Prioritizing interdisciplinary learning with Dr. Cristina Baptista


Claire Moore '22

Dr. Cristina Baptista is utilizing her sabbatical to focus on her creative writing projects.

Dr. Cristina Baptista, Upper School English Teacher, is currently taking a respite from her teaching position at Sacred Heart Greenwich in order to prioritize both her personal artistry and academic research of the American literature curriculum.  She is fully immersed in history, literature, and learning while striving to promote an interdisciplinary approach to education.  In order to enhance her intellectual exploration, Dr. Baptista is taking advantage of virtual opportunities and focusing on her own creative endeavors.  

Sacred Heart established the Vivian Pomex Sabbatical in memory of Ms. Vivian Pomex, former Upper School Art Teacher, who passed away in 1997.  Educators who have completed at least seven years of teaching are eligible for this opportunity.  The goal of a sabbatical is to allow participants to develop individual interests and gain new knowledge to augment their teaching. 

A quote by British author Ms. Zadie Smith, “Protect the time and space in which you write,” inspired Dr. Baptista to apply for sabbatical leave.  As both a writer and teacher, Dr. Baptista strives to balance her individual projects and academic responsibilities.  However, the message of making sacrifices for the sake of creation particularly resonated with her.  

Dr. Cristina Baptista reinvestigates American history through online resources.  Claire Moore ’22

“There is no teacher on this Earth who would not value mental and physical rest,” Dr. Baptista said.  “It isn’t about just cutting ties with what you do, either; it’s about refueling.  It’s about refreshing your passions and reminding yourself why you love what you do.  It’s about finding time to seek new perspectives about what you teach in order to better find ways to make your subject matter come to life in the classroom. More specifically, for me, sabbatical meant and continues to mean reconnecting with my various interests.”

The main focus of Dr. Baptista’s sabbatical is to explore alternative approaches to both literature and learning.  In order to do so, Dr. Baptista spent much of the first semester researching, sending emails, taking notes, and looking at text lists and different syllabi.  She connected with English Department Chairs, District Coordinators, and teachers at other schools to gain insight into their interdisciplinary courses that combine English and History.  Dr. Allison Alberts, former Upper School English Teacher, also invited Dr. Baptista to serve as a guest speaker in her class about Ms. Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening, where she learned about the diverse and creative projects Dr. Alberts’ students were creating instead of a standard essay. 

In addition to her work in the literary field, Dr. Baptista aspires to reexamine American history to further her own knowledge and enhance her American Literature class.  She completed a three-week course on former President George Washington and slavery through a teacher’s institute program based in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Dr. Baptista also attends archive-based lectures and historical book talks about one to two times a week with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, in addition to studying historical figures such as Ms. Phillis Wheatley and Mr. Frederick Douglass. 

As a fervent consumer of live theatre and classic films, one of Dr. Baptista’s primary goals is to show more visual media in her classes.  She participated in viewings of virtual and recorded theatre events about literary figures and playwrights, such as Mr. Arthur Miller, Ms. Lorraine Hansberry, and Mr. Tennessee Williams.  Similarly, documentaries like The Booksellers and I Am Not Your Negro aid Dr. Baptista in her efforts to comprehensively teach the literary field and its history.  Upon returning to the classroom, she will utilize her notes from each experience to implement some ideas into her teaching. 

To start this process, Dr. Baptista is compiling sample interdisciplinary guides combining literary, historical, ethical, and scientific approaches to different American literary works, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  This effort aligns with her initiative to rework the eleventh grade English curriculum into a cohesive program of study that involves academic reading, writing, research, and overall professionalization.  Dr. Baptista emphasizes interdisciplinary work as an enriching way to learn about the American and human experience because it does not reduce literature or history to a singular voice. 

“All of these ideas play into my sabbatical focus upon alternative ways of approaching literature and learning,” Dr. Baptista said.  “I think that, after pandemic concerns have passed, we’re all going to want to be more hands-on with things. We’re going to want excuses to not sit in a classroom or in front of a screen for hours. We’re already craving a break from the drudgery of simply taking care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis.  We need to bring more ‘play’ back into the classroom, at all levels, when it is safe to do so.  But we can start small and work towards more long-term projects.”  

Along with her academic and research interests, Dr. Baptista is using her sabbatical to prioritize her own writing.  Although she always writes every day, her time off, coupled with the inability to travel, allowed her to concentrate on longer stretches of prose.  Dr. Baptista worked on the “Pandemic Poetry” collaborative project last year and published several short poems online.  She is currently revising one of her older poetry collections for publication by Atmosphere Press later this year, along with a short story for the latest edition of a literary journal known as The Dogwood.  Finally, Dr. Baptista is writing a new poetry collection that relates to the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dr. Baptista adapted her sabbatical plans to account for canceled conferences, school visits, and travels.  Although she intended to visit other schools in the tri-state area and travel to different writing conferences and festivals, Dr. Baptista is still managing to connect with other educators and artists via Zoom.  As a whole, the coronavirus pandemic has illuminated the importance of online resources, including recorded author talks, museum archives, academic websites, or journals and podcasts.  More authors and writers are currently holding online courses, talks, and meetings following restrictions, which aid Dr. Baptista’s research. 

Dr. Allison Alberts offered her insight on interdisciplinary projects for English students. Courtesy of Dr. Cristina Baptista

Dr. Baptista is also using her sabbatical year as an opportunity to invest in self-discovery beyond her roles as a teacher and worker.  She plans to prioritize her personal well-being while working on her own schedule and staying home. 

“I’ve learned that sabbatical is like an extended period of self-care, albeit you’re still productive and working significantly,” Dr. Baptista said.  “There’s simply much more opportunity to plan your own day in a manner that makes sense to you and to ensure your own wellness. The pandemic has made self-care much more difficult in some ways, but it has also made it easier to appreciate the luxury, in my case, of just staying home and being safe and well.”

When she reassumes her role at Sacred Heart, Dr. Baptista hopes to engage with other Upper School teachers to find enriching methods that are more collaborative across the curriculum.  She will use the Senior Seminar class and the Global Scholars Program as examples of this interdisciplinary approach.  Dr. Baptista plans to garner a group of educators to continue edifying the curriculum while working with students to elicit candid feedback.  Her objective is to use the current course materials to better serve the community of teachers and students with diversified learning and integrative study.  Presently, Dr. Baptista remains connected with the school community through Zoom, email, phones, and social media.  In addition, she updates the creative and scholarly opportunities document for the Upper School students, is helping with the Writer’s Festival planning, and takes part in the faculty book club meetings over Zoom. 

Upon returning to Sacred Heart, I am looking most forward to simply being around people and seeing them, seeing their faces, whether masked or not,” Dr. Baptista said.  “I also am eager to get back into teaching and being in a room brimming with students’ energy and eagerness to talk about literature, writing, and creativity.  I want to reconnect with my Sacred Heart ‘family’ and get to know new students. I am delighted by the thought of embarking on more writing, researching, and creating adventures with students inside and outside the classroom.  And I am so eager to get to learn about each of them and help support and encourage their strengths as budding scholars.” 

Featured Image by Claire Moore ’22