The annual Healthy Selves project-based learning unit in first grade is now underway! Students are learning to make healthy food choices, the importance of exercise and how to care for their bodies.
This week, these healthy explorers were the first students to explore the new fully stocked Chemistry Kitchen in the Quest Center. Students, teachers and Chef Pat were excited to have the opportunity to make healthy smoothies in the new space within Foster Hall. Students wore brightly colored aprons and worked at tables just the right height for them. There was tremendous excitement as they chopped berries and bananas, and once the blender started whirring, laughing and cheering filled the room.
While the delicious lesson was designed to encourage students to make healthy eating choices, there were other lessons to be learned. Quest Center Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Lewis told students about the composting process as she collected the banana peels and strawberry stems in a white bucket. Later, teacher Mary Kathryn Vey showed students the composting bins that are right outside of their own first grade classroom. She also pointed out the worm, vegetable and butterfly gardens that fill the space. Students were excited to know that they have a great view of everything going on in these natural spaces.
Strawberries, bananas, an inspiring new venue and a team of educators finding creative ways in which to feed young imaginations – that’s a great recipe for learning!
Starting a new job during a pandemic can be challenging. Relocating and signing on to lead the educational journey of an entire Lower School may even be considered daunting. However, new Episcopal Lower School Division Head Beth Gardner doesn’t see it that way. “I look at the silver linings,” she says. For example, she says the current challenges have pushed everyone to think creatively to find thoughtful solutions. In addition, it has required everyone to come together quickly as a team. While the summer was not typical for teachers, Gardner is appreciative of the staff’s efforts to show up for planning calls and discussions. She says such dedication helped her quickly find a sense of belonging among the Knights.
For Gardner, there was no question that she belonged at Episcopal. She says after interacting with faculty and students she knew Baton Rouge was the right fit for her family and she appreciates the “positive can-do spirit” that everyone has when it comes to supporting students and each other. She also shares a similar academic philosophy, including a commitment to social/emotional learning, Singapore math and guided reading. In addition, she is happy that Lower school students participate in physical education and recess each day. “Play is the work of children,” says Gardner.
Gardner’s own work experience began in the classroom in 1993. “I’ve served schools in a variety of roles as an educator,” she says. Her career trajectory includes teaching PreK, first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Gardner joined Episcopal this summer after serving as the Assistant Lower Division Director at Berkeley Preparatory School, which was ranked as the top private school in Tampa Bay and number six in the state of Florida by Niche.com. Before that, Gardner was the Lower School Director at Columbia Independent School in Missouri. Even after many years in the field, she is as enthusiastic about education and teaching as ever. “I love to talk about school,” says Gardner.
Growing up, Gardner was exposed to life as a teacher early on with her mom and aunt both educators. However, even though Gardner was no stranger to the classroom, she initially did not plan to follow in the family footsteps and selected business as her field of study. The young business major eventually took a job as a nanny and the experience transformed her life. Gardner realized her love for children and changed her major to education. She even went on to complete a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction.
Although education is her favorite topic of conversation, Gardner still has time for other pursuits, including staying connected to her large family. With a son, daughter-in-law and grandson in Alaska, a daughter in Los Angeles and a daughter at the University of Arizona, Gardner and her husband were quite familiar with videoconferencing even before the pandemic. In addition, Gardner’s daughter Genevieve joins her here at Episcopal as a senior this year. The Gardner family also includes several four-legged friends and Gardner enjoys frequent walks and even the occasional doggy dress-up day. In her free time, Gardner loves reading a good book and cooking, although she has not yet tried her hand at homemade Cajun cuisine.
After a journey that brought her from Florida to Louisiana, Gardner is now happy to be among Episcopal’s Lower School students and faculty. She invites families to reach out to her with any questions or concerns as the school year gets underway in earnest. In the meantime, we invite you to share a message welcoming her to the community in the comments section below.
Episcopal welcomed several new faculty and staff members this school year. Click here to learn more about them.
Face Coverings. Airplane Arms. Classroom Cohorts. These are just a few of the new phrases that have been introduced into our vocabulary as we begin this unique school year. While the start of school may look different, many things remain just the same.
The unveiling of the Lower School theme is always a special day that students, families and faculty look forward to on the first day of Morning Meeting each August. A yearly tradition that started over a decade ago, past themes include Imagine and Love your Neighbor.
When choosing this year’s theme, Lower School Head, Beth Gardner, drew on her own experiences of being new to the Episcopal community. She wanted to create a space where each member of the Lower School feels welcome, valued and loved, which led to selecting this year’s theme: “Belonging.”
Mrs. Gardner, along with the religion and counseling teams, brainstormed ways to bring this year’s theme of belonging into the classrooms this year. “This theme works for students, parents, teachers, faculty and staff, which is what we love about it,” explains Religion teacher, Laura Portwood. The team settled on three points to focus on to kick off the year.
You Belong Here
Every student has the basic right to feel like they belong. A sense of belonging is one of our basic needs at birth. Babies form an attachment to family members. As children grow up and start school, they need to feel that same sense of belonging in the classroom with their teachers and classmates. Author Brene Brown writes, ”Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Students need to feel accepted in order to take risks that will help them learn and grow.
You are You-nique
It is important for students to recognize and accept their differences. Our differences make our community stronger. Teaching children to recognize their strengths adds to their sense of belonging to the community. Religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood have selected Bible verses for students to study in Morning Meeting that support this message. The most recent scripture chosen was from 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14-20 (NIV):
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Acknowledging our differences, recognizing our strengths and supporting those who are different from us will build a stronger sense of belonging in our community this year.
How to Help Others Belong
We are excited to welcome 168 new students to Episcopal this year. Joining a community can be a new and lonely experience, but the Lower School is already working to make these students and families feel a sense of belonging. Lower School teachers sent out hand-written postcards to each new student this summer. Students were thrilled to receive this personal touch from their teacher and it made starting school a little easier to know that teachers were excited to see them.
Parents’ Guild volunteers Stacy Dampf and Nicole Chauvin made phone calls to all of our new Lower School families this summer. “I am happy that we were able to make a personal connection for these new families. I was also glad to be able to tell my own children who the new kids on the playground would be,” says Dampf.
She continues, “ As a child, my family moved several times and my brother and I were often the 'new kids'. I know from experience that being the new kid isn't easy. I hope that by making my own children aware of which new students may have been looking for a friend to play with on the playground or may have been in need of a friendly smile that some of our new students had an easier transition to the Episcopal community.”
As we embrace this new theme of belonging, we hope that each student, family member and our entire Lower School community will recognize their unique talents and learn to value the importance that their contributions bring to our school. As we go through this year, we will continue to uncover and highlight these special gifts to help each individual find a place of belonging at Episcopal.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She taught in Texas public schools and at a bilingual school in Gracias, Honduras before returning to teach PreK-4 at her alma mater in 2012. After 14 years in the classroom, she is excited to serve our youngest Knights in a new role as the Director of Early Childhood Programs. Julie resides in Madisonville with her husband, Scott, and bonus son, Owen
With a 50+ year history, many have long-standing connections to Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. However, not many can trace that connection back to their own living room where the conversations between the founders began. Lower School English teacher Margaret Boudreaux’s father, Mr. G. Allen Penniman Jr., was one of the original supporters of establishing a new, independent school for the Baton Rouge community. Now all these years later, Margaret is set to retire from the place she has called home for so long.
Margaret, who graduated in 1976, began attending Episcopal the first year it was established. Before she ever put on an Episcopal uniform or stepped foot on campus, Margaret was a part of the community. Her father modeled for her what it meant to live with passion and vision as she watched Mr. Penniman and his partners make plans for the school. She says even when her father traveled, Episcopal was on his mind. “He would seek out the private schools and tour them,” she says. “He was always thinking about School and how to make it better. This passion of his was an enormous part of my upbringing, and it influenced me throughout my life,” says Margaret.
Margaret’s own passion for Episcopal grew once she became a student. She remembers her first impression of the Woodland Ridge school. “The campus was so beautiful,” she says. She also remembers the close-knit, family feeling that Episcopal offered and the positive influence of her teachers. “I revered my teachers who loved me but made me toe the line,” she says.
After Episcopal, Margaret studied liberal arts at Rhodes College. She married Emmett, and they had two children. When it was time for Elliott and Anne to attend school, there was no question as to where they would go. Elliott graduated from Episcopal in 2010 and Anne in 2014. Seeing her children attend the school that had played such an important role in her own life provided Margaret another connection to the Episcopal community, this time as a parent and volunteer. Margaret became a certified teacher and joined the faculty in 2006.
In a 2017 article highlighting Episcopal alumni, Margaret spoke of the importance of her work as an educator. “I believe we teach the future leaders of our community,” said Margaret. “I wake up every day happy to teach bright 10 and 11 year olds.” Margaret does this with dedication and passion. “I feel each child has a special lock and I needed to find the right key to open them to embrace learning,” she says.
As Margaret looks toward her next chapter, she will treasure her Episcopal experience. “I’ve had the greatest opportunity to work with an outstanding faculty and I’ve loved seeing my school grow to be a flagship of innovative education while always maintaining the integrity of the individual,” says Margaret. “I love that faith is embedded in our lives.”
Margaret’s own story and the story of Episcopal are forever entwined. She watched her father follow through with his vision for the school, and she and her children benefited from his dedication to a dream. She has even had the unique opportunity to return and ensure that the next generation receives that same educational experience.
Margaret’s legacy as an Episcopal teacher and volunteer will live on. Thank you for your service and passion, Margaret. We will miss you!
Lower School ended the school year with all of the fun and fanfare you would expect. From a virtual Field Day to visits with national authors, students and faculty continued joyful learning. See you next year!
Field Day Family Fun
Episcopal Lower School families were spotted enjoying water balloon fights, sack races and more as part of the recent Lower School Virtual Field Day. Due to Distance Learning requirements, this annual tradition involved families and took place right at home. It was a joyful way to celebrate the end of the school year.
Author Chats and Vocabulary Parades
What’s better than enjoying a good book? Getting a message directly from the author who wrote the story! Episcopal third graders recently had the opportunity to see a special message created just for them from two national authors. This year’s Lower School community read book was “Bob” by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead. Before the transition to Distance Learning, students received their books and began reading about the adventures of Bob and Livy. To celebrate the completion of this year’s read, Lower School faculty invited Wendy Mass to record a special video message just for Episcopal students. Mass highlighted the connection the students have to her and others who have read “Bob” as well as the journey she and Stead went on when writing the book.
Always up for a parade, the third grade team also organized a virtual vocabulary parade inspired by the book “Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster” by Debra Frasier. Earlier in the school year, students shared the traditional vocabulary parade in the Greer Center which was filled with proud families and friends. At the end of the year, the students put together a virtual rendition to highlight how even in a time of Distance Learning the parade must go on! Students were given two days to come up with a way to represent a word in Distance Learning to celebrate the end of the school year. Author Debra Frasier, who Episcopal faculty have cultivated a relationship with over the years, also recorded a special message for third graders. In the message, Frasier shares that she has used the recent months to develop new drawing skills. She also reminded students that while they may be separated physically, they can always carry thoughts of their classmates in their hearts.
Project-Based Learning Continues
Ask an Episcopal kindergartener about the Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell and they are sure to tell you all about these notable American symbols. Students finished the school year with the annual American symbols project-based unit. The future first graders finished mini projects in which they completed math problems and writing prompts. They also had the opportunity to create their own version of the well-known icons.
What a Way to End the Year!
Each Lower School grade participated in a parade to wrap up the school year. Students and parents stayed in their cars and wished teachers well as families dropped off school items and collected goodies. Lower School teachers also created a special video to help students celebrate the end of a great year. Make it a great summer!
Sometimes a lesson is so much more than what it appears. A perfect example is the fifth grade project-based unit on renewable energy. Students could have simply learned about solar and wind energy in a textbook, but teachers Margaret Boudreaux, Nicole Engstrom and Christy Talbot had much more in mind. The teaching team planned a powerful lesson complementing the concepts in the book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba.
The book tells the true story of a boy named William Kamkwamba whose ingenuity changes the lives of everyone in his village in Malawi. William used scrap parts to build his own windmill to generate electricity and running water. All he had to inspire his creation was a library book filled with photos of windmills, yet he was able to generate power.
At Episcopal, Mrs. Engstrom introduced students to a dynamo flashlight. Students had to take the gadgets apart and determine how they function. As the students disassembled the flashlights, their natural curiosity was peaked and there was excitement in the room. Later in the lesson, Mrs. Engstrom and the students spent time outdoors harnessing the sun. Students used tiny solar panels to collect solar energy on a bright, sunny December day. The students were rewarded for their efforts when their tiny fans began to spin and their lights began to blink. To round out the lesson, students worked in groups to generate as much energy as possible with their own water wheels and windmills.
The fifth grade renewable energy project showcased the expertise of a variety of experts, including an ExxonMobil chemist and Upper School physics teacher Dr. Xiaoyue Jiang. In addition, Academic Technology Coordinator Betsy Minton assisted with flashlight deconstruction. It was a project-based unit that tapped into the strengths of many.
Throughout each component of the lesson, the teachers found ways to relate the project back to William Kamkwamba’s own experience. As students explored the dynamo flashlight, Mrs. Engstrom reminded them that William used a similar method for generating electricity. As students explored the scientific concepts involving renewable energy, there was an underlying reminder that they can solve problems and make the world a better place. Even if the young students don’t realize it now, the lesson fits well within the framework of an educational institution that encourages students to ask questions, delve deeper and learn more while focusing on the beneficial impacts one person can have on others.
Like William Kamkwamba, Episcopal fifth graders are tomorrow’s leaders. William’s story has become an inspiration for many. Now the boy who couldn’t finish high school because of his family’s lack of funds has graduated from Dartmouth College. He has served as a TED Speaker and a Global Fellow with ideo.org. He is proof that anyone can make a difference. Just imagine what these fifth graders can do!
Episcopal has a tradition of encouraging environmental stewardship. Click here to read more about environmental education efforts. To read about the fifth grade planting project at the Bonnet Carre spillway, click here.
Happy Earth Day!
Transitioning to online learning can present some challenges for everyone. What will be critical early on is setting up a routine, and making adjustments as needed. Coordinate with peers and adults you trust to get ideas for what is working for them.
Strategies to consider:
Apps That Act Like Math and Science Tutors for Homework Help
Free Educational Apps, Games, and Websites
Top Time-Management Apps
As mentioned above, having a daily schedule will be extremely helpful. Remember, that your school day always includes recess/break, lunch, and often P. E. Here is a sample schedule below that can be a guide:
Our counseling team is here to support you during these times. Please email your division counselor, or Robin Talamo (LSS Coordinator) if we can be of assistance.
Robin Talamo, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who has been practicing for over twenty years. She has served as the Episcopal Learning Support Services Coordinator since 2012. With the assistance of the other counselors, she guides the three divisions with support for students with various learning differences. She leads such groups as Parents U-Knighted, the OYES program, and other important campus support activities.
Episcopal second graders completed their study of continents and countries with a travel agency expo in the Greer Center. During the event, students shared everything they learned with family and friends.
Throughout the project-based learning unit, students “visited” places from England to Antarctica. They learned traditional African dance steps and flamenco and salsa twirls. Using virtual reality goggles, they even dove right into the Great Barrier Reef. All of this without leaving Woodland Ridge Boulevard!
Currently, many of us are using our imagination and creativity to travel and explore. Share how you and your students are exploring in the comment section below.
Here is a look at Lower School fun in the great outdoors. Happy spring break!
Good Luck in PreK-4
PreK-4 students tried their luck at finding four leaf clovers in the garden. Others made a wish on a dandelion.
It's a Zoo Out There!
Kindergarten students and their families enjoyed a beautiful spring day at the Baton Rouge Zoo.
First graders took a nature walk to nearby Forest Park. The young explorers identified animals that live in the park and wrote down their observations upon their return to school.
The Cycle Begins Again
Third graders teamed up with Upper School environmental science students to plant cypress seeds for the LSU Coastal Roots project. Next school year, the budding trees will be taken to a wetland area for planting.
The program description on LSU’s website reads, “Wanted: GIRLS who are problem solvers, explorers and hidden gem seekers.” Episcopal Lower School students Lila Awad, Lilianna Latour and Julia Whitney answered the call. The trio recently spent a day at the LSU Museum of Natural Science with girls from across the area and some of LSU’s leading women scientists. From the smiles on their faces as they discuss the experience, it is apparent that the day made an impression on these future scientists.
The two fourth graders and one fifth grader love science. In fact, they are already hoping to have successful science careers of their own. Lila dreams of being a science teacher, Lilianna plans to be a neurologist and Julia wants to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. After spending a day among female mathematicians, zoologists and biochemists, the girls are inspired to make their dreams come true. “I got to see how women scientists make a difference,” says Lilianna. She says it was a great opportunity because it made participants see how important science is to exploring the world.
In the meantime, the students simply had fun with science during this special day. Lila reported that her favorite part of the visit was seeing the “biggest frog.” Talk of the giant amphibian sparked a conversation among the students about the organs and skeleton of the frog. The students’ eyes and faces light up as they talk about touching the taxidermy sloth and river otter. In addition to the animals, there was also the rocket launch. This was Lilianna’s favorite part of the day, especially when her rocket traveled 35 ½ feet.
The students unanimously report that they would participate in the museum day again if given the chance. The 32 museum day participants were chosen based on an essay application in which they had to write about the question they would like to answer as a scientist or mathematician. Julia hopes everyone will apply next application period. All three agree that writing an essay was certainly worth having the experience.
The science teachers also hope that more students will be inspired to apply next year. “This is a great opportunity for girls to get hands-on science experience outside of the classroom,” says fourth grade teacher Ros Won. “In our fourth grade classes we explore topics such as electricity and landforms, but when students can participate in science programs off-campus, they can see how the things we learn at Episcopal can be applied in the real world.”
Fifth grade teacher Nicole Engstrom sees experiences like this as an extension of the classroom. “One of our roles as teachers is to give space and encourage our students to take risks, explore, reflect and find their passion(s),” she says. “The best way to do that is by exposing our students to as many opportunities as possible without limits- breaking stereotypes. It's our job to empower all students to find what best fits them.”
Both teachers appreciate the resources available through LSU and the opportunities the university offers to a range of students. They are also looking forward to using the new QUEST Center next year to offer hands-on experiences for students right here on Episcopal’s campus.
Whether it is a day at the museum or an in-depth project-based learning experience, Episcopal students are exploring their world in preparation for their futures. Students are encouraged to think beyond the ordinary and strive for their goals whatever they may be. Their futures certainly are bright!
Was there a moment or experience that inspired your current career choice? Share your story below in the comments section.