Sydney Banner's Homecoming

Kindergarten A Associate Teacher Sydney Banner is quite familiar with the Mirman campus — it's where she got her start in education.
A student from Kindergarten to Room 5, Ms. Banner has fond memories of her alma mater, which is now her workplace. She sat down to talk with us about her experiences — both then and now — and how even though Mirman has gone through a lot of changes, it's all been in the service of the same mission. It turns out you can go home again.

What made your parents look at Mirman for your elementary education?
I remember I went to a preschool where they didn't quite know what to do with me. I was reading by two. But my biggest gift, I think, was empathy. I remember taking the IQ test and seeing a bunny pictured on a card and wanting to talk to the psychologist about the bunny's emotional state — I was worried that it was sad. Coming back as a teacher and doing professional development through our in-service periods, it's been so cool for me to learn about the science behind giftedness. When you're here at Mirman, you're just a regular kid. You're surrounded by kids who engage in wonderful conversations. Learning more about why gifted children are the way they are has been really interesting.

Why did you become interested in teaching as a profession?
Jocelyn Balaban (a former long-standing Mirman educator and administrator) made me want to be a teacher. I collected Betty Boop, which was also Ms. B's thing. My collection started when my Dad went on a business trip to New York and he came back with a little airport snow globe depicting Betty Boop in New York City. I was obsessed with it. Every time something special happened in my life, we'd go to this souvenir store, and I'd buy a Betty Boop.

I don't know why I liked Betty Boop so much. I think because my Dad was from New York, and he brought me the souvenir from New York, and that's why I loved it — because he gave it to me.
When I walked into Ms. Balaban’s room for the first time, her desk was covered in Betty Boop. I freaked out. I went home and told my parents about it. “She collects Betty Boop!” They didn’t believe me at first. I think it was just such a serendipitous beautiful thing to be at a school that’s for such a special kind of population of children and to find a teacher who can connect with you on such a personal level. I remember everything about her. I kept in touch with her after I left Mirman, and I always wanted to make her proud. We just always stayed in touch. My relationship with her showed me what a student-teacher relationship could look like and I knew I wanted to be an impact on a student like that.

When did you reconnect with Mirman?
I started teaching during Camp Mirman and then eventually subbed and helped with the Winter Program. When I graduated from my teaching program in May, the first place I wanted to go work was Mirman. It’s a wonderful community and the kids are so interesting. Someone does something incredible every day. Their minds work so differently than mine and it’s beautiful to see, especially at the Kindergarten level because they learn so fast and they are absorbing things so quickly. They all have such interesting talents and quirks about them. I’m just so happy I can be a part of it.

What is it like being in some of the same rooms where you were as an elementary school student, but now as a teacher?
It’s very strange. Katy Carroll’s room was my Kindergarten room. We were cleaning out our classroom and there was stuff from when my Kindergarten teacher was here! I’m taking out these certificates and calendars from the back of the closet and recognizing them! It’s nostalgic and emotional and overwhelming but exciting. And there are teachers here who were teaching when I was here. I used to drive Mr. Coleman crazy because I didn’t like running. Ms. Kelly hasn’t aged a day, and she’s just as kind as she was back then. It’s cool to see what she does behind the scenes.

Do you still feel like it’s the same place at heart?
We didn’t have the Core Values (RIDER) when I was here — it’s great to see them up on the wall now, because they actually always were here, even if we didn't have them formalized. We always talked about character, about integrity, kindness, empathy, all of these things. It’s cool now to see it up in the classroom. It’s ingrained in our curriculum, it’s ingrained in everything we do — in the way we signal our students, in the way we say good morning. I think empathy is our most important Core Value because Mirman Students are so smart and so talented, but they’re still kids! They still need help learning and growing. I love that we’re on a mission to teach them how to be good people. That’s why I want to teach — I want to teach kids how to be better people.
A Horse With No Name No More
from the 2018-2019 Meridian 

After the school rebranded a few years ago, Athletic Director Angela Brown felt that something was missing. While new uniforms were donned for the first day of school, new signs were hung around campus, and a new website launched to accompany refreshed marketing materials, the font-forward design left something to be desired when it came to truly raising team spirit to the power of Mirman. 

In a school where more than half of the student body participates in some form of competitive athletics, and on a campus where a significant expansion created pristine courts and fields upon which one can cheer on several teams on any given day, Brown saw opportunity and sensed desire to elevate the program. After working with Jenn Salcido, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Noah Kaufman, Director of Advancement, the school’s branding was expanded to include a strong, confident (though K-8-appropriate) steed. New universal uniforms, sweatsuits, and swag followed suit. 

“It’s a truly exciting time for athletics at Mirman,” said Brown. “It’s a sense of pride that you can see and feel. It’s almost like we’ve arrived. You could have taken a snapshot of the students in their old uniforms, and then with their new ones with the names on the back. It’s a rallying cry. You can see the pride on their faces.”  

Finally, everyone could don uniforms featuring their own names writ large. Everyone except, of course, the horse. Everyone knew we had a mascot — you’d see the nameless Mustang trotted out for the occasional assembly or championship bout — but nobody really knew the mascot. 

What if the community could help change that? 

Last fall, Brown and her colleagues in the Physical Education department introduced a contest at an all-school assembly. The objective: not only to name the Mustang, but to tell the mascot’s story. Over the course of a 6-day cycle, ballots were collected from every grade level in both divisions. With Salcido’s help, Brown and Assistant to the Athletic Director Alyssa Woods tallied the results. 

The judges carefully considered the entries, assessing them on an unwritten rubric including points for overall catchiness, gender-neutrality, universal appeal, and other considerations. As the dust settled, one clear winner emerged: Rider. In retrospect, it seemed rather obvious. The school had only recently unveiled its Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Discovery, Empathy, and Resilience). And as equine monikers go, Rider makes a certain degree of sense. The name was revealed with much aplomb at an all-school assembly, with Rider trotting out on stage to show off a newly-minted personalized jersey. 

The winning entry belonged to Room 4L students Victoria A. and Amelie S., who soon revealed that they had a little help from their friends, specifically former Room 4L co-teacher and current Librarian Allison Sparks. 

“We had just had a community circle in class talking about the Core Values,” said Sparks. “This was something new to me as a new member of the Mirman community. When I asked the class out loud if they’d considered Rider for the Mustang name, a few of the students wanted to suggest it.” 

“I laughed it off and dismissed the idea,” Sparks admitted. “I thought that since it had come from an adult, it wouldn’t count. But when I saw how excited they were when they submitted it, I knew the name rang true. It really came out of an ‘a ha’ moment we had together as a class. 

“It relates so much to our school and Core Values and helps us make sure we’re always doing the right thing,” said Victoria A. of the new name. 

“It’s amazing to be part of our school history,” added Amelie S. 

The two girls, who themselves represent Mirman on the basketball court and soccer fields as part of the Room 4 teams, admitted that, like many great ideas, their first iteration didn’t ring quite as true. “I think we wanted to do mustard,” said Victoria. 

“Or mayonnaise,” said Amelie. 

As it turns out, most things do get better with teamwork. 

Like any ballot box, this one was not without its curiosities once opened up. Here were a few of the voting trends: 
  • More than a few students wanted to name the Mustang after themselves or their classmates 
  • One entry suggested “Vegan” 
  • “Uncle Grandpa” popped up more than a few times, much to the confusion of one judge. It was revealed upon further investigation that this is in fact an affectionate nickname for Coach Allen Foster. 
  • Regarding “The Mysterious Moose:” decidedly not a horse, but good alliteration. 

A Biography of Rider 
By Victoria A. and Amelie S., Room 4L 
(with editorial assistance from an anonymous magazine editor) 
Once upon a time, a beautiful horse was born. He* shook himself and stood up, curious about the world around him. He began to walk through the forest, stopping every so often to grab some fruit from a tree. After a while, he came upon a group of two little girls and their teacher walking through the woods.

“Hi horse! What’s your name?” the little girl asked. 

“I don’t have a name, actually. What’s yours?” the horse answered. 

“Woah, I can actually understand you,” said the little girl. “That’s so cool!” 

The girls and their teacher spoke with the horse a while longer, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They wondered aloud why the horse didn’t have a name. 

“I just haven’t thought of one yet,” he said. “I’ve only just been born!” 

The trio brainstormed about names for a while, but then got sidetracked with what they all wanted to be when they grew up. “Do you have any ideas,” asked the teacher?” 

“I want to be a head of school!” one of the girls said. “And my school will need to have Core Values, but I don’t know what those should be.” 

“Maybe I can help you,” volunteered the horse. 

“You need to have responsibility,” began the teacher. “And integrity.” 

“And empathy for other horses!” said the horse. 

“We’ll need to discover things along the way!” said the other girl. 

“And you’ll need some resilience,” the horse finished. 

Suddenly, the trio and the horse looked at one another. “How would you feel if we called you Rider in honor of those core values?” asked the teacher. 

By now, you know how this story ends — happily ever after, surrounded by the cheering crowds. 

*while Rider is a male horse in this story, we know from his biographers that he really can be any gender! Everyone can and should be able to identify with Rider. 
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