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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!


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!

KC chalk 10-6-15

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

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.

Version 2

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 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.

Version 2

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!

Proud Pre-Firsters!

In our Pre-First classes, we’re reflecting on how much academic, personal, and social growth the students have experienced this year. The students are proud of their work — especially learning how to read and write! And they should be proud! It’s nice to be proud of ourselves when we’ve reached a goal, accomplished a difficult task, or shown kindness toward others. There is a difference between being humbly proud of ourselves and bragging, and we’ve examined that distinction.

Check out these students’ proud accomplishments. Way to go, Pre-First!


Reading, writing, and problem solving


Being a good friend, loving my mom, and reading Pigeon books


Great athletic feats!


He’s proud of himself for: not to make a mess and to be nice and to be respectful and to be good and last to be a BFF…. but also, he learned to be helpful!


Someone loves to read…


This student is outwardly-focused (and knows that Ms. Strother loves great manners!)

Changes: Moving into the Teen Years

Update: Due to an unforeseen conflict, the “Changes: Growing into the Teen Years” presentation about adolescent development has been postponed to Thursday, May 7 from 2:00-3:00

This Thursday, April 30, all Fifth Grade students will participate in the “Changes: Moving into the Teen Years” program. Nurse Keri Caldwell and I will speak to the girls; a physician who is a Westminster parent will speak to the boys. Information shared with both classrooms will come largely from the Procter & Gamble “Always Changing” program. We will answer questions related to topics covered in the Fifth Grade curriculum. If students have questions beyond the scope of the program, they will be encouraged to talk to parents and other trusted adults at another time. Although seeking information from friends is encouraged when the topic is homework or Field Day, that is not the practice we encourage when it comes to the topic of puberty. Well-intentioned friends providing misinformation leads to confusion…. and being a preteen is confusing enough!

Also, students will be instructed not to discuss the information they receive in the vicinity of younger siblings. It is a privilege to reach the milestone of the “puberty talk,” and it’s not the task of the Fifth Graders to educate younger children.

Thank you to parents who attended last night’s preview session. If anyone has questions before or after Thursday’s presentation, I am available by phone or email. Also, parents interested in checking out books on puberty in our professional library should contact Mr. Martin or Mrs. Cushing or stop by GWL.

Top 5 Friday: India, smoothies, and a 5K

What a great week in Love Hall! Here are four things that made your children and their teachers smile and one that we’re looking forward to!

5. India Day: Second Graders celebrated the culmination of their studies on India today with food, music, dance, trivia questions, and crafts. Students rotated through the four classrooms, learning non-stop from parents and grandparents who volunteered to share about their culture. Teachers and some students dressed in traditional Indian attire. It was such a fun morning!

India Day!

India Day!

India Day April 2015

celebrating India Day with a candle craft


4. Fun with Food and FLIK: During Tuesday morning’s Town Hall meeting for parents, Westminster’s Director of Dining Services, Terrence Dromm, and Executive Chef Eric Centeno shared with attendees a wealth of information about the lunches they create for the school. The chicken parmesan on Monday’s menu? Hormone-free, hand-breaded chicken. The tomato sauce? Made from scratch. The brussels sprouts your child hopefully tried recently? A request from a student. FLIK does a ton of programming with the students; if your child tried the black beans available during the celebration of the black bean, he or she received a sticker and a recipe card. Also, FLIK’s wonderful intern, Ms. Busby, worked with Student Council members to educate students about food waste and how to reduce it in our Hamilton Room.

An added bonus at the Town Hall meeting — attendees were treated to a tasty and healthy smoothie made right before our eyes! Thank you, Chef Eric. Also, don’t forget to check out upcoming menus online!

Chef Eric and Mr. McKnight

Chef Eric and Mr. McKnight delight attendees with smoothies all around!


3. Be Responsible: On Thursday morning, Mrs. Plunkett and Ms. Jagger’s Fifth Grade classes taught the rest of the school all about responsibility. The audience enjoyed the older students’ take on well-known fables such as “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and “The Little Red Hen.” Mr. Chalmers and Mrs. Doster lent their expertise to the classes throughout rehearsals and during the assembly. Great job, everyone!

Be Responsible!

Be Responsible!


2. A Sublime way to start the day: He’s so humble that he won’t want recognition for his contributions to the happiness of the Love Hall faculty & staff, so I won’t reveal the name of the male Science teacher who brought Sublime Donuts to school this morning. He also wouldn’t want to receive any thanks for the bagels he provides on some Fridays. And he definitely wouldn’t want praise for the pancakes he’s cooked on a griddle in the faculty lounge. So, let’s leave it as a simple thank you to one of the teachers who cares for not only your children but also his co-workers.

Sublime Donuts? Yes please!

Sublime Donuts? Yes please!


1. Girls rule! Tomorrow morning at Georgia Tech, approximately 20 female Wildcats will run their hearts out in the Girls on the Run 5K. If you’re not familiar with GOTR, take a few minutes and check out their website. Parent coaches, Becky McKnight, and other adult leaders have been teaching a wonderful curriculum and running with the girls for the past few months. Rain or shine, they’ll be running tomorrow! Best of luck, girls!

Have a wonderful, safe weekend!

Good sportsmanship in Pre-First

In our recent Pre-First classroom lessons, the students learned about and demonstrated good sportsmanship. We watched a short video/animated book on called “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Sportsmanship” in which Howard initially displays terrible sportsmanship. He cheats in a card game, calls his teammates ugly names when they make mistakes, talks back to his soccer coach, and trips another runner in a relay. Yikes! Also, he thinks that winning is the most important part of the game. He’s dissatisfied with anything but a first place trophy. Howard’s negative attitude and behavior affects his teammates. The students and I agreed that we wouldn’t want to be on a team with a kid like Howard.

Howard’s soccer coach sits him out of the game, and Howard sees his teammates having a great time when he’s not playing. They treat everyone with respect, share the ball, and have fun. Finally, he realizes he has displayed bad sportsmanship and vows to turn things around. Coach allows him to rejoin the game, and Howard shares the ball and accepts the team’s second place trophy with a positive attitude. A happy ending!

After the video, we reviewed Howard’s tips for sportsmanship and what a good team player does.


What does a good team player do?

To put their sportsmanship skills into action, students engaged in games during a follow-up lesson. Some of the games we played were horseshoes, block tower building, and ball relays. Students also practiced high-fiving opposing teams. For some students, it was challenging to discern how much to cheer for their own team before it sounded like bragging. “We shouldn’t say our team is the best,” offered one Pre-First girl, “because then how would the other team feel?” Sportsmanship and empathy at work!

horseshoe measuring in prefirst for sportsmanship

Green team won this round by .25″!

horseshoe action shot for prefirst sportsmanship

Red team action shot

It's a true ringer for the Green team!

It’s a true ringer for the Green team!

serious teamwork

serious teamwork

Our block tower falling down -- let's build it again quickly!

Our block tower is falling down — let’s build it again quickly!

sportsmanship high fives in prefirst

High-fiving the other team — great job, everyone!