Responsive Classroom

If you have spent any time with children, you probably know that getting them to be quiet and listen, or to follow certain rules, is not always as easy as just asking them to do as you say – especially if it’s your first time meeting them. It is important to establish trust and respect, as well as create an environment that is conducive to those wanted behaviors. 

Enter responsive classroom, a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. Responsive classroom is comprised of a set of research, and evidence-based practices designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging classrooms and school communities for both students and teachers. Teachers at City Academy receive extensive training in the practice — from four-day workshops with independent school teachers from around the country to a four-part webinar series. 

Third grade humanities teacher Erin McDonough considers herself a responsive classroom “guru” and enjoys implementing the strategies with her students as she sees extensive benefits from the approach. 

“The main purpose is for students to really have the ability to feel seen and heard in the classroom, and feel as though they are a part of a community that is filled with trust and gives them the ability to tackle new challenges and take risks in the classroom,” McDonough said. “Establishing that community of support and love is really the main purpose. And then it guides the students through the year as we experience those new challenges. They’re willing to take on new risks with a positive mindset and know they’re in a safe space.”

Two components of responsive classroom that are widely implemented at City Academy are the morning meeting and closing meeting. Morning meeting occurs shortly after the all-school pledge and can last up to 25 minutes, depending on the grade level. McDonough said the morning meeting is a great way to check back in with students to review what they learned the day before, as well as to gain insight about the child’s life outside the classroom. 

“Learning about those traditions and what those evenings look like for our students also helps you support them during the day,” McDonough said. “I have been able to support families through conversations we have had through morning meetings, things that I wouldn’t have necessarily found out about a child or a family, I am able to hone in on specific things that come out, because they’re willing to share during morning meeting or closing meeting.” 

The meetings begin with a chime as a gentle reminder that it is time to stop what you are doing and listen to your teacher. During the warmer months, McDonough likes to have the morning meeting outside in conjunction with the other 3rd grade students that are part of Lisa McKenna’s advisory. The meetings typically include a greeting, a share, and an activity. The greeting can be educational (i.e. greet each other with an adjective) or just silly (i.e. greet each other in an animal noise, or with a new dance move). The share offers teachers and students an easy way to get to know each other, as each student answers questions like “What’s your favorite color?” or “What did you have for dinner last night?” McDonough then quizzes the students based on what was shared to make sure students are listening to one another. The activity usually involves some kind of movement such as a game of sharks and minnows or silent speedball. 

“As we all know, kids need movement breaks and having these options built into the day makes it easier for when we need them to sit still and focus,” McDonough said. She also likes to incorporate an academic piece to the activity when possible, such as having the students line up in alphabetical order or by age without talking. 

The closing meeting is typically a shorter wrap up at the end of the day, often just five minutes in length. It allows students to reflect on their day and end it with closure, that way they are able to come back fresh the next day. 

McDonough enjoys the morning and closing meetings because while it’s easy to focus on what students are good at or not good at in an academic setting, responsive classroom allows students to shine in different lights. 

“You might find that a child is very good at taking on responsibilities and then you can tap into those strengths or weaknesses in the academic settings and see how they bring that to life as well,” McDonough said. “When we have the ability to have those connections, the students trust me and they trust each other so much, so this classroom really is a safe space. It’s not just something we say, but it’s a safe place where they know I can make a mistake and I can know I’m supported through that mistake. I have a community here that will uplift me and not laugh at me when I make a mistake. And therefore I’m willing to push myself in that direction, even when I don’t fully trust that I can’t tackle a challenge.” 

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Staff Milestones

A Family Celebration for Shalawn Fennoy’s 20th Anniversary

Over the last 20 years, Shalawn Fennoy has built strong relationships with her students at every turn. She eats lunch with students and spends time at recess with them even before they are in her class in order to get to know each individual personality. By knowing them, she is able to help them find places to build their strengths. In some cases, she helps students discover strengths they did not know they had. One of her favorite memories was receiving a handwritten note from a student who had trouble expressing herself in class. After trying everything to get this student to open up, Shalawn realized that this student “just needed someone to give her space
to prove who she was.” Shalawn did just that, setting time to journal with this student and encouraging her to communicate in her writing.

It’s these types of moments—when teachers truly pay attention to the needs of their students—that make City Academy such a special place for learning beyond the classroom. It is a truly safe space for students to be accepted and to really explore who they are as individuals, and Shalawn makes sure that students in her class know this and use it to their advantage. In Shalawn’s long tenure, City Academy has always cultivated an environment that is supportive and feels very family-like. Family is created in small moments— journaling together, eating meals together, and saying “try again” when things don’t go our way—and since 2002, Shalawn Fennoy has been an amazing part of the City Academy family.

Donna Hynes: 20 Years of Leadership

In April 2000, a colleague mentioned an opening at City Academy to Donna Hynes. She interviewed, fell in love with the mission, and has been a pillar on our campus ever since. “I’ve always called City Academy my home away from home,” Donna said recently, a sentiment evidenced by her willingness to always jump in and get things done.

She has been part of the several committees and she’s served as a new teacher mentor. She makes time for all of these important endeavors and is often the first impression for City Academy families looking to enroll their children in the Early Childhood Education Program. As Early Childhood Director, Donna thrives in the small, close-knit family environment that City
Academy operates. She can really focus on what each individual student needs, and furthermore, what each family needs. “We make sure we build a great rapport with each family, and that is a very important piece of making sure our students are
successful,” she said.

The partnership Donna creates with parents is crucial for early childhood development and success in each classroom. Donna also works very closely with the Early Childhood Education teachers. “I am proud to be part of such a phenomenal and talented team
of individuals. I feel that this is where the magic happens,” she said when asked about her team.

Donna leads by example. Her involvement on campus, her dedication to each student, and her strong belief in the mission of City Academy have made her an extremely important part of this community.

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A Message from Jarrett Young, New Head of School

To the City Academy Community:

The City Academy academic community is transformative, vibrant, and evolving – it supports the growth of both students and their families during an integral time in their lives. The adjectives used to describe our school make it a desired place for families to entrust their most precious treasure, their children. City Academy families and students are like threads that create an ornate tapestry. Tapestries are beautiful because they have two sides, one that is meant to display the excellence of the artisan and the other that shows the toil of the artisan. The artisans that power the loom at City Academy are our wonderful team of dedicated educators and administrators who work to create the academic opportunities that benefit our students.

As I start my time at City Academy, I reflect on our school’s past. Our school has experienced good fortune with outstanding leaders that love our school and live its mission. Maintaining bold expectations for students is at the core of our school’s work but is only possible because our community is anchored in authenticity and trust. As I walked the halls at City Academy during my interview and subsequent visits, I felt the trust that families have for the school and experienced that everyone is expected to be their authentic self each day. The chance to be a part of students’ academic story is a gift that parents and guardians bestow to educators because they trust that our school will continue to live its mission and provide an experience that is transformational for each child.

The opportunity to be a leader at City Academy is an honor of a lifetime, because my story parallels our students’ stories. I grew up not far from our campus and was supported by family – my mother and grandmother – who wanted me to experience the transformative power of education. That experience drives me every day of my life to do the same for others with every ounce of my being. This is why the opportunity to lead at our school is such a tremendous gift. The work ahead is ours to complete. Let’s commit to communicating and trusting one another to create the best opportunities for our students.


Jarrett Young, Head of School

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City Academy Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Did you know that every City Academy  student receives Spanish language and culture instruction, starting at age 3?


September 15 – October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the culture and history of the United States. Our Spanish curriculum already includes a heavy emphasis on cultural studies, but this month, our scholars are having even more fun while learning!

Our Spanish program begins in early childhood, when children are most receptive to language learning, and extends through 6th grade. Our two full-time faculty members, Professoras Torres and Rivera, work together to create a curriculum that engages young learners in the culture and vocabulary through songs, games and projects, and builds on those lessons through 6th grade to develop Spanish speaking, reading and writing skills. Professoras Rivera and Torres are both from Spanish-speaking countries, giving them a unique perspective and in-depth knowledge on the curriculum they are teaching.

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A Sweet Introduction to STEAM

Our sixth grade scholars had a sweet introduction to STEAM this year! Students designed and created their own solar oven, and got to test them out by making s’mores.

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WE Schools Shoe Drive

Our sixth grade scholars have been working hard since January to develop a Global Campaign surrounding water. Working with a local nonprofit, they will be collecting shoes to support the building of wells in communities across the globe that do not have access to clean water. They have formed committees to tackle communication through artwork in the school building, through social media, and via presentations to advisories and the Board of Trustees. Parents can support the campaign by helping students gather gently used shoes that are no longer being utilized in your household to donate to the campaign. You can also help your student spread the word to family and friends, and collect more shoes for the program.

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A Legacy of Optimism

This year’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King is especially timely as our country tries to heal from the recent events in Washington and all of the challenges that we faced in 2020.

While dedicating his life for racial equality and justice for all, Dr. King was also an optimist who, even in the darkest of times, saw a bright future for our country and all its people. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King said this, “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.”

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Squid Science – Hands-On Learning in 4th Grade

Engaging hands-on experiences are a hallmark of City Academy’s STEAM program, and our faculty are finding creative ways to make that possible during virtual learning. This week in 4th grade science, our scholars dissected squids as part of the biology curriculum. Each student was given their own specimen to dissect, following along with 3rd and 4th grade science teacher Ann Luciani on Zoom.

Before the dissection, students were asked to draw a squid from memory. This helped them identify questions they had about the structure and form of the animal, which they were then able to answer during the dissection. On Monday, students completed an external examination of squids, and on Tuesday they completed the internal examination.

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Introducing Our Onsite Learning Team

Alison Slama – Onsite 3- and 4-Year-Old Teacher

Alison came to City Academy in 2019 to launch the first three- and four-year-old classroom in the newly expanded Early Childhood Center. Alison has over 10 years of experience in early childhood education.

Alison is a St. Louis local and a graduate of MICDS. She went on to earn a BA in Psychology and Early Childhood Education and a Teaching Certificate from Webster University, and a MA in Special Education, also from Webster University.

In her free time, Alison enjoys hiking, playing and watching sports, and spending time with her friends and family.

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Third and Fourth Grade Scientists Zoom with Fox 2 Meteorologist Chris Higgins

Students in third and fourth grade science classes wrapped up their ecology unit this week with a livestream Q & A with Fox 2 meteorologist Chris Higgins.

The unit began with creating nature journals to record daily abiotic elements of weather such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and clouds. After students practiced recording data, they incorporated analysis in small ways by looking at how the weather/abiotic elements interacted with the biotic elements such as the plants, animals, and us!

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