LS and MS Students Go Into Orbit with First Lego League

At The Baldwin School, we encourage our girls to reach for their dreams, taking whatever path they are most passionate about. We have scientists, scholars and poets. We have athletes and artists. And we have computer programmers, designers and robotic engineers.

Our DREAM LabⓇ program has been instrumental in creating opportunities to explore paths in the STEM fields. One particular initiative has been to introduce our girls to the First Lego League. This competition involves over 320,000 students from 95 countries across the globe.

This year involved several historic “firsts.”  There was enough interest to form four teams – three teams of students from grades 4-5 and for the first time, a team representing grades 6-8. In total we had 30 girls involved – more than double from past years.

Two teams also won awards – and one will proceed to the regional championships at the University of Pennsylvania in February. They will be the first team to represent Baldwin at the championship since the inception of our program.

All four teams took part in regional competitions – two teams participated at Springside Chestnut Hill School and two at the Franklin Institute.

The program consists of three components, called “strands.” Within the Robotics strand, students must build a robot and program it to solve specific missions. They also need to present their progress to a panel of judges. The Core Values strand focuses on how students demonstrate their understanding of the FIRST® philosophies of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® through core values like discovery, innovation, inclusion and teamwork. Along with being observed throughout the competition, they must prepare a poster board and design t-shirts.

Within the Project strand, students must define a problem within the season’s theme, propose a solution, create a prototype, speak with an expert, share their work outside the community and present to a panel of judges. This year’s theme was ‘Into Orbit’ and participants were tasked with finding and solving a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration. Students needed to identify a tangible problem they could prove exists.

Our four teams took this challenge and, as quintessential Baldwin girls, came up with very creative ideas. The Solar DREAMers, made up of Tisya Desai ‘27, Cianni Hill ‘27, Melina Intzes ‘26, Anais Piquion ’26, Ayesha Sayeed ‘26, Piper Skoglund ‘26, Maya Soldatovich ‘26 and Natalya Spychalski ’27 learned that nearly 80% of astronauts can get Space Motion Sickness (SMS). They created a prototype of an auto injectable wristband that injects medicine into the astronaut when the band detects high temperature/fast or slow heart rate.  

The Thinking Girls, made up of Bella Alimansky ‘27, Olivia Choo ‘26, Cydnei Crisden ‘27, Evelyn Jean ‘26, Leah Roman ‘27, Camila Tobon ‘26 and Daphne Yorks ‘26 discovered that bones and muscles weaken in space because there is no gravity and while there are already solutions to mitigate this, like exercise machines, they take up a lot of space. They designed a prototype comprised of six resistance bands to do different stretches, all connected to a belt. Judges noticed their tenacity and “never say die” attitude on event day –  they managed to figure out two additional missions that moved their score into the top 40% of scores for the robot strand, thus securing their spot at the championship.

The Robo Heroes, made up of Thea Dunckel ‘26, Maya Fey ‘27, Laila Gopalani ‘26, Anya Henry ‘26, Nina Heverin-Alvarado ‘26, Harper Lawson ‘27 and Amelia McCullough ‘26 realized people who experience extended space travel don’t see their families for a long period of time and this can cause anxiety or depression. They created a Virtual Reality version of an astronaut’s house. This would be loaded to a Flash Drive and sent with astronauts for use in space. The house would include the ability to interact with family members back on Earth. They won a Project Award in the area of Research for their innovative virtual reality solution.

The Dream Team, made up of Eve Alimansky ‘25, Tori Benjamin ‘25, Israel Carter ‘25, Rachel Gopalani ‘23, Grace Harvey ‘25, Eliana Jean ‘24, Nikoletta Kuvaeva ‘25 and Emily Sidlow ‘’25 had another approach to the problem of depression during deep space travel. Working the concept of a Tesla suit, created primarily for gamers, they designed a hug vest that simulates the pressure, smell and height of a loved one’s hug using haptic technology.

Teams must divide and conquer and stay extremely organized. The work, including all research and development, was led by the students. Although DREAM LabⓇ Coordinators Stephanie Greer and Addison Lilholt and Grade 3 Teacher Peter Greenhalgh act as facilitators, they were as hands off as possible, encouraging the girls to solve their own problems. The teams met after school twice a week and practiced in the evenings and weekends, beginning in August. While they each had their own projects, they had to learn to share materials, space and coaches and accommodate each other throughout the journey.

The program takes hard work, drive and perseverance. It also involves a lot of fun – our students discover the power of their own imaginations as they learn to apply STEM concepts to solve a real world problem. Along their journey, they’re developing critical-thinking and team-building skills, presentation skills and good sportsmanship.

“What is important about this program is that it’s unlike any other academic experience for students this age. They’re given an enormous set of tasks, a timeline, a space to learn and adults to facilitate. But it’s up to them to make this work. They’re learning project management and leadership skills. They’re discovering real world consequences. You take your work into a public arena where it’s viewed by the public and you learn how to get feedback,” said Ms. Greer.

This year is truly special for Ms. Greer. “I have been on the Regional Steering Committee for FLL at the University of Pennsylvania for 8 years,” she explained. “I am the regional head Core Values judge and regularly provide training and professional development on different facets of the FLL program for coaches and judges in the region. I have attended every championship in the capacity of judge for the last 9 years. This is the first time I will get to take one of my teams to the championships at Penn – it is also the last year Penn will run the region, and so it is my last year on the committee and the last year Championships will be hosted by Penn. I’m grateful to get to take a team before a new committee takes over.”

Beyond the wonderful academic benefits, this is an extraordinary experience for our girls. The program provides them with a supportive community to learn more about themselves and discover a love for science. “It’s where some kids find their tribe. This is where they find a place with a ton of other kids who are in love with STEM too,” said Ms. Greer.

Click to see our media gallery of our students’ First Lego League journey.

A Study of Roman Daily Life

Written by Latin Teacher Stephanie Vogel
I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to spend three weeks in St. Peter, Minnesota at Gustavus Adolphus College working with fifteen other Latin teachers to study Roman daily life. In the morning, we read from the Satytica by Petronius, which is one of the most robust primary sources in Latin that exists on Roman dining practices and daily life. We focused on the cena Trimalchionis (Trimalchio’s dinner party), which describes a dinner party held by a wealthy freedman, Trimalchio, that is a spectacle in every sense of the word. Its descriptions of food, leisure, and relationships between masters and slaves, men and women, and other groups are among the most detailed and insightful in Roman literature.

In the afternoon, we examined graffiti that was uncovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum and used that as a lense to consider the lives of the 99% of Romans, which was exciting given that the wealth of sources that we have today is written by and about the Roman elite. The goal of most classics programs, including Baldwin’s, is to build one’s grammatical, historical and vocabulary knowledge to read the canonical Latin texts that actually represent a very limited percentage of the Roman population in antiquity.  Thus, learning how to locate graffiti on the internet and how to translate different types of inscriptions was extremely useful and interesting to me. We worked with Dr. Rebecca Benefiel, one of the world’s foremost experts on ancient graffiti, and helped add to her online catalog of inscriptions which is already an exciting resource for Latin teachers. Right now, inscriptions are only accessible via a large, expensive, and unwieldy book called the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum (CIL for short) and only a handful exist in the entire world. For this reason, Rebecca’s work on uploading all of the inscriptions from the CIL to her website and organizing it in an easily searchable way will make it significantly easier for Latin teachers to access them.  This has far-reaching implications for sharing these inscriptions with our students.

At the end of the program, we were each charged with conducting independent research on a topic related to daily life that was of interest to us, and of creating a unit plan or other materials that we could eventually use in our classes. I researched the electoral process, electoral advertisements and exactly what made one ‘electable’ in Italy. It was fascinating and informative and I am planning to leverage my work on this topic into an election simulation around the mid-terms in November.  I will have my students create their own electoral advertisements in Roman style around the same time. I’m really looking forward to it!

Advocating for the Education and Development of Girls

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl, a global celebration of youth advocates who advance the rights of and opportunities for girls everywhere.

Baldwin’s mission is to develop our girls into confident young women who have the vision, global understanding and the competency to make significant and enduring contributions to the world. We celebrate the power of being a girl every day and consider it our responsibility to advocate for girls in our community, regionally and globally.

In Lower School, students enthusiastically participate in the Educate a Girl campaign, an annual fundraiser that benefits girls’ education around the world. Unlike other fundraisers, faculty encourage students to find creative ways to raise money, instead of simply asking their parents for help, leading to a variety of unique entrepreneurial endeavors, including bake sales, selling handmade artistic creations and giving out hugs at Baldwin events. This program also opens the door to critical conversations at home, giving our girls the opportunity to talk to their parents about those who don’t have access to quality education.

Emelie Wilkes, one of our second grade teachers, has been leading this project for over 10 years. “In its first year my class raised more than $1,000 on its own for an orphanage in Kenya,” she says. “For the past two years, the Lower School has raised over $10,000! To me, there is nothing more valuable than teaching our amazing, bright and gifted girls the importance of giving back. So many girls around this world are held back by circumstances out of their control. If we can help one child, that’s a start.”

All of the funds raised this year will be donated to Women’s Campaign International to directly benefit girls’ education. Specializing in transitional states and post-conflict regions around the world, Women’s Campaign International equips women and girls with the skills and support needed to transform their lives and communities.

Compassion, respect and responsibility are three of Baldwin’s core values, and all are demonstrated by these efforts, as well as in our curriculum. Our priority is not only to advocate for girls around the world but to continue to find new ways to advocate for our own students. In the Middle School, there’s a targeted focus on social and emotional development through lessons on identity, building empathy, healthy relationships, mindfulness and digital citizenship.  

“While one of our goals is for our students to do well academically, it’s just as important to make sure they are prepared to navigate the ever-shifting social landscape in life by giving them the tools, the language and a safe space to learn and grow,” says Middle School Librarian Lauren Friedman-Way.

Middle School faculty focus on the five core competencies of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning): self-management (managing emotions); self-awareness (recognizing emotions, values, strengths and challenges); social awareness (developing empathy and understanding); relationship skills (developing healthy, positive relationships and team-building); and responsible decision-making. The goal is to give Baldwin students the support and skills they need to become women who make a positive impact in all parts of their lives – from the classroom and the playing fields to their homes and local communities.

The Baldwin School Library Services Team: Experts in the Education of Girls

The library services team of The Baldwin School regularly goes above and beyond when it comes to facilitating the education and development of the entire community.  Their mission is to “foster a lifelong habit and love of reading and learning,” and they accomplish this through an intentional drive to encourage the thoughtful and responsible exchange of ideas.  This is particularly important for the School’s position as a leader in the education of girls. As literary experts and constant advocates for our students, they are not only always finding new ways to work with each classroom and creating avenues to encourage our students to use their resources, but they make it a priority to research new trends in the development of girls and women.  At the library, students discover new talents, push their limits and find their voice in a supportive setting.

As experts, and understanding how essential the exchange of ideas is among educators, the team regularly attends and presents at conferences.  Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff, Director of Libraries and Information Services, Lauren Friedman-Way, Middle School Librarian, and Emily Woodward, Lower School Library Media Specialist, enjoyed three action-packed days over the summer at the National Coalition of Girls Schools – Global Forum on Girls Education, in Washington, DC. In addition to the many session presentations, they found the list of keynote speakers to be very impressive — Billie Jean King, Rachel Simmons (author of Odd Girl Out, Enough as She Is), Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) and many others.

While at the conference, the team co-presented the session Identity Making: A Novel Approach, which examined the ways our libraries encourage identity exploration by enabling student agency in literacy practices.  They discussed how exploring and constructing identity is an integral part of school life, and supporting agency throughout this identity-building process is a unique value that distinguishes independent schools for girls. Reading is an essential component, providing a space for girls to try on, try out and build identity.  Learn more about their presentation here.

“NCGS was truly a remarkable experience and such a valuable opportunity for the Baldwin Libraries team. The most important piece, for us, was looking at our work with girls and reading within the context of the national and global girls education endeavor. I think we felt simultaneously validated about the work of the Baldwin Libraries and challenged by the depth and breadth of the work going on in our sister schools. Not to mention – it was supremely cool to present at the same conference as Billie Jean King. Wow,” said Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff.

As a whole, the Baldwin libraries are a hub for all members of the Baldwin community.  Made up of three unique libraries to fully embrace the needs of every student from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, as well as all faculty and staff, the libraries include more than 25,800 titles and over 40 databases and digital learning tools. In the 2017-2018 school year alone, the library team facilitated over 600 classes in their spaces and archives.  We encourage you to stop by the next time you’re on campus!

5 Life Lessons

Taken from a speech given by Lower School Director Elizabeth Becker at our 2018 Lower School Moving Up Ceremony.

First, pursue your passion. Don’t be a spectator in the game of life. Get off the couch and make your mark. Don’t lose sleep thinking about what might happen, don’t worry about what people might say, and please don’t let anything or anyone extinguish your flame. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. You won’t be successful if you don’t try. So pursue your passion, follow your dreams, and make it happen.

Second, make a difference. Be a positive force in people’s lives. Making a difference doesn’t always require a monetary gift, more importantly it is the gift of a caring heart. Make people feel special; bring out the best in others; and be genuinely happy for their achievements. The truth is, success isn’t measured by what you accumulate in life, but by what you give to others.

Third, appreciate what you have. It won’t always be easy but be thankful for what you have in your life. Sometimes it is easier for us to want to focus on what we do not have; but when we do this we sometimes lose focus of what we do have. So appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had. The truth is, happy people don’t necessarily have more; they’re just satisfied with what they do have.

Fourth, own your life. You’ll be faced with decisions every day. You have the freedom to choose the direction that you want to take, to determine the choices that you’ll make, and to decide how hard you’re willing to work to achieve your goals. If you want your life to be different, don’t look to others — change it yourself. The truth is, your life is determined by the choices that YOU make every day not by the decisions of others.

Fifth, make yourself proud. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you meet the expectations of others; what counts is that you meet your own expectations. So set the bar high, live your life with integrity, and make yourself proud––you have to face yourself in the mirror every day. The truth is, if you don’t respect yourself, why should others?

One day when you’re old (yes…over 25), you may stop and ask yourself the question: “How did I do?” Here are clues to the answer: Have you learned that happiness is as important as success? Do you care not only about where life has taken you, but also how have you been involved in where it has taken others?

So find your passion, be courageous and make yourself proud!

Middle School Service Trip: Discovering Marine Conservation

During Baldwin’s Spring Break, 12 Middle School students traveled to Key Largo, Florida, for a week of activities involving service, culture and exploration.  The group worked with Marine Design Lab to learn about marine biology and conservation.  Grace Halak ’22, Blake Landow ’22, Thea Rosenzweig ’22, Sarah Ying ’22 and Elva Chen ’22 discussed their experiences:

“When I first heard about the Rustic Pathways service trip to Key Largo, I immediately began imagining what I would tell my parents that night to convince them to sign me up. I had received many positive reviews from my peers who went on the New Orleans trip two years ago, so I was incredibly excited when Baldwin offered another Rustic Pathways experience, especially since it relates to marine biology, which fascinates me. I had always thought it was wonderful that Baldwin offered so many opportunities for service as a student, but environmental service had always been my favorite. This trip promised that and more: a week of snorkeling, experimenting and collecting environmental data in Key Largo with MarineLab. The trip sounded like the perfect blend of education, service and fun, and it did not disappoint me.”

“This trip was one of the best and most exciting weeks of my life. We got to go snorkeling almost every day, which gave us so many wonderful opportunities to explore and learn about marine life. Our first day’s activities included learning about coral reef ecology and then later getting to experience the reefs ourselves. Later that evening, we had a fish identification class where we learned how to discern different types of fish, and engaged in a water quality lab. This prepared us for the next day when we headed out to the reef again. This time it was so much more enjoyable and compelling because we knew exactly what we were looking at. During the few days we had left, we enjoyed a seagrass ecology class, snorkeled in the mangroves, took part in a coastal clean-up, participated in a micro-plastics lab and an invertebrate identification lab, referred to as the ‘rock shake’, in which we observed minuscule marine creatures living on algae growing on rocks from the ocean. On our final day at MarineLab, we went on one last snorkel in the mangroves on the bay, and then we headed back to Miami. It is incredible how much everyone learned on this trip and it felt good to help our environment in the process. There was an exhilarating adventure ahead of us every day. I was extremely satisfied with Rustic Pathways and MarineLab’s program, and I can say the same for the rest of the group. I am grateful for the opportunity, and the only thing I would change would be to make the experience last longer!”

“On this trip, I learned a lot about marine life and our environment. We had lessons on the coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves, fish and how humans affect these things. Now that the trip is over, I am more aware of my actions that affect the environment. At MarineLab, the group participated in a micro-plastics lab, in which we observed the amount of plastic in a sample of water from the boat dock. The results were staggering. I learned about statistics and how the ratio of micro-plastics to plankton was very large, and how plastic in the ocean is detrimental to animals and their habitats. This lab and the whole experience made me think about things I can do to help, even if it is just changing a small part of my life.”

Teaching Our Students to Love Science

Written by Christie Reed, Science Department Chair, Becky Lewis, Lower School Science Teacher and Maggie Epstein, Middle School Science Teacher. 

Winnie, our School mascot, is missing! Where did she go and who took her? As the 5th graders entered their Science class, this was the crime scene they faced. It was up to them to figure out what had happened, and they were going to use their newly gained knowledge of the microscope and their well-trained observational skills to do so. Piecing together bits of information provided, along with various microscope slides containing evidence, the students went about solving the disastrous crime. After all, a pep rally is no pep rally without our mascot! When science class is this engaging, who wouldn’t love it?

As teachers at Baldwin, we have the privilege of being able to craft our classes, tailoring what we are doing according to student interests, current events and new discoveries. Our classrooms are our creative space, a place where we can try new things while introducing the girls to the world of discovery, a place where one teacher noted, “We can make science zany.” In Lower School, for example, a student may learn about the parts of a flower inadvertently while engineering a way to pollinate flowers if there are not enough bees. Or in Middle School, a student learning about density may be asked to take advantage of a snowy day to collect some snow from outside to then determine if there is a difference between the density of snow and the density of water. Or in Upper School, a student may be called upon to determine if gene therapy in a fetus is the best course of action for a genetic condition after having diagnosed the mutation with her knowledge of protein synthesis, research on the condition and a determination of its severity. As teachers at Baldwin, we can differentiate to the needs of our classes.  If students want to take a deep dive into how technology is being created to help patients with Parkinson’s disease by performing a neural micro-stimulation experiment on cockroaches, we are able to indulge those curiosities. We are not limited by the constraints of a national standard and we often exceed those guided standards.

Beginning in Pre-Kindergarten our Lower School science program has a dedicated science teacher and a separate science classroom. Science is not something “extra” or being taught by a teacher who is unfamiliar with and uncomfortable teaching science material. The goals of Lower School science are exposure, immersion and engagement. Science is presented in a meaningful tangible way for our littlest scientists. Our girls become scientists, using real science equipment and engaging in science experiments.  The girls are encouraged to find science “cool,” and even the teacher keeps them guessing each day with a science outfit that often relates to the topic for one of the science classes. On an average day, students might be attempting to prove that Snow White’s mishaps were not because of a poison apple, but instead a gluten allergy,  predicting phenotypes in live zebrafish, engaging in a live surgery with surgeons or writing an infomercial trying to sell metamorphic rock.

Middle School and Upper School classes are all taught by subject specialists who are experts in Physics, Biology, Chemistry or Environmental Science. Skills are emphasized while content is explored with experiences and problem solving. For example, when a particular 8th grade class showed a concern for the number of un-recycled water bottles left on school grounds, it led to an entire shift within the unit toward the chemistry of water quality and plastics. These girls saw the science classroom as a place to find answers, and they saw themselves as the ones to figure out a solution. They designed experiments to test the water for common pollutants and even for taste. They planned control groups and shared their data. The middle school years are often when confidence wanes, replaced by the burden of wanting to fit in while still discovering what that even means. These 8th graders showed real risk-taking and were empowered by the results. The structure of middle school science is predictable – the tools, the labs … but the built-in spontaneity of not having the answers (or even the questions) constantly fed to them encourages girls to see science as the exciting, evolving discipline it is. When a middle schooler sees herself as a scientist, she can feel more confident tackling any problem. This approach continues in Upper School where our ultimate goal is to educate science literate critical thinkers who are not afraid to solve any problem in whatever their future fields of endeavor. Learning opportunities are everywhere and are seized upon to keep science exciting, engaging and relevant. For example, the Physics teacher recently asked his students how their driving was on the snowy, icy roads after a few snow days in order to introduce his discussion about static and kinetic friction, and the Biology classes used the recent cloning of a monkey to begin their discussion on DNA.

From the moment our students begin their science journey in our pre-Kindergarten, to the capstone advanced elective courses they take in senior year, we work to excite, empower and instill a love of learning and questioning in our girls. They believe there is nothing they cannot do, and if they ever meet a challenge that seems too big or too overwhelming to solve, they gather their best problem-solving tools and go about figuring it out anyway. Risk-taking is the norm, and throughout their work in science at Baldwin, the students quickly see that the wrong answer is often more celebrated than the right answer! After all, the best learning occurs after mistakes are made. How great to turn a misunderstood concept or an incorrectly solved problem into an opportunity to discuss why that is not necessarily the answer. Students are encouraged to speak out and to think through a solution verbally as they work through their own understanding. Guided questions from the teacher, contributions from classmates and thinking out loud allow the girls to work through their understanding in a way that gives them the confidence to be a leader in their own learning. The message to our girls is loud and clear: trust yourself. The worst thing that can happen is that you are wrong and learn from your mistakes! This is one of the most powerful benefits of an all-girls’ education—the girls are not afraid to speak up loudly and confidently, whether they know the answers or not! There is no one to impress, and learning is the most important thing in the classroom.

The Sour and the Sweet

Foreword by Cindy Lapinski, Director of Middle School.  Story by Defne Doken ’24.

The term ‘growth mindset’ is regularly discussed in the Middle School. We talk with the students about what it means to have a growth mindset in relation to learning and trying new things. According to Carol Dweck, “those with a growth mindset believe their talents and abilities can be developed. Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.” The following story was written by one of our students to illustrate the idea of growth mindset as part of a class assignment.

Doken_Defne_1831081The Sour and the Sweet

Once upon a time, in a dark, leafy green forest lived a rabbit. The rabbit’s name was Cocos nucifera, Coco for short. The rabbit was creamy white with chocolate brown spots and soft, almond eyes. One day, the rabbit became hungry. It nuzzled the grass for a bit, searching for bits of edible clover and then looked up, perplexed. A bright, lemon yellow parakeet had flown onto a branch overlooking Coco.

“Who are you?” asked Coco.

“A hero,” said the bird.

“What have you done?” Coco inquired.

“I have saved the world from mosquitos.”

“Have you, now?”

“I have defeated their ruler, Culicidae.”

“How have you done this?”

“Well, first I saw his servants, buzzing irritatingly around the pond. Then, as I caught a glimpse of him and his beady, little eyes, I decided enough is enough. I flew over and told him there was a juicy pear in the depths of the pond. The stupid little thing flew over and drowned. Such a talent I have, such a talent.”

The bird seemed too full of himself.

“May I ask your name, bird?” Coco wondered.

“Oh, not bird. I am Sire Citrus the Great.”

“How elegant. Well, I must go. Please visit me with more heroic stories.”

At that, Coco wandered off in search of fresh vegetables. However, Sire Citrus the Great was left with a thought that nagged at him.

“Does she think that I am a joke? I must be more convincing for anyone to believe I can achieve such greatness without being born like so. What if the real Culicidae comes back from his Starbucks run? I will be ruined!” thought Sire Citrus the Great.

So the worried bird flew away in search of more ways to appear brave. Meanwhile, Coco was sitting by the edge of the pond where Culicidae was supposedly slain; however, as she looked toward the “former” mosquito nest, she saw Culicidae sitting on his throne made of an apple core, sipping a cappuccino.

“How could it be? Culicidae back from the dead?”

“Back from the dead? I’ve only just entered my senior years!” Culicidae cried.

“You should have been slain by Sire Citrus the Great? Was this…was this a lie?”

“The Great Citrus who?”

“The heroic yellow parakeet!”

“You mean Melopsittacus? The boastful bird who believes that all who appear dumb are cursed forever?

 

Melopsittacus roamed the forest and found a stone by the edge of some shrubbery. Suddenly, he had an idea. He collected some blueberries and peeled the skin off with his beak. Smearing the blueberries against the rock gave it a navy tinge. Everyone would think he had a magic blue rock!

“Sire, or should I say Melopsittacus!” Coco suddenly cried, running up to the bird in the midst of his rock painting.

“Oh no! You have found out!” Melopsittacus shrieked.

However, Coco’s tone became softer.

“Melopsittacus, you do not have to lie to be something you aspire to be.”

“Yes, I do! No one can be a hero unless they are born with strength and courage. And a bird like me? No hero has ever been a measly parakeet!”

“Melopsittacus, if you tell yourself you are brave, you will be brave. If you tell yourself you have courage, you will have courage. You have to make yourself believe, not others.”

“Magical rabbit, I am simply a lying old failure. I cannot do great things.”

“Say you are brave.” Coco told the bird.

“I am brave.” The bird said.

Suddenly, the rock Melopsittacus had painted began to glow.

“Have hope and never give up,” Coco said as she hopped away.

Update and Enhance Your Library

Cultivated by our school librarians, enjoy these book recommendations to find new favorites and new ways to upgrade and enhance your personal collection.  Discover something for every child ranging from Pre-K through Grade 12.  Purchase on Amazon Smile to support our school.

Lower School Recommendations

not quite narwhalNot Quite Narwhal (Grades Pre-K and up)
Jessie Sima
Purchase on Amazon

Kelp was born under the sea in a clamshell. He feels he is different from the other narwhals; he can’t swim as quickly, and he is less than enthusiastic about their squid dinners. One day he gets swept away by a current and sees a figure like himself! Pursuing the phantom, Kelp must swim for hours and learn to walk on land which is no easy feat. He eventually finds the unicorns (or land narwhals as he calls them). Kelp loves learning and tasting new things, but will he go back to his narwhal home?  Not Quite Narwhal is a fantastic book for any age about acceptance, being yourself, and understanding differences can be good.

pink lionPink Lion (Grades Pre-K – 1)
Jane Porter
Purchase on Amazon

Arnold is a pink lion who happily grows up thinking he’s a flamingo. When a gang of lions comes by they insist that Arnold is a lion and should come with them. The pink lion isn’t a big fan of licking himself clean, hunting, or roaring. But when he tries to go back to his flamingo family, things aren’t as they seem.  A nice book about adoption, acceptance and families.

marta-2f3emddMarta! Big & Small (Grades Pre-K-1)
Jen Arena
Purchase on Amazon

Marta is a clever girl who lives in a jungle and knows Spanish. She teaches the reader descriptive words as well as animal names throughout the book. Marta shows the reader how she’s slow compared to a horse, but fast when matched with a turtle. When a snake arrives on the scene, will Marta be as tasty as she looks? She is ingeniosa and escapes with a smile.  This fun little book incorporates Spanish & English, opposites, similarities, comparisons and animals.

rolling-thunder-rpqxmh-1bshdxjRolling Thunder (Grades K-2)
Kate Messner
Purchase on Amazon

A fresh look at Memorial Day through the eyes of a boy who accompanies his biker grandpa on the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally in Washington DC. Grandpa rides for those he was with in Vietnam, and the youth rides for his Uncle who is currently enlisted and deployed. After camping out, the pair ride to the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Wall Memorial. The concepts of POWs, MIAs, and death is brought up, but not explained in depth. The poetic verse and pastel pictures provide a powerful, yet appropriate message for young and old alike.

waterprincess-12izdweThe Water Princess (Grades K-3)
Susan Verde
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This gorgeous picture book is based on the childhood experience of fashion model and activist Georgie Badiel. A princess, named Gie Gie, has a magnificent kingdom and wonderful powers. But the one thing she wishes for, to make the water come closer, Gie Gie cannot do. Every day she and her mother walk miles to get water, “dusty, earth-colored liquid.” Gie Gie dances with her mother on the journey there and plays with her friends while her mother waits in line for their turn. When they arrive home, mother boils water for them to drink. Gie Gie cleans their clothes, and the dinner is fixed. The next morning the journey for water is to be repeated again. This book is a gentle, positive way to introduce the struggle some societies have over water. It is also based on a true story and has pictures in the back of Georgie Badiel and how she raised money for a well in a school situated in an area with no water. A great introductory read for a service project and to help students be aware of what some children struggle with.

day i became a birdThe Day I Became a Bird (Grades 1 and up)
Ingrid and Guridi Chabbert
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In this sweet and unusual book, a boy falls in love with a girl for the first time. She however, only has eyes for the birds. The boy decides instead of passively waiting, to do something that will definitely catch her attention.  Whether in class or on the soccer field, he wholeheartedly makes a transformation into a large bird. Will it be enough?

dyamonde daniel seriesThe Dyamonde Daniel Series (Grades 1-3)
Nikki Grimes
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Dyamonde Daniel is a spunky, outgoing girl whose classmates go through a variety of difficulties. The topics feel genuine (being new in school, someone who lives in a homeless shelter, a classmate who loses everything in a house fire) to the story and are great discussion topics with students.

 

lou lou and pea

Lou Lou & Pea and the Mural Mystery (Grades 2-5)
Jill Diamond,‎ Lesley Vamos
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Throughout this beautifully illustrated mystery two best friends need to use their gardening and art skills to bring about justice. Smatterings of Spanish (with a lovely glossary in the back), a close-knit neighborhood including beautiful murals, and a Día de los Muertos celebration bring this multicultural story to life. Great for readers who grew out of Ivy & Bean and love a little mystery.

 

sybil ludingtonSybil Ludington: Revolutionary War Rider  (Grades 3-6)
E. F. Abbott
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Sybil Ludington is part of a spy family during the Revolutionary War. Her father, in charge of a unit of militiamen, needed help with the war effort.  When someone is needed to gather her father’s men to fight, sixteen-year-old Sybil braves numerous dangers to sound the alarm. A very interesting book about a period in time not many know about. There are historical photographs and pictures throughout the book.

goodstory-2i326zw-vmuxk0This Would Make a Good Story Someday (Grades 4-8)
Dana Alison Levy
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Sara is going into Middle School after the summer and has detailed plans to spend time with her friends and improve herself. But surprise, Mimi (one of Sara’s moms) has won a month long train trip! Mimi is going to write about the trip and their family, college age Laurel, her boyfriend Root, Sara, their other mom, and Li, the little sister. Sara does not want any part of it but is dragged along anyway. To make matters worse, the other prize winner and his family are going to be traveling companions with them.

 

Middle and Upper School Recommendations

optimists-rjnhm3-2jhlnbiOptimists Die First (Grades 7 and up)
Susan Nielsen
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Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

namestheygaveus-1f0jotw-1ds4003The Names They Gave Us (Grades 7 and up)
Emery Lord
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This is a book about the power to shift your perceptions, and the lasting impact it can have on your life.  Lucy is secure in her faith; her father is a pastor, and Lucy genuinely enjoys going to church each week, and she especially looks forward to being a counselor at Bible camp each summer.  However, after learning that her mother’s cancer has returned, Lucy’s faith is completely shaken.  Her parents convince her to try a new camp this summer, Daybreak, a camp for “troubled” kids, where her mom believes she’ll find solace and kinship. Lucy is skeptical, and after her rocky start, she’s sure she’ll never fit in, or be any help to anybody. Thankfully for Lucy, her fellow counselors are welcoming and forgiving; Lucy finds that the more open she is with them, the more open they are with her. These diverse teens challenge everything she thought she knew and believed; it’s a pleasure to watch Lucy’s transformation as she explores what it means to be a true friend. When Lucy discovers something shocking about her mom’s past, connected to Daybreak, it will test her literal new found faith, and her new relationships. Every teenager should read this book to learn about what compassion looks like, and what allyship looks like, as Lucy expresses and embodies both.

eliza-1wtt7fg-1sxs4jmEliza and Her Monsters (Grades 7 and up)
Francesca Zappia
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Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl who have been looking for a follow-up, look no further!  Eliza has a huge secret; she is the author and creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea.  Since she is only known as LadyConstellation online nobody knows her true identity.  While she is an internet superstar, her offline life is less than ideal. Eliza feels beleaguered and misunderstood by her classmates, and her parents, who are baffled by her ties to her “fake” internet friends, and her desire to spend all of her time on her phone or computer. Then hulking, football player-looking Wallace comes into her life.  Wallace, who inexplicably and shockingly is a huge fan of Monstrous Sea, writes his own stellar fanfic too; a more unlikely pair you won’t find.  The slow build up of their friendship is well done; there is some skeptical orbiting, followed by cautious interaction, and eventually, full-fledged trust.  However, when Eliza’s secret is exposed her entire world comes crashing spectacularly down around her. Even if you’re not into webcomics or fandom, Eliza is a relatable character; her love of her digital community, her desire to spend all of her time with her friends, and her mixed feelings for her parents and siblings are all things that teens will identify with.

strangerdreamer-1zt2k1s-19edkowStrange the Dreamer (Grades 7 and up)
Laini Taylor
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A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

wild beautyWild Beauty (Grades 8 and up)
Anna-Marie McLemore
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Wild Beauty is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves.

languageofthorns-24zbqdw-2nj7bk2The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (Grades 8 and up)
Leigh Bardugo
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Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

the upside of unrequitedThe Upside of Unrequited.  (Grades 8 and up)
Becky Albertalli
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Becky Albertalli’s sophomore effort, The Upside of Unrequited, is just as delightful, irreverent, and charming as her first novel, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Molly believes she’s just an average girl, especially when she compares herself to her beautiful, shining star of a twin sister, Cassie. Despite Cassie’s insistence that anybody would be lucky to have her, Molly staunchly refuses to put herself out there, despite her 26 crushes over the years; the idea of rejection is just too unpalatable, and since she’s a self-described “fat girl”, way too likely.  Readers will cheer Molly on as she finds her courage, and figures out what she’s really looking for. Molly is the perfect blend of teenage cynicism, angst, self-doubt, and naivety, and she will resonate with anyone who has ever had a crush or felt the crushing weight of rejection.

logic-udtn4h-15drajuThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Grades 9 and up)
Benjamin Alire Saenz
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Sal never thought of himself as an angry kid.  And yet, here he is, getting into fight after fight for no real reason and hating himself because of it; Sal can’t help but wonder if he’s more like his biological father than he thought. As in Aristotle, parents and adults play a major role throughout the book.  Both Sal and his best friend, Samantha, are molded by their parents. Even though Sal has been raised by a steady, kind hearted, loving adoptive father, Vicente, a man who fully embraces the idea of turning the other cheek, he fears that, ultimately, his character will be shaped by the temperamental, unstable father he never knew. The matriarchs, Sal’s terminally ill grandmother, his deceased mother, and Samantha’s mother, also get a starring role here. This novel highlights in ways no other YA book in recent memory has just how powerful and pivotal adult-child relationships are and addresses head on the age old question of nature vs. nurture. Another powerhouse of a novel from Saenz. The platonic friendship between Sal and Samantha is a also refreshing change from the best-friend-to-boyfriend/girlfriend trope in many contemporary YA books.

hateugive-1vsz1gf-10tjbqeThe Hate U Give (Grades 9 and up)
Angie Thomas
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Starr Carter is leading a double-life.  There’s the Starr Carter who attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students, has a long-term boyfriend, who is also white, and who faces daily microaggressions.  Then there’s the Starr Carter who lives in a poor neighborhood overrun by gang violence, who has a father who used to be a gang member, and who is best friends (or is she?) with Khalil.  Starr thinks she has a handle on navigating these two worlds until the night she witnesses Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officers.  Angie Thomas has written a provocative, moving, and often times enraging book that feels incredibly current, given the multiple deaths of unarmed black men in the last few years, and the resultant simmering anger across the nation.  Starr is a heroine of our time; her indecision, her fear, and her rage, are realistic; never do we, the reader, forget that she is just a sixteen year-old girl who has a monumental weight on her shoulders. Her support network, her family, her boyfriend, her friends, are extremely well-drawn; there are no caricatures here.  From feeling like an outsider wherever she is, to embracing, and melding, both selves into a confident young woman who finds her voice, Starr’s evolution is glorious to behold.  Her character is one that everyone can see themselves in – the impulse to hide parts of yourself in order to just get through the day is universal. While this is not an easy book to read, it will hopefully inspire empathy in those who do read it; an extremely worthwhile book for allies and advocates alike.

when dimple met rishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi (Grades 9 – 12)
Sandhya Menon
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Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel could not be more different.  Dimple is an independent young woman, passionate about coding, who feels confined by her parents’ expectations – specifically her mother’s, who seems bent on making Dimple into the perfect wife.  Rishi is a rule follower to his core; he wants nothing more to please his parents, even if that means setting aside his own dreams.  Rishi is thrilled with the idea of an arranged marriage with Dimple, something that he’s known about, and daydreamed about, for a long time.  Dimple, on the other hand, has no idea that there is any arrangement with Rishi, and anyway, marriage is the last thing on her mind.  So when the two of them meet for the first time at Insomnia Con, a summer coding program, it goes hilariously awry.  Sandhya Menon has written a delightful, smart, funny romantic comedy, starring two protagonists who think they know exactly what they want out of their lives, but after some unexpected revelations, realize maybe there’s more out there for both of them.  The way Menon depicts microaggressions, and the different ways that Rishi and Dimple deal with them – Dimple clams up, and Rishi confronts it head-on – is both realistic and poignant.

 

On the Road with the Seventh Grade

independence hall phoot

Written by Middle School Teacher Bridget Doherty

This year the seventh grade is embarking on a new journey: civics.  The new social studies curriculum includes not only global citizenship as in years past, but also national and local citizenship.  As part of this adventure, we are taking advantage of some of our local resources to enrich the classroom experience of students.

After wrapping up a role-playing research project on the Constitutional Convention, students traveled to Independence Square in Old City Philadelphia.  They walked into the assembly room where the delegates debated and immediately recognized George Washington’s chair. They tried to locate the tables for particular states and speculated where “their” seat would have been during the convention.  Seeing our students’ open enthusiasm about our national heritage was inspiring.

The students shared some of their thoughts on the trip:

  • “I really liked how we had lots of background info, and we got to apply that info to the new things we were learning.”
  • “I could really make connections between what I had learned before and where it had taken place.”
  • “I loved how we were able to be really up close to all the meeting rooms.”
  • “It was also really cool to see some of the original artifacts that were saved since the day that they were used.”
  • “I was very surprised about all of the things that I know about the Constitution. It felt good to put all my knowledge to use!”
  • “Everyone got a chance to be in the shoes of the delegates when they were anxiously seated at the feet of George Washington. To me, that was something that I’ll never forget. I was so lucky to see history right in front of me.”

Our course is now set for civil liberties as we examine the Bill of Rights and the evolution of these rights through history.  Students are beginning to understand that being a citizen might start in the classroom, but true citizenship involves active participation and commitment to justice even after they leave Baldwin’s gates.  Taking our civics classroom out into the world, like our trip downtown, provides memorable lessons that will empower students and foster an appreciation of our institutions of government.