Advancing Collaboration Since 1878: My day in 8th grade

By Bart Bronk

One of the great fallacies of 20th century education is that the middle school experience should look like “mini high school.”

While young adolescents are certainly ready for new academic challenges and structures at this age, too many schools fall into the trap of directly mimicking elements of the high school experience – a high degree of teacher control and required obedience, huge homework loads, long, make-or-break tests and exams – that are actually inimical to the healthy development of 11-14 year olds. This approach results – somewhat unsurprisingly – in the early onset of other, less desirable high school behaviors (social risk taking, for example) and issues like depression and anxiety.

More troublingly, this misguided approach also crowds out some of the natural instincts and dispositions that make this period of development so special.

The Middle School Journey

What I’ve appreciated, as the parent of a freshman who spent three happy years in the University Liggett middle school, and what I look forward to, as the parent of a fifth grader who will begin his own middle school journey next year, is that our program and its dedicated faculty and administrators treat grades 6-8 as a unique and treasured time in students’ lives, a time in which they are more open to and invested in learning and personal development than perhaps any other period.

Middle school shouldn’t be a transition that kids survive; it should be a destination in which they thrive. Our program gives students the space to safely explore their burgeoning identities, the context to explore their relationships with others, the tools to see learning as a journey rather than a task, and ample opportunities to continue to be, fundamentally, kids – to laugh, to play, to move, to enjoy.

My day with 8th grader Rachel served as powerful evidence of the value of this approach. Throughout the day, I was struck by how teachers capitalized on, and made room for, one of the most powerful instincts of young adolescents – the desire to collaborate and interact with peers – to create dynamic and engaging classrooms.

Algebra

We began our day in algebra with Ms. Alles. After a 24-challenge game to warm up, students examined multiple ways of looking at, and describing, the slope of a line. I reflected on how different the approach, in which students worked backwards from graphs and diagrams and grappled with how to express what was happening mathematically, was from my own introduction to the topic which was something like “here’s the equation.

Now repeat it over and over.” In the space and time afforded for grappling, students commented on each others’ ideas. Even when my own traditional instincts were screaming “give them the answer!” Mrs. Alles calmly allowed students to navigate together to their own meaning.

This spirit of embracing and creating room for collaboration extended into second period Chinese with Mrs. Liang. Students grappled with weather words and phrases in all three phases of foreign language instruction – speaking, reading, and writing.

Movement was not only allowed, but encouraged through a fun game of Simon Says. Students checked in with each other frequently, working together to build understanding of the topic.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

In social studies with Mrs. Morgan, we screened part of the legendary film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as students studied legislative processes (including the noted filibuster). They were trying to answer the essential question, “Can one person affect change or does it require people working together?”

Collaboration was built into the exercise, as students took notes on the film not as individuals, but with assigned roles for the greater understanding of the group: roles like summarizer, or specific focuses on imagery, technology, and culture.

Continuing in the humanities, Mr. Shade’s English class focused on reading the Conan Doyle mystery “The Speckled Band.” In teams, they worked to find textual examples of literary elements like mood, theme, suspense, foreshadowing and the classic red herring and in character evaluation.

The room was bustling with learning and students cheered on a quieter classmate for a well-crafted response.

Ice skating and collaboration

In Mrs. Bachmann’s PE class, it was a skating day and the girls were playing hockey. (What a special thing it is to be able to skate in our own rink for gym!) Even though the competitive spirit was high, more palpable was the spirit of collaboration.

Players helped each other up, high-fived great plays, and stopped when someone fell down. The most advanced skaters, in particular, worked hard to get their less experienced peers involved.

Backstreet’s Back!

We ended our day in Ms. Kendall’s art class, where students worked on end-of-year projects including some bas relief carving and print-making.

Again, I was struck how the collaborative, social instinct was critical in their work. In addition to checking in with the teacher on skill questions, students readily discussed and shared their ideas and progress with each other.

The class, and the day, ended in perhaps the most middle school way possible; the entire group belting out a Backstreet Boys song.

Throughout the day, I saw ample evidence of the gifts of an expert middle school educator: recognizing that conversation and murmurs – “noise” to a more control-oriented teacher – are simply that powerful natural desire to collaborate.

Even when one student stood up and jab-stepped with an imaginary basketball (we were in the heart of basketball season), learning and contributions continued. I walked away from my day thinking how detrimental the standard “shhh” or “sit down and be quiet,” which we may recall from our own middle school days, would have been to a beautiful, social, and powerful learning process.

Yes, you can have two desserts at lunch!

Today the fifth-graders visited Middle School for an initial glimpse into the lives of their future sixth-grade selves. It was quite an exciting afternoon!

First, the students met with Mr. Brewer and Mr. McTigue for a presentation on student life in the Middle School. They spoke about the block schedule and advisory period, and all about electives, which you can imagine was a topic that caused a ton of excitement! There was talk of sports like volleyball, basketball and baseball, and questions on morning meeting.

panel

Sixth-graders answer questions about the Middle School

After an initial overview of next year, a panel of current sixth-graders were asked to join the group for a question and answer session. This is where the real fun began as a flurry of hands swung all over the place with burning questions like “how many desserts can you have at lunch?” and “how wide is your locker?” For inquiring minds who want to know the lockers are 17 inches wide! Have no fear though, the topics took a more serious tone too as students shared which classes were their favorite and how many hours of homework they have each night. It was a fun and informative panel who left their new fifth-grade friends all the more excited about the transition to Middle School.

DSC_0146

Fifth-graders raise their hands when asked, “who’s ready to start sixth-grade tomorrow?”

The last stop of the day was a 25-minute excursion to a real Middle School class. Students participated in language classes including Spanish and Chinese. They had a blast, and the proof is in the picture at the right. It was taken when Mr. Brewer asked, “who’s ready to start sixth-grade tomorrow?” We think the hands say it all!

A long distance get together for learning

It’s old home week at Liggett. The hallways have been peppered with alumni, home from college during the break,  reconnecting with friends, teachers and catching up.

No former student returned (sort of) for blogfrom farther away this week than Daniel Barta, who would have been a sixth grader this year if he had continued with Liggett. Instead, he’s living in China where his family moved for his mother’s job. On Thursday, he Skyped from Shanghai with his former classmates in Chinese class to give them an update on life in China.

The students on Cook Road cheered when they first saw Daniel’s face onscreen. After all, they hadn’t seen him since June when school ended. They exchanged ni haos and Daniel presented a PowerPoint describing his family’s adventure. Here are the high points:

He lives in what he called a compound, a group of homes for expats like his family. He says it’s a lot like Grosse Pointe. He goes to an English-language school across the street from the compound and is surrounded by other schools for French and German expats and a Chinese-language school. The food in his school is American, though sometimes they serve dumplings and other Chinese food.

He and his friends ride bikes wherever they want to go and Daniel says everything he could possibly need to live can be had within a mile of his house.

There is a very low crime rate in China because the penalties are so strict. “Don’t steal in China,” Daniel advised.

The most popular fast food restaurants in China are Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Subway. The least popular? McDonald’s and Burger King. That’s because the three popular ones have adapted their menus to the Chinese palate, explained Daniel’s dad, John.

At the grocery store, they sell live food. “You go up to the aquarium and you say ‘I want that one,'” Daniel said. “They sell shrimp and fish and eel and frogs and turtles.” He later admitted to not eating anything from that section of the grocery store.

What he does eat is what he called “Street Meat” — sold by vendors cooking on the street. “It’s very tasty. Not that healthy, but who cares?” He paused, perhaps taking in the photograph he used to illustrate the food. It’s of a shirtless man grilling food. “It’s not that sanitary, either.”

Daniel is learning Chinese from the same book as his Liggett peers, which they all thought was interesting.

The time was short, though, and Liggett’s students ended with a rousing “We wish you a merry Christmas,” in Chinese, which they had practiced just before Skyping.

Essay scores a huge prize

Kelin Flynn’s grandma called him one day a few months ago. Channel 7 was holding an essay contest and the winner gets to interview Ndamukong Suh on television.

Grandma knew about Kelin’s love of football. His mom, Denielle Flynn says Grandma introduced the boy to the sport. Kelin has loved all sports ever since. He and his friends even started a sports blog, which was the impetus for entering the contest.

Kelin Flynn gets some pointers on interviewing from WXYZ-TV Sports Director Tom Leyden.

Kelin Flynn gets some pointers on interviewing from WXYZ-TV Sports Director Tom Leyden.

“I thought, wow, this could really get our blog going,” Kelin said. So he wrote his essay, ran it by some teachers, revised it and his mom sent it in. Then they waited. They got the call that Kelin had won last week. Kelin will interview Suh tomorrow at the Detroit Lions practice facility. Today, Kelin got some interviewing tips from the guy who thought up the contest, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) Sports Director Tom Leyden.

Leyden and a film crew spent two hours at the school interviewing Middle School English teacher Stevie Stevens, who offered guidance with the essay and Kelin’s mom, Denielle, who works in Student Support Services. (As an educator and a mom, she said one of the best things about the process is that Kelin, for the first time, was interested in the editing process, a concept that is hard for young students to embrace.)

Kelin’s interview with Suh will air during the 7 p.m. newscast Thursday and Leyden’s interview with Kelin will air during WXYZ’s pregame show Monday night, running from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Until then, here’s Kelin’s award-winning essay.

By Kelin Flynn

What a play… Ndamukong SSSSSUUUUUHHHHH brings him down! My name is Kelin Flynn, an 11 year old sixth grader and HUGE Lions fan reporting live from Ford Field. My friend and I have a sports blog that is just taking off, allsports101.edublogs.org. I love writing for it because it lets me share my knowledge of sports with the world. Please check it out. An interview with Suh would help us get more kids to read our blog and get them writing back to us.

Football is my favorite sport. At my school I am known as the football genius because I am a Lions fan at heart and mind. Last year I was a crazy Lions fan for Halloween and this year I am going to be a football card. I have only been to one game, but I hope to go to more. Quarterback is my signature position. My favorite Lions players include Ndamukong Suh, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush. I was very happy when we signed Reggie Bush because I think he is the missing piece from our offense. Our running game has been slow ever since Barry Sanders retired, but I’m hopeful our team will have a great season now that we have solid running backs.

These are some questions I would like to ask Ndamukong. Do you think this is the season the Lions get into the playoffs? Why? What are your hopes for the team and for yourself? What is your favorite celebration to do after a sack? How big of an impact will Reggie Bush have on the Lions? How did you find your passion for football? Is there anything you would do differently in your football career? What advice do you have for young student athletes? What is your daily training routine? How did your family affect your football career? How difficult is it to sack mobile quarterbacks? What are the keys to tackling them? How do you deal with being double teamed and is it frustrating?

I love how Suh can always get pressure on any QB. He is fast, strong and always ready to play. Suh is always a threat, double teamed or not. He is the anchor of our very talented defensive line. Suh is a very skilled, athletic and smart player and I would covet the chance to interview him. Go Lions!

Gobblepalooza: All for a good cause

Students followed along as each prize was chosen.

Students followed along as each prize was chosen.

You could feel the tension.

The entire Middle School had gathered at the end of the day for what is usually one of the highlights of the year: Gobblepalooza.

For a little more than a week, students have been buying tickets and bringing in gently used clothing and canned goods. Tickets could be purchased for 50 cents or students received a certain number of tickets for donated clothing or food. All proceeds and donations were earmarked for Crossroads, a social service outreach  agency in Detroit. Founded in 1971, Crossroads exists to support the community at large by providing emergency assistance, advocacy, and counseling to anyone in need.

Mr. McTigue bravely agreed to be pied by a student.

Mr. McTigue bravely agreed to be pied by a student.

The Middle School conference room was packed with clothing and food and students, for a week, wrote their names on the backs of ropes of tickets they wore around their shoulders like scarves. Even as the students gathered for the drawing, some were furiously filling out tickets and dropping them into the ticket box.

What was all the excitement about? Prizes like this: Pizza party for your advisory.

And he was.

And he was.

Cupcake party for your advisory. Teach Mrs. Gast’s class. Throw something from the balcony (within reason). Ride in the elevator. A fondue party and, of course, the grand finale, throwing a pie in the face of Ms. Alles or Mr. McTigue.

As winners were chosen, other students in their advisories screamed advice: “Get the dress-down day!” or “Mini-sticks!” All 38 prizes were donated by teachers and

The happy pie-er.

The happy pie-er.

administrators.

The event ended with the triple pie-ing. Three whipped cream pies in the faces of two brave teachers. Ms. Alles, an old pro at this, showed Mr. McTigue the best technique for protecting himself — lots of plastic garbage bags, only the face showing. The students gathered closely, not wanting to miss a second of it. And when it was over, you could see a smile through the whipped cream and graham cracker crust on the faces of the teachers. And the students, well, you can imagine.

Ms. Alles got it, too.

Ms. Alles got it, too.

There will also be smiles on faces at Crossroads, which received a donation of $945 from ticket sales and more than three carloads of clothing and food to serve those who need it.  This represents a near doubling of last year’s donation to the group and it earned the entire Middle School a free dress day today.

So everyone had something to be thankful for this week.

By Ron Bernas

Considering history in its rough draft

Fifty years ago today President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. For many, the moment they heard that news and how they heard it and what they did immediately afterward are still fresh.

But for our students, it’s history; an event that happened a long time ago. But a unique donation and some fast-moving Middle School history teachers found a way to bring the message to our students in a unique way.

front pageAndrew and Barbara Cleek, parents of alumni Susan Azar ’87 and Sarah Gilmore ’90, and grandparents to Nicholas ’15; Madeleine, ’17 and Alec ’19, recently donated six framed front pages from the Washington Post from Nov. 22 through Nov. 28. Journalism is often called the first draft of history, and these pages show that, detailing the reactions from across the country and around the world, even the confusion over what exactly happened and what would happen next.

Seventh-graders studying U.S. history with John Farris and Becky Gast examined these front pages and, considering them as primary sources, attempted to put them into context of what they are learning in class.

The students then created a timeline to tell, in shorthand, the story of the assassination and the aftermath. They also wrote reflections on what they read; a few are  reprinted below.

Students examine the historic front pages.

Students examine the historic front pages.

“I think these newspapers gave me a very different perspective on the assassination. It really shows the difference between the primary and secondary sources and how they inform the readers. The difference between these two is that the newspaper is giving the pure facts of what happened that day, and these books that are written now are giving more of an interpretation of the event. All of these newspapers gave me a much better understanding of what happened that day in Texas, and how the bystanders and country felt after this tragic event.”

“It was very cool working from primary sources because it would not be warped from the original documents. They also did not have all the information because they hadn’t learned all the information yet. Although it was cool, it was hard because it wasn’t like a Wikipedia article and didn’t point out the main facts and all the facts.”

“I learned that when JFK was shot, the Secret Service and everyone else had no clue what to do and their bodies were taken over with shock. When I read the article called ‘Painstaking Investigation is Lanched,’ I felt like I was watching JFK being shot and feeling in shock. What I gleaned from the primary sources is how much everyone cared about him, and I also learned the JFK’s funeral was on his son’s birthday.”

The pages are on display in the school’s main lobby along with an original framed front page from when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The pages — and the work they inspired — are on display for about another week.

By Ron Bernas

Everything Old is Cool Again

Last week, seventh-grade science students were dispatched around the school to collect bacteria for a project in John Bandos’ class. Two students braved the basement to gather what they would and unearthed something else entirely and it has created quite a buzz among the students.

The Apple IIe, unearthed from the Liggett basement.

The Apple IIe, unearthed from the Liggett basement.

It’s an old Apple IIe, one of the first mass-market desktop computers. And the kids think it is the coolest thing ever.

“We just thought it was cool, and I don’t know why but I always like retro stuff,” said Geoffrey Elmer. “Tuesday before school I got here early and some other people were here early and we wanted to see if we could get it working.” It took a while, and it took disassembling the computer a bit, but darn if they didn’t get it working thanks to the ingenuity of Julian Wray, who kept typing in codes while others checked the computer’s response.

But what to do with it now that it was working? Well, the boys asked Director of Technology Jay Trevorrow if he knew of any way to get a game to play on it. These old machines were essentially word processors and game consoles. He got a game almost as old as the computer: “Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen SanDiego?” It’s a game that has players hunting down criminal mastermind Carmen based on geographical clues. During a recent Advisory period, two boys sat and played that game using — get this — a book as a reference.

Old school computer games.

Old school computer games.

Bandos said he is amazed at the fascination with the machine, and his Advisory class presented the machine to the rest of the Middle Schoolers at morning meeting today.

It prompted lots of questions, including: “Does this thing even plug into a wall? How does it work?”

The Apple IIe was sold from 1983 to 1993, though they’re not sure how old this one is. It has a sweet 64 KB of RAM (hey the e is for enhanced) and uses 5 1/4-inch floppy discs. There’s no Internet hookup and the only color on the black screen is green.

The boys are hoping to get other cool games like Pong or Donkey Kong.

And, if their interest wanes, Bandos found another relic in the basement for them to try to bring to life: A printer.

By Ron Bernas

Thoughts from Walled Lake

Last week our seventh-graders took their annual trip to Walled Lake for an outdoor education experience. During the trip, they kept a journal, detailing their experiences. Here are some of their reflections. 

blog 1The main thing I am looking forward to is activities. … I’m mostly nervous about the food. I really don’t want to have green unknown food, goo thing. — G

My brother told me the food here is AMAZING! — D

My first impression of the camp, well, cozy. The great hall is filled with animals that are stuffed. It’s sooo cool! — K

blog 2Today I tried something new! I did sort of an acrobat-like activity. Here’s how it went. I was harnessed with a backpack-like thing. Then as soon as I got that fastened, I climbed up a horse-shoe-like step and slowly walked up the plank with my feet half off of it. My heart was racing like a bomb that’s about to go off. Then I jumped like a bird! I made it! I didn’t know I was afraid of heights. … But I got over it being 40 feet up in the air! I mean who wouldn’t? — S

blog 5I did so many new things today! To begin with, I looked at pond scum, climbed up three climbing walls in one day and touched a real, living, breathing bird. — K

I would describe the Birdman to someone who never saw him like this: He has a messy beard. A really messy beard. … He talks very fast and tells lots of jokes. he is very energetic. … He is able to make the dry topic of birds interesting. — D

blog 4Something interesting i heard someone say today was about birds: An owl can almost turn its head into a 180-degree spin. — T

 

A new skill that I learned at Walled Lake was how to climb a ladder with gigantic spaces in between each log. I had to somehow swing my leg over the top of the log, then hooked my leg around the wire, and pulled myself using the wire. — K

Thrill: During Capture the Flag, I got the flag both games for our team. When I was running back, I had nine people chasing me and i love the rush you get. I never ran that fast in my life. — D

blog 3I jumped off a 40-foot tower and grabbed a bar. It was the Leap of Faith. — J

During geocaching there was a corn field with a dead tree in the center. It was large, greyish-brownish and had a possom skeleton next to it. — C

The thing I enjoyed most was being away from everything and everyone. It was quiet with no cars or people. Just nature. — S

A new thought that came in my mind at camp was that sometimes you have to push yourself very hard to get to your goal, you can’t just make an excuse like “I’m too short,” you can do it! — T

I learned that I can do anything if I talk to myself. Almost like a personal pep talk. — A

I learned a lot of new things at Walled Lake. But most important I learned to be resourceful. I had to layer a lot even if it looked weird. I also had to somehow dry my clothes so I ended up using the hand dryers to dry them. — K

See more photos of the Walled Lake trip here.

Meet Liggett’s New Faces (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts introducing the new members of the dedicated group of University Liggett School faculty and staff. Today, we focus on the Middle School.

Shaun McTigue, Middle School Dean of Students

Shaun McTigue

Shaun McTigue

Shaun is our new Middle School Dean of Students, replacing Jim Brewer who became the Head of Middle School this year. An Ohio native, Shaun is a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He has been an educator for 11 years, seven of them at an independent school in Chicago – mostly as athletic director and dean of discipline. He comes to Liggett from Abu Dhabi, where he spent several years completing his master of education degree from Jones International University, and working as Middle School coordinator and learning support teacher at the American International School there.

“As dean of students, I take a pastoral approach to discipline,” he says. “I believe in helping students learn from their mistakes as opposed to simply doling out punishments. In essence, I see my role as someone who is here to help guide our students in a way that allows them to make their own wise choices. With that said, I understand that all students are unique, and, therefore, require different approaches. I embrace this uniqueness, and always take into consideration an individual student’s needs before making any decisions.”

Shaun is married and has two sons: Remy, 2, was born in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Rune was born last month.

As you might guess from someone who lived in the Middle East, Shaun loves to travel and experience new things. He’s also an avid sports fan – both playing and watching. When not at work, he spends his time with his family and “I love every minute of it,” he says.

Emmalyn Helge, Strings teacher for all divisions

Emmalyn Helge

Emmalyn Helge

Up North is home to Emmalyn Helge, who takes on the job of running the school’s strings program for all students from grades 3 through 12. It’s a big job, but Emmalyn clearly likes to keep herself busy.

She started playing violin at age 6 and earned a violin performance and music education double major from Western Michigan University in 2009. While in undergrad, she was a development intern with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and the manager of the WMU Orchestra.  After that, she taught more than 325 string students in the Grand Haven Public Schools, obtained a master of arts administration degree from Indiana University, and taught sixth-grade orchestra during her graduate program in the Bloomington Public Schools. While at Indiana University, she was also the Communications Director of the Bay View Music Festival in Petoskey, a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com, a development assistant at the WonderLab children’s science museum, and the education director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

She moved to Detroit less than a year ago, leaving an adjunct professorship at Indiana University’s nonprofit management school where she taught arts administration undergraduate classes. Most recently, she has been working in development and special events with arts nonprofits (Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Eisenhower Dance, and Detroit Passport to the Arts). As if all that isn’t enough to fill her days, she also gives private lessons.

“In many ways, a music classroom is different from a typical classroom setting,” she says. “It lends itself more easily to the Curriculum for Understanding, with room to experiment, be creative, make mistakes, and more. My teaching philosophy is centered around the idea that it is not only the end product (i.e.- the performance) that is important.  Every step along the way, each accomplishment, makes up music education. In a classroom where all the students have a ‘noisemaker’ in hand, routine and organization are key.”

Emmalyn and her fiancée – a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy – recently bought a house in Indian Village. The two love exploring the city on their bikes and taking advantage of Detroit’s cultural institutions. She also likes to cook and garden, read and draw, sing and, of course, play violin.

Eunice John, Middle School Math

Eunice John

Eunice John

Eunice John grew up in California and earned her bachelor of science degree from the University of California Irvine. She has nearly completed her master’s degree in secondary education. She is in her fourth year as a teacher, most of that time spent at an independent school in West Los Angeles.

“I just love learning, and teaching is my passion,” Eunice says. “I am a reflective practitioner, and I see myself not only as an educator, but as a coach and a cheerleader for my students. I do not have to teach; I get to teach. I consider it a privilege. Being a teacher is not easy. It takes grit to be an educator, and I am grateful to do what I love every day and work alongside such innovative and hardworking individuals. I strive to empower my students to be advocates for their learning who learn to lead both themselves and their peers. I hope that my classroom will always be a space where students are thinking, learning, making mistakes, communicating … a classroom that is alive.”

Eunice was married in August and moved to Ann Arbor to join her husband, who’s completing his general surgery residency.

“As much as I love California, I am so grateful that only great things brint me to Michigan (especially the Liggett family), and I look forward to experiencing all four seasons for the first time in my life.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, trying out new recipes (what she calls experimenting), catching up with friends and family, being in the outdoors, and traveling with her husband.

Yue Ming, Ph.D., Middle School Chinese

Yue Ming

Yue Ming

Dr. Ming taught Chinese full-time at Wayne State University (WSU) for 12 years and switched to a part-time faculty at WSU when she became a full-time Chinese teacher in the Grosse Pointe Public School Systems.  She initially came to the United States from China as a visiting scholar at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and later earned a master of science degree from Washington State University, a Ph.D. in entomology from Michigan State University, and a master of art in teaching from WSU.  She also conducted research in molecular biology and taught biology courses at various universities.

“The people I admire most are my K-12 teachers,” she said.  “This remains true even after I completed my Ph.D. in entomology.  A dedicated K-12 teacher can positively impact a child for a lifetime and I always wanted to emulate such educators. As a K-12 teacher, I would like to make learning a joyful experience for my students and help nurture their enthusiasm and foster their intellectual curiosity.”

Dr. Ming and her husband, a physician-scientist, have been living in the Grosse Pointe area for 14 years. They have two daughters, Sarah, 18, and Esther, 12. In her spare time, Dr. Ming enjoys ping pong, basketball, reading, sewing and gardening.

Now that you know who they are, be sure to say “Hi” to the newest members of the Liggett family next time you see them.

By Ron Bernas

The parent partnership

The tired-but-true saying is that it takes a village to raise a child.

But it can also be said that it takes a village to educate a child. Education doesn’t happen only under a school roof. Research indicates that parental attitudes toward and involvement in their child’s education are major indicators of student achievement. That’s the idea behind three Parent Partnership Days sponsored by the Middle School this week.

Parents of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders spent two hours this week in the school, one-on-one (sometimes two-on-one) with their child hearing about what the school expects from the students and, perhaps more important, what is expected of parents. Granted, parents make a major commitment to send their children to a school like Liggett, so they are, in most cases, already fully invested. Still, sometimes not everything is communicated in the right way or at the right time.

“One of the important things I wanted is to communicate some facets of our program that parents may know about but not fully understand. And, I wanted everyone to know what our expectations are,” said Head of Middle School Jim Brewer, who created the partnership days. “To have parents and students hear these things at the same time and in the same way is a way of reinforcing it. As faculty and staff, we are here to help parents and students navigate the middle school years. Both groups need to know that it really does take all of us working together to make this successful.”

All divisions communicate with parents to varying degrees. Newsletters, backpack mail, even the Friday enewsletters are ways we invite parents into the school and to let them know their presence here is valued. It’s what makes Liggett the great community it is. Parents often use those newsletters to start conversations with their child about what their day is like at school.

Part of the talks included some calming words about the emotional development of middle schoolers from Dr. Michele Ondersma, head of Liggett’s Student Support Services. Your middle schooler may be surly, uncooperative and rude, but — guess what — that’s normal. They’re also funny, charming and helpful, and — guess what — that’s normal, too.

“But I think the heart of this,” says Brewer, “is not me or Dr. Ondersma talking to them, it was the exercises they did in their advisory.”

Those exercises included examining high and low points of the last school year and determining why they were so positive or negative. They also included setting goals for the week, month and year, discussing their hopes for the coming year (and seeing where the two merged and didn’t) and coming up with a plan to help each other meet those goals.

“In advisories, we were really interested in the conversations we were hearing,” Brewer said. “And it was interesting seeing the interactions between the kids and their parents. It was really enlightening.”

In the end, what brewer wanted everyone to get from these parent partnership days is this: “There will be bumps along the road, and that’s expected. But together, we will learn from it.”

The Parent Partnership Days got high praise from parents, and were a great way to start the year off on the right foot. It’s good for students, good for parents and that makes it good for the school.

By Ron Bernas