Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning History in 5th Grade

Last night at dinner, I was asking my fifth grader what her main takeaways were from studying the Revolutionary War. By the end of the conversation, my hat was off to Kathy King, her teacher, for teaching her not to memorize a bunch of facts but to make connections and understand patterns.

My ephiphany of the night was when I asked Christina whether she would have been a Revolutionary or a Loyalist. She said, "It depends on who I am," and went on to explain how people with different interests would have viewed the connection to Britain.

I asked her why the British, the "Goliath" of the story, lost, and she replied without hesitation that they didn't understand the terrain and couldn't adjust to the different fighting tactics of the rebels. She could see the connection to history in later wars such as Vietnam where powers with more funding and firepower were defeated partially due to underestimating the enemy, lack of knowledge of the terrain and weather, and different fighting tactics.

Making connections. Thinking critically.

This is what it's all about.

Serving the Elderly at Edgehill

I am so proud of my girls! For Community Service Day, a day which the whole Upper School devotes to serving non-profits in the area, Julia Gabriele and I took our advisory students to Edgehill, a facility for th elderly.

The morning was devoted to doing arts and crafts with Edgehill residents. A few of the girls worked with the elderly who were in assisted living and coping with early forgetfulness/dementia and the other girls worked with residents who were in the medical unit. They treated each individual with dignity, respect, and compassion, making friendly conversation and engaging with each person. They worked very well as a team, ebbing and flowing with each other and among different activities.

In addition, the girls planned a talent show on their own in advance of going to Edgehill, which they executed beautifully. They even adjusted their show effortlessly as one resident, Mary, who "called it as she saw it," wanted something other than what they prepared. Michelle and Campbell, our juniors, did a great job leading the girls in the show.

Click here to see the video of their performance.

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The girls did themselves, their families, and St. Luke's proud.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"St. Luke's Changed the Direction of My Life."

Wow. What a powerful statement. Did I hear this from an alum? Perhaps a senior?

No, it was a fifth grader, as relayed by his mother at a new family party we had tonight.

I love these new family parties. Our head of school invites small groups of new families to his house to get to know them, welcome them into the community, and to talk to them one-on-one and together as a group. A few administrators, teachers, or trustees attend too, so they can welcome parents and parents can get to know more people at school.

It is very important to us that not only the children transition and feel part of the community but that the parents do too. A school-parent partnership and a strong parent community are crucial to children's success.

What's magic about these evenings is hearing stories from the parents themselves. This particular mother was saying that her child did not want to come to St. Luke's, as he was happy at his previous school. Now that he was almost through his first year, their 10-year-old made the profound statement, "St. Luke's changed the direction of my life." Mark asked what he meant, and the mother said that she thought he meant that he felt respect here. Her son was doing well by any objective measure, but his teachers said he could do better. They didn't let him slide, and even in his young mind, he appreciated that. Another family said they were worried about the transition for their two children, having moved back to the area from London, but the change was seemless. Recently, their daughter had posted a picture album to Facebook, and its title was "St. Luke's - How I Love Thee." How great is that? Other parents had similar stories to share about their children thriving, growing, and "being known" at school.

We work very hard at school, and we care so deeply about people in the community. It's affirming and energizing to hear that it's making a difference.

Who Said Kids Don't Write for Fun?

At the end of January, Lizzy got a Mac for her birthday, and a few weeks later, I was wondering if her dad and I made a mistake. My once voracious reader was attached to her Mac as if it were an I.V.

I finally had to put my foot down. "Lizzy, you are spending way too much time on your computer," I scolded. "You need to turn it off and read a book."

"But I am reading," my voracious reader replied. "I'm reading all this fiction on" is where people write stories based on published literature, extending stories in ways that its original authors never imagined. Readers can post comments, giving feedback, praise and criticism.

Lizzy was not only reading fiction; she started crafting her own novella. Chapter by chapter, she spun new characters, painted scenes through her descriptions, and created situations and dialogue. Beat by beat, the story progressed, suspenseful, scary, touching, and funny.

Here's a taste:

Chapter 1 (The Beginning)

My life took a drastic turn the day of the big homecoming game at school. This was the biggest school event of the year and all of the school would show up on Saturday to cheer on the football team. I never liked football. I cringed every time someone was tackled. But I would go for all the celebrations and hang with my friends. No way I’d be the only one to not show up to the game either.

I was sitting in the bleachers next to my best friend Amber. She was as bubbly as always, babbling on about this cute guy or the new hot guitarist of a band. I was watching the players down on the field.

The next thing I saw in slow motion. A small child, the daughter of the football coach, had dropped a ball, which had rolled, onto the field. She started toddling toward it just as one of the giant football players were running toward her at full speed. I knew that once he saw her it would be too late for him to stop. She would be trampled.

I felt myself getting up, although what happened next was a blur. First I was on the bleachers, and then suddenly I was leaping at the girl and curling around her to protect her from the oncoming boy who would have run her right over. I stuck my hand out to deflect the inevitable blow. The kid crashed into my hand and went flying.

Everything went silent. I uncurled myself around the toddler in my arms. At least I had thought they were arms. My once light brown skin was now covered in white soft fur with spots dotting the surface, and my slender fingers had morphed into wickedly sharp claws. I was still on two legs but from my thigh down was covered in the same fur and at my toes were more deadly claws.

I heard a frightened shriek and all hell broke lose. The coach sprinted towards his daughter and snatched her up and ran in the opposite direction. The crowds of students, parents, and staff all ran screaming toward the parking lot. I felt tears running down my face and my vision blurred. I saw a single silhouette in the bleachers. Frightened and confused, I ran into the forest.

Chapter 2 (Realization)

I stumbled through the dense foliage, blinded by my tears. I sat down on a log and tried to figure out what was going on. I stopped the flow of tears and forced myself to think logically. I am a normal girl. I’m just a normal girl who’s having a dream. I thought about pinching myself but after examining my claws I thought better of it.

I looked hopelessly around for a sign of what to do. Suddenly I heard a rustling behind me. I jumped and whirled around and a feral snarl slipped past my lips. Landing on the ground a yard away from me was a giant bird. No, wait. It looked like an angel. Now I felt bad that I hadn’t gone to church since last Easter. The bird-person-angel-like figure turned its head up to face me and I saw jet black eyes. I jumped back and I tensed, ready to run.

“Hold on! Don’t start running again!”

I knew that voice. I’d heard it babbling on for 3 years of my life. I looked again at the figure and barely recognized it as Amber. But Amber didn’t have wings. Or a beak. And definitely not those eyes. I could only manage a “Whaaa…”

"You didn’t realize how fast you were going! You really wore me out when I tried to follow you,” she remarked, panting.

I regained my speech and said somewhat irritated, “What the hell is going on?!” Now that the shock had worn off, I was so mad.

“Hold on now, Put those claws in a safer direction,” she said.

I hissed. “How can I?! I barely know how I got these and for all I know I’m stuck like this!”

“Ok, ok, ok… oh and by the way my day was lovely, thanks for asking.”


“Fine! Ok, basically you turned into a cat.”

“Really? You don’t say. I really didn’t notice,” I replied, sarcasm dripping off my words.

Ignoring me, Amber said, “There are people like me and you who can turn into animals at will. We are known as +Anima.”

The name rung a bell. Now where have I heard that before? Suddenly I realized. I fell laughing. I stood again and said, “+Anima? Isn’t that a manga series?! Ha!”

Amber looked at me more seriously than I had ever seen her.

“You’re kidding.” I said, “so you’re telling me that ‘+Anima’ are real?”

This was like trying to believe that fairies existed or that my dog was actually a unicorn in disguise.

“If you don’t believe me, look at yourself,” Amber said, pointing to a small pond a couple feet away. I walked over hesitantly. I took a deep breath and bent to look at my reflection...

I was impressed by Lizzy's natural story-telling ability, and grateful to her teachers for helping instill in her a love of reading, confidence in her ability to write, and enthusiasm to share her story with the world. These dispositions are created, day by day, through the teaching of skills and loving encouragement.

What's cool too is that Lizzy has inspired other classmates, and they are writing too. Lizzy has two new stories to tell, one based on the Twilight and Narnia series and the other on Twilight and science fiction. She's still glued to her computer, and I'm happy that she's found this new creative outlet.

Maybe she'll inspire me to write a story too.

Surrounded by Great People

Today we had a half day workshop on brand identity. While I am always grateful to work at St. Luke's, it's times like these that remind me how lucky I am to be surrounded by smart, passionate, open-minded people who want our school to be the best it can be.

Not only did we have parents, faculty, alumni, and administrators at this meeting, we had two fabulous consultants, Jeff Wack and Carol Cheney, to help guide and focus the discussion. Jeff, a market research consultant, went through the results of some external market research he did for us, and Carol, a communications consultant, presented her initial thoughts on how a branding process works. Both have deep expertise in independent schools and have deep knowledge and love of their own fields. In that way, they fit right in with our culture and "feel" like St. Luke's.

While we have just started the process of strategic planning and branding, being charged by the amount of positive energy, new ideas, and enthusiasm to continue our work, I know we will be successful.