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Students walking through the entrance of The Green Vale School, a private school in Long Island, New York

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STEM Exploration: GVS Students Dive into the Science Olympiad

The Green Vale School science lab was filled with enthusiasm, as the students who are part of the Science Olympiad program dove into the captivating world of scientific exploration and discovery. 

Guided by the dynamic leadership of GVS Upper School Science teacher, Kristin Nastos, and Upper School Math teacher, Caitlin Madden, this nationwide STEM competition was offered as an after school enrichment program to students in 5th to 8th Grade. Uniting their passion for science and problem-solving, the aim for these science buffs was clear: to dive into 22 challenging scientific events offered at this year's regional competition at Kellenberg Memorial High School in March.

According to the Science Olympiad website, "Science Olympiad functions much like a football or soccer team, requiring preparation, commitment, coaching and practice throughout the year. Each school-based team is allowed to bring 15 students who cross-train for a variety of events in their skill set, but some school clubs have more than 75 members, allowing for an apprentice and mentoring system." 

At Green Vale, the teams are fully immersed in their preparations. Students engage in constructing towers, planes, and wheeled vehicles, conducting forensic and chemistry experiments, and delving deep into detailed topics like Anatomy, Earth Science, Astronomy, Meteorology, and Ecology. “This is not a competition for the faint of heart!” Nastos quipped.   

She continued to explain, “Science Olympiad is a chance for students to work as a team, collaborate, display their academic prowess, and to show that their talents lie beyond physical pursuits. It also allows students from different grade levels to work with others that they wouldn't normally interact with. I have cross-collaboration across the board.”

As the competition date draws near, excitement and anticipation are palpable. For the teachers and students, it isn’t merely about the quest for victory: it’s about the journey of learning, of bonding with peers across grade levels, and of forging enduring friendships through a shared love for science. 

“I love the inclusive nature of Science Olympiad,” shared Jourdyn Taylor, a passionate 7th Grader at GVS. “This program provides us with the chance to explore diverse fields of science.” Excitement echoed from her classmate Mia Bhalla, who eagerly added, “Absolutely! It's not just about learning; it's also an incredible opportunity to have a blast with friends!”

For Nastos, Madden, and the team, the Science Olympiad is an arena where passions for STEM blossomed, where academic prowess met resilience, and where every experiment and project was a step toward shaping young minds for a future in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

One Block at a Time: Green Vale's Innovative Approach to Math Education

Embarking on an innovative approach to math education, The Green Vale School has integrated block play into the curriculum for students from Pre-Kindergarten to 3rd Grade. While, traditionally, block play is often associated with Early Childhood, this GVS Math program—under the guidance of Math Coordinator, Heejung Eom—has expanded its horizons to cater to older students.

Rather than imposing limitations on their creativity, Eom sets forth open-ended block challenges, inviting students to envision and construct mathematical arrays, a bridge, or a staircase, independently or in collaboration with peers. The deliberate repetition of these challenges serves a dual purpose: encouraging students to approach each task with a fresh, creative mindset and fostering an intrinsic motivation to continually improve.

The incorporation of block play into the math curriculum is a methodical strategy to enhance the overall math experience for young learners. Eom emphasizes aligning the approach to block challenges with the problem-solving techniques applied to traditional math problems. From the use of basic shapes and counting to more advanced concepts such as multiplication, subtraction, and addition, students engage with mathematical principles while stacking blocks in specific positions, exploring various angles, and building unique structures. Eom also pays close attention to the language used during these activities, promoting the development of mathematical vocabulary as students discuss and coordinate their ideas.

The overarching goal of introducing block play to the math program is to instill the understanding that math is not confined to numbers or equations on a worksheet; it is omnipresent in our surroundings.

"Math remains inherent in the block challenges, despite its playful appearance," explained Eom. "Through this interactive play, students find enjoyment in math, dispelling the all-too-common fear that arises when faced with traditional math worksheets or problems."

Eom also underscores the importance of problem-solving in math education, conveying the notion that resilience and determination are integral components of overcoming challenges.

"I advise my students that approaching math requires a lot of grit, which might be very intimidating to some. That's where block play comes in,” Eom continued. “When I present a block challenge to students, they may not understand how to approach it initially. However, when they persevere, work together, and refuse to give up in order to reach that end goal, the process becomes less intimidating because they've successfully experienced it before."

In the realm of mathematics at The Green Vale School, block play emerges as a powerful catalyst for transformative learning. By integrating this innovative approach, students not only engage with mathematical concepts in a playful and joyful manner but also develop the resilience and problem-solving skills essential for their academic journey. A journey where every block laid becomes a step towards shaping young minds for a future of mathematical excellence.

Global Perspectives: Celebrating Cultures & Traditions in Pre-K

Celebrating various traditions, cultures, and customs in Green Vale’s Early Childhood program allows children to embrace differences, cultivate empathy, and recognize the interconnectedness of humanity—granting them a unique global perspective. By immersing themselves in different cultural experiences, they gain a global outlook, learning to navigate a diverse world with sensitivity and open-mindedness. Teaching cultural appreciation at an early age lays the foundation for a generation capable of embracing and valuing the uniqueness of individuals and societies worldwide, contributing to a more harmonious and interconnected global community.

"Learning about a world outside of ourselves, is a challenging, yet necessary part of Early Childhood development," said Green Vale’s Pre-K teacher, Jennifer Milillo. "Young children are innately egocentric. They contemplate the world only from their personal perspective." 

Through Green Vale’s Global Kids initiative, Pre-K children are engaged in meaningful literature, reveling in celebrations of children, cultures, traditions, music, foods, and holidays from around the world. These opportunities offer children not only a reflection but also a window into lives vastly different from their own. Tailored to their developmental stage, this program provides a global perspective, fostering an understanding of children worldwide and within our communities.

Homa Sabet Tavangar, a renowned author and speaker specializing in global citizenship, collaborated with GVS teachers to cultivate a culture that embraces global competencies. Tavangar's Global Kids Cards provide hands-on activities to teach children about crafts, food, games, festivals and ways of helping others around the world. These resources enhance the depth of their explorations, enriching the educational experience for both educators and students alike.

"We always open each lesson with an exploration of the world map, which truly captivates the children," shared Milillo. "It helps them grasp that children live all over the world, leading to discussions about similarities and differences in their lives. The map also serves as a springboard for our cultural explorations."

Below are some compelling examples of how GVS Global Kids celebrates diverse cultures worldwide, imparting knowledge through age-appropriate activities that spark insightful discussions, broadening young minds beyond their immediate surroundings.

Guatemalan Worry Dolls
The children read "Pepe and the Parade" by Tracey Kyle, a children's book that revolves around a young boy named Pepe who worries that he will not be able to participate in a parade when he realizes he doesn't have a costume for the event. Drawing inspiration from the story, the children made Worry Dolls, also known as trouble dolls or muñecas quitapenas, which are a traditional craft originating from Guatemala and other parts of Central America. According to Guatemalan folklore, these tiny dolls have the power to take away worries and anxieties when placed under a pillow at night.

Diwali - The Festival of Lights
Through the story "Let’s Celebrate Diwali" by Anjali Joshi, the class learned about the significance of light triumphing over darkness and shared experiences related to the celebration. After attending a Diwali assembly and watching a traditional dance by a fellow student, the children were inspired to recreate a Diwali celebration in class. They crafted clay diyas and hosted a feast adorned with diyas, symbolizing the festival's spirit.

A Turkish Tradition - Apple Tea for Hospitality and Friendship
Exploring a tradition from Istanbul, Turkey, the class sipped on Apple Tea while discovering Turkey on the map. Mrs. Milillo shared her experiences at The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, enhancing the cultural connection for the children.

Apple slices

Instructions: Boil apples and cinnamon in water, let cool, and enjoy!

Native Americans and Bead Making
The class read "I Am a Story" by Dan Vaccarino—a powerful book that celebrates the timeless nature of stories and their impact on human lives through its engaging illustrations and simple yet profound narrative. The book served as a foundation for the understanding that storytelling comes in various forms beyond words and the importance of preserving and sharing narratives.  Using this story as a catalyst, the class seamlessly transitioned into exploring how Indigenous communities use beadwork as a form of storytelling. This inspired them to create clay beads, paint them, and make necklaces, which were worn during the Early Childhood Friendsgiving event.

Learning about Kwanzaa
Honoring African heritage and culture, the class discussed the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). As a hands-on activity, the students collaboratively crafted a Communal Mkeka Mat, a symbolic piece central to Kwanzaa celebrations. This mat was adorned with a basket of First Fruits of the Harvest, a Unity Goblet, and corn to show appreciation for their crops, their sense of community, and their hope for the future.

Embracing Cultures Through Parent Involvement
A warm invitation is extended to parents from all cultural heritages to share their rich traditions and customs with the school community. Through these engaging visits, parents have the opportunity to offer unique insights into their heritage, traditions, and values. These interactions enrich students' understanding of the world.

By providing an age-appropriate platform of cultural exploration and understanding, Green Vale's Global Kids program stands as a testament to the profound impact that celebrating cultural varieties at a young age can have. Through literature, immersive experiences, and hands-on activities, young minds are not merely learning about the world—they're embracing it.

Our dedicated educators at GVS are nurturing a generation that cherishes differences, fosters empathy, and navigates the global landscape with a profound sense of appreciation and open-mindedness. As these children embark on their journey through education and beyond, they carry with them the invaluable gift of a broadened perspective—an enduring legacy that propels us towards a more harmonious, interconnected, and compassionate global community.

The GVS Connection: Building Character Through the Buddies Program

Fridays at Green Vale pulse with a special kind of energy. Certainly, the half-day schedule adds to the sense of excitement, but it's the select Fridays that truly sparkle—when Upper School students meet with their Early Childhood buddies for an array of engaging and fun-filled activities. It's a time where the spirit of camaraderie is front and center, turning an ordinary Friday into an extraordinary experience at Green Vale.

A beacon of the school's commitment to character education and community spirit, the Buddies Program essence lay in the simple, yet profound idea of pairing Upper School students with the youngest members of the Green Vale family. This mentorship extended beyond the confines of the classroom and into the heart of what it means to be a responsible Upper School leader and part of a caring community. 

Olivia Lichota, an 8th Grade GVS student, embodies the spirit of the Buddies Program. Her eyes lit up as she reflected upon first meeting her Early Childhood buddies over the years. Olivia, along with her peers, had prepared for this role, understanding that their actions would now be seen through the magnifying lens of admiration and innocence.

“I like the buddy experience because it gives us the chance to be role models for younger kids," Olivia shared. She also recognized that her words, her actions, even her mannerisms were now mirrored by another. It was not just about being a mentor; it was about being a worthy one.

The Buddies Program acts as a microcosm of the world outside the school's nurturing embrace. It’s a preparatory ground, where Upper School students learn to lead not by authority, but by example. They come to understand that true leadership is defined by a behavior and the relentless pursuit of the betterment of others.Through this tradition, students also learn invaluable life lessons—empathy, responsibility, and the power of positive influence.

As the year unfolds, the buddies will meet during various school events, each interaction weaving a stronger bond, and a firmer commitment to the values Green Vale stands behind. It’s through these interactions that the Upper School students discover the joy of selflessness, and the younger ones experience the security of a guiding hand.  

Kristin Nastos, GVS Science teacher and 6th Grade Advisor, watched as her 6th graders stepped into their new roles this year as big buddies. “The Buddy Program in the Upper School is probably everyone’s favorite tradition,” she said. The transformation she witnessed each year never failed to impress her. She explained that the “big kids”—often seen juggling the trials of adolescence—shed their cloaks of self-consciousness and commanded their new position with a natural grace that was both heartwarming and inspiring.

The story of Green Vale's Buddies Program is not just about the events that take place during the school year. It’s about the quiet moments of connection, the gentle nudges towards excellence, and the echoes of laughter bridging the gap between years. It becomes a legacy of leadership and character—a testament to the understanding that to build a strong future, one must nurture the roots with intention and care.


Foundation for Success: GVS 8th Graders Prepare for Secondary School Interviews

In alignment with The Green Vale School’s mission to inspire and challenge students by cultivating intellect, character, and confidence as a foundation for success, Julia Ireland, a seasoned veteran of the communications industry, imparted a wealth of experience and knowledge to the GVS 8th Grade students. 

With 32 years of experience as a communications coach, Ireland understands the power of persuasion, the art of presentation, and the significance of making a lasting impression. Her task at Green Vale was to teach the nuances of the interview process for secondary school to 8th Grade students–a pivotal moment in their academic journey. With passion and conviction, Ireland delved into her lessons, focusing not just on the words they spoke but the way they carried themselves.

During one of her sessions, Ireland orchestrated a variety of exercises aimed at refining the students' greetings, perfecting the art of a firm handshake, modulating tone and voice clarity, and harnessing the energy within them. She knew that the subtleties of body language could speak volumes, often louder than words. She guided them through mock interviews, throwing challenging questions their way, urging them to respond with confidence and clarity. 

“I want these young students to understand the big picture about communication that they may not even be aware of,” Ireland began. “Only 7% is what you actually say, 38% is how you say it, and 55% is what your whole body is doing.”  

Ireland also instilled the importance of leaving a memorable impression that would echo long after students had left the interview room. She emphasized that this process was not just about answering questions; it was about showcasing specifics about their authentic selves, their passions, and their potential–all things they could ultimately bring to the table.

One of the key takeaways was to treat this experience like a job interview. She encouraged students to research the schools they aspired to join, to understand their ethos and values. Preparation, she stressed, was the cornerstone of success.

But beyond the immediate goal of secondary school applications, these lessons extended far into the future. The art of confident communication and the ability to make a powerful first impression, were assets for a lifetime. This was about empowering young minds with skills that would serve them in college interviews, job applications, boardroom meetings, and beyond.  

"It's crucial for them to grasp the art of self-advocacy. In today's fiercely competitive world, it's about finding those unique qualities that set them apart from the sea of applicants," Ireland emphasized. "I want to guide them to showcase their achievements with confidence, aligning their strengths with their choice of Secondary School, as well as in the future with potential job opportunities.” 

In the end, Ireland didn't just teach interview and communication techniques; she sculpted futures. As the students absorbed her teachings, they became better prepared to face the world with a little more focus on their intellect, their character, and their confidence … determined to leave a lasting impression.