Tag Archive for: Events

Summer In The Park

By Sean Hutzell

Touchstones kicked off the school year with one last day of fun in the sun at Sandy Point Park in Annapolis, MD. Our dedicated team of staff and volunteers ensured an evening of excellent food, competitive games, and words from dedicated teachers about the importance of Touchstones programs in their classrooms. Funds raised during that event will provide 15 teachers with free access to Touchstones workshops this year!

Liam Dempsey, a Phoenix Academy teacher in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “My students rarely feel as if their voices are of any value. Touchstones helps them to express themselves and be heard.”

Among those who attended were local Touchstones friends already active as advocates for Touchstones programs in the community, and some of those friends brought new folks to the event. It was great to welcome the newcomers into our ever-expanding circle of friends throughout the evening. Events on tap included an animated cornhole tournament. With some exceptionally skilled players scoring to the dismay of their opponents, and some also exceptionally wild throws offering amusement, the evening was quickly filled with sounds of laughter and camaraderie. After hard fought games, winners of the tournament walked away showcasing their victory with prizes of beach umbrellas. Guests also enjoyed other games, including bocce ball, before devouring delicious food catered by Loretta Hohmann, one of Touchstones’ fabulous Eastern Shore volunteers.

During the short program portion of the event, guests heard from two dedicated teachers: Suzan Powell, who uses Touchstones in her Employment Readiness Workshop at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, and Liam Dempsey, who teaches middle school English/ Language Arts at Phoenix Academy in Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Suzan offered her experience with Touchstones in the prison system—how she first saw it in action late in 2015 and thought it was magical to see incarcerated

Charlie Green tosses a winning a bean bag
in the corn hole tournament.

women sitting in a circle collaborating and listening to each other. She wondered what program could make such engagement possible and asked the Touchstones staff to come into her classroom. Now she co-participates in weekly Touchstones discussions and helps model positive and constructive forms of thinking and interaction for women who will be released back into society. Liam, who works exclusively with students with learning and emotional disabilities requiring specialized educational support, spoke about privilege. He made note of the positive and negative connotations of a word that now speaks to advantages associated with race, gender, socio-economics, and educational attainment. Liam said it had been a privilege for him to work at Touchstones as our Summer Teaching Fellow and to have used Touchstones with his students last academic year—sharing with them the benefit of finding their voices. “My students,” he explained, “rarely feel as if their voices are of any value. Touchstones helps them to express themselves and be heard.” Liam is looking forward to returning to the classroom this week and continuing his work with his students in the Touchstones circle.

We at Touchstones are honored to have had so many friends join us in the park for our end of summer fundraiser and look forward to seeing you at our next event! Thank you again for helping to bring Touchstones to new educators and students this school year!

Educational Outreach and Teacher Development

Teachers reflect on active learning as they begin a Touchstones workshop at a Montessori conference in Charleston, SC.

One way the Touchstones Discussion Project reaches new teachers and school administrators is by attending and presenting at educational conferences. To showcase how Touchstones uses student-centered discussion to build engagement, critical thinking, and leadership, our trainers attend conferences around the country and in Canada and provide interactive, hands-on practice while modeling an actual Touchstones lesson. It’s a fun and effective means for immersing educators in an instructional approach that uniquely fosters student participation, cooperation, critical thinking, active listening and collaboration—all through discussion.

Touchstones attends many different types of conferences for educators, including those for teachers at independent schools in the US and Canada, American and International Montessori schools, International Baccalaureate schools, colleges and universities, public and public-charter schools, and conferences focused on students identified with advanced learning abilities or talents. While teachers have the opportunity to explore how Touchstones programs support positive socio-behavioral and academic growth, we get the chance to meet and cultivate new relationships.

What do teachers who attend our conference sessions have to say? One attendee at an AMS conference wrote after her Touchstones workshop that it was “inspiring,” while an eighth-grade teacher at another conference said, “I found the application and learning of Touchstones principles thoroughly engaging and useful.” Following a workshop this summer for charter school educators, an administrator from Arizona shared, “I found this workshop extraordinarily valuable…. I am so grateful to Touchstones for this knowledge, this experience, and these materials.” This is what introducing Touchstones to new teachers and students is all about!


Partners Beyond the Classroom

By Touchstones Roving Reporter

On January 24, Touchstones’ Executive Director, Stefanie Takacs, and Advisory Council member, Randy Cover, stepped temporarily into entirely new roles— as judges. The Mount Washington School, which has just started to implement Touchstones discussion programs, invited both Takacs and Cover to participate in the school’s sixth annual History Night. The judges were assigned seven student exhibits to evaluate independently, given a rubric for their evaluation, provided a tasty dinner, and sent on their way to the school gymnasium. After completing their assignment, Takacs and Cover would have to share their individual ratings and come to consensus on the top two projects to recommend for the state-wide competition. The final, national-level competition will be held June 9-13, 2019 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Although both judges have significant experience with adolescents, neither were quite prepared for the very lively and exciting event awaiting them in the gym. Individually, the adults visited with each student or pairs of students to hear how students had selected their topics, what types of research and sources they had used, how they had evaluated the merits of those sources, and what conclusions they had drawn from their work on the project.

This year, the National History Day theme is Triumph & Tragedy and students are required to demonstrate in their final product—in this case, exhibits of poster boards and trifolds—how their subject conveys both triumph and tragedy. They are judged on the historical quality of the information they present, the clarity of their presentation, and the relation of their content to the overall theme. Both judges were expected to interview each student or pair of students and evaluate the information and organization of the students’ physical exhibits. Each interaction included feedback from the judges to the students about strengths and weaknesses in their projects.

Our two impartial judges had their work cut out, but there were two pairs and one solo student whose work showed a thorough examination of information, use of primary sources, and passion for their subject matter. One of those projects explained the AMBER alert system and the tragedy underscoring its genesis, and one pair of seventh graders chose Bonnie and Clyde for their project. They relied heavily on FBI and court documents for their information and offered interesting analyses of why the nefarious duo stuck together to the bitter end. Another pair of students wowed our judges with their thoughtful examination of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. They focused on how that event led to massive changes in aerospace safety and how it still shapes that industry today. We’re looking forward to hearing how the students do in the next round of the competition and wish them (and their teachers and parents) good luck!

The Timeless Themes of Frankenstein

In our summer e-newsletter, which you can read on our website under Press, we introduced an upcoming fall project, Frankenreads. Frankenreads is an international celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Halloween 2018, organized by the Keats-Shelley Association of America. Touchstones is inviting everyone to participate in this week-long event (Oct. 24-31, 2018) by running their own special Touchstones discussion on Tues. Oct 30. What a wonderful option for a Halloween get-together!

We’ll provide all registered participants with one of four versions of an excerpt from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, based on your group’s needs. Three of the excerpts are edited and adapted for grade-level appropriateness. The fourth is the original text written by Shelley. In addition, we’re including a fully developed lesson plan to use with your selected excerpt. We encourage educators, community groups, families, and friends to join us in running a Touchstones discussion that explores themes of friendship, loneliness, difference, and community. Shelley’s poignant recognition of the enduring nature of emotional struggle offers us a chance to re-examine what it means to have a place in any society and what it means to be human.