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Instilling Cultural Awareness in Our Students

September 17, 2020
By Phil Dominguez

I am often asked why I got into education. “Is it because of the sweet perks?” Or I would hear “I bet you just wanted your summers off!” and  “Teaching is easy, no sweat.” I often laugh because while teaching does have some pretty cool perks, like having summers “off,” none of these reasons are why I got into teaching. 

For me, my journey started in a classroom in San Diego. I was six years old, and my parents had just immigrated from Mexico. I didn’t know the English language, customs, or traditions. I was pretty upset that I couldn’t buy a torta and a small, glass-bottled Coke during recess like I could back home in Mexico City. I mimicked, I tried, I did everything I could to try to blend in and not stick out. That, of course, was impossible because I couldn't communicate with my teachers or peers. That experience always stayed with me and I vowed that if I ever was in a position to be a mentor to young people, I wouldn’t let others have the same experience  because I knew how it felt to not be able to communicate or have access to all the things my peers did. That experience, that sense of wanting to mentor, led to my desire to enter the teaching profession. 

While I believe that we as educators can instill and raise cultural awareness amongst our students, I also believe that this process starts at home. That is where most of us first learn to speak and communicate and how to interact with others. Parents and guardians are their children’s first teachers, as well as providing a safe environment and meeting their children’s other needs.  Teaching them to share and wait their turn, modeling kindness and empathy are some of the skills that we, as parents and guardians, would like to instill in our children. Once those are instilled at home, it is easier to send our children off to school where those skills are then refined by teachers. So what happens when our children are suddenly immersed in a room with others who may not look, sound, or even speak like they do? That is where the bedrock skills I mentioned earlier come into play. Most children at that young age are not always capable of making sensible decisions, and as most of us already know, children are brutally honest. In those early years, a child may not understand exactly why their words may have hurt another child, but if they know the word “sorry,” or the phrase “do you think that was nice to say?,” we as teachers can help build up that foundation. 

Instinctively, humans look for differences and sameness in each other, that is why we choose our friends, cliques form, and we identify with others who share in our ideals. If we are exposed to thinking that group X only does this well, and group Y only does that well, we may be missing out on something greater. That is why here at Gooden we are choosing to incorporate cultural awareness from the very beginning, connecting with skills that have been taught at home about sharing, patience, kindness, and empathy. Gooden finds it incredibly important to showcase cultural awareness early because we feel it is imperative to teach about different cultures positively, instead of having negative connotations associated with different cultures. 

For example, at the beginning of a social studies lesson, many educational institutions would focus on enslaved persons experiences once they arrived in the destination country, rather than celebrating the rich and vibrant cultures from which they originated. Once we are able to ingrain cultural awareness in a positive way, students may be able to better understand and grasp the bigger concepts of empathy while becoming educated about experiences that differ from their own. I would like to showcase some of the things we are doing at Gooden to raise cultural awareness that you can incorporate into your home as well.

In Mrs. Dewis’s “History of Tech,” she is focusing on the contributions of women and people of color in STEM fields. This will allow the different experiences of women and people of color who have contributed to the field of STEM to have their stories shared and celebrated, some of which our students may never have learned about if only the most famous success stories were shared. 

In Mrs. Dominguez’s art class, students are reading The Color of Us in kindergarten, first, and second grade. This is a story of a young artist who discusses the different colors of the people of her neighborhood using fun color analogies. Students then discuss their own experiences and their color with their classmates. This helps bring awareness to the forefront and tackles differences of color and makes it fun to be unique.

In Mr. Williamson’s Middle School English classes, his philosophy is that “reading, writing about, and discussing literature, both classics and modern, lead to an understanding of what it means to be human.” One of those examples is a book called, The Cay, which is about a boy overcoming his prejudices and learning to love and appreciate the African-American man who saved his life. If you want to hear a great story about Mr. Williamson’s dad, who grew up in the south and exposed racism through his journalism career, make sure to ask Mr. Williamson about it.

These few examples are why raising cultural awareness is important to me. I experienced it firsthand, and those experiences led me to become the person that I am today.  It is part of my life’s mission to ensure that no child is left feeling like they are being overlooked because they may not speak a certain way, look like others, or have the opportunity to hear about the contributions of people to whom they can relate. Everyone belongs here at Gooden, and we strive to uphold the Episcopal tradition and values of embracing and nurturing all students every single day. Gooden provides an environment where access and support for every student is a core value, but we can’t do it alone. Understanding and compassion begins at home, where the first seeds of awareness are planted, and together we can make the world an even better place.

Mr. Phil Dominguez is the director of global studies and director of equity and inclusion at The Gooden School. He has been teaching for 16 years and is starting his third year at The Gooden School. He grew up in Mexico City and San Diego before settling in Los Angeles. Mr. Dominguez holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree in history from Cal State University, Los Angeles. His teaching philosophy is engaging students to be active participants in the process of learning, rather than reading and answering questions from a book. He loves to spend time with his wife and two kids, cook, and create music. 

The Case for More Arts Classes in School

August 20, 2020
By Samantha Dominguez

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor taught all the core subjects, but she also dedicated time to teaching her students about famous artists and having us participate in a variety of  art projects. I loved coming to school and recreating Van Gogh’s Irises and Picasso’s Weeping Woman;  I enjoyed making abstract art using interesting colors and shapes and I reveled in the deeper level art discussions we had. Twenty-five years later, I still have vivid memories of that special time that led me to the career that I practice  today. My love of the arts began at an earlier  age but my passion to teach art started in Mrs. Taylor’s third-grade class. 

Arts are considered “enrichment” in many school communities. However, if you look up the definition of enrichment, it is the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. Visual art, music, theater, film, dance and many other forms of artistic expression, enhance the quality of education and the lives of our students. Now more than ever, our children yearn for opportunities to express their feelings, to relieve  the stress produced by the pandemic, and to connection with the world during this time of isolation. 

Arts are essential in any curriculum, but this is especially true within a virtual environment. A poll taken in 2018 by Americans for the Arts titled, “Americans Speak Out About The Arts,” indicated that 91% of those surveyed believed the arts should be part of a well-rounded K-12 education, 94% believed the arts should be taught in grades K-12, 81% believed the arts are a positive force in the world, and 72% believed that the arts unify us regardless of age, race, and ethnicity*. These findings suggest the arts improve one’s environment and community, and that advocating for arts programs should be a priority during a time when positivity and equity are of the utmost importance. 

Research also suggests that participation in the arts improves  overall test scores, promotes the ability for students to react positively to constructive criticism, and builds resiliency. Such participation also develops critical thinking and problem solving techniques that can be applied to various subjects and real world experiences. Students who learn to solve problems  as they create art learn to solve problems creatively in other situations too.  Research also tells us that  children who participate in arts programs not only  display more sophisticated social skills, such as sharing and collaboration, but their levels of anxiety, shyness and aggressive behavior are reduced.**  Limiting student art experiences thus affects performance in core subjects, and their social and emotional development. 

What we are left with is basic fact that students enjoy coming to their art classes. They need time to exercise and enjoy the results of their creativity. They relish the opportunity to solve problems, and to produce and display completed artwork.  Students thrive when given the freedom to showcase a creation that communicates their style, beliefs, and personality to the world. Arts nourish the soul and support the personal development and wellbeing of our children. 

As in Mrs. Taylor’s third-grade classroom, Gooden students expect and are expected to learn not only  core and co-curricular academic subjects; they are encouraged to pursue more, to be inquisitive, and to nurture their creativity. This is my goal as a teacher, a parent, a community member, and a human being.

Samantha Dominguez has been teaching for 12 years, six of which have been as the art director at the Gooden School. Samantha grew up in Los Angeles and attended California State University, Northridge where she received her bachelor’s degree in art education. She continued her teaching career by completing her Single Subject Credential in art, her Multiple Subject Credential, as well as her master’s degree in education. Samantha teaches with the philosophy that the process, not the product, is the key to growing as an artist and to learn from constructive criticism and mistakes. She has spent the last six years developing the art curriculum and implementing the standards for a successful art program. 

*What Americans Believe About the Arts. 1000 Vermont Ave., NW 6th Floor, WA: Americans for the Arts.

** The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation (Rep.). (2015). 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, WA: National Endowment for the Arts.

Music and the Arts Lead to Creative and Balanced Children

July 16, 2020
By Nadya Ewen

When I was in eighth grade, I belonged to the Columbia Record Club and once a month I would receive a chosen record by mail. It was an exciting thing for me back in 1965 at the age of 13. My big connection with music back then, besides listening to The Beatles and The Doors, was show music. I remember ordering West Side Story and South Pacific from my record club and listening to them in my bedroom over and over again. I knew every word of every song and would stand on the bed and dramatically act and sing each part with passion.

Music was such an important part of my childhood because it brought me joy, helped me express my feelings, and enhanced my imagination.  If given the opportunity, most children love to engage in music by listening, singing, dancing, and even playing musical instruments. Music is just one of the many arts that help us transform into whom we aspire to be and can unlock the creativity within us all. Drawing and painting, drama, sculpting, woodworking, sewing, and more help us to define who we are and establishes an outlet for creativity.

Recent events have left most of us housebound, or close to it. The positive side about the past few months has been the purposeful slowdown of our busy lives and has given many of us some additional precious time. For many, this has also meant working at home while trying to attend to our children’s education, keeping them entertained, and their well-being. This has been a tall order and can often lead to stress and an emotional imbalance that needs healing. How to address it you ask? Creativity! Singing, dancing, and playing a musical instrument can all help alleviate the pressures parents and children are feeling during this time.  

Think back to your childhood, was music able to transform your mood? Was it able to ignite your imagination? Now just think about how adding more music and creativity to your world could help elevate your soul.  In the past few years, I had no time to listen to music, however, as of late I have added new artists to my collection and had the opportunity to immerse myself in the melodies in the most wonderful way.

As the music teacher at The Gooden School, I have found that often students have difficulty finding time to practice their instruments.  I truly believe they all have the intention to practice, but between homework, after-school activities, their social life, and the demands of household responsibilities, kids and parents often put music practice last. Being safe at home means spending a lot of time on devices, but I recommend keeping music and art in the mix. Get out that instrument you have in a case and practice, practice, practice!  There is more time than ever for children to practice and experience the joy of music. Make it a game and encourage your child to find a fun song to practice or a silly how-to video. Invite your child to try their hand at songwriting or forming a (virtual) band with their friends. Celebrate with musicals, dancing around the house, and singing at the top of your lungs. Music can be a source of happiness, not just a source of creativity. Learn how to play a new instrument, via YouTube tutorials or how-to books. Consider adding a keyboard, piano, guitar, or bass to your home, as these instruments are perfect for learning and age-appropriate for middle and high schoolers.  

Accomplishing creative feats whether it is learning an instrument, singing a beloved (or new) song, memorizing a monologue, writing a story, painting a self-portrait, or learning the steps to dance builds confidence, healthy self-esteem, and a positive outlook. A creative accomplishment makes us feel better, relieves stress, and gives us hope for the future. We all might be a lot better at something we didn’t even know we could do.

Ms. Nadya Ewen has been a music teacher at The Gooden School since 1992. She has developed the music curriculum into its present form. Ms. Ewen grew up on the east coast and attended the Rudolf Steiner School, a Waldorf School in New York City where her mother was a teacher, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

After coming to California, she taught private flute lessons for a number of years and received her Bachelor of Music degree in performance from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). Thirty years later she went back to school for her Master of Music degree in music education also from CSULA. She has certifications in both Orff and Kodaly music teaching methodology.

Ms. Ewen has dedicated her life to not only teaching music but playing music. Her love has been to teach children musical instruments and this has led to lifelong learning of many curriculum approaches in the pursuit of instrumental teaching.

 For many years she played flute/piccolo with the Pasadena Community Orchestra and currently is a member of Flute Sonic flute orchestra and the Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra.

Ms. Ewen continues to develop and change The Gooden School music curriculum as we move further into the twenty-first century and is adapting innovative teaching methods in order to meet the needs of her students.

 

Ask The Experts: Our Children on Distance Learning

May 21, 2020
By Jo-Anne Woolner

More than eight weeks into distance learning and interviews with expert administrators, educators, psychologists, curriculum directors, government officials, and parents about best practices and distance learning are seemingly everywhere, and yet somehow still inconclusive. 

I have had many discussions with Gooden students as they have dropped by the office with parents to retrieve or exchange items. They have been so excited to give their own opinions about what is working and what is not, what they miss, and what they fear, and even offered some solutions. Our teachers have also been discussing the situation with students and what they are learning from it. Recent writing prompts from teachers have yielded very thoughtful responses.

“Many of us are going through humongous changes because of the pandemic”, writes one of our eighth-graders. One of her biggest changes is not going to school with her best friends. But she has learned to accept the change, feel it out, and tell herself that she  “will get through it.”

Our third-graders wrote about distance learning in poetry form: 

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

It can be a very fun time

Distance Learning is different but in a good way 

I have a lot of fun things to do

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

It teaches me to learn on my own

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

I enjoyed doing my art projects

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

I enjoyed the almost peace and quiet 

One of our second-graders suggested that in order for him and his classmates to meet in person, they should each create a hologram of themselves to come to school. While this is currently the stuff of science fiction, our hope is that our bold young thinker might someday invent such a device. 

Parents can also start these discussions with their children. David Willows, author of the blog Fragments II offers the following prompts to ask your child: How have you changed as a learner? What is important to you right now? As you look back on the last two months, what are you most proud of? Their answers can help form a family dinner discussion as well as help us, as a school, plan our return to teaching this fall. 

While we continue to consult with a team of experts as we plan several scenarios for our return to school, our children have, if not the answers, the ideas, the thoughtfulness, and maybe even some visionary technology down the road for us. 

Jo-Anne Woolner is the head of school at Gooden.  She has served the school as interim head of school, director of the Middle School, registrar, and teacher of English, social studies, and Latin after originally joining the school community as a parent of four Gooden students. She received her Bachelor of Arts/Science in English from the University of Calgary (Canada) and Master of Arts in medieval history and languages and Master of Philosophy in Catholic Church history from New York University. In addition to teaching at NYU before moving to California, she has been a presenter at regional independent school conferences and has been a volunteer and board member at several community-based nonprofits in Pasadena. 

Recent Posts

9/17/20 - By Phil Dominguez
8/20/20 - By Samantha Dominguez
7/16/20 - By Nadya Ewen
5/21/20 - By Jo-Anne Woolner
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