If you ask students at BASIS Independent Brooklyn what makes their school different, they will tell you “the teachers.” The foundation of our culture and the success of our students lie in the hands of our faculty. We look for inspiring, expert teachers who believe that with the right support and encouragement any student can excel. With that in mind, we kick off a blog series profiling faculty members who recently joined our school.
Today we feature Ms. De Leon, who leads students in Engineering and Math in both our Early Learning and Primary Program. Ms. De Leon is intrigued by the contexts under which the brain develops conceptual mathematical knowledge, and she finds it fascinating how every individual has creative and unique solutions for any given mathematical task. As a 4th grade Math and Early Learning Program Engineering Teacher, she set out this year to cultivate a growth mindset culture, so her students can achieve at their highest levels.
Ms. De Leon is excited to have found a community of like-minded educators at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. We asked her some questions to help families get to know her better as a teacher and a fellow parent at our school.
Ms. De Leon was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She received the Gates Millennium scholarship and attended Brown University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in elementary teaching. This year Ms. De Leon joined BASIS Independent Brooklyn as our Early Learning Program STEM/Engineering teacher as well as 4th grade Math Subject Expert Teacher. This fall will start Ms. De Leon’s ninth year teaching, and she was previously a Math Subject Lead Teacher at her previous school in Brooklyn.
The conversation below had been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you hear about BASIS Independent Brooklyn, and why did you ultimately decide to teach here?
I heard about BASIS Independent Brooklyn from a mom in my daughter’s ballet class who spoke highly about the teachers and curriculum at the school. Her older son attends the school, and he excitedly talked with me about everything that he learns there. My immediate thoughts were how I wanted to be a part of a community where parents feel positively connected and students had that joy for learning. Also, considering that I had been teaching for about nine years by then, I had spent much of my career figuring out the most optimal ways that children learn, and I was seeking a space like an independent school where teachers are trusted to use their professional judgement as educators rather than being told to teach a curriculum word for word.
You have two kids, one who is a rising student in PreK-2 and the other who will be starting PreK-1 this fall. Why did you decide to send both of your children to BASIS Independent Brooklyn?
Selena and AJ have always had a natural love of learning so I knew that they would benefit from the solid academic program that BASIS Independent Brooklyn offers. I feel attending BASIS Independent is an opportunity for them to be appropriately challenged in core classes but also be immersed in a classroom that nurtures the whole child through the specials curriculum (STEM, Mandarin, Movement, and Music).
As a young girl, I was bored in my primary school classrooms. It wasn’t until I went to an Ivy League school for college that I was suddenly surrounded by people that had an intellectual curiosity that resonated with me. For my children, I want them to have every opportunity to explore their potential, especially during these foundational years.
During Selena’s time in the youngest PreK classroom, I was moved by the warmth that her teachers exuded and how she was so happy she literally skipped to and from her classroom every day. As an educator myself who was sending my daughter off to her first school experience ever, I worried that I would be too critical of any classroom she entered, but in sending Selena to BASIS Independent Brooklyn, I have felt nothing but impressed with how her teachers cater learning to every individual student. I have always had complete confidence that I made the right choice in sending her to our school and that it will also be the right path for my son next year.
How has your daughter, Selena, embraced virtual learning and how have you seen her academic growth flourish through this means?
Selena has always adored her teachers, Ms. Reilly and Ms. Gubina, and because of those strong relationships, she has not skipped a beat despite the transition. Her growth can also be attributed to the tremendous amount of planning that her teachers do to make classes on Zoom engaging, whether by bringing in a guest doggie, dressing silly, breaking down the daily crafts, or taking students on virtual fieldtrips. At the end of every day, her teachers shout out all the students for posting their pictures of work from home. Selena loves seeing what her friends are doing and that her teachers are applauding the work she is doing.
When I am around Selena while she is Zooming with Ms. Reilly, I see first-hand how confident she is as she shoots her hand in the air to answer a question or how she runs across the house looking for something that begins with a certain diagraph for show and tell. Even on the weekends, Selena brings her brother into the living room and invites him to sit crisscross because they are about to play their “found sounds” in Ms. Maccoille’s music class. Lastly, as a parent, using Microsoft Teams to stay connected to the curriculum has made reinforcing the skills so much easier. During these uncertain times, one thing I feel certain about, is that Selena is participating in a superior distance learning program as compared to many across the U.S.
You are the Subject Expert Teacher for our Early Learning Program Engineering class. What are the expectations that you set for your students, and how have you shifted the curriculum to the online platform? How are you demonstrating experiments online and maintaining your student interest in such an interactive and engaging course, despite not being in the classroom?
My goal for the Early Learning Program engineering class has been to cultivate deeply creative thinkers who take risks, solve problems flexibly, and collaborate. When we moved to the online platform, I wanted to ensure that those core tenants were not compromised.
For example, when we started our robot project, rather than giving a prescribed way of creating a robot, I immersed them with many examples of robots. I encouraged them to notice the features that most robots tend to have, and we brainstormed together materials they could use to carry out their design. Then I facilitated ways they could carry out some design ideas. During that Zoom time, they always impress me with the questions they ask. “What would happen if I used a straw instead of a pencil for my pully simple machine” or “What would happen if I added flour instead of cornstarch when making my oobleck.” As they sift through the many recyclable materials they have been collecting, they think critically about would be the material that would best used as a model for a Truss Bridge, for example.
When students are building, it has been so heartening to see them collaborating with siblings or their parents. The pictures that everyone posts to the Engineering channel really help us create a dialogue about each other’s builds. I always save five minutes of our Zooms to share out different builds across our Early Learning Program, and the students share what they noticed about the choice of materials, design, and build. To see how proud student are when they stand next to their project for a final picture demonstrates that we are all still connected, and we are still inspired by each other.
You are the Subject Expert Teacher for our Gr. 4 Math and Science class as well. What is your goal for the class, and how have you shifted the curriculum to the online platform?
My teaching philosophy has always been grounded in creating a classroom that is student-centered. During our Zoom practice times is when we have the best opportunity to have students’ voices heard as they justify their thinking and make connections between strategies. Students are eager to annotate on the whiteboard shared on their screens, and they show the “praise” feature after a student shares a strategy.
I try to cultivate the growth mindset culture by shouting out students for their efforts or questions in the virtual chat. I also chat privately with students regularly which is the equivalent of checking in as we would before distance learning for a simple, “How do you feel about what we are learning? What are you wondering about right now?”
Although we have transitioned to an online classroom, we still learn math conceptually through engaging with visuals/online manipulatives such as a virtual geometric board or create a visual for their fractions using online fraction bars. This week I am trying to utilize more technology and find more interesting ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. I find that you need to get more creative, because you can’t see all the students faces to read whether they are not understanding something.
Luckily, I am privileged to get to work with amazing colleagues, and through our Subject Expert Teacher and Learning Expert Teacher co-teaching model, at times Learning Expert Teachers enter our sessions and work with students who need more support in a breakout room. In this way, we have been able to carry out our co-teaching model even in the virtual setting.
In this time of social distancing, what hobbies have you picked up? Any book recommendations or family quarantine activities to offer?
As a runner, one thing I have missed greatly is running outdoors. I was registered to run the Brooklyn Half Marathon this year but when it was cancelled, I decided to get an indoor treadmill. It came with “destination” runs that take you different locations across the world --
and teaches you about those places -- so I have found a lot of joy in that. As a family we have tried to make it routine to visit Prospect Park in the very early hours and play tag.
At home, Selena likes to “exchange drawings” with the little girl across the street by taping them to her window and there is also a friend that lives across the way in our backyard and they sing "Frozen" songs together. Keeping my two-year-old active has been challenging but my husband has been getting really good with creating obstacle courses that involve plenty of ways for him to let out his energy.
My husband and I have also been taking the time to read through some of the books that were collecting dusts on our shelves. The other day he read to me a passage from The Prophet, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Although we are in quarantine, this reminded me that it can be easy to feel loss but new delights and joy can also co-exist with those same feelings.
Thank you to Ms. De Leon for inspiring our students each day, and thank you to Nicolas Edwards for the great questions in the interview!
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Photos of Early Learning Program students with their treehouse projects created for Ms. De Leon's Engineering class are proudly displayed below! The task was to use recyclable materials to design and create a treehouse. Some creations had pools, zip lines, swings, slides, and even a light inside.