Learning in the lunchroom

In our recent Second Grade guidance lessons, we’ve tackled the universal issues of appropriate voice volume, manners, and respect in the lunchroom. All four classes discussed the problems we face during mealtime in the Hamilton Room, from children running to get more food to talking with mouths full to forgetting basic manners when speaking to the kind individuals who provide our food. Students made lists of specific problems and helpful solutions. We watched a video of lunch procedures in a Japanese school. More important than videos and lists, though, was the main reason for wanting to make changes in the first place. Why do we want a quieter lunchroom? Why should we clean up after ourselves? Why should we use good manners? One word: respect.


All students know that when an adult turns off the main overhead light during lunch, everyone falls silent. This procedure was put in place so that if an emergency situation arises, adults can get the attention of all individuals immediately. Unfortunately, we’ve been using the lights-off signal not only to practice immediate silence but also to curb the escalating noise level. Second graders agreed that they don’t want the lights turned off because of their noise level anymore, they want to solve the problems they observe, and they want to lead the way as role models of respect. They all chose a method of getting their messages of appropriate etiquette out to the rest of Love Hall.

Mrs. Bradway and Ms. Brown’s class created posters, and Mrs. DuPriest helped us strategically place them around the Hamilton Room for maximum exposure.


Ms. Padgett and Ms. Tedesco’s students replaced some of the napkin holder announcements with reminders about manners and general respect.


Mrs. Carroll and Ms. Mahoney’s class used iPads to photograph classmates acting out correct mealtime manners. Look for these photographs on the hallway TV soon!



Finally, Mrs. Dalbo and Ms. Hartness’ students will perform skits for other classes after the Thanksgiving break. Great job, Second Grade! We predict great overall improvement in voice volume, manners, and general respect… not to mention general enjoyment of mealtime with friends and colleagues!


Student Council 2015-2016 at Open House

Congratulations to the Fourth and Fifth Grade students appointed to the Lower School Student Council! This is the second year of Student Council in Love Hall, and students are eager to fulfill leadership roles. Throughout the year, members will sharpen their leadership skills by working with a partner classroom of younger students, putting on an assembly, and assisting with school-wide endeavors such as Admissions Open House. In fact, the Council’s first official duty was to welcome prospective parents to yesterday’s Open House. Eighteen Council members participated as greeters while visitors streamed into the building, and then most of the students were committed to other areas as well, such as Chorus, P.E., Science, and Band. The remaining students spent the rest of their time stationed in the hallways, speaking with parents and answering questions. Visitors enjoyed obtaining the perspectives of student leaders on Lower School goings-on. One parent remarked with a laugh, “The polite young man we just spoke to in the hallway asked me if we needed help navigating our way around. When we told him we didn’t know where we were heading, he asked, ‘Would you like a suggestion? My favorite class is Design Thinking, and I think you’d love to see it.’ So, we’re heading that way!”

Thank you to Student Council for the Saturday participation and to the admissions team for including the students!

2015-2016 Lower School Student Council: Fourth graders Grayson G., Lizzie, Andrew, Grayson C., Kate M., Willem, Campbell H., Laura, Layla, Lucas, and Sydney; Fifth graders Olivia Mc., Campbell D., Kate L., Riley, Hewlett, Katherine, Caroline, Olivia Mo., Abby, Sabrina, and James.

Ready to welcome prospective parents to Love Hall!

Ready to welcome prospective parents to Love Hall!

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Right this way to the Hamilton Room, please...

Right this way to the Hamilton Room, please…

Student Council information

It’s time for Student Council! The Lower School Student Council is made up of students who demonstrate excellent behavior, work habits, leadership qualities, and commitment to the school. At all times, Student Council members follow the school expectations of being safe, respectful, and responsible. Students participate in meetings (typically twice a month during morning meeting), work as a team with fellow Council members and faculty members, partner with a buddy classroom to serve as a link between the students and the Council and disseminate important information, and assist in planning and attending special events to benefit our school and community.

All Fourth and Fifth Grade students are welcome to apply for Student Council. Two applicants from each homeroom will be appointed. Interested students should pick up two papers from my office: Part 1 (two-sided form to be completed by the student) and Part 2 (teacher recommendation form to be handed to a homeroom or special area teacher of the student’s choice). Applications are due no later than 8:00am on Friday, October 30. A committee of faculty members will read applications and teacher recommendation forms, and appointed students will be announced by Friday, November 6. We’re looking forward to great student leadership this year! Email kate.strother@westminster.net with questions.

Want to see some of the activities Student Council members were involved with last year? Click here!

Top 5 Friday: Records, animals, smiley faces, and more

Well, it’s not Friday anymore, but I promise I have a good reason for not finishing my Top 5 post finished two days ago! After school on Friday, I zoomed to the airport to fly out to meet my niece for the first time. We’ve been bonding ever since, and even though she’s wailing in the photo below, I like to think she’s crying tears of joy at meeting her favorite aunt.

Let’s get to five of the many great things that happened in Love Hall last week:

5. Record-breaking swimming success: The culmination of the swimming units for Third, Fourth, and Fifth Graders in P.E. is one of the most exciting times of the year. At the Third Grade meet, the excitement was worth the slight hearing loss due to the constant cheers (screams). Two Pre-First classes made the trek to Turner to watch their buddies participate in relays and individual events. We saw history made! McKinley Bandy and Nyvette Gray’s student, Cate, broke the record for the Girls 25 Yard Butterfly. The record had been in place since 1985! Way to go, Cate!


Can you hear the cheers/screams echoing? Third Graders have so much spirit!

Cate, our Third Grade record breaker

4. Wildcats, horses, and chickens: I learned a lot about Westminster by reading this blog post by Pre-First teachers Kimberly Rimmer and Jennifer Griffith. Assistant Headmaster Scoot Dimon visited with students to share the history of our school, how we became the Wildcats, why we enjoy Coke products, and lots of information about the rich family history of Westminster. Also, First Grade teacher Andrea Haan visited with the students to tell them all about Cluck Hall!

3. GOAL: A great highlight of the week was the launching of GOAL groups. So much time, careful thought, and detailed planning went into creating the groups of students receiving small group instruction. We’ve had two meetings so far, and the students in my group have shown compassion for each other, self-reflection skills, a genuine interest in the materials we’ll use throughout our sessions, and a sense of humor. If you have questions about your child’s GOAL group, email your child’s homeroom teachers.

2. Chalk time: If you’ve walked through Carpool A and the garden, you’ve noticed the chalk drawings decorating the area. Members of the Kindness Club spent Tuesday afternoon adorning the concrete with happy messages and pictures so that the first thing people see when they arrive at Love Hall is love! Some of the First Graders created a game in which one can step only on the smiley faces on the stairs, avoiding the frowny faces.

KC chalk game 10-6-15

A new game: Step only on the smiley faces! Avoid the frowny ones!

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Happy chalk drawing!


When the message is encouragement and love, we’re not sticklers for correct spelling

1. An honor for one of Westminster’s finest: Did you see the announcement in the Weekly Parent Update about the one and only Nancy Beane? Mrs. Beane, Westminster’s wonderful Associate Director of College Counseling, recently was named president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Here’s another article about this exciting announcement.

Happy long weekend! Teachers and staff will be at school on Tuesday, and students will return on Wednesday. Enjoy the extra time together!

Design Thinking makes people smile

When First Graders ask if they can interview you to find out what makes you smile, they’re off to a smiley start already! A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth Tozzer and Marlene Getzendanner asked if a few faculty members would sit with their students during Design Thinking to assist with their current project. We took turns chatting with polite First Graders with impressive interviewing skills, firm handshakes included. The kids asked, “What makes you smile?” and follow-up questions. I answered that swimming, eating ice cream, and watching people being kind to each other are things that make me smile. Students around the room took brief notes and drew pictures as we talked, starting to imagine a prototype of an invention that would enhance our lives.

This week, the faculty members were invited back for a presentation. As I sat down at a table, four boys sat across from me holding special contraptions. One by one, they explained that they had built prototypes of things that would make me smile and make my life better. One student had designed a super fast slide that would get me into a pool more quickly than ever before. The other three students showed me wild inventions that infused people with kindness through jumping into tubes and being hit with soft, kind, fluffy bullets. Pretty creative!

Thank you, First Graders!

Read more on the Design Thinking blog here:


Four protoypes of inventions that would make lucky Ms. Strother smile

Four creative inventors in Design Thinking

Tuesday’s Parent Coffee & Conversation: Supporting all learners

During Tuesday morning’s Parent Coffee & Conversation (sponsored by PAWS in the Lower School), Dr. Carol Matheson and I will talk about student support at Westminster. How do we work together to support all learners? Dr. Matheson will share a lot of information you’ll want to hear. I will share the methods I use for reaching out to students, how students initiate visits me, some of the most frequent topics students want to discuss, and more. There will be a Q&A session at the end. See you in the Hamilton Room at 8:00, Tuesday October 6!

Camp Kanuga: Mountain Trail Outdoor School

What’s the fastest way to bond with dozens of Fifth Graders? Spend three days with them in the rainy wilderness of Hendersonville, NC! From Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon, the Fifth Grade students, teachers, and a few additional faculty members slept, ate, canoed, hiked, played, learned, and laughed at Camp Kanuga’s Mountain Trail Outdoor School. The constant drizzle didn’t dampen the kids’ spirits, and the adults were proud of the positive attitudes displayed even when shoes (and all other clothing items) were soaked. The MTOS staff members were incredibly kind and patient 100% of the time, mealtimes were enjoyable, facilities were great, and the kids seemed to truly enjoy the company of their classmates. Below are a few images from our wet and wild adventure!

Curriculum night video

If you missed PF-2nd Grade Curriculum Night (like I did!), here’s the 3-minute video parents watched during their SEL/Guidance and Bible Values rotation, 45 seconds of bloopers included. No one’s perfect, right? Enjoy!

Rocks, rabbits, LEGOs, and more!

We are almost finished with the sixth week of school! How did that happen? Time flies when you’re having fun in Love Hall. Read on for seven fairly unrelated but fun things to know about our year so far!

1. Fancy decor: My wall tree gets “leafier” by the day! Almost all students’ and teachers’ names are on a leaf. I love to see them when I walk into my room each morning, and I hope that kids and adults feel like they belong in there with me.


Day one — an empty tree


Six weeks into school — check out my tree full of names!

2. Rocks in your shoe: How do you know if your problem is “big enough” that you should seek out your school counselor? Here’s the simple way I explain to students how I can help them with their problems:

“If you had sand in your shoe, could you walk?” I ask the students, holding up a small bag of sand. “Sure,” they reply, “but it would uncomfortable — weird — annoying. I’d want to dump it out!” The grains of sand represent tiny problems or nuisances that kids can take care of by themselves. Through our SEL/Guidance lessons (and everyday teachings by all adults and school and home!), kids can learn problem-solving strategies to deal with sand problems.

Next, I hold up a bag of pebbles. “What about these? Could you walk if you had pebbles in your shoe?” Students’ responses vary, but usually they say, “Yes, you could walk, but it would hurt. You’d be thinking about the pebbles when you take a step.” Pebbles represent the problems that cause pain or feelings of discomfort, and for these, kids can reach out for adult help. I encourage students to go to their teachers as a first point of contact. Are they experiencing friendship drama? Is there a situation at home they need to talk through? Homeroom teachers can help. As their school counselor, I can help, too. A student can write me a note and leave it in the mailbox outside of my door, and soon I’ll find him or her to check in.

Finally, I hold up a bag of rocks the size of small potatoes. “Could you walk if these were in your shoe?” All of the students say, “No way!” I agree. Rock problems are the ones that are so big that functioning normally at school is almost impossible. Teachers and classmates can tell that something’s wrong. Kids should seek adult help immediately. Near the beginning of the school year, a teacher brought a tearful student to my door. The student wanted to participate in morning meeting, but her “rock problem” was weighing so heavily on her heart and mind that she couldn’t think of anything else. We spent 30 minutes together, coloring pictures and talking about her situation.

We all have “sand problems,” “pebble problems,” and “rock problems.” At school, your children are surrounded by adults who guide them toward solving their own problems or step in to provide needed assistance. Don’t forget that this goes for parents, too. Worried about something your child has shared about the day at school? Send me an email or call anytime, and we’ll talk through it.

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Sand problems, pebble problems, and rock problems — we all have them!

3. Pre-First lessons: In Pre-First SEL/Guidance lessons, we’ve focused on good listening skills and the reasons for why we need to be good listeners at school (and home!). Howard B. Wigglebottom is a very silly rabbit who makes poor choices at school by not listening to his teachers and friends. During a stint in time-out, he realizes that it’s up to him to make better choices. He decides to use his eyes and ears to listen, stay safe, respect his classmates and teacher, and allow others to learn. Students enjoyed watching Howard’s animated book online (see this story and many more on www.wedolisten.org) and then coloring a paper, making Howard as crazily decorated as possible. They’re learning that Ms. Strother likes for each student’s creation to be different from the next student’s creation!


It’s fun to color outside the lines and make your Howard look different from everyone else’s Howard!

4. Fantastic Five: Do you know the members of the School Counseling Department? I’m thankful to be part of an awesome team. Tray Malloy is the Middle School counselor, and in the Upper School, there are three school counselors to take good care of Westminster’s oldest and wisest Wildcats: Rose Harper, Morgan DiOrio, and Ben Merrill. Our contact information and philosophy statement, mission statement, and belief statement are on my Counseling Department page.

Westminster Counseling department, 9-3-15

The School Counseling Department of The Westminster Schools: Tray Malloy, Kate Strother, Rose Harper, Morgan DiOrio, and Ben Merrill

5. For the birds: The After School Program (ASK!) club of which I am a part is called the Kindness Club. Every Tuesday afternoon is a new adventure. To be kind to our bird population, last week we made a mess pinecone bird feeders to hang outside. From the “to do” list to the final product, it was a packed 60 minutes of stickiness, controlled chaos, and forest exploration. As I explained that they could wait for my assistance, the students surprised me by carefully tying their own pinecones on the branches. It was a humbling lesson for me! Next time, I’ll step back and allow these capable students in Pre-First, First Grade, and Second Grade to lead as I follow.

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Spreading an allergy-friendly mixture of wet ingredients on our pinecones


After rolling the pinecones in birdseed, we were ready to hang them as a treat for our bird friends!

6. Piecing things together: The members of the Lower School Robotics team, the WiredCats, have been busy building mission models and researching “the fascinating world of trash” in preparation for participating in the FIRST LEGO League Challenge with teams across the state. Interested to know more about what we do? Check out the FIRST LEGO League website.


Fifth Grade WiredCats prepare to carefully — very carefully — follow a few dozen steps to build a mission model

7. Game on: Finally, here’s a great blog post from Art it Out Therapy Center about how parents can use games to help improve social skills and self-management in their children. One of the keys to this: Talking before, during, and after the game. Read and bookmark this page for future reference! (I have quite a few card games and board games in my office to get kids talking when we’re in a small group. They share, we all learn, everyone has fun!) Happy gaming!


It is my privilege to serve the students and families of Love Hall. Trusting relationships are the foundation for all of my work. So, after your child talks with me about something that’s on his or her mind, will I call you immediately and tell you everything? No. My primary relationship is with the child. A school counselor keeps information provided by students confidential.

But shouldn’t parents have the right to know what their children are saying at school? Shouldn’t the school counselor share what has been discussed? Indeed, there are times when parents should know exactly what their children are saying, and when appropriate, I will contact parents right away. However, what a student tells me is confidential unless he is being hurt, wants to hurt himself, wants to hurt someone else, and/or gives me permission to share. To come to me, students must be able to trust me. They must trust that I will help them — and if that means getting help from another adult, including parents, it is my obligation to help them however I can. Below is an excerpt from a 2008 article entitled “What Parents Need to Know About Confidentiality” that explains more.

“While respecting the rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians for their children, the school counselor works to establish a mutual relationship with parents/guardians to maximize a student’s development. … School counselors also adhere to laws, local guidelines and ethical standards of practice when assisting parents/guardians experiencing family difficulties interfering with a student’s effectiveness and welfare. School counselors are sensitive to diversity among families and recognize that all parents/guardians, custodial and noncustodial, have certain rights and responsibilities for their children’s welfare. School counselors also make reasonable efforts to honor the wishes of parents/guardians concerning information regarding the student, and, in cases of divorce or separation, exercise a good-faith effort to keep both parents informed with regard to critical information, with the exception of a court order.”

The guiding body for school counselors in the United States is the American School Counselor Association. The ASCA position on confidentiality is as follows: “School counselors recognize their primary obligation for confidentiality is to the student but balance that obligation with an understanding of the family or guardians’ legal and inherent rights to be the guiding voice in their children’s lives (ASCA Code of Ethics, 2010, A.2.d).” To read the full statement about confidentiality, click here.

You know your children better than anyone else knows your children. I work to establish trusting relationships with students and with parents, consulting also with mental health providers outside of Westminster to deepen these relationships. I will share with you what your child gives me permission to tell you, and if I feel it would beneficial for you to know more, I will gently encourage your child to open up to at home. In some situations, this encouragement will take place over multiple days.

So, in my room, students can unburden themselves and tell me whatever they’re thinking and feeling. They can feel safe knowing that I’ll share their thoughts with others only if one of the four following situations applies:

  • Someone is hurting you
  • You want to hurt someone
  • You want to hurt yourself
  • You give me permission to share with a trusted adult

I am in the process of visiting all classes to explain the confidential relationship between student and school counselor. I discourage the word “secret” when we talk about confidentiality; I encourage students to understand that what they tell me is private. Below is a poster that hangs in my office. Parents, if you have questions about confidentiality or if you’re curious about any part of a school counselor’s job, please email, call, or stop by anytime. I look forward to partnering with you.

What you say in here stays in here POSTER

Confidentiality poster in Ms. Strother’s room