Friday, September 25, 2009

“Teamwork divides the task...

...and multiplies the success." - Anonymous

How true.

Most people will see the above postcard and think it's about Homecoming. For me, it will always represent a great example of teamwork at St. Luke's.

Jodi, our alumni director, stated a need on Thursday, and by the end of Friday, we had this beautiful postcard. Zoe, our communications director, added her resources to ours, even though her office was stacked, as was mine. Jodi wrote the catchy text, Desiree designed a stunning layout, Jane arranged the printing, Sarah got us the alumni mailing list, and we all proofread and edited our way to the finish line.

There is no way my office would have been able to produce such an eye-catching mailer to gain the attention of our alumni base.

What was extraordinary as well was the camaraderie. Despite everyone's workload, people pulled together with purpose -- and a smile.

Thank you to Zoe, Desiree, Jane, Sarah, and Jodi.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Single Grain of Rice Can Tip the Scale

Christina's rice crispy treats, lower right hand side, help raise money for fellow students in Sudan.

In the movie musical Mulan, which happened to be last year's Middle School musical, the Emperor says,

A single grain of rice can tip the scale.

How true this is. A single grain of rice can mean the difference between life and death, an act of kindness between hope and despair, a donation the difference between the success or failure of many.

Gabriel Bol Deng was here today to talk to the kids about his heartbreaking experience as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan and to talk about his organization, Hope for Ariang. Although many would have succumbed to the horrors of what happened in war-torn Sudan, Gabriel is an inspiring example of someone who took the coal of darkness and hopelessness and reshaped it into a shining diamond of compassion and assistance. He works tirelessly to tell many his story, so they will be inspired to make a difference. Hope for Ariang raises funds to support the construction of a school in Gabriel's hometown that will serve over 600 children and more and the drilling of wells to provide water for over 20,000 people. To donate to these efforts, click here.

In preparation for his visit, the 6th grade spearheaded a bake sale to raise money for Hope for Ariang. The night before the sale, we got home late, and since I was not feeling well, I told Christina, "I'm sorry, honey, but I'm just not up to baking something for the bake sale."

No matter. Christina said, "I'm fine on my own. I'm going to make Rice Crispy Treats with M&Ms. I don't really have a recipe, so I'm just going to wing it."

As I watched her guesstimate the marshmallows, butter, and some caramel chews, and pour the tumbling grains of crisped rice out of the cereal box, I felt immense pride.

Here is a girl who is showing enterpreneurship, resourcefulness, and creativity for a good cause.

The next day, we were running late and were in the car already backing out of the driveway when Christina said she needed to get something in the house. She got out of the car, ran in the house, and when she came out, she had some tightly folded dollar bills in her hand.

I asked her what they were for, and she said they were for the bake sale.

"I have $6 from my piggy bank, and if there's nothing I want to buy from the bake sale, I'm going to give this money anyway. I know this is not about cookies, but about helping kids go to school in Africa."

In addition to my earlier pride, I felt immense satisfaction in knowing my daughter understands philanthropy, which means "love of mankind," and what it means to live the school motto, Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.

And who knows? Her final six dollars may help pay for the door that will open into a new school and a future for hundreds of children.

A single grain of rice can tip the scale.

Shot Out of a Cannon

Our Head of School Mark Davis says the beginning of school is like being shot out of a cannon.

And boy, is it! September is jam-packed with new faculty and student orientations, class trips, the first day of school, the first assembly, the first lunchline, photo day, parent coffees, Middle School and Upper School Open Houses, board and staff committee meetings, athletic meets, Admissions events, Annual Fund kick off ... You name it, we've got it.

The great thing about being shot out of a cannon is that the view is spectacular. You see the full kaleidoscope of school life, a riot of colors, buzzing clusters of excited people, and cheery but purposeful activity. You feel the energy of the festive atmosphere as wind that blows through your hair. The warm breeze of expanding minds, self-discovery, and shared goals invigorates you as you sail over this sunny, beautiful, verdant Hilltop.

If school is a carnival, I'm glad to be a performer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sharing a Pot of Curry

Today I was at school with my kids to welcome and give a tour to a group of prospective families from Reach Prep who were considering our school. Fontella, a fellow parent and friend, was there too with her daughters, and she gave me a warm hug and freely shared her lovely smile. Like their mom, the D. girls are earnest, hardworking, and beautiful, both inside and out.

Last year, Fontella brought a Jamaican curry chicken to one of the school's Multicultural family group get togethers. It was the best curry chicken I had eaten, because the chicken was the softest and silkiest I had ever tasted. It was addictive. After that night, I would fondly tease Fontella with a "Where is my curry chicken?"

Well today was no different. I went on and on about where was my curry chicken, hugged her goodbye, and went home.

A couple hours later, I got a call from Fontella. Surprise! She went home and actually made curry chicken, and she called me to come pick up some.

Don't you agree I have lovely friends?

For more information on how Fontella cooks her curry chicken, go to my food blog, Big, Bold, Beautiful Food.

Friday, September 18, 2009


At Middle School Open House, parents get to come to school and spend a "day in the life" of their kids, wandering through the halls and going to different classes.

It's an opportunity to meet teachers and hear about what they're going to do in the classroom this year.

I was very impressed.

I liked how Mr. Chuhta, Lizzy's science teacher, said that his course doesn't have labs; it is labs and in that way the class is discovery-based. As a teacher, he is a GUIDE so the kids can figure it out themselves and see the real world relevance of science all around them.

Mrs. Cortes, Lizzy's math teacher, also had a wonderful philosophy of teaching math. She said she wants the kids to start with what they know and build upon the foundation they already have. She wants them to do a lot of THINKING. She also focused on translating English to math, as this is the basis of many real world applications of algebra: word problems.

I appreciate that they and other SLS teachers don't view kids as inert vases to be filled with content but as active, breathing participants in the learning process. Indeed, if the teachers are just guides or sherpas, then the kids themselves are forging new, if at times difficult, ground, discovering for themselves what the teachers already know. They will reach the apex, exhilarated in the knowledge that they got there on their own two feet.

When success comes from within, each student will carry with them the belief that they can accomplish anything.

What a powerful life lesson to learn.

Bravo, teachers!

Note: Thank to the person who took the picture featured here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Get Back to Basics

I'm a professional fundraiser. And I've been around for awhile.

It means I'm quite knowledgeable about fundraising and all the details that go with it. Systems and policies. Data and volunteer management. Development writing and prospect research. Planned giving and financial analysis. Ethics and events. Campaigning.

These are critically important.

Yet in the planning and executing, sometimes the most important thing of all can get lost.

Philanthropy at its core is about love of mankind. In fact, that's what the word means. It's about connection. Community. Lifting up. Being part of something bigger.

So we're getting back to basics this year. Person to person. Heart to heart. Really talking. Really listening.

And my soul sings in joy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Explore! Dream! Discover!

When Lizzy came to my office after her first day of school, she was relaxed and happy. I could see the spring in her step and the twinkle in her eye. She talked enthusiastically about her new 8th grade classes and the exciting things they held in store. Youtube in Jean Cortes' math class. Measuring the real-time sprints of Mr. Chuhta's dog in science class. A music software in Mr. Shalinski's class that allows you to practice your instrument at home along with the rest of the band. Watching Lord of the Flies as the prelude to Mr. Haynie's civics class.

Lizzy also talked about the passion she felt in her teachers. "It's obvious that Mrs. Cortes LOVES math ... she's IN LOVE with math."

How lucky that my kids are surrounded by role models who have a passion for what they do.

They are learning, without even knowing it, one of life's most precious secrets to lifelong happiness and success.

You can do what you love and love what you do.

My kids will discover their passions here. They can try new things, master new skills, and be open to learning in all its forms -- through success and failure, understanding that comes easily or has to be wrestled to the ground, through Eureka! moments in a team of people or in solitude.

It all begins with the courage and confidence to take those first steps into the unknown. You may be a little nervous and excited those first days, but you know in your heart that you can take on the challenge and that people around you are cheering for you.

How lucky my kids are. How lucky I am.

Mark Twain said,

'Years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did NOT do… than by the ones you DID do. So throw off the bow lines! Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore! Dream! Discover!"

Best wishes to all our students in their new school year.

Note: Thank you to the person who took this picture.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Six Habits Worth Having

The new students and families are here for new student orientation, and what a wonderful bunch they are! St. Luke's is lucky to attract so many enthusiastic, kind, and supportive families who make this community the down-to-earth, genuine, and unique place that it is.

In Mark's send-off speech today, he encouraged the new kids to engage in 6 habits. I love this reminder myself, because the advice applies to everyone, young and old:

1) Work hard.
2) Be responsible for your actions.
3) Take risks.
4) Be curious.
5) Embrace differences.
6) Show concern for others.

I was able to meet several new parents during the morning orientation. Sachi, a lovely mother who is obviously skilled in empathy and reading between the lines, shared with me that St. Luke's feels to her a school like no other in the area. She used the words "authentic" and "real".

I completely agree.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mike Mitchell is (aleppo pepper) HOT!

I'm a big fan of Mike Mitchell, who has taught science at SLS for the past few years. We were drawn together by our mutual interest in cooking, particularly smoking big pieces of meat. I have a Big Green Egg, and he has a water smoker, but with creativity, low heat, smoke, time, and of course, meat, it all adds up to the same thing -- delicious Q (that's BBQ).

When Mike became science chair, I could see his creativity goes far beyond a beef brisket. This guy is a whiz, full of knowledge and ideas to spark a love of science in his students and to advance the science department. Heck, I was not the most enthusiastic science student in high school, but I was ready to enroll in the science classes in his department.

Like I've heard other parents say, I wish I were a student at St. Luke's School.

Students and parents are going to love the energy and dynamism in the science department this year, as much as they are going to love the chili cookoff we may have at Homecoming (this is new math teacher Corey's idea). While Mike is an aleppo pepper fan, I use a number of chilis in my chili which I'm not going to disclose here.

We may be colleagues, but that doesn't mean I don't want to win the cookoff.

Here's to Mike!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ready, Set ...

After the quiet of the summer, it's refreshing to hear the clink of silverware among the easy, relaxed conversations of my colleagues at lunchtime. The faculty are back, and in the blink of an eye, the once empty hallways are shedding their summer silence. The air is buzzing with the energy of new ideas and engaged minds focused on the craft of teaching.

Like clockwork, the school year begins its familiar rhythm, starting with all-day faculty meetings that precede the official opening of school.

Amid new faculty introductions, CPR training, and the dreaded annual sexual harrassment training (which actually wasn't that bad as it was delivered by presenter extraordinaire CAIS Head Doug Lyons), our Head of School Mark Davis led us into the school year with some inspirational words and guidance.

Mark said, "We have to get better at what we do."

Since I've been here, this spirit of continuous improvement and attitude of striving has been consistent and as permanent as the horizon.

As a parent, I am thrilled that this school does not want to sit on its laurels but wants to model what it asks its students to do -- to continually explore and investigate new avenues of thinking, to develop and master new skills, and to continually push the boundaries so as to reach their full potential as scholars and as people.

As an employee, I am energized to be part of the history of this institution, playing my own small but hopefully vital role to advance this wonderful and unique place, St. Luke's School. Not only is this personally fulfilling to me, but I know that getting better will benefit my children and children generations from now.

Isn't that cool?

Mark talked about leadership, collaboration, and teamwork. We'll be working on these things this year, as we know all of these skills are important to our students now and in their future work environments. With the high hopes and optimism that always accompany new beginnings, let us start this fascinating journey. I can't wait to ... GO!