Dominique Kucharczuk joined the Stuart community in 2011 after graduating from Elizabethtown College. She received her New Jersey Principal's Certificate and Master in Academic Leadership and Supervision from The College of New Jersey in 2016. Ms. Kucharczuk has taught preschool through fifth grade music, first, and second grade at Stuart. She also co-directs Upper School social activities and directs the Stuart Summer Academic Academy. In her spare time, Ms. Kucharczuk can be found at the beach or volunteering with the Princeton Girlchoir or Princeton Nursery School.
Since you first came to Stuart as a music teacher and are now in the classroom, please talk about your career journey.
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I created a classroom in my parents' basement for my siblings and their friends- complete with chalkboards and handmade books! Mrs. Carraher, my high school choir teacher, inspired me to pursue teaching music. I started teaching Lower School Music at Stuart in 2011. After years of integrating and observing the Lower School classrooms and teachers, I made the switch to teaching Lower School, which had always been a professional and personal goal. My favorite part of teaching Lower School is teaching about the Goals and Criteria of the Sacred Heart. Over the years, Stuart supported my thirst for knowledge and encouraged me to study Administration and Educational Leadership at The College of New Jersey. Leadership has always been a passion of mine, and where better to celebrate it than Stuart?!
Who were/are your mentors?
My parents have always been my mentors. They are hard-working people who've dedicated their lives to their family and the people around them. They've always supported me and asked if I've "done my best." Today, that's my barometer- have I tried my best today?
The teaching partners I've had over the years have always served as great inspiration for me. I've learned so much from Stacy Cramer, Kelly Raveling, Kealan Oliver, Heidi Echternacht, Christina Kosyla, Shannon Cameron, Lynn Lepore- and each teacher at Stuart! Every teacher has a distinctive teaching style that has guided me, inspired me, and shaped the way I teach.
You were instrumental in rolling out the phonics program and are working closely with kindergarten to make sure it is cohesive for the early stages of reading. Please tell us more about that and your goals for the Lower School.
Phonics has always been an interesting subject to me- especially the rules of the English language! How can "plow" and "glow" sound so different?! We've been rolling out the TC Phonics program in the K/1 with Judy Shakespeare's guidance. It's essential that we ensure that students are receiving developmentally appropriate phonics instructions at this age so they can truly absorb the material, retain, and apply it. It's imperative that the girls are given the opportunity to apply their phonics knowledge in real-time through true literacy experiences. I wish that I had been taught phonics this way when I was in school! It just makes so much sense and serves as a catalyst for reading fluently and independently; the girls have a bigger toolbox of strategies to pull from when trying to decode an unknown word when reading or writing.
You have also been an integral part of the Send Hunger Packing (now Students Change Hunger) initiative at Stuart. When did that program start, and how are you teaching students how they can affect change at such a young age?
I believe that BA Cagney brought this program to Stuart. Stacy Cramer and I spoke with BA five years ago about integrating Students Change Hunger into our first grade curriculum. It aligns with our study of food, sustainability, and social justice. This program is special because the food we collect is donated to other kids in our county. We recently read a great book called Maddi's Fridge, which talks about two friends and the differences in their refrigerators. Food scarcity is more common than we think- there are hungry families in our backyard. Service has always been an important part of my life- I'm a lifelong Girl Scout and went to a service learning college. Volunteerism and service are most impactful for everyone involved when the experiences are authentic- bringing the first grade to the Food Bank is one of our goals this year!
We always like to ask our faculty spotlight if he/she has any hidden talents or little-known hobbies that the community might not know. Do you?
I love to arrange flowers! I also love to take day trips down to the beach to read- it's my favorite place to be.
Lastly, as someone who has worked with students of all ages at Stuart, what words of wisdom or advice could you offer all girls?
My advice for Stuart girls is simple: Live the Goals and Criteria as best you can every day. It's a framework for a life of faith, knowledge, service, community, and growth. It's a unique and special community to be a part of, and I treasure being a part of the Sacred Heart network.