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Together 10.22.21

October 22, 2021 | Abby Hall Choi

Dear Families,

Together, We Are Filled with Joy

Gathering for worship in the community room is a bittersweet experience these days. Sweet because witnessing cohorts of students worshipping together again is so heartening; the sounds of their song and prayer joyously echo through the halls. However, worship is also a reminder of how we long for the day when we will welcome families back into the building.

In the meantime, we are seeking ways to build and preserve the community that has always been a hallmark of Mustard Seed School. Impromptu sidewalk chats with parents during morning drop-off, or phone calls with families, have now acquired a greater importance.

This newsletter is an attempt to extend those conversations even farther. Many of you have expressed interest in the Day in the Life of your child at Mustard Seed. In the coming weeks, I hope to offer a glimpse into the narrative of their lives in our care, beginning when we greet your children after they bound up the stairwells for class.

Together, We Care for God’s World

Several days ago on a drive home from school together, my kindergartner began a conversation about babies. And food. And how the whole school would help. Eventually, I realized that he was explaining our Annual Baby Food Jar Drive to me.

In my roles as teacher, administrator and parent of a Kindergartner, I have been blessed to see generations of Mustard Seed School kindergarten students care for God’s world by stewarding this school-wide collection of baby food jars. Every fall, hand-drawn posters announcing the Drive appear on doors and in hallways across the school. Those charming invitations to participate also develop their makers’ communications and organizational skills. The baby food jars are employed as tools in the classroom to study counting before they are delivered by the Kindergartners to local food pantries on a field trip in November. 

With this newsletter, I also hope to provide context for our school’s culture and traditions.

Together, We Are a Learning Community

When Señora Oro-Hahn’s Spanish class enacts a story dramatization, every student is engaged, every voice is heard. Oversized props, a cheering section, and dynamic multi-media support add to the electricity in the classroom. What feels like a party to the student is actually a carefully-orchestrated, serious course of study utilizing the practices of the Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) method.

In composing the story dramatization and developing the pre-reading slides featured here for the seventh grade, Señora Oro-Hahn extracted grammar and vocabulary from El Escape Cubano, Mira Canion and Sandra Davis’ harrowing young adult tale based on a true story. Although the tone of the piece is markedly different from the Spanish Edition novel they will eventually read, the oral presentation previews its words and sentence structure.

“Studies have shown that second language acquisition is heightened when students are relaxed and enjoying themselves,” says Señora Oro-Hahn. “Rather than rote memorization, we  provide a stimulating, authentic world language experience.”

Here is the plot of the presentation: A father and son arrive home to discover that their dog is missing. Their phone rings, and a stranger is calling to tell them that their dog is safe with him.

Designated student “Animadores” or Encouragers in the audience, armed with plastic hand-clappers acknowledge when the class responds in ways that demonstrate comprehension and excellent fluency. Their clap is a sign that means we all clap for great work. Students also use “Contadores”or Counters to keep track of every question that Sra asks. Responding to questions is key to language acquisition and serves as a formative assessment. Sra can hear who responds, how quickly they respond and whether there is group comprehension or confusion. For students,  the counters help them identify questions as well as gain points every time they reach 25 questions in 10 mins or 30 questions in 15 mins.

“Señora Oro-Hahn really makes learning fun. We were joking around and laughing the whole time, but it helps me retain the information. I’ve only been taking Spanish for two years, and I feel like I already know a lot.” – Carter, 7th grade student who played the father in the presentation

This month, Mustard Seed School’s sixth grade science class was highlighted in a Hoboken Girl article illustrating our project-based learning.

For their first science project of the school year, Mrs. McCallihan presented sixth grade students with the following scenario: A baby sloth in the rainforest is teetering on the edge of a lone, thin branch perched high above a body of water teeming with alligators. Retreat to the tree trunk is not an option because the branch will break. How do you rescue the sloth?

Student teams of two and three collaborated to devise a plan, create a prototype from found materials, and then test their prototype in a model with water features created by Mrs. McCallihan. Students filmed their test. If their solution was not successful, they revised it, and then retest it.

“Our science program allows students to take a risk in a safe space. If something doesn’t work, they can retry. They can keep trying many ideas until they find the one that they think is successful. It empowers them as thinkers and makers,” says Mrs. McCallihan.

If you missed our article in Hoboken Girl, you can check it out here.


In the Kindergarten, Math Workshop has begun! Here is an excerpt from Mrs. O’Dowd’s post on the curriculum. Her post may be viewed in its entirety here. (Link accessible to current families only.)

After reading the story, Mouse Count, about a greedy snake who counted his mice as he put them in a jar, only to be left with no mice at the end, children are introduced to the counting jars. These jars contain various materials in a variety of quantities. We will revisit counting jars frequently over the course of the school year. As we practice counting the collection of objects in each jar, building a set of equal amount, and recording our work, children are developing a strong number sense so that later in their mathematician lives they will be able to manipulate those quantities (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) with ease and with multiple strategies!


Together, We Gather for Worship

Recently, middle school students sang this song during worship. For the middle school community, especially, this song has been an important part of our thinking over the last few years. (You may recognize the video from last year’s Change Makers Benefit.)

Through this song, we pray: “May God give us eyes to see all that is good… The courage for anything, may you be strong.”

May you be strong,


Abby Hall Choi

Head of School

Abby Hall Choi has a Masters in Social Organizational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BA in Psychology and Elementary Education from Covenant College. She is also completing a Certificate in School Management & Leadership from Harvard University. As she helped lead Mustard Seed School’s NJAIS accreditation efforts and our most recent strategic plan development, she has gotten to apply and grow her learning. 

Ms. Hall Choi has worked as a fifth-grade teacher and a multi-grade fourth-fifth grade teacher. She has held several administrative roles including Middle School Director, Director of School Initiatives and Improvement, and Assistant Middle School Director.

She likes thinking about how people work together. She enjoys leading work and conversations that enable our community to thrive because we work through complex problems together.

Ms. Hall Choi values caring for the whole person. She believes it’s most important that everyone knows they are a child of God and loved all the time, no matter what. 

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