To know deeper understanding, it takes an education infused with innovation. St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School congratulates Cristina Rodriguez-Villa on being named an Emerging Leader by the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL). This high honor is only given to 50 of the best and brightest language educators across the country. As an Emerging Leader, she will be a part of a cohort that will participate in a two-year summer institute for the Leadership Initiative for Language Learning.
Cristina Rodriguez-Villa has been with St. Thomas for 11 years. She began as a kindergarten associate teacher, and in 2014, she became the Spanish teacher and Team Curriculum Leader. Her goal has been to create an active learning environment where young learners are engaged and motivated to explore other cultures, and acquire skills to understand and communicate in Spanish in a real-life context. St. Thomas’ Spanish program begins in preschool and continues through 5th grade. Mrs. Rodriguez-Villa was instrumental in implementing “Almuerza y Conversa,” an activity where 4th grade students meet weekly with Spanish teachers and classmates during lunchtime to practice using their second-language in a real life setting. Additionally, preschool students take part in “Merienda y Conversa,” where they meet weekly with a Spanish teacher during snack time to increase their language exposure.
St. Thomas is extremely proud of Mrs. Rodriguez-Villa and the commendable accomplishments that she has made. Head of School Lillian Issa said, “Our teachers take advantage of a robust professional development program that keeps them abreast of the latest research and best practices.” Mrs. Rodriguez-Villa will adopt what she’s learned as an Emerging Leader to create a better educational experience that excites and engages young students.
St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School celebrated the beginning of Black History Month by inviting renowned historian Dr. Marvin Dunn to speak to students in grades 1 – 5. Dr. Dunn is the author of “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century,” and co-author of “The Miami Riot of 1980: Crossing the Bounds.” During his presentation at St. Thomas, he spoke to students about the monumental feats African Americans made in building and laying the foundation for Miami, FL. To give students context about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Dunn selected six of them to participate in a role play of the historical day in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. Students were asked how they felt during the simulation and the overall response was “sadness.”
St. Thomas has been incorporating Social Emotional Learning (SEL), an evidence-based approach that teaches students to identify their emotions, have healthy relationships, and feel empathy and compassion for others. Second grader Lily Pendergast was so moved by Dr. Dunn’s speech that she wrote a heartfelt letter thanking him for teaching St. Thomas students how important it is to treat people with kindness and to look beyond the outside, because what’s inside is what matters the most. Lily’s letter showcases what students are learning at St. Thomas. Director of Counseling Lily Medina said, “This is an example of how SEL can lead to a more inclusive atmosphere and an appreciation for diversity.”
Although preschool and kindergarten students did not attend Dr. Dunn’s presentation, they are participating in other activities that celebrate Black History Month. Kindergarteners in Mrs. Carbajales’ class engaged in an experiment with a brown egg and a white egg, and were instructed to crack both eggs open. The students quickly realized that once the eggs were cracked, they could not determine which egg was which. Mrs. Carbajales said, “The purpose of this activity was to teach students that we are all the same on the inside and to teach students to judge by character and not by skin color.”
Twenty students in grades 3-5 were selected to attend a live interview with an astronaut aboard the Space Station. The live chat took place at Mandelstam, a neighboring school of St. Thomas. This collaborative effort was a unique and exciting opportunity for the entire school community to engage in active learning from researchers in space. Teachers and students who were unable to attend the field trip were able to livestream the event from their classrooms.
Two of our students, Walker Ciorobea and Daniela White, were able to directly engage with Dr. Serena Aunon-Chancellor aboard the International Space Station. Ciorobea asked, “When you return to earth, does it take a long time for your body to adjust to the gravity on earth?” To which Dr. Aunon-Chancellor replied, “The body is a wonderful thing – it adapts very quickly - our body remembers what earth is like – it remembers how to walk.”
Students were selected based on essays they wrote explaining why they should be chosen to participate. All of our students explored an immersive mock space station with simulations that enhanced their scientific curiosity.
Perhaps our students will become Star Trek, the Next Generation!