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Together 10.21.22

October 20, 2022 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

This is the second piece in a series on our strategic plan outlining some of the changes we have undertaken during the last four years. These changes are part of the strategic plan the Board of Trustees adopted in 2018. We have made steady and careful progress on our plan, even as we navigated COVID restrictions. If you missed the introductory post, read more here!

I will share the goal at the top, followed by the work we were charged to perform. Then I will summarize our efforts toward the charge. I hope that you will see that our work continues!

Goal II: Nurture our Core

Respond to Families and Community

Charge: Implement an after-school program to support our children and our families

The extended day program began in its current iteration during the fall of 2019. At that time, I was the middle school director and the director overseeing the initial year of our extended day program. Nancy Aberg joined the team to lead the day-to-day work as our extended day coordinator. We piloted enrichment opportunities for the students enrolled in extended day.  

During the 2020-2021 hybrid school year, the program was suspended to prioritize single cohort groupings for students. This hiatus allowed us to reallocate staff time and attention to student health. Extended day re-opened in the fall of 2021 with Emily Sytsma as the program director and Nancy Aberg as the coordinator. Nancy and her team of teachers, Ms. Mendez and Ms. Stoudmire create a child-centered after-school experience.

Our extended day program is a space for students to play and learn. Students play in the park each day. They have time and support to complete their homework. The students also enjoy: 

  • Feast Fridays
  • Service projects like
    • Making cards for patients in the hospital
    • Tending to a corner garden
  • Visiting the Hoboken Public Library 
  • And there is a rumor that some of the oldest students are currently working with our facilities manager, Mr. Barrera, to build a corn-hole set!

In addition to offering a program that is innately enriching, we layer in additional opportunities for the students enrolled in extended day: 

  • Acting Class provided by local theatre company, Mile Square Theatre
  • Yoga Practice with MSS staff member, Heather Welesko
  • And later this spring, Bricks for Kids will offer building sessions

The students enrolled in the extended day program may participate in additional enrichment activities at no extra charge. This year, the enrichment classes are also open to MSS students not enrolled in extended day for a fee.

In addition, MSS resumed facilitating after-school private instrumental lessons for students in grades 1 to 8 in a private agreement between the teacher and the family. In response to an expressed need, we also piloted a 7-week music, art and guided play class for toddlers and their caregivers. The playgroup has been so successful that we plan to offer it again in January!

Goal III:  Plant Seeds

Tell the Story 

Charge: Refine and clarify our philosophy and program outcomes to parents, donors, and community members, highlighting the distinctive benefits of a Mustard Seed education 

Throughout the winter & early spring  of 2021, I met with the program directors and learning specialists, Dana Baker, Shanna Pargellis, Emily Sytsma, and Gladys Wu, to collaboratively draft the “Portrait of a Graduate.”

The language was then tested with teaching staff and select families to ensure that the language was consistent with experience—while offering opportunities for growth and development.  At school, we use the portrait of a graduate to reflect on our curriculum and strategy choices. The portrait also provides a quick overview of MSS differentiators, and the qualities and values students develop when they grow up at Mustard Seed.

Charge: Conduct a full brand update

Charge: Redesign the website to highlight key features 

An initial rebrand and website overhaul were completed by winter 2020.  We continue to add nuance to our brand as we test messaging to sharpen our image. We are currently focusing on the Joy + Rigor of a Mustard Seed education. 

I leave you with a video of our Word of God ceremony celebrated on Simchat Torah with our community together after the two-year break. As we presented a personal Bible to each fourth grade student with the assistance of the second and third grade students, we were so happy to see all of the MSS families!

Nancy Van Epps

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