21 Apr

A Day of Remembrance: Celebrating Our Commonalities and Differences


Submitted by Sophia Dorner on behalf of the Lower School Diversity Professional Learning Group (Ericka Collado, Madison Farrar, Ashley Gray, Sandra Harrison, Mary Heveran, and Jennifer Koteles)

“Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples.”

–Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Guatemalan Indigenous Rights Activist, 1990 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner; b. 1952*

How does one explain genocide to children who know only love? That was the charge of the teachers in the Lower School as we sought to become one with the Middle and Upper School during reflection and learning about Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Diversity Professional Learning Group under the incredible tutelage of principal, Kim Lewis, took hold of the challenge. Ms. Lewis brought artist, Maureen Bennett, on board to help bring our vision to life.

Maureen Bennett is a visual artist who works in oils, acrylics, pastels, graphite, mixed media and collage. As a community activist, Maureen created the global traveling art project known as “Peace by Piece.” As a teaching artist and creative consultant at Mercy Center in the South Bronx, NYC, Maureen has been awarded numerous grants to support her use of art as a transformative force for social change. The work that she continues to design and implement through her creativity workshops particularly in areas of expression about poverty, violence, hunger, wellness and peace appealed to the vision of the Diversity Professional Learning Group.

We knew we wanted to have a day of remembrance that celebrated our commonalities and differences, and we also wanted the children to experience the value of the concepts of unity and peace. We began to brainstorm the best ways to make that happen considering our audience ranged in age from 3 to 12 years of age. We recognized the need to use a universal image and landed on eggs. We reached out to our colleagues, Lower School science teacher, Beth Lemire, and Middle School theater arts teacher, Carla Moriarty, who were able to assist us with obtaining fresh, organic eggs with varying colored shells. Each class was provided with 3 eggs that differed in color on the outside but when cracked appeared to be quite the same on the inside. Teachers read a range of stories to the students, depending upon particular grade-level clusters, that acknowledged differences among the characters while celebrating commonalities. The books that were read were: Whomever You Are by Mem Fox – Early Childhood; Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah – Grades 1 through 3; and The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss – Grades 4 and 5.

The next phase of celebrating our commonalities and differences extended our collaborations even more. We brought in resident art teacher, Elisa Garcia, to guide our students using a variety of artistic techniques as they decorated their very own wooden egg to depict their version of peace and love. Fourth-grade teacher Michael Rodenbush assisted artist, Maureen Bennett, in photographing each child’s hands holding their decorated egg on top of a color-coded backdrop.  In addition, a group photo of all of the eggs for the grade was taken showing the children the unification of their class and grade level bringing it all back to unity and peace for us all. For the Diversity Professional Learning Group, it was important because this final concept hits home the idea of how we need to unify despite our differences to stamp out hate that leads to disharmony and hate crimes and atrocities like genocide.

After many hours of cutting, spraying and mounting, the beautiful photographs of the children’s hands holding their eggs, were placed onto Giant Eames cards and stacked together in a variety of towers that were put on display in the Lower School gym on Wednesday, April 19th, transforming that space into a museum bathed in soft lighting.

To add to the experience, music teacher, Lisa Dove, provided audio featuring our early childhood students in grades preschool 3, preschool 4 and kindergarten, singing “Peace Like a River” as students and faculty moved throughout the display.  Thanks to David Viera from the tech department for providing just the right technical support needed and to Susan Abramson for her help and support throughout the project.

As students entered the exhibit, they walked along a pathway featuring their uniquely decorated wooden eggs.  After viewing the exhibit, they were asked to share some of their thoughts and feelings about the full experience from seeing the actual eggs, reading the story, designing their own wooden eggs and experiencing the exhibit.  Some of their responses are captured below:

  • Preschool 3: “I didn’t make this one, but I like it!”
  • Preschool 4: “This makes me feel so excited!”
  • Kindergarten: “Each egg is beautiful in a different way.”
  • First Grade: “I felt like I was in a new world.”
  • Second Grade: “It reminded me that you can do anything that you put your mind to.”
  • Third Grade: “It was really nice to see all of our eggs together.  It made me feel calm”
  • Fourth Grade: “This was way more than I expected.  I felt peace inside.”
  • Fifth Grade: “It was inspiring and made me feel hopeful.”

As one views some of the photos, it is important to note that each background color palette represents not only a grade level, but also a theme of peace taken from the PEACE flag.


On the Peace Flag – Red stands for courage.

Red chakra – grounding, security


On the Peace Flag – Dark blue suggests pessimism, reminding us of less fortunate people in the world who are in need.

Blue chakra – intuition


On the Peace Flag – Orange offers the vision of possibilities.

Orange chakra – emotions


On the Peace Flag – Green represents growth.

Green chakra – love, hope, compassion


On the Peace Flag – Purple is the color of warmth, beauty and friendship.

Purple chakra – understanding, enlightenment


On the Peace Flag – Sky blue suggests far horizons, the need to provide education and help to unfortunate people and to strive towards global unity.

Sky Blue – creativity, communication


On the Peace Flag – Yellow represents the challenge that green has kindled.

Yellow chakra – energy, desire

It is our hope that this project will serve as an anchor for future discussions in the Lower School that seek to foster understanding across difference.

We hope that parents will be able to view this exhibit while it is on display in the Art Gallery in Swartley Gallery from May 2 through May 5. Click here for details.

 For now, please enjoy photos from this memorable display: click here or click on the “Day of Remembrance”  album in the Gallery tab above. 

*20 Quotes Praising Cultural Diversity, University of Florida International Center

21 Apr


The Planeteers is an environmental group that meets after school to learn about issues of our planet and our school. They learn how to create positive change and let their voices be heard on environmental issues that are important to them.

On Monday, April 17, the 4th and 5th grade Planeteer group hosted a Planeteer reunion! We had the pleasure of visiting with some of the Planeteers from the past several years, who are now in Middle and Upper Schools.

Former Planeteers shared with each other the things their groups had accomplished from letter writing, bringing composting and safer nontoxic cleansers to our school to writing letters to the President. The students spoke about how they began to take leadership roles around environmental concerns. They reminisced about fun times and the lasting memories they had as Planeteers.

The current 4th and 5th graders also shared the work that they are doing. It was very inspiring for the younger Planeteers to hear from older students about student government at D-E and how to continue to create positive change in our world.

We ended with food and song!

Well done, Planeteers!

07 Apr

Book Club

Following the success of the fall parent/child book club, on Tuesday evening, third graders and their parents gathered in the Lower School for their second book club.

This time they read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Since the story revolves around animals, students were invited to bring their favorite stuffed animal. The book club discussions began with children introducing their stuffed animals. Immediately following that was a deep and engaging conversation about the book. Participants were able to share their insights and gain new insights from other book club members.

After nearly 45 minutes of conversation, when one book club leader announced that it was time to conclude, one student shouted, “Already?” and another added, “That felt like just 10 minutes!” The evening ended with cookies and milk and more lively conversation.

It was a great way to bring the community together and share a love of literacy.

07 Apr

Canine Companion

Both second grade classes completed a heartwarming social studies project helping a local organization, Canine Companions. Canine Companions trains service dogs to assist people with disabilities. As part of this project second-grade students learned about volunteering and Caryl Swain visited the Lower School with her training dogs, Andy, Pedro and Forest. Ms. Swain taught the children about how the dogs are trained to assist people. The children were so excited and inspired to help they had a Read-A-Thon and raised $527! Mrs. Byrne used the money raised to purchase dog toys, food, crates and other supplies to support the work of Canine Companions. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, on the Friday before spring break the second grade visited the Canine Companion site to see the trainers and service dogs in action. It was amazing to learn, as Caroline noted, that it takes $45,000 to train one dog, and Jacob found out that there are over thirty different commands a service dog has to learn. And finally, Maya found out that there are two breeds of dogs best suited for this type of work, labradors and golden retrievers. The Canine Companion project has become a beloved second-grade tradition, and we are thrilled this group was able to experience it.

28 Oct

Early Childhood Music program

submitted by Lisa Dove

Enter the music room during an early childhood class, and you may spy giants tromping through the woods, or perhaps you might get caught up in a herd of galloping horses or unicorns. Then again, you may come upon a village of prancing elves or a field of floating butterflies.  The world of the Lower School music room is limited only by the imaginations of its students – which means, for students in preschool 3, preschool 4 and kindergarten, that it is limitless!

One may wonder why imaginative stories and pretend are the focus in the early childhood music classes.  For D-E’s youngest learners, pretending is an immediate entry point to exploring different ways of moving their bodies in space – heavy and slow, light and quick, smooth and sustained.  The body is a child’s first instrument.

Clapping, singing, tapping out a rhythm, dancing with a scarf, galloping a ternary time signature, are all ways a child uses the body to express music and musical movement. As children gain mastery over these physical responses, they develop a strong sense of rhythm and a greater sensitivity to musical nuances.  All of this is foundational for future music study, as well as for fostering a life-long joy with music.

Families – don’t be surprised if a piece of music suddenly brings out a giant, an elf or a floating leaf; you may have a future composer in your home!

19 Sep

Introducing New Faculty


Dr. Penina Bukiet

Dr. Penina Bukiet, an NYC resident and native Canadian, is thrilled to be joining the D-E community as the Lower School Psychologist.  Through her doctoral training at Yeshiva University, Penina has had the opportunity to work with children and adolescents across a variety of settings, including public and private schools, as well as mental health clinics.  Prior to joining D-E, she worked as a school psychologist in a private school in Brooklyn, New York.  Penina is particularly excited about the opportunity to get to know and work with D-E’s students and families, in a supportive and collaborative manner.  “One thing that’s really special about the Lower School at D-E, is that, in one building, it spans the ages of 3 to 11.  I’m really looking forward to watching our students grow and progress over time, using previous accomplishments as stepping stones for new ones.”  Penina’s favorite book from her childhood is Harold and the Purple Crayon – a book that speaks to the power of creativity and imagination.


Erica Butler

Erica Butler, a Dwight-Englewood alumna from the class of 2011, has rejoined our community as one of two new Lower School Recess Coaches. Erica first came to D-E as a fourth grader. As a student in Mrs. Sienicki’s homeroom, she reflects on the time spent reading one of her favorite childhood books, Roald Dahl’s The BFG. She remembers how great of an experience she had in the Lower School, making her eager to have a hand in giving our current students an experience that they, too, will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives.


Kristina Gomez

Kristina Gomez has been coaching at Dwight-Englewood for three years as an assistant softball coach in the Upper School. Kristina also was a substitute for the 2015-2016 school year here at D-E and she is very excited about officially being a Bulldog! “This school is a wonderful place and I am very ecstatic to be a part of such a great and welcoming community.” As a child, Kristina loved to read and Amelia Bedelia was always one of her favorites because it was comical, and it really allowed her imagination to roam. “I think being an assistant teacher will really help me with my thesis statement on the Responsive Classroom for my master’s program.”


Vanessa Gomez

With a background in an assortment of sports, Vanessa Gomez is ecstatic to be part of the Lower School recess team. “Growing up, I loved to read the Junie B Jones books, but softball was always my passion.” Vanessa attended the University of Maryland Eastern where she received her bachelor’s in Exercise Science and fulfilled her dream of playing division 1 softball.” Vanessa is very excited about working with the students on improving their game, teaching them something new, and finding out what they like to do for fun even it has nothing to do with recreational sports. As a fitness coach outside of the school, Vanessa hopes to inspire students to enjoy and participate in some sort of physical activity. Vanessa is so happy to be here at D-E, especially because she has a chance to work alongside her older sister, Kristina who is working with the second-grade class.


Ashley Gray

This is Ashley Gray’s 17th year teaching!  Ashley started her career teaching in private schools in Chicago, then Milwaukee, then NYC and now NJ.  Ashley is trained as a special education teacher and a reading specialist. She has spent the past several years working as a learning specialist in schools and as a reading specialist in private practice. “When I was younger, I loved the book Charlotte’s Web.  I enjoyed going into the world of animals who were friends and co-conspirators. I liked the way they took care of each other.”  In the past, Ashley spent a lot of time teaching children how to read in the younger grades.  This year, she is excited to help 3rd-5th grade readers and writers to develop their skills and discover who they are as literate young people.

15 Apr

LS Message from Kim Lewis

I would like to thank Stephanie Landau, President of the Parents’ Association, the members of our Parents’ Association Executive Board, and of course, Dr. Rodney DeJarnett, Head of School, for the thoroughly engaging day with best-selling authors, Julie Lythcott-Haims  (How to Raise an Adult) and Jessica Lahey (The Gift of Failure).

Not only did their stories resonate with all audience members, ranging from their session with 5th grade students to faculty members to parents, but they also shared research-based evidence and strategies for changing the paradigm of how we can continue to raise wonderful human beings.

In the event that families were not able to join the evening presentation, the April Parent Forums will provide a venue to discuss some of the key points that both authors brought forth.  Parents, Stephanie Landau and Jill Perin, will facilitate the discussions.  Please see the listing below for the dates of the upcoming forums for grades K through 4.

  • April 18  – Grades K, 1 and 2
  • April 25 – Grades 3 and 4
15 Apr

Students Eek out a Win Over the Adults!

Submitted by Fifth-Grade Student Ben Labib with support from Susan Abramson

Once again it was the fifth-grade students’ team, the same team who defeated the parents and teachers two years ago, and the year before that, and who in fact have never lost a game. This team once again defeated the adult team in last week’s annual Fifth-Grade Students versus Teachers and Parents Basketball Game. But as always, the adults didn’t make it easy.

It was definitely going to be a close game, this much was clear from the beginning as the adults demonstrated stealth passing, precision shooting and impregnable defense! “One of the best teams I’ve coached, and I’ve been coaching this game a long time,” said Coach Erik Swanson.

But despite their talent, the adults were no match for the fifth graders who have been working and playing together since September. As classmates, teachers and parents cheered from the stands, the fifth- grade team racked up point after point, including some beauties from the three-point line! Passing and running up and down the court, they showed great teamwork and footwork, as well as the camaraderie that has been a hallmark of this group of students since the beginning.

With her team’s win against the adults, Coach Kim Franco secured her own unique place in Lower School history as the most undefeated coach the school has seen. “It’s amazing,” she said, “it just feels like I am in the right place at the right time. I am very lucky to be part of a team that performs at this level.”

As the clock ran down, the score was a tight 28 to 26 with the fifth-grade team in the lead. With ten second left, the adults had possession and the energy was tense. But a missed pass, and then an air ball meant they just couldn’t wrap it up, and the fifth graders triumphed to the delight of all.

At the sound of the buzzer, kids and adults laughed, hugged and high-fived one another. And as if the game itself wasn’t enough fun and filled with goodwill, it also raised over $700 for Frost Valley and Flat Rock Brook, two places that have been important parts of the fifth-grade experience.

Even as the players celebrated, they seemed aware that this wasn’t the end. “The fourth-graders will win again next year,” said one fifth-grade student as she walked off the court, “I know they can do it.”

15 Apr

They’re on the Run!

Submitted by Ronda Sowa and Susan Abramson

Children are natural runners.  They run at recess, they run on the lawn and yes, sometimes when they forget, they run in the halls.  Giving children time and space to run alongside their peers and a coach helps them set goals, monitor their progress and feel a sense of pride as they achieve those goals.

If you happen to have been near the Lower School on a recent Tuesday afternoon you may have seen the newest addition to our aftercare program, a running club organized and led by fourth-grade teacher Ronda Sowa. Mrs. Sowa – a lifelong runner and health enthusiast – is offering this class to fourth- and fifth-grade students, and the response has been very enthusiastic!

“I think it’s really fun, and I like how we get to play games. I used to run track, and we’d warm up, run and then do conditioning. But Mrs. Sowa builds in games and that makes it really fun.” says fourth-grader Sierra.

Gabi adds, “When we play the games there is a lot of teamwork and responsibility. Each week we build up how long we can run and that’s really fun.”

The class starts with children recording the weather conditions, the route, and a personal goal in their running journals.  They then do warm ups, games, and of course, they run.  Afterwards the class reflects on the difficulty of the run and how they are feeling.

According to fourth-grader Leah, “Mrs. Sowa doesn’t make it one level. She sees what you can do and what you can’t do, and then makes it harder or easier. And she just learned that we can go further than we thought, so she added hurdles to the route.”

We are excited to share this new offering, and in particular, we are thrilled to see our students outside in the fresh air after working hard all day in school. Please be on the lookout for the D-E 360 Aftercare brochure for the 2016-17 fall session for new offerings, and do not hesitate to contact Michele Wright if you have questions about the program.


18 Mar

Canine Companions for Independence service project

The 2nd graders have been hard at work, participating in our annual Canine Companions for Independence service project. C.C.I. is an organziation that provides trained service dogs to people, including children, with varying needs. Every year the 2nd graders meet Carol Swain, a volunteer puppy raiser for C.C.I.. Carol introduces the children to the C.C.I. mission as well as the puppies that she trains. The children were thrilled to meet and greet both Ty and Pedro, Carol’s current puppies in training. In order to raise money for this organization, the children made pledges and participated in a read-a-thon, raising over $1000! With the money we raised, we purchased items from the C.C.I. wish list. As our culminating experience, the children brought the purchased items to the C.C.I. training center in Medford, Long Island. While there, the children toured the training facility and were able to meet other C.C.I. volunteers, employees and dogs in training. The children learn so much about themselves and the world when they are given the opportunity to think about and help others. This has certainly been an experience that the 2nd graders will always remember.