we provide at St. Joan of Arc, offers young people the opportunity to work collaboratively and reach solutions through a balance of sound reasoning and ingenuity. Sure we spared two giant trashcans worth of junk from entering the waste cycle, but more importantly, the students learned that the world is in danger and that it’s not too late for them to make a difference. 

April 22, 2015 11:56
By Robyn Barberry

A friend, indeed

I had been caring for three sick boys for a week and a day, when my friend Gina sent me a message asking if she could do anything to help. I told her if I thought of anything, I’d let her know. Then, she offered to pick Collin up and take him to the Creative Cow, a play and arts center for kids in Forest Hill. I said, “Yes, please!” This would allow me to focus the energy I had left on taking care of Frank and Leo, who were still sick, and give poor, cooped-up (but otherwise healthy) Collin the chance to do something fun with one of his friends. It was the answer to my prayers!

While they were gone, Gina sent pictures of the boys making a castle out of ENORMOUS foam blocks and dressed up in fire-fighter and construction worker costumes. It lifted my heart to see Collin smiling again. It felt good to know that he was in such wonderful hands. God had sent an angel to lift his spirits and mine.

Gina’s intuitive gift is what friendship is about. It’s a kind act to say, “Let me know if you need anything,” but she offered a concrete solution by answering who? what? where? when? and how? for me when my head was too muddled to even think of what I needed. I’m eternally grateful for a seemingly small favor that brought me abundant peace.


April 15, 2015 02:05
By Robyn Barberry

Mary’s strength

Frank has been sick with a terrible virus since Sunday night.  He slept the better part of three days and refused to eat or drink, so his little body grew weak. His skin has become transparent and grayish.  His eyes are as cold and shiny as faded blue marbles.  The skin on his lips is so chapped that it is curling up into choppy bits.  The only word he ever mumbles is, “water,” but he’ll barely take a sip.  There are no tears when he cries.

Because of all of this, Frank became so dehydrated that he needed to be taken to the hospital to receive IV fluids and medication to control his nausea enough so that he would consider eating.  It took three of us to hold him down while they swaddled him tightly in a sheet and pierced the crook of his elbow with a needle to draw blood and attach the tubes that would hopefully return him to a more stable state.

I felt helpless.  I’d done everything I could for him at home, following the advice of my mother, the nurse, and my mother-in-law, the concerned grandmother.  His medical care was out of my hands.  All I could do was comfort him.

As I gazed upon him in my arms, listless and emaciated, I thought about how Mary must have felt when she watched her Son, Jesus suffer.  She knew his fate when she agreed to carry him in her womb, but she agreed to be by His side for every day of His life, up until the tragic and brutal end.

How did she do it? I asked myself.  My little boy is sick, but (I pray) he will get better.  She watched as her Son was tortured slowly until He was violently murdered.  She held His crucified body in her arms.

I pictured Michelango’s “Pieta.”  I meditated upon it while I prayed. 

During Holy Week, we find ourselves drawing closer to God through the Passion of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Some of the world’s greatest works of art have been created to commemorate the events leading up to Jesus’ death (Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” is a prime example).  I spend the time reading devotions and children’s books about Jesus’ death to the boys, but taking the time to reflect upon religious art opens our minds to deeper reflection. 

My mental and spiritual engagement with the “Pieta” reinforced for me the themes of Holy Week and of Jesus’ life as a whole.  I found myself overwhelmed with for the woman who brought our Savior to Earth, knowing that He would die, but possessing tremendous faith that He would return on the third day.  And as a mom holding her little boy in a hospital room, I felt comfort in knowing that God, Jesus, and Mary were present in my vigil over Frank. 

Frank is still not his energetic, curious self.  He’s been curled up on the sofa all day, waking when I try to give him something to eat and drink.  Collin and Leo had the same virus, and were in pretty rough shape themselves, but now they’re happily destroying the house.  I’m not even mad.  Hopefully, Frank will be joining them in their creation of chaos, soon.  I’m praying that he’s well enough to celebrate Easter.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers!

April 06, 2015 11:32
By Robyn Barberry

Empty Bowls, full hearts

Back in January (which seems like forever ago!), St. Joan of Arc School celebrated Catholic Schools week with a “buddy day,” during which older students paired with younger students to paint ceramic bowls for St. Vincent de Paul’s Empty Bowls fundraiser.

According to their website, “Empty Bowls is St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore’s signature event that raises funds, friends and awareness of our work to serve those who are hungry and homeless in our community.” At the event, guests are treated to a variety of (unlimited!) soups prepared by some of Baltimore’s finest restaurants, silent auctions, door prizes, and kids’ activities.

And the best part – you can choose one of over 3,500 (!) handmade bowls to take home.

And so, being the art teacher and a parent volunteer, I found myself surrounded by all of my students at once in the parish hall on that blustery January afternoon, coaching them as they decorated their “blank canvasses” with stars, spirals, swirls, stripes, and…Spiderman (!).

A wonderful lady named Kathy Fick of Kathy Fick Designs offered her artistic eye and ceramic expertise.

It was fun to work with Collin and his 6th grade buddy, whose name is also Colin. Both of them love art, so they had a great time collaborating on their bowl.

After an hour that felt more like five minutes, it was time for everyone to clean up and pack up their bowls to be fired in a kiln (it’s like a super-hot furnace where the glaze on pottery turns into a glassy finish.)

A few weeks later, Kathy sent our marketing director, Margie Forbes, a picture of our fired bowls. It reminded me of the upcoming event, so I called my beloved Aunt Anne, who attended last year, and she organized a table for us to attend. I was excited to be a part of such a wonderful cause and couldn’t wait to see my students’ bowls in person!

When the big day, March 28th, finally arrived, my parents and I piled into my mom’s car and headed to Timonium Fairgrounds to experience firsthand the Empty Bowls experience. We arrived 5 minutes early, and there were already hundreds of people in line, waiting to enjoy this special event. 

As soon as the doors opened, I rushed to the table where all the bowls were lined up on display, glancing at the picture of Collin and Colin holding up their bowl on my phone. I really wanted to find it and bring it back home with me. “We have more underneath,” a man told me. I looked and looked and looked some more, but I never found it.

I was slightly disappointed because I wanted a keepsake of that fun day we spent brightening up our winter with colorful glaze. I guess in a way, I wanted to hold on to a tangible piece of Collin, but his art has found a new home in someone’s sunny Baltimore kitchen. (I’ll face this again on a larger scale someday, when Collin grows up, but art and children are meant to be cultivated and shared with the world.) I imagine the new owner of the bowl said, “Collin and Colin…That’s funny!”

I did, however, discover several bowls that my students created. I even helped with one of them. So I chose two, and purchased a third for my principal.

Even though the ceramic bowls we selected were empty, the insulated paper mugs everyone was carrying around were full of hot delicious soups in a slew of flavors. My cousin Kathy was a big fan of the Maryland crab soup from Bill’s Seafood. My mom couldn’t stop raving about the coconut curry from KidzTable. And I was head over heels for Gertrude’s Portuguese kale soup. (I had 3 bowls!) Served with a side of H&S Baker’s sesame seed speckled Italian bread, it was the perfect complement to a somewhat snowy late March day.

The cold outside was a harsh reminder that while we were enjoying a modest gala inside of a massive exhibition hall, complete with enormous blue and yellow balloons and lanterns, there were people just a few miles away who were starving. Statistics about hunger were printed on little papers and stuffed into the ceramic bowls and posted on signs throughout the hall. The facts about the children hit me hardest.

I’ve witnessed childhood hunger firsthand as a teacher in low-income schools. I’ve seen the impact that starvation has on the body, on the mind, on the soul. It’s a condition that we must fight with whatever resources we can find. This event alone wasn’t going to solve world hunger, or even Baltimore hunger, but it does bring to light the grim picture of families without food.  But St. Vincent de Paul’s serves over 30,000 people, and the proceeds from Empty Bowls would feed many of them.

True to their mission, the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers were the most gracious hosts. I had a nice conversation with a college student about our vegan diets. I met two quiet, gentle ladies who run a summer camp for underprivileged kids and offered to ask some Harford County farmers to donate food and milk to their program.

A grandmother with the spirit of a teenager hugged the air out of me when I told her I was the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc and that my spectacular students had created 100 beautiful bowls. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she said. Her smile and her energy were contagious.

“We’ll be back next year!” I told her.

“You better!” she said.

March 31, 2015 02:28
By Robyn Barberry

Fantastic gymnastics

At the recommendation of Frank’s teachers, I registered him for gymnastics at a local recreation center. I took one look at the room, covered in foam blocks and mats of primary colors, soft toys, a small set of parallel bars, and a 10 foot long trampoline, and knew it would be a great place for Frank to play and learn.

The first couple of weeks were rough. Frank was a ping-pong ball, bouncing from station to station in no particular order, refusing to dismount the trampoline, and nearly pile driving a classmate in the foam pit. A few times, we had to leave early, with me lugging Frank at my side, like a kicking/screaming suitcase. (Fortunately, I’ve learned to ignore the dirty looks.)

One day, it clicked. His regular teacher was absent. She’s always shown care for Frank’s safety, but she doesn’t expect much of him behavior or performance-wise. The substitute teacher began yelling his name. He didn’t respond. I pulled her aside to explain his situation.

“He has a receptive language delay,” I told her. “We don’t know what that means yet. He could be autistic. He could have an auditory processing disorder. Or he could just be stuck in a phase.”

She barely listened to me as I rattled out the same disclaimer I’ve been giving everyone when Frank does something off-putting.

But, she wasn’t worried about the labels floating in the air over Frank’s head, waiting to be pinned to his chest where a nametag might go. She was focused on Frank, the little boy in front of her and the gymnastics feats she wanted him to complete: a slide down the Little Tykes slide, a crawl over the rainbow, a jump from a spring board up and over a mat stack, parallel bars, a tumble down the wedge, a tip back and forth on the big roll, a steady walk across the balance beam, a climb up the tiny rock wall, three bounces across the trampoline, and a great big dive into the foam pit.

While the other three little gymnasts were led by their guardians through the routine, the teacher held Frank’s hand and guided him through each exercise, in order, twice, explaining the directions to him each time, slowing down and repeating as needed.
On the third go-round, Frank nailed the routine with very little outside help. His teacher and I (and even one of the other parents) applauded his accomplishment. (If only I had a little gold medal to give him!)

Over the past two months since he’s been in gymnastics, I’ve noticed a difference in Frank. The chaos in his mind is binding and reorganizing itself to the point where he is more mild than wild. Belligerence has given way to patience. Frank listens when I say his name. Frank is beginning to understand.

Here’s why:

1.                 Gymnastics offers structure and routine.
2.                 Gymnastics offers the chance to learn social skills, like taking turns and sharing.
3.                 Gymnastics offers young children the opportunity to learn new verbs (jump, climb, swing, slide) and prepositions (over, up, under, down).
4.                 Gymnastics is an excellent form of exercise. (God wants us to take care of the amazing bodies He gave us. Building muscles is one way to be healthy.)
5.                 Gymnastics is fun!

This morning, when Frank woke up, the first thing he said was, “gymnastics?”

“Not until tomorrow,” I told him.

Neither one of us can wait!

March 26, 2015 11:50
By Robyn Barberry

Emotional education

Collin came home from school one day with an interesting handout in his folder detailing strategies kids can use to work themselves through challenging emotional situations. I asked him where he got it, and he said Mrs. Stotler, the school guidance counselor stopped by to talk to his kindergarten class about emotions.

It was yet another reminder of why I chose St. Joan of Arc for Collin. A Catholic education isn’t just reading, math, social studies, and the arts; it’s about nurturing a child’s physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional needs, as well. I’m grateful for Collin’s teachers and Mrs. Stotler for taking the time to address a subject that is all too often ignored in schools.

As parents, we want to (more like need to) talk to our kids about handling strong feelings, but we don’t always know how. I asked Mrs. Stotler for her thoughts on the matter. Here’s what she had to say:

Talking about emotions can be difficult. What are they? Are there good emotions and bad emotions? Should we use our emotions as a guide to make decisions? These questions can be difficult to answer as an adult; however, children struggle to a greater degree due to the fact that they do not have the language to express themselves. It is the role of the parent, caregiver, teacher, mentor and/or family member to model emotional expression to the next generation. For the most part we, as adults, were not formally taught about our emotions but we certainly were taught in an informal way.

As a school guidance counselor and a clinical social worker, one of my roles is to provide students with an emotional vocabulary in an effort to equip them for social and academic success. In the younger grades, it is not uncommon for the children to respond to videos such as Sesame Street or Calliou. On one occasion, in a kindergarten classroom I showed a video of Grover and Dave Matthews singing about how they are feeling. The children reacted to this in a positive way and verbalized the emotions of jealousy, pride, anger, sadness etc. Once the children were taught the emotion, the hope is that when confronted with a situation that provoked a previously identified emotion, the student would be familiar with it and be able to accurately label how he/she is feeling.

In addition to videos, the children enjoy role playing difficult social interactions or demonstrating emotions on their faces in a mirror. It is helpful to educate them that all emotions are useful and that there aren’t “good” emotions and “bad” emotions. Most children believe that being happy is “good” and being sad is “bad”. It is necessary to let them know that emotions are merely trying to tell us something. For example: when a kindergartener is feeling angry about being left out of a game, the feeling of anger is secondary to feeling unwanted. Once students can recognize the primary emotion they are better able to address the problem. The use of storybooks is helpful as well in identifying emotion. The teacher can stop throughout a book and ask the children how the character is feeling in the story. Fictional characters assist in helping a young student talk about emotions in a non-threatening way.

Older students can also benefit from an emotional vocabulary lesson. Adolescents often feel many emotions all at once, creating internal tension. It is helpful to use an emotion chart where they can look at faces and labels to help to identify how they are feeling. Older children may enjoy writing in a journal, making a video diary or drawing to express their emotion. Using art as a tool is an effective strategy that clinicians use with students who have difficulty putting their feelings into words. As caregivers, ask your child/adolescent how their day was, using the feelings chart. You may even say “it sounds like you feel, ____________”. When children hear an adult mirroring their emotion back to them, it solidifies that emotion, helps them to feel understood and creates a bond between them.

While it is the role of the primary caregiver to teach about emotions in a healthy way, teachers, staff and guidance counselors can support that effort in the classroom.  There are helpful books such as "How Are You Peeling, Foods with Moods"," by Saxton Fraymann and Joost Jelferrs, as well as internet sites such as and which can assist in supporting caregivers with this task.

Laura Stotler is a licensed social worker and guidance counselor at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, Maryland.  She is trained in PBIS (Postive Behavior Intervention and Support) and has an extensive background working with families and children in various educational and clinical settings.





March 12, 2015 10:19
By Robyn Barberry

Make there be more

If you can get past the drug use, foul language and a few other issues in Art Linklater’s Boyhood, you will see a powerful depiction of the ever-changing phases of parenthood. In this story, Mason’s parents are divorced, so his mother is forced to return to college to pursue a better-paying occupation to increase the quality of her children’s lives. She’s all work, no play, herself and pushes the same attitude on Mason and his sister when it comes to their education. Dad fades in and out of the picture, but when he’s around, he spends quality time with his kids, taking them bowling, listening to them gripe about the problems young people face, and teaching them life lessons.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading now if you plan on seeing the movie and haven’t yet.

The relationships between Mason and his parents change over the years, with some times being more trying than others. But, on the eve of his departure for college, Mom, played by Patricia Arquette, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this particular role, reflects upon how fast her career as a mother passed by her while she was too busy living her own life, working, re-marrying, divorcing, re-marrying, divorcing, and deciding to live independently – even from her own children.

“I just thought there would be more,” she says, bursting into tears.

I had chills. I began to perspire. I didn’t know where these tears were coming from.

I woke Patrick from his sleep and told him about the scene I’d just witnessed. “I never want to feel that way,” I told him.

“That day is a long way away,” he said, “and you are not that mother.”

But I am. Between working two jobs and writing with every other spare moment I can find, am I doing enough for my kids? Am I merely making sure they’re clean, clothed, fed, and educated or am I nurturing their minds and spirits the way the father in the movie does? What can I do to make there be “more” every day?

I barely slept that night, even after holding each of my boys and kissing their cheeks and ruffling their hair. A thousand questions tumbled through my head in the spaces where my dreams should have been. Am I a good mother? How can I keep myself from regretfully wasting my child-rearing years? Is there any way to make it hurt less when my boys detach themselves from me? Can my past, present, and future come together in my golden years and make me smile rather than cry? After praying for peace of mind, I finally drifted off to sleep.

There are two things I have that Mason’s mother does not: faith and time.

I believe that God will protect my boys as they grow into men and will rest His hand upon my shoulder when I transition from one stage of motherhood to the next until, ultimately, I’m forced to say, “My children are grown.” I also pray that my family continues to stay close, just as Patrick and I are with our parents.

Perfect strangers like to look at me with my boys and say, “Enjoy it! It goes quick!” I’m not sure how helpful that’s supposed to be , but like Patrick said, “That day is a long way away,” and it’s not too late for me to enjoy the presence of my children and fill the days from now until then with “more.”

March 10, 2015 12:43
By Robyn Barberry

SJA fights cabin fever with "Frozen" movie night

On Feb. 28, the St. Joan of Arc Pastoral Council hosted their first ever family movie night. We decided to show "Frozen," hoping that the popular Disney movie would draw a crowd. It did.

Over 30 children and their parents attended, many of who are also SJA students. Kerry Davidson, mother to Pyper, one of my preschool students, helped me plan the decorations, food, and activities.

My art students created six-sided snowflakes that we stuck all over the place. Kerry brought balloons, tulle and ribbon. We hung life-sized pictures of the princesses Elsa and Ana.

In addition to everyone’s favorite snacks (chips, pretzels, popcorn, and cheese balls), we served salad from the Olive Tree and New York-style pizza from Nonnie’s Brick Oven in Havre de Grace. And then there were cupcakes!

Kerry made two different varieties of snowman cupcakes (one flat, strawberry flavored and one marshmallow stacked vanilla) and crystal blue sprinkled chocolate cupcakes. She even brought strawberries. (They were gone in 30 minutes!)

I set up three art activities, including blow painting, salt water “ice” painting, and “stained glass windows” with overhead transparencies and permanent markers in every color you can imagine. Kerry taught the kids how to make snowflakes using shower curtain rings and ribbon.

There was even a “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” station where partygoers could assemble their own Olafs using marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, itty bitty gummy orange slices, pretzel sticks, and icing for glue.

Of course, the movie was playing, too. Many of the parents watched it, and some of the kids would briefly take a seat then scamper away to participate in the HUGE indoor snowball fight (with fluffy, white, stuffed snowballs) that lasted almost two hours. Even Frank got in on it!

I’m certain that all of the party guests slept well that night, because I saw some of them at church the next morning! That’s what this party was about – building a community for families with young children at our parish.

We’re planning another party for the end of the school year. Stay tuned for your invite!

March 05, 2015 09:23
By Robyn Barberry

Welcome to the Dojo!

In addition to being a STEM school, St. Joan of Arc also embraces the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) philosophy of classroom behavior management.

In the past, teachers spent so much of their time and energy disciplining students who were misbehaving, that the other 95% of the class was missing out on instructional time. PBIS flips the traditional model of classroom management by encouraging teachers to praise those students who are doing the right thing, and ignoring those who do not.

Students who follow directions, show respect, and go above and beyond in their classrooms are rewarded. Sometimes it’s a sticker (my second graders devour my colorful stars!). Sometimes it’s a trip to the treasure chest. But in some cases, an entire school shares a reward system.

At St. Joan of Arc, students receive paper “shields” for outstanding displays of respect, responsibility and leadership. The shields are submitted to the office, where they are entered into a drawing. The winning students’ names and their good deeds are announced on Fridays, and they can come to the office to claim their prizes. (Collin was the lucky winner of a “free shoe” day where he got to wear his sneakers, rather than his dress shoes.)

As I mentioned earlier, SJA is a STEM school, which means we try to integrate technology into everything we do. PBIS is no exception. Last week, we instituted a new program called Class Dojo, which allows us to use an app to give immediate points to students who are meeting and exceeding specific behavioral objectives.

I run the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but many teachers are using it on their iPads. Using my stylus, I click on the class, select the student from the roster (which is alphabetized by first name and demarcated by adorable little monster avatars), and award points where they are deserved for being ready to learn, teamwork, paying attention, being quiet in the halls, cleaning up, and any other behaviors that are essential to succeeding in my classroom. All it takes is a quick tap.

I can offer an award for achieving a certain number of points, such as a sticker or even a shield. But, even the intangible reward of a point is enough to keep many of my students motivated. When I walk around the room and announce who is receiving points and why, it gets quieter. Students sit up straighter and redirect their eyes to the work in front of them, waiting to hear their names.

The name of the PBIS game is recognizing kids who do the right thing. And isn’t that what God does for us? In providing children with a Catholic education, we are not only offering top-notch academics, but a high quality character education, too. Class Dojo enhances PBIS so that rewarding good behavior can be efficient, effective, and high-tech to meet the demands of the digital generation. 

March 02, 2015 04:04
By Robyn Barberry

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