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Reflections on Martin Mathews’ Passing, by Don Danforth

Martin L. Mathews

1925 – 2022

Martin Luther Mathews passed away peacefully this week at the age of 97.  He was a pillar in our community who touched people from across our region with his positivity, his optimism and his belief in young people.  

As founder of the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club in 1960, Mr. Mathews shaped generations of St. Louisans, including me. He was my mentor and cheerleader since I started as a volunteer at Mathews-Dickey in 1989, almost 35 years ago.  A few years later when I first talked to him about the idea for City Academy, he had this advice: “Build it as if it is for your own children, and make it the best.” His encouragement and belief made a big scary idea seem possible, and his high expectations formed the backbone of our school. He has been with me and City Academy every step of the way.

Mr. Mathews dedicated his life to serving others, especially children.  His three R’s: “Respect, Restraint and Responsibility” guided him, and his emphasis on the importance of “preparation, opportunity and possibility” shaped his vision for Mathews-Dickey, and mine for City Academy.  When children are prepared and receive equal opportunities, their possibilities are endless, their futures are bright, and we all benefit.  

At City Academy’s graduation each year, we present the Martin L. Mathews Award to a sixth grader who has demonstrated great character and citizenship.  It is a special tradition.  Mr. Mathews was unable to attend last year’s graduation, so I visited with him a few days before and asked for his advice for our graduates. “Always strive for your best.  Don’t waiver from this. And don’t be afraid to make your best better.”  As usual, Mr. Mathews summed it up perfectly and succinctly!  We would all do well to take this advice and strive for excellence for ourselves and encourage that from those around us. Mr. Mathews did that every day, and everyone who knew him benefited from his wisdom, kindness and open-mindedness.  

I will be forever grateful to my mentor and dear friend, Martin Mathews, and I am proud that his legacy lives on through our work at City Academy.

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Pen Pals Program

Pen pals may seem like a program that would go by the wayside with the prevalence of texting, e-mailing, and Facetiming, but perhaps that’s all the more reason why it is still alive and well at City Academy. 

Each year, our scholars in third through sixth grade are matched with a member of our community – donors, volunteers, board members, alumni, and other friends of City Academy. The pen pal relationship starts with a two-paragraph letter from the student, introducing themself and then asking questions of their new friend. 

Fifth Grade Humanities Teacher Shalawn Fennoy said that pen pal letters give students an avenue to practice writing to an authentic audience, focusing on writing conventions and structure to convey purpose and meaning. Students also learn how to properly address envelopes. Another benefit of the program, Fennoy said, is that it allows our community to stay connected to the school and hear directly from the students about the amazing things happening in the classrooms. 

“Though we have many ways of communicating, there is nothing like something tangible as a letter from your pal,” Fennoy said. “It gives students opportunities to reread letters and reflect on conversations. Pen pal writing gives students a chance to break down the walls and expose students to others who serve within our school community in some capacity.”

Whenever possible, pen pals are matched with the same student from year-to-year so they can continue their relationship. The pals are sometimes even able to meet each other on campus at Buddy Morning, the Annual Luncheon, or Graduation. One such pen pal is Ginger Smith, who serves as City Academy’s Board of Trustees. Ginger has been a pen pal for the past two years and enjoyed interacting with a third-grader named Izzy. 

“I think it’s fun to have a lens into what it’s like being a third-grader in today’s world,” Smith said. “I learned about books she was reading, because I love to read. I learned about video games and she told me all about Minecraft. We talked about our dogs and all the good things they do and bad things they do.” 

Smith said that despite all the advances in technology, it was still important for students to learn how to handwrite a letter or thank you note as those skills are universal. 

“I remember when Izzy was learning cursive and so for a six-month period all the correspondence was in cursive and she was getting better over time,” Smith said. “I save all the old ones too because I just think they’re fun. I actually have them on my bulletin board in the office.”

Fennoy indicated that as beneficial as the practice of writing the letters is for her students, it’s the receiving of letters that truly makes the program special. 

“It has been exciting to see my students come alive as they anticipate their letter from their pen pal,” said Fennoy. “Days before month end, students are inquiring about their letters. Part of this excitement is due to the fact that kids feel important when they receive mail. It is thrilling to see the room filled with students’ faces sinking into their letters and occasionally, you hear a giggle or one of my students reading a line or two aloud to share the excitement with their peers.”

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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.

Best,

Jarrett Young, Head of School

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Sydney Williams ’16 – Annual Luncheon Speech

Sydney at her 6th Grade Graduation in 2016

I would just like to start off by saying I am honored to be the 2022 Brightman Award recipient. City Academy was my home for eight years, and even after I left it continued to support me and welcome me into its community. There has never been a moment where I could not contact a former teacher or faculty member when I needed assistance. The alumni of City Academy have helped me countless times with classes and gave great advice when I began navigating my college application process. Ms. Glassmeyer especially has been a great shoulder to lean on these past two years, helping me find scholarships, internship opportunities and just being a shoulder to lean on.

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Sydney Williams – 2022 Brightman Award Recipient

Sydney Williams is a gentle leader with a fierce determination for success. As a student at City Academy, Sydney’s determination to succeed was apparent. After graduating in 2016, she went on to attend John Burroughs School (JBS) and continued to thrive. Her hard work and service to others have made her an excellent choice for this year’s Brightman Award.

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What Leadership Means to Me

City Academy strives to develop leadership skills in all of our scholars, including counting on our Upper School students to become leaders in our own community. Our current 6th grade scholars have truly grown to understand that responsibility and exemplify leadership each day. In ELA class, they were asked to respond to the question “What does leadership mean to you?” in an essay, you can read excerpts from their responses below.


Jamaron Bass

A great leader is my father. I looked up to him and  hope to one day be better than him. He teaches me the difference between right and wrong and how to always do the right thing. He cheers me on when I accomplish something very important. He also tells me he is very proud of me. My father inspired me to be just like him, but a  better version of him. He leads me to more than good, but to be amazing because that is what counts.”


RaShae Blanchard

“In my opinion, leadership means showing someone that you are responsible for not only your actions, but others’ actions as well. Because a good leader models, they are responsible for helping, coaching, teaching, but most importantly, listening. I have learned that listening first  is the best way to lead. It shows that you are invested in what is being said and that you actually care.”

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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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