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Faculty Spotlight: Middle School Team 5/6

Teams in the Middle School are grouped by grades 5/6 and 7/8 to support the developmental growth of students. The Grade 5/6 team is structured to support students as they move from an elementary teaching model to a middle school model. This month, we are featuring the Middle School Grade 5-6 team, pictured left to right: Deb Koehler, Tom Verni, Patrice Dias, Allison Koehler, Emily Lesinski, Phyllis Wright, Julie Ray, Danielle Carter, and Susan Lee. Learn more about their passion for teaching and the importance of an all-girls school environment.

Patrice Dias, History and Team Leader: In the fifth and sixth grades, our study of history is an investigation of the human story. In class, the girls discover the legacy of the world's earliest civilizations and how these ancient cultures influence our modern world. Each day I am impressed by my students' thoughtful questions and curiosity. Through our interactive classroom activities, the fifth and sixth graders develop critical thinking skills that connect them to our global society. 

Danielle Carter, Math: When I was in middle school, I had a life-changing relationship. To say this relationship shaped the person I am today might not be honest enough. My relationship with math actually defines me.  All those years ago, math mystified me, and I was totally fine with our very one-sided relationship. Math was evasive. The more I reached, the further away it went.  It was a slippery dance where I felt alone, abandoned, misunderstood, and most of all, pretty dumb. I became complacent. I stopped caring about it….math.  I was ok with not knowing a thing about this enigma and throwing out our 6 year relationship didn’t phase me, not one bit. Then, a funny thing happened.  I became a math teacher.  I became the person who I hated seeing everyday in school. The math teachers, any one of them, were the people who gave me all of my poor grades, the people who made me copy all of the problems out of the book (and there were like 50 per night), the people who never really communicated that using a table, a formula or a graph were all viable methods for finding the SAME THING!  So frustrating!  Because I always choose to use my power for good, I decided I was going to be a different type of math teacher. I was going to take the fear and loathing out of it and that was no small task given that I had been beaten senseless by this wicked set of ideas for so long.  Now, I view math as a challenge in a much different way.  I love teaching math because I know there is a way to reach EVERY learner and I try to do that every. single. day.  It’s electrifying to see ideas become cohesive practices and to see kids who didn’t think they could do it, laugh in the face of math danger!  Now when I start the new year off, I always let my students know that one day, they too, could be math teachers even if they never had a suspicion that they’d ever wanted to.  

Allison Kohler, Science: Teaching science in fifth and sixth grade is a blast because students are infinitely curious! Science is particularly conducive to getting students actively involved in their own learning; I'm here to provide guidance and the tools for students to take a look at the world with a scientific lens, but so often in class students are taking the lead in making sense of our observations in small groups or as a whole class. The world around us is full of opportunities for exploration and discovery! From figuring out how we can keep our creek healthy, to looking at the different ways matter can change forms, to wondering how to design the best product-- we can use real-life questions to make science relevant to students. I'm so grateful to be working at a place that embraces the use of our whole school as a classroom (especially our outdoor spaces) and where I can carefully craft curricula that let us follow our curiosities with passion. 

Deb Koehler, Director of Library Services: Walking into a library to borrow a book can be a daunting task for a student if they don't have a specific story in mind.  Books are my passion and one of my favorite things to do is to find books for students to read.  A conversation with a student allows me to get an idea of genres they are interested in and books they have already read.  The opportunity for the students to become acquainted with me and for me to get to know them better establishes the accepting environment of an exceptional school library and creates a comfortable relationship for ongoing requests for recommendations and/or research help.  In an all-girl setting, there are no "girl" or "boy" books.  All of the books are open to all of the students based on their interests and not stereotyped categories influenced by gender.  

Another important role I enjoy is collaborating with teachers to support their work in class.  Taking time during class to give students a refresher about NoodleTools, determining whether a source is viable or not, and assisting with access to provided databases and library materials is coordinated with the classroom teacher.  Other collaborative opportunities include pushing in to co-teach in an English class or novel studies. 

Susan Lee, Math: An important aspect of middle school mathematics is problem solving.  Problem solving requires grit, which can be defined by a trait possessed by individuals who demonstrate passion and perseverance toward a goal despite being confronted by significant obstacles and distractions.  I love witnessing students have the "aha" moment after some productive struggling. The flipped classroom environment encourages students to work through problems independently and collaboratively.  Students have the opportunity during class to work at their own pace without the pressure of speed. Students can choose to engage in healthy competition with a peer or work independently with guidance from a teacher or classmate. In a traditional classroom some girls feel the spotlight is on them if they raise their hand in front of their peers to ask a question, but the flipped classroom alleviates having those moments since everyone is focused on their own work. They can ask questions at their own pace and it gives me more 1 on 1 time with each individual student. This allows me to build a stronger relationship with each student and see a snapshot of her daily work. I'm grateful that Stuart  provided me as an educator the space and resources to set up a flipped classroom to support our girls' learning.

Emily Lesinski, Theology: My passion is inspiring our fifth grade girls to be passionate about justice, faith, and caring for the world we live in. My students recently completed an assignment where they wrote prayers of thanksgiving about the environment and decorated them with pieces of nature found on campus. One of my favorite parts of class is listening to each of my fifth grade students lead the class in prayer.

Julie Ray, English: I adore our students' creativity! This week the fifth graders are learning through action as they collaborate and design story arcs intended to explore the conflict of Human vs. the Supernatural present within their Global Read Aloud novel, The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste. The climax of this activity is to design a war between the humans and the Jumbie monsters that involves three events leading to the climax and three events leading to the resolution. Each class was divided into opposing teams of Human and Jumbie, they then self-designated roles corresponding to the novel's characters, used a teacher-created Google slide show to identify important story elements and generate dialogue, and will be performing one act skits tomorrow in class. The freedom of the independent school all-girls' environment is empowering for both student and teacher!!!!

Tom Verni, Theology and Spanish: I'm currently teaching Middle and Upper School Theology and Middle School Spanish.   I am essentially a Humanities generalist and in addition to Spanish and  Theology, I have also taught Latin/Classics/Etymology, Italian, College-level Religious Studies, College-level English, and College-level Philosophy at varying times in my career.
My passion for Theology is rooted in the power of sharing God's healing love with others through my words and actions.  Theology is about building a community anchored in the transformational virtues of faith, hope and charity.  Once we know and experience God's unconditional love and goodness in life, it helps us thrive and have an enormous impact on local and global society!  Theology is also a very meaningful subject because it helps develop the ability to meditate and pray, and to rely on God for peace and well-being in a challenging and often stressful world.  
Relating to languages, I've had a passion for language since I was a young child. I won the polyglot award in high school.  Every language I studied made me feel as if I was a new person with a new world view.  It is truly empowering and thoroughly inspiring to be able to read,write and speak to others in their own tongue.  I've formally studied Italian, Spanish, Latin, Biblical Greek, Biblical Hebrew and I've privately studied French and a bit of Mandarin Chinese.
I've been an educator in an all girls school for 23 years now.  I am a firm proponent of an all girls education! I am grateful for the depth of connection and communication which can be infused into teaching and learning in an all girls school!  Girls can thrive and be provided with optimal leadership opportunities in a school like Stuart!

Phyllis Wright, Art: I was born to be an artist; it is is my DNA. All around me recognized it at an early age.  I found that growing up with such a passion also helped me take risks in sports and academics. I learned about the world through art as if it was my window to the universe.  This helped me be a good student with curiosity and drive. This passion for art lead me to want to share it with others as a working artist and educator.  It led me to do my Graduate work at The George Washington University and a teaching position for a decade. I also taught at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and other workshops in the DC area before returning to my hometown of Princeton where I taught at Maurice Hawkes School and The International Charter School in Trenton before coming to Stuart in 2007. My interest in girls education began at Stuart, where I recognized the therapeutic need for art, and how strongly girls respond to skill building as well as self expression. Our program has grown because of our desire to collaborate with other disciplines and listen to the students.  Art is ever evolving here.  This is a wonderful environment, which allows for interaction with the landscape and the spiritual nature of the architecture. We are an Arts establishment …

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