Sunday, April 12, 2015


Mentor: n.: an experienced and trusted adviser.

I participated in an activity this past fall during a protocol training.  During this activity, I was given a blank piece of paper onto which I had to depict, using words and/or images, how I got to where I am today.  On that paper, I drew what ended up looking like a wedding cake, with a solid foundation layer and smaller layers sequentially building on the top, with my current status the smallest layer at the top.  I am not sure that the ever-smaller layering concept is a perfect model, but there were two parts to my diagram that struck me.  One was the solid foundation, which I attributed to my parents and the teachings and opportunities they provided me.  The second was what the layers represented.  Transition from one layer to the next represented a new phase of my educational or professional growth.  And between each layer was a mentor, someone who inspired, trusted in me, and advised me as I extended myself into a new realm of professional growth.

I am so thankful and lucky, as I look back at my growth, to not only have the strong foundation, but to also have had multiple mentors along my journey.

This past week, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a mentor from my early days as a public school educator.  14 years ago, I was teaching middle school science at a private middle school in Cambridge.  After four years of teaching in private schools, I decided that I would really like to work in the public school setting.  I did not yet have children, but felt strongly that when I did, I would like to "put my money where my mouth is" per se, and send them to public schools, investing in the public school system as a parent as well as an educator.

I was missing one thing in the application process.  A Massachusetts teaching certification.  I was willing to get certified; I just hadn't gotten it yet, as my decision to teach in public schools was a new one.  Private schools do not require a teaching certification (although they loved my MA in Earth Science, as I was an earth science teacher).

I applied to one public school, which was Wayland Middle School.  At the time, I was attracted to Wayland both because of its strong education reputation, in addition to being my husband's hometown and a potential site for us to live if/when we could afford it.  So if I was potentially putting down my roots there for a lifetime, then certainly working where my own children would be going to school was a real investment.

And then comes into the picture Richard Schaye.  A man of small build and tremendous spirit.  A man of strong Jewish heritage and family values.  A man of tremendous respect and empathy for others.  A man with a sense of humor.  A storyteller.  A risk taker.  I know he was a risk taker, as he hired this younger, non-licensed version of myself.  And for that, I will always be grateful.

While I might have been unqualified on paper, he believed that I had just the qualifications the science department needed at that time, and claimed he would love to be dragged off to DESE "jail" to make the case for hiring well-qualified teachers who might not have the right paperwork (picture the handcuffs, the police car waiting, and a moment to speak with the press on his way out the school front door).  By doing so, he quickly established an element of trust in me that I had not yet professionally experienced.  What he received from me, in turn, was the perseverance to get licensed and the initiative to prove that he hadn't made a mistake!

Prior to his retirement, I spent three years under his guidance.  And a mentor he became.  The element of trust built from day 1, he continued to share advice with me, guidance, and good humor as I juggled my licensing, class planning, and mothering of my first child.  I looked forward to having him visit my class, as I always got feedback that I appreciated and that helped me to grow.  We also spent hours over the course of these years talking about life in general.  He took the time to get to know me, my family, my history, an shared with me his as well.  I remember being seatmates on a long bus ride to upstate NY on a science field trip, where I heard many a tale of his past and experiences, and also shared with him perspective on what it was like to grow up in a struggling town in upstate NY.

I had not seen Richard for 11 years.  When he arrived in my office this past week, he moved a bit slower, his hair a bit grayer, his sharp memory the slightest bit softened.  I, as well, have my own evidence of change over age.  But what remained steadfast was his spirit, his respect, his humor, and his experiential knowledge.  In my second year as administrator, I was excited to share with him my successes and struggles, and to hear his own perspectives on issues of administration and education.  He was impressed by our school, from the feel of the building to the staff that he met along the way.  He observed me "in action".  He gave me feedback.  Through this conversation I was invigorated and inspired (to update my blog more often is one such inspiration).  A mentor he remains.  But in our newly refined relationship, he is a friend and confidant as well.

I think of my own influence as an administrator.  I am continuously learning and trying to improve myself and my practice, and am reflective as to how I might possibly inspire and mentor staff and students myself.  I think of the wonderful teachers of Coolidge, who are mentors for their students and each other.  I think of our parents, who are working to provide the foundation for our students to build opportunity.  This blog post is a selfish moment to say thank you.  Thank you to my parents, and to all of my mentors who have inspired me to take chances and to be my best self.  And may this post inspire others to take the time to reconnect with, and thank, those who have invested and believed in you in your past.  Our parents, our teachers, our mentors, truly deserve it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'Twas the Day Before Vacation

Twas the day before vacation, and all through the school
Energy was high, but no one was breaking a rule.
The bookbags were hung in the lockers without care,
With knowledge that the bell soon would be there.

The children in assembly; "Quiet down!" teachers said,
While visions of vacation danced through ALL of their heads.
Rafael with his trash can and Bo with his broom
Were just getting ready for the cleaning of this room.

When out from the hallway there arose such a clatter
Mrs. Pink jumped from her seat to see what was the matter.
Away to the hallway she flew like a dash
Pushed open the door and ran out with a flash.

The temporary shine on the newly waxed floors
Blinded her for a moment as she flung open the door.
And what to her concerning eyes did appear
But a teacher, in his coat, with all of his classroom gear.

With a laugh in his loud voice, his retirement a myth
She knew in a moment it must be Mr. Smith
His suspenders covered in Santas, his pants with the same,
His tie adorned with the jolly old man of that name.

“Now Ms. Pink, and Ms. Marchant
Now teachers and kids,
On paras, on secretaries,
Bring your friends, bring your sibs,
To the front of the school,
Please now follow my call,
Let’s dash away, dash away, dash away all!"

As free students, at the bell, out the door will they fly
But when met with detention (they try to get by),
Out the door he was heading, like the end of the day,
With the expectation of vacation not held at bay.

He was dressed in the spirit, from his head to his toe,
His suspenders, his tie, and even his pants below.
A bundle of toys he slung over his back,
Gifts from his students bundled in his pack.

His eyes – how they twinkled!  His laughter, how merry!
His hair a bit disheveled, his face slightly hairy.
His guilty little mouth tightened up like a bow,
And his foot did a scuffle, as if kicking snow.
The ring of his keys shook in his excited large hand,
The jingle like Santa, or like his own one man band,
He had a narrow face and a very skinny belly,
And a voice that reverberated in the halls like wobbly jelly.

He was trying to sneak out, but an hour too early
Ms. Pink laughed when she saw him, in a tone not TOO surly.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
A blush on his cheeks a deepening red.

He sprang out the door, to his team gave a wave
And jumped into his Mini Cooper, and started down the pave
But we heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,

"Happy Holidays to all!  Be they merry and bright!"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Special Thanks

Dear Coolidge Families,

On Wednesday, November 26, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving assembly at Coolidge, organized by Team Voyager with special contributions from the band and acapella group.  It was moving and fun, and I am so appreciative of those students and adults who so carefully planned for the assembly, the food drive, and the music!

During the assembly, I read my own list of thanks as a way to both share myself with the school as well as to encourage the students to take a moment to pause and to give thanks.  I hope they were able to do so!

Thankfulness, by Mrs. Marchant...

 ·          I am thankful for my immediate family, including my husband Dave, my son Taylor, my daughter Olivia, and my dog Teddy.
·         I am thankful for my parents, my brother, my sister, and their families.
·         I am thankful for my health and that of my family.
·         I am thankful for my friends, who remain my friends through thick and thin, through celebrations and challenges, and over distance and time.
·         I am thankful to have a home.
·         I am thankful to be able to provide for my family, such as food and heat and fun.
·         I am thankful for being provided an excellent education, and to always keep on learning no matter how old I get.
·         I am thankful for the community of Reading, which I share with most of you students, as it is a wonderful place to work and learn and grow.
·         I am thankful for the country I live in and for those who work hard to keep us safe.
·         I am thankful to have a job.
·         I am thankful to love my job.
·         I am thankful for my amazing colleagues, meaning the teachers and staff in this building, who love what they do and who are passionate about supporting and educating middle school students along their/ YOUR path in life.
·         I am thankful for all of you students, who are the heart of this school.  My life would not be the same without you!
·         I am thankful for our Community Core Values, which hold us strong at our foundation of who we are as a community.
·         I am thankful for laughter.
·         I am thankful for music.
·         I am thankful for sunsets. (Did you happen to see the one last night?)
·         I am thankful for exercise.
·         I am thankful for good books, movies, and TV shows that make me think, laugh, or cry, or just allow me to get lost in the stories.
·         And lastly, I am thankful for the teachers and students of Team Voyager for putting together such a wonderful assembly!

I hope you and your families had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sarah Marchant

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coolidge Community Core Values Assembly

On the heels of our first all-school assembly, this seems the perfect time to write a blog post.

Whenever we come together as a school, 99% of the time, it is in celebration.  It seems almost strange that we haven't joined together as a school until this past Friday, but at the same time, it seemed perfect in the moment.

As the community is now aware, we have kicked off a new set of Core Values for our school community: Perseverance; Accountability; Respect; Teamwork.  The kick-off has included grade-level assemblies, advisory activities, and a culminating project in advisory groups.  These activities have taken time, and have been done with fidelity across the school.  Additional layers of our kick-off have included parent email updates, a presentation by myself, Mrs. Warren, and two students at the October 6 School Committee meeting, and many meetings of the school leadership team to create activities and plans surrounding the kick-off.

The assembly was a community effort, and in the end, it was fantastic.  The assembly included the following:

  • An introduction and welcome from Principal Marchant.
  • Five students from the Coolidge World of Difference program who were the "Emcees" for the assembly.
  • A student-written explanation of the connection between A World of Difference and our new core values.
  • A guest speaker, Mr. Jason Cross, who is the district METCO director.
  • A slide show, created by the enrichment groups led by Ms. Steinhauser and Ms. Grant, that showcased the Core Values projects and students modeling core values.  And it had awesome music as well!
  • A ticket drawing (gift cards to Zynga!) for two students per team who have already exemplified the new Core Values so far this year.
  • An explanation of our new ticket system, which will continue to recognize students for exemplifying our core values.
I would like to further describe two aspects of the assembly that parents might appreciate following up on with their children:

Mr. Cross's Speech: We videotaped his speech and need a bit more time to get it properly formatted to share via the blog.  When we do, I will send it out so parents can hear it directly.  Mr Cross started his speech by changing the energy of the room, asking students to count down from 5 and to say "bang!" at the end.  It certainly did change the energy, and involved teamwork!  Mr. Cross then began his story with a powerful first line, stating that he was hanging with his friends in high school, answered his phone and leaned forward to better hear his girl on the other line.  By leaning forward, a bullet that went flying over his head missed him by centimeters.  At this moment, the students were silent.  An environment of guns and bullets is one that is, thankfully, not a familiar one for our students.  The bullet came not from a stranger or passer by, but from his friend, as Mr. Cross and his friends were hanging out, playing with their guns.  The bullet came from a friend, who had accidentally shot it; Mr. Cross would have lost his life had he not leaned forward in that moment.

Mr. Cross grew up on Boston and his life did not start easy.  He was part of a gang, he was involved with drug and alcohol abuse, and he did not value his education.

At one point, lost in this world of gangs and drugs, he came to the realization that this wasn't the life he wanted to live.  And it was up to him to be the impetus for change.  
  • It took Perseverance to get out of the gang, to quit drugs and alcohol, and to keep that energy for change going.  He had to stand up to those doing wrong when trying to do right.
  • It took Accountability, as he was accountable for his actions, positive or negative, so he had to be accountable for the changes that he wanted to happen.
  • It took Respect.  To make change, Mr. Cross needed to respect himself first and foremost.  Secondly, rather than having an aggressive stance with those around him, he had to change his ways of thinking about those around him, and respect others as well.  As a result, he earned more respect from them.
  • It took Teamwork, as Mr. Cross couldn't act alone in life.  He needed his family, he needed coaches, and he needed supports, in order to find his success in life.
So was he successful?  Absolutely.  He went to college (although it took seven tries).  He is now married with three beautiful children.  He is a METCO director, a motivational speaker, a father, a fitness coach, and an actor. (And as we all learned, he's a very good beat boxer as well!).

He shared a very powerful story, and everyone in the room was extremely riveted and moved.

What was the takeaway for our students?  It was to think about their story.  What will their story be when they leave middle school?  High school?  And beyond?  How will our core values impress upon a nd support their story?  Will they be proud of their story when they take pause in the future to share it? Mr. Cross's story was certainly a good reminder to all to appreciate all we have, and to always work to be our best selves, in all aspects of our community.

Ticket System: The message will continue, as will positive reinforcements in the form of tickets.  Please visit our foyer, where three trees have been painted by our students, and on these trees, tickets will be hung (like leaves) by students who exemplified the core values!  When the trees get full, we will come together again as a community to draw more names and to give more prizes!  A second phase of this ticket system will be to incorporate parents; you will be given the opportunity to also give tickets to students and teachers.  More to come!

Thanks to all of our students and staff for this tremendous kick-off!  We hope to keep this energy going through the months to come!