26 Apr

“News to Know” for Grade 8 Parents

Placement related information (and key dates for students) was recently shared by Grade 8 Dean James Aitken with all 8th grade parents.  This information is provided below here as well.  Questions?  Email aitkej@d-e.org or call 201-227-3235.

Dear 8th Grade Parents,

I just wanted to take a moment to prepare you for a process that will begin on April 26th.   We are entering the scheduling/placement period for 8th graders as they prepare to enter our Upper School.  This process will take a few weeks and will proceed under the guidance of the Homebase advisors.  It is important to remember that for the most part rising 9th graders only have real choice with regard to their Language and Art classes.  The History, English, Science and Math classes are scheduled by a placement process led by the department chairs and teachers which takes into account recommendations and other criteria.

You will be receiving some materials from me (attached in this email) and your child (placements – April 27th & sign up confirmation form – May 13th) over the next few weeks.  The Course Catalogue for 2016/2017 will be handed to your children in Homebase and is also on the school website for your reference.  Please note that on May 20th, schedule forms (which will be sent home) are due back to me with your signature.  I urge you to not worry about this process too much right now.  I can assure you that this process is methodical, thoughtful and inclusive.  I can also assure you that the 8thteachers and I work closely with the Upper School teachers and department chairs to ensure the smoothest system possible.  Our advisors will also be working closely with their advisees to help them make sense of their choices and support and help with any possible decisions.

We will have department chairs come and talk to the 8thgrade to help them better understand the Upper School curriculum and class structure.  As parents, you will likely be talking with your child about this at home and reviewing materials that come home.  The packets and the Homebase advisors should answer almost all of your questions, but please feel free to reach out to me if you have any additional questions.

26 Apr

Grade-Level Happenings

Hajjar STEM Center Architect, Mark Thaler from the leading architecture firm Gensler spoke to the 6th Grade about City Planning and Architecture. Mark is one of Gensler’s Education Practice Area leaders in the New York office, and he develops education projects at all scales, from classroom to campus.  His projects span the academic spectrum, from K-12 through higher education, both nationally and internationally.   Mark has a passion for creating learning spaces that inspire, and collaborates with his clients to create these environments.  His projects have received numerous awards and his work has been featured in prominent publications including Architects Choice. In conjunction with the current Studio Art 6 PBL unit titled “City Design Remix”, Mark spoke about some of the key elements of city planning and design.  During his talk, Mark engaged students with questions about different aspects of “green” cities and the elements that make cities great.  He then went on to speak about a range of different buildings around the world that were designed by architects at his firm.  Students enthusiastically responded to questions about the relationship between the function and design of buildings ranging from airports, to schools, to art museums.  In addition, the group discussed ways in which those buildings fit into their particular surroundings, from rural to urban settings, and the materials and design features that make those structures green.  Mark finished his talk by sharing some insights into working collaboratively as an architect and how to be a good team member.


The 7th grade students are actively engaged in a PBL project called Writing Refugees. The driving question of the unit is: How are stories used to communicate ideas? Students will go through a set of experiences that will give them an idea of what it is like to be a refugee. Experiences include viewing two virtual reality short films produced by the United Nations and New York Times, reading two novels on refugees, mapping a refugee’s journey, and examining various media to investigate how people are using stories to communicate ideas about refugees. The culminating project for the unit is for students to work in small groups to collaboratively write, illustrate, and publish either a fiction or nonfiction children’s picture book about one refugee.  Students will then read their books to lower school students and donate them to a library.  The kick off for the project was a two hour UNHCR-designed refugee simulation run by the 7th grade teachers. Students were taken through a set of activities that simulate, as much as possible, the challenges that refugees face. All of the experiences are intended to help students develop empathy and help them understand how people use stories to communicate ideas.


The 8th grade students recently completed their MAD (Making A Difference) projects. One student took it a step further with his classmates. His project was on CODEing in schools, and last week he offered a class on it to his classmates. Good follow up!

26 Apr

Service Learning

Service Learning is an important component of our Middle School program and takes many forms.  Our 8th grade program is organized through our HomeBase system and involves student choice and voice. It’s interesting to see how each year unfolds and what projects the students choose. The recent fire at a local Englewood church has produced some meaningful moments of service. For example, Ms. Garcia’s HomeBase is running a carwash in early May with the proceeds to benefit the church. Mr. Kessler’s HomeBase boys are helping the church pre-school with any manual labor that they need, i.e. emptying boxes, setting up the classrooms, etc.  Mrs. Withrow’s HomeBase is baking goods to sell during lunch. Those proceeds will be used to purchase toys for the Church Pre-School and the girls are looking to spend some time with the little ones, playing and reading to them.

From Dr. Brown, whose HomeBase helped to raise over $5,000 for the John T. Wright skating rink: “It was a real treat to be in the audience at tonight’s Englewood city council meeting to watch our HomeBase present the proceeds from this past winter’s fundraiser.  Kudos to Peri and Angelina for taking the mic. You did a great job describing what we accomplished and learned in the process.  We worked in coordination with a number of schools locally, and the result was a $5,000 donation to the city of Englewood to support the John T. Wright skating rink.  “Congratulations to you all on a fine job!!!!”

The spring service learning project in 6th grade has begun!  We are building a garden for the Englewood Center for Food Action (CFA) so they can provide their clients with fresh vegetables this summer. Each 6th grade HomeBase takes a turn gaining and practicing their gardening skills in our D-E garden, in preparation for their work at CFA. For example, one HomeBase measured the beds and recorded those measurements on a site plan. Another HomeBase will use the measurements to figure the amounts of amendments needed for the practice beds here at Umpleby.  When the HomeBase groups go to the CFA, they will replicate their skills on a much-larger basis.

26 Apr

Artistic Endeavors

In Studio Art 6, the kids are deeply engaged in a unit PBL with the driving question, “How do we, as architects, design new buildings to solve existing problems in our communities?”  The students were able to spend time with architect Mr. Mark Thaler and view real examples in preparation to making their practice models. This step gave them time to assess their current design and construction skills. Simultaneously they are working in teams to design blueprints of city districts. Construction of buildings began this week.

In Studio Art 7, the Sea Life sculptures for our Middle School Play “The Little Mermaid” are almost done, and they will be on display during the shows in May. Students worked in groups to create the sea life from chicken wire and paper mache.

Our Studio Art 8 artists are finishing up their Landmark Watercolor/Ink Illustrations. They are done with traditional pen and ink and painting techniques.

In Drama 7, students are working on One Minute Plays.  In Drama 8, students have begun their published monologues.

26 Apr

Focus on Fitness

Every year, all middle school students participate in the fitnessgram assessments during their physical education class. These assessments are a great tool for students to develop an understanding of their own personal fitness levels.  This past week, students completed their Spring fitnessgram activities based on the categories that are most important in achieving a healthy fitness level. Students laced up their running shoes and completed the PACER test, a 20 meter progressive, multi stage shuttle run set to music.  The results of this activity provide an indicator of the individual student’s aerobic capacity.  Students also participated in the push up and curl up assessments as a measure of upper body muscular strength and endurance as well as abdominal strength and endurance.  Lastly, students challenged their flexibility during the trunk lift and the sit and reach exercises.  We hope that students continue to exercise and participate in any form of physical activity for up to 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  As an alternative, students can count their daily activity steps using a pedometer or Fitbit type of watch. It is recommended to take 11,000-13,000 steps a day for kids and teens ages 6-17 years old. Healthy habits, healthy lives!

26 Apr

As I walk the halls…

In 6th grade, students have been working on an essay in Social Studies comparing two Bronze Age Greek cultures. In Mrs. Segar’s math class, students have been working the past two weeks on their “How can I relate to a million and a billion?” PBL. Finally, in Science, 6th graders have been investigating concussions/CTE in relationship to Newton’s Laws of Motion and sports and in English, they have been reading Lions of Little Rock, while working on subject/verb identification.

This week the 7th grade is reflecting on their Conservation Conversation projects.  After the parent event last Friday, each student has been evaluating their persuasive strategies.  Students used a rubric and discussion questions to dive into the process of the project.  Wednesday, the students participated in a refugee simulation on Graham Field.  Groups of 7th graders formed families and experienced events that may occur during war time and displacement.  Through this process our hope is students will develop empathy and an understanding for the challenges refugees face.

Spring is a busy and engaging time for the 8th Grade. In science class, the students are currently choosing their topics for Scitube, learning about databases and working on their research proposals.  The current learning of radicals and exponents in math class will eventually aid students in analyzing their data and creating graphs for their Scitube experiments.  In history class, students are beginning their studies of the Civil Rights movement by recognizing how Reconstruction ultimately failed and created a segregated South. Finally, in English the students are tackling Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet in addition to creating their own masterpieces for the Portfolio project. Overall, it is an exciting time to be an 8th grader.

In the World language classes, our 6th graders are learning about clothing from different regions of Latin America and Spain, and at the same time developing their PBL where they recreate some of these beautiful outfits. The 7th graders are working on hobbies and pastimes. Some 8th grade classes started to learn about the main holidays in the Hispanic world. Other classes are learning about food and healthy eating habits and the great contribution of the Aztec, Mayas and Incas to our current diet. Students use the D-E Garden to experience the process of planting and harvesting their own crops, like tomatoes, potatoes and corn. They are also preparing for the upcoming World Language Festival on May 5th.

26 Apr

Message from Kathy Christoph, MS Principal


D-E recently hosted two notable authors as part of the Parents’ Association BookTalk 2016 event. Ms. Julie Lythcott-Haims (“How to Raise An Adult…”) and Ms. Jessica Lahey, (“The Gift of Failure“) spoke to our students, our faculty and our parent body. Read More

Ms. Lahey is a former middle school teacher and connected with our youngsters with her message of taking risks and feeling comfortable enough to fail. While this sounds like a simple concept, in actuality, it can be difficult. “Should I try a new approach to writing this essay or stay with the tried-and-true?” “What if I try something new and I don’t get a good grade?” “I’ve never gone scuba-diving/hiking/fill-in-the-blank. What if I’m not very good at it?” “Will my parents be upset with me if I don’t get good grades?”

These types of questions and the accompanying emotions often run through the minds of young adolescents. The negative feelings and projections can contribute to a mindset that is averse to taking risks and averse to failure. Yet, if we want healthy, curious children, we must learn to allow children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.

If you’re looking for a good parenting book about young adolescents, I highly recommend Ms. Lahey’s book. And while you’re all having a family dinner, you may want to ask these two questions as good conversation-starters:

  • How do you feel about taking risks that may involve failing or making mistakes?
  • Do you believe that we (your parents) give you space to take risks or new chances with experiences, with school, with your activities?