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Siena News

Stay Informed and Inspired

Welcome to The Siena School's news section, where we keep our community informed about the latest happenings and exciting updates. Here, you'll find stories and articles highlighting faculty and staff accomplishments, guest speakers, events, presentations, and other important announcements relevant to our vibrant Siena community.

  • Siena Shares Semester One DEIB Update

    Siena is pleased to share a Semester One DEIB Update about Siena's work towards our 5 Commitments: Diverse Community, Education, Equitable and Inclusive Community, Equitable Experiences, and Accountability

    Some highlights of our Semester One update include:

    • An overview of student affinity groups and leadership outreach,
    • Selections from Heritage Month posters and recent blog posts, and
    • A short summary of our faculty and staff’s professional development efforts related to restorative justice, implicit bias, and upstander language.

    This update is the culmination of Siena's ongoing DEIB-related work since our Equity Audit in 2020-21, how we are researching students' sense of belonging at Siena, and plans for the future.

    Read the Semester One Update     Learn More about DEIB at Siena

  • Siena High School Students Featured In Area Photography Show

    Siena congratulates 8 high school students and Digital Arts and Maker teacher Kristian Whipple for their second year of participation in a student photography exhibition at Photoworks at Glen Echo Park.

    Siena joins 3 DC-area schools in participating in this year’s student exhibition, So It Goes. It opened during the first weekend of April with a successful reception on April 6 featuring Whipple and a group of his photography students to meet with guests and answer questions about their work.


    So it Goes features 11 works from 8 Siena student photographers, several of whom attended the opening reception:

    • Arynn (10th): “It was nice to see my classmates’ work and creativity on display.”
    • Noah (10th): “I’m excited to see my work and my friends’ work on display again this year. My picture [see above] came out of us experimenting with taking pictures of small bubbles and then editing them digitally.”
    • Darcy (11th): “It was nice attending the reception to hear guests compliment my work and try to understand my vision in my pieces.”

    As Siena Senior Dermot shared about his picture (see right),

    I took this picture of my classmate early in the school year as part of our 9 Types of Composition project. I wanted to show our campus and use the school’s benches differently to give a new and creative perspective.  

    See more about So It Goes at Glen Echo Photoworks. The exhibition runs through May 26. Photoworks gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday 1:00-4:00pm. Please consider attending and help us celebrate our high school students’ work. 

  • Siena High School Senior Gets Book Donations for Rwanda

    Siena salutes senior Jude for coordinating a virtual book drive for the Afrikan Baby Book Project for his senior independent project. The Afrikan Baby Book Project is a nonprofit organization based in Kigali, Rwanda, that provides positive African-centric books to primary-aged Rwandan children who have limited access to books that reflect them or their culture.

    “I’m doing this to bring awareness about the global importance of literacy, especially for kids who don’t fully know their identity. Books are such a big way to understand and express our identities.” —Jude


    Over Spring Break, Jude and some family members will be traveling to Kigali and teaming up with two students from the Isomo Academy to deliver the books to community libraries and literacy centers in Rwanda. Jude added, “I hope that getting books to these Rwandan children will boost their self-esteem and make their reading more enjoyable.”  

    Want to support Jude’s senior independent project? See this Amazon Wish List to purchase from their curated list of books for Rwandan children. You can elect to have the books shipped directly from Amazon to Jude’s family or to you. Siena will have a collection box at its Silver Spring and Northern Virginia campuses through Friday, March 15.

    The theme of Black History Month 2024 is African Americans and the Arts. See Siena’s recent Black History Month blog post for writer profiles and resources.

  • Siena Performing Arts Teacher, Students Attend Maryland Thespian Festival

    In mid-January 2024, Siena Performing Arts Teacher Amal Saade and a group of Siena theatre students attended the Maryland Thespian Festival in College Park, MD.

    Nine high school students and three middle school students participated in this annual festival, which attracts hundreds of theatre students and educators from across Maryland. The festival’s many offerings included a One-Act Festival, Quiz Bowl, Speed Charades, Trash Costumes, Makeup Challenge, and Improv Show. Several high school students enjoyed the different types of workshops and look forward to bringing what they learned about lighting, design, and more to their stage work at Siena.

    And, as 9th grader Gabi shared,

    I really enjoyed the One-Act that I saw, “The Never-Before-Seen Pilot Episode of Dipsy the Dinosaur.” It was very well written and very funny. As a Spanish speaking person, I especially enjoyed it because most of the jokes were in and about the Spanish language. 


    Performing Arts teacher Amal Saade valued being around hundreds of people equally passionate about theatre, describing it as “invigorating and inspiring.” “It opened great possibilities for what we can do here in terms of one-act plays and other opportunities at Siena,” she reflected. 

    For the first time, the Maryland Thespian Festival dedicated a day expressly for middle school students and offered workshops on puppetry, stage design and props, and being a “triple threat” as singer, dancer, and actor. “I enjoyed every workshop there was, especially design,” 8th grader Theia shared.

    “It was a wonderful day at the first-ever Junior Thespian Festival,” Saade added. “Our three middle school students stepped out of their comfort zones and self-sufficiently navigated among the workshops.” The three Siena 8th graders created and presented their Mt. Olympus Theme Park design to a room full of students and teachers at the festival’s scenic design workshop.

    To keep the momentum going, the Siena theatre department is making plans to form a thespian troupe to attend the 2025 festival, with the longer-term goal of putting on their own one-act at the festival.

    As high schooler Gabi added, “Every dancing experience I get helps me build more confidence, and the dance workshop was such a positive environment. Being in a space with a bunch of other theater kids was incredible. It was a very supportive space.”

    Learn More About the Arts at Siena

  • Siena Faculty and Staff Members Attend National POC Conference

    "POCC reminds you that you're not alone. It offers encouragement and helps you to reflect on what your purpose is as a teacher and changemaker in a PWI.”  —Siena Elementary Teacher Che Simmons


    In November 2023, staff and faculty members from both Siena campuses attended the annual NAIS People of Color Conference (POCC) in St. Louis, Missouri. This important national conference goes back over 35 years and is dedicated to creating spaces for independent school teachers and leaders of color to come together, reflect on their individual experiences, and learn from each other.

    The 2023 NAIS POCC theme was “Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power.” Panel and workshop topics included historical black excellence, women of color as leaders, and multilingual multicultural mindfulness.

    For Siena middle school humanities teacher Sonja Hayes, “This conference also allows me to learn from others who directly work with our BIPOC students, giving me a different perspective on how to work with not only BIPOC students but all students.”

    Over 8,000 teachers, leaders, and students attended POCC 2023. Watch the conference highlights video here

    "Like a flower, we [educators] must cultivate the genius that is already within our students," opening keynote speaker Dr. Gholdy Muhammad told a packed auditorium. “Belonging is the feeling. Inclusion is the act.”

    Hayes adds, “At the end of the day, POCC is a huge family reunion where I learn but also belong to a community who truly is supportive and family for life.”

    Learn More about Siena's DEIB Initiatives

  • Siena Earns Middle States Reaccreditation

    Siena has earned reaccreditation by the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, a worldwide leader in accreditation and continuous school improvement.


    “The rigorous process of accreditation underscores the outstanding opportunities Siena provides, and we are proud to be a member of the Middle States network. As recognized through this reaccreditation cycle, our investment in growth and advancement reinforces our commitment to provide a high-quality education for students with language-based learning differences,” said Dr. Jilly Darefsky, Executive Head of School.

    As Christian Talbot, president of MSA-CESS, observed, “Middle States–accredited schools are part of a powerful network of innovative and skilled educators from around the globe committed to preparing students to contribute to the common good, to be purposeful citizens, and to live fulfilling lives.”

    Read the Full Press Release Here

  • Siena High Schoolers Attend Student Diversity Leadership Conference

    On November 11, 2023, Siena high school students attended the AIMS Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference, hosted by Sandy Spring Friends School. For most of the students it was their second straight year attending SDLC.

    The theme for SDLC 2023 was “You Won’t Break My Soul: Speaking Truth To Power.” Panels and workshops addressed such topics as LGBTQ+ allyship, empowerment through storytelling, mental health, climate justice, and understanding structures of oppression.  

    “The storytelling session was especially powerful,” 10th grader Sofia reflected, “because we could write and share our stories in a safe, student-led space.” She added, “As a storyteller, I felt inspired to see the powerful effects that words and stories can have on others’ lives.”

    By design, SDLC is organized and run by high school students and develops high school student leaders in issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice. As 12th grader Ash reflected, “The workshops were very interesting because they were so interactive. Also, we connected with our high school peers, including fellow students of color.”


  • Siena Teachers, High School Student Participate in National Conference
    Siena Teachers at AMLE 2023

    Siena congratulates the 13 teachers and 1 high school student who presented at the 50th annual Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) conference outside Washington, DC, in early November 2023.

    Faculty from both Siena campuses participated in this national conference, which gathered almost 1,700 educators for 4 days of sessions, workshops, and meetings.  

    Here are some of the highlights that our teachers shared:

    • Maya Kratzke: “It was a wonderful reminder that so many of the things that we do naturally at Siena, so many of the things that are built into our curricula, are groundbreaking and new to other schools. It was wonderful to guide other educators through the use of gamified content, color-coding, graphic organizers, project-based learning, and more.”
    • Jennifer Chambers: “I loved witnessing my colleagues who were presenting for the first time at a conference [...] share their expertise with an audience desiring to learn and grow.”
    • Marian Carpenter: “[Our panel’s] attendees gave us the feedback that the multisensory strategies we introduced would really help their students. This feels like continued proof that what we do at Siena is best practices for all students, not just those with learning differences.”
    • Joel Mercado: “Our panel showed and engaged teachers in the activities they would share with their students. [...] They enjoyed finding new ways to review and practice math fact fluency. It’s always great to provide our strategies to help as many students as possible. AMLE helped us reach an even bigger group of people.”
    • Justin Kanka: “It was positively overwhelming to have so much access to massive amounts of knowledge, insight, and experience. It is important to me as an educator to spread any and all instructional tips, tricks, and strategies to reach as many students as possible.”
    Keynote Panel Discussion

    Additionally, a Siena 9th grader participated in a Keynote Panel discussion—featuring 200 audience members—about the future of middle-level education and changes they might like to see. Nominated by some of her teachers, Gabi shared about the middle school experience and what she’d like to learn about to better prepare middle school students for the future, such as the economy and personal money management.  

    As she shared, “So many of my teachers at Siena have helped me so much with my struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. [They've helped me] accept myself more and kind of come out of my bubble and make more friends and what I hope will be lifelong friendships and connections.” Gabi added, “I was especially happy to share our expectations and hopes for what the educational system might look like in the future.”

    Learn about Siena’s entire team of dedicated faculty and staff here

    “At AMLE, everyone cares so deeply about their students, families, faculty, and staff. They want to know more so they can DO more. AMLE embodies everything Siena is and gives us a lens through which to examine what Siena can be.” —Siena Faculty Member

  • Siena Founding Team Member Takes On New Roles

    With the 2023-24 school year in full swing, Siena congratulates founding team member Dr. Jilly Darefsky for her two new roles: one with Siena, the other with a national educational organization.


    As Siena’s Executive Head of School, Darefsky will now oversee the entire organization’s curriculum and instruction, program innovation, strategic initiatives, and the development of the school’s leadership team and exceptional faculty. The multi-campus model helps support independent schools’ mission-driven growth; in her new role, Darefsky is well positioned with more time, resources, and opportunity to support and grow Siena’s nationally recognized programs. ​

    And, earlier in 2023, Darefsky was approved by the Middle States Association Executive Committee to become a member of the Middle States Domestic Schools Advisory Committee (DSAC). In this capacity, Darefsky will work to ensure MSA’s high standards as part of an educational leadership team to review accreditation reports, review organizational materials, and make recommendations regarding accreditation actions.

    As Siena enters its 18th year and is preparing to launch a satellite campus for grades 3 and 4 in 2024, we look forward to our continued growth as a national leader in the education of students with language-based learning differences.

  • Siena Science Department Chair Presents at Science Conference

    On October 20, 2023, Siena Silver Spring Assistant Head of School and Science Department Chair Jennifer Chambers presented at the Maryland Association of Science Teachers (MAST) conference, hosted at the Applications and Research Laboratory in Ellicott City, MD.

    Chambers’s presentation, “Young Minds Collaborate to Engineer Food for the Future” is closely connected to her middle school science curriculum, particularly students’ work with aqua- and hydroponics.

    “This work is a perfect example of authentic assessment and solving problems for the world in a real-world context,” said Chambers of her MAST presentation. Her Siena students have studied climate change, land erosion, and water resource problems in the context of their class projects.

    MAST 2023 included such strands as Disciplinary Core Ideas: Looking at the Big Picture in Our Content and Science & Engineering Practices: Implementation within the Classroom Setting.

    Chambers is also coauthoring an article with two University of Maryland professors for the National Science Teaching Association that will be published in early 2024.

    Learn more about MAST’s mission here.

  • Performing Arts Teacher Participates in National Conference

    In early October 2023, Siena’s new Performing Arts Teacher Amal Saade participated in the 15th annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) seminar and camp in Danvers, Massachusetts.

    TAPS is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide compassionate care and comprehensive resources for all those grieving the death of a military or veteran loved one. Its annual National Military Suicide Loss Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp brings together families who’ve lost loved ones in the military and uses nature, storytelling, grief counseling, and more to help build community and shared support.


    Saade participated in the event through her work with the Theatre Lab School of Dramatic Arts, which has had a 5-year partnership with TAPS funded by the NEA’s Creative Forces Program. The theatre component was newly added as a way to provide a creative outlet, stress relief, and sense of community through improv for children and adults attending the event.

    “Being able to step outside oneself is a great asset of theatre work,” says Saade. “Becoming a different character in an improv activity gave participants an outlet to express themselves and tap into their creative spirits as they cope with their traumas.”

    Saade and her Theatre Lab colleagues ran 6 hour-long sessions with children of veteran families, as well as 1 session with adults who have lost a loved one (often a spouse) in the military to suicide. Using improv games and activities like You’re Late, Freeze Improv, and What Are You Doing? helped give all participants a creative and therapeutic outlet to assuage grief and strengthen their shared community.

    “It was so moving to see families so impacted—especially children. For me, this really reinforced the power of the arts to heal grieving families and create communities of grief and healing.”

    Saade will also participate in the 29th annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in May 2024 in Washington, DC.

  • Siena Honors Gil Gershoni with Cypress Leadership Award
    Silver Spring Head Katie Douglas, Honoree Gil Gershoni, and Board Chair Erik Heyer


    As part of Dyslexia Awareness Month every October, Siena annually honors local and national leaders with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award for their significant contributions to the education of students who learn differently.

    This year for its 18th annual celebration, Siena honored creator, artist, and dyslexia advocate Gil Gershoni for his dedicated work on behalf of the dyslexic community. Gershoni is Founder and Creative Director of Gershoni Creative & Dyslexic Design Thinking. His Dear Dyslexia postcard project showcases the diversity of the dyslexic experience. Gershoni’s project has, in the creators’ words, activated “a global community around the unique strengths and perspectives that dyslexia offers—what we call ‘hyper-abilities.’”

    To highlight their hyper-abilities. Siena students have participated in Gershoni’s project, joining over 30 other schools nationally and internationally in trumpeting their strengths and creativity as dyslexics. To date, Gershoni has received almost 1,600 postcards from people around the world from ages 6 to 82.

    Siena students were very pleased to hear Gershoni sharing about his experiences and work:

    • “I felt really inspired and not alone.” —Middle School Student
    • “It was really cool to have him visit our school and hear about his journey.” —Middle School Student
    • “His story was interesting and inspiring because I’ve experienced a lot of the same things.” —Middle School Student
    • “Gershoni was nice and welcoming, which made us comfortable. I liked his advice to focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t.” —High School Student

    In accepting the award, Gershoni stressed the importance of being oneself and leaning toward one’s strengths and creativity. Gershoni talked about his own dyslexia, evolution of the Dear Dyslexia project, and ongoing advocacy work. “Celebrate the gift of your dyslexia,” he said in closing.

    Siena's 18th fall celebration and awards took place in person on both Siena campuses on Thursday, October 19, 2023. This annual event brings the Siena community together to celebrate school achievements and recognize important contributions to both Siena and the field of dyslexia education.

    Read the Press Release

  • Siena Participates in National Dyslexia Project, Welcomes Project Creator
    Gil Gershoni on Capitol Hill

    As Dyslexia Awareness Month 2023 continues, Siena is excited to be participating in a series of events celebrating LD students’ strengths and highlighting the work of creator, artist, and dyslexia advocate Gil Gershoni.

    Dear Dyslexia Postcard Project

    Dear Dyslexia comes from Gil Gershoni, the Founder and Creative Director of Gershoni Creative. As they describe this global project showcasing the diversity of the dyslexic experience,

    Dear Dyslexia: The Postcard Project invites dyslexics of all ages—from students to professionals—to depict their relationship with dyslexia on postcards using words and images. The goal is to activate a global community around the unique strengths and perspectives that dyslexia offers—what we call “hyper-abilities.”

    Siena students have participated in Gershoni’s project, joining many other schools nationally and internationally in highlighting their strengths and creativity as dyslexics. Dear Dyslexia has partnered with more than 20 LD schools nationwide, as well as with a variety of notable Participating Ambassadors, including actress Alyssa Milano, children’s author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, and Olympian Greg Louganis.

    Dyslexia on the Hill


    On Tuesday, Students from both Siena campuses attended an event hosted by the House Dyslexia Caucus on Capitol Hill honoring the Dear Dyslexia project. A Siena student was invited to give short remarks about their experiences with dyslexia and about participating in Gershoni’s project:

    When I was completing my postcard, I chose the word “complex.” I chose this word because there are so many variations of dyslexia and different ways it affects people. This project brings dyslexic people together all over the world and shines a light on this learning difference and how incredible it can be.

    Representatives Julia Brownley of California and Lamar Smith of Texas co-chair the caucus, which seeks to raise awareness about dyslexia and students’ diverse learning needs. Representative Larry Bucshon of Indiana spoke about his daughter’s experiences with dyslexia and journey first to Cornell University and now to a job with Oracle.


    Siena students shared that they got a lot out of the experience:

    “I really enjoyed hearing people of different ages talk about the experiences that I’ve had as a dyslexic student. I was so inspired that I wanted to stand up and share my experiences.” —High School Student

    “I felt inspired by people finding their strengths in their dyslexia rather than just their weakness. I felt part of a community today. It was nice to meet people from other schools.” —High School Student

    “It was a great experience, especially how they got students’ perspectives on their journey through dyslexia. I liked that there were different speakers. They were all passionate about their own and their children’s experiences with dyslexia.” —High School Student

    “It was inspiring to be part of a community that understands dyslexia and the importance of education. I used to feel alone at my old school but now I don’t.” —Middle School Student 

    Welcoming and Honoring Gershoni

    Continuing the week’s celebrations of the Dear Dyslexia project and dyslexics’ hyper-abilities more broadly, Siena will welcome Gershoni to its Silver Spring campus to meet with students from both Siena campuses to share about the project and take questions.

    On Thursday evening, Siena will honor Gershoni with the Cypress Leadership Award at its 18th annual Siena Celebration. Siena also plans to host a pop-up exhibit of selected Dear Dyslexia postcards at Siena Celebration. 

  • Siena Joins New LD Education Association

    With Dyslexia Awareness Month 2023 in full swing, Siena is excited to share that it is a founding member of the Association of LD Schools (ALDS), a new education organization focused on collaborating and advocating for students with learning differences. 


    ALDS is a nonprofit, private school organization including over 50 founding schools across the United States and Canada that serve students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and executive dysfunction.

    “As a founding school of ALDS, Siena continues its leadership in the field of dyslexia education, partnering with like-minded peers to further strengthen our dedication to best practices,” notes Executive Head of School Dr. Jilly Darefsky. “We are excited for the opportunities this collaboration brings.”

    Siena joins Windward School, Landmark School, and many more as an ALDS founding school. ALDS will enable LD schools like Siena to partner, share resources, and support one another to help all students with learning differences.

    Read the Full Press Release

  • Dyslexia Awareness Month 2023

    Dyslexia Awareness Month 2023 is here!

    At Siena Northern Virginia and Siena Silver Spring, our campus communities are joining the International Dyslexia Association, Succeed with Dyslexia global movement, and many other organizations in celebrating the great strengths and creativity among the dyslexic community.

    As a school for students with language-based learning differences like dyslexia, Siena is strongly dedicated to spreading awareness and sharing resources to help all members of the LD community. Here’s how you can stay connected and help increase dyslexia awareness:

    • Siena will be holding our Wear Red Day on Wednesday, October 18th. We encourage our parents and professionals to wear red to raise awareness on October 18 and to tag us on social media. 
    • Go Red For Dyslexia explains how red symbolizes Dyslexia Awareness Month by turning formerly negative associations of red into more positive ones. See hashtags such as #GoRedForDyslexia, #DyslexiaMatters, #InclusiveEducation, #DyslexiaStrengths, #EmpowerDyslexia, and #CelebrateDyslexia on social media all month.
    • Siena’s website has ample resources connected to our innovative dyslexia education for families about learning differences, parent support, and more.   
    • Siena’s social media channels will share #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth posts throughout October. Find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
    • Siena’s blog has new dyslexia articles on Chicano artist Ignacio Gomez, early diagnosis of dyslexia, among many other resources.

    Visit Silver Spring 3-4     Visit Silver Spring 5-12     Visit Northern Virginia 3-11

  • Siena To Add Grade 3, Open Satellite Campus

    Siena is thrilled to announce that we’ll be adding Grade 3 and opening a satellite campus in Silver Spring for grades 3 and 4 beginning with the 2024–25 school year!

    Our new satellite campus will be located on the grounds of Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, conveniently located right off the Capital Beltway and a mile from Siena’s Forest Glen Campus.

    As new Head of School for Siena Silver Spring Katie Douglas notes, “Siena is committed to being a place that sees, values, and educates students with language-based learning differences. We are tremendously excited to extend our programming to reach 3rd graders in our community.”

    In adding Grade 3, Siena will further expand its nationally recognized programming and supportive educational model for students with language-based learning differences.

     Discover Our Satellite Campus          Inquire About Grades 3-4

  • Siena Northern Virginia Teachers To Present at National Conference
    Three teachers from The Siena School's Northern Virginia campus sit outside.

    Siena is pleased to announce that Northern Virginia teachers Katie Barnett, Justin Kanka, and Meredith Shinners will be presenting at the Association for Middle Level Education 50th anniversary conference, which will take place outside Washington, DC, in early November 2023.

    Their session, “How to Implement Reading Strategies Across All Content Areas,” will focus on the importance of reading instruction across the curriculum, including easy-to-apply examples and multisensory strategies based on their Siena teaching experiences. Barnett, Kanka, and Shinners will also share applicable activities and strategies, as well as research-based information about the current state of middle school literacy and the importance of continued literacy instruction.

    The 2023 conference marks AMLE’s 50th anniversary and will feature keynote addresses from author Jason Reynolds and school counselor and author Phyllis Fagell, as well as many sessions and workshops. 

  • Siena Celebrates the Class of 2023
    Siena high school graduates in red caps and gowns wave on Graduation Day 2023.

    Siena congratulates the Class of 2023 and wishes them the best in their post-graduation journeys!

    The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2023 was held on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, and featured a wonderful virtual commencement speech from Resha Conroy, Founder & Executive Director of Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children. Siena extends its thanks to Ms. Conroy for a warm and encouraging commencement speech for our newest group of graduates.


  • Siena Welcomes Space and Strategic Systems Engineer, Apollo 11 Landing Specialist

    Siena Northern Virginia recently welcomed to campus Peter Kachmar, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff and Principal Systems Engineer at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Kachmar—also a Siena Northern Virginia grandparent—talked to elementary, middle, and high school students about his role in the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing in the 1960s, as well as some fundamental physics concepts necessary for space flight.

    Siena students greatly enjoyed Kachmar’s presentation:

    • 4th grader: “My favorite part was hearing about all the science behind the lander and how they did it. I also liked learning about all the math that they had to do.”
    • 7th grader: “I enjoyed learning about the engineering of the Apollo mission. [...] The presentation really inspired me to try to be a NASA engineer to try to get us to Mars and set up a colony there. Mr. Kachmar also helped me make adjustments to my science project.”
    • 10th grader: “As an aspiring engineer myself, he inspired me because he followed his passion in his career path. He never gave up, even in the face of adversity.”

    Watch Kachmar talk about how critical the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was to the Apollo 11 mission:

    Read the Full Press Release

  • Siena Announces Commencement Speaker

    Siena is very excited to announce that Resha Conroy, Founder & Executive Director of Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children, will be commencement speaker for the Class of 2023!

    “Resha Conroy is a trailblazer,” notes Samantha Fletcher, Siena’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Community Engagement. Moreover,

    When [...] watching her son deal with his challenges of having dyslexia combined with not getting the differentiated services he was entitled to for success, she started an organization to help children and other parents like her.

    In addition to her work with Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children, Conroy has served on school leadership teams and as a consultant for charter schools in Washington, DC, and New York. Currently, she is a Speech-Language Pathologist with an interest in language, literacy, and culture.

    Conroy holds Masters degrees in Communicative Sciences and Disorders and Nonprofit Management from New York University. Earlier this year, Conroy joined An Evening with Siena for Undiagnosed: What You Need to Know About Dyslexia, Reading Challenges, and the Impact on Black Children. Read more about her here.

    Siena’s graduation ceremonies will take place in person on June 13, 2023. Conroy’s commencement remarks will be pre-recorded and shared during the ceremony.

    Fletcher adds: “She is a game changer who genuinely cares, and we are so lucky to have her as our graduation speaker.”

  • Siena Welcomes Documentary Photographer, Filmmaker Michael O. Snyder

    On Thursday April 20, 2023, esteemed photographer and documentary filmmaker Michael O. Snyder visited Siena’s Silver Spring campus to screen and discuss his film Into the Dark, which documents climate change in the Arctic. 


    Into the Dark chronicles an important scientific expedition by a small group of scientists in the Arctic. Their goal was to understand how increases in sunlight may be affecting marine life in the Arctic—and global climate more broadly. As Snyder described it, Into the Dark uses the “shared language” of photography, filmmaking, and social justice to advocate for policy change. 

    “This was a very important and very special expedition,” he added. “I was only a small part of it.”

    Snyder discussed his work on the film, including the 9 months of pre-production leading to the 3-week expedition. “This was the biggest and most complicated project I had worked on at the time,” Snyder told students, highlighting the importance of planning and organizing the many tasks that led to Into the Dark. “This was a really big deal for our students,” shared Siena Photography and Maker teacher Kristian Whipple. “The fact that Snyder talked about his work and his process really resonated with them.”

    Watch the trailer here:

    Snyder also met with high school photography students, sharing a photography-oriented presentation and offering a Q&A session. See Snyder’s filmography, documentary work, and conceptual photography on his website.

  • Siena Director of Technology Gives Presentations on ChatGPT

    On Tuesday March 14, 2023, Siena’s long-time Director of Technology Simon Kanter held two Zoom webinars for various community members about ChatGPT in an educational setting.

    Organized in partnership with DCIDA, “AI: Cheating or Assistive Technology” explored how ChatGPT is a tool with the potential to transform the way people write, communicate, and research. (For example, see this Washington Post article from December 2022 about a business owner with dyslexia who has used Chat GPT to bolster his professional communication skills.)

    Kanter discussed several related topics and shared real-world examples, including the origins of ChatGPT and its likely applications in education and the broader world. “It’s important to understand how teachers and students can use ChatGPT constructively while protecting against its misuse,” Kanter notes.  

    As Kanter shared in the webinars, ChatGPT can help with simple reference requests and basic programing, among other uses. He also highlighted some potential classroom uses for ChatGPT:

    • Generating word problems
    • Creating different types of writing for students to study
    • Fact-checking a ChatGPT example to test students’ research skills

    “AI language systems like ChatGPT have the potential to fundamentally change the way that we learn, the way that we work, and the way that we communicate with one another,” Kanter summarizes. “Our job is to help students harness the power of these tools in a way that enhances their learning, rather than supplanting it.”

    Watch Kanter’s Zoom presentation recording here. Kanter will again be presenting on ChatGPT on April 13 in partnership with Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools and the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools.

  • Siena High School Students Featured in Area Photography Show

    Siena congratulates several high school students and Photography and Maker teacher Kristian Whipple for their participation in The Mind’s Eye exhibition, hosted by Photoworks at Glen Echo Park.

    The Mind’s Eye exhibition highlights student–photographers from Siena and Holton-Arms School; it features archival inkjet prints from 14 Siena high school students showing a broad spectrum of their photographic skills and interests. “Seeing my work and my classmates’ work displayed in a show was exciting,” 9th grader Elliot reflected. “I liked seeing so many different creative styles.” 

    Siena students' work on display.

    Fellow 9th grader Arynn shares Elliot’s enthusiasm:

    I liked how Siena’s photographs were bold and colorful. It was great to see how we all did something different in our independent projects. We’re finding our individual styles and experimenting with our creativity.

    These students’ work embodies their representations of The Mind’s Eye, ultimately seeking to explore various aspects of their creativity and identities through a theme of contrasts.

    “It was great to have an opportunity to share our work with people in the larger community,” 11th grader Lexi said. “I liked how creative our works were. It helped me see how talented my classmates are, as well as how their individual styles showed.”

    See more about The Mind's Eye at Glen Echo Photoworks. The show runs through April 30. Gallery hours are Saturdays 1:00-4:00pm and Sundays 1:00-7:00pm.

    Learn More about Visual Arts at Siena


  • Siena High School Students Attend Leadership Breakfast

    On Wednesday February 15, 2023, two Siena high school students attended the Upper School Student Leader Breakfast, run by the Parents Council of Washington. Over 40 student leaders attended the event, which was hosted by Georgetown Prep, and discussed various topics in both large groups and small breakout sessions. 


    “It was a really good environment,” Siena senior Olivia shared. “Meeting and talking with people around my age helped me learn new things about school issues and larger social issues.” 

    Junior Lexi also enjoyed her experience at the leadership breakfast:

    I participated in this event because I was excited to be chosen and to share my opinion. I hoped to get out of this as a way to share my ideas and hear others’ ideas and opinions. A good thing that happened is that everyone in my groups could share their thoughts openly.

    Founded in 1964, the Parents Council of Washington connects over 50 independent schools in the Washington, DC, area. Among many other events, they annually host two student leader breakfasts to offer opportunities for high school and middle school leaders to connect, share ideas, and discuss important educational and social issues.

    Lexi added, “One thing I learned about myself is that if I get out of my comfort zone I can do more than I thought.” 

  • Siena 6th Graders Win 1st Place in Lego Competition

    Siena congratulates a group of 6th graders for winning first place in the recent First Lego League Maryland competition in robotics!

    On Saturday, February 4, the Lego Landers placed 1st out of 22 teams  (including students up to 8th grade) in the First Lego League Maryland’s competition at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The First Lego League Challenge Division is for ages 9–16 and combines a range of STEM activities, including building and coding a Lego robot, developing an independent research project, and giving an oral presentation.

    The Lego Landers formed in the 2021-22 school year. Their win was a result of their strength in a research project, team oral presentations, and demonstration of core values.

    Overall, they’ve gotten a lot out of this experience so far:

    • Alden: “It was fun to do Lego with my group in an educational setting. I really enjoyed coding with people and competing with other students.” 
    • Helix: “It was a fun, interactive experience for me and the rest of the team.”
    • Jonah: “The best part was being with my friends when we did this project.”
    • Morgan: “I learned how to engineer with Lego to create a team project.”
    • Nat: “I’m happy that I got to do some robotics programming to help with our Lego build.”
    • Sarah: “I learned how to work as a team together.”

    The next step for Siena’s Lego Landers is the First Lego League Maryland state championships on February 25 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Learn more here about the First Lego League. 


  • Siena Hosts Multisensory Math Training Courses

    The Siena School is excited to announce that we will again be hosting Marilyn Zecher’s Multisensory Math professional development courses at our Oakton, Northern Virginia, campus this summer.

    “We’re thrilled to be welcoming Marilyn Zecher back to Siena,” says Northern Virginia Head of School Jennifer Betts. “Last year, 96% of our participants said they’re very likely to recommend these workshops to others, and we look forward to bringing more math educators to our campus.”

    In partnership with ASDEC, Siena will host these sequential professional development courses from instructor Marilyn Zecher, a nationally Certified Academic Language Therapist, former DCIDA president, and acclaimed speaker at national and regional conferences.

    As a participant from Multisensory Math 2022 shared, “There's lots of great information, hands-on activities, and modeling different ways to build a concept.”

    Multisensory Math is an interactive, concept-centered approach to teaching mathematics to all students learning in a standards-based curriculum. Multisensory Math 1 runs June 26-30, and Multisensory Math 2 runs July 24-28.

    Learn More About Multisensory Math           Visit Siena Northern Virginia 

  • Siena Executive Head of School, Faculty Give Annotations Presentation

    On January 17, 2023, Siena’s Executive Head of School Dr. Jilly Darefsky and faculty members Marian Carpenter, Maya Kratzke, and Edie Schutz gave a Lunch ‘n’ Learn presentation to various educators.

    “Successful Annotations Beyond the Highlight” shared some of Siena’s methods for teaching annotation to 3rd-12th grade students. Siena’s curriculum incorporates multisensory, multimedia instruction to move students toward regular, independent annotation of books, PDFs, GoogleDocs, and more so they engage actively and effectively with whatever they read.

    “Annotating is especially important for students with language-based learning differences in helping them comprehend and deeply engage with what they read,” High School Humanities Teacher and College Counselor Marian Carpenter shared. “Students build on this transferable skill over time so they become more independent and then take it with them into the future (such as college or a career).”

    Annotations are part of Siena’s multisensory approach to teaching students with language-based learning differences. For Carpenter, “Students select what is most important to them in their reading, and this sparks great conversations. As students move through Siena’s three divisions, they select the most effective ways to annotate as they develop.”

    Elementary teacher Edie Schutz shared how her students interact with their reading visually through Think Marks, which enables students to react to key moments with emoji and other visual symbols. Middle School English teacher and High School Dean of Students Maya Kratzke then talked about how she teaches both print and digital annotation methods as her students read novels, short stories, and personal essays.

    As Siena’s team stressed in the presentation, scaffolded multimedia annotation methods like Think Marks, narrative bookmarks, Sketchnotes, and Mote offer students the structure to set them up for success as they move into high school and beyond.

  • Siena Arts Chair, Students Attend Maryland Thespian Festival

    On January 13-14, 2023, Arts Department Chair and Performing Arts Teacher Stephanie Wendell attended the Maryland Thespian Festival at the University of Maryland in College Park. 

    “This was a great learning opportunity for our students,” Wendell reflected. “They got a lot out of this and were very inspired—they were so excited that they couldn’t wait to tell me everything they learned in their workshops.”

    The Maryland Thespian Festival exposed students to all facets of the theatre experience, from writing and auditions to stage management. Wendell was quite active at the festival, teaching workshops on dance and acting and judging the Maryland Thespys monologue competition. The students got a lot out of the event: 

    • Will (11th): “My favorite was the Sketch Comedy workshop because I got to work with a bunch of new people. I thought it was going to be difficult but it was fun and fulfilling. Through the process, we worked together to make funny sketches. It was a great experience working with new people.”
    • Sol (10th): “I really liked playwriting because the teacher was fun and experienced. He taught me about writing techniques and how to write and stage a play.”
    • Sofia (9th): “A big part of the experience at the festival was trying new things. I liked the range of theatre offerings, especially the dancing workshops. Dancing Through Broadway was the highlight for me: I got to try new kinds of dancing and more advanced techniques, as well as how to quickly learn choreography.”

    Siena students attended various workshops at the festival, including:

    • Acting for the Camera 
    • Audition Technique
    • Beginning & Intermediate Musical Theatre Dancing
    • Broadway Bootcamp
    • Dancing Through Broadway
    • Improv
    • Playwriting
    • Stage Combat 
    • Stage Management

    The festival also gave students a glimpse into college life. “It was great to be able to move around a college campus and get used to navigating both the campus and the buildings,” Will added. Sol felt the same way: “This was a good preview for what college would be like because we had some freedom to choose our workshops and move around campus.”

    Wendell summed up the festival: “This was a great learning experience for our students. They got a lot out of this and were very inspired. They’re already asking to go back next year!”

  • Siena Students, DEI Director Attend Student Leadership Conference

    On November 12, 2022, Siena’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Community Engagement Samantha Fletcher and high school student representatives attended the AIMS Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference, hosted by Sandy Spring Friends School.

    “I really liked how students run this conference,” 9th grader Arynn shared. “It was purely student-led, which made it a safe environment to talk about issues that affect us and many others.” Fletcher added: “it was a wonderful day of learning, reflecting, and participating in speaker sessions, workshops, and activities.”

    Other Siena student attendees shared similarly positive experiences:

    • Lailah (9th): “I appreciated how the students who were working there knew how to present themselves well in the classroom and how to run the discussions for us.”
    • Roh (9th): “The mood of the workshops I went to was very comfortable while we were discussing serious issues. This made it easier to share how we felt and to address what might have been hard to talk about. I learned a lot and did some good self-reflection after.”
    • Ash (11th): “I liked that the student moderators were around our ages. This helped us feel more comfortable than we might have been talking about the same topics around adults. In the workshop on transgender issues, it was especially nice to hear from someone who transitioned early in their life. We got honest answers to our questions. Their advice really resonated.”
    • Safi (12th): “The workshops that students ran were excellent—this felt like a natural way to talk with my peers. Students leading workshops really made me feel that students have the potential to be leaders.”

    Planned and led by area high school students, the Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference (BSDLC) is an annual diversity and equity training event for high school students and teachers. Sessions featured discussions on transgender issues, the black square Instagram movement from 2020, body image, reproductive health, representation in the film industry, and more.

    Reflecting on her overall experiences at the conference, 9th grader Roh felt a “sense of clarity” after “meeting and interacting with other teenagers from different schools and learning about their experiences.”

    Learn More About Siena’s DEIB Work


  • Siena Welcomes New Head of School for Silver Spring

    Siena is very excited to announce that Katie Douglas will be the new Head of School for Siena's Silver Spring campus effective July 1, 2023. 

    Katie is an experienced educator and school leader who comes to Siena with a passion for working with students with language-based learning differences and creating educational spaces that work for all students. She has worked for over 16 years in independent school education, including nearly 14 years at The Lab School of Washington as Interim Intermediate Division Head, Associate Head of Intermediate Division, Summer Program Director, and English Teacher. 


    Most recently, Katie was Interim Head of Middle School at Friends Community School in College Park, Maryland, where she oversaw curriculum and programming, communicated with families regularly, and inspired a commitment to Friends Community School’s mission and continuous learning in the school community.

    A lifelong learner with a passion for meeting the needs of all students, Katie holds a Masters in Curriculum Instruction (with a focus on special education and English language learners) from The George Washington University and a B.A. in Sociology and Education from Haverford College.  

    Katie is thrilled to join the Siena team and to be the next Head of School for Siena Silver Spring:

    “Joining the team at Siena is exciting and I am grateful for the opportunity to return to a community of educators and families who believe in students who learn differently. I look forward to getting to know the community in the year ahead and to continuing the strong traditions that make Siena a welcoming and affirming place for students, families, and staff/faculty. There is much joy, creativity, and learning ahead!”

    Although she will officially begin her tenure as Head of School on July 1, 2023, Katie will begin gradually transitioning into her new role and meeting with the Siena community. Stay tuned for more information about opportunities to meet with Siena Silver Spring's new Head of School in the second semester. 

    Learn More about Katie Douglas          Read the Press Release


  • Siena English Teachers Present at National Conference

    From November 3-5, 2022, Siena Middle School English teachers Beth Fabijanic and Maya Kratzke presented at the Association for Middle Level Education conference (AMLE) in Orlando, Florida.

    Fabijanic and Kratzke gave a dual presentation entitled “Get ‘Current’: Integrating Current Events Without Increasing Your Workload.” As they do in their Siena classrooms, they included a “Hot Topic” discussion about a current events article in small groups. Participants then had collaborative planning time for small groups to discuss and/or plan how they might integrate some of the strategies shared. By design, Fabijanic and Kratzke’s session was strongly collaborative to best encourage teachers to share ideas, resources, and strategies for overcoming common classroom challenges.

    Additionally, Kratzke participated in a session run by AMLE’s Constituent Equity Committee. This session was also strongly collaborative and featured a poster share, a Jamboard for ideas about Essential Attributes and Equity, and questions and reflections from the audience.

    Summing up their experience, Fabijanic shared, “This conference is especially friendly and enthusiastic. They come to AMLE ready to collaborate.”

    Kratzke and Fabijanic also participated in Speed Learning Sessions for AMLE 2019 in Nashville. 

  • Siena Honors Dyslexic Edge with Cypress Leadership Award

    As part of Dyslexia Awareness Month every October, Siena annually honors local and national leaders with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award for their significant contributions to the education of students who learn differently.

    This year Siena honored Dyslexic Edge/Sliding Doors in recognition of “their excellent programs and advocacy for children with dyslexia,” Siena Northern Virginia Head of School Jennifer Betts noted when introducing Founder and Executive Director Krista Gauthier.  

    In accepting the award, Gauthier stressed the importance of five key qualities supporting Dyslexic Edge’s work: faith, vision, determination, perseverance, and dedication. She added, “People with dyslexia are uniquely gifted and can give so much to the world if we only give them what they need to flourish.” Learn more about Dyslexic Edge’s mission and values here.

    Siena's 17th fall celebration and awards took place virtually on Thursday, October 20, 2022. This annual event brings our community together to celebrate school achievements and recognize important contributions to both Siena and the field of dyslexia education.

    Read the Press Release

  • Siena Wins in Two Categories for Washington Parent Magazine

    We are thrilled to announce that Siena was voted as a winner for Washington Parent Magazine's Parent Picks in two categories:

    1. Best Private School in Virginia
    2. Best School for Children with Learning Disabilities

    We'd like to thank everyone who voted for Siena and made this win possible! Because of you, we have the opportunity to help more students receive the education they need.

  • Siena High School Student Advocates for Dyslexia Awareness with the Governor of Virginia

    Siena congratulates Joshua, a high school sophomore from the Northern Virginia campus, for his timely advocacy work to raise awareness for Dyslexia Awareness Month at the state level.

    With the help of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia, he advocated for Governor Glenn Youngkin to proclaim October Dyslexia Awareness Month in Virginia. Like many in the Siena community, he understands the importance of increasing awareness about dyslexia and learning differences. “At Siena everyone knows what you go through and helps you—and you help them,” Joshua shared.

    He recently received the certificate from the Governor; read the text of Governor Youngkin’s proclamation for Dyslexia Awareness Month in Virginia.

    Learn more here about Siena Northern Virginia high school. And, see Siena’s blog for new dyslexia articles on Siena alumni who’ve returned as staff members and authentic assessment at Siena, among many other resources for dyslexia. 

  • Siena Celebrates Dyslexia Awareness Month

    Dyslexia Awareness Month 2022 is here!

    At both Siena’s Northern Virginia and Silver Spring campuses, as well as in our wider community, Siena is joining the International Dyslexia Association, Succeed with Dyslexia global movement, and many other organizations in celebrating the great strengths and creativity among the dyslexic community.

    Here’s how you can stay connected and help increase dyslexia awareness:

    Visit Siena Northern Virginia     Visit Siena Silver Spring 

  • Siena Congratulates Executive Head of School

    Siena is incredibly pleased to announce that Executive Head of School Jilly Darefsky has officially completed her Doctorate in Education from Johns Hopkins University. 

    A member of Siena’s founding team, Darefsky has led Siena since its inception. Her doctoral work in the School of Education specialized in Mind, Brain, and Teaching. Her dissertation is entitled The Development and Implementation of an Online Community of Practice in Support of Parents of Children with Language-Based Learning Disabilities. Hopkins’s Mind, Brain, and Teaching concentration builds upon diverse research from cognitive science, psychology and brain sciences, neurology, neuroscience, and education.

    Please join the entire Siena community in congratulating Dr. Jilly Darefsky for this great and well-deserved accomplishment. 

  • Siena Celebrates the Class of 2022

    Siena congratulates its newest graduates and wishes them the best in their post-graduation journeys!

    The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2022 was held on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, and featured a wonderful virtual speech from scientist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock as commencement speaker.



  • Siena Announces Commencement Speaker

    Siena is excited to announce that internationally renowned space scientist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock will be the virtual commencement speaker for the Class of 2022! 

    Dr. Aderin-Pocock holds a BS in Physics and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. In 2009, she was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her many achievements in science education and is an honorary research associate of University College London's Department of Physics and Astronomy. 

    Dr. Aderin-Pocock was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8 and attended 13 different schools in England before going to college. 

    "Today there are so many things that support dyslexics," Dr. Aderin-Pocock shared in this 2018 interview, "and so if you can tap into those and utilize those then you can excel no matter where you are." 

    Dr. Aderin-Pocock has been an integral part of the BBC shows “Do We Really Need the Moon?” and “The Sky At Night. She’s also written Dr. Maggie's Grand Tour of the Solar System (2019), Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor (2018), and The Knowledge: Stargazing (2015), among other publications. 

    Siena featured Dr. Aderin-Pocock on our blog last year. Learn more about her here

    Siena’s graduation ceremonies will take place in person on June 14, 2022. Dr. Aderin-Pocock’s commencement remarks will be pre-recorded and shared during the ceremony.

  • Siena To Host Multisensory Math Training Course

    The Siena School is excited to announce that we will be partnering with ASDEC to offer a week-long Professional Development course at our Oakton, Northern Virginia, campus this summer. 

    Taught by nationally Certified Academic Language Therapist and former DCIDA president Marilyn Zecher, Multisensory Math 1 is an interactive workshop for teaching mathematics to all students learning in a standards-based curriculum.

    “It’s exciting to offer area teachers an opportunity to learn from an expert like Marilyn Zecher,” notes Siena Northern Virginia Head of School Jennifer Betts, “and to have hands-on training that translates directly to practical classroom pedagogy and lesson plans.”

    Marilyn Zecher, MA, CALT, is a specialist in applying multisensory strategies to a variety of content areas. Her graduate-level Multisensory Math courses have been used as methods courses at the university level, and she is a frequent speaker at national, international, and local conferences

    Multisensory Math 1 will help public/private school and homeschool teachers expand their multisensory math training and knowledge of best practices for a more engaging learning experience. 

    According to a recent workshop participant, “This class has truly changed my outlook on teaching math to my classes forever, and I cannot wait to start implementing the strategies and procedures daily in my classes.”

    Learn More About Multisensory Math                VISIT SIENA NORTHERN VIRGINIA

  • Siena Northern Virginia Adding High School Grades

    The Siena School is pleased to announce that Siena Northern Virginia will be adding High School Grades 9 & 10 for the 2022-23 school year.

    Introducing a high school division, notes Northern Virginia Head of School Jennifer Betts, "provides a much-needed continuity to the lives of our current students, as they learn the strategies and tools necessary to succeed."

    This will be the only high school of its kind for dyslexia in Northern Virginia. Siena is proud to be the ones bringing this much-needed program to high school families in the area.

    Betts adds, "Siena has always been built on a preparatory model; we prepare students with dyslexia for college, for the workplace, and for adulthood."

    Read the full press release here. 

    Learn More      CONTACT ADMISSIONS

  • Siena College Counselor Publishes Again in National Counseling Journal

    Siena high school Humanities teacher, internship coordinator, and college counselor Marian Carpenter just published an article (invited by the editors) in LINK for Counselors, “Screening and Onboarding: Assisting Students with Learning Differences to ‘Hire’ a College Learning Center.” 

    Carpenter helps her students bring the self-advocacy tools they’ve developed at Siena to college with them so that, in her words, “students feel empowered to collect their impressions and begin to catalogue what supports and accommodations will help them succeed.” She further reminds students that visiting the university’s learning center early is an “essential step” to college success.

    College counseling is an integral part of Siena’s high school curriculum, and Carpenter guides Siena students through the college selection, application, and transition processes beginning in their junior years.

    As she reminds her peers, “Counselors can give students with learning differences a sense of confidence and control if they teach them how to screen and onboard a college learning center.”

    See the full Spring 2022 issue of LINK featuring Carpenter's new piece here. Carpenter previously published a piece in the Spring 2021 issue of LINK, “‘Time Travel Is Just Too Dangerous’: Helping Students Visualize Their Future through Internships.”

  • Siena Faculty, Leadership Speak at Loyola University Maryland
    Multisensory Math

    On November 16, 2021, Siena teacher and college counselor Marian Carpenter, Dean of Students Dr. John Lucas, and Executive Head of School Jilly Darefsky spoke on a panel to undergraduates from Loyola University Maryland's School of Education.

    Math Manipulative

    The students were taking a special education course, and the panelists from Siena spoke about accommodations and multisensory instruction in math and other classes at Siena. For Carpenter, "It feels great to get out the word for discovering simple, accessible accommodations that teachers can use to do help students with learning differences reach their full potential."

    Learn more about Siena's multisensory approaches to student learning, including in math classes.

  • Siena Honors Olympian, Advocate Noah Lyles
    Lyles after winning Olympic bronze

    As October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, Siena annually honors local and national leaders with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award for their significant contributions to the education of students who learn differently. This year Siena honored Olympian Noah Lyles in recognition of his advocacy on behalf of mental health, dyslexia and other learning differences, and positive sports experiences. 

    Lyles at Alexandria City High School

    A world-class sprinter in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m and 4x200m relays, Lyles recently won bronze in the men’s 200m at the Olympics in Tokyo. Lyles is also the VP of Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation, which partners with community groups to promote health and wellness, education, sports psychology, and more through track and field and other sports.

    Siena's 16th annual fall celebration and awards took place virtually on Thursday October 21, 2021. Read the press release here.



  • Siena Northern Virginia Opens

    The Siena School officially opened a second campus in Northern Virginia on September 8, 2021. 

    Siena Northern Virginia Head of School Jennifer Betts observed the students' immediate comfort: “[They] have made the campus their own in a matter of days! They love being outdoors on the playground, playing volleyball on the front lawn with our new nets, and making up games together. It feels like they've been here a lot longer than a few days.”

    Siena Northern Virginia will serve grades 3–8 in the 2021-22 school year, with plans to add high school grades in subsequent years.

    Siena Admissions

  • Siena Staff Member Presents at National Humanities Career Diversity Workshop

    On Friday July 23, 2021, Communications and Advancement Associate Joe Fruscione gave a virtual presentation to 30 doctoral students about his career journey from academia to Siena. The presentation was part of Humanities Without Walls, a series of interactive workshops designed for pre-doctoral students in the Humanities to explore various careers.

    Humanities Without Walls, 2021

    “Your career path can be winding and nonlinear. It’s very normal,” Joe noted when charting his own path from English doctoral student to part-time professor and then to full-time freelancer. “You’re always gaining necessary skills and experience, even if you don’t quite know it at the time.” 

    Joe also talked about the importance of networking, informational interviews, and social media in navigating the freelance landscape. “Always be connecting,” he stressed when talking about how useful Twitter and LinkedIn can be. The presentation included a live Twitter Q&A about how scholars, editors, and more use Twitter professionally. 

    After sharing his experiences and lessons from his work as a freelance editor, Joe talked about his transition to Siena in 2019 and how he’s both transferred and added skills, such as writing, digital project collaboration, and proofreading. 

    Housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Humanities Research Institute, Humanities Without Walls works across 16 colleges and universities in the Midwest to advance collaborative research, teaching, and professional resources in the humanities. Joe also presented at Humanities Without Walls in 2019 when it was held in Chicago.   

    See The Siena School Blog for some of Joe’s writing, such as this piece about college-level writing tips geared toward high school seniors and incoming college freshmen.

  • Siena Celebrates the Class of 2021

    Siena congratulates its newest graduates and wishes them the best in their post-graduation journeys!

    The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 was held on June 15, 2021, and featured David Flink of Eye to Eye as commencement speaker. 


  • Welcome Jennifer Betts, New Head of School for The Siena School’s Northern Virginia Campus

    We are excited to introduce Jennifer Betts as the new Head of School for The Siena School’s Northern Virginia campus. 

    Jennifer is an experienced educator and school leader. She has worked for over 30 years in independent and public school education, including 15 years as Lower and Middle School Principal at The Howard School, in Atlanta, GA, a school for children with dyslexia and similar language-based learning differences. Most recently, Jennifer was Head of K-12 at The New School in Fayetteville, AR, where she oversaw the growth of the high school to its first graduating class, coordinated school accreditation, and expanded programs in STEAM and the arts. 

    She holds a Master’s in Education from Harvard and a B.A. from Wells College with a major in Political Philosophy and a Minor in Education. She has also completed programs for certification in school leadership (GA) and coaching (NY). 

    Jennifer is thrilled to join the Siena team and to lead our new school in Northern Virginia: 

    “I believe in children who learn differently and who offer incredible gifts and talents to the world. It is wonderful to be able to expand the reach of Siena’s highly regarded programs to serve more students and families in the area.” —Jennifer Betts, Head of School, The Siena School’s Northern Virginia Campus.

    Stay tuned for an upcoming meet-and-greet event with Jennifer and for exciting news on The Siena School's Northern Virginia location.

  • Siena Performing Arts Teacher Publishes in National Education Journal

    “In a challenging year that is constantly changing,” writes Siena teacher Stephanie Wendell in her new article for NAIS, “the skills practiced in improv are more valuable than ever.”

    improv, teaching, social~emotional~health, acting, theatre

    Siena congratulates Arts Department Chair and Performing Arts teacher Stephanie Wendell for publishing an article, “Social and Emotional Learning Through Improv,” in NAIS’s Spring 2021 issue

    In Ms. Wendell’s classes, improv is doubly valuable: it not only teaches a key acting skill but also improves students’ empathy, multitasking abilities, and self-awareness. Games such as Red Ball and String of Pearls stress the importance of “Yes, and…” in improv, as well as increase students’ connections to their classmates.

    Improv is also integral to Ms. Wendell’s approach to teaching: “I try to model for my students in the moment and tell them that I tried something new and it didn’t quite work, but because I’m an improviser, I can move on, change course, and try again.”

  • Siena Announces Commencement Speaker

    Siena is pleased to announce that writer, speaker, and advocate David Flink will be the Class of 2021’s commencement speaker. Flink is best known for his work as Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer for Eye to Eye, a nonprofit mentoring program in which elementary and middle school students with learning differences work with high school or college students with learning differences. 

    Photo Credit: Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity

    “We are ambassadors of what is possible for students and young adults who learn differently,” he shared with the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

    Diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD when he was young, Flink was just named a CNN Hero for his tireless work with Eye to Eye and educational access and equity more broadly. He is also the author of Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities (2014). 

    Siena’s graduation ceremonies will take place on June 15, 2021. 

  • Siena Alumna a Candidate for NPR Podcast Award

    Siena congratulates alumna Sophie Laclef (Class of 2020) for being a candidate for National Public Radio’s inaugural College Podcast Challenge. Sophie’s podcast, “Being a College Student During a Pandemic,” shares stories from students in the U.S. and Canada who are continually adapting to a “new normal” on their campuses. 

    “I felt like I was thrown into college right from high school,” Sophie reflects. “I wanted to highlight a lot of the difficulties people in my class faced.” 

    NPR will share the winners later in March. Listen to Sophie’s podcast now on Spotify or SoundCloud.

  • Siena Science Teacher Nominated for National STEM Teaching Award

    Siena congratulates long-time science teacher and current math and science department chair Jennifer Chambers for her recent nomination for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The Awards were established by Congress in 1983 and recognize up to 108 teachers each year for K-12 STEM teaching.

    Ms. Chambers was nominated for her tireless work in both the Siena and DC-area communities. As well as teaching, she is an author and former small business owner with over 22 years of outdoor education, environmental, and special education experience.

    As Siena’s environmental education coordinator, she has run the school’s Earth Day efforts since 2014 and worked to make Siena a Maryland Green School. In 2017, Ms. Chambers helped Siena team up with the National Geographic Society and iNaturalist for the school’s first-ever BioBlitz: an organized effort to record the biodiversity in Sligo Creek Park.

  • Siena College Counselor Publishes In National Counseling Journal

    In her newly published piece in the Spring 2021 issue of LINK for Counselors, Siena’s college counselor and high school humanities teacher Marian Carpenter asks, “how can we help students tap into the potential of internships”? 

    siena~college~counselor, internships, college~counseling

    Ms. Carpenter’s approach to coordinating student internships continues the work on the executive functioning, self-advocacy, and graphic organization that her students have done at Siena since their early years. Ms. Carpenter works with students in appropriate workplace communications, beginning with outreach emails and phone calls. “Modeling how to communicate professionally,” she writes, “helps students take charge of contacting potential sponsors to secure their internships.” 

    She ultimately helps her students understand that they can prepare for their futures now and gain important experience and self-confidence before they leave Siena. 

    Read Ms. Carpenter’s piece, “‘Time Travel Is Just Too Dangerous’: Helping Students Visualize Their Future through Internships,” here.

  • Siena English Teacher Publishes In National Education Journal

    Siena’s high school English teacher Katie Danver recently published an article for the National Association of Independent Schools, “Into the Wild, Quarantine Style.” 

    Reflecting on her initial plans to teach Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild in March 2020, Ms. Danver discusses how she adapted a project for her seniors—creating a movie trailer for the book—in light of the pandemic and move to distance learning. 

    In shifting from what they would have done to what they then had to do, Ms. Danver’s students excelled: “They collaborated using online tools to create mind maps, they settled on a theme to weave into their trailer...and they worked on shared documents to create a script.”

    The result? Her students “rose to the occasion” with creative, detailed filming. In light of this project’s success, Ms. Danver plans to revisit it in future classes to continue fostering Siena’s spirit of collaboration, creativity, and adaptability.

    See The Siena School blog for more teacher resources and insights.

  • Siena Teacher Publishes in National Education Journal

    Siena’s Math & Science Department Chair and Middle School Science Teacher Jennifer Chambers recently published an article for the National Association of Independent Schools entitled, “Developing Independent Learners Using the Scientific Method.” 

    STEM, distance learning, student independence, confidence

    Ms. Chambers discusses the Math and Science team’s self-study of their strategies in developing students’ executive functioning, independent work, and—most importantly—confidence. 

    She’s happy to see teachers practicing what they teach: a science-based approach to learning and discovering. “A distance learning environment,” Ms. Chambers concludes, “can provide more agency and independence for many students as long as parents provide the space, time, and positive reinforcement to students about their agency for resilience and problem-solving.”

    Ms. Chambers has also written about setting up a distance learning space for The Siena School blog.

  • Siena Honors Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide

    As October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, Siena annually honors local and national leaders with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award for their significant contributions to the education of students who learn differently. This year we honored Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, authors of The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, in recognition of their great work and support of the dyslexic community.

    Siena's 15th annual fall celebration and awards took place virtually on Thursday October 15, 2020, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. Read the press release here.

  • Siena Teachers Present Virtually at AMLE 2020

    On Sunday October 25, 2020, Siena’s middle school English teacher Maya Furukawa and School Counselor Holly Rothrock presented at the Association for Middle Level Education’s virtual conference. Ms. Furukawa and Rothrock’s interactive session, “Getting Comfortable with Discomfort: How to Address Complex Questions & Comments,” examined best practices in addressing students’ difficult questions, particularly in the current sociopolitical environment. 

    They walked attendees through how to continue or postpone a discussion, choose the right language surrounding sensitive topics, and stress the importance of accountable talk for students and teachers. Ms. Furukawa and Rothrock helped attendees examine scenarios and practice various approaches to ensure students’ optimum learning, comfort, and social–emotional health. 

    The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) holds its annual conference each fall.

  • Siena Again Wins "Best for Families"

    The Siena School was awarded the win in Washington Family magazine's Best for Families annual survey. Thank you to all the voters who helped us win for the 5th year in a row!

  • We are thrilled to introduce Siena Tutors which provides virtual tutoring services for students in grades K-12. Siena's virtual tutoring program employs current and past Siena teachers and offers the same teaching methods that are used in our school. Instruction is based upon each student's goals and focuses on developing their areas of growth while continuing to hone their strengths. We will focus on core academic subjects including reading, writing, math, science, social studies, English, Spanish and executive functioning.

  • Disc Golf Comes to Siena

    Max, older brother of Siena alumnus Nick K., generously designed, built, and donated three disc golf nets that he constructed as his Eagle Project as he works to gain his Eagle Scout Badge, the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts. 

    About to enter his senior year of high school, Max reached out to Siena to determine if there was a benefit he could contribute to the community. As part of the process, he had to submit a proposal with a thorough step-by-step overview. He raised almost $500 from family and friends to accomplish his goals. The process entailed research, testing, and learning from mistakes—as well as more than a few trips to Home Depot for extra materials and advice!

    Facing an added challenge during this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, Max had to set up multiple phases: leading a project, having a timeline, working backwards to determine the best workflow, and leading his collaborators.

    Max had to keep an open mind and learn while he planned and completed the project as this construction was a new endeavor for him. He adapted his model as he gained feedback along the way, learning from trial and error. It took 4-5 hours to construct the goals, and almost 90 hours total (including the planning, proposing, donation collection, collaborating, and building). Thank you for your leadership and generosity, Max, granting Siena students a new way to engage in this rapidly growing sport whether in the gym or during outdoor recess. 

  • Celebrating the Class of 2020

    Join us in celebrating Siena Seniors by visiting our webpage below. We’ll be sharing their stories, before & after pictures, displays of school spirit, teachers’ memories, and more to celebrate our seniors, so check back regularly!

    Celebrating Siena Seniors

  • Webinar with International Dyslexia Association

    Siena's Jilly Darefsky, Head of School, and Simon Kanter, Director of Technology hosted a webinar with the International Dyslexia Association on May 11th at 2:00pm.  The webinar focused on tools and technology to help deliver practical strategies for employing multisensory education in an online format. The webinar streamed on IDA's YouTube and Facebook channels. 

    A copy of the slide deck is available here.


  • Siena's science teacher Jennifer Chambers has used technology to illustrate scientific concepts she’d otherwise demonstrate in her classroom.

  • Physical activity is integral to multisensory teaching. There are many simple yet effective methods for distance learners and teachers to move.

  • Multisensory instruction is at the core of every lesson for students who learn differently; however, these strategies are effective for all learners.

  • Spring break will look a little different this year. 

  • Check out our latest blog post, for tools and tips on social emotion check-ins!


  • Check out our latest blog post, for tools and tips for a successful distance learning experience!

  • Latest blog post on how to keep artistic expression going from home.

  • Humanities Teacher Leads Comics Workshop in Harlem

    Siena humanities teacher Jabari Sellars moderated two events that merged his teaching interests with his expertise in comics. On Thursday, February 20, he moderated a discussion on Black Panther comics as part of the Children’s Book Guild’s monthly lecture series. Mr. Sellars was in conversation with authors Jesse J. Holland and Ronald L. Smith about writing superhero stories about one of Marvel Comics’ marquee characters.

    On Thursday, February 27, Sellars ran a workshop with New York public school teachers at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in Harlem. Mr. Sellars’s workshop focused on incorporating the comics medium—especially comics created by and featuring people of color—into the K–12 public school curriculum. Sellars drew on his research about how comics can enhance students’ motivation, analytical skills, and vocabularies.

    In both events, Mr. Sellars noted, “We had a group of educators eager to tap into popular culture to meet their students where they are.”

  • Siena Receives Two Awards from MAEA (Maryland Art Education Association)

    On December 15, The Siena School received two awards from the Maryland Art Education Association (MAEA) at their annual MAEA State Awards celebrating outstanding art education across Maryland.

    Congratulations to Siena’s Digital Arts and Elementary Maker teacher Kristian Whipple who was honored in the Career Art Educator category, in recognition of his exemplary art education for outstanding service and achievement.  
    Currently in his 9th year at Siena, Mr. Whipple continues to be a key member of our award-winning arts program. Recently, two Siena high school students were juried into the national Drexel University High School Photography Contest. Among other honors, Mr. Whipple’s students have won Best in Show awards at the Washington School of Photography Montgomery High School Exhibition and been finalists at DC Foto Week

    Highlighting that even teachers continue to develop, Mr. Whipple's summer workshop journey shows him putting theory into practice when learning “Cutting-Edge Lighting Techniques” from renowned adventure photographer Michael Clark.  

    Siena was also granted the Champion of Visual Arts Education Award, in recognition of the school’s overall dedication to the arts. Siena students are creative and strong visual learners. Arts integration is taught and assessed through every subject allowing students to engage, create, collaborate and demonstrate their understanding of the content through multimedia approaches. While honoring individual creativity, Siena pushes students to explore their strengths, providing access to a wide variety of mediums as well as a strong background in basic techniques and theory. At Siena, the arts are the ideal connectors to make learning more impactful, engaging and lasting. See more about our fantastic arts program here

  • Siena Music Teacher Composes Music for Art Exhibit

    Siena’s music teacher Sam McCormally recently composed music for a new art exhibit, Tommy Bobo’s “the distance between you and I.” It opens January 18 and runs through February 15 at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, DC. Mr. McCormally’s composition—divided over 12 channels throughout the gallery—acts as the soundtrack for the exhibit’s video, image, and lighting installations. “It was a fun technical challenge to think about how this fragmented music would work in a physical space,” he noted. Mr. McCormally is currently in his 8th year at Siena. He’s chair of the fine arts department, and he teaches music, band, and helps run the choir.

  • Siena's Performing Arts Teacher Taught at the Maryland Thespian Festival

    Siena performing arts teacher Stephanie Wendell was a teaching artist at the Maryland Thespian Festival, which was held at Towson University over two days. She taught two workshops: “Musical Theatre Dance” and “Acting Through the Song.” The festival featured 700 students from all over Maryland—primarily high schoolers. “It was really energizing to share my knowledge of performing arts and experience in it with the next generation of talent,” she shared. The students in Ms. Wendell’s workshops were quite motivated and showed high aspirations for their lives and potential careers in theatre. Currently, in her 2nd year at Siena, Ms. Wendell also runs Dance Club and has directed Siena’s recent musicals (Pippin in 2018 and The Addams Family in 2019). 

  • Siena Honored Senator Craig Zucker and Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery District 14

    In recognition of their work and support in the passing of the Ready to Read Screening & Interventions Bill.  As October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, Siena annually honors local and national leaders with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award for their significant contributions to the education of students who learn differently.

    The Ready to Read Screening and Interventions bill became Maryland law and requires all Kindergarten students to be screened for reading difficulties including dyslexia. The bill took effect on July 1, 2019, and school districts are required to have screening and interventions at the ready by the 20-21 school year.

    Siena's 14th Annual Fall Celebration and Awards- Oct. 24th at 7:00pm  

    Location: Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Plaza, Downtown Silver Spring

  • Embrace the New Norm- Blog Post

    Read the latest blog post by head of school, Jilly Darefsky.  This post speaks to how equitable learning should be available to every child. 

  • Siena Teacher Captures Adventure Photography and Landscape

    Photography teacher, Kristian Whipple, took a summer road trip out west to attend a workshop. View his experience here.

  • Siena Wins "Best for Families"

    The Siena School was awarded the win in Washington Families, Best for Families annual survey.  Thank you to all the voters who helped us win for the 4th year in a row! 



    The Siena School was honored to win the "Top Vote Getter" award for Bethesda Magazine's "Best of Bethesda" 2019 Readers' Poll! 

  • Siena Teacher Completes Fifth Full-length Film Score

    Sam McCormally, Siena’s fine arts department chair and music teacher, has just completed his fifth full-length film score, for the documentary “Brave Girls”. A depiction of three young Indian women in a town where conservative culture is the tradition, yet they are trying to rewrite their futures through education and self-determination. 

  • Siena Teachers Published in Independent Teacher Magazine

    Marian Carpenter and Beth Fabijanic's co-authored piece, "Finding the Right Words: Modeling the Writing Process for Students with Learning Differences" can be found in the Spring 2018 issue of Independent Teacher Magazine.


    Siena is featured as "The Face of Dyslexia Education" in Bethesda Magazine's May/June 2018 Issue! Access the digital edition here.


    The Siena School was voted "Best Private High School" and "Best Special Needs School" in Washington FAMILY Magazine's 2018 "Best for Families" Survey. Thanks to all for voting and supporting The Siena School!


    We are proud and excited to announce the 2018 class has received numerous impressive merit-based scholarship offers this year.  These are true rewards for our students who work so hard during high school.  


    Siena Partners with Learning Ally to Create a Book- now available for purchase online or in person at Siena.

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