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How Gooden Students Learn through Community Engagement

April 15, 2021
By Emily Keezer

How Giving and Service to Others Leads to Caring and Involved Students.

The Gooden School inspires students to be intellectually curious and resilient while preparing them to lead lives of kindness, integrity, and respect.

This is Gooden’s mission statement and this philosophy is what drew me to the school initially as a teacher and later, as a parent. Both as a teacher and as a parent at the school, I want my students and my children to leave Gooden as kind, respectful, and active members of their community. 

One way the students learn this is through living our Episcopal identity. As an Episcopal school we emphasize the importance of service to others and bettering the world. Community engagement is a significant part of our Episcopal identity. Thinking beyond ourselves, getting the students to think beyond themselves and to think of themselves as part of a community, working, and helping each other so the community can thrive, is a central tenet of Gooden’s core values.  

Community engagement is different from community service. Community service is just doing a service for the community. It is a one-time contribution. Community engagement is continual learning about the wants and needs of a community and how we can be actively involved, contributing members of that community. The majority of the learning takes place in the classroom and school environment, then throughout the year we go out into the surrounding community and engage in different activities.

At Gooden, there are two ways we incorporate community engagement: by coming together and working as a whole school community and through the exploration of important issues and topics within individual grades

As a whole school, we learn about and work with two organizations in the surrounding community: Friends In Deed in Pasadena and Episcopal Relief and Development. The students learn about these organizations during our chapel times together and then join together at least three times a year to gather donations for these organizations.

We also incorporate community engagement into the classroom academic curriculum. Each grade focuses on specific issues/topics such as hunger, homelessness, animal wellness, and caring for the environment to name a few. These topics are woven into the core subjects to help the students more deeply understand that community engagement is not a separate subject. Understanding that our part in a community needs math, science, reading, and writing to function is an important part of our curriculum. 

Showing the students that community engagement is just as important as their academics creates young people who not only respect themselves and do their best academically but leave the school as responsible and respectful citizens in their communities.

Emily Keezer has been at The Gooden School since 2010 and has been a parishioner of the Church of the Ascension since 1985. With sixteen years of teaching experience and her experience as an active member of the Episcopal church, she teaches second grade and serves as the religious life and community engagement coordinator. She attended California State University, Fresno, receiving a bachelor’s degree in general family and consumer sciences.  She received her Multi-Subject Teaching Credential, CLAD (Cross Cultural, Language, and Academic Development) certification and master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific University.  She has a passion for service to others and empowering her students to become lifelong learners.

When Mrs. Keezer is not in her classroom working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children. They love to travel, go to Disneyland, and cook meals together at home.  She also enjoys reading, watching movies, cooking, and going to the gym.  She feels honored to be part of the Gooden community.

School Connections: The Power of the Teacher-Student Relationship

March 18, 2021
By Laurie Tortell

It is a privilege to be a teacher; we are trustees of the future. We help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. One of the most rewarding things about being a teacher is watching students grow, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well. In addition, research shows that when students have meaningful relationships with adults at school their academics improve. Developing these relationships throughout a child’s kindergarten through eighth-grade years are crucial for students as it helps set them up for success in high school, giving them skills in self-advocacy. Beginning in kindergarten, these developmentally appropriate practices can set students up for a lifetime of strength and resilience. At Gooden we are living these practices with our students every day. 

In the Lower School, students participate in morning meetings and closing circles with their classroom teacher. For the younger students the morning meeting provides them with a sense of stability. Teachers go over the schedule for the day, do a review to warm up their brains, or take a poll like “Who is your favorite Star Wars Character?” to get them ready to learn. The morning meetings typically set the tone for the rest of the day and help to improve student's confidence. They create a sense of empathy and trust, while encouraging social and emotional learning. 

At the end of the day for our Lower School students, the closing circle is a time to wind down and reflect. Teachers will read to students and make connections to the reading, have restorative justice circles to work through feelings and come up with positive resolutions, share stories of kindness, and much more.  

In the Middle School, students choose an advisor. Their advisor is the point person - the adult they can lean on, go to for help, and confide in. This is so important in Middle School because students, at this age, are sometimes reluctant to go to a parent to discuss more of their social and emotional lives. 

Each week, students in sixth through eighth-grades meet with their advisor in a group setting. Topics range from academic and organizational help to social emotional learning. The focus for each meeting is chosen based on the students' needs. Our goal is to foster a strong relationship between advisee and advisor which bolsters and supports their academic and behavioral performance. 

I have worked at a few schools in my more than twenty years of teaching, and I can say without a doubt that Gooden stands out in this area. We use a restorative approach to discipline where students feel heard. We empower them to be able to learn from their mistakes and talk through their struggles. The touchpoints that our students have with their teachers and advisors throughout their time at Gooden gives them the skills to be successful not just in high school, but also in life. 

Laurie Tortell started teaching at Gooden in 2008 as the Middle School science and math teacher. With over twenty years teaching experience in middle and high schools, she holds a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and her teaching credential with a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) from the University of California, San Diego. Originally from Louisiana, she likes to spend time outdoors: gardening, walking, going to the beach, and swimming. A resident of Sierra Madre, she is married with two children in college. 

Mrs. Tortell feels that it is a privilege to be a teacher, that her work is being a trustee of the future. Teachers help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. Her  goal for students is that they will become thoughtful citizens, independent, and lifelong thinkers and leaders who will contribute positively to their communities. She has a particular interest in middle school education and knows that for that age group, as a teacher and Gooden's Middle School director, it is not enough to know the periodic table or scientific process if you don’t really care that your students are unhappy or overwhelmed by the stresses of adolescence. She feels the best teachers teach the content of their curriculum, but they also teach life skills, from organization and planning to getting along with others, to taking care of themselves and the world in which they live.

Finding Old Traditions to Help Cope with New Challenges

February 18, 2021
By Madeline Yang

Finding Old Traditions to Help Cope with New Challenges

Starting a new school is always going to be tough for kids, however, starting at The Gooden School during a global pandemic has been the best experience we could have hoped for in these uncertain times. Distance learning at Gooden has been wonderful for Sadie and Porter, and they are happy and confident in their studies.  They love their teachers and their classmates have been very welcoming!  

Although their academic experience is going smoothly, Sadie and Porter are not immune to the stress and anxiety kids all across the country faced this year.  We certainly have our moments where they feel overwhelmed and over-Zoomed.  Sadie transitioned from elementary to middle school this year so the pressure of having seven classes of different disciplines has been a big change for her. 

Recently the kids’ Kung Fu Sifu (Tav Byerhoff) sensed Sadie’s stress and taught the kids Tai Chi movements to help them focus and feel calm.  Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art and meditation practice.  Its slow movements bring about a state of mental calm and clarity, and provides low impact physical fitness.  Incorporating Tai Chi into the kids’ break periods has helped Sadie and Porter focus and feel rejuvenated between classes!

Watching my children utilize Tai Chi movements to nurture their minds and bodies brings back fond memories of when my grandmother lived with my family.  I saw her wake up early in the morning and do Tai Chi in the backyard.  She lived to be 105!  

When the pandemic is over, I can pretty much guarantee we will not continue many of the routines we picked up this year, such as wiping down all of our groceries!  However, I know we will continue practicing Tai Chi to bring peace, solace, and good health to our minds and bodies. In such a somber and unpredictable time, I am grateful our family picked up a new enriching tradition to help keep us centered and to carry forward.  

Coach Dale’s PE curriculum and Chaplain David’s mindfulness lessons have also been providing invaluable tension relief and thought clarity for Gooden students during their busy school week.  If your family is interested in also adding in some Tai Chi, here are some good beginner tutorial:

Madeline Yang grew up in Calabasas, CA and Josh Fleagane grew up in Moorpark, CA.  They are high school sweethearts!  They have been living in Pasadena since 2000.  Their daughter, Sadie (sixth grade), and their son, Porter (fourth grade), joined The Gooden School this year.  Sadie enjoys reading fantasy and science fiction books, and she loves creating art.  Porter likes to build anything and he enjoys drawing.  As a family, the Yang-Fleaganes can be found riding around town on their motorcycle sidecar, playing laser tag, and playing in Nintendo Switch video game tournaments together.  They also enjoy traveling, snowboarding, off-roading, archery, going to concerts, art shows and, Comic-Cons.

Literary Choices Make Our Students More Informed and Culturally Aware

January 21, 2021
By John Williamson

I love reading books and recommending them. As an English teacher and librarian, I remind students that literature helps readers understand what it means to be human. Like any great art, literature is multi-faceted, or many-faced. It presents struggles that reflect the struggles of the human condition and, gradually, leads to a resolution or a series of epiphanies. 

Just about a year ago, I was attending a conference for English teachers in Baltimore. I went to seminars on Shakespeare and the Library of Congress, but I also attended several courses that featured recommendations for how to better teach students of all backgrounds and what books could enhance the learning experiences of my students. Again and again, I heard presenters talk about how they felt that it was essential for readers to see characters that reflect different backgrounds and experiences. 

Did this change my understanding of literature or cause me to discard the important work of reading canonical classics like Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Night by Elie Wiesel or The Crucible by Arthur Miller? Not really. I already valued many works by a wide range of authors. However, it did remind me of the importance of expanding my range of reading. Why do this? Because reading from a variety of voices gives readers greater insight into what it means to be human. 

One book lauded for its diversity that we explored during our reading course during Gooden’s summer program was Flying Lessons and Other Stories, which was edited by Ellen Oh. It featured several authors with whom many of our students were already acquainted such as Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, Grace Lin, author of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Soman Chainani, author of The School for Good and Evil series and Walter Dean Myers, whose story “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” is in our sixth-grade literature anthology. It also introduced many of us to the wonderful writing of Kwame Alexander, Meg Medina, and Matt de la Peña.

In my decade discussing literature with Gooden School students, I have learned that they are intelligent and curious, and they read diverse authors in our classrooms and on their own. I am grateful for the exchanges and discussions that we have about the books that we love. We have all helped each other stretch and grow as readers—this is one of the main purposes of being a part of an educational community.

Reading stories and novels by diverse authors enhances our lives and helps us understand lives that exist outside our own. It helps us understand what our neighbors or classmates might have experienced and makes us more apt to be humane and less likely to put our feet in our mouths. As you choose your novels, remember that they are written with care and love, and they provide great insights into the joys and sorrows that we and our neighbors experience. Invite diverse authors into your fold. Let them teach you about life. Cozy up with a book. Set times for you to read alongside your children. You will all grow wiser together.

The links below include some related articles and book recommendations that feature diverse authors or situations. If you have a book recommendation for me or our students, please feel free to comment. I love hearing from you and the students!

John Williamson joined The Gooden School in 2010. Born on Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio, Mr. Williamson grew up as the son of a journalist-turned Episcopal priest and a schoolteacher-turned homemaker-turned schoolteacher. He attended Azusa Pacific University, where he earned both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. He has also taught in Shandong, People’s Republic of China.  When he isn’t teaching, he enjoys writing, playing family games with his wife and two children, hiking, cooking, reading books and student-written work, and recording original songs.

Mr. Williamson believes that reading and ruminating over literature is how we understand what it means to be human. He approaches every English class with rich anticipation, knowing that his students are all in the process of growth and discovery.