Nicole Donovan was looking for a change and a new challenge after nine years of teaching in a Philadelphia public school. She found both at OLMA. “I am so thankful that I found OLMA,” said Mrs. Donovan. “It’s a special place that truly matches my top value, which is family. As soon as I entered the school, I felt the sisterhood and knew that I needed to be part of it.” Of course, three years in, Mrs. Donovan didn’t expect to be teaching online.
“I am always up for a challenge, but it was overwhelming at first,” said Mrs. Donovan. “I had to figure out how I was going to teach five classes and help both of my elementary school daughters with their schoolwork. I also had to find a place in my house to set up since my husband also works from home. It took some time for us to all get settled.”
In reality, she made it look easy as she took Lifetime Fitness, Financial Literacy/Digital Communications, Psychology, and AP Psychology online. “Teaching is my passion, so I wanted to make sure my energy transferred over into the online learning world,” she said. “Every time I had a live class, I challenged myself to bring my ‘A’ game to make the lessons truly meaningful for my students. I think the girls appreciated it, although I’m sure there were times when they wished I’d stop dancing or breaking into yoga poses to emphasize key points.”
Mrs. Donovan is especially proud of how well her Psychology class has gone. “In so many ways, we are experiencing social psychology in action during this pandemic,” she said. “It’s one thing to learn concepts in class, but it’s another to live them. We’ve had many ‘aha’ moments and great conversations during our live classes.”
In her free time, Mrs. Donovan shares her endless energy with students by helping to keep them connected when they’re not in class. “I’ve led guided meditations and ab workouts,” she said. “Our ab workouts are still going. I also organized the OLMA Lip Sync Challenge and recruited faculty and staff to participate. It was a great way to come together to create something fun.”
Pandemic or not, Mrs. Donovan is glad to be part of OLMA. ” I was talking to our 10th-grade class this week about living the dream,” she said. “I tell the girls how important it is to find a job that matches your values and make you happy,” she said. “I’m so glad I did.”
OLMA junior, Madison “Maddie” Heipp grew up just five minutes away from OLMA yet never even considered attending until late in her 8th-grade year. “We drove by all the time, but I had my mind all set on attending my local public school,” said Maddie. “One night during dinner, my mom brought up the idea of attending OLMA, almost as a joke, to see how I’d react. Then, my dad starting doing some research and convinced me to shadow. I wanted no part of it, but went anyway, and fell in love.”
A month or so later, Maddie was surprised at home with the delivery of her acceptance letter. “I was right in the middle of a piano lesson,” she said. “It was exciting.” She said she was still nervous about leaving her old friends and making new ones. “I expected to be going to high school with the same kids I was already with, so I was a little scared,” she said. “It was all fine, though, because my senior ‘big’ immediately put me at ease, and making friends was easy.”
Maddie said that online learning has been going well, but prefers an in-classroom setting. “It’s easier to procrastinate at home,” she said. “I had to find the right balance, but I’ve had no problem learning the material. Math has even gone more smoothly, and I’ve taken advantage of the online office hours. The teachers have been great. Even if it’s not during office hours, they make them themselves available to help.”
As she looks toward her senior year, Maddie anxious to be a ‘big’ to an incoming freshman. “I’m excited to see them all come in and to have the chance to help them get comfortable just like my ‘big’ did for me,” she said. Maddie also looks forward to getting back on the volleyball court. “I had never played volleyball before coming to OLMA, but my friends encouraged me to try,” she said. “I’m so glad I did because I love being part of the team. Joining a sport right away was a good way for me to settle into the sisterhood.”
With college on the horizon, Maddie hasn’t decided on colleges or majors just yet but is pretty sure she will settle on something in the sciences. Whatever she decides, we know she will excel. Have a great summer and senior year, Maddie.
While quiet and unassuming, English teacher, Michele Fortis is a treasure trove of knowledge, a delight to be around, and beloved by her students. Now in her 22nd year of teaching at OLMA, she never expected to have to bring the English curriculum entirely online, yet she did it and did it well.
“It was a little daunting at first because I had to learn a new online platform,” said Mrs. Fortis. “I’m usually tech-savvy, but I was nervous about implementing Zoom and wasn’t sure how the students would react. Fortunately, the transition went smoothly, with only a few minor hiccups.”
Mrs. Fortis was pleasantly surprised by just how well the students embraced online learning. “My students were extremely enthusiastic and engaged,” she said. ” Several times, my classes went on far beyond their designated end times. That’s always a good sign.”
While Mrs. Fortis has always used technology in the classroom, she discovered some new tools since remote learning began. “I started using resources like Edpuzzle and Vocaroo,” said Mrs. Fortis. “I really like Edpuzzle because I can create interactive videos for my students and post them on Google Classroom, enabling them to become more active learners by responding to written questions while viewing the video.”
Mrs. Fortis’ connection with her girls extended beyond class time. As part of the OLMA Mind, Body and Soul Program, Mrs. Fortis hosted Movie Nights. “We started with The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice,” she said, “and later, added Zombies. I cautioned my students that there is usually a big difference between the book and the movie, but we all had a great time.”
Thank you, Mrs. Fortis, for always finding a way to make learning English fun.
Diana “Ms. Cop” Coppinger has not let COVID-19 stand in her way — not for a single minute. Fortunately, Ms. Cop’s students were already using online textbooks, so that made the transition to remote learning easier. “It was exhausting but went relatively smoothly,” said Ms. Cop. “My greatest challenge was figuring out how much work was best suited for the students, given their various online learning conditions. Every family is facing different situations, like having to care for younger children, technology limitations, or parents who are essential workers and not at home. It took a while to figure out the right balance, but we’ve got it now.”
Ms. Cop is proud of the progress her students have made. “One of our greatest successes is the Imagineering project that the Physics students are doing,” she said. “It is Disney based, and the girls will finish with a table-top sized model of a thrill ride complete with costumed characters and a map of their imagined theme park. The finished product will be professional enough for pitching to financial backers. We’re having a great time with it.”
When she’s not teaching, students can connect with Ms. Cop and with each other in a yoga class on Zoom. Originally designed to prepare students for the Mindfulness through Yoga and Surfing in Costa Rica Mini-Mester course, the yoga classes have caught on. “I teach two or three times a week and have some students who are regulars and some who pop in and out,” said Ms. Cop. “I started doing yoga when I was 16, and I would love to instill the practice in some of my students. It helps me navigate the world in a calm, cool, and collected manner. It’s the source of my positive attitude and optimistic view of life.”
As the school year winds down, Ms. Cop is making more of her teaching student-directed. This approach is working particularly well with her freshmen students. “Rather than teaching them all the same thing at the same time, I’m giving them choices,” she said. “Some girls have chosen to learn about evolution, while others are studying vertebrates or plants. It’s a way to give the girls more ownership over what they’re learning and keep them engaged.”
Now in her 25th year of teaching at OLMA, Ms. Cop is still learning new things every day and stays in touch with many of her former students. “They are mothers and foster mothers, married and single, nurses and doctors, lawyers, and engineers,” she said. “My girls are pediatricians and OBGyn’s, forest rangers, teachers of high school students, and caretakers of infants and the learning challenged. They are involved in politics, are fitness fanatics, artists, administrators, and executives of huge companies. Some have companies of their own. There is no one more proud of these women than I am. I love them,” And, they love you. We all do. Thanks, Ms. Cop.
OLMA freshman, Breanna Volpe, is quite the superstar. She is a fantastic student, talented athlete and makes community service part of everyday life. This young woman chose OLMA after hearing about it from a family friend. “It sounded great, so I did the group shadow when I was in 7th grade and came back for an individual shadow day when in 8th,” said Breanna. “I loved how close everyone was, and friends surrounded all the girls. I could feel the sisterhood. There was no judging going on. I knew it was for me.”
Nearly one year in, Breanna says that OLMA has met all of her expectations. “I’ve made so many friends,” she said. “Lunch is my favorite part of the day because I can walk up and talk to anyone at any table.” Breanna said she met many of her first friends as part of the Volleyball Team. “Joining a sport is a great way to get involved and make friends right away,” she said. “Everyone welcomes you in even if you’re new to the sport.”
In addition to Volleyball, Breanna played JV Basketball and joined the Lacrosse team. “The JV team got very close,” she said. “And even though we didn’t get to play the Lacrosse season, the team has come together.”
On the weekend, Breanna helps bring kids with special needs together on the soccer field and basketball court as part of Top Sports. “It’s an awesome program,” said Breanna. “We partner up with kids and teach them how to play. Along the way, we form close relationships. I love seeing them smile and have fun.” Her work with Top Sports led her to The Night To Shine program. “This is a prom for people with special needs and part of the Tim Tebow organization,” said Breanna. “We get to serve as buddies and hand out tiaras and sashes. My favorite part is watching them all on the dance floor. You can’t help but smile.”
Academically, Breanna’s favorite class is Biology. “I love the labs, even the online ones that we’re doing now,” she said. “They are interactive and fun.” She looks forward to getting back into the real classroom but is confident in what she’s learning remotely. “We’re getting everything we need. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve got it down now. It’s all going well.”
OLMA athletes have found a way to keep on playing this spring in a way that benefits them and others. The initiative called, Keep Playing for the W.I.N. begins today. W.I.N. stands for What’s Important Now and is one of the concepts introduced earlier this year as part of the OLMA Sports Leadership Academy (SLA).
“It’s a valuable concept for teams, and given the cancellation of spring sports and the uncertainty we’re all facing, it provides a good perspective as we navigate the adversity that comes with this challenging situation,” said Ms. Jennifer Valore, Dean of Academics and Leadership. “The SLA has created an opportunity for all OLMA athletes to Keep Playing for the W.I.N. in support of people in need and those fighting on the front lines during this pandemic. We get to help others by doing what we love to do — setting goals and crushing them!”
Here’s how it works. OLMA athletes will participate in a 5K event from home as part of one OLMA team on Saturday, May 16. They can walk, run, bike, use a treadmill, and more. Beginning tomorrow, participants will seek sponsors who will donate directly through a fundraising portal created by Larry’s II Restaurant in Vineland. All of the funds raised will help feed the area’s essential workers.
Want to help? Make a donation anytime this week by CLICKING HERE and be sure and add the hashtag, #OLMAKeepsPlaying so we can track our progress. Way to go, OLMA athletes!