Friday Faces | Upper Middle School - SLO Classical Academy
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Friday Faces | Upper Middle School

Welcome to this week’s Friday Faces blog. Settle in and scroll down to read all about UMS. In this blog we will inform and entertain you as you learn about our delightful Upper Middle School teachers who SLOCA is so lucky to have on campus.


Indulge our curiosity, what did you read over the summer or recently?

Josh Ronda: I read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Reading this book made me reconsider any notions I had that geniuses are born. Gladwell argues that a person or culture can become an outlier, almost deterministically, based upon its opportunities, time, and surrounding ideas. This is applicable in the classroom, too, as it forces me to acknowledge that each student, in small or large ways, is a product of their opportunities, family, and culture they grow up in. Grace, then, seems to be only way to approach students with behavioral or academic struggles. Inversely, students who thrive academically and socially are encouraged but not praised as geniuses or stand-alone students.

Matt Philipp: Robin Hood, Gift from the Sea (again), Caffeine: How coffee and tea created the modern world, Kenobi, The Sign of the Four, Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter (again), The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, Name of the Wind (again), listened to a few more books (while cooking, thank you Hoopla), and a way more TTRPG rulebooks and graphic novels than my abiding wife would prefer!

Cade Newman: The Shallows, The Middle Ages: A Very Short Introduction, iGen

Sarah Weinschenk: To be honest, I read so many books that I can’t remember all of the titles. Typically I read and re-read classics, especially 19th-century novels. This summer I pushed myself to read more contemporary writers. Here are some stand-outs: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark; We are the Brennans by Tracey Lange; The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee; Homesickness by Colin Barrett; The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis; The Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie; Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes (a stand-up comedian/classicist–a combination of Mary Beard and John Oliver); et al.

Stephanie Ridley: I read: A Short Introduction to the Middle Ages (my staff read); The Scout Mindset; The Poetic Edda; Beowulf; Tolkien’s commentary on Beowulf; parts of Le Morte d’Arthur; and some of our books for class.

Riley Grant: The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, A Molecule Away From Madness, Silence

Celeste Pucheta: I didn’t get a chance to read very many books this summer, but I did get around to reading The Courage to Teach, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. I look forward to picking up new reads throughout the school year.

Austin Aguas: Elements of Teaching and it caused me to reflect on how important it is to represent joy and curiosity about the subjects I teach. My goal is not to have all the answers, but to show a desire to find answers when I do not have one. To not be curious and joyful is to show that once you become an expert in a field, it becomes boring!


Books often take us away to imagined places. If you could travel anywhere, where would go and why?

Matt Philipp: Our next big trip should be to Hamilton Island, Australia during the summer of 2023. We are visiting based on a trustworthy recommendation made by our Norwegian concierge while we were on Santorini for my brother-in-law’s wedding three years ago.

Cade Newman: We would travel to South Korea because it’s special to our family.

Sarah Weinschenk: At this point in my life I am mostly content to stay close to home. After all, we live in an area that for many people is a once-in-a-lifetime destination. Some of the joy of travel has been diminished for me both by the disregard for customer welfare by the airlines and by the knowledge that travel causes environmental damage and stress to the people who call travel destinations home. I do enjoy visiting my family back in Pennsylvania–once a Pennsylvanian, always a Pennsylvanian! If I could travel anywhere with a clear conscience . . . . Well, I haven’t been back to Rome since 1989, so I would like to visit the Eternal City again. Also, I haven’t visited the places where my family comes from–the Isle of Bute in Scotland, and Anjou, France.

Stephanie Ridley: If I could go anywhere, take as much time as I wanted, and get my people to agree to go with me, I would take a world tour. I would go back to Europe, into Eurasia and Asia, experience the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, head down through Africa, sail over to Australia, and somehow make time for South America and Northern Canada and Alaska. I want to see and experience all the things we teach and learn in school and especially the places that we do not.

Riley Grant: Baja California for a surf trip!

Celeste Pucheta: If I could travel anywhere, it would have to be Greece. I love traveling to places with rich histories, and Greece has a remarkable history. It also has beautiful scenery and stunning beaches that I would love to experience in person. Greece has been on my travel list for quite some time, but hopefully, within a summer or two, it will finally be crossed off the list.


How long have you been at SLOCA? What attracted you to the SLOCA community?

Josh Ronda: How long have I been at SLOCA? Depends on what “been” means in this context. I went to SLOCA as a student from 2nd grade through High School, then after a year or so of College, I started working part time as a videographer. That job has lasted me the last 4 years, roughly, until just this year I also became the Middle School Art Teacher. I was drawn to the community of SLOCA (for work) on the recommendation of the teachers, who all said that teaching at SLOCA is the most fulfilling and supporting job they have ever had!

Matt Philipp: Fifteen months. I began cyberstalking SLOCA from Washington, DC all the way back in 2016, hoping to teach here after we hopefully migrated cross-country to SLO! Back then I read an article about SLOCA in The Atlantic magazine which was influential, and a year later my wife and I visited campus (summer 2017) where we met Mr. McCullough, who provided another excellent perspective having departed Virginia for California himself. It took me three years to crack the lineup at SLOCA, and my patience seems to have paid off. 🙂

Cade Newman: This is our 14th year as a family and my 8th year as a teacher at SLOCA. Initially, we were drawn to SLOCA because it afforded us more quality time to spend with and learn alongside our children. The reasons now are far too numerous to list here, but they have as much to do with my students as with my children.

Sarah Weinschenk: I have been at SLOCA since its founding. I was recruited to teach here, and it seemed like a good time to go back to the classroom after teaching home-schoolers from my home for many years. I was attracted by the commitment to Latin in the curriculum and classical learning in general. The fact that I already knew some of the families helped too, along with the vision/enthusiasm of founding mothers, Lisa Lewis and Susie Theule.

Stephanie Ridley: Our family has been at SLOCA for 10 years now. My oldest is a senior at SLOCAHS! We were attracted to the hybrid schedule and the depth that the curriculum offers. As I taught my kids and Ensio grew up, I slowly began teaching at SLOCA more and more (I had already retired from teaching when Isobel was born). I have been part of the regular UMS team for 3 years now.

Riley Grant: This is my first year at SLOCA! I immediately fell in love with the refreshing style of education the school offers. The small class sizes make it so students are engaged and excited to learn when they come into class each day. Classical education offers students a chance to learn about the connections between subjects. Also, the staff was unbelievably kind and welcoming to me as well!

Celeste Pucheta: This is my first year at SLOCA, and I am thrilled to be here. What attracted me to SLOCA was its unique style of teaching. The more I looked into it, the more I could see that it is a tight-knit community that puts its students first. I am extremely grateful to now also be a part of this amazing community.

Austin Aguas: This is my first year at SLOCA. I was drawn in by how SLOCA leads their students and staff to pursue continual and intentional learning by invoking curiosity.


During our Middle Ages curriculum, what are you looking forward to teaching or learning with your students this year?

Josh Ronda: We are currently creating a Bestiary, inspired by the Medieval Compilations of creatures, across all of the LMS and UMS classes. I am excited to see the students bringing their creativity and unique ideas to the project as they build their own creature to add to the Bestiary.

Matt Philipp: I am so curious to learn how our students relate to the Black Death while we continue emerging from our own pandemic while wrestling with its psychological effects.

Cade Newman: Both frame narratives, 1001 Arabian Nights and Canterbury Tales. It’s been four years since I’ve enjoyed these with our students and I’m excited to revisit both with a different lens.

Sarah Weinschenk: I look forward to helping my students see how Latin continued to be a living and vibrant language throughout the Middle Ages.

Stephanie Ridley: I just love the Middle Ages! This period is full of culture, beautiful literature, and people striving for their cause. I am excited to dive into all of that with the UMS kids as we make our way through this approximately 1000 years of history.

Riley Grant: I am excited to teach how algebra is useful in solving real world problems. Furthermore, I am excited to share bits of algebra history and the figures that shaped our knowledge of mathematics!

Celeste Pucheta: I look forward to assisting the UMS students in the Full-Time Program with their essays as well as helping strengthen their writing skills throughout this school year.

Austin Aguas: What DNA is, how it is extracted, and how it’s structure allows it to accomplish it’s purpose.


If you would like to share a photo, please describe what is special to you about it.

Josh Ronda: I got married in May! This was shortly before Summer, technically, but is certainly one of the stand out memories from this time!

Matt Philipp: Posing with my wife Teresa in front of a wall from Guy Kinnear’s spectacular exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art (7/30/22). He was a brilliant colleague during my rookie year at SLOCA, and I now enjoy his Capriccio drawings of Odysseus hanging in our new home!

Cade Newman: One of many instances this summer when the six of us were together enjoying life, this time on Pismo Pier.

Stephanie Ridley: We had a lot of good family time this summer. The beach in Cayucos with the dog (and waffles at Hidden Kitchen, of course!) represent that time for me.

Riley Grant: This is a photo of me slacklining at Janns steps at UCLA. I am walking on a one inch wide line that is 150 feet long. Slacklining is a form of walking meditation for me that allows me to work on a difficult skill and enjoy the outdoors with my friends!



Aw, isn’t that the sweetest team of well-rounded middle school teachers! Stay tuned for the next Friday Faces blog all about our Lower Middle School Teachers.


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