Congratulations to The MacDuffie School students whose academic effort has earned them distinct placement on first semester honor roll. The honor roll serves to recognize students who have achieved noteworthy grades and effort in their course work. The honor roll is determined each semester based on the grades earned in that semester. Truly an achievement to be proud of!
This list is organized by grade and then alphabetically.
Jessica Sperry recently joined the MacDuffie community as a member of the English Department this fall. With her, she brought fifteen years of classroom experience and a general passion for books. You would expect nothing more from an English teacher, yet, Sperry constantly draws from this union between herself and her job, as she reflects on what it has led her to.
Remembering herself during high school, she says, “School was always a haven for me and I really liked being in school, but I was not really good at school. As I got older it was not until my twenties that I realized I wanted to be a teacher. I think it was because I was not good at school that I can be here teaching.”
As she grows older, this is a feeling that keeps coming back to her, where she likes to involve herself with other people or concepts on a day to day basis.
“I feel inspired by everything I read,” said Sperry. “I am reading Jane Eyre. That is one book I have felt inspired by every day. The Joy Luck Club somewhat inspired me as well…”
According to Sperry, she particularly enjoys her job because of her students. What she has enjoyed the most throughout her fifteen years of teaching is her students’ ability to provide her with new knowledge every day.
“I enjoy learning about language, dance, music, and culture…I learn how to grow and how to adapt every single day from my students,” she said.
According to Sperry, this is one of the best things about her job and she wishes to continue this practice every day.
One of her favorite quotes that she appreciates is “Live at peace with one another as much as you are able.”
Science: Joseph Varney
Joseph Varney, former alumni of The MacDuffie School and a newly established member of the MacDuffie Science Department is proud to be back on campus. Although he came back many times after he graduated, whether it be in spending his summers as a member of MacDuffie’s annual Summer Camp, or even in reaching out to influential faculty such as Mrs. Tomkiel, he still sees much of what left an impression on him when he was a student.
Upon recalling his experience on campus as a student, he says, “Coming from [a] public school, it was a big change. It was not as rigid and as structured, and I liked that. This was because it allowed me to develop independently rather than develop myself in that structured setting. Also, the diversity of the campus is something I enjoyed. I look for diverse everywhere I go and that was sparked here.”
Varney emphasized what is even more apparent to him now: why did he decide to teach and why at MacDuffie. In college, he realized that he had a passion for teaching almost immediately, as he tutored students on concepts in Chemistry and Biology.
As he strives to teach MacDuffie students what he has learned in college, he says one of the general lessons he tries to teach is “a passion for learning, whether it be in learning the fundamentals of soccer with me on and off the field, or the fundamentals of Biology in the classroom.”
In his free time, he “enjoys playing soccer and kickball competitively.” He is also a self-proclaimed “big movie guy.” He enjoys all types of movies, but if he had to pick a favorite it would be horror movies.
Joseph Varney is here to stay at The MacDuffie School, a place that has allowed him to develop into the person that he currently is.
Athletics: Neil Domer-Shank
Neil Domer-Shank was introduced to MacDuffie when he joined the community last Spring as a coach for the new Baseball team. Domer-Shank did not commit to being a full-time coach until this summer.
According to Domer-Shank, Macduffie has “a strong staff community that works together and communicates well, [as well as a] a diverse group of students who are open to new ideas and willing to challenge themselves. An athletic department that builds leaders that are well-rounded on and off the field”.
When asked about his reasons for coming to MacDuffie, he said, “Originally, I came here because it was a great landing point for a group of high school baseball players who were looking to be educated at a high level and play baseball at the collegiate level. This was as a coach. To come here as a full-time staff, I was impressed by the community and wanted to have a bigger part to play in that community. “
You will find he loves talking about the things he loves most, including baseball, coffee, and most importantly, his wife, kids, and his PE classes.
“PE, which combines elements of leadership, social engagement, teamwork, nutrition, athletics, recreation, and a healthy lifestyle, have always been elements that I try to incorporate into my daily life, including as a husband and father,” he said. “Our goals in class don’t just exist for a quarter or semester during a year, but [they are] applicable to the rest of the student’s life.”
Other things he enjoys about the community are the positive energy from dozens of students on an hourly basis, and a staff team that is doing everything in their power to put them in positions where they can be successful; and also great food!
Domer-Shank begins his time at MacDuffie trying out new things and constantly allowing himself to fall freely into the arms of the MacDuffie community, making his PE classes memorable across campus each day.
Science: Roger Moncusi
Roger Moncusi joined the MacDuffie School as a Physics and Chemistry teacher starting for the 2019-2020 school year. He has taught Chemistry, Physics, and Math for over twenty years. Moncusi was born and raised in Barcelona, and he moved to Amherst, MA 6 years ago. His wife is getting her Ph.D., which is why Moncusi and his family came to the states. He misses all the childhood memories in Barcelona, but he is also excited to make new memories in the United States and at MacDuffie.
Moncusi was attracted to MacDuffie because of the relatively small student to teacher ratio. According to Moncusi, “it is easier to get to know students and to remember their names. Therefore, it is easier for me to know [the students at MacDuffie] than [a] big ratio of students.”
At MacDuffie, Moncusi is expecting to help his students learn. He believes there are two ways to learn at MacDuffie. He says, “first is to help students and to self learn since there [is] always something to learn about other people. And I am also ready to learn myself about how school works and how teachers teach in the United States.”
Moncusi loves to watch soccer games, go snowboarding, and especially play human tower. According to Moncusi, “It is a team activity that is traditional in Barcelona. Human Tower involves a lot of different people. 700 people can build one human tower. Once you are in the team, everyone is welcomed. No gender, social, physical condition difference exists. Everyone has places and roles…It helps bonds the whole community and put everyone in the same position and level. Everyone is welcomed when they have something to help build the human tower.”
The most interesting human tower that he ever participated in is 3/10 tower. The 3/10 human tower consists of 3 people in each of the 10 floors. The achievement of the human tower is completing it in one second. He points out that achievement comes from the moment that shows the reward for the hard work.
As Moncusi’s life goal is “to be happy,” and he hopes to find the things and people that make him happy at MacDuffie. He loved his first three weeks of teaching at MacDuffie, and he is excited to make more memories.
History: Sklyar Mead
Sklyar Mead joins our MacDuffie Community as a history teacher who teaches two Modern European History classes and one Global Studies class. She majored in Modern European History which led to her teaching history classes at MacDuffie. Mead was born and raised in the suburbs of Albany, New York. “It is kind of like Springfield, but a little bit nicer with the Hudson River next to my house,” she said.
Mead was looking for a job in a small school that would allow her to work on her Master’s degree online. Previously, she taught two years of middle school Social Studies, along with teaching elementary school when she was in college. She is excited to teach and meet students who are engaged a lot in her classes.
According to Mead, she is already driven by the MacDuffie community. She says she met other faculty members who are really nice and positive students who have helped her a lot to adjust to her new community.
“Although I am still confused [about] getting [the] hang of the buildings, I always got help from others who were willing to help.”
Mead is looking forward to special activities or traditions that only MacDuffie has. She is interested particularly in Mountain Day since she climbed the same mountain with some difficulty. She is curious about how all the other faculty and students will do.
Outside of school, she is interested in baking food, including cakes, spreads, and pastry. She also enjoys hiking and reading, although she is most interested in running. Mead started running since she was 11 because her mom wanted her to. She started to find running enjoyable during high school, and she participated in a couple of 5k runs. She is now preparing for a 10k run. Mead also loves traveling and learning about different parts of the world, including their languages. She is fluent in French, German, and Danish. Her favorite city she visited was Munique, Germany, as she was impressed by the beautiful old buildings and gardens. She is looking forward to going to Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and France one day.
Visual Arts: Jena McNerney
MacDuffie welcomes Jena McNerney back after two years. Many students remember McNerney as the middle school Arts and Perspective Visual Arts teacher. However, this year she is also teaching Visual Art classes for high schoolers. She said that she especially missed the “friendliness and kindness” in the community and the “vigorous” students who have a “drive to success.”
During her time away, McNerney opened her own art studio where she learned about struggle and budget. She thinks that opening her art studio was a special experience in that she learned a lot from it. In fact, one of her mottos in life is “learn from everything.”
Her goals are “bigger than solely being a teacher,” even though teaching is a big part of her life. She wants to start up a cafe near her art studio where she would create every product used there by hand, even the mugs. She aspires to teach her students that “me time is important,” something we forget during the busy academic year.
Her hobbies are creating art, hiking, and playing basketball. She was the girl’s basketball coach before she left MacDuffie. She also attended girls’ basketball games while she was not working at MacDuffie. Although she says that she is not going to take the coaching position, she will cheer and watch the games as the “unofficial coach.”
Spanish: Kevin Saez
MacDuffie welcomes Kevin Saez. Saez has been teaching Spanish classes at MacDuffie since the departure of Gloria Caballero. Aside from teaching Spanish, he wants to teach his students about Latino culture and create opportunities to get his students involved in the community.
He is especially passionate about the Puerto Rican culture that he grew up in. He was born in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. In Naranjito, he likes the happy people, the weather, and the Puerto Rican food. His hobbies include dancing, listening to music, and eating. He dances to a variety of styles anywhere from ballet to salsa.
He says MacDuffie “feels like home” where the students are “accepting.” Being a teacher at MacDuffie is a big step for him because it is his first job experience in the United States. He believes that “if you want something in life you have to go for it.”
Saez, who wanted to be a teacher since his childhood, believes that teaching is a rewarding job. When he was stationed in Spain, some of his students came to him and said that they had a lot of fun and also learned a lot from him. He believes when the students are thankful for his efforts, it is the most special part of teaching. As a community, we are looking forward to seeing Saez practicing his passion for teaching at MacDuffie.
Middle School Head: Tara Robinson
MacDuffie welcomes the new Middle School Coordinator, Tara Robinson. Robinson’s passion for teaching developed from a very young age when her little sister, who is two years younger than her, was born.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher the minute my little sister was born,” Robinson said. Although she had other interests, she realized that with teaching she can do “[a lot of] things all at once and help the most people.”
Her real teaching experience started relatively early when she was studying at Easthampton High School. She enrolled for a program called Tiny Tots, where high schoolers would run a preschool or daycare. She was also the head of a program in which she created lesson plans and evaluated students. Looking back at her experiences in the program she said, “I learned a lot about child development” and got a chance to become a teacher.
Robinson especially likes teaching middle schoolers because she believes middle school years are the “sweet spot” in which students are old enough to start developing their characters, have opinions, and talk about different things that matter, yet still young enough to be influenced.
“Middle schoolers are impressionable and they need people at this age to give them a voice and to help them to find the right path,” she said.
Robinson wants her students to feel confident and comfortable with both the material they are learning and themselves. She looks forward to seeing that her students are able to advocate for themselves and feel like they have a voice.
Robinson believes influencing her students’ characters is the most rewarding part of teaching. Her goal is not making students “[remember] the facts of a lesson,” but it is hearing them say that she cared about them, helped them, and that they feel better about themselves and what they are doing because of her.
Last night’s academic convocation celebrated the stunning success of our students in the classroom, but it also celebrated the way our experiences within the classroom can have a stunning impact on our lives.
At last night’s ceremony, Head of School Steve Griffin announced the permanent renaming of our 10th Grade Departmental Award in Visual Arts. Ms. Hastings then had the honor of bestowing the Jo-Ann Hastings Award to its first recipient, Marie Hua.
“The Jo-Ann Hastings Award in the Visual Arts recognizes the contribution of Jo-Ann Hastings, MacDuffie Visual Art teacher from 1986 to 2019. This award recognizes the qualities that Ms. Hastings encourages: technical excellence, creativity, and the understanding that through perseverance, one can always improve one’s artwork,” said Griffin.
As Ms. Hastings enters retirement after 33 years, she brings with her a magnolia tree gifted during the ceremony.
These are some photographs of last night’s academic convocation. A complete honor roll list is forthcoming.
Biology teacher and Harvard University alumna Karen Anderson was recently honored for her contributions to the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology program. Specifically, she was recognized for her nine years of dedicated project leadership of field ecology projects contributing to The Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Pest project led by Harvard Forest scientist, David Orwig.
Ms. Anderson’s Environmental Science class also went on a field trip to Harvard Forest. Students shared their project data from the hemlock trees that grow on campus and met Dr. Orwig. The class saw first-hand the dramatic changes a tiny insect is making on giant hemlock trees in many parts of Massachusetts.
Congratulations to Ms. Anderson–our students thank you, and so does the environment!