Sharing the Wealth: Corlears Educators Reflect on Sharing Their Work at the NYSAIS Diversity Conference

Being an educator is not only about teaching, but being a lifelong learner. Corlears teachers and staff are constantly working to refine their skills as educators, and to gain more knowledge that they can then use in the classroom to inspire students. With this growth, eventually comes the opportunity to share out, and to teach others valuable lessons and effective methods for teaching young students. This past weekend, a group of four Corlears educators did just that. Presenting on a unique lesson they conducted around voting rights, Kate Culligan, Alex Gelman, Dora Rice and Kelly Tieger secured a coveted workshop spot at the sold-out 2018 NYSAIS Diversity Education and Justice in the Curriculum Conference.

During the fall of the 2016-17 school year, the 8/9s teaching team began their election study. Head teachers Kate and Dora, worked alongside assistant teachers Alex and Kelly to create a classroom experience that would bring the issue of voting rights to life for their students. Kelly reflects:

"As we were designing an election study, we were looking for a lens that could help us raise questions around power, race, and identity in the classroom. We decided that exploring the history of voting rights in America would help us do this. As we looked at groups of people who have not historically had equal access to the vote, we wanted to design an experience for students that would help them to feel the urgency of not having a voice or a vote. It’s one thing to read something on a timeline, but another to think 'wait a minute, people are making decisions about me without my input--this feels unfair!'”

kate and kelly presenting during the NYSAIS conference 

kate and kelly presenting during the NYSAIS conference 

This ultimately took shape in the form of the unique “cube activity.” First, each child in the class was assigned to a particular cube color (red, blue, green, orange or pink). Based on the color assigned, students were given the power to make important decisions throughout the day for themselves and for others. For instance, at the start of the activity, the red cube group was given all the power, and were able to choose snack table seats for themselves as well as all of their classmates. Next red and blue chose independent writing spots, for themselves and the others. As the day progressed, more groups were empowered to make decisions for the whole group, while others were left without a say. Over the course of the day, the number of students with power grew, while the number without shrank. By the end of the lesson, almost every group was given the opportunity to make decisions-- except one group which remained without a say.

So, how does this relate to voting rights? As each cube group gained their “right” to make a decision, it mirrored how different groups in society were given voting rights at different times throughout history. Slowly, more cubes had the opportunity to have their voices heard,  just as more groups of people slowly gained this same power through their right to vote.  The last group, which never had the option to make a choice, represented those who are still disenfranchised to this day. At the conclusion of the activity, students had strong reactions, some even protested making decisions for others as it was deemed unfair. Ultimately, the lesson proved extremely thought provoking for both students and teachers, and served as a catalyst for the social justice work students continue to do over the next semester and into the following year.

students reflect on the activity with teachers

students reflect on the activity with teachers

The big reactions felt from students at Corlears proved the lesson was not only effective, but something truly worth sharing. As many schools continue to delve deeper into topics of diversity and social justice, it felt important that this lesson, which proved to be so powerful within Corlears classrooms, was shared with a larger community of educators eager to grow their social justice curriculum. Kate says:

"It was clear in reflecting with our students after the activity [that] they seemed to be able to deeply empathize with marginalized groups of people that have not had a voice in our country’s voting system throughout history and even today. Our kids became so impassioned and empowered, they spent all of last year working to lend their voices to groups and causes that they wanted to support. Our hope in sharing this with other educators was that they could adapt our activity for their spaces so that their students had the opportunity to build empathy through a real-life experience and take action moving forward."

The opportunity to share came with a call for workshop submissions by the NYSAIS Diversity Education and Justice in the Curriculum Conference. Attended by educators from the independent school world, the conference hosts a number of workshops aimed to provide teachers and administrators with tools for exploring themes of diversity, social justice, and creating more inclusive classrooms in their schools. The lesson was submitted and chosen for a presentation slot for the 2018 conference. The workshop, aptly named “Justice, Cubed,” was then designed to explain the activity and follow-up reflections, as well as provide educators with the tools necessary to create their own lesson plans inspired by the work. During the hour long session, the four presenters shared their work in-depth; explaining the rationale behind the lesson, the thoughtful implementation, and the continued work with students that came after the conclusion of the lesson. Later, attendees were given time to craft their own lessons inspired by the cube activity as the presenters answered lingering questions, and engaged with their fellow educators.

While the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience was exciting, it was also nerve wracking for these educators. Though taking on issues of social justice with young students is a priority within the Corlears community, it can still feel risky when sharing out, as both educators and schools may be in different places in their journey toward a more robust social justice curriculum. Unsure of the reaction they would receive from the crowd, what transpired was more positive than they could have anticipated. Dora reflects:

"Many people in attendance at our presentation first and foremost shared how envious they were of the diverse student body we have here at Corlears. As we presented our attendees asked specific questions about the activity roll out -- looking to see how they could adapt the work we did here at Corlears and make it successful in their own spaces. They were impressed by our students’ reflections, the support our administration gave us in exploring new ways to build empathy and contextual understanding with our students in the classroom."

Armed with new information and a lesson plan template, many workshop attendees expressed a desire to implement a similar lesson their classroom -- giving the “cube activity” a life and influence far beyond 15th street.

For these educators, the experience of sharing this important work was both powerful and profound. Not only did their presentation serve as an opportunity to connect with the educational community outside of Corlears, but it brought to light what makes Corlears such a unique learning environment. Alex says that “in sharing about this lesson with other independent school educators, they marveled at some facets of Corlears that I sometimes take for granted: the diversity of our community, the support teachers receive from the administration to try something bold and new in their classrooms, and, above all, the empathy and thoughtfulness of our students.”  While workshop attendees may have left feeling inspired, our educators certainly did. As Alex states, his experience at the conference ultimately reminded him “of these facets of Corlears, and what a unique community it is.”

The Community Forum: Growing from Its Roots

Children at Corlears School are encouraged to investigate and question the world around them. Through their learning, difficult topics like gender stereotypes and racial identity are explored with the aid of books, projects and classroom discussions. While Corlears’ mission is the education of children, parents at Corlears are also taking part in their own learning experience. Outside of the classroom, parents are offered opportunities to explore complex issues in a space just for them -- the Community Forum.

Founded in 2008 by Corlears parents, the purpose of the Community Forum at the time of its inception was to create a space where parents could openly discuss issues related to diversity.  Early Forum particpant and alumni parent, Sabrina Coughlin, recalls “the community forum started as a real grassroots efforts...some parents felt that there should be a forum for people to come together to share their thoughts and experiences around diversity. It was very informal in the beginning. Two or three parents organized monthly sessions, where anyone could come and talk about whatever was on their mind.” From there, the Community Forum began to evolve. Agendas were formed and the school counselors were brought into the fold as both a support and resource for families. In the many years of its existence, the Community Forum has continued to grow, and is an important staple of life at Corlears School.  

The  10s share issues they care about during their Social justice meeting. 

The  10s share issues they care about during their Social justice meeting. 

Historically, the Community Forum has served as a space to explore a variety of complicated, nuanced topics. Since its first began, meetings have focused on a multitude of diverse issues including gender identity, bullying, gun violence and, just last year, a post-election debrief. Staying true to its roots, Community Forum continues to serve as an educational space for parents, and has never shied away from addressing  issues that can be both difficult and emotional. It is because of this that the group continues to be an important part Corlears -- allowing for parents to become learners in their own right as they question, explore and attempt to understand the many societal issues that affect their families. While the Forum has taken different shape over the years, the same guiding principles upon which the Forum was founded remain the same, and parents continue to make these meetings a priority in their own lives, and in the lives of our school community.

This year, the Community Forum has been infused with new energy thanks to School Counselor, Silvia Pacio, and the group dedicated parents at the helm. In its current incarnation, the Forum continues to lend itself to community building -- serving as a place where parents can be vulnerable with one another as they share their concerns and experiences with fellow families.  The first Community Forum of this school year will take place on Wednesday, December 6th. All parents are invited to take part in the first session of an ongoing discussion about race and identity, and ways to discuss these topics with young children. At the youngest ages, children are already noticing difference, and drawing conclusions from what they see and hear -- both in their own real-world interactions and in media they consume. The very purpose of the Community Forum is to create a community space for dialogue that can also provide parents with the resources, language and ultimately, the courage to begin to engage in these topics more explicitly with their children, and work to combat biases that are so prevalent in society. Corlears has always been a place that values difference, and addressing these issues continues to be a priority for this school community.  

The Community Forum began thanks to a group of dedicated parents, and continues to thrive because of current families’ invaluable participation and contributions. It is the hope of the school that the Forum can continue to be both a space of a reflection, and a resource for the parents at Corlears. As Sabrina so eloquently put it, “the Forum gives us a place to learn about the issues, reflect on our own feelings and experiences...listen to and learn from the experiences and stories of others in our community, and with time, develop a comfort around the issues and some skills for speaking to our children about them….I felt it made me a better parent, [and] a better community member.”

In addition to the Community Forum on December 6th, Corlears is also hosting an evening workshop with Raising Race Conscious Children on the evening of December 7th. We suggest taking part in both the Community Forum as well as this evening event for a more in-depth conversation, and additional resources. Click the images below to learn more and register. 


Corlears Plus: The School's Latest Addition

This past summer, Corlears launched a newly revamped after school program called Corlears Plus. With a renewed mission, structure and expanded options, the goal of Corlears Plus is to provide students with the same enrichment they experience throughout the day, and extend that well beyond 3:15pm. With Corlears’ values at its core, Corlears Plus is proving to be a positive addition to the school.

Students discuss their reading at Book Club with Kelly

Students discuss their reading at Book Club with Kelly

The decision to redesign the afternoon programming allowed for further examination of the elements that make Corlears such a special learning environment. Drawing from the school’s educational philosophy and values, this program was designed to reflect those elements while also providing students with choices that are fun, and different from what they might experience during a regular school day. The addition of new classes gave way for more varied opportunities for exploration, learning and play. This year, students can choose from a multitude of classes including the newly added Cooking with Benna and Book Club with Kelly. With more classes taught by Corlears educators, students have the opportunity to interact with familiar faces in new ways. In addition to broadened choice, ensuring equity for all students and families was, and remains a priority that has greatly impacted this programmatic shift. As part of Corlears Plus’ launch, financial aid has expanded to all specialty classes, with the goal of providing students more opportunities to explore their varied interests and foster new talents.

Students practice their skills during a session of Chess. 

Students practice their skills during a session of Chess. 

“What’s in a name?” Well, a lot! As part of the redesign process, the opportunity to create an appropriate name was presented. Corlears Plus was chosen as a reflection of the commitment to Corlears’ goals and philosophy as an essential part of the program. As a true extension of the school, each afternoon at Corlears Plus (or “Plus”, the nickname adopted by students and faculty) is facilitated with the aim to provide the same opportunities for learning, playing, and growing that happens during each school day. During their time in Plus, Students are given the time and space to make choices, interact with friends and play in ways that are developmentally appropriate, enriching and fun. Alex Gelman, Director of Auxiliary Programs and Community Engagement says “Corlears has always felt like one big family to me, and it's amazing to see that familial spirit come to life in Corlears Plus. Students from different classrooms get to come together to eat, play, learn, and form friendships on top of those they get to nurture during the regular school day. Plus has become this vibrant community that kids really take pride in being a part of.”

Students enjoy snack time at the start of Plus

Students enjoy snack time at the start of Plus

As sense of community remains at the core of Plus programming. Each Plus session begins with a communal snack time where students sit together to enjoy a healthful snack that will fuel them through the rest of their afternoon.  Snack also serves as an important time for students across grade levels to establish relationships, make new bonds and expand their community outside of their immediate classroom. Beyond just the student body, Plus has also expanded the Corlears community of caring adults that interact with our students. Choice Time facilitators Theresa and Samora have quickly bonded with students, and those interactions have become an essential part of the school day for students who attend Plus.

Corlears Plus has expanded the way students are nurtured within the walls of the school. Afternoons continue to be a forum for exploration, developing new skills and nurturing new relationships. Each day at Plus is shaped by a commitment to Corlears’ values, and then brought to life by the energy and enthusiasm each student brings. Witnessing the excitement students feel about being part of this program, it is clear that Plus really does add value to the school day.

To learn more about Corlears Plus, click here. 

Fun and Philanthropy at The Auction 2017


The annual Corlears Auction is a night of celebration. With tickets purchased and babysitters booked, this evening serves as unique opportunity for all to come together in support of our community - in major style. The perfect combination of fun and philanthropy, the Auction serves as an elegant forum for sharing pride in the inspiring school environment that all have worked so hard to create, while continuing to foster that same spirit for generations to come.

The Auction is a highly anticipated social event for everyone at Corlears. Our school prides itself on its tight knight community, but this particular evening takes it to a new level.  On Auction night, parents are able to interact with one another in a different way. Moving offsite, families have the chance to connect with one another not just as parents, but as friends. Beyond these meaningful interactions, the event in and of itself is a true display of the collaborative spirit that Corlears fosters. The hard work of community members comes to fruition once the doors open and the festivities begin.

A true labor of love, the Auction is organized by the Auction Committee, and the entire evening is a direct reflection of the dedication of these parents. Every element, from the Save the Date to the live auction lots, is coordinated and collected by current Corlears parents. As the Auction nears, early mornings mean raffle ticket sales in the lobby during drop-off, and with every week comes another committee meeting where plans are laid and details are fine tuned.  In addition to the items collected by the committee, some of the most coveted auction lots are made right on site with the help of students and parents. Each year, Corlears students work together to create unforgettable art pieces which prove to be both beautiful and thoughtful. Each item is a display of the work students do in the classrooms and a glimpse into their personalities. From the 2s to the 10s, all students have the opportunity to make their mark on a very special work of art. Staff and faculty also get in the spirit by coming up with their own creative auction items in the form of "staff experiences." These experiences are an opportunity for students to connect with familiar faces in an unfamiliar and exciting way. This year, a few lucky winners might have the chance to bowl with their favorite teacher, or catch a baseball game with staff members. Staff participation, and the excitement that builds around these experiences is a display of the team spirit that exists at Corlears and the deep connection faculty and staff have to the larger community.

While the Auction is a wonderful social event, it serves a much deeper purpose. On this special evening, community members come together to raise funds to enhance the elements of a Corlears education for their own children and others. Every bid placed and every paddle raised supports the tools and pedagogy for teaching compassion at all age levels – a core value of a Corlears education. The support of the community on Auction night also helps build the school’s financial aid program; making it possible for more children to experience what it means to have Corlears as their educational foundation.  Further, funds raised on this night will help support the dedicated teachers that make Corlears the school it is. The generosity of our parents provides opportunities for teachers to take part in professional development programs that will foster their growth and deeply impact their classrooms.

The Auction’s theme of “Living the Mission” echoes that of the Corlears community spirit. Each day, parents, students and staff contribute to the energy and warmth that makes Corlears the unique and supportive learning environment it is. The Auction is a night to celebrate these contributions and to look ahead to the bright future of the school.

"Know Thyself": Self Reflection in the Classroom

At Corlears, each student is valued for the unique person they are. For students, getting to know who that person actually is can be a long journey of discovery and learning. Throughout their years at Corlears, each child is given a multitude of opportunities to reflect on who they are both as individuals and as learners. As they discover more about themselves, and each other, they become more thoughtful and empathic with each passing grade.

The 3/4s are the first to truly delve into the self. The” All About Me” study gives children a chance to think deeply about their lives and families. As a group, students share details such as family structure, traditions and food. Through their exploration they discover the varying cultures and lifestyles of their classmates.  A topic that often arises throughout the study is food. Given that food is such an integral and often personal part of one’s culture, the 3/4s food mantra is “Don’t ‘yuck’ my yum.” At its core, this phrase and its frequent use in the classroom help promote cultural understanding and an open mindedness around food at a young age. At meeting time, conversations about such topics begin and grow in an organic way. Through each share, students explore the similarities and differences that exist among their closest friends. This work sets the stage for our students to become empathic community members.

Exploration of the self and others continues as students grow older and move into the upper grades. In the 6/7s, children hit a developmental milestone. Halfway through the school year, the second graders become extremely reflective. They observe their younger classmates and make connections to their own past behaviors and personality traits. It is at this time when they begin to think about who they have been and who they are growing into. As the eldest children in the room, the 7s take to their position as mentors to their younger counterparts with pride. Patricia, 6/7s teacher, says that as they learn to “lend a helping hand” they “begin digging into what it means to be part of a community.” As they enter the next phase of their educational journey, they will explore what it means to be part of an even larger community.

The 8/9s’ self-reflection is multi-layered. Through their curricular work, they each explore their role in their classroom and in society as a whole.  Early on, students set classroom standards based on their own learning needs. They work together to create expectations base on what they each need, and what their classmates need from them in order to have a successful year. In January they check in to see if the expectations need adjusting based on how they have grown and changes as a learning community. Beyond learning styles and needs, students begin to look at themselves on a much deeper and more personal level. This year’s election study gave each community member the opportunity to explore their role in society, and ways they can harness their power to support causes they are passionate about.  Each Social Justice meeting, which occur every Day 3, is a chance to explore a variety of issues and the different groups that might be affected. They continue this work as their immigration study brings new faces (and some familiar ones) to their classroom. Conducting interviews with immigrants, interviewees share pieces of their culture and experiences with our young researchers. In learning about the journeys of others, they naturally compare their own life events and family culture. Just as they did as 3/4s, students learn more about the differing experience of people around them; building on their ever-growing compassion and empathy.  

As most adults can attest, self-discovery is a lifelong process, but our students are able to engage in deep self-reflection at young age; empowering them to grow into compassionate, empathic change makers. By understanding what they need in order to thrive, they are able to advocate for themselves. By learning about their role in the world around them, they are able to advocate for others - and they carry this confidence and compassion far beyond 5th grade. 

The 8/9s interview cesar

The 8/9s interview cesar