What We Did On Our Summer Vacation…

The following guest post was written by DFHS teachers Marion Halberg, Sarah Stern, Sarah Grosso, and Mallory Cairo. All four led a powerful and important Allies of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) study group this summer for our staff. This is their reflection…

It’s been a summer like no other to say the least. A pandemic, racial reckoning, and strife around the world and at home have all contributed to the anxiety and uncertainty that we are feeling. In the traditional “how I spent my summer” reflection that is so familiar to those of us in schools, we thought we’d share what we have been doing. In the spirit of the IB Learner profile, we have spent this summer engaging in some hard reflection on the work we have done and inquiring on what we need to do to make our school a more equitable and harm-free place for all of our students, their families, and staff. It’s a principled approach to the serious issues we are all dealing with as we reopen school in whatever form that may take.

Many of you know that in June we put out a call for participants to join an Allies of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) study group. We formed with 20 people from the high school and Springhurst. We spent seven weeks exploring what it means to be White and how that influences our teaching and relationships with others, particularly with our BIPOC students. We delved into the kinds of harmful experiences our BIPOC students have had at school albeit unintentionally. We read and studied Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, and This Book is Ant-Racist, by Tiffany Jewell in addition to dozens of articles, podcasts, videos, websites, and more. As facilitators, we engaged in our own journeys and attended hundreds of hours of professional development workshops throughout the summer to understand systemic racism, racial harm in schools, centering of BIPOC students, and restorative and racial justice and more. These trainings were attended by educators from across the country and world and gave us an internationally-minded perspective.

To what end? Here’s what we learned and what we are understanding:

  • We do have a white-centered culture and curriculum and that needs to change.

  • We have caused harm to our BIPOC students. We have learned and need to challenge ourselves to understand that intent is not the same as impact.

  • We can state clearly and without hesitation that Black Lives Matter. They matter because until we center and understand BIPOC we simply cannot say all lives matter.

  • We know we are against racism but we have to actively be Anti-Racist.

  • Working to change and make things better isn’t a quick-fix. We know it will take time and we want to take the time to continue learning and changing.

We will be continuing the Allies of BIPOC study group as the school year begins. It’s an affinity group for white staff at school to examine our identity and role in our work with students and in relation to one another. It’s a journey that is not easy but it is worthwhile in so many ways. We are going to be working with Layla Saad’s book Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor which is a workbook of sorts to reflect, educate, and examine ourselves. We have a Google Classroom we began this summer with curated resources that we have gathered since June. We hope you will consider joining us.

For our BIPOC colleagues, there is a BIPOC Affinity group that has formed. Please reach out to Michelle Yang-Kaczmarek at kaczmarekm@dfsd.org (@michkkacz) if you are interested in joining or learning more. To join the Allies group please email Marion Halberg at halbergm@dfsd.org

We hope you consider joining us,

Mallory Cairo (@MsCairoHistory), Sarah Grosso (sarah_grosso2), Marion Halberg (@MegHalberg), Sarah Stern (@MsSarahStern)

Participants included: Jessica Bauer (@jessicabauer125), Lisa Brady (@YoleBrady), John Falino (@johnfalino1), Michelle Gerstle, Rachel Glynn, Megan Lois (@megan_lois_), Jillian Pallone (@PalloneMs), Elizabeth Pinkava (@pinkavae), Lauren Rodriguez, Josh Rosen (@JoshuaRosen2), Lynn Sudak, Currier Todd


Protests and Peace (Letter to Students)

The following email was sent to the students of DFHS following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests across our nation…

Dear Students,

The recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota has prompted protests and cries for peace and equality throughout our nation. In some instances, the protests have turned violent, and this has further challenged our humanity as we are simultaneously entrenched in a devastating pandemic. I know that many of you are wrestling with the emotions that naturally come with all of this uncertainty, and not having the certainty of physically attending our school to discuss these feelings makes it that much more difficult.

Dobbs Ferry was way ahead of its time back in 1998 when the high school was first authorized as an IB World School. The IB mission of “creating a better and more peaceful world” attracted the program to Dobbs Ferry, and that same mission and message of peace is more relevant today than perhaps ever before. Always remember that all of you are IB students, and each of you is positioned to be true leaders who effectuate positive and lasting change in all corners of the world. Bringing forth positive change within a society first begins with all of us as individuals. Your individual actions serve as a model for others, and in turn inspire change at all levels within our society.

I also want to remind all of you that although we are not physically in school, we are still united as a school community and we are here for one another. Although this pandemic has many of us dealing with feelings of isolation, please remember that you are not alone and that you have deep network of support and resources at your fingertips. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you need support, have questions, or just need to process these challenging times. We are truly in this together.

Be well, and keep looking out for each other.


Dr. Falino

Grading System: A Note to the Students of DFHS

Dear Students,

I hope that you are doing well and that all of your families are healthy and managing to get through this difficult time. Mr. Meagh reached out to me on Thursday and explained that some of the members of the junior class were asking for some clarification about the grading policy, and that there was concern about the reduction of “weight” that is being placed on Quarter 4. Our Legislative Branch has always done a superb job of identifying issues that impact our student body and our school as a whole. This time is no different. Typically, I would set up a lunch meeting with the members of the Legislative Branch to discuss an issue such as this one and to walk them through the steps that are taken when making decisions that impact the entire organization. Given the limitations that we have due to the current status of things, I’ll share some of that insight with you now via this note.

As you can imagine, we have so many students at our school who are struggling in this new format and are performing well below their norm due to so many circumstances, including inequity based on issues at home, illness, the need to work because parents are without jobs, emotional stress, and so on. We are getting emails daily from parents and students who have never needed assistance before, and the mental and emotional component of our work is at an all time high. In considering all of this, an approach to calculating final grades was needed to account for the distress that every family is feeling (varying degrees, of course) while fully recognizing that certain students are doing well and progressing academically. Of course we are thrilled about the latter; however, there’s also inequity in that as other students were not able to transition as easily to a distance learning format, not to mention the day-to-day struggle of essentially losing the only routine they’ve known since entering kindergarten.

Ultimately, the approach that we went with was based on feedback received over the past four weeks. The feedback came from teachers, building and district administration, the middle school, and with insight of how other districts in the county had decided to approach grading. In fact, several districts made quick decisions to go with a simple “Pass/Fail” for Quarter 3 and/or Quarter 4. While I fully understand the thinking and intent of this approach, my issue is that it somewhat diminishes the hard work and effort that so many teachers and students are putting forth during this difficult time.

In the end, no policy is going to work best for everyone and we can’t have individual policies for each student’s unique situation. However, we do feel that counting Quarter 4 as ten percent addresses the mental and emotional needs of students as outlined above, while still having a significant impact on final grades, including the overall GPA. Essentially, ten percent can mean the difference between at least a half and in some instances a whole letter grade. This is particularly the case with IB DP classes and the grade weighting system that we currently have in place

Please know that while academics are a clear priority at DFHS, our top priority will always be the health and emotional wellness of our students and families. Please do not hesitate to reach out to a school counselor if assistance is needed at any point. Ms. Reim and I are always available by email as well, 24/7.

A special thanks to all of you, including the faculty, for the wonderful videos, the non-stop activity on our new Instagram page, and the endless stream of supportive emails and notes. It is truly an honor to serve as the principal of this exceptional high school, and the way that our school has responded with this situation has truly been my proudest moment over the nine years that I have served in that role.

Be well,

Dr. Falino

A Note to the Class of 2020

Dear Seniors,

I hope that all of you are healthy and are doing well. I’ve been sending a number of emails to all parents and students but wanted to send a note directly to all of you. The pandemic that has been unexpectedly thrust upon you during what is the best part of your senior year is something that will be studied and talked about as one of the more devastating events in world history. It is resulting in unspeakable loss for so many, including family members, friends, and renowned figures from around the world. For all of you, there is added loss as senior experiences, memories, and moments that you have waited your whole lives for are being lost with each day that we are not in school. I wish that I was able to change all of that for you, but there is sadly no way to recreate lost experiences or replace the special memories that are being taken away.

I unfortunately don’t have any “inside information” about when we will return or what all of this will mean for events like the prom and graduation. I listen to the governor just as you do, and try to read between the lines with things that he says. I feel like every day my opinion about how things will shake out for us shifts based on his daily message. What I do know, however, is that we have a faculty, student body, and community that is dedicated to ensuring that we do whatever necessary to make the latter part of your senior year one that you will both remember and be proud of as you look back on it many years from now. Each senior class leaves behind a legacy. I say this every year at the opening grade level meeting for seniors. For this senior class, the Class of 2020, your legacy will be forever etched into the history of our school. We’ve already seen so many of you step up, from the many posts on our new Instagram page to the collaboration on virtual spirit weeks, including this week’s “Cooking and Baking Week.” I have no doubt that this class will continue to rally and join together, that all of you will remain united in ways that no other graduating class has before, and that these “new” memories are ones that you will carry forever.

One of the many aspects of our school that I hold most sacred is our history and tradition. Our school was built in 1934, and since that time each senior class enjoyed events like formals and proms as well as a graduation that in most years was held at the waterfront. Please know that we are determined to ensure that you get the chance to experience these same traditions, and that we are constantly evaluating the current and projected status of this pandemic so that we can adjust our plans as necessary. While this might mean postponing some events and/or adjusting the “look” of an event, it does not mean that we have any plans to cancel anything. In fact, it might ultimately result in a new tradition for our school, and that too will be part of the enduring legacy of this class. We are already seeing an example of this with the “senior experience” that we are putting together in lieu of our senior internship program. You will get much more information on that in the coming weeks. 

For now, please know that we are all in this together and that you have a school and a community that has your back. I wish you all of the best, and look forward to seeing all of you soon. 


John Falino

The Power of Empowering: “Winning Ideas”

There is nothing more transformative and critical with regard to innovation and change than true empowerment. This is certainly not a groundbreaking concept, and it is one that I’ve written about many times over the years. School leaders often talk about the importance of empowering teachers and staff to lead true change, yet often pull back and/or do not provide the space for this type of change to occur. I’m never shy about sharing the great work that is happening daily at DFHS. I love to share not because of what I’m doing as a leader, but rather the great work that is being led by our teachers and staff. As a school that truly embraces an “IB for All” philosophy, what has set us apart is the fact that teacher voice is a very real thing. At DFHS, teachers are looked upon as the professionals who have the best perspective on what works and what change is needed. Teachers provide feedback, insight, and are given the space to take risks and create. Although there are far too many examples to list here, the many posts on this blog provide a small sample of how that has looked and turned out for us over the years. 

One “ritual” that I did away with during my first year as principal was the archaic faculty meeting that had an administrator standing at the front of the room reviewing procedures and information that could just as easily be shared in an email. Instead, faculty time at DFHS is used for teachers to work with colleagues on curriculum, assessment, and of course new learning initiatives that can further them professionally. We do set aside three full faculty meetings a year so that we may come together as a school community, reflect on our school-wide goals, and share the work that is happening across our school. We do this before the first day of school, after the first semester, and at the conclusion of the year. 

Prior to our most recent midyear meeting, teachers shared (via Google Docs) their work with regard to our school-wide goals around service learning and student wellness. The Doc was extensive! After taking some time to review these initiatives at the opening of our meeting, we transitioned to a group challenge using the following essential question: “How, if at all, does our school (and system) inspire staff and students to be independent thinkers prepared to change the world?” Based off our district-wide vision statement, this question became the jumping off point for the following group challenge:

  1. Review the Google Doc with your team (see above).
  2. Generate a new “winning idea” that will further inspire students and staff to be independent thinkers prepared to change the world. (10 minutes)
  3. Tweet the idea to #DFHSIB21
  4. Prepare a 1 minute elevator pitch. Select a speaker. 

The goal of the task was simple: to come up with new ideas for our school that would build off the work that we’ve done to this point. In doing so, each team was instructed to come up with realistic concepts with consideration to our existing system and resources, and to be “positive, practical, and purposeful.” Each team got to work immediately, and the results were pretty amazing: 

Group 1: Day of Service (CAS Field Day)(Tom, Sarah, Kelly, Marion, Georgia)

Each department brainstorms 2-3 service-based learning activities that can be offered to students. Students can sign up for these activities, similar to how they sign up for MAC Field Day activities. This can perhaps be done on a half day or during the first few periods (1-4) on MAC field day. *At an IB Training for CAS, we saw a variation of this. The Senior DP students planned an IB Field Day for incoming DP Candidates with team building activities and student-led info sessions to help the juniors get started. This counted toward their CAS portfolio as well.

Group 2: Enhanced Grading System (Paul, Kelly, Frank, Craig, Mallory)

Examine our numerical grading system in an effort to change numerical grades to rubric bands (perhaps A-F, or markband numbers aligned with MYP rubrics). Each teacher would set the expectations at the beginning of the year: “this is what an A looks like, this is what a B looks like.” Students could also have a say, increasing ownership in grades. This might alleviate some of the stress associated with grades, while allowing for a more holistic set of standards. 

Group 3: “Real World” Connections and Scheduling (Cristin, Danielle, Terence, Scott, Jim)

Invite former students or community members to DFHS to talk about different career paths.  Although we promote the traditional college path, there are many successful individuals in our families and in the community that have inspirational stories that did not include college. We might also explore the idea of flexible scheduling in the morning to allow more students to attend the BOCES program. 

Group 4: School-Wide Service (Adrienne, Maria, Will, Radene, Maureen)

Use our early release days to focus on a school-wide charity, building a sense of empathy, community and school spirit. The initial kick off would be MAC Field day and maybe an end of the year celebration at the CAS Field day. This concept was brought up by another group as well. 

Group 5: Interest-Based Learning (Michelle, Andrew, Mary Alice, Jillian, Adrianne)

Dedicate one day out of each month to create “pop up courses” for students to choose from a menu of topics to learn about/to teach themselves. This will allow students to interact with teachers collaboratively and for them to have a chance to learn about information that is an extension of our existing curriculum. In addition, it will allow for teachers to take the students out of a traditional classroom setting. 

Group 6: “Life Skills” Classes (Rebecca, Connor, Keith, Erica, Paulette, Liz)

Create a “life skills” class. This could run once a week or monthly. Topics would include stress management, gratitude, mental health, drugs & alcohol, resume writing, etc. 

Group 7: Leadership Elective (Megan, Michelle, Kim, Nicole, Richard)

Creation of a Leadership Course Elective. This course would give our students the tools needed to become “Independent Thinkers Change Worlds.” The course would cover what is needed to be a leader as an individual, in a group setting, and in a diverse and global world.  

Group 8: Extended Instructional Blocks (Laura, Justine, Neil, Stephanie, Danielle, Tim)

Use early dismissal days for extended instructional blocks. Teachers can use this time to develop hands on activities, passion projects, service learning, Edcamp, etc. During lunch periods, we can offer activities in place of having students sit in the commons because it is typically their lunch. This might include yoga, career day, senior alumni or a community service activity.

Group 9: Edcamp For Students (Michele, Maria, Jessica, Donna, Lisa) 

Use half days as an Edcamp for the students so that they may sign up for activities that they are interested in. This might include yoga, mindfulness, “Gym Guyzz,” aqueduct cleanup, making lunches for the homeless, organizing fundraisers for specific causes, etc.  This would further allow us to bring awareness to mindfulness and service learning within the school day while providing students with choice.  

Group 10: Service Learning (Mike, Sarah, Kelly, Dana, Serena)

Create an elective called Service Learning somewhat modeled off our special needs Life Skills class, where students will use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the structure for the course.  Each year students could tackle four goals, one per quarter. All students can have an opportunity to select this course so that they are further inspired to serve beyond the walls of our school.  

As I planned the group challenge, my hope was that we would find one or two “winning ideas” to further develop as a staff. By the end of the meeting, my thoughts had shifted to thinking that there is no reason why we can’t do all ten. Our next step is to get back into teams to further develop these concepts. Empowerment and ownership are powerful, and the results can be extraordinary. It’s just what we do here at DFHS, and it’s why we continue to inspire staff and students to be “independent thinkers prepared to change the world.”

MAC Field Day: Community, Activity, Service (#DFHSIB21)

History and tradition. Two words that fully capture what Dobbs Ferry is all about. From the murals that adorn our hallways to the our football games at Gould Park, DFHS holds a proud history that truly sets our school community apart from all others. What has also historically set Dobbs Ferry apart is our ability to join together in times of need and for important causes that impact the lives of our students, families, and community members. At the core of the IB Program is the importance of compelling students to “think globally while acting locally,” and time and again our students have demonstrated this mindset in all areas of our community. As we gear up for our 14th MAC Field Day on October 18th, and in the spirit of the late Coach James “Coach Mac” Mackenzie, we are reminded once again of the importance of joining together to celebrate our history while bringing awareness to important issues in our community.

In May of 2006, tragedy struck Dobbs Ferry when we lost our football coach, teacher, mentor, and friend Coach Mac. This loss was not only difficult for his football players, but also the student body and faculty of our high school. Coach Mac made an impact on every individual he encountered here in Dobbs Ferry. His personality was infectious. He had a larger than life aura and it was impossible for any person he met to forget him. Many would say it was his unique look and the “handlebar” mustache. Others might say that it was the fact that he would be wearing shorts on a sub-zero degree day in January. Those that knew him best though would argue that it was because he made every single person he came across feel important.  He made people, no matter who they were, where they came from, what their situation may have been, feel they mattered. He represented caring, unity, togetherness, and community. He represented the very best of Dobbs Ferry. He represented what we are all about, and what we always strive to be.

Coach Mac was also legendary for his sayings. He may have been second only to the immortal Yogi Berra in this department. A favorite was “Do what I mean, not what I say.” His starting quarterback knew this one better than anyone. But the one we remember best here at DFHS is “Who’s better than you?” That saying summed up better than any other what Coach Mac was all about. No matter what anyone has told you, no matter what you might think, “you matter, you’re important, and I care about you.”

In the summer of 2006, just prior to the start of school, the students at DFHS wanted to do something to honor and thank Coach Mac for all that he had done for them and for this school. They decided to name our annual field day in his memory, and the following year, on Friday, September 21, 2007, Fox 5 NY had its morning show Good Day NY broadcast live from our turf during our second MAC Day. The school spirit could be felt everywhere throughout town. It was a fitting celebration of Coach Mac, and a wonderful way for our school and community to show everyone what Dobbs was all about.

Fast forward to present day and our school is now prepared for our 14th MAC Field Day. In past years, our students have used this occasion vehicle for supporting an important global causes within our local school community. In 2018, our students united to raise money for the victims of the hurricanes and chose the non-partisan “One America Appeal” because it spoke directly to what Coach Mac was all about–-togetherness, community, and helping others. This year, as we celebrate our 21st year as an IB World School (#DFHSIB21), our students are uniting once again to promote the importance of recycling and environmental awareness on a global scale.  As always, our mission is to promote service learning and civic engagement while emphasizing the development of student driven, student focused, and student run endeavors. Our current students are already part of our school’s rich history, and continue to find new ways to give back while aiming to inspire future generations in the same way that past generations have inspired them.

Promoting Well-Being at DFHS (Part II)

I wrote a post back in May on promoting well-being at DFHS and the importance of emphasizing those efforts on faculty and staff. If our goal is to ensure the well-being of students, it is critical that we first focus on the well-being of the faculty and staff who work with our students on a daily basis. This belief has resulted in a number of experiences for teachers and staff over the last year in the areas of mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and stretching. It’s been wonderful to see so many of our teachers take the lead on this work and a clear shift in the climate and culture of our school is beyond apparent. It’s now common to walk into classrooms and to see students taking mindfulness breaks, or to see teachers engaging their students in head-to-toe meditations so that they may de-stress and clear their minds. AT DFHS, student and faculty wellness has been placed at the forefront while we simultaneously maintain our tradition of being a top performing academic high school at both the state and national level.  

This year, our Athletic Director Andrew Klaich has extended our focus by creating our very first district-wide Faculty and Staff Wellness Day that will be held tomorrow, October 16th. In doing so, he has put together a set of sessions that are truly differentiated based on the individual needs and interests of our staff members. Many of our sessions are run by professionals from our local community, and range from light walking, meditation and yoga to Barre3 and HIIT. There are also sessions on sleep strategies, injury prevention and First Aid/CPR, as well as allergy testing, hormonal testing, venous testing, vision/hearing screening, and BMI screenings. There is truly something for everyone! Our wellness sessions are organized as follows:

Physical Activity

Barre3 (Becca Light of Barre3 of Dobbs Ferry): Barre3 is for everyone! Barre3 is a full-body workout designed with our signature approach of sustained holds, micro-movements, and cardio bursts that will leave you feeling balanced in body and empowered from within.  

GymGuyz: Full Body Boot Camp HIIT style workout that will involve strength, aerobics and flexibility.  This class will be active and will be modified for all ages and ability levels.

Half Court Pick-Up Basketball: (Springhurst Elementary Gymnasium): Great opportunity to play half court basketball with your colleagues.

Pick-up Tennis (Springhurst Elementary School): Great opportunity to play tennis with your colleagues.

Fitness Center: Get your workout in! Cardio and strength equipment is available for you to get a great workout in!

Light Activity

Meditation Lab: In this mindfulness workshop, participants will be introduced to Jennifer Monness and her meditation program, The Meditation Lab. The workshop is divided into two sessions. In the first half of the session, participants will be introduced to the meditation practice through mindful movements and mindful breathing. The class begins with a series of stretches to warm the body and settle the nerves, giving participants the opportunity to move towards stillness. Students are encouraged to follow Jennifer’s simple three-step approach as they are guided through a five minute meditation. Please bring your yoga mat!

Riverstone Yoga: In this class the basic, foundational yoga postures are practiced to align, strengthen and promote flexibility in the body. Full-body relaxation and balance are the goals, as we make a full circuit of the body’s range of motion with standing postures, twists, bends, forward folds, and hip openers. 

Walk the Campus: 50 minutes of fast paced walking around the school.


Stress and Meditation: There are many health benefits of meditation. Learn how to use it to relieve stress and tension, relax the body, find focus, and center your mind.

Not getting enough ZZZZZ’s:  Better Sleep Strategies? Are you sleepy in the car? How about the grocery store?  Maybe it’s that need to nap at your desk! If you feel this way or you live with someone who is experiencing daytime sleepiness or snoring issues, a sleep disorder might be the problem. Join to learn more about the different types of sleep issues millions of American adults are faced with and what you can do about it! Presented by Phillicia Jones, Cardiopulmonary manager at St. John’s Riverside Hospital.


Q and A with a physical therapist (Motion Sports Medicine): Injury Prevention and Awareness: This presentation will address warning signs of low back pain and what leads to possible disc issues versus arthritis, and or inflammation and how to reduce these pains; when to use heat versus ice on an injury; how to stretch appropriately. The presentation will conclude with a Q and A from the audience on what they may be experiencing and how to help them and their injuries/pains. 

Stop the Bleed and CPR/First Aid Refresher Course:  Learn the basics and Q and A with Jared Rosenberg.

Q and A with pediatrician:  Do you have questions for the pediatrician about your children..?  Sleep strategies, nutrition, healthy eating habits, screen time recommendations, medicine/vaccinations are all topics open for discussion.

Personal Health and Wellness

Flu Shot: Walgreens will be providing flu shots. More detailed information will be shared with you after registration regarding necessary paperwork/insurance cards etc..

Allergy Scratch Testing: Allergies are not the only reason for a runny nose or watering eyes – they can also be the cause of headaches, fatigue, sore joints, nausea, and many other symptoms not typically attributed to an allergy. An allergy skin test is a non-invasive test performed on the surface of the skin and takes about 20-minutes for an allergy technician to identify any adverse reactions to known allergens.

Blood Allergy Testing: A blood allergy test is used in a variety of instances and often, in conjunction with an allergy scratch test. The test is greater in scope to include latex, penicillin, and additional airborne and food allergens, including Gluten.

Wellness and Hormonal Testing: Blood testing panels are uniquely designed for both men and women, to establish a thorough baseline of current health status, the health of organs, and provide indicators of potential health concerns. Hormone imbalances can also be a possible cause of unexplained weight gain, depression, heart disease, liver, and kidney disease. 

Clinical Assessment: The MyWellness123 physician conducts a general health-check screen to help detect the onset of early disease or identify potential health risks.  A typical exam includes, but is not limited to, obtaining a personal and family medical history, checking heart and lung health, blood pressure, examination of the eyes, nose, and throat etc.

Body Fat Screening/BMI: A body fat screening is non-invasive and used to identify the density of lean tissue versus fat tissue throughout the body. Body-mass index (BMI) can be a helpful tool to indicate risk for disease but offers a starting point to look at overall health.

Venous Ultrasound Testing: Unsightly veins, cramping, throbbing, weakness, or tired legs? If you sit or stand for long periods of time, this non-invasive test performed on the calves, can identify signs of venous insufficiency that can lead to further health problems. While varicose veins can also be benign and simply a cosmetic concern, for some people, they can cause aching, pain, and discomfort.

Vision Screening: A vision screening or eye test is a brief exam that looks for potential vision problems and eye disorders. This includes near and far distance testing, color-vision, and astigmatism.

Hearing Evaluation: This is a quick, non-invasive exam that determines any prevalence of hearing loss.

Our faculty and staff are looking forward to an amazing day! Please be sure to check out our HS Facebook page for pictures of our teachers in action! 

Commencement Address: Remarks to the Class of 2019

Tonight, we come together for an event that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a member of the Dobbs Ferry community. I am now finishing my 8th year as the principal of this amazing high school, and you are the 85th group of graduates to walk the halls of our current school building. And each graduating class that has walked the halls of our school had its own unique character, and touched our school in a way that remains forever.

And like you, each of those graduates walked across the stage to receive a Dobbs Ferry High School diploma, just as you will in a little while. They were cheered on by proud parents and family members, just as you will be, and they were excited and perhaps a bit anxious about what the future holds, just as you probably are. But remember this. Today, your great achievement is shared in equal measure by the joy, sacrifice, and love of your parents and families, and this day is as much about them, as it is about you. As is tradition, I would like to ask all of you, our graduates, to please stand and give your parents and families a round of applause for the tireless sacrifice and support that they have given throughout your life.

I would also like to thank the wonderful administration and faculty of DFHS. Each year, we welcome new staff members to our school and, in some years, we sadly say good-bye to others who retire from our district after many years of dedicated service. This year, we say good-bye to Ms. Leslie Stein, who will retire after 22 years of dedicated service to the students and families of Dobbs Ferry. During her time at Dobbs Ferry High School, Ms. Stein taught all areas of social studies, with a focus on IB History, United States History, and IB Theory of Knowledge. She has also served as our IB Extended Essay and CAS Coordinator. Ms. Stein is an exceptional teacher in every sense of the word, and is now part of the long rich history of excellence of Dobbs Ferry High School. We wish her the very best in her future travels, and as she spends much deserved time with friends and family. Thank you, Leslie Stein, on behalf of the teachers and students, past and present, of Dobbs Ferry

Each year, as I prepare my final remarks to the graduating class, I am drawn to a moment, an event, or a concept that best captures some aspect of what it means to be part of Dobbs Ferry, and with that a graduate of our high school. Sometimes it comes to me early on in the year, and in others it has come days before graduation, and it is usually rooted in some aspect of our school’s proud history. While it was tempting to select that moment when this group of graduates went on to win back-to-back Mac Field Days, winning as both juniors and seniors, it actually came a few months later for me. This year, it came on the evening in March during the Gold Ball basketball game at Pace University.

As a kid growing up on Long Island in the 1980s during a time when the Mets were the toast of the town, I had the benefit of being raised to be a Yankee fan. As a Yankee fan, I learned very quickly that history matters, tradition matters, and that each player is part of something that is much bigger than each of the individuals who fill out the roster each season. That tradition has now been passed on to my own kids, and all three of them can easily rattle off the names and numbers of Yankee legends like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, and Derek Jeter. For us, the Yankees are part of our culture, our tradition, and the team belongs to the people, so we use words like “us” and “we” when referring to it.

On the evening of the Gold Ball game, I was reminded that these same principles apply to all of us right here in Dobbs Ferry. Sitting behind me that night, I overheard a woman say, “…I was a freshman at THE high school the last time we won a Gold Ball.” The year that she was referring to was 1967, and it became so clear that this game, at that moment, was about so much more than winning a Gold Ball. It was about our village, our history, our pride, our tradition, our culture…and we too used words like “us” and “we” when talking to anyone who was dressed in Dobbs blue and white. From alumni dating back as long as 50 years ago to recent alumni, students, parents, past and present teachers, local business owners, village officials, and many more, that game further united what is already a close knit family.

Sure, we may disagree, even argue sometimes like families do, but on that night, at that moment, we were all one, and we all knew that Dobbs Ferry was bigger than all of us, and we were all part of a moment that would be etched in our school’s history. But while our history was on clear display in that arena, the group that served as the heart, energy, and life-force of our team and school was each of you, our graduating seniors. And not surprisingly, this group of seniors, led by Dimaunie Meredith and the 3-Point Club, created a new legacy, as we untied with Irvington to wear t-shirts with the hashtag #RivertownsUnite. And together, we united behind our team to bring that Gold Ball back home, and that’s precisely what they did.

I’m always touched when I’m reminded of how many of our students have had parents who graduated from our high school. That legacy speaks to the pride that we all feel about our village, about our schools, about our home. Tonight we have thirteen different graduating seniors who will be called to walk across the stage just as their parents did years ago. That group includes Elizabeth Valentin, Erica Joao (JOA), Victoria Amendola, Samantha and Patrick Straub, Kailee Tobacco, Taylor Lyman, Steven Williams, Nicholas and Justin Mohl, Kyle Addis, Aaron Paul Doss, and Jack Capuano. We also have teachers who graduated from our high school, as Serena Buschi did in 1987, and you will also hear the name Raquel Addona called to walk across the stage, because her mom, a beloved teacher at our school, moved to this village because she knows that there is no place like Dobbs Ferry. And if you are here in 2030, which I hope to be, you will hear the name Griffin Kamke in our list of graduates, and that young man will walk across the stage just as his father, Police Office Justin Kamke did, in 1995.

Our village is unique too because it continues to attract so many new families that are now creating a new generation of Dobbs Ferry residents. From so many students who move here from abroad, to the many new families that now call Dobbs Ferry home, our village continues to grow, has a vibrant culture, and is definitely the place to be of all the Rivertowns. And in 25 or 30 years, I’m sure the Principal at that time will be standing on this stage talking about the history that is yet to happen, and mentioning the names of the children who had mothers and fathers who graduated from the Class of 2019. And with that, the torch will continue to be passed to a new generation of Dobbs Ferry graduates.

So before you go out to start your next chapter, whatever that chapter may be, there is one final important lesson to be learned from our history, our tradition, and from being a product of Dobbs Ferry:

Be prepared to Adapt as Inevitable Change will come your way. In order to find success, and with that personal growth and fulfillment, you must possess the ability to adapt when change comes your way and, when necessary, reinvent to become a better version of the person that you had been before. While the rich history of our school and village has certainly been noted, one thing that has set us apart has been our ability to adapt and reinvent as times have changed, and new challenges have come our way. We saw this when we became the first school in the county to bring in the IB Program, and we see it through other programs like science research, the arts, and the use of technology. Because unlike 1967 when we last won that Gold Ball, we cannot say with certainty what jobs will exist in the next twenty years. But what we do know is that the education that you have received here in Dobbs Ferry has provided you with the skills necessary to learn independently, to collaborate, to problem solve, and to adapt when inevitable change does come your way.

For you, this might happen in college, when you realize that the major that you selected was not the best path for you after all. It might happen with a personal relationship, when you realize that it is best to part ways with a person because they do not make you the best version of the person that you hope to be. Or it may happen in the workforce, when you realize that the job that you have is on the brink of becoming obsolete, and you need to move to a new direction. Everyone needs to adapt and, when necessary, reinvent. Your parents have done it, you school has done it, heck even the Yankees had to do it, as baseball has evolved into a game that is now driven almost exclusively by analytics and statistical prediction.

But as you move on to the next phase, one thing that must never change, and must be unwavering, is what is inside all of you. That is your heart, your kindness, your compassion, and your empathy. It is those qualities that are true recipe for peace and happiness, both inwardly and throughout the world, and are the qualities that will help you to successfully adapt to any change, while staying true to who you really are and what you’re all about. And as you move forward, always remember that no matter where life takes you, you have family that loves you, friends who will be by your side, and that you will always be part of the “us” and “we” that unites all of us right here in Dobbs Ferry.

I wish you all the very best as you move on the next stage of your lives.

Congratulations to the Dobbs Ferry Class of 2019.


Promoting Well-Being at #DFHSIB20

I recently attended an exceptional IB Leadership training session on “well-being and student leadership” that was facilitated by @moyerteacher in Seattle, WA. The training was part of a new leadership series put out by the IBO in response to the ever-changing needs of all students, including those who attend IB World Schools. This specific training challenged us to explore how we support student wellness within an IB World School while considering how we can empower students to take control of their own well-being.

The importance of focusing on the “whole child” in education is not a new concept. If you spoke to educators ten, twenty, or even fifty years ago, they would more than likely have told you that the “well-being” of students was important. For some, it might have even been a priority, though many teachers, particularly at the high school level, would have likely indicated that their primary focus was on content and academics and that the “feeling stuff” was more for the school counseling department. This mindset has significantly shifted in recent years as schools are finding more and more students in crisis. Though it’s easy to find many anecdotal examples inside of our schools, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recently shared some unsettling data that sheds more light on this growing crisis. According to the piece, 18.1% (42 million) American adults live with anxiety disorders, and statistics around depression continue to rise while the number of children and adults who suffer continue to go untreated.

So how do we define well-being? In the most basic sense, well-being is a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude. It goes beyond basic welfare and aims for all students to be healthy, happy, successful, and productive. This latter point is one that we regularly emphasize at DFHS, particularly at our IB DP Information Night for 9th and 10th grade parents. Simply stated, students who are happy and healthy perform better academically. They have better mental health, make better choices, enjoy greater social inclusion, and ultimately leave high school better prepared for new challenges and change. So decisions around academic choices, whether or not to pursue a full IB Diploma, and the number of co-curricular activities that students get involved with needs to be closely monitored.  

The very nature of the IB MYP and IB DP lends itself to support student well-being despite the perception by some that both programs promote intense academic demands that in turn lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety for students. At DFHS, our entire faculty and staff has examined how we can promote student well-being and social and emotional learning within our existing programs without it becoming an “extra” for students (and teachers!). Here’s some of the ways that our school has helped to achieve this goal:

  • Faculty and Staff Well-Being: If our goal is to ensure the well-being of students, then it is critical that we first focus on the well-being of the faculty and staff who work with our students. The importance of creating a positive culture in a school is at the very core of promoting well-being among faculty and staff. I have said time and again that if you treat faculty and staff like professionals, 99.9% of the time they will act professional and the culture in the school will be positive. At DFHS, we have extended this mindset to include explicit experiences for teachers in the area of mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and stretching. As an example, @meghalberg leads daily mindfulness sessions for teachers who are in need of a quick meditative break from the daily grind. In addition, we have had Jennifer Monness from The Meditation Lab attend some faculty meetings to lead our teachers in meditation and yoga. This is an experience that is designed exclusively for our faculty with the focus being on their health and well-being. Finally, our Innovative Classroom Initiative (ICI), led by Assistant Superintendent @dfdciberry, has further supported this endeavor by emphasizing mindfulness and how we can promote well-being for all students and teachers in our district.  

  • Student Well-Being: As noted above, when faculty and staff are happy, healthy, and well, students that are inside of our classrooms become the direct beneficiaries. Our focus on staff wellness has resulted in many examples of teachers at our school who implement mindfulness types of activities into their lessons. @MsCairoHistory, for example, sometimes opens lessons by having students participate in a quick meditation. Other teachers such as @Mrs_Fahy and @llcgrove have had students get up for some light stretching and yoga-based exercises as an opening to a lesson. We are also inviting Jennifer Monness back to DFHS in May to engage our students in the types of relaxation/meditation exercises that she led with our faculty and staff. The idea is to provide our students with some strategies to “destress” before state exams. The key to all of this is recognize that student wellness is everyone’s business, and finding ways to naturally integrate mindfulness practices into what we do every day is a much surer way to promote ownership among all.

  • Interest Based Learning Experiences: Both the IB MYP and IB DP provide students with seemingly endless opportunities to pursue personal interests that can directly promote well-being. The Personal Project, for example, provides tremendous flexibility in terms of topic selection so that students can virtually engage in any area that is of personal interest. If implemented correctly, this can be an excellent vehicle for reducing student stress while providing an “escape” from the grind of academic classes. The IB DP core provides similar opportunities, and at DFHS we encourage all students to take TOK or to engage in CAS activities regardless of whether or not they are pursuing a full IB Diploma. While each IB program provides opportunities, however, the key is to provide a structure that allows these experiences to be enjoyable and pressure free for students. This involves aspects of scheduling, staffing, and of course proper counseling.

  • Service Learning: In recognition of our 20th year as an IB World School (#DFHSIB20), we have focused more exclusively on finding opportunities within our existing curriculum  to inspire service among our students. Our work in this area has been documented in previous posts and our teachers continue to find new ways for students to give beyond themselves. The selfless act of “giving beyond oneself” is perhaps the greatest form of wellness, and the intrinsic reward that one receives is beyond measure. This mindset is also a core principle of the IB, and one that truly takes form when schools have a positive and supportive school culture that emphasizes wellness for all.

  • Counseling: It’s not possible to write a piece on student well-being without highlighting the critical role of our counseling department. I am proud to say that our district fully supports this belief and has continued to allocate resources in this area. In the past few years, we have added a third school counselor, a full-time social worker, a dean of student affairs, and a full-time student assistance counselor. In addition, our conseloring department has teamed with our special education department to implement programs such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in an effort to support students in need while further promoting mindfulness and empathy among all staff members. The enhancements within the counseling department have provided our students with more individualized support, an expanded focus on social and emotional learning, a team approach to student wellness and mental health, and a restorative approach to student discipline. Our school counselors are also IB trained, serve as college counselors, and have the same caseload of students from grades 9-12. This approach allows our counselors to build personal relationships with students and families so that they can quickly intervene in moments of crisis.

In addition to the examples above, our district is in the midst of designing a K-12 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum that will provide teachers and students with more explicit experiences throughout our existing curriculum and program. In this regard, the key is to maintain the mindset that “well-being” needs to be embedded into all aspects of our school by faculty and students alike. The teachers of DFHS have certainly embraced this belief, and as always continue to lead the way in terms of how to best support the needs of all students each and every day.

To the Graduating Class of 2019 (Yearbook)

To the Graduating Class of 2019,

At the 2015 announcement of his Chicago presidential library, President Barack Obama reflected on the significance of the location: “The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned — they’re all based right in the few square miles where we’ll now be able to give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey.” In many ways, the close connection that President Obama described in relation to his local community parallels the small close-knit community that we have here in Dobbs Ferry.

As graduates of DFHS and members of our community, you are part of a legacy and history that goes well beyond any of us as individuals. This was on display in full force on the evening that our basketball team won the Gold Ball for the first time since 1967. That game was about so much more than basketball. It was about our community, past and present. The stands were filled with parents, community members, students, teachers, and alumni, some of whom were students at DFHS in 1967. That evening reminded us that we are a community that supports one another, and that Dobbs Ferry may be small in size but we are mighty in spirit.

At the center of our amazing community are our incredible schools. As graduates of an IB World School, you are prepared with the necessary skills and perspective to leave our small community so that you can truly tackle global issues while making a difference on a local level. Regardless of the path that you choose after high school, you will find opportunities to give beyond yourself and “to bring the world back home after an incredible journey.” I am truly confident that you are ready for these challenges, and that you are ready to make a positive and lasting impact that will make Dobbs Ferry proud.

Dobbs Ferry is the place that we call home, and the lessons that you have learned here will guide you as you move onto college, the workforce, and ultimately the rest of your lives. From your successes in the classroom, your tremendous talents in the arts and sciences, and your fortitude and perseverance on the field, there is nothing that a Dobbs Ferry graduate can’t do.

The legacy of this graduating class will be remembered for generations, and it has been an honor to serve as your Principal for the past four years. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing all of the wonderful ways that you will continue to make our community proud.


John J. Falino, Ed.D.