A legacy of excellence as Ms. Sunshine retires

FAIR: Students said Ms. Sunshine’s classes went by quickly and changed the way they think. She inspired several alumni to become psychologists.

Mrs. Tove Sunshine, known for her commitment to advanced subjects, her organized teaching style, her fairness to all students and her knowing and readable facial expressions during Town Hall, is retiring this month after 11 years of teaching psychology, history and Jewish history courses at Shalhevet.

Alumni and current students praised her as being inspirational, some saying she sparked an interest in psychology that they plan to pursue professionally. She believes she has taught somewhere around 935 students since arriving in 2007.  

“I want to slow the pace of my life down,” Mrs. Sunshine said in a Boiling Point interview.  “I still really enjoy teaching — the nitty gritty isn’t so fun. [There are] other things I could be doing that I really love and value. I want to do some of those other things.”

Known for Powerpoints that mixed in funny cartoons with complicated subjects like parallel processing, she openly and scientifically taught about such sensitive topics as mental illness and suicide.

In the old building, she covered the window of her classroom door with black paper so she could discuss the biology of human sexuality. She no longer covers the door, perhaps because her comfortable and honest approach to sexual education has defeated the stigma.

“It was sometimes awkward,” said junior Leor Kaminski, “but for the most part Mrs. Sunshine stayed calm and professional, and made it easy to learn about something that is usually inappropriate for teachers to talk about with students.”

At Town Hall, her face seemed to be a beacon of accuracy, with many students saying they watched her for how to react to something being said.  Junior Nomi Willis said this was particularly helpful when the topic was not about school.

“I always know if a fact someone is saying is true or not based Mrs. Sunshine’s facial reactions, and if she’s nodding her head or if she’s shaking her head,” said Nomi, using the recent discussion of the Iran nuclear deal as an example.

“I don’t remember who was saying what, but it had a lot of hard facts that people were throwing around, and so I looked to her.”

Students say they appreciated Mrs. Sunshine’s periodic updates on the pace and schedule of the course. Instead of fighting the last-minute schedule changes, she sometimes extended deadlines in recognition of the exhaustion wrought by Color War or a bonding day. If she did not change a test date, she would reach out to students through group messages to check in.

In February, she was concerned that one of her psychology classes was ahead of the other, and would therefore be taking a unit test too long after they’d finished the unit.  

“I find that we have finished this unit faster than I had anticipated…” she wrote in a Schoology message.  “However, I’m always reluctant to change posted dates, especially when it would be making them earlier because that doesn’t seem fair either…I will not make the change if there is any opposition.”

The message was signed, “Thanks for any feedback, T. Sunshine.”

The psychology elective, which started out as AP Psych before evolving into a Shalhevet Advanced Studies (SAS) course in 2015, is one of the most popular classes in school. This year there are two sections with about 20 students each.

Alumna Adina Weinreb ‘15 took Mrs. Sunshine’s AP Psychology class and is currently majoring in psychology at the University of Maryland and plans on studying it further in graduate school.

“It was probably my favorite class of all of high school,” Adina said. “I loved it and it really got me interested in psychology. I was also impressed with Mrs. Sunshine’s breadth of knowledge and her ability to explain it clearly and in an acceptable way, but  without leaving out any important parts that were necessary.”

Mrs. Sunshine started out teaching ninth-grade World History and AP European History.  In 2014, when then-principal Mr. Roy Danovitch introduced the move away from AP system, she was among the first to develop a new Shalhevet Advanced Studies (SAS) course with “SAS Tipping Point,” which looked at Europe’s transition from medieval to modern government, focusing on England.

Next was SAS Eurasia, which she has taught for three years, and SAS Psychology which she has taught in its SAS form for two years and previously taught as an AP.

“Being in Eurasia this year has unlocked a portion of my brain that is now so interested in history and learning about how the world became what it is,” said junior Talia Gill, who is finishing the class now, “and that never in a million years would have happened if I had not had Mrs. Sunshine.

“The amount of work she expects you to put in, and the amount of work that you have to put in to get what you want out of the class is a lot, but it’s also so indicative of what a good learner should look like,” she added.

Mrs. Sunshine said she felt like it was time for her to move on, citing paperwork as her least favorite part of the job.  

“My generation is retiring,” she added. She wants to travel, take classes at UCLA and SMC, and get more involved in committees at her synagogue. She also plans on doing some volunteering and tutoring.

Mrs. Sunshine is a native Danish speaker who was born in Denmark but came to the U.S. at six months of age. Danish was her first language, but she learned English in nursery school.

When she was four, her family returned to Denmark for a year where she also practiced her Danish skills.  But she was able to pick-up English quickly when she immigrated to America for good at age 5.

Mrs. Sunshine leaving
Alyssa Wallack
POWERPOINT: Organized class presentations and sensitivity to student schedules are Mrs. Sunshine’s hallmarks.

Mrs. Sunshine is a graduate of Stanford University, where she says she did not face sexism but that Jewish life was limited.

“It was a lox-and-bagels Hillel,” she said. She does not remember whether there were weekly Shabbat services.

She did, however, meet her husband Karl at Stanford’s Hillel.

All three of their sons attended Shalhevet. Jared was in one of the school’s first classes, from 1995 to 1999. Her middle son, Aaron, attended from 1998 to 2002, and her youngest son, Nathan, attended from 2002 to 2004.

Junior Jackie Faerstain was so inspired by Mrs. Sunshine’s class that she plans on studying psychology in college.

“She really changed the way I see the world as a whole,” said Jackie. “Specifically how people interact with other people. I’m really going to miss just seeing her around school and being able to see her passion for teaching.”

Adina Weinreb had a similar experience.

“She was just a really great teacher who explained things really well and in an interesting way that got me hooked on it,” Adina said. “I found that the class was just challenging enough without being too overwhelming.”

Alumnus Zev Kent ‘17 loved her ninth- and 10th-grade Jewish History classes as well as SAS Psych. He was always impressed with her creative projects that helped students understand the material.

“She obviously cared so much about the material, both Jewish history and Psychology, and she genuinely cared that we knew it well, too,” Zev said.

Rabbi Segal sent out the original announcement by email, and included a letter from Mrs. Sunshine herself to the Shalhevet community. It came on the morning of course selection assemblies for the 10th and 11th grades, whose students choose electives and would have been listening for descriptions of Mrs. Sunshine’s 2018-19.

“Our sadness at seeing Tove go is mitigated only by our excitement for her as she readily embarks on the next chapter of her life,” Rabbi Segal wrote in an email to the Shalhevet community announcing her retirement on Mar. 8.

Rabbi Segal said in his email that Mrs. Sunshine will help the new psychology teacher and continue to consult with him or her. He also said that Rabbi  Abraham Lieberman would be taking over 10th grade Jewish History and would work closely with her “to ensure a smooth transition.”

Mrs. Sunshine later said that Mr. Weslow will take over SAS Eurasia. She said that she has already met with him to go through the material.

The school has planned a dinner for Mrs. Sunshine on June 13 for faculty at Asher Cafe and Lounge in Boyle Heights.