Faculty and Staff Spotlight
Annual Report 2020-2021
As we commemorate 50 years of Walden, we also celebrate the people who make it such a warm and wonderful place for children to learn and grow. Billy Christian, Sophia Hamilton, Carolyn Hancock, Grace Park Cubas, and Daphne Trager are some of the faculty and staff members who have shaped the Walden mission and program for more than 20 years. Here, they are sharing their Walden stories and favorite memories.
Billy Christian | At Walden since 1995
My favorite Walden memory is a reoccurring one; our 6th grade graduation. Students give their impassioned speeches to an audience who love them with poise, humor, and a tremendous amount of insight.
Gradually, the moment comes into focus when students realize they are punctuating the last paragraph of their Walden chapter book. It is a joyously sad occasion when children learn their time at Walden has slipped away both gradually and suddenly. The only consolation to all in attendance is they stand on that stage taller, wiser, and prepared for their next academic adventure. And then we cry.
Carolyn Hancock | At Walden since 1993
I first got acquainted with Walden 28 years ago when I was looking for as school for my daughter. At Walden, her Kindergarten year was spent in a small class led by two teachers using Montessori practices that played to her deliberative and deep thought processes. She thought she was in heaven!
Three years later, a position opened in the Walden library, and I found myself in a job at a small school with approximately 20 teachers following practices that played to my deliberative and deep thought processes. History repeats itself.
The following year, my son started Kindergarten at Walden and history did not repeat. He found the transition from his carefree daycare experience to be quite challenging and he learned a lot about reaching deep within himself to find the courage to carry on. But halfway through the year, three things happened – he got two weeks off for winter break, he had a birthday, and Tina came to Walden and became his new teacher. Suddenly, school was fun and intriguing, and he found joy in branching out into the myriad lessons and activities offered in his classroom. He was enchanted by Tina’s encouraging and accepting manner and school was wonderful. Well, that was a relief! Years have passed. My son found success in middle and high school and has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. I am happy to report that the foundations of his Walden education have supported him through all his academic journeys and I’m equally happy to report that Tina is still sharing her teacher magic with Walden students.
And speaking of teacher magic, that is the reason I have such a long history at Walden. Every year at contract renewal time, Walden employees have a built-in opportunity to consciously reflect on staying with the school. I have had 25 such opportunities and have chosen to come back each time. Additionally, every August the staff convenes and spends time building community to support our teaching in the coming year. A frequent exercise is to answer the question, “What keeps you coming back to Walden?” My answer is, “My colleagues.” It is inspiring to witness the integrity, creativity, and dedication of my fellow teachers. Their joy in teaching and belief in children combined with the effort they put into training, planning, and preparing for each school year fill me with awe and draw me in. I feel like a rank amateur next to them and am privileged to watch them build the ambiance and academic structure that define their classrooms. I have learned so much from my colleagues and have so much more to embrace.
I love coming to work in a place where individuals are celebrated for who they are and are held in gentle community as they grow and extend their identities. This is true for both children and adults. I see growth in those around me every day and I feel it in myself as well. I am challenged, encouraged, and invited to try new things, expand my ability to see things in a new light, and deepen my compassion and acceptance. Professional development opens chances to lean further into relationships and to learn new ways to use inclusive practices to reach out to students and colleagues. Support from administration and other teachers give me the building blocks to form bridges between myself and my students. The freedom to try novel curricula lets me explore new ideas and new techniques for constructing knowledge in partnership with students. For years the following quote from Thoreau was displayed in the front office: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” For me, the heart of Walden is in honoring our differences as we reach towards each other to create a responsive community where we all can thrive.
Daphne Trager | At Walden since 2000
Walden Head of School Carol Per Lee took a chance, asking me to teach dance to several classes in the spring of 2000. When the 6th grade learned to swing dance, the 1/2s could perform the South African folk dance Pata Pata, and other classes could run, jump and freeze into a tableau, she declared the experiment successful, and invited me to join the faculty that fall. Many schools have dance in middle or high school, but Carol had the unusual foresight to offer dance in elementary school, where it would contribute to each child's brain development, social and emotional learning, and academic success.
From the start, she supported me - helping me to organize my thoughts and ideas as an educator, sending me to conferences, workshops, and opportunities for training all over Los Angeles. She wanted me to develop my own curriculum through which to nurture Walden students as unique individuals. With each passing year, and with changing Heads of School, Walden has continued to support my development as a dance teacher in a school setting. This has included training in the Orff Schulwerk in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salzburg/Austria, as well as programs through the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, and the Creative Dance Center in Seattle, Washington. I have attended conferences as far away as Washington DC and Miami, Florida, where I presented a program on Walden's unique blending of dance and music in the Spring Sing.
Walden students have been inspired by dance legends Martha Graham, Bella Lewitzky, and Isadora Duncan. They have created dances based on literature - a Quidditch match anyone? And the Broadway show Stomp! They have learned folk dances from all over the world, and tinkered with shape making of all sizes, levels, and directions. They have pondered strong and weak energy, a zigzag pathway, and counter balancing.
Walden has stood apart from its fellow elementary schools by offering dance to its students. This has been a unique opportunity for me for which I am truly grateful. I know that students' creative and critical thinking skills have deepened because of the challenge of solving a movement problem, learning a sequence of steps, and performing before an audience. I love that I got to design this program and look forward to seeing what new developments come in the future.
Grace Park Cubas | At Walden since 2000
In my classroom hangs a simply framed copy of the Walden School Learning Outcomes. These school-wide goals state that our graduates will be articulate and forthright, respectful of others, reflective, resilient and persevering, academically capable and insightful, passionate learners, and globally aware, along with a brief portrait of each attribute.
I remember being a new teacher, more than a few years ago by now, in awe of the lively discussions in our faculty meetings to debate and craft these Learning Outcomes. As I’ve experienced time and time again at Walden, the work was aspirational yet intentional, and the completed Learning Outcomes struck a deep chord with me then and continue to do so years later.
Our community is one in which we honor and support the development of the whole child. Walden has been the place where I’ve gotten to co-create the classroom environments where students feel valued and safe to explore their ideas but also challenged to consider different perspectives, to think and reflect critically, to problem-solve and act with purpose, compassion, and creativity. It’s been the place where I’ve gotten to work with brilliant and dedicated team members to build upon each child's strengths and to help students understand their unique ways of learning and being and respect themselves and others in the fullness of their humanity. They learn to learn from each other and the collective wisdom in the room but also to find their own voice and the skills and confidence to articulate what they mean to say. In my own journey as an educator at Walden, I've learned in countless ways over the years from incredible mentor teachers, colleagues, students, and other community members. Along the way, I've been encouraged and supported to contribute my own ideas and insights and grow my voice and craft.
As it turns out, graduation is one of my favorite traditions at Walden, as we see an unequivocally clear picture of the Learning Outcomes on display. Watching each of the 6th graders deliver a speech reflecting on their learning and looking toward new dreams at the culmination of their Walden journey always fills me with gratitude, pride, and hope. It's an experience like none other and serves as one of the best reminders of why we do what we do here.
Sophia Hamiliton | At Walden since 1999
Walden is a home of endless exploration.
Though our mission highlights the school's commitment to nurturing students' natural wonder, I've found in my 23 years on faculty that Walden has equally encouraged my curiosities and fostered my growth as a teacher. Here's to 50 more years of discovery!