Summer Bucket List 2014

Fellow teachers, you will totally understand where I am coming from with this post. We get so excited for summer – not because we plan to sit around all day,¬†but because we’ll finally have the time to catch up on all of the ‘life’ we miss out on during the school year. We get to take care of ourselves, take care of our homes, and reinvest in our relationships. I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t push themselves even throughout the summer to be the best they can be.

Most of us, in fact, continue to work on our teaching practice throughout the summer. We tutor, plan, research, collaborate, and create. I don’t stop thinking about my students and my classroom at all throughout 10 weeks. In fact, I will be doing something school related 5 days per week. The best part, of course, is that I get to sleep later, work at my own pace, and work anywhere I like (including my sunny backyard, the library, or a coffee shop).

I have many things I’m really excited to do this summer. I also have things I know I need to accomplish. To ensure that I maintain a healthy balance, I’ve created a Summer Bucket list. I’m happy to share it with you. I’d love to hear about your summer goals, whether or not you are an educator. What are you most excited about? What do you hope to accomplish?

Summer Bucket List 2014 (c) Kristen Dembroski

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S’long School, Salutations Summer!

Empty Classroom (c) Kristen Dembroski

Empty Lockers (c) Kristen Dembroski

Yesterday was my last day in the classroom for the 2013-2014 school year. I said goodbye to my empty classroom for the summer. The lockers are empty, the hallways are eerily quiet, and my students are gone ūüôĀ I miss them already! At least my heart is full with the memories, and I look forward to them visiting me next year to tell me all about their freshman year (so glad our high school is just right across the street).

I’ll still be posting throughout the summer. As a true teacher, I will never really stop working. I am teaching a college course on reading, tutoring a student, and researching writing workshop for curriculum hours over the summer. I’ll also be schooling myself in new reading interventions for the fall – I’ll be sure to post anything I think you’ll find interesting.

I’m also excited to have somewhat of a life this summer! It’s just me and the two dogs with a whole lotta sunshine. I’ve got a huge stack of books to read, 2 summer crafting projects. an empty fridge that needs to be filled with my cooking, a basement that needs organizing, the gym I’ll be frequenting (so many classes I’m excited to try – especially Zumba!), friends to visit, parties to have, movies to watch, and so much more. I’m thinking of making one of those summer bucket lists – I just love lists! Here’s to a great summer!

BTW I’d love to hear your summer plans! Please let me know below.

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High Five for Friday! 6-6-14

This is my last High Five for Friday for the 2013-2014 school year. We made it!

Intertextual Connections (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Intertextual Connections – This week my students watched “The Book Thief” and made intertextual connections to our novel, Spite Fences. I asked them to notice connections in Conflict, Main Character, Supporting Character, Plot/Events, Resolution, and Theme.

MAP Data (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Student Growth – We recently updated our data wall to reflect student growth in MAP Language Arts scores. Wow – isn’t it just amazing? Look how many students moved from the left (below grade level) to the right (high) over the course of the year. Inspirational! Way to go you hard working students!


3. Countdown – There are 3 days left of school. THREE! Monday and Tuesday are business as usual, Wednesday is our field trip to Great America Six Flags, and Thursday is only a half day to practice the 8th grade promotion ceremony.

Defense Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. I Ph.inisheD.!! – So the big news this week is that I successfully completed my doctoral defense. I’m Dr. Dembroski¬†now, yay!

Yum (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Weekly Eats РI love sharing the delicious foods I make each week. I was pretty busy last weekend! I made a Broccoli Egg Bake, Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Bars, and my own recipe of Mango Banana Pineapple Freezies Рa staple for summer!

How was your week?

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High Five for Friday! 5-30-14

Week 37 is over, and there are only 2 weeks of school left! Plus, the day of the Walkathon is finally here!

Helping Hands (c) Kristen Dembroski Joe WISN (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Walkathon – Our school holds a Walkathon each year to model and encourage community and selflessness among our middle school students. Each year, we pledge and raise money for important charities such as Hunger Task Force or Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. This year, we are raising money in honor of a very important person – our beloved custodian, Joe. Joe was diagnosed with cancer this year, and that hit home for the students and staff. He is such a bright, cheerful, helpful person, and it was devastating to see him struggling. He left us for a while to seek treatment at the Cancer Treatment Center of Illinois, and upon his return, he was greeted with the colorful sign on the left. It says “Helping Hands for a Helping Man.” For our Walkathon, we elected to raise funds for the Cancer Treatment Center relief fund for families – it provides financial assistance for non-medical needs (i.e. mortgage, utilities, gas, childcare, etc.). We donate in¬†Joe’s name, since Joe is all about the spirit of paying it forward and helping any and all in need. Today is the big event – a 2 hour Walkathon! On the right, you can see Joe being interviewed by WISN Channel 12. His story has touched so many and continues to inspire others.

#joestrong T-shirts Walkathon (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Walkathon T-shirt – So I live for these Walkathon T-shirts, and I can’t wait to get our new one every year. I have a collection of 7 now. SEVEN! I especially love this year’s, of course, since it brings a tear to my eye. In addition to the pledges students collect, the sale of t-shirts also helps to raise funds for our donation to the Cancer Treatment Center. Altogether we are projected to collect about $5,000 this year. We already passed the $4,000 mark yesterday, so finger’s crossed that we make it to our goal!

5am run

3. Morning Runs – Speaking of walking, I got up at 5am every day this week to start my day with a run. It’s very peaceful, quiet, and cool – perfect for running. Yes it is hard to get up that early, but if I get right out of bed and go, my brain doesn’t fully awaken until half way in when it’s too late to turn back. It has really made a great improvement in my mood and my energy levels. I love that I can head straight home from work, too, without having to workout at the end of the day. I will certainly continue this new habit as long as it is light out in the mornings.

Student Theme Pages copy

4. Finishing Spite Fences – We have officially finished the novel, all 21 chapters. The final assignment was to create a “Theme Page” or a “One Word” Page in Book Creator. Above is a sampling of their great work. They really have impressed me this year – great ideas and lots of growth!

8 days left (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Countdown – Only 8 days left! Well 8.5 for the students, 10 for me. But still – only 2 more Mondays! w00t!

So how was your week? Are you still in the classroom, like me, or did you start your summer yet? Either way, I hope you’re having a great Friday!

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Downton Abbey and Winterthur

While in Delaware this weekend, we decided we simply HAD to visit Winterthur (pronounced Winter-tour or Wint-a-tour if you’re in a big ole’ hurry). Winterthur is a house museum of American material culture and handcrafted, decorative arts as well as a sprawling 60 acre garden. Winterthur was founded by Henry DuPont – yep,¬†‘the’ Dupont family with their vast family fortune. Mr. DuPont, who inherited Winterthur, lived from 1880 to 1969 and made Winterthur into the treasure it is today. During his lifetime, he expanded Winterthur into a 175-room mansion filled with historic architecture (that he had transported piece by piece from other historic houses across the United States) and decorative arts (such as George and Martha Washington’s china).

Winterthur House (c) Kristen Dembroski

There are 6 floors, and we toured the 2 floors that contained the DuPont’s living quarters and guest rooms. We viewed the grand double staircase, the sitting room where the DuPont’s enjoyed the wedding receptions of their two daughters, the dining room (the DuPont’s kept on staff one footmen for every two houseguests), several tea rooms and sitting rooms for playing bridge, pianos, fireplaces, and other beautiful bedrooms and staircases. Each room is exquisitely decorated. I loved learning that during the Great Depression, when many families had to part with their beloved family heirlooms, DuPont saw to it that – since he had the means and the desire – he rescued as many handmade and historical American artifacts as he could and painstakingly had everything restored and displayed within his museum/home. I’m certain you could spend days there and see barely a fraction of what this museum has to offer.

Since my friend Erin and I are both Art History majors (and she is a curator of decorative arts and material culture at a museum), we were both completely geeking out at all the beauty. There were original American Chippendale furniture, wallpaper transferred from China, tea sets, handcrafted embroidery, original wood flooring, chandeliers imported from Europe, silver services, and so much more. After our house tour, we visited the Downton Abbey exhibit.

Downton Abbey Exhibit (c) Kristen Dembroski

We learned that the director of Winterthur has a connection with the director of the Downton Abbey show on PBS, and he conceived and curated the idea for this Downton Abbey costume exhibit at Winterthur. It is not a traveling exhibit, and the costumes will be returning to England after this exhibition. We just HAD to go and see it! And I tell you, it did not disappoint. There were costumes from nearly every character on the show as well as detailed explanations of the meanings of colors, fabrics, cut, and style. It was interesting, for instance, to juxtapose the Flapper-inspired, controversial dress of Rose’s character with the dowdy and voluminous dresses sported by Isabelle Crawley – displayed just a few feet from one another. I also enjoyed how several displays incorporated a video projection of key scenes from the show in which the costumes were featured.

Downton Abbey Exhibit Costumes (c) Kristen DembroskiOne thing I learned, for instance, is that lavender is the color of mourning. This is why the women of Downton don lavender gowns to George’s christening, since Lady Sybil has recently passed. I also learned that women were required to wear corsets at all times (no big shocker there) except between the hours of 5pm and 7pm after a long day of outdoor sporting activities. She would have to endure the¬†corset again for supper, but it’s nice to know ladies were granted a brief reprieve.

Winterthur Gardens (c) Kristen Dembroski

After touring the house and Downton exhibit, we retired to the gardens for a few hours of leisurely strolling and sight seeing. DuPont was also a trained horticulturalist, and he designed each of the gardens, paths, and views throughout the 60 acre estate. The peonies were in full bloom, as were most of the azaleas. We enjoyed the Enchanted Woods, Pinetum, Azalea Walk, Reflecting Pool, Koi Pond, and many of the historic and impressively large trees (one is 250 years old!). The Enchanted Woods is adorable with little faerie homes, a giant bird nest, bridges inhabited by trolls, and a faerie circle of mushrooms – it is said that if children enter a faerie circle, they may disappear! (sensors produce a mist so the child appears to ‘disappear’ into thin air!). Everywhere you look there appears to be a bench or a perfect place to curl up and enjoy the view, have a picnic, or read a book.

One story I enjoyed in particular was in regards to an old redwood tree on the property. At one point, the tree became diseased and might have died. DuPont – from his love of nature and preservation – decided to save the tree, so he called in an arborist. The arborist devised a plan that is akin to a root canal – he bored out all of the diseased interior of the trunk, flushed the cavity with a light bleach solution, then reinforced the tree with rebar and many tons of cement. The plan (though ridiculously expensive) worked, and the tree is still thriving to this day.

I would highly recommend that you visit Winterthur if you find yourself in Delaware – it is well worth the time and money. A guide suggested that mid-April would be the most beautiful time to visit, when many of the flowering plants will be in full bloom (such as the cherry trees).


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A Wedding in Delaware

Dale and Amy (c) Kristen Dembroski

Ryan and I just returned from an absolutely adorable wedding in Delaware. One of our very best friends from UWMadison, Dale, married the love of his life, Amy, in Dover. Dale is a geologist studying to get his doctorate in Delaware, and he is such a witty, loyal, generous person that anyone would be lucky to have as a friend. Amy is his perfect match Рa sweet, caring, and equally witty sidekick. They are completely wonderful together!

We had never been to Delaware, so it was a fun new adventure for Team Dembro. On our first night, we decided to be adventurous and visit a local seafood restaurant called Shucker’s Pier 13 (isn’t the East Coast known for it’s delicious Frutas del Mar?) I learned about a new seasoning called Old Bay. Listen, don’t make fun of me like our waiter for not knowing about it. We don’t have it in the Midwest! I also made sure I had the Crab Balls and New England Clam Chowder to get the full effect. Yum!

One of my favorite parts about attending Dale and Amy’s wedding was getting to hang out with so any of our friends and family. We met up with Joe and Erin, our besties from undergrad, and Mike and Alicia, Ryan’s cousin and another super fun couple. I¬†haven’t¬†laughed SO HARD in SUCH a long time. I mean laughed so hard I had tears, and I did the ugly hyperventilating laugh. It was so great to catch up!

Group Selfie Delaware (c) Kristen Dembroski

Erin, Mike, Alicia, Ryan, Kristen, Joe – our best Bradley Cooper Selfie impression

Dover Church (c) Kristen Dembroski

Don’t we clean up nice? I love these people!

We found a lovely local restaurant called Countrie Eatery. It was a quaint country breakfast joint right on the bay. We loved it so much that we ate there for two days in a row!

I will also add that Delaware was not what I was expecting. Dover has some breathtaking historical architecture in some areas, and a laid back ‘big porch with a swing’ country feel in others. We saw sprawling fields and Amish communities tending livestock as well as more urban retail areas – what a mix! And I was pleasantly surprised by the laid back slightly southern drawl of the locals even though Delaware is what we might consider the ‘North.’ I am so glad that Dale has found such a lovely place to make roots and call home. I am heartsick already to realize that he won’t be coming ‘back’ to live (they’d better visit!) but equally excited for Amy and Dale’s new adventure.


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High Five for Friday! 5-23-14

Only 3 weeks of school left! We are barely surviving here, and everyone is going CrAzY! Here are the highlights from the week:


1. Assembly – We ended last week with an all-school assembly on Friday. There were basketball games, a choir performance, pom pons, raffles, shoot out competitions, videos, and so much fun! I believe these assemblies are important for so many reasons. They give us opportunities to teach and model appropriate behaviors in new scenarios, they build camaraderie and an all school spirit, a chance to appreciate one another’s talents, and they give students a time of release and a chance to build fond memories of school.


Teacher Gift (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Teacher Gifts – There are 2 new teachers in my building that I have grown close to this year. They have been so much fun to work with, and I really appreciate how hard they are working with their students. I made them these teacher gifts – a post it holder. It’s just a plastic frame (about $1) filled with scrapbook paper, then wrapped in a ribbon with some fun embellishments to hold it in place. It’s an inexpensive but fancy looking and thoughtful gift that I hope they’ll like!

Art of Writing Conference (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Art of Writing – You may have seen some of my other blog posts on the Art of Writing conference in Milwaukee. I think this is just such a unique opportunity for so many young authors and artists to be challenged, to network, and to learn a lot about their craft. Well our published book came in last week. My student’s artwork was featured on the inside of the front cover (we were ecstatic!).


PhD Books (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Ph.D. Books –¬†As I am nearing my defense date, I have been reorganizing my materials and preparing myself mentally for this important milestone. I took inventory of my textbooks I have purchased – wow! That’s a mortgage payment right there! There are books I loved and books I hated. I would say that I have learned the most from the handbooks in the lower left – they are quite expensive, but also a priceless wealth of knowledge. Any books that claim they can help guide you through the Ph.D. process with a smile on your face? Save your money.


Countdown 13 days (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Countdown – 13 Days Left – Just Sayin’!

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My Sister is a Dentist!

Jenn Hooding Ceremony (c) Kristen Dembroski

This weekend, my sister graduated from dental school. Not just any dental school, but THE best dental school in the nation. I’ve watched in wonder and amazement as she has dedicated every ounce of her being to this endeavor, forgoing sleep to study day and night and become the best possible dentist she can be. She has gone on mission trips to Guatemala, organized¬†local oral cancer benefits, and volunteered in many other dental education opportunities to help keep the community happy and healthy – one tooth and one smile at a time. She has worked so hard for 4 loooooong years, and we are all so proud of her. She is now Dr. Jenn. WOW!

Graduation weekend – yes weekend – was a two day event. It began with a mass and hooding ceremony at the church, followed by a reception at the dental school. The next day was a school wide commencement ceremony, followed by a luncheon at a fancy schmancy hotel. All of the rituals and formalities were really cool and fun to learn about.

Student Dentist Gift (c) Kristen Dembroski

After dental school, my sister is continuing on at the Children’s Hospital to do a pediatric oral surgery residency. True to form (and as a teacher, through and through), I put together a pediatric dentistry ‘survival guide’ as her graduation gift. She now has books about oral hygiene, a puppet and tooth brush for demonstrations, a squirt gun to shoot the ‘enemy’ (cavities, pain), temporary tattoos and bandaids, a squishy toy to deflect pain, a personal hand mirror (because watching can be cool, right?), children’s sized schnazzy sunglasses, coloring books and crayons, another stuffed friend for comfort, and various other fun distractions and prizes.

After this long weekend of celebrating, I am truly pooped. A few of my other friends graduated this weekend, too (YEAH Maureen and Lynda!) so I am off to toast them now. I will leave you with these pictures as a window into our fun, family-filled weekend of celebrating my sister’s amazing accomplishments. Here’s to so many more!

Family Photo (c) Kristen Dembroski

Graduation Ceremony (c) Kristen Dembroski


Jenn Ceremony 2 (c) Kristen Dembroski

Jenn Graduation Ceremony (c) Kristen Dembroski

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High Five For Friday! 5-16-14

Au revoir, Week 35! I have so many highlights to share from this week:

Mom (c) Kristen Dembroski
Blueberry Crumble (c) Kristen Dembroski  French Silk Pie (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Mother’s Day – I know everyone THINKS they have the best mom in the world, but I smile because I KNOW that I do ūüôā We had a lovely Mother’s Day this year – my mom allowed my sister and me to cook the entire meal. It was a great time, and lots of laughs were had by all. We grilled chicken and potatoes, had fruit and spinach salad, cole slaw, and my favorite – dessert! I made a Blueberry Crumble and¬†French Silk Pie. Guys – it was to DIE for. Click for the recipe, and you won’t be upset you did! The Blueberry Crumble was paleo, sweetened only with lemon juice and honey and topped with almond flour and crushed macadamia nuts. Delish!


2. Book Giveaway – So I’ve decided to adopt a fun new tradition in my room based on this great experience I just had. I am currently reading The Maze Runner and enjoying it quite a bit. I decided to tell my students all about the first 3 chapters to get them interested, too. Then, I purchased a second copy of the book and did a raffle for all of my students who have had no late work this quarter. The winner was so excited! She said that she had been wanting to read that book for a while. The message – do anything you can to get kids excited about reading. ANYthing.

Countdown 18 (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Countdown – 18 days left. Eighteen! Do you realize that summer is only 4 weeks away?!?! AAAAaaaaaaAAhhhhHH!!!!!!!! BTW, the students are having fun ripping off one more ring each day and watching the countdown shrink.

LLI (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. LLI Leveled Literacy Intervention – So I’ve been researching a new literacy intervention for us to use at our school in the fall. Preferably, we would like one that we can use to qualify students for special education referrals as well as one we can use to remediate and get our struggling readers up to grade level. What appealed to me about this LLI model is that it addresses foundational reading skills in addition to comprehension. It includes both fiction and non-fiction texts as well. It seems like a really great fit for our school. It won’t be released until September 30th, and my knowledge is limited only to the comprehensive sampler they shared with me. Do you know much about this model and its use with middle school students? I’d love to hear from you!

School T Shirts (c) Kristen Dembroski5. Gearing up for the Walkathon – Our all school annual walkathon event will take place in two Fridays. To get kids excited (and encourage them to start collecting pledges), the staff all wore our ‘retro’ Walk Shirts from years past. That means I got to wear a t-shirt and jeans each day this week! Such a treat ūüôā For the Walkathon this year, we are donating all of our pledges to the Cancer Treatment Center in Illinois on behalf of our custodian, Joe, who said he had such a wonderful experience there. The money will go to assist families with non-medical expenses. Last year we raised over $5,000, and I do hope we beat that record this year!


So how was your week? I’d love to hear about it!


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High Five For Friday! 5-9-14

We’ve made it through Week 34! (Only 5 to go!). Time for highlights!

Donuts (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Testing – My poor students endured 2 rounds of testing this week. To help give them an extra boost, I brought in donuts. I blinked, and the box was empty. Teenagers are huuuuuungry!

School Garden (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. School Flower Garden – This week our school’s art teacher organized an after school event for tending to our school flower garden. I think the tulips are just such a cheerful greeting at the front of our school. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow every day.

Holga 1 (c) Kristen Dembroski Holga 2 (c) Kristen Dembroski

3.¬†Cameras – As part of our Spite Fences unit, I got to teach my students about cameras and how they function. The thing is, they THINK they know everything about cameras. But each year, I am astounded at how silent the class grows when I start taking the camera apart and explaining how the film, shutter, aperture, advance film, and other features actually work. They have no clue. You can almost see the gears in their heads turning as they are soaking up the new knowledge. I look forward to that day every year! What’s neat is that my husband and I have a pretty extensive collection of antique cameras, so I can bring in our old cameras from home like the HOLGA above.

Classroom Countdown (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Classroom Countdown – Only 23 days left! EEeeekkkK!


Paleo Foods (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Weekly Eats – This week I cooked up some more delicious, nutritious, Paleo foods: ¬†Poundless Pad Thai, Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, Cheat’n Chow Mein, Buffalo Chicken Salad. You can now officially worry that I am addicted to the almond peanut butter cups. I have a problem, and I don’t want a solution! My favorite meal, by far, was the Buffalo Chicken salad. Mmmm…

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