Get to know Hamlin’s Middle School Teaching Fellow, Mx. Westley!
Konika Ray is in her 15th year teaching Lower School science at The Hamlin School. She has a diverse background growing up in Beaufort, SC, Buffalo, NY, Metairie, LA, and Herndon, VA. She attended seven different schools from Kindergarten through High School. She earned her BA from Virginia Tech in Wildlife Science with a minor in Biology, later receiving her Master’s degree from University of San Francisco.
What do you love about teaching science at Hamlin?
Science is so hands-on and fun! As Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus says we get to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” Our students absolutely love it and their passion for science inspires me to keep learning and innovating our program. Science is constantly evolving so the content is always changing which makes it exciting.
As a scientist, Hamlin mother, and teacher, how do you talk about COVID-19 with younger students?
I focus on silver linings and having gratitude that we are safe and healthy. I also emphasize ways we can reduce our risk of exposure and strengthen our immune systems. The pandemic is a powerful teachable moment that has the potential to deeply engrain healthy nutrition and hygiene habits from this point forward.
Given your life background, tell us your perspective on Hamlin’s upcoming Adventure Year.
I went to several different schools when I was younger. I have also had seven different office / classroom spaces at Hamlin, including the middle school science labs, movement lab, and the learning center. One could say I’m an expert at moving and that I embrace change and uncertainty. I taught at NatureBridge before Hamlin and I love being outdoors so I am so excited about the proximity to Crissy Fields and the Presidio Native Plant Nursery. I’m hoping to tap into opportunities for ongoing habitat restoration projects in the Presidio.
Tell us about your environmental activism work at Hamlin.
Ms. Gonzalez and I like to celebrate Earth Day every day! This year, we especially enjoyed teaching our students about climate change and participating in the march in our neighborhood. For my project year, I developed a K-4 Environmental Stewardship scope and sequence including fun field trips all over the Bay Area. I’m also really passionate about solar energy and other renewable energy sources. I always tell our students, “Ms. Ray loves sun rays!” I built a solar oven and when we have hot weather in the fall, I love using the solar oven to bake cookies with our students.
Environmentally speaking, what makes you optimistic about the future?
The coronavirus pandemic has given us a glimpse that our collective actions can have a dramatically positive impact on our planet. For the first time on record, the U.S. is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal. The global air quality has never been better. Most importantly, we have become conscious consumers focused on buying locally and supporting small local businesses. So many folks have taken an interest in gardening that Bay area plant nurseries recorded a 300% increase in sales. I am hopeful that the silver lining of this challenging time is that we see the profound implications of being conscious of our footprints and we step mindfully moving forward.
Every year The Hamlin School awards the Penny Wheelock Summer Travel Grant ($2500) to a teacher who has been working at Hamlin for 5 years or longer. The purpose of the grant is:
To expand the horizons of the recipient, thereby enhancing that teacher’s energy and effectiveness in the classroom. To commemorate the joy of teaching about other lands and cultures as exemplified by beloved former Hamlin teacher Penny Wheelock.
On Monday, Terry McDonald had the opportunity to present highlights from her summer grant experience. Ms. McDonald is in her 33rd year teaching physical education at Hamlin. A lifelong soccer fan, she was all smiles describing her experience attending multiple Women’s World Cup games in France. She then watched Serena Williams at Wimbledon, and later took in some cricket, then netball (not her favorite), concluding with watching golf in Ireland. Ms. McDonald hinted at a desire to bring cricket to Hamlin, which would serve to globally enhance our already eclectic sports offerings. This wonderful travel experience will no doubt stay with her for many, many years. The next Penny Wheelock recipient will be selected in April of 2020.
What do you love about working at Hamlin?
The people! Being surrounded by individual and team excellence. Everyone who works at Hamlin, in any capacity, works hard and joyfully. We bring our full selves to work every day and support each other to be our best selves. We know that everything we do here is absolutely for the benefit of our students, and that makes doing the work part of our passion. We are a fast paced, hard-working, fun, and successful group of people. It is exhilarating.
What are you excited about for this year?
I’m excited to learn about everything that is Hamlin beyond the classroom. I do have many classrooms to learn about and plan to be in classrooms as much as possible, but learning about all the parent run committees, such as PLAID, The Student Ventures Program, and our room parents, has really allowed me to see a bigger Hamlin picture. I’m also exciting about continuing to build our community with many new teaching teams in Lower School. Coaching and mentoring teachers has been a big part of my work for many years, and I’m excited to deepen this experience and lead an already incredible team of educators.
How does being a parent inform your work in Lower School?
Patience and empathy. I know from having my own children that things can seem dire one day and then fine the next. I pay attention to what is going on, but always allow for time to give people, adults or children, a chance to grow and develop resiliency in problem solving. There are definitely times when immediate intervention is needed, but being a parent has helped me get a sense of when these times are, and when it is better to keep the pulse and “wait and see.” I’ve always used humor as something to help me be my best self and see the best in others, and that is definitely true with parenting, and working with children. I find them both to be hilarious and daunting at times, and I know that creating the environment where children and adults can be themselves is the first step to helping everyone thrive.
You’ve had a long-standing interest in birds, what lessons have your learned from that exploration?
Birds are incredibly accessible. They are everywhere! You don’t need a ticket or a certain geographical location to observe birds. Observation is an important tool in developing so many critical skills in children: patience, focus, listening, formulation of ideas based on what you see, noticing patterns, keeping notes, sketching, and above anything else, picking your head up from whatever you’re doing and looking around you. I have seen children who struggle with focus in the classroom be able to sit and watch a bird for 20 minutes without moving, they are riveted. In my own birding practice, I find it calms me and focuses my thinking. It also reminds me to look up and around, too!
Ms. Frank, we will miss you, what will you miss most about Hamlin?
Hamlin has felt like home to me, and like anytime you move away from home you miss all the things that made it feel that way. The warmth of the community, the joy of the girls, and the support of my colleagues are all things that I will miss, dearly.
How has your time at Hamlin changed you or helped you grow as a person?
It is now impossible for me to see the world without the mark that women have made in it. I will always look for the stories that don’t exist and seek that perspective to support the critical thinking necessary to change the world. Hamlin has fueled this quest for knowledge.
What are you looking forward to in your new leadership role?
I am looking forward to having a broader impact on learning, especially having the opportunity to work with both lower and middle school students. I look forward to working with a community, that like Hamlin values social justice and equity as necessary pillars of change.
What parting advice would you like to give to our Hamlin girls?
Stay fully present in the moment. You have an opportunity to do all that you want to, right now! Don’t think you need to “grow up” to do things that require the courage to lead.
Ms. Frank will be the Head of School at Prospect Sierra next year.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Teebie Saunders, Director of Secondary School Admission Counseling for The Hamlin School. Ms. Saunders is in her 7th year at Hamlin and has a daughter in Grade 1.
You have an impressive academic background (Groton HS, Princeton BA, Duke MBA). How has your education helped inform your work at Hamlin?
Groton shaped me the most. I grew up in North Carolina. Going to school outside of Boston was a big switch. I learned that I didn’t have to be one thing. I could be an athlete (basketball and tennis), a scholar, and sing in the choir. I was able to be my authentic, best self at Groton. That is why I do what I do at Hamlin. Groton was SO transformative for me. I know how pivotal high school can be for a student. I love supporting Hamlin girls in the process of finding their life-shaping high school experience.
For my MBA I studied marketing and nonprofit management. That degree helped me hone my communications skills. Because of my time at Duke, I’m better able to articulate the cultural essence of a school, dissect marketing materials, interpret data, and understand trends. Schools have institutional needs, my ability to look at longitudinal studies helps me better comprehend the whole landscape of the secondary school market.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Building relationships with our girls. I get to know them intimately, through the eyes of their teachers, coaches, and piano instructors. It is amazing to get to know a 13 year old so closely. It is great to be an adult that is not their parent, thinking about their best interest. I also enjoy many close relationships with Hamlin parents. I stay closely connected to admissions people all over the country, that peer group is one of the things that keeps me deeply engaged.
What impresses you most about our Hamlin Grade 8 students?
They are so mature. They are self-reflective about how they learn best. They are great about being serious in class and silly and still a kid outside of class. They have a profound sense of responsibility; they embody the Hamlin creed on a daily basis.
What is one piece of advice would you give someone (parent or student) going into the high school admission process?
Have an open mind and let yourself be surprised by something you didn’t expect to love about a school, and let yourself also be open to the fact that nothing is perfect.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Abbott and learn more about her wonderful life in theater. Ms. Abbott has been teaching at Hamlin for 18 years. During that time she has directed roughly 126 plays.
What is your background with theater/performing arts?
I tried to do theater in high school and college, but I was kind of a repressed theater geek. I went to college (at Middlebury) and majored in English. I then went on to teach English and coach sports for 9 years at different private schools in the Midwest and East Coast. When I was 28 years old I started to question whether I was doing what I truly loved. I was cast in a summer theater play (Mother of Us All by Gertrude Stein) and that experience helped convert me to theater. I had a Master’s in English (also from Middlebury), but took a huge risk, quit my job, sold my horse (I had been a competitive rider) and went to New York City to train at the New Actors Workshop. I loved embodying language, expressing possibilities as I demonstrated compassion and empathy for the characters that I played. There is just so much personal and emotional growth that goes into portraying a character in a play.
What is your favorite role as an actor?
I loved playing Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. I learned how to deeply empathize with her difficult circumstances. She’s a broken person who I profoundly cared for.
What do you like most about working with Hamlin theater students?
I love seeing students build their confidence and take risks. They are great raw material for theater. They are willing to publicly speak and be on stage. I admire their courage, and love their excitement to try new things.
What is a favorite play of yours and one that you loved doing at Hamlin?
One of my favorite plays is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; I saw it both on Broadway and in San Francisco. I directed The Curious Savage at Hamlin twice; it is one of my favorites. The play questions what it means to be normal and what it means to be an individual.
Who are some of your favorite actors?
Meryl Streep is such a classic actor. Emma Stone is insanely talented. I also really like Bradley Cooper.
How do you incorporate mindfulness into your theater work?
Mindfulness is at the foundation of our theater work. You have to be able to pay attention to everything that is happening right now. The breath is an anchor for mindfulness and for an actor it is a vehicle for everything you need to do. We start every class with mindful breathing. Practicing mindfulness can be the difference between being a good actor, or being a great one.
Ms. Phillips is in her 7th year teaching kindergarten at The Hamlin School.
What do you love about teaching kindergarten?
So much, kindergarteners are so open, excited, and happy. I really enjoy teaching students to be good young people. We focus on social-emotional learning. How do you make a friend? How do you solve a conflict? How do you tell your friends what you need? Academically they are excited for everything, they don’t always get enough credit (because they are the youngest), but they are capable and ready to learn.
What do you love about teaching at Hamlin?
The girls are amazing. Every year you get this new group of bright and diverse students. I also love my co-workers. Hamlin is a supportive community. I’ve done many professional development workshops that have helped enrich my teaching practice. I love coming to work every day.
What is one of your favorite memories from elementary school?
I have great memories of reading and writing. I always loved reading books on a cushion underneath a table in the classroom; it was like my own little cocoon. I would read books like Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins.
Describe a favorite teaching moment.
I love when the girls take on the role of peer teacher, extending their learning and deepening their understanding. In these moments I often see the girls making connections between what they have learned and their own lives. When they begin teaching each other I know that I’ve done my job.
We are very excited to have Dr. Kelsey Twist Schroeder with us this year. Dr. Schroeder comes to The Hamlin School from Roland Park Country School in Baltimore, where she was the Dean of Students for the Upper School. Dr. Schroeder attended Stanford University, where she was a scholar-athlete, excelling as an All-American lacrosse player. She went on to earn her Masters in Education from Stanford, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Schroeder is the mother of three girls; her two oldest are now attending Hamlin.
1. What are you most excited about for this school year?
In my first year at Hamlin, I am most excited about becoming part of this extraordinary community. When I visited Hamlin last year for my interviews, I could immediately sense what a strong, supportive community it was. Every person—from the students to the employees to the families—believes in the mission of the school and living the Creed, and you can feel that energy in the air.
That is the kind of environment where I want to be a school leader, and it is the kind of school culture I want for my own daughters. My spouse, Jamie, and I are simply over the moon that our daughters, Hazel and Lillian started in the Lower School this fall, and hopefully our youngest, Marion, will be here in a few years!
2. You recently completed your Doctorate in Education. Tell us about the focus of your work.
The Mid-Career Doctoral Program at Penn brings together a diverse cohort of educational leaders from urban, rural, suburban, private, and public contexts. We had different backgrounds, educational philosophies, and professional roles, and we came together to use that range of wisdom to tackle complex educational challenges.
The focus of my dissertation was on how adolescent students at a selective independent girls’ school conceptualize and experience leadership. The premise of the study is that leadership is dynamic and that girls coming of age today may not approach leadership in the same way girls did ten or even five years ago. Because I am committed to developing leadership capacities in girls, I wanted to begin that work by first understanding what attitudes, experiences, and hopes shape the way the girls currently approach leadership.
3. You are the mother of 3 girls; what is the best piece of parenting advice you have received?
Being a mother of three girls has been the greatest joy of my life, and as any parent knows, raising children is also challenging at times. My first daughter, Hazel, was born 13 weeks prematurely. We are blessed that Hazel had a remarkable recovery, but she had a difficult start to life. During her long stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) she had one particularly hard day and was having difficulty breathing; as a new mother, I was feeling overwhelmed. A nurse that I had become friendly with came up to me, put her arm around me, and compassionately said, “I know you wish you could, Kelsey, but you can’t learn to breathe for her.” I will never forget that moment and the caring way she spoke those words to me.
Watching your child struggle to learn is one of the most challenging experiences as a parent. It’s our instinct to want to step in and help. I have returned to that wise advice several times over the years. Whether it’s learning to tie a shoe or make new friends, I have to remind myself that I can guide and support and love my kids, and I also need to let them learn independently.
4. You were a highly accomplished athlete. How does that experience inform your work as an educator?
Growing up, I was blessed to attend a girls’ school that never asked me to pick between being a scholar, athlete, or artist. I loved being able to sing in my a cappella group and then dash off to my basketball game. While I learned so much in academic classrooms, I think I learned just as much being a three-sport varsity athlete (lacrosse, field hockey, basketball). Athletics is where I learned how to get along with others, including people who were very different from me. Being part of a team taught me how to put the group’s goals above my own individual goals. Being an athlete taught me the satisfaction of hard work. My dad shuttled me from game to game and would always tell me how proud he was that I “played my heart out” whether we won or lost. While I like to win as much as anyone, my family never prized winning over trying my best and being a good sport. I try to imbue those lessons into my work with students every day.
5. What would your favorite K-8 teacher say about you as a student?
I had many amazing teachers during my K-8 education, so it’s impossible to pick a favorite, but one teacher who had a tremendous impact on me was my 5th grade teacher, Mary Beth Dyer. She had (and still has) one of the most wonderful laughs in the world. It’s big and joyful and carefree, and when you hear her laugh, you can’t help but smile. In addition to a contagious positive spirit, Ms. Dyer taught me to not be afraid of failing and live life as a learning adventure where you get a chance to grow every single day.
Beloved Grade 4 teacher Jane Hillegas-Stommel is retiring this June. We had the opportunity to interview her.
How long have you been teaching at Hamlin? What has changed and what has remained constant in terms of our program?
21 years. Coreen Hester hired me. Judy Ching and I started the same year!
Our commitment to excellence has remained constant. When I started, a published scope and sequence did not exist. I am proud to have been a part of that work. In the Lower School, we adopted a language arts and a math curriculum. The teaching of reading and writing is now standardized across grade levels. All grades utilize the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project materials. Math continues to get stronger and stronger. K-4 uses the Bridges in Math program. Most recently, we have been integrating the work of Jo Boaler and Cathy Fosnot into the Bridges curriculum. We also adopted a social and emotional curriculum called “ToolBox.” I am glad that we send girls better equipped socially and emotionally to navigate the challenges of Middle School.
Share a favorite memory from your earlier days working at Hamlin.
I have fond memories of all the National Maritime Marine Association “Age of Sail” overnight field trips on the C.A. Thayer and Balclutha ships at the Hyde Street Pier. I remember waking up before dawn and watching the sun rise over the City, as I stood on board the Thayer. On another trip, the girls were remarkably resilient, doing the work of their respective crews in drenching rain!
What have you most enjoyed during your time teaching at Hamlin?
I am proud that there are girls who can say, “I have been changed for the better.” Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all kinds of learners has given me great satisfaction. I have loved providing appropriate levels of challenge, as well as accommodating and supporting a variety of learning styles.
What advice to you have for a newer teacher arriving to Hamlin?
Life at Hamlin goes at a fast pace. Don’t get so caught up in the pace that you forget the things that really matter. Build authentic connections with your colleagues and the girls. Take care of your own wellness. Advocate for change that helps Hamlin just get better and better.
How would you define a Hamlin girl?
Having put my own daughters, who are now 23 and 24, through Hamlin, I can speak personally about the definition of a Hamlin girl. Hamlin girls are smart and think critically. They are good public speakers and know how to advocate for themselves. Hamlin girls start high school ahead. They are organized and know how to study. Hamlin girls see themselves as global citizens and care about social justice.
What are your plans for next year and beyond?
I am working right now with a career counselor, identifying skills I have honed at Hamlin. I plan to use these skills in a new sphere, possibly doing nonprofit or public policy work. I am going to mix things up for the last few years of my work life.