A New Year, A New Student Council

Like many schools, TECS has a student council, which fifth grade teacher Sondra Tapper has been running for the last four years along with other teachers. We asked her to explain how the student council is run and what they have planned for the year. 

Student council is an important opportunity where students in grades 3-5 take a leadership role at Topanga Elementary Charter School. Student council officials were elected by the student body in November and the council meets once a month throughout the school year. The goal is to plan and decide school-wide activities and take care of necessary business while having some fun and learning team-building activities.”

This year, Dr. Amenta-Shin and Ms. Harlow are co-running student council with me,” Ms. Tapper said. “In a typical year we get about 25-30 candidates running for one of the five main officer positions: president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and historian. Each classroom has two class representatives and an alternate. In total, there are 17 members and six alternate class representatives.”

The Student Council kicked off 2020 with January Cheer Month,” Ms. Tapper explains. “To keep the year’s theme of respect every day in January as a random act of kindness, the Holiday Cheer Calendar was sent to all teachers and parents. It includes ideas such as, ‘talk to someone new or play a game at lunch with someone you don’t usually play with.’ Other days include, ‘send a thank you note to an office worker,’ ‘practice holding a door open for someone’, ‘pick up litter at lunch.’ What great leaders in kindness our kids are!”

Topanga Canyon Elementary welcomed two new teachers to our beloved community. When it was time to say goodbye to two of our teachers, we hoped we could find someone to fill their shoes. As luck would have it, we did! The new members of our faculty are Kathryn Appell in second grade and Dr. Gina Amenta-Shin in fifth grade. Just before the holiday break, we sat down with these two wonderful women and got to know them a little more.

Dr. Amenta-Shin, already known on campus as Dr. A, was looking for a school where she could teach, learn, and grow after decades of being a consultant for educators worldwide on how to use technology in the classroom. After teaching for 10 years in the Las Virgenes School District, she began consulting through the LA County Office of Education and ended up at the U.S. Department of Education. For 20 years she traveled from school to school in military bases across the globe to help support teachers transition from the chalkboard to the digital age. With 30 years of new classroom technology experience under her belt she decided it was time to find an embracing community where she could plant roots once again. Thats when she found Topanga. Dr. A currently lives in Westlake Village with her supportive husband and two sons, ages 16 and 18. The thing she noticed about Topanga is how “lovely, warm, welcoming, positive, supportive, and really helpful the staff are.” Dr. A believes that true happiness comes from being kind to others and its a recurring theme in her classroom. She would say her teaching style is constructivist, a method that gives kids more autonomy, more project-based learning, and setting milestones that have to be met. Kids learn to explore the process of learning and that its not all about the end result. In Dr. As class, everyone, whether you are science-y” or not, must participate in the Science Fair. Her favorite color is periwinkle and her dream for all children would be seamless integration of technology in the classroom and life. Thank you for your vision for a future weaving technology into our lives and classrooms in the most beneficial way. 

Kathryn Appell was born, raised, and still lives in Thousand Oaks. When she graduated from Cal Lutheran with her Masters in Education, she was hoping for a position close to home, and she found it in Topanga. We asked what surprised her most about Topanga as a community and she said she didnt realize it was so small and that everyone is so close-knit and willing to help each other. Its not like other places in LAUSD,” she said. The school has its own culture that goes beyond the school; it’s about Topanga [the whole town].” If she were to describe her teaching style, she said it would be project-based learning as much as possible, facilitating and guiding, not giving answers, allowing students to take ownership of their learning and give them goals to work toward. She said her biggest challenge here as a second-grade teacher is to help her students grow out of the primary grades and into the upper grades. She says they are at that age where they are “right in-between” and her hope is to get them working more independently and doing everything on their own before third grade. Her favorite color is baby blue and her dream for all children would be to provide them with an unlimited amount of resources. Thank you for being so generous, and welcome to our community Ms. Appell!

Although both of these teachers have big dreams for their students, they both admitted that time is definitely the limiting factor as to how much knowledge and wisdom they can pass on. That being said, every day is another day focused on inspiring children to speak their minds, follow their hearts, and to own their dreams and goals; each and every day, supporting them, nurturing them, guiding them…but not giving them the answers! 

Thank you, Dr. A and Ms. Appell for your graciousness, kindness and deep commitment to the youngest members of our community.


By TECS News Team


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