Middle School

Sandra Revak

Middle School Director
Bachelor of Science, Cornell College
Master of Arts, Aurora University

My career in education has always centered around the middle school student. I have worked with my students and their families in multiple school environments: public, private, parochial, and independent.I find tremendous satisfaction in watching a young fifth grader traverse the roller-coaster ride of their middle school years and develop into an eighth grader who is confident and ready to accept the increasing challenges that lie before them
- Sandy Revak

The three words that form the basis of my teaching philosophy are challenge, encourage, and grow.

Challenge: I strive to challenge each and every student to expand their understanding of a concept/subject/world/themselves in an active learning environment. I want students to analyze ideas, consider various viewpoints, draw informed conclusions, and be willing to take the risk needed to stretch themselves beyond what they initially thought were their personal limitations.

Encourage: I encourage each student to realize their potential and develop the confidence in themselves to learn and share what they know. I want each student to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, both a learner and as an individual, so they can use this knowledge in their academic and social/emotional pursuits. Everyone can learn, and we all do so in different ways and at our own pace.

Grow: When a student develops confidence in their own abilities, it helps them become receptive to the diversity of the world and become the person they want to be. I want every student to see learning as a worthy pursuit and one which opens the path to help them find their place in the world and compels them to contribute to it

I find tremendous satisfaction in watching a young fifth grader traverse the roller-coaster ride of their middle school years and develop into an eighth grader who is confident and ready to accept the increasing challenges that lie before them.

Trisha Shrum

Middle School Administrative Assistant, Summer Program - Assistant Coordinator, Summer Program STEAM Instructor
Bachelor of Arts, Roosevelt University

It’s not about how big or small are mistakes are, but how we correct them that define us. Life is full of choices that can lend itself to teaching opportunities. As a teacher I feel part of my job is to help students become equipped with the right tools, knowledge, and characteristics to grow both personally and academically in any situation. Elgin Academy naturally offers me the opportunity to teach in this way, which is inspiring.
- Trisha Shrum

Helen Elayan

PS-12 School Counselor
Bachelor of Arts, DePaul University
Masters of Arts, Adler School of Professional Psychology

My philosophy as a school counselor is the belief that every student can succeed. Learning is a lifelong process and I want to help students foster a positive self-image all in collaboration with the school, home, and community. My goal as the school counselor at EA is to provide a safe place for all students and to address every student's intellectual, emotional, and social needs.
- Helen Elayan

Heather Cannon

Lower School French, Middle School French
Bachelor of Arts, Miami University
Bachelor of Science, Miami University

It is my experience that the most effective educators make connections with their students. Personal relationships in schools are vitally important in order for both the teacher and the student to be successful.
- Heather Cannon

Over the years, I have developed a philosophy of education, which is the driving force behind my teaching practices. In order to best describe who I am as a teacher, I would like to describe this philosophy. First and foremost, I believe that all children can learn. They just learn in different ways. As an educator, it is my responsibility to utilize the appropriate teaching methodology for all of the students to whom I am responsible. Therefore I must constantly be willing to learn and grow in order to provide the best educational experience for my students. Collaborating with colleagues, attending workshops and reading current literature in the field of world language education are a few ways in which I strive to accomplish that goal. It is indeed through the process of learning that I have become and continue to become a better teacher.

It is my experience that the most effective educators make connections with their students. Personal relationships in schools are vitally important in order for both the teacher and the student to be successful. In my French class at Elgin Academy, many discussions and writing assignments focus on the lives and interests of the students as well as my own. Storytelling in all grades gives the students an opportunity to develop their own voice and create in French in a fun way. Additionally I have discovered that connecting the language to subject matter in the core curriculum deepens the interest level of the class. When language is seen as meaningful, the desire to learn is stronger. For example, while eighth graders are discussing the era of WWII in history class, we discuss the war from the perspective of a French child. Communicating with native speakers also sharpens the awareness of the students that they are citizens of the world. Using a networking site, the students post journal entries and receive corrections from French speakers in real time. It is wonderful to hear the conversations among the kids as they learn directly about another culture through communication with a native speaker.

Another way I work to create a learning environment that is relevant to the students is to make it child centered as opposed to teacher directed. In such a classroom, there is presence of academic choice and ownership. Additionally critical thinking opportunities are integrated into the curriculum. The students feel empowered to voice their opinions and know that their thoughts matter. Furthermore, the students consistently reflect on themselves as learners and begin to identify their strengths and weaknesses. One way I do this is by asking the students to predict how they will perform on an assessment as well as describe what they did to prepare. Upon receiving the results, they are asked to reflect on their learning strategies and to come up with a plan for improvement if necessary.

I am fortunate to teach at a school, such as Elgin Academy, where I am surrounded by colleagues and administrators who share these same beliefs. In such an environment, the students are provided an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Marie Cinquemani-Thomas

Upper School Music & Hilltop Coordinator, Middle School Music, Choir Director
Bachelor of Music, DePaul University

We have a saying in Room 301: What Happens In The Music Room, Stays In The Music Room. The end result is students who are willing to take risks, and are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. This translates into growth as a musician as well as a student, and a person.
- Marie Cinquemani-Thomas

Every music student has the capability to be successful, whether it is on a personal, academic, or performance level. As a music teacher, I set my expectations high; at times higher than the students themselves may think they are capable of achieving. Whether the students achieve the stated goal at “face value” is not the point. It is through the process, the journey, that the student discovers their voice, their art, and themselves.

As both a middle school and an upper school teacher, I have the opportunity to teach many of my students for eight years. This longevity builds trust, and allows me to create on the students’ knowledge base. Each year I generate a new curriculum based on the students that are in my classroom at that time, taking into consideration their individual skill sets. I adapt as much as possible to the individual needs of my students.

My Introduction to Fine Arts Music classes create individual portfolios that help them track their growth in musicianship, and help them to begin to reflect on their role in the learning process. At the end of each quarter, parents are also asked to review the portfolio with their child and reflect on the strengths, and the areas that need to be addressed in their son or daughter’s learning.

My choir concerts are not typical of what you would find in a conventional middle or high school music program. Instead, I create my choir programs around a specific, selected genre. This approach allows the students to be immersed in a specific style for many weeks, and creates time for them to explore the social, economic and political connections to the songs they are learning. I have created concerts ranging from “Music of Afrika and the African American Tradition” to “American Folk Songs” to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” At times I will program a major choral work such as the Faure Requiem or Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and these choices are always driven by the changing skills and needs of the students.

The study of music in general, and singing in particular, is personal. Students who learn to sing can become vulnerable during the process, as it involves much more than learning a basic technique, it involves learning to communicate emotion through their physical apparatus. As a music teacher, I guide my students through this process of self-discovery. As a young high school student I remember being terrified to sing in front of others, and struggling with basic musicianship. My own experience with performance anxiety and my personal struggle with music theory gives me a unique understanding of the challenges my students face.

I create a fun and playful atmosphere where my students can explore and create. I share my own personal experiences as a professional singer with them (the amazing performances as well as the embarrassing incidents,) so they feel safe enough to fail with reckless abandon. We have a saying in Room 301: What Happens In The Music Room, Stays In The Music Room. The end result is students who are willing to take risks, and are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. This translates into growth as a musician as well as a student, and a person.

Mariam Nasser

Middle School Science
Bachelor of Arts, Lebanese American University

As a teacher, I am the students’ guide and facilitator, providing a safe environment for them to grow academically and socially, which is key to building their confidence. They are learning lessons of collaboration where they need to be flexible and participate fully in order for their group to succeed.
- Mariam Nasser

As a product of the private school environment, I am able to attest to the benefits and experiences my students will appropriate. My education and life journey has taken me all over the world, making me the global citizen that I am today. I was fortunate enough to live all over the United States; Dhahran, Yanbu, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Beirut, Lebanon; Katima Mulilo, Namibia; and Johannesburg, South Africa. I was also able to visit many European, Asian, Gulf and Middle Eastern countries because of the nature of my father’s job. These journeys and experiences have shaped who I am as a compassionate, empathetic, and over-arching educator and guide. It is my hope that this will transcend into my students’ educations, as more globally sensitive and accepting community thinkers and activists, as they realize how truly small the world is and how it will shape their characters as individuals.

As a teacher, I am the students’ guide and facilitator, providing a safe environment for them to grow academically and socially, which is key to building their confidence. They are learning lessons of collaboration where they need to be flexible and participate fully in order for their group to succeed. Students are expected to make mistakes and fail at times in order to reach true levels of success. This allows them to reflect and analyze shortcomings and implement new ideas that could be more successful. This substantially increases their level of understanding and reinforces that our classroom environment is safe and fair for necessary risk taking.

In the classroom, my goal is to provide a continuum of challenging, thought provoking and age-appropriate scenarios allowing students to explore the world. There is a strong emphasis placed on hands-on experiments that reinforce and build interest in concepts. For example we make clouds in bottles, crush cans to show air pressure movement, dissect, create rockets and launch them, and created self contained ecosystems. We also have to bring life to the abstract atomic and subatomic world, where they use inferences and models to understand making the abstract more concrete.

Our classroom is one of inquiry, observation and investigation, where we reflect on our conclusions and summarize the concepts we have learned. Every child has a unique approach to their work and brings valuable insights and makes important contributions to our collaborative teams. Their reflections are a culmination of insight and food for thought for the entire class.

Strategies for teaching are crucial in this ever changing 21st century learning environment. As a learner, I try to instill, in my students, the independence and fervor for inquiry-based learning in a safe environment. Once a week, science students participate in labs, where they ask questions using the scientific method. In both science and reading, there are ample avenues for differentiation to target all abilities and styles of learning and connections are established. The information assimilated in class is a stepping stone toward broader thinking and higher level questioning. They are able to employ critical thinking and problem solving skills in class discussions, independent work, and cooperative work. Everyday is a new day and my hope is that students learn the importance of their participation and collaboration in order to implement and analyze concepts while taking some risks to reach levels of success no matter the obstacles.

Sam O’Connor-Divelbiss

Middle School Science, Middle School Soccer Head Coach
Bachelor of Arts, Kalamazoo College
Masters of Science, University of Michigan

Craig Pinson

MS Athletic Director, LS & MS PE Teacher, MS Boys Baseball - Head Coach, Summer Program - Sports Camp & Baseball Coach
Bachelor of Science, Northern Illinois University
Master of Science, Ohio University

While I am only just beginning my time at Elgin Academy, I can already see that this community is truly one of a kind. In my entire teaching and coaching career, I have never seen such a caring and supportive student body. The passion, positivity, and dedication that each student brings daily to the EA Community drives me to be the best teacher and leader that I can possibly be.
- Craig Pinson

Elizabeth Sala

LS & MS Visual Arts, Summer Program Instructor
Bachelor of Arts, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

My goal as the Elgin Academy lower and Middle school art teacher is to ignite each student's creativity while encouraging their own individuality and build on each student's self-esteem.
- Beth Sala

Throughout the year we will travel across the world to study great works of art and meet a wide variety of artists all the while exploring many different mediums.

Lynne Schick

Librarian, ELL Instructor
Master of Arts, University of Missouri
Bachelor of Arts, University of Missouri

As the Director of the Library/Media Center, information is, quite literally, my job. Every day I have the distinct pleasure of interacting with incredibly bright and curious students across all grade levels.
- Lynne Schick

Oftentimes teaching as an action is condensed into a very simple formula. One image painted of education resembles an assembly line where the student begins as a shell, full of potential, but unrefined and lacking knowledge and skills, and subsequently moves down the line from grade to grade receiving the necessary information needed to be successful. But the system in the aforementioned metaphor is incomplete. It is my belief that, while the lessons learned in the classroom across a comprehensive curriculum are integrally important, an education that fosters exploration and encourages hungry minds to seek the answers which they seek bolsters an already strong education. Inspiring this search is what has led me to become a school librarian and what makes me so pleased to have my roots in education at Elgin Academy.

As the Director of the Library/Media Center, information is, quite literally, my job. Every day I have the distinct pleasure of interacting with incredibly bright and curious students across all grade levels. One of my primary goals is to be a trusted aid that the students and teachers can count on to promptly provide them with the resources they need to pursue their academic goals, but I also want to show the students how to find the information they are looking for by effectively navigating the expanding myriad print and digital mediums; this foundational tenet of my educational philosophy is something that I take extremely seriously.

Take, for example, a scenario that I experience on a daily basis: a student looking for information pertinent to his or her particular topic for a project. Let’s say a middle school student is seeking assistance finding books about Jane Goodall for her Biographers’ Tea project. While my top priority is ensuring that this student leaves the library with strong potential sources that she can sort through and utilize, I also want to make sure that the student plays an active role in finding these sources. I may challenge her to brainstorm and search for media across diverse subject areas (i.e, “women scientists,” Koko the gorilla,” animal communication,” etc.) that will hopefully create a complete list of informational sources about Jane Goodall. While I believe it is extremely important to be technologically conscious and to help show the student how to efficiently explore the Internet for information, I also want to reinforce the timeless merits of books, including eBooks. As faculty, staff, and students at Elgin Academy, we are incredibly lucky to have the premier collection of nearly 20,000 titles housed in the state-of-the-art Rider Center, and I truly love being the one to connect Hilltoppers with these books.

Elgin Academy is a bastion for learning and a place where I feel comfortable and confident living out my educational philosophy. Similar to the proverb that says if you “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; [but] show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” I am a passionate supporter of the search for knowledge and showing students how to do so effectively, as it is a life skill they will take with them long after they leave our campus.

Melinda Taylor

Middle School Math
Bachelor of Arts, North Park College

Students follow the tone set by the teacher, and in turn fellow classmates. I highlight respect, honesty, kindness, and responsibility. I purposefully challenge them in a way that encourages success and having fun, which leads to greater learning.
- Melinda Taylor

After teaching middle school math for five years after college, I changed course and worked for many years as a controller. The importance of problem solving, number sense, discipline, writing, and interpersonal skills was evident in a business environment. While I enjoyed my business career, I frequently felt pulled to engage with children again, in part to influence them to become resourceful, kind, responsible individuals. So, after taking a few classes to brush up on current trends in education, I returned to the classroom a number of years ago. I continue to learn through workshops, conferences, educational publications, and from other great teachers.

I love math – the patterning, the puzzles, the logic, the picking apart of a problem to see how it all fits together, and drawing on what the person already knows to solve it. I try to entice my students to see the beauty of math and come to love it, too – or at least to enjoy math class.

Students should expect me to be prepared for class, to know the subject matter, and to treat them fairly. Students should feel free to ask lots of questions. Learning takes place when they listen, ask, and try. Respect is an expectation in my classroom; it contributes to creating a safe place for students to try new things. Through my leading questions, students are often able to reach conclusions themselves, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from discovery. Sometimes I introduce a new lesson, then guide them along increasingly more complex variations of the overall theme; sometimes students receive instruction through videos, mine or the publisher's, and then practice in class. After learning a new lesson in math we often use individual whiteboards during practice sessions to work out new problems, or to review as part of a group; as they hold them up, I am able to observe who understands and who needs a little extra guidance. Group work requires discussion, collaboration, and interaction among team members, providing another way for them to share differing approaches and to help each other learn.

Math is a learn-by-doing subject, so there is regular homework or classwork to practice new procedures and concepts. To progress in math, certain elements must become second nature, such as multiplication tables or integer operations. Each course will require students to learn both content and skills; new skills are easier to learn when old content knowledge is secure.

It is important for students to be able to communicate their thought process and their approach to problem solving. They communicate orally in class and group discussions, and on written assignments.

Students follow the tone set by the teacher, and in turn fellow classmates. I highlight respect, honesty, kindness, and responsibility. I purposefully challenge them in a way that encourages success and having fun, which leads to greater learning.

Peggy Veltri

Middle School Social Studies, English/Language Arts, Technology Support
Master of Arts in Teaching, National-Louis University
Master of Business Administration, Loyola University
Bachelor of Journalism, University of Missouri

Christopher Robin once said to his friend Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I believe that my purpose as a teacher is to help the students entrusted to my care to be braver and stronger and smarter than they believe they can be. I do this by helping them develop the skills and confidence that strengthens them and prepares them for life and learning at the next level.
- Peggy Veltri

I help students become braver by presenting them with opportunities to share their work with audiences large and small through projects like Biographers’ Tea. Through their Bio Tea work, I guide students in the research of a famous person and in the creation of a project and a report about that person. Students present to audiences as small as their individual class and as large of a theater filled with peers, parents, and other caring adults. By standing at my students’ sides and working with them through each step of the experience, I help my students develop a solid foundation for organizing, preparing, and presenting their work in many forms. These skills will help them bravely face the many academic and “real-life” research projects that await them.

I guide my students to an understanding of the fact that writing and thinking are interdependent, that the hardest part of writing lies in the thinking, and that practice is critical to progress. I help my students understand that there is no substitute for practice when it comes to developing as a writer and a thinker. To accomplish this, I present my students with many opportunities to write and think for themselves and with lessons using multiple media. I regularly employ mentor texts and my personally written examples to show student what a good piece of writing looks like in a particular genre.

I rely on a workshop method to help my students become stronger and smarter. I love the opportunity it gives me to deal one-on-one with a student as we talk together as fellow authors and thinkers. Over time, students become skilled in the thoughtful giving and mature acceptance of feedback from both their teachers and their peers. In my classroom, students can regularly be heard saying, “I love the way your lead starts in the middle of the action” or “I’m a little confused by the part where you say…” I especially like the way it invites students to look at and think about writing both as authors and as readers.

My thinking about teaching has changed dramatically over time. I used to think that it was my job to fill the students up with important information. I now firmly believe that my job is to prime the pump of their curiosity, point them in the right direction, and get out of their way. However, getting out of the way doesn’t mean leaving them alone; it means questioning them, challenging assumptions, suggesting a different perspective, etc.

I expect a great deal from my students and they, in turn, can expect a great deal from me. They should expect that I am challenging but fair. They should expect that I will listen to their ideas and perspectives and that I will be there for them if they need extra help or support.

Christopher Robin ended his conversation with Winnie the Pooh by reminding him that, “Even if we are apart, I’ll always be with you.” I believe that students who develop a good foundation of thinking and communicating will always have those skills with them. As a result, they will be braver and stronger and smarter than they believed they could be.