Proud to Be Me Day

Each year at ISK, we celebrate International Day in January/February. It is a proud celebration of our rich diversity, often with over 80 different nationalities represented from PreK to grade 12. It is a coordinated event, with a Parade of Flags in the afternoon that the whole school participates in, followed by an after school Taste of Nations event hosted by the PTO. While the event is fabulous and promotes pride, diversity and how it makes our community special, some critique in the past has been the extent that it is a more shallow celebration of our diversity, only focusing on “Food, Flags and Fun”.

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This year, I was looking to expand our celebration of diversity and identity beyond the International Day parade of our nationalities. Then, two 8th grade students approached me with a similar request: to expand our celebration on International Day to also honor the other aspects of our identity through student-planned and -led workshops. We ended up getting at total of 13 students and 13 teachers to prepare 4 different workshops to our entire middle school. See details below.


  • To raise awareness about different aspects of identity and how it contributes to our community’s diversity
  • To nurture an open mind and heart to expand our inclusive community
  • To increase awareness, acceptance, and a sense of belonging
  • Increase sensitivity about the impact of our actions and words

Preparation for Proud to Be Me Day

Proud to Be Me Day — January 25, 2018
8:20-9:00 Opening Assembly

  • Acceptance, Inclusion, Sense of Belonging
  • Our diversity is made up of so many identifiers
  • Arts: poems, spoken word, artwork, music
  • Ground Rules
9:15-9:45 Workshop Session #1
10:00-10:30 Workshop Session #2
10:45-11:15 Workshop Session #3
11:15-12:00 Lunch
12:00-12:30 Workshop Session #4
12:45-1:30 Advisory Debrief – then prep for Parade of Nations
2:00-3:20 Parade of Nations
3:30-5:00 Taste of Nations

Essential: need to establish ground rules so that everyone feels safe.

Each grade is broken into 4 groups and rotate through 4 different workshops.

  • 6th grade has 4 groups
  • 7th grade has 4 groups
  • 8th grade has 4 groups

There are 3 workshops of each topic happening at the same time. 12 total workshops at any given time. Each of the 12 presenters gives their presentation 4 times throughout the day.

Neuro-diversity Group: Learning differencespresentation & lesson plan

Inclusion everywhere and every day. This group hopes to advocate for all of the different ways people think and learn. Student and teacher presenters will create empathy, acceptance, and understanding through hands-on activities that promote all types of learners in our school.

Gender – presentation & lesson plan

This workshop will examine gender stereotypes for both boys and girls. Students will also explore the topic of gender equity and look for opportunities to break down generalizations and biases.

Racepresentation & lesson plan

This workshop will raise student awareness about racial identity. The big takeaways students are hoping for are:

  • Students will understand that we shouldn’t make assumptions based on appearances;
  • Race identity is complex, especially in our globalized setting and international schools like ours, where we have many mixed-race students;
  • Students will understand the dangers of generalizations and stereotypes; and
  • We will acknowledge what is okay and what is not okay; looking for how to ensure we are not offensive and understand the impact of our language and actions.

LGBTQ presentation & lesson plan

This workshop will raise awareness about LGBTQ and the power of our words/actions. It will also seek to increase acceptance and respect. Students will uncover stereotypes, offensive language and also understand that the conversation about sexuality is still evolving in some counties, like Kenya.

It was a fantastic day and a great way to start conversations about identity, acceptance, raise awareness, and seek ways to expand our inclusion and sense of belonging. Check out some of these great ‘takeaways’ from students from one of the workshops.

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Goodbye AES! Goodbye India!

We are preparing for our move to Nairobi, Kenya and it feels like I am finally ready to document my goodbye to AES and India. I feel so fortunate to have spent the last 8 years of my life in such an incredible and nurturing place. We saw our children grow from curious toddlers into lovely 10-year-old girls. Stewart and I also grew significantly as people and as professionals.

How we spend our days becomes how we spend our life, and I am grateful that I spent the last 8 years in New Delhi. We also know that we chose to make a life overseas to travel, explore and experience new countries and cultures. So after 8 years, we feel like our bellies are full and we are ready for a new adventure. AES and India will always be close to our hearts, and we hope to come back soon. It is with open minds and open hearts that we are ready to move to Africa for new experiences.

Schmids at the Taj Mahal, September 2009.

Isabella (l) and Sophia (r) on our last day in India, June 2017.

Here is an assortment of photos that show the amazing experiences and growth as a family during our time in India. Below is roughly what Stewart and I read at the Faculty Farewell Dinner, where we had an opportunity to express our gratitude and say our goodbyes to our home:

As we have been reflecting on the last 8 years in India, there are 2 words that are overwhelmingly mentioned in our house: love and gratitude. There is something special and magical about AES. Part of that it because we are located in India. Incredible India. We love India and there is so much about India that we will miss – the smells, the culture, the celebrations, the diversity, the people…..The incredible-ness of India is a part of what makes AES so amazing.

When we were hired here, I remember some words of wisdom that Bob shared about AES. He said that no matter what challenges were happening in our lives, our task each day when we come to work is to leave our problems at the door, because our students deserve nothing less than our best selves. We felt inspired to join a school that he described as a place where we have the special and important task to influence children in a positive way. That has stayed in our hearts during our time here. We have appreciated that AES is a place where we live our mission, where we are student-centered, where we have shared beliefs and common language, a shared quest and a spirit of genuine inquiry and wondering, where we are intentional about how we do things, and a place where people come first.

That last one is an important one. I was recently having a conversation with with many teachers who have now departed AES, and we were talking about all the things that will stay in our hearts from AES, even long after we leave. We shared: that we are a community of learners, open to possibilities and continual growth; that we are thoughtful and intentional about how we work together, grounding ourselves with common learning experiences and shared beliefs; that we are a place that believes in our staff, and support them to grow and develop; and above all else, that at AES we think about relationships and how others feel, to lead each of us to be our best, most inspired selves. AES is a place where people love to come to school, and with our shared vision and mission, our colleagues create our TRIBE.

We have so much to be grateful for from our time at AES. We are grateful to have had administrators that believed in us 8 years ago, and who nurtured our growth over our time here. AES has been a place of opportunities. I am so grateful that I have been able to grow from classroom teacher to teacher leader to assistant principal during my time here. And I feel fortunate for the top notch mentors I have had along the way on that journey. We have been so lucky to learn from and with the best of the best here, and it has inspired us to grow and improve. So our first thank you is to all of the people past and present who have served as mentors and role models to me and Stewart.

We have also been having lots of conversations at home to process our move with Sophie and Bella over the last few months. We have talked about the incredible gifts that India and AES have given to us, and all that we love and appreciate. We came here when they were 2 years old — we were still baby-wearing them to orientation meetings! Now they are thoughtful 10-year-olds who have been fortunate to have been shaped and influenced by an amazing team of educators. Through any challenges they have faced (and in those early years it included some visits to Peggy’s office!), the girls have been shown love and patience, and the school has taken an approach to shine a light on their strengths and gifts. That’s pretty amazing as a parent.

India is pretty much all our kids know, and it is home for them. They love everything that AES and India has offered them, from all of their incredible teachers to all of the familiar faces they see each day, including the malis and custodians and food services and Alka at the reception. They love to give big strong hugs, and there have been so many people that they love and hug here at AES.

A famous quote by Lev Vygotsky pretty much sums up our feelings of gratitude and love. “Through others, we become ourselves.” We are so grateful that we have spent the last 8 years growing as people and as professionals because of our experiences and all the people at AES, past and present….with hearts overflowing with love and appreciation, thank you AES. You have touched our hearts forever.

Middle School Socials

As a part of our student leadership model, each quarter students from each grade plan our Middle School Socials. I am really proud of the way that students are involved in the process. It starts with a proposing and narrowing process for determining the theme, then includes students making special requests for food, determining activities (including what movies they want to show, for example), developing posters and communications, creating a skit or video to advertise at assemblies, and what the decorations should look like. There are usually anywhere from 20-50 students who help to plan these events, and it is a great way for students to get involved, find their inner leader, and put on some super fun socials! Of course, it is all possible because of our amazing head of facilities, Sarabjeet, who helps to pull of some incredible decorations for us.

Some favorites are the Pride Social, Bleeding Hearts (that was Friday the 13th, which was the day before Valentine’s day), and actually all the socials this year.

Here are photos from our Formal Masquerade social in December. It was planned by our 8th grade students. It included a special ‘coke floats’ room that had entry based on grade level at different times, ping pong, movies, mask making, dancing and hanging out.

Here are photos from our Hollywood themed social in March, which was planned by 7th grade students. We had a red carpet, Oscars for various ‘best dressed’ awards, an outside movie, ping pong, our usual dancing and some places to hang out.

Here are some photos from our recent Pride themed social, planned by 6th grade students. I was super proud of them for choosing this theme. They expanded it beyond gender and sexuality acceptance, to embrace all that our AES mission talks about – inclusion, diversity and acceptance for all race, religion, etc. There was a photo booth, dancing, ping pong, an indoor and outdoor movie, diving competitions at the pool, a wall for people to say what they were proud of, and plenty of space to hang out with friends.


Earth Day 2017

Each year, the AES Middle School celebrates Earth Day in some manner.​ This year we took a full week to celebrate the Earth and ended with a March for Science on campus on Friday, April 21st.

Official Earth Day Theme
This year, the Earth Day Network has partnered with the March for Science (#sciencemarch and #marchforscience)​. The theme for this year’s official event on April 22nd​ was Environmental and Climate Literacy. At AES, that meant building on our strong science curricular foundation, encouraging our students to think about the environmental issues that are important to them, and helping our students find a way to actively be ‘responsible, compassionate global citizens’.

Opening Assembly
The week leading up to Earth Week, the Green Team created a short video to inspire and get the middle school to start thinking about Earth Week.

We then kicked off the week with an opening assembly led by our student Green Team. We had two distinguished guests – Mr. Kamal Meattle, from the Climate Reality Project (check out his great Ted Talk below) and Mr. George Sibley, the Minister-Council for Economic, Environment, Science and Technology Affairs at the US Embassy.

Photos from our opening assembly for Earth Week, led by student Green Team. It also included guests: Mr. Meattle and Mr. Sibley.

Throughout the week, students worked on CREATING something that helped them to advocate about the environment or science. This included posters, digital art, and poetry.

Students and teachers used 3 advisory sessions to CREATE related to their Earth Day topic of choice.

A couple of samples of students creating art that speaks to what they care about related to science/environment.

March for Science
On Friday, the Elementary School and Middle School, along with parents and administrators and some invited guests Marched for Science on our school’s campus to advocate and raise awareness about Environmental Literacy. We used the Official March for Science hashtag — #sciencemarch & #marchforscience and also our own hashtag — AES March for Science — #aessciencemarch It was a great morning, with positive energy and lots of passion for science and the environment!

We even had our own logo, designed by two students: Marin Hirono & Ritvik Kumar

Check out the great photos from our March for Science!

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In the morning, we hosted a tree planting on our campus with several ambassadors from Delhi, and our Green Team Students assisted.

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The following resources were compiled from a number of contributors (primarily thanks to Richard Frazier):

Earth Day: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists and Classroom Ideas from Edutopia

What Exactly Are People Marching For When they March for Science? from the Atlantic

When Someone Tells You “the Climate is Always Changing” Show Them This Cartoon

Free Posters Celebrating Mighty Girls in Science

Half the Earth

23 Reasons to Be Cheerful (Thanks to Science) (5 minutes)

How to Grow Clean Air Ted Talk by Kamal Meattle (4 minutes)

Youth Advocates:
Earth Guardians:

Our Children’s Trust

Youth Activists Score Big Climate Victory in Small Minnesota Town

Vote Green in Delhi Elections

9 year old girl files lawsuit against Indian government

Cultural Forces: Physical Environment

According to the Cultural Forces, from Harvard Project Zero’s Making Thinking Visible, being thoughtful about the physical environment is important. Intentionally using the space for the kind of thinking and learning we want to happen results in better thinking and learning. Also, creating a warm and inviting space, allows students to feel safe and excited to learn.

There was a great article a few years ago about Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks. Cult of Pedagogy has started a ‘Classroom Eye Candy’ series, showcasing classrooms that break out of traditional rows and starkness, to consider flexible seating, and creating inviting spaces to inspire learning.
A Flexible Seating Paradise
The Funky Science Lab

Flexible Classrooms: Providing the Learning Environment Students Need from Edutopia

At AES, we have really invested in our spaces, and I have been so impressed and inspired by what teachers have done to create magical learning spaces! The following photos are just a small sampling of some of our amazing classrooms. I could have added so many more photos…..Check it out:

Kevin’s Humanities Classroom:

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Many teachers have couches and pillows at the front of their rooms for mini lessons.

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Not enough desks for students – on purpose. Lots of flexible spaces for students to chose what works for them.

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Thinking about function, as well as comfort/inspiration.

Amy’s Humanities Classroom:

Amy’s Humanities Room: Prayer flags, lot of books on display, and comfy seating in the front of the room.

Amy’s Humanities Room: Another angle. Lots of anchor charts that document their learning and mini-lessons.

Amy’s Humanities Room: Bean bag corner by the window.

Nathan’s Math Classroom:

Nathan’s Math Room: Tables for collaboration & group work, baskets on each table with supplies, lots of manipulatives and materials available.

Christie’s Humanities Classroom:

Christie’s Humanities Room: Comfortable seating in the front – cozy, warm & inviting space.

Christie’s Humanities Room: Lots of books to choose from in the classroom library.

Christie’s Humanities Room: Cozy corner seating area to curl up with a book.

Jeni’s EAL Classroom:

Jeni’s EAL Room: Bright colors, paper star & paper lantern decorations. Table toppers with EAL tips.

Jeni’s EAL Room: Fun seating in the back of the room – great for advisory lessons! And lots of anchor charts around the room.

Jeni’s EAL Room: Looking at the front of the classroom.

Courtney’s Humanities Classroom:

Courtney’s Humanities Room: Lots of flexible seating – high tables, low tables, couches….

Courtney’s Humanities Room: Space for a small breakout group. Professional reading on display in the corner.

Courtney’s Humanities Room: The book nook. Book recommendations on display and a great spot for read-alouds!

My Office:

Alexa’s Office: When you walk in my office, lamps make it feel more warm than just the overhead lights.

Alexa’s Office: It is a small office, but cosy. Rug and nice Indian coffee table, friend’s artwork, vibrant flowers, prayer flags, plants. Hoping it will feel inviting and safe.

Alexa’s Office: Looking back from the opposite angle. Also, lots of games, puzzles and picture books for when kids need to spend some time in my office.

Nobel Laureate: Kailash Satyarthi

Let us unite the world through the compassion for our children.
-Kailash Satyarthi

Ispahan Carpet

Elizabeth Burge
Rough timber gallows on which the carpets are woven
By a silent, sallow, dark-eyed Persian family,
Fills the room, bare but for blackened pots and jars
In the cavernous hearth. A flickering fire
Lights on the sensuous jewelled arabesques
Shadowing the makers of the webs.
Eight-year-old girls sit sparrowed on a plank
Rope-rising with the pattern, their unsupported bird-bones
Bent like old women. Only such little fingers,
Following the guides of coloured wool upon the warp
Left by their aunts and sisters,
Can tie such exquisitely minute knots —
One hundred to the square centimeter, says the guide proudly —
For the most desired Tabriz and Karmenshah.
One hundred knots in the space of my thumb-nail,
One hundred heart-beats of a young child’s growing,
One hundred hours for the space a foot will crush down.
O, eyes whose whole horizon is the carpet
And its traditional beauty! Who can unravel
The world’s weaving?
My swollen hand is gentle on the greenstick shoulder
Her large eyes look back at me with a speaking darkness.


On Friday April 7th, we were fortunate to welcome Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi to AES. Kailash Ji is working to end child labor in India and around the world, and has already saved 84,000 children from bonded labor. He has started a campaign called 100 million for 100 million – to help end child labor and provide an opportunity for all children to have a quality education.

Kailash Ji enters the gym and greets children.

Kailash Ji embraces Aarav, a student whose family is close with his own, volunteering at the ashram and working together on the same mission.

Introducing Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

He spoke for 45 minutes directly to our children. He talked about their bright faces, their energy, their joy, their dreams….he called them the true heroes and heroines of this world who are full of light. He asked our students if they dream. Do you dream in the night? Do you dream in the day? Do you dream of your future? Do you dream of the future of others? He explained to our students that they are fortunate- they have the opportunity to dream, they have the opportunity to go to a phenomenal school…and there are millions of children who are as fortunate as they are. And there are also millions of children who are not as fortunate as they are.

Kailash Satyarthi speaking to the children of AES.

You could see the love that Kailash Ji has for children.

So inspiring to hear Kailash Satyarthi speak to the students at AES.

Kailash spoke about the fact that there is one earth, and we all walk on the same earth. We are all connected, and it is not okay for there to be 170 million children in the world who are not in school, and instead engaged in child labor. Especially when there are 210 million adults without jobs. Satyarthi stated that it is these children who are not in school who are most vulnerable and the most likely to be radicalized. It is our job to protect our children, as all children must be protected from all dangers.

Satyarthi then told our students about his 100 million for 100 million campaign. He said that he is looking for 100 million children to be the spokesperson, the change-makers, the champions for the 100 million children who are left out.

Students inspired and pledging to help.

Ellen Stern presents Kailash Satyarthi with gifts and gratitude.

Kailash’s final message to us was powerful, the Three Ds:

  • Dream big – not just for yourself, but dream big for all of humanity.
  • Discover the power inside of you, and the possibilities and opportunities outside of you.
  • Do something – act now.

After school, Kailash met with a small working group of students. There were questions and answers for about 20 minutes before Mr. Satyarthi had to leave AES. And then our students engaged in a letter writing exercise and researching addresses of Heads of State for letters that Kailash will be sending out in a week or two.

Small working group engaging in letter writing and researching addresses of Heads of State for Kailash Satyarthi.

Last year, I visited Mukti Ashram (one of Kailash’s centers for rescued bonded laborers) with our 8th grade students on a Population Project (8th grade capstone cross-curricular project, examining the impact of growing population of India on different aspects of life….this trip – looking at child labor) field trip. I was able to meet and interact with some of the children who are rescued and it was an interesting experience to see the incredible work happening in Delhi for these children.


The following video gives an up close account of the kind of work that Satyarthi has spearheaded in India since the 1980s. There is video footage of child labor raids/rescues, which shows how dangerous, heroic and influential his work has been to so many children.

TED Talk: How to make peace? Get angry.

Service Learning

This year I have served on the Vertical Service Learning Committee at AES. Last year we added a performance objective for accreditation related to service. We are looking to find more meaningful ways to integrate community service and service learning in our school. The first step has been to learn a little more about what Service Learning actually is. We are all pretty clear about community service – taking action to address an identified and authentic community need. Service Learning, however, has been a little less prevalent at our school. So we have set out to learn and research and understand what Service Learning is all about.

We have done a lot of reading, and here are a couple of resources that contributed to deepening our understanding:

At the heart of it, Service Learning is linking service to the curriculum. From NYLC (National Youth Leadership Council):

Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.

  • Picking up trash on a river bank is service.
  • Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.
  • When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency – that is service-learning.

Or, as Cathryn Berger Kaye says:

When classroom learning is applied through action that addresses an authentic community need in a process that allows for youth initiative and provided structured time for reflection on the service experience and demonstration of acquired skills and knowledge.

Service learning doesn’t always mean direct service. According to Cathryn Berger Kaye there are 3 types of service:

  1. Direct Service (face to face)
  2. Indirect Service (broad issues)
  3. Advocacy (education and policy change)

Service Learning is the combination of knowledge gained within the classroom with service opportunities in the community. Service Learning provides opportunities for personal growth through reflection, civic learning and deepening an understanding of social responsibility and citizenship. Ideally, projects are mutually beneficial and lead to a feeling of interconnectedness within the community. Service Learning is most meaningful when there are ongoing community partnerships. The standards for quality practice are:

  • meaningful service – relevant service activities
  • link to curriculum – service learning is an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards
  • reflection – prompting deep thinking and analysis about oneself and one’s relationship to society
  • diversity – promotes mutual respect among all participants
  • youth voice – strong voice in planning, implementing and evaluating experiences
  • partnerships – collaborative, mutually beneficial and address genuine community needs
  • progress monitoring – ongoing process toward sustainability
  • duration and intensity – developmentally appropriate and sufficient to meet specified outcomes

Our middle school has been building momentum around Service Learning through the incredible work of our Service Learning Coordinator, Cassie. She recently led a faculty meeting where we explored these ideas, and then thought about ways to get started in the classroom. Cassie prompted with this question: What authentic needs that students identify could make connections relating to themes in the curriculum?

Our advisory curriculum has been an easy starting point. The seventh grade advisory curriculum addresses empathy and extending our thoughts beyond self to others. As a part of this work, students collaborate with kindergarten classrooms in the late fall, and then in early spring, they start work with an ongoing partnership with Aanchal School – a school nearby that supports students with cognitive and physical challenges. This year marked the 10th year of our partnership, and in our third and final collaboration we hosted a carnival, with music, popsicles and fun games. It was incredible to see how much our student grew and matured in the way they interacted with these students who teach us so much about joy and how to care for each other. Enjoy the video and photos below.

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