January 2022

Published by William Penn Charter School in the interest of our faculty and staff.


On Saturday, October 23, 2021, Darryl Ford was honored by Villanova University as the 2021 St. Thomas of Villanova Medal recipient.  Darryl received the medal, the highest award given by Villanova University's Alumni Association, in recognition for his many contributions to Villanova as a trustee for ten years and, most recently, for serving on the Aequitas Presidential Task Force on Race.  Darryl's work in education here at PC and with local and national educational organizations was also lauded.  Here is a link to more details about Darryl's honor.

That same day, Jennifer Brown Baer was at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, for the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Olaf's chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics honor society, where she spoke to alumni and current students about her experience teaching Latin in independent schools.

Big kudos go out to Susan Chan-Peters for connecting Michael LoStracco's classes to her son, Ob, who is stationed at Fort Dix and is assisting the classes with their nascent donation drive for Afghan refugees, and kudos to Aly Goodner in the Center for Public Puprpose for making that connection!  Ob made a memorable visit to LoStracco's Quaker Principles and Practice classes and took back student donations with him. 

Kudos to Tom Rickards for coordinating training for the rock climbing wall, keeping faculty updated on the status, and in general keeping up the excitement! We all look forward to many joyful climbs.

Do you have kudos to give, or news and notes? Submit them any time throughout the year for inclusion in the next P.C.P.D.! Have you read a great book or study recently? P.C.P.D. is looking for columnists! Consider offering a one-time or recurring column in P.C.P.D. so your colleagues can learn from your experience.


News & Notes

Tom Rickards completed a lead climbing class and certification at the Gravity Vault Climbing Gym in Radnor PA. For more information about climbing with Tom, see the Eco Corner below, or check out the official Instagram account for the H-P-R Stillwagon Rock Wall. 

Amanda Lee has completed parts I and II of an American Sign Language course at her local community college. 

Michael Roche's musical "Monster" received a concert reading at Footlighters Theatre January 7, 8, and 9, 2020. Colleague Corey Moy, who saw the show in concert, described the musical saying, "the story makes you look at love and life/death in a whole new way...." For an interview with Michael about the show, keep reading!

A PCPD hat-tip to Julia Judson-Rea for lifting up this fantastic article from NAIS exploring the intersection of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Research with Mind, Brain, and Education work. 

Congratulations and best wishes are due to several Penn Charter faculty and staff who celebrated major life events this fall:

  • Emma Rowan and Jim Pilkington are engaged!

  • MaryKate O'Brien OPC '12, director of alumni relations, married Mike Boland on October 2, 2021. Fourteen OPCs attended the wedding with four of them in the wedding party! 


Faculty and Staff Q & A with Michael Roche

Whether you've worked with him in the Middle or Upper Schools, supported a stage production he directed or for which he designed the set, or simply know him from the hallways, Michael Roche will already be familiar to you for his winning smile and buoyant energy. Now in his twenty-second year as a Middle and Upper School Theater Teacher at Penn Charter, Roche is a man of many talents. A stand-up comedian, actor, sketch comic, singer, artist, and more, Roche was not one to rest on his laurels during the lockdown. Roche has written and composed a new musical which received its world premiere in a concert reading at Footlighters Theater in Berwyn, PA. The PCPD asked him to share details of the show, his process, and how this ever-developing professional views the intersection of his work on and beyond campus. 

Q: First things first: can you provide us with a synopsis of the show you've written?
A: "When an army doctor’s wife unexpectedly dies, he experiments on dead soldiers in an attempt to bring her back. He is successful in resurrecting the deceased soldiers, but the army has found out and he flees into hiding. Ten years later, the doctor has moved to a small town, where there is a single mother whose Army son went MIA. One night, a mysterious drifter appears. The doctor believes he is a soldier he experimented on. The mother believes it is her son who never returned home. And the sheriff wants the drifter out of his town, dead or alive."

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the show?
A: "In 2015, I started with the ending. I knew how I wanted the musical to end, and that is the only part of the story that has remained consistent throughout. But after the 2016 election, the story became more inspired by/ became a reaction to the xenophobia, Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement that was happening in America. And of course, it had to be a musical. No one likes to be preached at, but people will listen to your opinions in the form of a song."

Q: What can you tell us about your creative process?
A: "I have a very non-linear process of writing. Sometimes it starts with a scene. Other times it may be an image I work a scene around. For some of the songs I heard a line of dialogue spoken on the news, and created a song based on that. But “don’t be boring” is at the root of every scene/song. One thing I did find through this six year process was I was over-thinking, and cramming too many ideas into one story. At one point the story was 120 pages, and I literally threw 95 pages into the recycling bin and started over. Simplify was my new motto. Instead of writing a song with all the instruments, just use the piano. Then add drums, extra vocals, etc. Also, I like to write at a Starbucks. I feed off the energy of the people around me." 

Q: Getting the chance to put on a concert reading is a huge opportunity. How did you come to connect with Footlighters Theater, and what has your role been in the process of preparing the cast for the concert reading?
A: "Two of my children did a virtual cabaret last spring at Footlighters Theater. It was the first time anyone had been back in a theater before [COVID-19] struck. My wife was telling one of the board members that I had just finished a musical, and he mentioned they were starting a new playwright’s workshop. It just happened to be the right timing. My role has been directing the workshop, and making musical and script edits through the rehearsal process." 

Q: How has "Monster: A New Musical"--both its creation and the preparation for this performance--supported and complemented your work at Penn Charter? 
A: "It reminds me what it’s like to be a student. A lot of time and effort goes into the writing process, and you’re not sure if people will even like what you wrote (such as term papers, SCP projects). It’s scary to put your feelings on paper, whether as a student or adult, always the fear of being judged. And nothing is finished on the first draft, there are so many corrections to make. For three years I kept telling myself 'It’s ready.' Then I would have a reading and realize 'it’s so not ready’. So keep working until it’s ready, and be patient. Success does not happen overnight. It’s important to remember that as an educator as well, that our students will develop into stronger students. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes four. But it will happen. Be patient and keep helping the students develop into wonderful humans. In the Performing Arts Department, it helps me be more familiar with the music department and stretches my knowledge of music in a variety of ways. Lastly, I believe when I can fulfill my own creative passions, it makes me a better teacher. I can then share my new knowledge with the students and other faculty members. It takes me out of the bubble of teaching and puts me in a different world experience, which then aids my experience as a teacher. All I know is it’s never good to stay exactly the same, but to keep learning, stepping out of your safety zone and trying something new. I hope to teach that to the students." 

Q: What's next for you, and for "Monster"?
A: "[I'm] not sure. My hope is to get a theatre company to stage a full production of Monster. I’m also working on a new script featuring the music of two of my favorite bands (with their approval). But after the experience of Monster, I’m able to see what works and doesn’t work, and apply that knowledge to the script. But even before that, [I'll get] to direct an awesome production of Frozen Jr with our middle school students."


MBE Corner: Pandemic Impacts on Cognition

by Anne Coleman

Fig 1. Arnsten (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 10: 410-22.

Every few weeks, the fields of medicine, public policy, psychology, education, and public health churn out new potential answers to the question we are all asking: what will be the lasting effects of this pandemic? Among the questions that remain unanswered is the question of how our actual cognition might be affected. The closest we can get to an answer may well be through an examination of the current research on how stress, both acute and chronic, effects cognition.

When the human brain experiences acute stress, it is flooded with norepinephrine and dopamine, neuromodulators which control the relationship between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the rest of the brain. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a "central role in cognitive control functions," and "dopamine in the PFC modulates cognitive control, thereby influencing attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory, and cognitive flexibility." When we experience acute stress, our neuromodulators rush in to the PFC and indicate that this type of cognitive control is no longer a priority, shifting resources to prioritize the work of the amygdala and striatum, areas of the brain which have critical implications for human survival because they control basic emotions, reflexes, and some essential habits. This is optimal for fight-or-flight scenarios, but it also leaves us ill-adapted for some of the demands of modern living, where PFC functions such as thoughtful decision-making and sustained attention may be necessary in spite of stress. 

While the effects of acute stress on the functioning of the PFC are short-lived, sustaining this level of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, or experiencing chronic stress, can have a lasting impact on the brain long after the stressors are gone. "Chronic exposure to uncontrollable stress induces loss of PFC pyramidal cell spines and atrophy of dendrites which correlate with impaired working memory performance. This phenomenon has also been seen in humans, where PFC gray matter decreases and weaker PFC connectivity correlate with exposure to adverse events." (Arnsten Lab, Yale School of Medicine. "Exposure to Uncontrollable Stress Impairs PFC Function.") This means that, over time, the amount of connections available at the end of each neuron (as measured in dendrites) can actually diminish. Effected neurons will have a reduced network for disseminating signals related to their functions, resulting in weaker signals related to the core functions of that region. The decrease in gray matter, or myelination, in the PFC further weakens the strength of signals by rendering each individual neuron less efficient in relaying its signal, not unlike heating your home after your insulation is damaged. A less myelinated PFC is a less effective PFC, with substantial implications for the performance of PFC functions such as self-regulation, planning, and attention. 

The PFC is not the only area of the brain that is affected: chronic stress has been shown to cause atrophy of pyramidal neurons throughout other regions of the brain, such as in the hippocampus, where psychosocial stress can lead to cognitive deficits in spatial learning and memory. (A.M. Magariños, J. M. G. Verdugo, B. S. McEwen (1997). "Chronic stress alters synaptic terminal structure in hippocampus.") We've always known that sustained stress was hazardous to our health, but we are only beginning to fully grasp what it does to our cognition. In the meantime, we must practice empathy, not only for our students but also for ourselves: we may need to take more breaks, more often, to meaningfully de-stress if we want to beat back the ravages of this pandemic. 

Fig 2.  Hains et al (2009). Inhibition of protein kinase C signaling protects prefrontal cortex dendritic spines and cognition from the effects of chronic stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106: 17957-62.


Reading (and Writing!) Corner

Lower School Teachers Celebrate TCRWP’s 100th Saturday Reunion

By Naveena Bembry & Sarah Black

On a sunny, crisp Saturday in October, many PC Lower School teachers participated in the Columbia University Teachers College Reading & Writing Project’s (TCRWP) Saturday Reunion via Zoom. This gathering of educators, too many to count, from across the nation and the world, was a homecoming for alums of TCRWP and a very special milestone celebrating the 100th Saturday Reunion! We were energized by Jason Reynolds’ thought-provoking keynote address. Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books for young people, including Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You; Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks; and All American Boys. Reynolds is a gifted storyteller who brings a contemporary voice to social justice issues in ways that resonate deeply with young readers. He called on educators to consider these three words: humility, intimacy, and gratitude. Recognizing that this particular Zoom gathering feels like “preaching to the choir,” Reynolds reminded us that in these times . . . now more than ever, “the choir has to learn new songs.” He challenged educators to weave humility, intimacy, and gratitude into our classrooms while continuing to hold our students at the center of all that we do.

We ventured out into “Zoomland” to an array of engaging workshops offered by leaders in the art of teaching reading, writing, and literacy. Here is a sampling of topics and experts: 

  • Teaching in Culturally Responsive Ways that Acknowledge the Uniqueness and Brilliance of BIPOC Students by Sonja Paul-Cherry
  • On Teaching Mindfulness through Poetry by Georgia Heard
  • The New World of Digital Writing by Ralph Fletcher
  • Making Reading Conferring Stick: Give Feedback that Supports Independence by Gravity Goldberg & Renee Houser 
  • Supporting All Readers with Digital Reading by Cat Carpenter
  • Making Your Socially-Distanced Read Alouds Joyful, Engaging, and  Interactive (and Hear about Some Great Books, too!)  by Meghann McDonald
  • How Do We Strike the Balance between Reading Volume, Talk (with Partners  and Clubs), and Writing about Reading? By Hannah Kolb
  • Use Close Reading of Poetry to Teach Reading Skills Intensely and with  Beauty by Grace Chough

To close out this incredible day, Kate DiCamillo shared heartfelt reflections on her journey from being a struggling reader to an award winning writer. Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015, is one of six people to win two Newbery Medals. She says about stories, “When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another.” Born in Philadelphia, DiCamillo now lives in Minneapolis, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week. During her closing remarks, she captivated the audience of educators as she shared her reflections and wove them into the stories unfolding in all of our classrooms. 

Lucy Calkins, the founder of TCWRP and architect of the workshop model, shared some final thoughts acknowledging the stress that the pandemic caused teachers, students, and families. Simply said, “family matters, big birthdays, and Covid get you thinking . . . what will you do with your one and wild life?” She reflected on her personal quest to embrace kindness and refocus her lens on what matters most -- relationships. As we all joined from our homes, cars, or schools, there was a feeling of togetherness and hope in yet again another different school year. Attending the Saturday reunion sparked different emotions and sent all of us off with energy and enthusiasm to continue to share ideas and kindness with each other. Calkins ended her remarks by repeating those familiar phrases that have filled our classrooms over the years -- “Turn & Talk . . . Stop & Jot . . . Eyes Up Here . . . Off You Go” -- reminding us of the threads that tie us to one another, the journey we’ve traveled together, and the work that awaits us.


Eco Corner 

by Tom Rickards

It has been a busy year already with lots of exciting programs and opportunities coming back! I want to highlight a few items, but let me know if you would like weekly announcements as well.

  • The Penn Charter Team for the All Trails Challenge is going strong! As I write this we have raised over $2,000 towards our $2,500 goal. Our students have used the Wissahickon more than ever in the past year or so, so any contributions would be welcomed!

  • Green Table at PC/GA Day: On Saturday Nov 13th, we had a table that sold a variety of student created-projects that related to environmental themes. There were reusable utensil bags to benefit 4ocean, (made by Addie and Ilyana), Art Print Cards to benefit the PC Gardens, (by Joy and her 10th grade students), Upcycled Halloween Candy bags to benefit Face to Face (made by Food Security Club), Dog Toys to benefit PAWS: Progressive Animal Welfare Society (made by the Middle School Green Club), and art stickers to also benefit Face to Face (made by Upper School Art Club). 

  • H-P-R Stillwagon Rock Wall is now fully operational! You can follow us on Instagram at penncharter_rockclimbing and I have created this Google calendar to show when the wall is in use. We are planning on offering a Lower School Rock Climbing Enrichment and Middle School and Upper School climbing clubs. We will also have faculty climbs and belay classes offered through the TLC website, so look for more opportunities and I am happy to work with you to make this amazing resource available to our community.

  • The e-waste drive returned to Penn Charter this December, extending our multi-year partnership with PAR-Recycle Works, a social enterprise that provides employment to individuals returning from prison. Preliminary figures indicate we collected 2,642 pounds of e-waste this year. This was a 501 pound increase of e-waste properly recycled when compared to last year's drive!!!


Teaching & Learning Center News and Notes

From the desk of Ruth Aichenbaum

I hope you had a lovely and restful winter break! Please know as we return to school that the TLC is here to meet your needs- to help you learn and be in community in the ways you want: to learn what, when, and how you want. To this end, please know that you are invited to attend most TLC sessions virtually if any point in-person sessions won’t work for you. 
TLC sessions will officially start January 10, the start of the second week of January, but please be in touch if there are ways the TLC can support you before then. Below is a list of upcoming sessions. You can learn more details and sign up for sessions using this  TLC SignUp Genius link. 

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion:

  • Third Space with Jen Cort: Bringing Restorative Practice into Schools
  • The Disability, Neurodiversity, and Inclusion TLC group
  • Tuesdays with TED: To Fight Climate Change, Listen to Young People given by Nkosilathi Nyathi

Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability:

  • Nature/Outdoor Education Group
  • What is Climate Justice? Group
  • Tuesdays with TED: To Fight Climate Change, Listen to Young People given by Nkosilathi Nyathi

Pedagogy and Mind, Brain Education Research:

  • Learn about Quakerism
  • TED Talk and Discussion about How Pornography Changes What Way Teens Think about Sex
  • Online Library Resources for Foreign Languages
  • “Chocolate Covered Broccoli”: A Round Table on Games in Learning 
  • Making Learning Last for your Students and Yourself: Retrieval Practice and Other Power Tools You Can Easily Implement Tomorrow 
  • Learning by Doing: Learning by Playing: Building Meaningful Games and Active learning into the Curriculum
  • Bringing Restorative Practice into Schools- Third Space with Jen Cort Podcast
  • Teaching for Understanding and Making Thinking Visible Group 
  • Mind Brain Education and Implications for Teaching Group
  • The Disability, Neurodiversity, and Inclusion TLC group
  • Using Homework Meaningfully to Promote Learning Group
  • Growing Edge Collaborative group
  • Jefferson University Weekly Talking Teaching


  • Online Library Resources for Foreign Languages 
  • One-to-One Computer Help

The Arts:

  • Creative Writing Community 
  • Get Your Knitting TLC
  • PC Book Club: Come discuss Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

 Wellness and Joy in Community:

  • Soup for You!
  • Mindfulness Meditation  (every Monday and Wednesday at 12:05 PM)
  • Dealing with Mental Health Concerns Group
  • Because of a Teacher: Finding Our Joy through Stories
  • Growing Edge Collaborative
  • Yoga with MK
  • Purpose Pilates 

And Even More Sessions Coming Soon

We now have eleven PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) up and running, which you’re welcome to join!  No obligation to attend all sessions; attend when you’re available. We have yet to start a number of PLCs that ran in past years (including the Project-Based Learning Group, the Gender Equity group, the Parents of Young Children/Babies Group, Building Anti-Racist Educators, Creating Lifelong Learners) If you’d like to help get one of these groups or any other group started, please let me know, and we’ll make it happen! 

Below are presentations/ resources from December workshops so that you can learn about the topics even if you weren’t able to attend a session. 


Below are some links to some great free educational resources to which you can subscribe

  • Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning: MBE resources 

NOTE: CTTL is offering a virtual Winter Webinar At the Intersection: Creating a Culture of Belonging through the Lens of MBE and DEB that starts on Jan. 27 . See link for more information and contact David Brightbill if you’d like to attend. The CTTL also offers a summer MBE Academy, details to be announced shortly. 

Please be in touch if you have a student or a student group that would like to offer a TLC session. Some of our most inspiring and informative TLC  sessions have been led by students, and it’s also a meaningful opportunity for students to present to an authentic audience.

Once again, here is the link to sign up for a TLC workshop. If there’s a session you’d like to attend, but the timing doesn’t work, please email me (, and I can set up a one-to-one session or offer it again at another time. And as always, please be in touch if you have ideas for TLC programming. 

Hope to see you at the TLC!