Seniors, students learn together. By Sarah Griego Guz. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on November 29th, 2017.
First-grader Mira Mukerji sings Bengali songs with her grandmother. Seventh-grader Aidan Popple makes food with his grandma and model planes with his grandpa. Fifth-grader Shane McGuirk watches TV with his grandparents. They’re members of multigenerational families who have the opportunity to spend time together. Sea Crest School’s Grandparents Circle seeks to strengthen that connection.
Inspired by the pleasure and privilege of having known her own grandparents, Head of School Tekakwitha M. Pernambuco-Wise said she pitched the idea to Maryann McGuirk, a Sea Crest grandparent and friend, to start the group about two years ago. Since then, it’s developed into a steering committee of six grandparents who organize socials and initiatives that weave fellow grandparents and other senior special friends into the fabric of the school’s community.
“What I was noticing more and more was the young children in our school … not (having) that good fortune to know their grandparents,” Pernambuco-Wise said. “I think it’s important for us to value and treasure our elders and their wisdom. I see them as the wise generation.”
That includes grandparents, grand aunts and uncles, family friends and other senior community members.
On Friday, people of all ages attended Grandparents and Special Friends Day that coincided with a fall performing arts showcase.
Grandparents Circle member Kay Beffa greeted these guests of honor with roses as they filed in to watch students perform musical and theatrical numbers.
“I just want to make sure it’s very special for grandparents and special friends,” Beffa said.
The circle gives something special back to her — she gets to spend time with her grandson and meet his friends, Beffa said. “It makes a nice, community feeling.”
Grandparents Circle members also led an effort to transform the school’s innovation lab into a museum that day. They curated “artifacts” from their lives including a sewing machine, bound atlases, school textbooks, and models of cars, helicopters and other means of transportation from decades past.
Denny Freezer, a former captain for the U.S. Coast Guard, put his manual aviation computers and slide rule on display.
“I love them and I’d like to increase interest in how things used to be done — I guess because I’m getting old,” Freezer said.
He and his wife, Linda, relocated to the area to be near their family, including grandson Shane McGuirk, a Sea Crest fifth-grader.
“They can experience our life and we can experience their adventures too,” she said. “It’s priceless.”
Grandchildren spoke of the unique relationship they forged with their elders during these times.
“You end up with a very special relationship,” Aidan Popple said.
Pernambuco-Wise echoed this. Sometimes, a grandparent gets the job of passing on knowledge in a gentle way, she said.
“There’s just this feeling of warmth and being wrapped in a warm blanket and having them listen to you,” Pernambuco-Wise said.
As Linda Freezer phrased it, “What happens at Nanna’s stays at Nanna’s.”
At a reception for grandparents, Jana Mukerji sat between Donna and Ankur Mukerji, enjoying the company of her granddaughter’s parents. She was visiting from India, creating not only a multigenerational connection but also a multicultural one, said Donna Mukerji.
Jana Mukerji said she missed Mira’s birth, but was with the family three months later. Since then, she’s made an effort to make the transcontinental trip every other year for three months at a time.
“He’s my only son and she’s my only daughter-in-law. We have a special bond,” Jana Mukerji said.
And she dotes on Mira, whose classroom she visited later that day to see what she was learning in school. They also snuggle a lot, her parents say.
“Just having her as a part of Mira’s life is really a blessing,” Ankur Mukerji said.
Aidan Popple’s grandparents also traveled to visit him and his siblings, this time for their dad’s 40th birthday. Coming from Park City, Utah, the journey was a bit quicker for them. They visit often.
“They’re more like secondary parents,” the seventh-grader said.
His grandparents can attest to that. During visits, Cheryl Popple said she helps make sure the three grandchildren are fed and clothed and John Popple gets them to school on time.
“I drop off the kids. I pick them up. I know exactly what time we have to be out the driveway,” John Popple said.
“I’m a real believer in extended family involvement. Just because you’ve moved away is not an excuse not to be involved,” grandmother Cheryl Popple said.
However, the extent to which Sea Crest opens its doors to senior generations is something that’s different from when she was a child, she said. Grandparents might have been invited to a dance recital or an Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony, but not to day-to-day activities. Later this year, the Grandparents Circle will help make a date night possible for parents as they recruit grandparents and special friends to babysit the children at Sea Crest.
“You look at how education has changed since I was in school. They just didn’t have this type of thing,” she said.
Expectations for family arrangements in the United States have evolved over generations. Pew Research data suggests that multigenerational households became less common after World War II as people moved to the suburbs as nuclear families, and aging populations had better health and economic prospects. They’re on the rise again, driven by various economic and cultural factors.
At Sea Crest, the school community is modeling a way to connect different generations in a modern context.
“I think this is one thing I like best about Sea Crest: It’s so welcoming to the whole family,” Grandparents Circle member Diane Sikes told the audience at the performing arts showcase. “It’s really important for kids to hear their grandparents stories and see the items they’ve handed down … Kids have an opportunity to place themselves in time and see themselves on that long generational line they’re a part of.”
The payoff is invaluable.
“(It’s) just the importance of knowing grandparents, their story, their journey, an appreciation of what the journey has entailed,” said Maryann McGuirk, Grandparents Circle founding member and Shane McGuirk’s other grandmother. She added that she wished she had asked the generations that came before her about these experiences. “You don’t know what you have missed until later in life.”
On November 16th, a group of enthusiastic eighth graders volunteered to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to our neighbors at Half Moon Bay Village. The students practiced their restaurant chops as they served the generous portions of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy to the seniors before enjoying the feast as well. They had an opportunity to sit and converse with the residents and learn more about our next door neighbors. The residents were so pleased with our visit and gave our eighth graders a round of applause before leaving. #HappyThanksgiving
Coastside kid about to make her center stage debut. By Sarah Griego Guz. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on November 22th, 2017.
The current Coastal Rep production Coney Island Christmas stars our Eighth Grade student, Sadie Nolan, as Shirley a Jewish girl cast as Jesus in her school’s Christmas pageant. This Holiday show is fun for all the family and runs through December 17th.
Sadie Nolan has spent her childhood at the theater and is now set to make her center stage debut in “Coney Island Christmas.”
Nolan will play Jewish girl Shirley Abramowitz, who is cast as Jesus in her school’s Christmas play. The story unfolds in flashback fashion as a much older Shirley, brilliantly portrayed by Darlene Batchelder, gleefully recalls the scenario.
“The show is about a girl, me. She’s Jewish and basically she gets cast in a Christmas play,” said Nolan. “Her parents are not OK with it because it’s just against their religion. They don’t think that she should do that. She basically goes behind their back.”
It’s complicated, to say the least. Abramowitz’s parents are Jewish immigrants who fled their homeland to escape persecution. Now, with feet planted firmly in America, they struggle to keep their traditions alive in a new world awash with the Christmas spirit.
“I plan to bring a little sassiness, a little spunk to the role,” said Nolan. “Her parents are strict. I think they are a good strict, but that they are too strict. The people who play them, Kelly Gregg Rubingh and Eric Berglund, are wonderful.”
As she prepared for her big moment in the spotlight, Nolan reflected on those who have offered their support along the way.
“Sea Crest School has been wonderful with offering all the different acting electives,” said Nolan, who is in her eighth-grade year at Sea Crest Middle School. “The classes I’ve taken have helped me build my confidence in my theater skills. They’ve given me opportunities to actually act in front of an audience and really just do it.”
Her father, Doug Nolan, is a fixture on the Coastside theater circuit. Coincidentally, it was Doug Nolan who starred in last year’s Christmas program, “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some).” He is also one of the leading men of the Half Moon Bay Shakespeare Co. whose most recent performances included roles in “Romeo y Julieta” as well as “Macbeth.”
“We run lines together,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done the Christmas show if it wasn’t for him. He’s always running lines with me, giving me pointers and helping me out.”
The younger Nolan is also a seasoned member of Coastal Repertory Theatre’s children’s program, an offshoot of the theater aimed at cultivating young talent.
“I started doing shows when I was in first grade,” remembers Nolan. “I got really serious about it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I moved up to the older class and was ‘Wow, I’m really going to buckle down, work on my lines.’ I’m just very committed.”
Her first performance was eight years ago, when she acted in Oklahoma. She was in first grade.
“‘Beauty and the Beast’ has to be my favorite performance,” said Nolan, who was in fifth grade at the time. “That was the first time I felt the bond of the cast, the way that the cast works together. That’s when I really started to get serious about acting.”
Nolan believes her time spent developing her craft in the children’s program has prepared her for her starring role.
She credits Coastal Repertory Theatre children’s program teachers Kimberly Krol and Sabina Perlsweig for giving her the tools necessary for success.
“Kimberly Krol is the choreographer for the children’s shows,” said Nolan. “She’s such a wonderful singer and actress and she’s such a huge influence. She’s always been there for me. She’s very supportive, but she’s very firm and she really pushes us, which is what we need.
“Sabina Perlsweig is the singing teacher for the children’s classes,” she continued. “She’s really helped me become a better singer.”
Donald Margulies’ “Coney Island Christmas” opens this Friday and is scheduled to run through Dec. 17. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit coastalrep.com.
Kindergarten forum provides schooling options. By Sarah Griego Guz. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on October 11th, 2017.
As pint-sized pupils progress through their final year of preschool, Mom and Dad may be starting to stress about the next educational step.
The chaotic cloud of choices swirling around includes private versus public, Spanish immersion or a more traditional curriculum. Then there’s the whole question of staying true to the neighborhood school.
In order to help parents wrap their minds around the school conundrum, the Coastside Mothers’ Club, in collaboration with the Half Moon Bay Library, will soon present the Kindergarten Forum.
“Our goal in putting on this event is to give as many parents as we can the knowledge they need to make thoughtful decisions for their children,” said Andrea Rosenthal, Coastside Mothers’ Club education co-chair, in an emailed statement. “It’s an opportunity to come together as a community with the common goal of doing what’s best for our young Coastsiders.”
After grabbing a cup of coffee and a doughnut, perspective kindergarten parents will first hear from an independent and charter school panel featuring Alma Heights, Good Shepherd School, Ocean Grove Charter School, Sea Crest School and the Wilkinson School.
Cabrillo Unified School District Superintendent Jane Yuster will then take to the podium followed by the Cabrillo Education Foundation and the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Joy Dardenelle.
Around midmorning a panel of public elementary schools, including Kings Mountain, Farallone View, Hatch and El Granada, will have their say.
“We have so many great schools on the coast, so it’s a very difficult decision when choosing a kindergarten or transitional kindergarten,” said Coastside Mothers’ Club board member Anne Green. “Putting faces with names and having time to really talk with the principals and directors of each school can help ease one’s anxiety about finding the right fit for their child.”
“The Kindergarten Forum is also a great opportunity to sit with the parents of my children’s future classmates and have all of our questions answered,” added Emily Barbour, who is a Coastside Mothers’ Club board member and mother of four.
Deciding on the right kindergarten fit for the family is only one of the hurdles. Transitioning a child from the relaxed preschool atmosphere to a more structured kindergarten class can be a challenge.
“At all schools, the kids have such a wide range of experiences prior to kindergarten,” said Heidi Gilman Bennett, creator of the Parent Ed Series at Sea Crest School. “Some have been at a full-day child care or preschool setting, some have attended a few hours, so the day is really long, and some have never been. They’ve been cared for at home and so for them this is their first experience with a big group.”
The wide range of perspectives can be challenging for young minds and bodies. The information overload of simple school may cause kids who were smiling seconds before climbing into the car to burst into tears before the parents pull away from the curb.
In response to parenting challenges such as this, Bennett has created an education series for new Sea Crest parents specifically geared toward the topic of a healthy transition to kindergarten.
Keely Sikes Rollings, a licensed clinical psychologist working with families in the Bay Area, will facilitate a session detailing how to navigate mornings, evenings and everything in between.
“It can just be little things, like I’m having a hard time getting my child out the door because they don’t want to get dressed,” said series coordinator Paulette Phlipot. “Dr. Rollings might have some neat tips, like OK try this, do this little routine. She just presents it in tactile, practical ways to help parents and families in the progression.
“She’ll also cover the topic of the playground, how to find someone to play with,” she continued. “It’s just kind of a way to get the conversation going regardless if you’re experiencing the issue or not. It brings it to the forefront and puts it in people’s minds.”
The free Kindergarten Forum starts at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 4 at the El Granada Elementary School multipurpose room, 400 Santiago Ave. in El Granada. For more information on the Parent Ed Series on Healthy Transitioning to Kindergarten, email Michael Thompson at email@example.com.