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Faculty Spotlight: Middle School Team 7/8

In supporting students in preparing for the transition from middle school to high school, the Team 7-8 curriculum is designed to give students greater academic challenges, additional responsibilities, increased independence, and expanded leadership opportunities in athletics, peer leadership and student government. By the time students reach the completion of their time in the middle school, they will be prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead, and will be ready to journey forward as an agent and advocate of positive change. From left to right: Emily Lensinski, Mary Ellen Lederer, Karin McLaughlin, Susan Hayes, Brian Drury, Susan Lee and Danielle Carter. Not pictured: Juan Cordero, Jan Baldwin and Phyllis Wright.

Karin McLaughlin, History and Team Leader: I have a long history being part of the Stuart community.  I graduated from Stuart in 1989 and I have sent three daughters  through the school, as well.  (Madeline ‘17, Sarah, ‘20, and Claire ‘27)  I teach history to the seventh and eighth graders.  In seventh grade, the students study the history of the foundation of the US government.  In eighth grade the students study Civics, specifically the three branches of government as well as state and local government.  I enjoy classes filled with questions and discussion as the students are encouraged to learn and appreciate the importance of the power of their voice in a democratic nation.

Jan Baldwin, Chair of the Arts Department: As a professional musician and actor, I have a passion and genuine need to share my voice in order to inspire or to evoke an emotional response that is relatable. The human experience is what the Arts respond to or propel. We imagine. We design. We create. Every interaction is an opportunity to share and shine a light on our own vulnerability and on our strengths. Our classes research, define, and expand the opportunities for our students to find their own unique voice. Our Stuart students are able to see the world through a creative lens and react to or challenge our world views through music, dance, theatre, architecture, photography, film, and Visual Art. Our curriculum has been tailored to the female experience. We explore female artists from the past and insist that every student challenge herself to become an artist as we encourage deep thought and skill building in every class. We seek to encourage our students to break through the glass ceiling with leadership by introducing professional guest artists in Production, Architecture,Cinematography, Photography, Gallery ownership, Musical Conductors and entrepreneurs in the Arts. We are also an outward face for Stuart Country Day School for the Princeton area Community.

Classes are individualized and work to support self-confidence and Agency, collaboration and team building, discuss moral complexities, and create production and performance. We are blessed with superior spaces that enlighten and enhance the experience of learning. Curricular and Co-curricular opportunities are supported as every student is given the opportunity to lead and grow. We hope to inspire, share our love for Arts education and to mentor every learner.

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.  

Brian Drury, Math: I believe that teaching is in my blood. My Dad was a teacher, guidance counselor, and administrator who worked in education for 50 years. My Mom was a teacher and department supervisor for 33 years. Math was always my favorite subject, and I truly enjoy working with young people. I feel that teachers wear many hats.  We are educators, advisors, coaches, and role models for our students.  

Susan Hayes, English: As a graduate of an all-girl education including college, I know both the need for and the value of being educated in an environment where one’s ideas, opinions, and perspectives are not only respected  but also encouraged.  When given the opportunity to continue to foster those concepts in girls today, I was eager to do so.  I know that the worldview that I have today was shaped by the education that I received.  I also know that if we, as a society, are to continue to make strides in ensuring that this world a better, safer, and more inclusive place, then education is the answer.  I have found that Stuart is the perfect place for me to work with girls on achieving the goals of a enriched and inclusive society.

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.

Mary Ellen Lederer, French: I have a lifelong  passion for the French language and culture thanks to my fourth grade French teacher, Mrs. Spiro, so I want to ignite that same passion for the French language in my girls at Stuart.

Emily Lesinski, Theology: The study of theology has always been an interest and passion of mine. I knew early on in high school that I wanted to study religious traditions, faiths, and spirituality. What I love most about teaching our girls here at Stuart is the insightful questions they come up with during each and every class. I strive each day to make the study of theology exciting for them. Most importantly, I want the girls to know that they are deeply loved by our Creator and that they have an understanding and respect for the religious traditions of others. When I am not at school, I am busy with my wonderful daughters (I am a proud Stuart Mom to a middle and upper schooler). I am also an Emergency Medical Technician and spend many evenings in the ambulance responding to the medical needs of people in my town. 

Phyllis Wright, Middle and Upper School Visual Arts: Art for me has been a window to life.  In many ways I learned about the world through my experience as an artist and art student, which has never stopped.  I am a student of life through art.  With this in mind, I work toward bridging other subject matter into the art making experience, especially in the upper school.  Students reflect on what they care about to deepen their experience of art making.  The fundamentals remain important tools to expand skills at all levels.  I love teaching at Stuart.  The students are receptive, smart, and willing to take creative risks. Confidence is built through mutual respect  and positive feedback from other students and me. I paint every day. I encourage my students to keep visual journals, and see art as much as possible.  The world of Art is exciting, curious, and expansive.  It is my true pleasure to introduce my students to art and guide their development as Creatives!


Learn more about the Middle School