Kaminski, MonicaMs. Kaminski graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh, New York, with a Bachelor of Arts in History where her focus was on human rights. Later, she received her Master of Science degree in Professional School Counseling from Sage Graduate School in Troy, New York.

As Dean of Students for Grades 5 - 7 at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley, her goal is to inspire and help students discover the skills they need in order to be successful. She enjoys working at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley because teachers, staff, and students are excited to be here, “The overall environment is very welcoming and fun!” In addition, she appreciates that the culture of the school is to engage students in learning and to celebrate their achievements.

Her educational philosophy is the one that reflects the whole child approach, “I believe all students should be in a learning environment that promotes and encourages inclusiveness, safety, engagement, but also challenges.

 

How would you describe your position to a new incoming student and parent?

Most families are not familiar with the position of Dean of Students. When describing what I do, I tell them it is a mix between an assistant principal and a school counselor. Being a Dean of Students means that I am here to assist students in their academics, navigate personal/social situations, and discuss any disciplinary action that may arise. I work closely with students, teachers, and parents to ensure every student is successful and feels included at our school. I always tell families that I have an open door policy, and I mean that sincerely. It is important to me that all students are happy and feel proud of what they are accomplishing in school. I often have students in my office sharing what they have learned in a class, stopping by to say hi, or asking for my assistance regarding a situation.

For my students, I am someone at school they can talk to if they are feeling stressed and provide them with a safe space. In addition to working with individual students, I also facilitate workshops for all my students to participate in on various topics. Some workshops in the past have been on time management, organization, sleep, having an open mindset, and the power of positive thinking and its influence on test scores. As a Dean of Students, I am in a position to help students when they are in need and to celebrate their success when they have reached their goals.

The Middle School Program at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley is different from many of the schools from which students join us. What do you think makes it so special? 

I have been in education for over ten years, and the program here at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley stands out from other schools. One of the first things I noticed when I started to work here was how excited and happy all the students were in the hallways and in the classroom. After a period of time, I came to realize some of the reasons why this is: One of the major factors is our teachers. The teachers at our school are phenomenal, they bring their subject to life in a way that captures the students’ curiosity. I feel at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley our students love coming to school and learning from our staff. As a result, our students are enthusiastic about sharing what they learn with others and are interested in discovering more. It makes the energy at the school positive and inclusive.

Lastly, what makes our school different is the subjects they learn through our internationally benchmarked BASIS Curriculum. In middle school, students are exposed to all three sciences (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), Latin, logic, the arts, and a variety of electives. As students are being introduced to new concepts and disciplines, they are challenged but having fun. This could be seen in every classroom as students are asking questions, engaging in conversation, and collaborating with their peers. Overall, the Middle School Program at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley is special and unique.

What's the most common task you notice new incoming students struggling with? How can they better prepare for this? 

The most common task incoming students struggle with is time management. Many students, when they first join our school, are used to having only one teacher for all their subjects, ending school at an earlier hour, and only having an hours' worth of homework. At our school, our students take an average of nine to ten classes in a variety of disciplines. With this comes an increase in homework, longer days at school, and finding a balance between school and home life. The adjustment for many students can be difficult at first if they are not prepared for this expectation. In order to prepare for this transition, I tell students to write out their daily schedule. This is a timeline of what you do from the moment you wake up, until you go to bed. It is important to see what activities they are doing and how much time they are dedicating to them.

Once they have done this task, I invite students to then write out their goals and the steps to achieve them for the school year. Utilizing the daily schedule and written goals, students are able to stay focused and have the ability to reassess when they encounter barriers. Often times students look at their schedule and the steps they need to reach their goal, and realize there is a disconnect. This is when they openly communicate with their parents and find solutions that work best for them. The expectation is for them to be comfortable at our school AND have time for fun afterschool and weekend activities!

Talk to us about the CJ! This is such an important tool for our new students, do you find that it helps them? 

The CJ is my favorite topic to talk about because it is a huge part in how to be successful at our school! The CJ is our Communication Journal, a planner. At BASIS Independent Silicon Valley, the communication journal is a tool to help students learn about responsibility and accountability. Students who utilize their CJ are more organized, have better time management skills, and are generally more successful in our program. In the CJ, you will record your homework assignments, when you have assessments, and office hours. It is also an important way for teachers to communicate with parents. In grade 5, all students are required to show their parents their CJ every night and get their signature. This is to ensure that your child is completing their homework, sharing with you what they are learning in school, and for you as a parent to check if there are any messages from the teacher.

As the Dean, I do random CJ checks with grade 5 to ensure that everyone is communicating with their parents about school and that all students are on track with their homework. In addition, some students would get a special Bobcat stamp from me and a positive message regarding their CJ. In grades 6 and 7, the students are given more independence and responsibility regarding writing in their CJ, but this does not mean they are safe from my random CJ checks!

I cannot speak enough about how this one item can help a student in reaching their academic goals and being successful at our school.

A common worry that younger students and their parents have is how they will make friends. What are ways you see and encourage our incoming students to make new friends?

I would say I can relate! Growing up I moved schools four times by high school, and every time the same questions would pop into my head. Will the kids like me and will I make new friends? The great thing about our school is how friendly everyone is, and many of the students are thinking the same thing. In grade 5 all of our students are new to BASIS Independent Silicon Valley, and in grade 6 the class size doubles with all the new students. In grade 7 we have many new students who are enthusiastically included in many activities by other students and are fast friends.

In addition to our teachers having collaborative work included in their class, there are many opportunities for students to meet others. All new students in the beginning of the school year participate in a new student orientation with the Student Affairs Team. This is when students get to meet each other, hear from a former student, and get to ask questions about the upcoming school year. Once school has started, I offer students the opportunity to join Friendship Club, which meets during lunch. In this club, we play games and get to know a little bit more about each other. Finally, there are many clubs and sports that are offered through our auxiliary department. This is a great way for students to have fun and meet some of their peers in other elements and grades and to connect on a common interest.

Can you share an anecdote about one of your students who may have struggled, and how they finally had that "a-ha" moment in their school life? 

Last year I had a student in grade 6 that was struggling in a few classes and it was starting to weigh on them. When a student is not reaching a level of success in a class, I will meet with them and start the process of academic support. For each child this process will look different, as every student has a different set of needs and solutions. For this particular student we went over all their classes, identifying strengths and areas of improvement. To help us each understand the root of the problem, we discussed homework habits, barriers to learning the course material, enjoyment of the class, and tools and resources to get help when they were stuck or having trouble. The next step, once we had identified some areas of improvement and some possible solutions, was for the student to start on the plan. At first, this student did not notice any differences. I often tell students it takes 30 days to learn a new habit, and I gave feedback that it will take time to see some improvement. After a month, the student started to see noticeable changes - their grades were improving, the teachers were giving them compliments, and they felt happier.

When the student reflected back on the experience, what they took away was to not be afraid of asking for help and to recognize that when they are struggling with a subject, it just means it has to be approached differently. This year the student is in grade 7, and they are very excited about school. When I asked them what they are going to do differently this year compared to last year, they responded by saying, “to speak up in class and communicate more to my teacher when I don’t understand something in the lecture or homework.” I could not be more proud of what this student achieved last year, and I am so happy to see them continuing to take ownership of their education in a positive way!

What's your favorite part of your job? 

I would have to say my favorite part of my job is getting to see all the kids in the classroom learning and having fun. Our students have a passion and excitement when it comes to learning, and it is hard not to be swept up in their positive energy! Often times I am in the hallways saying hi to students, and it is always great when they tell me what they have just learned in class. I also make a point of visiting the classroom and seeing how our students are engaging with the material. It is wonderful seeing students participate in math class with their mini white boards, in art and music class producing beautiful works of art, in history asking questions about early civilizations, and in PE running around and learning about teamwork.

At the end of the day, I leave work feeling uplifted from all the fantastic things I have witnessed and looking forward to the next school day.

 

BASIS Independent Silicon Valley is a grades 5-12 private middle and high school based in San Jose, California, providing students an internationally benchmarked liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Considering joining the Bobcat community? Join our interest list by clicking here to receive admissions updates for fall 2021.